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    Thursday, December 31, 2015

    Thursday Night Tanders (12/31/15): The Dos and Don'ts of Stable Booking (Part 2 of 2)

    First of all, the Throwback Tito would like to apologize for the long delay in between articles. Work, then the Christmas holidays made it hard for me to watch enough wrestling, let alone write a Thursday Night Tanders article. But I’d also like to end the year right by closing out my two-part series on the best and worst of stable booking in the WWE.

    [Click here for Part One]

    As promised, we’ll be going back to the WWF’s Attitude Era for this next set of do’s and don’ts, and as you all know, the Attitude Era was all about controversial angles, promos, and storylines. Controversy aided the success of many wrestlers of the era, including, but not limited to Val Venis and The Godfather. Conversely, it did no favors to the likes of Beaver Cleavage (Headbanger Mosh/Chaz) and Meat (Shawn Stasiak). And over in the stable scene, controversy was also a hit-or-miss proposition, as you’ll find out in this week’s edition of Thursday Night Tanders.


    Dateline—September 1997. Behind the scenes, something big is about to happen in the WWF. With RAW ratings in the toilet and WCW’s Nitro ruling the Monday Night Wars, Vince McMahon and his creative team members had quietly been planning a switch from the cartoonish gimmicks of the New Generation Era to something edgier, something that would eventually be known as Attitude. And he had the ear of one of his biggest stars, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, as well as a relatively new friend of his, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who wrestled under a snooty aristocratic gimmick. As documented on Michaels’ autobiography Heartbreak and Triumph, Hunter and Shawn were encouraged to give suggestions to McMahon on how to make the product better, and to sum it up briefly, their suggestions involved a more adult kind of product than the kiddie-oriented fare fans had been seeing over the past few years.

    WWE's Chief Operating Officer in younger, snobbier times.
    At that point, Kliq members HBK and HHH were helping each other out quite frequently in their own respective feuds. This was something that had been going on since August, as Helmsley and storyline bodyguard/real-life girlfriend Chyna interfered in a match between Michaels and Mankind, the latter of whom they were feuding with. In that same match, Rick Rude returned to the WWF, with his long locks and shirtless posing replaced with short hair and a suit; he interfered as well on Michaels’ behalf, as he was now HBK’s new bodyguard, or “insurance policy.”

    As the onscreen collusions continued, Helmsley was slowly dropping his snobby mannerisms with zero fanfare. On the September 22, 1997 RAW, the four-person team of Michaels, Helmsley, Chyna, and Rude laid a vicious post-match beatdown on The Undertaker, and fans like myself had to be thinking—whatever happened to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who had once seemed like the epitome of genteel aristocracy? Looks like the guy’s finally grown himself a pair, thought the teenage Throwback Tito to himself while watching that RAW. That suspicion was confirmed the week later on RAW, as shown in the video below—at the 3:10 mark or so, Michaels asks the man now being called Triple H to “unload on the World Wrestling Federation, ‘cause this is what you’ve been waiting for, buddy.” With those words, the original Hunter Hearst Helmsley gimmick was officially dead, and the wisecracking, irreverent Triple H was born.

    “Now I’ve been sitting back for a couple of years while you and the World Wrestling Federation have spread your legs like some cheap WHORE for all the so-called Superstars of the World Wrestling Federation!”
    And with that promo, D-Generation X was officially born, though it would be a couple of weeks before they became known as such, thanks to Bret Hart referring to them as “degenerates.”

    Meanwhile, at the bottom of the card, “The Real Double J” Jesse James and Rockabilly had just ended one of the lowest feuds in the WWF’s pecking order at the time. James was previously known as the Roadie, kayfabe country singer Jeff Jarrett’s, well, roadie, and he had turned face after revealing himself to be the voice behind Jarrett’s song “With My Baby Tonight.” Rockabilly was formerly Billy Gunn, who had turned on his storyline brother Bart en route to a lukewarm feud, and eventually become Honky Tonk Man’s hip-swiveling protégé. Nobody cared for these two lower-card jabronis, that is, until the night of October 4, 1997, when James had made Rockabilly an offer he couldn’t refuse—let’s stop feuding and do something about our lowly positions on the card.

    "The Real Double J" Jesse James could carry a tune, but couldn't sustain a push.
    Indeed, they did something about their predicament. Rockabilly ended his association with Honky Tonk Man by bashing the self-proclaimed Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All-Time with his guitar. And while that would have suggested a face turn, the newly-formed New Age Outlaws, featuring the repackaged “Road Dogg” Jesse James and “Badd Ass” Billy Gunn, were heelish through and through. They’d cut irreverent promos on their opponents before matches and cheat their way to victory. And it did help get them over to an upwardly mobile spot in the midcard, something Road Dogg had never experienced in his WWF stint, and something the soon-to-be Mr. Ass hadn’t experienced since being one-half of The Smoking Gunns. Their promo skills and charisma, in particular, were a revelation; when given ample mic time, The New Age Outlaws delivered.

