Thursday, June 26, 2014

Soothing the Savage Beasts

Steele, Bushwhackers, & Kamala
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

In recent years we've seen monsters like Kane, Big Show, and The Great Khali toned down and turned into lovable or at least likable baby faces.  It's not a new trend by any means (even though Kane has returned to his demonic ways), and to illustrate the point, I'm going to talk about a few of my favorite examples of soothing the savage beasts of wrestling in the 1980's.
George "The Animal" Steele
Photo courtesy: WWE
George "The Animal" Steele lived up to his name through his career.  When I started watching wrestling in 1983, George was still wrestling as a bad guy.  He tore his opponents apart as his manager at the time, Mr. Fuji watched with that sly smile on his face.  During the summer of 1984, he and Fuji teamed up to take on Hulk Hogan and announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund.  This match is my first real memory of Steele wrestling.  He would flail his arms around and groan like a madman in ring.  It was a site to behold and worked well at psyching out his opponents and leaving fans to wonder just how crazy the guy was.  I know prior to all that he had had some intense matches with then WWF Champion Bruno Sammartino as well.

Right after the first Wrestlemania and on what I believe was the first Saturday Night's Main Event, The Animal was abandoned by his tag team partners The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff along with manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie.  The trio left George to get beaten in a six man tag team match against Barry Windham, Mike Rotunda, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.  The abandonment lead George to the wildly popular baby face manager Captain Lou Albano.  Over time, The Captain did his best to tame the Animal.  He underwent shock treatment, but alas, once an animal always an animal.  After Albano retired, George went it alone, but toted around a stuffed version of himself, called Mine.  I always wanted one of those plush toys, but never got one.

"George's manager! Win! Lizabeth!"
Photo courtesy: WWE
He feuded with "Macho Man" Randy Savage over the hand of the lovely Miss Elizabeth, as well as the Intercontinental championship.  The Animal came up short against Savage at Wrestlemania II for the belt.  Later, the two had a match on SNME, in which the winner "got" Liz.  As a preteen fan, and a mark for George, I thought for sure that night he'd win and a new era for the Beauty and the Beast would be underway.  It didn't happen though. But his turn, along with his love for turnbuckles, his green tongue, and his hairy torso landed him on ice cream bars, tshirts, and action figures (I still have my George LJN figure).  He also joined forces with the likes of Junkyard Dog and Steamboat.

The bloody and battered Sheepherders
Before The Bushwhackers became the beloved and dimwitted duo of the WWF, they were the brutally dangerous Sheepherders in the Midsouth and other wrestling territories.  As the Sheepherders, I can remember some of their bloody and brutal matches against the Fantastics.  Luke Williams and Butch Miller would go back and forth with Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton.  Before I'd started watching them on TV though, the Sheepherders (also known as the Kiwis) had spilled a lot of blood around the world.  
The Bushwhackers
Photo courtesy: WWE
I was shocked in 1989, when they surfaced on WWF television as a couple of arm waving cousins.  Their look hadn't really changed, but their attitude certainly did.  The fans took to them like a fish takes to water.  And speaking of fish, the Bushwhackers loved eating sardines.  Luke and Butch never achieved WWF gold, but their run was successful none-the-less as they secured a place in the hearts of wrestling fans around the world.  The popular duo also appeared on the TV show Family Matters.

Kamala battles Hulk Hogan
Photo courtesy: WWE
The one transition from savage beast to gentle giant that I don't think worked so well was Kamala.  As the Ugandan Headhunter, Kamala struck fear in the hearts of his opponents and wrestling fans.  He was a huge attraction in companies like World Class Championship Wrestling, WWF, and WCW.  He was a crazed lunatic in that ring, often ignoring his handlers Friday or Kim Chee.  He threw caution into the wind as he would splash his already beaten opponent.  Kamala would gnaw on his foe's forehead, appearing to the cannibal fans worried he might be.  And I loved every minute of it.

Slick & Kamala go bowling
Photo courtesy: WWE
By late 1992 or early 1993, the WWF decided to pair the Ugandan with the newly saved Slick.  The Doctor of Style had become a reverend and began preaching to Kamala.  He tried in vain to integrate the beast into society.  One of the memorable vignettes came when the two went bowling.  I didn't like the conversion and was thankful they never gave Kamala a speaking role, as I really enjoyed his brutal, headhunter gimmick.  

All three of these examples bring back fond memories for me.  They're just a few of the savage beasts who became soothed along the way.  They're all legendary and have earned their spots in wrestling history.  Thank you gentlemen.

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