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    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    Thursday Night Tanders (3/24/2016): On Religious Gimmicks—WWE's Seven Deadly Sins

    If you're like most Filipinos, you're either spending Holy Week on the beach with your friends and/or family, staying home to reflect on your sins and how Jesus Christ died for them, or staying home because there's hardly an establishment open. The Throwback Tito mainly falls into the third category, and with that in mind, I'm here to take you back in time to those occasions where professional wrestling, well, committed sins against good taste, good storytelling, or the powers that be in religious circles. In other words, we're going to be talking religious gimmicks on this Holy Week special edition of Thursday Night Tanders. Some of these gimmicks, if you may notice, were covered in brief (or in detail, as an angle) by my colleague George in this week's #WTFWednesday.

    Now not all of these gimmicks are bad ones, but most of them serve as proof that it's hardly ever a good idea to mix religion with wrestling. As such, it's probably best we refer to them as WWE's Seven Deadly Sins, as there are seven gimmicks in this list, and they all happen to have been launched on WWF or WWE programming. I'll be listing them in chronological order, starting out with a man who didn't preach the word of God, but rather the word of Love.


    1. BROTHER LOVE (1988-1991, occasional appearances thereafter)

    Brother Love with "Macho Man" Randy Savage and "Scary" Sherri Martel. Photo c/o The Examiner

    The younger brother of "Dr." Tom Prichard (a.k.a. Bodydonna Zip), Bruce Prichard's main skill was on the mic and not in the ring. He debuted in the WWF in 1988 as the smarmy Brother Love. With a white suit and an artificially red face, Brother Love was a parody of the likes of real-life televangelists Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker, and he hosted a regular talk show on Superstars where he'd interview—and berate—babyface wrestlers, while naturally praising the heels.

    Unlike the other gimmicks in this list, I actually liked Brother Love as a kid, and still find him entertaining to this day. The guy was the epitome of insincere, right down to his trademark catchphrase, "AHHHHH LOOOOVE YEWWWWW!" His show helped set up many a feud, and he even got to manage The Undertaker when he made his WWF debut, and launched Paul Bearer as 'Taker's new manager shortly thereafter. However, Brother Love did get VERY controversial when he became a faith healer in 1991, purportedly making the blind see and making the crippled walk. And while this ruffled more than a few feathers back in the day, his writing off at the hands of the Ultimate Warrior (who memorably wrecked the Brother Love Show and broke his ribs) was due to personal problems on Prichard's end, and not due to fallout from the "faith healer" extension of the Brother Love gimmick.

    Prichard would return a couple years later as Dusty Rhodes parody Reo Rogers, and after a few years behind the scenes, he'd resurface briefly as Brother Love, as you'll find out a bit later in this article.

    2. FRIAR FERGUSON (1993)

    New York church officials told this wrestling monk to booger off. Photo c/o CrazyMax.org
    The late Mike Shaw had a knack of being saddled with some of the strangest gimmicks in the world of wrestling. In Stampede Wrestling, he was "born-again Pakistani" Makhan Singh, and in WCW he was the unhinged Norman the Lunatic, who eventually became occupational guy Trucker Norm. And when he joined the WWF in April 1993, the 400-pound Shaw took up the persona of Friar Ferguson, a wrestling monk.

    Friar Ferguson was on TV for such a short period of time; he didn't cut any promos, and he only squashed jobbers. It's still unsure whether he was meant to be a face or a heel, as the Catholic Church of New York complained about the gimmick and forced WWF Creative to repackage Shaw. When he re-debuted a few months later, he was entering to the sound of farts and burps as the slovenly Bastion Booger. Somehow, I think even Friar Ferguson would have been better than what we eventually got to see from the Boogerman.


    Only in the WWF, circa 1996. A tag team of (male) nuns defeats a tag team of pig farmers. Photo c/o WhatCulture
    Indeed, Brother Love (see above) was involved in yet another one of those times pro wrestling sinned against good taste and/or smart booking. In late 1996, jobbers Chaz Warrington and Glenn Ruth shaved their heads and became Mosh and Thrasher respectively, a.k.a. The Headbangers. But since they failed to make the desired impact upon their debut, they got repackaged once again—as two men in nun's habits, albeit with female names. Warrington became Mother Smucker (try that for subtlety) and Ruth became Sister Angelica, and as the Flying Nuns, they were off to a good start on the debut episode of Shotgun Saturday Night,  defeating the established pig farmer tag team, the Godwinns. Brother Love was so impressed that he offered to manage the duo and rename them the Sisters of Love.

    The Flying Nuns/Sisters of Love only lasted one Shotgun Saturday episode and no more. It was so obvious that these were dudes in drag, and before they could wrestle another match under that gimmick, Warrington and Ruth were back to being Mosh and Thrasher, and eventually had a solid run after all as The Headbangers. Hey, at least they were still wearing skirts.