    The months that followed saw both DX and The New Age Outlaws flourish as heels, one upper-card faction getting involved in hot main event storylines, one tag team emerging as a viable threat in their division, and eventually winning the tag belts. And both took similar approaches to their “degenerate” gimmicks—both DX and the Outlaws were known for their ribald promos that often crossed the line between good and bad taste. Dick jokes and references were a DX specialty, in particular, while The New Age Outlaws had a penchant for parodying their tag team opponents before matches.

    Little did we know these two lower-carders (with Billy Gunn/Rockabilly's soon-to-be ex-manager Honky Tonk Man) would become one of the WWE's greatest tag teams of all time.
    It was only a matter of time before both groups would consider teaming up with each other due to their similarities, and the catalyst for that team-up would be a tag match between the Outlaws and Cactus Jack/Chainsaw Charlie (Mick Foley and Terry Funk). Before that match, DX told the Outlaws that they needed to be “more controversial” in their actions, and Road Dogg and Mr. Ass took to the task, locking Cactus and Chainsaw in a dumpster during their match and pushing it off the ramp for what seemed like a steep drop to the concrete floor. That match, to me, remains a classic, albeit mainly for Jim Ross’ impassioned screams of “THERE’S PEOPLE IN THERE!

    For a brief moment, tensions brewed within the faction of fun-loving degenerate heels. On the March 30, 1998 RAW, Shawn Michaels was kayfabe fired from DX. According to Triple H, HBK had “dropped the ball” when guest enforcer Mike Tyson’s swerve cost him the WWF Championship match versus Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14; in reality, Michaels was suffering from a back injury that would soon force him into a four-year retirement. With Shawn fired in storyline and Rick Rude having headed off to WCW in November in protest over the Montreal Screwjob, DX was, as it seemed, down to just Triple H and Chyna, but the future Game and Cerebral Assassin wasn’t worried; The New Age Outlaws had passed DX’s tests, and they were inducted into the stable on that same evening. Next up was a surprise addition, straight from WCW—Sean Waltman, formerly the fresh-faced 1-2-3 Kid in WWF and Syxx in WCW, now a bearded degenerate called X-Pac.

    And that’s where the face turn began. Officially heels up to that point, DX were so good at pushing people’s buttons and acting controversially. But they were also very good at riling evil authority figures like Mr. McMahon and erstwhile Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter that a face turn was inevitable. Couple that with the new additions getting massively over—the Outlaws had probably the greatest tag team intro in the history of wrestling, while X-Pac offered speed, athleticism, and wrestling’s answer to aggressive dry-humping, the Bronco Buster. Furthermore, DX wasn’t afraid to take it to the competition, as the stable “invaded” WCW on the April 27, 1998 RAW. They weren’t able to get into the building where WCW was holding Nitro on that same evening, but the audacity of the stunt helped in their transition from cool heels to even cooler antihero babyfaces.

    The DX Army - Triple H briefs Mr. Ass, X-Pac, Chyna, and Road Dogg ahead of their "invasion" of WCW.
    DX, for me, will always be one of the best examples of stable booking. While some may argue it’s the byproduct of Shawn Michaels’ cozying up to the boss—and it is—it’s also a classic example of how DX offered the right type of gimmick at just the right time. As I’ve said in a few previous columns, the young kids weaned on Hulkamania were now teens and young adults who enjoyed sophomoric (though often funny) humor and detested their uptight teachers or bosses. And you also had shows like South Park and Beavis and Butt-head that were really hot around that time, offering the 18-34 demographic (and younger teens too) a dose of in-your-face humor they could relate to; DX offered something similar to WWF fans of the late ‘90s.

    That all said, it was impossible for DX to remain heels forever—even as their actions were generally heelish, those actions were often directed at uptight authority figures. And that made them such successful babyfaces in the Attitude Era.

    What happened next? DX would remain a mainstay of WWF programming for the next couple of years and reunite in the mid-2000s as a tag team of two cool titos, with real-life best friends Shawn Michaels and Triple H holding down the DX fort as the Outlaws operated as The James Gang in TNA. And while DX’s legacy lasts to this very day, not all button-pushing stables in the Attitude Era were successful. In fact, a couple of them are downright forgettable.


