Happy wrestling weekend, mat fans, and welcome to another edition of Four Corners. Due to the "interesting" Northeast power grid, I posted my main column a bit late this week, and therefore the Corners come at you a bit later than usual. With the abundance of big wrestling stories, however, there is much to discuss. If you're unfamiliar with the Four Corners format, we take four stories from around the wrestling world and use them to tie the room together. Just like your rug. Let's get to it:
Word reached us this week that WWE's favorite comedy performer, Santino Marella, would be retiring. Marella officially announced his intentions nearly a week ago in front of a house show crowd in Ontario (where he was born). Marella's always been a double-edged sword to many wrestling fans: there can be no question that the man (and particularly his exaggerated accent) had many humorous moments over his run, but it attracted mainly younger viewers and was forced way too hard way too often once he found his stride. His frequent romantic interests and cryptozoological Mr. Socko clone aside, Santino became a representation of the "new" comedy in World Wrestling Entertainment. That's probably not a good thing if you've seen the comedy offerings from WWE Studios. But, hey, I have hopes for Jingle All The Way 2. My dream tag team has always been Santino and Larry The Cable Guy. I'd recommend you break out the Prilosec now in preparation. In honor of the Manitoba/Milan Miracle, Four Corners provides a list of some of the funniest performers ever in WWF/E. Quick note: humor is always subjective. Leave your favorites below.
Goldust: What do you do when you're saddled with a difficult gimmick that will no doubt overshadow your innate wrestling ability? Plenty of performers have had to answer that age-old question over the years, including Dustin Rhodes' own father Dusty (pretty hilarious in his own right, though often unintentionally), but the inquiry becomes more befuddling when it's a character that treats edgy like an understatement. I don't know that anyone could have guessed just how successful Dustin would become with the Goldust character, particularly when you review his very vanilla character portrayed during his lengthy WCW run prior. Much of that success has to be attributed to how Rhodes used comedy to turn very uncomfortable situations from the beginning. Fans were too busy laughing to be offended.
Goldust has had memorable moments with every tag team partner he's ever had, and he's elevated all of them comedically, from Booker T to his own brother, Cody. He's used his odd backstory to hilarious effect, and has not been afraid to embarrass himself for the benefit of the fans, whether it's odd underwear choices or speech impediments. These are just a few of the reasons why the character has morphed from a freaky heel to a perennial fan favorite. In a profession where being taken seriously is not always a good thing, he has excelled.
Kurt Angle: News that Kurt might be returning to the WWE for his swan song should cause every wrestling fan to scour back through his history with the promotion. In addition to seeing some truly excellent wrestling matches (no surprise), you'll also see a budding comedian at work. I always have a huge respect for guys who are not naturals developing their skills and becoming very good at something. You see it in every sport, but it's a rare quality and one that should not be diminished. Angle's wrestling pedigree has never been in question: rarely do you see an athlete with his skill set voluntarily attempt a pro wrestling career, and we're the better for it. His personality, though, left a bit to be desired, especially during a time in wrestling when being a fresh-faced, wide-eyed All American Olympian would be met with a tanker truck full of snark.
Not to be outdone, Angle parlayed that reception to brilliant effect, trumping up his own credentials as our hero and delivering promo after promo that nailed it. Angle never worried about playing the uncool heel, and worked it to such a ridiculous degree that it became cool in its own right. By the time he was so over with the fans that he was wearing wigs and playing guitar with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the shark had failed to jump and died in a laughing fit. Angle's ability to work on his comedy timing was oddly innate and inordinately well done. A masterpiece.
The Hurricane: If you're looking for Santino before Santino, it would be Hurricane Helms. Anyone who began their career on the big stage by portraying a pseudo boy band would certainly have to have a sense of humor about themselves, but it was in the WWE that The Hurricane was born. An idea ridiculous even by professional wrestling standards, Helms pratfell right out of the Invasion angle into the character of a wrestler wearing a superhero costume who therefore, logically, thought himself a superhero. The fact that Helms was a cruiserweight was lost on him, as he attempted (and often succeeded) the execution of power moves normally reserved for men twice his size. Whether one chooses to look at this as an insider commentary on WWE's own "big men" fetish or not is up to you, but what's not debatable is the entertainment value of the gimmick.
