Thursday, June 19, 2014

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Renegade
Photo Courtesy: WWE
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

It seems in all forms of entertainment there are always pretenders to the throne.  There are very few original ideas, but wrestlers, writers, and promoters come up with new ways to present those storylines and characters.  In the 1980's and 90's it seemed when a major player left a company, there was some sort of need to recreate the character.   Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't.  Here are a few of my favorites.

The Renegade
Photo Courtesy: WWE
I don't usually speak ill of the dead, but when The Renegade was introduced to us in 1995, I (along with just about all other wrestling fans) thought he was a poor man's Ultimate Warrior.  Renegade was hired by WCW to be Hulk Hogan's "ultimate surprise."  Rick Walker (RIP), who played the character, had long brown hair, face paint, and rambled in his promos, just like the originator: Ultimate Warrior.

This was before WCW had even really started the Monday Night Wars, but with signing guys like Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, I guess Eric Bischoff thought it made sense to get a Warrior look-a-like.  We learned quickly though that the Renegade couldn't compare, even after beating Arn Anderson for the WCW TV title (which I still consider a major upset in the business)  It was a nice try, but at the end of the day Renegade never connected with the fans and he tried being something he was not.  The Ultimate Warrior stood the test of time because Jim Hellwig BECAME that character.  It was his life, and that's why nearly 30 years later, we're still talking about and praising this legend.

Cpl. Kirchner
Photo Courtesy: WWE
Sargent Slaughter had a solid following of patriotic fans when he stood up to the Russian Nikolai Volkoff and his Iranian sidekick the Iron Sheik.  They had bloody battles and fans loudly chanted USA! as Sarge got the best of the anti-Americans.  But when he left WWF in 1985, the company replaced him with a lower ranking officer.  Corporal Kirchner burst onto the scene and tried to pick up where Slaughter had left off, but just fell flat.  Even as a tween and teenager, I could tell this wasn't going to work.  I think the corporal's WWF highlight included a flag match victory over Volkoff at Wrestlemania II and an LJN action figure in his likeness. I still have mine.  It didn't take long for him to tumble into obscurity, before leaving WWF and finding success with a new gimmick, Leatherface.

Sivi Afi
Photo Courtesy: WWE
Finally, I think it's safe to say "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka was one of the most popular wrestlers in the world back in the early and mid-80's.  He was right behind Hogan and Andre the Giant for a long time in the WWF.  Snuka was voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated's most popular wrestler in 1983.  The Superfly eventually flew away though, leaving the WWF in 1985.  Snuka's "cousin" "Superfly" Afi was brought in to take over.  I liked him, I really did.  He reminded me of a younger version of Snuka, but never quite enough to make you forget about Jimmy.  Eventually Afi dropped the nickname and became Sivi Afi.  It wasn't long before he was enhancement talent and wrestling on Superstars putting over the likes of Savage, Ted DiBiase, and Harley Race.  

Of the three mentioned talents here, I really thought Afi would go the furtherest, but it was never meant to be.  I don't blame these men for signing up to take on these roles, in some cases (maybe all) they had no choice in the matter and were given the gimmick by the powers that be and told to make it work.  Nonetheless, they have provided many memories for me, and deserve some credit for at least getting into the ring and entertaining (or trying to entertain) the audience.

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