    First, let’s start out with a backgrounder on The Nation of Domination. Originally a slightly comedic stable in Jerry Jarrett’s USWA promotion, the Nation debuted in the WWF in the summer of 1996. Faarooq (Ron Simmons) was, at first, the only competing member, as he was accompanied by manager Clarence Mason, white rappers JC Ice and Wolfie D (a.k.a. PG-13, originally part of the USWA Nation), and several suit-wearing black men, including D’Lo Brown. Faarooq would then be joined by Crush, back in the WWF after a truth-stretching “stint in jail,” then by Savio Vega. Those three—African-American Faarooq, Caucasian Crush, and Puerto Rican Vega—would form the nucleus of the Nation, and they had some success as a militant heel stable inspired by the Nation of Islam, despite their multiracial composition. Their most memorable feud was against Ahmed Johnson, whom they considered an Uncle Tom—slang for a black man with no problems being a second-class citizen to the white man.  And as 1997 began, it was only the three core Nation members who remained, plus D’Lo, who continued accompanying the Nation as a non-wrestler.

    Early Nation of Domination. (L-R) JC Ice, Clarence Mason, Faarooq, Crush, Wolfie D. Not in picture - Savio Vega, D'Lo Brown, unnamed African-American suits.
    By mid-1997, though, cracks were beginning to form, with Crush and Savio unable to stand Faarooq’s leadership and unable to stand each other. Faarooq would lose to The Undertaker at King of the Ring 1997 in a WWF Championship match as he was distracted by Savio and Crush arguing with each other, and after that match, he had had enough. He fired those two and immediately promised a “bigger, badder, better, and blacker” Nation of Domination, first bringing back ex-Million Dollar Corporation member “Supreme Fighting Machine” Kama, who now went by the slightly tweaked ring name Kama Mustafa. He joined Faarooq and D’Lo Brown, who had just graduated from Nation bodyguard to actual competitor. And for a potentially promising swerve, musclebound mush-mouth Ahmed Johnson made it a four-man Nation after he turned on The Undertaker following a loss to Faarooq and Kama in a tag match. (Fun fact—lifelong midcarder Kama pinned ‘Taker in that match!)

    With the new, ostensibly improved Nation of Domination having formed, the time came for the recently-fired Crush and Savio Vega to let Faarooq and company know they weren’t going to take their dismissal sitting down. But instead of patching up their differences and turning face to work against a common enemy, they launched their own stables that reeked not of awesomeness, but of racial stereotyping and profiling. That said, the Gang Warz were officially on in the summer of 1997.

    Guess you can say the push of these Hell's Angels wannabes was DOA. Dead on arrival, that is.
    Crush’s stable, the Disciples of Apocalypse, was a team of leather-clad bikers, with the new members vaguely familiar to WWF fans. 8-Ball and Skull were Ron and Don Harris, bald-headed twins who were last seen prominently as The Blu Brothers, a long-haired, bearded team of “mountain men” managed by Uncle Zebekiah, a.k.a. Zeb Colter for today’s fans. Chainz, on the other hand, was Brian Lee, best-known for his time as Ted DiBiase’s Undertaker, or as many prefer to call him, the Underfaker. Yes indeed, these were stereotypical white bikers, with two of them being skinheads, and it didn’t help that one of the Harris twins had an obscured, yet visible Nazi SS tattoo.

    Meanwhile, Vega’s stable was called Los Boricuas, and while casual fans hadn’t the faintest clue of who the other Boricuas were, they were all second-generation Puerto Rican stars—Miguel Perez Jr., Jose Estrada Jr., and Jesus Castillo, a.k.a. Huracan Castillo Jr. in his home country. And they all epitomized the typical Latino thug, with matching outfits of wifebeater tanks and white pants. The name “Los Boricuas” referred to a traditional name for Puerto Rican people, though one can argue that portraying the average Puerto Rican male as a gang member isn’t at all a good way to represent the country.

    Hirsute Los Boricuas member Miguel Perez (back row, right) got jeers of "SHAVE YOUR BACK!" from Attitude Era crowds.
    Now that we’ve established The Nation of Domination’s backstory and who DOA and Los Boricuas were, let’s take a look at the problems behind this three-way feud. First is the issue of convolution. Wouldn’t it have been easier, as I suggested above, for Savio and Crush to forget their beefs with each other and recruit two other guys—oh, I don’t know, maybe a Bob Holly or a Bart Gunn, as both weren’t doing much around that time—to feud with the Nation as a face stable? That’s what brings us to the second issue, which is racial stereotyping. Black militants versus white bikers versus Hispanic street thugs—all are frowned upon by certain portions of society, and having these stereotypes feud against each other served as another example of how WWF/E often fails to get it right in matters of race. And even as America and the world largely denounced racism in the late ‘90s, there were so many things to remind us that it was still a problem—the film American History X comes to mind. So does the racially-motivated murder of African-American man James Byrd Jr. by three white men, including two purported Neo-Nazis. WWF fans didn’t need another reminder of why race was still a hot-button topic, even three decades after Martin Luther King’s assassination.

