A brief break from the usual format of the column, as we explore
THE STATE VS. THE DEAD BODY OF KEVIN FERTIG, ALIAS MORDECAI*
* The section heading here refers to the way coroner’s inquests are titled, or used to be titled in the 19th century. For instance, the inquest into Curt Hennig’s death would have read, “The State of Florida vs. the Dead Body of Curt Hennig.Ã¢â‚¬Â Hopefully Eric doesn’t mind me swiping his gimmick of footnotes, but a parenthetical aside seemed inappropriate here.
– Despite all the plans for a huge push, Mordecai is already being sent back down to OVW for more training. Management, especially Vince McMahon, originally had big plans for him.
Didn’t see that coming. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have devoted so much of last week’s column to discussing everyone’s favorite “extreme gimmick.Ã¢â‚¬Â But in the course of absorbing the news that Mordecai had gone the way of Nathan Jones and Matt Morgan, you may have missed this piece of information from only one day earlier:
There is actual talk backstage of doing an Eddie Guerrero/Mordecai program following Summerslam. Word backstage is that Vince McMahon has more or less ignored the fact that Mordecai, a character he basically created, has failed to catch on with the fans.
Credit: Torch Newsletter
Interesting, isn’t it? King Vince’s pet project shot back down to Jimmy Cornette’s little fiefdom in Louisville. What possible conclusions could we draw here?
Vince pushed Mordecai in spite of obvious fan apathy; he busted him back down to the minors when reality caught up with him.
Sounds plausible enough to me. Those of us who watch Smackdown know that Mordecai was not exactly drawing nuclear holocaust level heatÃ¢â‚¬â€more like “shot in the ear by a rubber bandÃ¢â‚¬Â level heat. I don’t feel like I can intelligently comment on Mordecai’s skill as a worker, as most of his matches which I ever saw were squashesÃ¢â‚¬â€except his loss to Rey Misterio. Admittedly, Mordecai wasn’t exactly setting the ring on fire with his psychology or athleticism in that matchÃ¢â‚¬â€he looked like a typically plodding big guy who was called up too early. So it could be that Vince didn’t decide that Mordecai sucked until last weekÃ¢â‚¬â€perhaps not coincidentally, while he was sick in bed with a disease I call Old Man’s Intestine (I feel secure from the ironic hand of fate here since, as a longtime vegetarian with a bean-intensive diet, I get plenty of fiber). They say things look different on television than they do live, so maybe Vince saw things the way we see for the first time, in regards to Mordecai.
Changed plans for the Undertaker left Mordecai out in the cold.
I touched on this last week in the column, but it seems clearer now that Undertaker won’t be a full-fledged heel any time soon. I for one am totally at a loss as to where the character is headedÃ¢â‚¬â€surely not a continuation of the feud with the Dudleys. Wherever he’s headed, a feud with Mordecai would have halted whatever momentum the Undead Jack Sparrow had. The same is true for a potential feud with Eddie Guerrero, who will probably remain the hub of Smackdown for at least another year (Cena vs. Guerrero at WM 21Ã¢â‚¬â€you heard it hear first, maybe). A feud with a new guy (who is only generating mild annoyance level heat) after a high profile title loss would spell disaster for Eddie. And I bet he thought so too. And I also bet that he let Vince and the writers know exactly how he felt.
Vince still believes in Mordecai, but simply thinks he needs a little extra work. He’ll be back eventually.
Could be, I guess. There’s certainly precedent there in recent years (Nathan Jones). But then I think about how green a lot of other call ups have beenÃ¢â‚¬â€the worst case of all being Maven, a guy who had only been a pro wrestler for a year (and only if you count Tough Enough as professional experience) when they called him up full time. The thing that bugs me about this scenario is that most reports on Fertig begrudgingly admitted that he had good charisma and mike skills, and that this might be sufficient to pull off the gimmick (similar to the Undertaker when he first debuted). If there was any doubt that this wouldn’t be enough, then Vince never should have called him up (or to be more accurate, Johnny Ace and Jim Ross should have been more vocal in protesting that Fertig was too green for the big time). Should Mordecai ever be reintroduced, the already daunting task of getting him over will be even harderÃ¢â‚¬â€he’ll seem like a retread, a failed experiment salvaged from the WWE surplus yard.
Mordecai will still be on the main roster. He’ll just go to OVW on his days off for more training.
I don’t know enough about how OVW works to fully evaluate the plausibility of this idea. I’m not a wrestler, so this is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that the grueling WWE house show schedule would provide plenty of training, especially with guys like Arn Anderson and Dean Malenko around to give you advice. Then again, Smackdown house shows aren’t drawing for shit lately, leading to frequent cancellations, so who knows. Maybe Kevin Fertig’s problems as a worker are so severe that he needs more training in the fundamentals, rather than the sort of polish acquired by working live crowds and getting advice from Anderson and Malenko.