Whether it was teaming with Lance Storm and Molly Holly or the later, funnier incarnation with Rosey and Stacy Kiebler, Helms was able to take his earnest character and envelop those around him in its playfulness. It worked, frankly, because it was so ridiculous. With A-list talent like The Rock only too happy to play along, The Hurricane ended up being far more popular than it ever seemed possible. From his trademark moves to his HurraPops and Clark Kent-like normal secret identity, you could not help but go along with the joke. I'm just sayin'.
William Regal: Readers of my work here at TJR will know my long-standing regard for William Regal. There's just not much in the business that he's not good at. One of the most "real" people in wrestling portraying one of the most ridiculous caricatures for decades is impressive enough, but His Lordship his mined comedy gold in multiple promotions due to his refusal to fall back on previous incarnations. Regal's ring work is impressive but understated, appreciated by the old school wrestling fan. Upon reaching North American shores, entertainment needed to enter the equation. Regal went through the rite of passage of the effete British noble, but fortunately for us did not leave it at that.
Regal's work as heel commissioner and Vince McMahon lackey during his waning wrestling years is simply genius, top to bottom. From having his tea debased by the extremely-funny-in-his-own-right Chris Jericho to performing rap battles and dancing with Cryme Tyme, Regal showed the innate ability to laugh at himself and his background and bring the wrestling community right in on the joke. In a time when many veteran wrestlers struggled with ceding the spotlight to the next generation of talent, Regal's on-screen role allowed him to reach outside himself and truly entertain.
Roddy Piper: Lest you think I not provide a "classic" name on this list, I offer one of the most hilarious individuals ever to walk the face of the planet, Roddy Piper. The fact that he's a wrestler is almost a side note. Piper has been a laundry list of things throughout his career, but he's never ceased to entertain. Whether playing a fan favorite or being a dastardly heel, Piper always looked like he was having more fun than anyone else in the world. I assume that's because he was, and is. Opponents of Hulk Hogan during his '80s monopoly were often relegated to the dustbin soon thereafter, but Piper still seems to be feuding with him now and you can never quite tell if he's actually kidding.
Piper's Pit will go down in history as the best segment of its kind in professional wrestling, and has been responsible for many of the best comedy spots in WWF/E of all time. His unhinged, Sam Kinison-like spastic delivery is unique and simply can't be duplicated. These comic talents were back on display during the WWE Network's reality series, Legends House, where the focus was mainly on Piper and rightly so. The tortured, hilarious talent is an archetype and Piper exemplifies it. Ridiculously gifted.
The Rock: Let's face it, whether you find yourself supporting the mainstream talents or not, everything The Rock did for the majority of his career turned into absolute gold. It should be no surprise that the man is a movie star, because his ability to entertain superseded everything around him. It was obvious to all that we wouldn't get to keep him to ourselves forever, because he possesses that kind of talent. But it's his ability to make us laugh at everyone's expense that is my favorite thing about The People's Champion.
Rock's promos were ridiculously entertaining, and they seemed to continue to top themselves during his lengthy run. Anyone involved with one of his segments knew the abuse was coming, and that in itself started to become a comic parlor game. There's never any shortage of easy targets in wrestling, but Rock's banter went beyond that. He's like the stand-up comic that heckles the audience, and they pay for the privilege. You laughed with The Rock over and over and were seriously glad it wasn't you as the butt of the joke. The fact he could back it up just made him a double threat. I don't know that we'll ever see promos of his like again. That's not just due to the PG material; it's due to the fact that he's quick-thinking and deadly funny.
Missing your favorite? Feel free to contribute in the space below. I may miss Santino greatly now that Heath Slater might be the go-to jokester.
Those Who Ken, Ta
The long-awaited moment has finally occurred as Japanese wrestling superstar KENTA has signed a contract with the WWE. Reports have indicated he is headed to Orlando's Performance Center to participate with the talent at NXT over this summer. WWE handled it in the typical low-key fashion that is their wont, trumping up a press-worthy contract signing at their live event in Osaka and having Hulk Hogan preside over the affair. That said, this is one case where the buzz truly is worthy of the story. Anyone unfamiliar with KENTA's body of work in Japan is in for a real treat, and one has to assume that Triple H, who has shown a propensity to bring in worldwide talent, has his fingerprints all over this deal.