    Beyond all the issues with stereotyping, however, there are the third and fourth, and most pressing problems with the Gang Warz feud of 1997 to 1998. It was heel vs heel vs heel, and even if you may argue that the Attitude Era did away with traditional face-heel paradigms, these were three heel factions with no redeeming factors. The Rock, who replaced the oft-injured Ahmed Johnson in the Nation, had yet to fully get over as being entertaining and funny. With Faarooq as Nation leader, the faction meant serious business. DOA wasn’t exactly a hotbed for workrate and/or promo skills. As for Los Boricuas, Savio’s stablemates were largely unknown outside of Puerto Rico. And that’s another thing about the Gang Warz—none of the DOA or Los Boricuas underlings had any defining character traits or specific roles. 8-Ball, Skull, Chainz, Perez, Estrada, and Castillo were mostly silent background characters, unlike the Nation’s D’Lo, Kama, and The Rock, who had much better character development and much more promo time.

    Compare this feud with the Divas Revolution three-way feud from earlier this year. No, that wasn’t a very good feud either, but at least you had one faction—Team PCB—who played a clear babyface role. Most of the women involved in that feud are talented individuals, while Team BAD in particular stood out for having clearly defined roles—Naomi as the leader, Tamina as the silent muscle, Sasha Banks as the young upstart. The Gang Warz was essentially the established Nation of Domination stable versus Crush’s new faction of generic bikers and Savio’s new faction of  generic thugs, all bad guys beefing with each other, and nothing to make any one faction stand out as the babyface group.

    Sometimes the Gang Warz became a four-way - in this example, kayfabe South African faction The Truth Commission (three Canadians and an American) played the epal role. And yes, they were also heels.
    So how did this feud play out? In an ironic twist, DOA and Los Boricuas’ stable leaders ended up leaving the WWF before their generic lackeys did. Crush left soon after the Montreal Screwjob, supposedly in protest of the incident, while Vega was gone soon after 1998’s God-awful Brawl for All tourney. All three “gang” leaders, however, were still in the WWF for the Ground Zero: In Your House pay-per-view in September 1997, where Savio beat Crush and Faarooq in a three-way match. DOA and Los Boricuas would feud with each other (heel vs heel, must we remind you) while the Nation began feuding again with the Legion of Doom. Following yet another Ahmed Johnson injury, Rocky Maivia turned heel, became The Rock, and replaced Ahmed in the Nation. Ahmed would turn face upon his return and align himself with LoD and Ken Shamrock as that feud continued and the Nation regained the heat they lost while actively taking part in the Gang Warz. Meanwhile, DOA and Los Boricuas kept the flames of the Gang Warz burning as they fell farther down the card.

    1998 would see the Nation reenter the Gang Warz, but as Mark Henry joined the stable in January and The Rock took over Faarooq’s leadership in March, it was clear that they were too over to be part of the Gang Warz. As it turned out, The Nation of Domination became more over in ‘98 despite of, not because of the Gang Warz, while neither DOA nor Los Boricuas got over at all.

    DOA vs Boricuas - who's the babyface here? Using WWF's logic, it would depend on your race.
    The WWF, and later on the WWE, did learn a bit from this mistake of a race-centric feud. Nobody wanted to see three factions representing stereotypes of specific ethnicities warring with each other, but edgy, often inappropriate, and sometimes tasteless humor did go down well with Attitude Era fans. Sadly, the WWF/E wasn’t done playing racial stereotypes for laughs, as fans would later see with The Mexicools and Cryme Tyme, or for heat, like in the Triple H vs Booker T feud ahead of their World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania XIX. Still, it’s a good thing we haven’t seen anything like the Gang Warz since that storyline went down like the proverbial fart in church.


    Got any more examples of stable booking that worked and stable booking that didn’t? How are you enjoying what the WWE is doing now with The League of Nations, The Wyatt Family, and other present-day stables? Maybe you’ve got an idea for stable-centric feuds for 2016? Let us know in the comments section!

    The Throwback Tito is Enzo Tanos, a freelance writer and the drummer/manager for garage rock band The Myopics, where he hopes to debut his masked lucha drummer persona “Sin Verguenza” in future gigs. A wrestling fan since childhood, he’s old enough to remember watching Outback Jack’s pointless vignettes, and One Man Gang’s transformation to Akeem.

    PHOTO CREDITS - Hunter Hearst Helmsley circa 1995 c/o WrestleCrap, Jesse James c/o Wrestlingfigs, New Age Outlaws form c/o WWE France, DX Army c/o Team Triple H (Tumblr), early Nation c/o Cageside Seats, DOA and Los Boricuas stable photos c/o News Hub, DOA vs Boricuas c/o Bleacher Report
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    Item Reviewed: Thursday Night Tanders (12/31/15): The Dos and Don'ts of Stable Booking (Part 2 of 2) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Enzo Tanos
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