What better way to honor Memorial Day and the brave men who defended our freedom than those who protected it within the confines of the squared circle?
And while Memorial Day honors those who served our country and are no longer with us, I didn’t want to wait until Veterans Day to showcase this particular gimmick. Now, seeing as this is in honor of Memorial Day, there’s no room here for your Gen. Skandor Akbars or Col. DeBeers. This is a look at American militaristic wrestlers — a gimmick that has seemed to fizzle out for the time being. Sure, Cena’s done a good job of trading in his rapping gimmick for the pseudo military thing he adopted after filming The Marine; like occasionally switching it up from wearing jorts to camouflage cargo shorts, pushing John Cena dog tags on WWE Shop Zone and, of course, incorporating the military salute into his entrance.
Apparently, John Cena thought filming The Marine was the equivalent of boot camp training and because he thinks like they do it only made sense to kind of adopt this military-like gimmick. He does look like a real-life G.I. Joe, I’ll give him that. Let’s just give WWE credit for letting this happen systematically and not being all “gung-ho” about it. Because as much as the WWE supports the troops, they probably know a full-fledged military gimmick in this day and age wouldn’t go over well seeing as the majority of the United States hasn’t really been pro war for over the last decade. And a heel military gimmick probably wouldn’t go over as well during those Tribute to the Troops shows.
The first wrestler to really gain any popularity utilizing the military gimmick is the man who is still recognized and parodied as the quintessential military wrestler to this day: Sgt. Slaughter. The Sarge was originally a heel, which worked, as most drill sergeants are presented as loud-mouth assholes who like to get in your face and talk shit. Sgt. Slaughter was pretty damn good at it — calling people maggots, scum, and puke in most of his promos.
Slaughter even had a few recruits following him around in the NWA; Private Don Kernodle and Private Jim Nelson. Oddly enough they were known as the Cobra Corps. Then again, his finisher was the Cobra Clutch. How was this guy not revealed to be a spy for Cobra while appearing on the G.I. Joe cartoons?
Kernodle and Nelson took on the “private” titles, as they were not legit military men like Slaughter and most of the guys that I’ll be covering. So, while he was American and a former marine, Slaughter wasn’t pushing any USA propaganda. If anything, he was all about making the U.S. a lot stronger and tougher because we had all become sissified. It worked because he whipped Kernodle and Nelson into shape, bagging himself a couple of NWA Tag Team Title wins.
It wasn’t until he surfaced in the WWE, that Sgt. Slaughter became a fan favorite. After debuting as a heel and having one of the best hardcore matches of that era in wrestling, against Pat Patterson, Sarge decided to defend America’s honor against number one evil foreigner wrestling terrorist and sound byte machine, The Iron Sheik. This feud helped catapult Slaughter into the number two babyface spot in the company, right behind Hulk Hogan. Then Slaughter left due to some falling out with McMahon, either having to do with McMahon not granting him vacation time, or not wanting Slaughter to pimp himself out to Hasbro for that sweet G.I. Joe money.
Soon after, Sgt. Slaughter was replaced with enhancement guy, Corporal Kirchner. Another legit military man who had served in the 82nd Airborne, and apparently was an even more legitimate tough bastard who liked to potato the hell out of his opponents. Working stiff in the ring didn’t grant him a long enough career with the WWE, but he did take up a feud with the number two evil foreigner wrestling terrorist, Nikolai Volkoff.
They had a crapload of flag vs. flag matches I’m sure, the most important one of which took place at WrestleMania 2… which Kirchner won, despite never capturing his opponent’s flag, but simply pinning him. I guess all the details of a flag match hadn’t been ironed out at this point in time. High profile WrestleMania moment aside, Kirchner was just a poor substitute for Sgt. Slaughter. Not even the bootleg G.I. Joe toy line The Corps! bothered making a figure of him, but he did get a WWE-licensed LJN action figure bearing his likeness. He wasn’t as charismatic or as good a worker as Slaughter. But other than wearing camouflage well and carrying an American flag, Kirchner didn’t really do much to reinvent the gimmick either. He was just in better shape than Slaughter.
One man who kind of breathed new life into the militaristic role was WCW/NWA’s Ranger Ross, but only because he happened to be African American. Other than that, he was a pretty bland performer. He also didn’t care much for the camo attire, dropping it early on in favor of basic black trunks. He might’ve been ahead of his time with that wardrobe choice, but for a military man it just wasn’t going to do.