What everyone says about Vince McMahon is rightÃ¢â‚¬â€he has a short attention span and constantly changes plans based on whim. Mordecai was a passing fancy, and McMahon soon grew disenchanted with his new toy.
Another possibility mentioned last week, this one asks you to agree with the Meltzer/Alvarez critique of the current WWE. They may very well be right. Others, including our own Flea and Hyatte, are adamant in their belief that there’s always a method to the McMahon madness. I tend to fall in the middle. I do think that Vince has a general plan in his mind, which he may or may not share with those around him. However, I also get the impression that Vince is a very instinctual decision makerÃ¢â‚¬â€he trusts his gut feelings and relies on them when making decisions. He’s willing to scrap a plan if he suddenly gets the feeling that it won’t work. And maybe that’s what happened here. Maybe Vince finally took the time to visualize Mordecai’s futureÃ¢â‚¬â€thought about what a Mordecai-Guerrero, Mordecai-Undertaker, or even Mordecai-Cena feud would look like. And maybe Vince McMahon didn’t like what he saw.
MAKING MORDECAI BETTER
Whatever the reason for Mordecai’s trip back to Louisville, it’s clear that things didn’t go according to plan, whatever that plan was. Still, if Mordecai would have clicked more with the fans, I imagine that he would still be on the roster, regardless how plans might have changed, or how green he was. Last week I gave you my thoughts on how Mordecai could be improved, and I asked all of you for your suggestions. I got lots of good suggestions, the best of which I will share with you now.
Some of you, like Brett Shea, thought that things would all turn out for the best in time:
The biggest problem with Mordecai is that people were expecting him to debut and get in a feud with some. 1 month and a half is a long time to leave a guy you’d want in the main event without a feud. Everything else is stuff you could tweak with the character along the way.
Well, that’s kind of what I thought too (though I thought that the tweaking should precede the push). Unfortunately for Mordecai, ManganeseHawk ended up being closer to the truth, I’m afraid:
I feel there’s another problem with Mordecai, in that he seems like an Undertaker circa 98 clone, with all the pseudo-religious promos, the clothing and hair/beard, only in white not black. After all that fans have seen with the Undertaker and Kane, the extreme use of pyro, the crucifixion, the satanism, that avenue seems closed off. He’ll have to do a lot to seem more than just a retread of an already existing character, or even 2 characters, who are on different shows, so there is nowhere to go to avoid direct comparison. That he is a less impressive physical specimen, and less skilled in the ring than both Kane and The Undertaker, who were both quite experienced when given the roles, does not help him.
Fair enough, but I thought there was still time to fix Mordecai (not in the veterinary sense) by differentiating him from the (ugh) “Brothers of DestructionÃ¢â‚¬Â (surely I’m not alone in hating that name). Matt Meyer saw a potential solution to this problem:
The WWE really needs to show that there is a lot of differences between the Undertaker and Mordecai. The Undertaker more represents death, and they are showing that well, while Mordecai represents punishment for sins. So instead of him just beating guys up randomly (Bob Holly crap), give him someone to go after. Have one of the Smackdown superstars do something really disgusting, like the Chris Jericho/Christian bet on who would get laid first, and have Mordecai punish them.
That’s it. That’s exactly the way they should have gone from the beginning. And yet the only week that we saw anything resembling this was when Mordecai cut a promo on Eddie Guerrero. That didn’t lead to anything, of course. On a related note, Marco G had an interesting idea for improving Mordecai’s look:
I think he can still be a monster heel AND wear white. How? By messing up his white, of course. He needs blood all over during his matches. He looks anal-retentive (I’m quoting Mick Foley) in a white costume that’s not bloody. I think it’d be cool to see a totally B&W match on Smackdown since all Mordecai wants is to make the other guy bleed. Probably a bloody finisher could help. The point is to finish the match with a dirty Mordecai with handprints and drops all over.
Okay, combine Marco’s comments with Matt’s. You have a visual tag (the blood of sinners) that reminds the viewer of what Mordecai stands for: punishing the wicked. Suddenly Mordecai stands out from the other big guys. Plus, this fits in with the idea that Mordecai is/was an “extreme gimmick.Ã¢â‚¬Â And it gives Mordecai the opportunity ascend from gimmick to character. He has motivation: he’s looking to clean up a dirty business, through any means necessary. As a villain, he’s totally convinced that he is the sword of God (that would have been a cool nickname), and everyone else is guilty as sin. And as a face, he can be a vigilante punishing those who pick on the weak (e.g. Torrie Wilson, Spike Dudley, etc.). He would have a cool, edgy look, and a solid basis for growth.
Of course, that’s all wishful thinking now.