    4. BORN-AGAIN GOLDUST (1998)

    Working the born-again gimmick and using his birth name, Dustin Runnels won only one match on RAW. Screen cap c/o WWE Network
    Ideally, Goldust's storyline divorce from real-life wife Marlena (Terri Runnels) in 1997 should have been the foundation for an epic heel turn. Instead, Goldust launched into an impersonator gimmick (what is it with impersonator gimmicks?) that only saw the Bizarre One becoming more bizarre than ever before. The year after, he burned his Goldust costume and began wrestling under his real name Dustin Runnels—not even Rhodes—and advertising himself as a born-again, Bible-thumping Christian. He even talked about "his" return, and not a few fans thought he was referring to Jesus Christ himself.

    Still, you have to remember WWF's head writer at the time was Vince Russo, the Sultan of Swerve and the Prince of Punny Acronyms. Goldust/Runnels' born-again vignettes were sponsored by a group called Evangelists Against Television, Movies, and Entertainment. Try spelling that acronym out for yourself. The gimmick/angle's payoff? The "he" whom Runnels said would be returning was none other than the Goldust gimmick, which returned in October 1998 for more midcard feuds. So much for the storyline divorce catapulting him to the main event.


    How do you reinvent the Dudley Boyz, or a Dudley Boy without their trademark tables? You can say what you want about the Dudleys' recent heel turn, but at least it doesn't involve turning D-Von, who's known for shouting "TESTIFY!", into a hypocritical reverend. With Bubba Ray heading to RAW and D-Von to SmackDown after the 2002 brand split, D-Von became Reverend D-Von, "Mr. McMahon's spiritual advisor." And with him came a burly sidekick called Deacon Batista, who'd walk around the ring carrying a collection box. That's right—an evil, hypocritical reverend and his silent muscle.

    As a bad guy, Reverend D-Von just wasn't the natural heel his storyline "brother" Bubba Ray is, and still isn't. And that gimmick served as proof that taking away everything that made the Dudley Boyz cool was not a good idea. It wasn't long before the Deacon turned on the Reverend, and moved over to the RAW brand as Vince McMahon's next great muscleman. And it goes without saying that he wasn't a deacon anymore, but rather an Animal. Now that's a good Evolution.

    6. MORDECAI (2004)

    OVW talent Kevin Fertig was greatly hyped ahead of his SmackDown debut as Mordecai. Ever encounter those people who believe in black-and-white religious morality and think everyone is going to Hell for their sins? Those people exist, and Mordecai was a caricature of them—dressed in white, with platinum-blonde hair and beard. He was teased with several vignettes where he would threaten the "sinners" of the world, saying that the "day of reckoning is upon us." And finally, he made his debut, squashing JTTS Scotty Too Hotty in what was supposed to be the first of many wins. Heck, he even cut a promo against Mr. Lie, Cheat, and Steal himself, Eddie Guerrero, and was reportedly due to feud with The Undertaker at some point in the future!

    Despite the promising start, the Mordecai gimmick was completely ludicrous. The sword, the pre-match prayers, the threats of everyone in the audience and in the locker room paying for their sins, it was all too over-the-top. Mainly, the man in white was very green in the ring at that point in his career, and that was his biggest "sin" against Creative. Fertig was busted back down to OVW, and when he returned to the main roster, it was as a different gimmick altogether—vampire Kevin Thorn.

    7. GOD (2006)

    No, not the Wrestling God, but THE God. Photo c/o WWE YouTube
    That's right, God. The Man Upstairs, the Hipster from Heaven (WTF, Vince?), the creator of the universe, He who is all-knowing and all-loving. God was once a WWE Superstar, and if you don't believe me, you can go look it up—card recaps for Backlash 2006 show a tag team match featuring Vince and Shane McMahon versus Shawn Michaels and God.

    God's debut, if you can call it that, was booked when Vince and Shane challenged Shawn Michaels to a No Holds Barred handicap tag match—seems fair enough, as the McMahon men are mainly authority figures, and Michaels, even at 40-plus with a history of injuries, was still a high-level performer. But Vince wanted to even out the odds, and decided to give HBK a tag team partner befitting of his real-life status as a born-again Christian. That partner was none other than God himself, and after weeks of Vince openly mocking God in backstage segments, the match took place at Backlash, with "God" getting one of the most unusual ring entrances in WWE history.

    What happened in that match? It was overbooked as hell, no pun intended, and it featured seven men (the McMahons and Spirit Squad) ganging up on HBK, who, to his credit, put up quite a good fight and tried to make it an entertaining match. In the end, Vince and Shane beat Michaels and God, the latter of whom had "left the building" during the match, per Mr. McMahon himself.

    If Vince wanted to prove through that match that he was, at least in storyline, more powerful than God, then mission accomplished. But it also accomplished the mission of being in extremely poor taste, and served as a cheap attempt to exploit Michaels' conversion to born-again Christianity. It's also probably the reason why we haven't seen any serious attempts at religious gimmicks or storylines for the past ten years.

    Thank God for that.


    What are your thoughts on the above-mentioned religious gimmicks? Got others which you liked, or which you feel weren't exactly the best idea at the time? Do you think WWE should, or should not mix religion in its storytelling again? Let us know in the comments section—one comment = one prayer! (I kid, I kid!)

    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.
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    Item Reviewed: Thursday Night Tanders (3/24/2016): On Religious Gimmicks—WWE's Seven Deadly Sins Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Enzo Tanos
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