The former U.S. Army paratrooper did carry around an American flag though, as is standard issue with this gimmick. His first major feud, as with most pro-American wrestlers was against The Iron Sheik. One of their matches even took place at the Clash of the Champions VI, in which he made his entrance rappelling from the top of the Superdome. Eat your heart out, Shawn Michaels. Now, if that doesn’t sell you on subscribing to the WWE Network, I don’t know what will.
Ross stuck around for a while, trading wins and losses on both regular-ass TV and on main shows like other Clash of the Champions, and a couple of pay-per-views. He was definitely in the mix. Hell, even Zack Ryder can’t say that nowadays. Unfortunately, there weren’t any flag matches or more evil foreigners for Ross to fend off, and seeing as this was old school WCW, they weren’t really big on gimmicks yet. There’s not much on YouTube with regards to any Ranger Ross promos, so it’s hard to tell how big a personality he was. However, he did take a page from the G.I. Joe book, and incorporated Kung-Fu Grip like maneuvers, and educating his feet to perform moves like his finisher: the Combat Kick. Eat your heart out again, Shawn Michaels!
Around 1990, Sgt. Slaughter had returned to the WWE for the sheer purpose of exploiting the crisis in the Middle East during the Gulf War… because this is wrestling and anything remotely war-related, or any hint of foreign relations gone sour is going to be milked on WWE television.
And this wasn’t any different.
Slaughter was still very much in his American military fatigues but was now a turncoat. He was the first American militaristic wrestler to go full anti-America. And much like his former Cobra Corps, Slaughter had back up in the form of evil foreigner wrestling terrorists Gen. Adnan and Col. Mustafa. It was a fresh take on the military character, and a big gamble for Slaughter seeing as how popular he was within the world of G.I. Joe. However, not so much within the WWE universe circa 1990′s, since it had been years since anyone had seen him. And within those years, Slaughter had let himself go.
There were certain things that even anti-America Sgt. Slaughter wouldn’t do though. Instead of burning the American flag during a segment, as he was asked to do by Vince McMahon, he instead burned a Hulk Hogan t-shirt because it might as well be the American flag, am I right?
And good call on his part, considering how crazy wrestling fans can be sometimes. And how much crazier patriotic wrestling fans can be. He drew a lot of heat as the Iraqi sympathizer, but not headlining WrestleMania VII, and pinning The Ultimate Warrior along the way, type of heat. And everyone else seemed to think so, as WrestleMania VII failed to sell out the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Soon after his anti-climactic loss to Hogan, Slaughter wanted his country back via many Saturday morning Superstars vignettes and was welcomed back by Mr. USA himself, Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
After failing as a sergeant with the state patrol of… I’m assuming it was Georgia, seeing as he was employed by WCW, Buddy Lee Parker returned to his “military” roots.
According to Wikipedia though, there isn’t much of a military background on file for Parker. Kinda makes his Sgt. status questionable and fraudulent, but seeing as I’m focusing on military gimmicks — he fits right in. Especially because he really ran with it and believed that his trainees at the WCW Power Plant were his privates. He drill-instructed them and forced them to train like crazy. Just ask Batista. So, while Sgt. Slaughter was calling guys puke, Parker was legit making guys puke their guts out. He wasn’t a big guy, and he wasn’t that great of a wrestler, which makes sense since he trained Bill Goldberg, his prized student.
Parker was used as WCW Saturday Night fodder and as an extra to fill up the ring during WCW’s World War 3 pay-per-views. His most noteworthy feud came in the form of teaming with his former student, Goldberg, against Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell. By this time though, he was mostly known as the WCW trainer, and had distanced himself from the whole military thing. Which is a good idea, considering he was never in the military in the first place. Granted, most gimmicks used by wrestlers aren’t based on their actual backgrounds. At least I hope not, for the sake of guys like TL Hopper and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. But for the most part, most military gimmicks were given to legit jarheads and whatever other nicknames they have for the different branches of the military. Except for Buddy Lee Parker. He was a poser.