A former amateur kickboxer, KENTA brings that style into his wrestling, and it's an excellent combination to watch. Debuting in 2000, KENTA had a cup of coffee in the All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion before following mentor Mitsuharu Misawa to his fledgling enterprise, Pro Wrestling Noah. In addition to achieving a bagful of titles and major recognition for his work there, KENTA also competed extensively in North America with Ring of Honor. ROH gave him the opportunity to display his wares against names like Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, Austin Aries, and Davey Richards. While injuries have sidelined him on occasions, his work has been highly regarded and he most certainly brings a different feel and tempo to his matches. It will be interesting to see how the WWE's feeder program expounds upon the major talent KENTA already possesses. One thing is for certain: the countdown to getting this man onto a PPV began this week. Four Corners, for its part, waits with breathless anticipation.
The other major story for the week concerns Sting himself, Steve Borden. Stinger unleashed a couple of "cryptic" tweets this week, his first activity on the social media site since April. (I'm not judging here, since I haven't checked MY Twitter feed in a while, but I don't wear facepaint for a living either. Yet.) The first was a darkened picture of Sting wearing his trademark later-stage black and white makeup, while the second read simply "07.14.14," this coming Monday's date. To say internet speculation was rampant following these tweets would do a disservice to the definition of rampant. Various theories/conjectures/speculations/tea leaf readings have purported to know the story behind these posts, presaging everything from a segment of Monday's Raw show to Sting's known involvement in the marketing of the WWE 2K15 video game or an upcoming DVD project.
Rumors and innuendo regarding Sting having potentially signed a Legends deal with WWE have been going on for seemingly an eternity already, so there's nothing new there particularly. But it doesn't make Monday's Raw any less of a must-see. It's important to remember that World Wrestling Entertainment prides itself on its attempts at secrecy (witness Y2J's latest return) and would have absolutely needed to render a thumbs-up to those tweets before they were made if a contract has been signed. Sting is widely considered the best wrestler to never appear in a WWF/E ring, and remains immensely popular both with fans of WCW's product and those who appreciated his work even while watching their rival. His popularity in WCW rivals WWE's with John Cena, and that's some major promotional and merchandising dollars right there.
Four Corners remains reluctant to speculate, but this being the first step towards an already-inked Legends deal consummation appears logical. WWE has headed down this road before, most recently with Sting's former tag team partner The Ultimate Warrior, and has demonstrated keen interest in inducting Borden into the Hall of Fame. That timeline would fit nicely with Sting being involved in some way, shape, or form Monday, even if it's not in a physical capacity. Whether Sting follows Brock Lesnar down the part-time player main event storyline remains to be seen, but he is one of the few huge names in the sport that can get fans salivating over a potential reappearance. Fantasy booking? Damien Sandow would play a mean Stinger.
And This Child Shall Levi's
In what may very well be the most awkward promotional poster ever, the Levi's Stadium website (home to WrestleMania 31) made waves when they featured three men to sell the event that aren't currently featured on WWE programming. Those three men? Brock Lesnar, The Rock, and Batista. Standing in front of a decimated city full of the broken hearts of all fans who enjoy the "regulars," the three part-time payola mavens look menacing but oddly one-dimensional, like Fatheads gone awry. Even more oddly, the WrestleMania numbers are absent, with the poster sporting the new-look WWE logo and a big honking play button. Photoshop be damned!
Aside from the strange conundrum of determining which guy has the oddest-looking body art, the obvious question is just how authentic this item is. Placeholders to advertise upcoming wrestling PPVs while still selling tickets are nothing new, and one of the main reasons why "card is subject to change" appears in the fine print of just about everything. It's entirely possible that Levi's just slapped images of some of the bigger cross-promotional gurus in their battle stances and went to press. Two of the three, at least, are near locks to actually BE present at the event, other than in spirit: Lesnar is rumored to be involved in a feud with Roman Reigns after meeting up with John Cena at SummerSlam (another leaked poster, though this one's legit!) while the Blue Man Goop will return after Guardians of the Galaxy pressers. As to The Rock, he's not expected to be at WM due to his film commitments, but stranger things have happened and one would think he'll find a way to show up for a bit and collect an easy check.
At the end of the day, this is likely much ado about nothing. It does remain a sad state of affairs that guys who zip in and out get the top billing over a roster of talented up-and-comers, but them's the breaks I suppose. Should the three men featured actually have a match, I'm not sure the net could contain the angst. Whether Rock could escape the melee injury-free is yet to be determined, but fear not: Cena beats them all. At once.