I COME NOT TO PRAISE MORDECAI, BUT TO BURY THOSE WHO FOISTED HIM UPON US
Is there a lesson to be learned here? There are, in fact, several potential lessons.
Don’t bring up guys who are too green, no matter how big and tall they may be.
You’d think the WWE would have learned this after the Nathan Jones fiasco. You’d think that the Matt Morgan debacle also could have imparted this lesson to Vince and his writers (and Ross and Ace). And let’s not forget about Big Jon Heidenreich. I fear that the recent Mordecai affair will change nothing. But we shall see.
If you must call up a guy who sucks in the ring, give him a role in which hides his deficiencies.
By all accounts, Tyson Tomko sucks at least as much as Kevin Fertig, but there he was playing musical chairs on Raw, and posing and flexing in a menacing way while Trish Stratus talked on the mike. Reviews of his match against Jericho at Bad Blood were generally pretty positive. People seem ready to give him a chance. It’s still early, but there’s reason to think that the same might be true for Luther Reigns. And here I was certain that Mordecai would have a much brighter future than another generic bodyguard type. Conventional net wisdom is that you don’t expose someone’s limitations if you can help it; I can’t help but agree.
An extreme gimmick requires extreme pushes.
Mordecai was an outlandish character, even by pro-wrestling standards. Feuding with Bob Holly made Mordecai seem small and insignificant, when the gimmick demanded that he seem larger than life. Hyatte’s recent demolition of the Maestro got me thinking about that guy for the first time in a long, long while. There seems to be some connection between the two, beyond the hair color. Both Mordecai and the Ã¢â‚¬ËœStro just seemed like weirdoes fooling around in the midcard. They were both harmless freaks waiting for someone like John Cena or the Rock to come out and cut them to shreds in a promo. The only way that Mordecai could have succeeded with such a ridiculous gimmick was to terrify peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€to be more Salem witch trial than Jerry Falwell ranting and raving about gay Teletubbies. Thus, the only way that Mordecai ever should have interacted with Bob Holly would be to treat him as an insignificant gnat, an annoyance rather than a credible threat. What sin did Bob Holly commit anyway? Driving his race car too fast?
If a character doesn’t get over at first, just keep pushing him anyway.
It worked with Randy Orton. Seriously, Orton haters, did you see his match with Jericho? This guy has off the charts heel charisma. He wasn’t born with it, and he certainly didn’t have it when he debuted in the WWE in 2002. The relationship between audience and wrestler is not one-way. A wrestler has to get some sort of reaction if he hopes to make his character better; total fan apathy leaves wrestlers in the dark. The audience made Randy Orton what he is today because they care about him, and thus gave him enough guidance (in the form of audible reaction) that it was easier for him to tweak his character based on their response. If an audience doesn’t care about a wrestler, we can’t realistically expect him to alter his character to their specifications. And the only reason Orton is so over is because the WWE didn’t give up on pushing him. They were determined to make him a top-level star, and kept pushing him, regardless of live reaction or quarter hour ratings, until the audience was conditioned to care about him. (According to some folks, HHH just wanted to groom Orton to be a future opponent. May I just say that if that is true, then where’s the harm? Orton’s at or near the top tier now, and I seriously doubt that losing a feud to HHH will change that.) Anyway, my point is that they could have done this with Mordecai as well. Hell, there doesn’t seem to be any plans for RVD; why not sacrifice him (in figurative or literal sense) to Mordecai? It worked for Orton and it worked for Brock Lesnar. It might not have worked for Mordecai (who seems to have but a fraction of the talent of Orton or Lesnar), but we’ll never know now.
I don’t write this column out of extraordinary fondness for Mordecai; in fact, I was always skeptical that this gimmick would ever work. My intention is simply to draw attention to the reasons why the Mordecai character failed. It’s a very ambitious endeavor to try to build a monster heel out of an inexperienced guy who, by all accounts, wasn’t blessed with overwhelming natural talent. It’s a positively absurd display of hubris to undertake such a project without the following: (1) Doing enough homework to determine whether someone is ready for such a push. The selection process for a developmental deal seems arduous and exacting; the decision to bring a new guy up to the main roster should be even more so. (2) Having a plan in place to elicit the desired reaction from the audience, and having a contingency plan in place for unexpected developments. (3) Sticking with the push for at least six months, or possibly longer. During this time, the writers should always focus on their goal for the character, and make whatever alterations are necessary to keep this goal in reach.
If the writers can’t follow these three guidelines, then they should only introduce and push those guys who have enough innate talent to overcome the WWE’s chaotic writing process. I don’t see that happening any time soon, though. If the rumors are true that the WWE is reorganizing and rationalizing its writing staff, then perhaps we’ll see fewer abandoned experiments like Mordecai in the future. Mordecai may have never worked as a character, but there’s no excuse for the WWE’s half-assed effort.