Back To Basics
When Sgt. Craig Pittman stepped onto the scene he decided to go old school, much like his fellow former marine Sgt. Slaughter, and go the asshole route. He too felt that America had gone soft. Unlike Ranger Ross, Pittman was basically black Sgt. Slaughter. And like most Sgt. Slaughter clones, Pittman made no impact during his time in WCW. In fact, his most high-profile feud was against Cobra… who ironically was a good guy. I’m starting to think nobody in wrestling ever watched the G.I. Joe cartoons except for CM Punk. So no, Cobra was not another copyright infringement gimmick based off of Cobra Commander, the same way Arachnaman was based on Spider-Man, or Glacier would eventually be based on Sub-Zero. Cobra was just a white bread, plain-looking dude who also “happened to be” in the marines alongside Pittman.
According to WCW folklore, Pittman had abandoned Cobra and left him for dead during the Gulf War. So, besides ripping off WWE storyline themes, WCW was also doing it a few years late. Cobra figured the best way to get revenge was not to court martial Pittman à la A Few Good Men, but to settle this injustice in the ring! The popular feud took WCW Saturday Night by storm and never culminated in any kind of pay-per-view pay-off and with good reason. Nobody cared about these guys. People cared even less when Pittman became a good guy. It seemed as if fans were tired of the American militaristic wrestler.
Fast forward, something like six years later, and WCW reinvented the wheel by introducing not one, not two, not even three, but a whole damn group, squadron, troop, platoon, cavalry of camouflage combatants: The Misfits in Action. The MIA were a group of wrestlers with ridiculous codenames that would make the entire G.I. Joe roster groan in unison. The leader of the group was Hugh Morrus, now known as Gen. Hugh G. Rection — an even worse play on words than Hugh Morrus.
Alongside him were G.I. Bro, or Booker T., who for some reason or another didn’t have a rank, and was not the damn leader of the group. Others included mid-carder for life, Van Hammer as Major Stash because drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I guess. Eye candy Tylene Buck as Major Gunns, becuase she had huge tits. Chavo Guerrero as Lt. Loco, because Mexican. The Wall as Sgt. AWOL because of even more clever word play. And Lash Laroux as Cpl. Cajun because of alliteration and Louisiana words. It was a horrible gimmick, but apparently one that these guys were saddled with because Vince Russo felt they were too lazy to get over. At least that’s what Wikipedia says. In Russo’s eyes, this was their ticket to the main event.
Major Gunns. Being a “major,” she was technically the highest ranking officer.
Being the early 2000’s, wrestling was still trying to come up with the next New World Order or Degeneration-X. And they sure as hell weren’t going to let it happen organically. Unfortunately, the MIA was less like the n.W.o. and more like the Truth Commission. I guess you’ve got to give Russo credit for trying to give every wrestler on the roster a story or gimmick, other than World War 3 battle royal participant. But considering WCW’s roster at the time was practically double the size of the WWE’s, the old adage of “less is more” definitely applied to this case. And it applied to the fact that there wasn’t any need for an entire group of military wrestlers.
Despite the long drought of young, new military wrestlers, Sgt. Slaughter still kept the gimmick alive by getting RKO’d by Randy Orton, or even as recently as being Neutralized by Cesaro. But the newest and most recent wrestler to proudly carry the banner for the United States Armed Forces was former Navy Seal, Jesse Neal. Which, oddly enough, was not his wrestling name despite the perfect rhyming scheme. In 2009, Jesse debuted in TNA and played up his military background for about a day. Seeing as he looked the way he did, Jesse spent most of his career as a poster boy for tribal tattoos and reality shows like L.A. Ink, and did more for tattoos in pro wrestling than he did for military pro wrestling gimmicks. Every now and then, TNA would remember that he was in the navy and incorporate it onto their programming, like having him lead the crowd in a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner when Osama Bin Laden was killed. So there was that.
As you can see, while Jesse Neal left a lot to be desired of when it came to the American militaristic wrestler, John Cena has proudly carried on the tradition. Occasional camouflage and all. He’s got most of the gimmick down aside from actually having been in the military, but as you can see that never stopped other, less successful, wrestlers. It’ll be interesting to see what the evolution of this gimmick will be once Cena’s out of the picture. But with the majority of the United States pretty much having had their fill of war over the last decade, the next version might even have more of a loose affiliation with the military. Unless we get attacked again and go into full G.I. Joe mode. All I know is that with its continuing support of the troops and it being the only major player in the game, the WWE will definitely keep the gimmick going in some form or another because everything in wrestling is recycled. And, well, ‘Murica.