The Stomping Ground: A Heel Stable Retrospective, Part One

Howdy!  Time for another edition of Gojira’s Stomping Ground.  As promised in last week’s column, I have decided to once again step into the old time machine for a look back at wrestling moments from Christmas Past.  That’s right: it’s time for a look back at history’s heel stables.

Now, obviously I can’t talk about EVERY heel stable that’s been around the block, since that might take forever.  I HAVE decided, however, to break this topic up into two columns so you won’t have to hurt your retinas staring at a 300-page essay.  My primary goal is to focus on WWE, WCW, TNA, and ECW stables that have made a mark in the industry (whether they are worthy of being famous or infamous is up to you, dear reader).  As a side note, there won’t be any mention of Japanese, Mexican, or Independent heel stables since my familiarity with them is extremely limited (although I have attended some ROH shows, but that’s neither here nor there).  If anyone wants to talk about these groups, feel free to discuss them in the comments and I’ll be happy to add them to the second part of this endeavor.

Heel stables have proven to be far more effective at getting superstars over than most face stables.  For one, heel stables often put over a main face who is trying to overcome the odds to beat them (see Nexus).  They are also effective at putting over a younger heel being mentored by a classically-trained one (see Evolution).  A stable’s success is not just how much money they draw when people come to see them get their asses handed to them; the success lies in where the stars within wind up after it’s all said and done.

The Heenan Family

Notable Members: Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy, The Blackjacks, Ken Patera, Harley Race, Haku, The Barbarian, Professor Toru Tanaka, Big John Studd, Mr. Perfect, The Brainbusters, Rick Rude, Ric Flair (unofficially)

Aside from being one of the (if not THE) most charismatic and comical managers of all time, Bobby Heenan is also responsible for one of the most successful heel stables in the history of professional wrestling.  Across the AWA, NWA, and the then-WWF, the Heenan Family has held over 30 championships and the majority of his family either went on to great success or were already at the top of their game.  Heenan’s Family is also responsible for getting Hulk Hogan even more over than he already was, especially in his feud with King Kong Bundy and the heel turn of Andre the Giant.

Effectiveness: A-

Camp Cornette

Notable Members: Jim Cornette, Clarence Mason, Mr. Fuji, British Bulldog, Owen Hart, Yokozuna, Vader

Camp Cornette was one of my favorite stables of the mid-90s.  It provided great matches for Shawn Michaels during his first run as WWE Champion and made Bulldog and Owen an impressive team to contend with.  Unfortunately, due to backstage politics, Vader never amounted to much and neither Bulldog nor Owen ever made it to the major title.  It’s sad to look back and realize that 3 out of the 4 wrestlers Cornette managed are no longer with us.

Effectiveness: B

Triple Threat

Notable Members: Shane Douglas, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Candido, Francine

The Triple Threat was one of the most dominating factions in ECW history.  Led by Shane Douglas (he of retail store management fame), the original troupe consisted of Four Horsemen alumni Malenko and Benoit.  Together they held every belt the company had to offer.  When Douglas left the company to become a Dean (look it up, kiddies) the group did not last as Malenko and Benoit made their way to WCW.  When Douglas returned to the company, he restarted Triple Threat with Bigelow and Candido and the trio feuded with Taz over the ECW Championship.  The stable is notable for one thing in particular: the leader, Douglas, had reached the pinnacle of his success when leading the group.  As a singles competitor in the other territories, he didn’t amount to much whereas most of his stablemates went on to more memorable careers.  However, since Triple Threat made stars out of nearly every man and put them on the map, they were clearly pretty effective.

Effectiveness: B+

King’s Court

Notable Members: King Booker, Queen Sharmell, Fit Finlay, William Regal

Booker T’s most successful WWE run came at the expense of an injured Batista and Rey Mysterio’s first heavyweight championship.  In all honesty, I don’t recall how Regal and Finlay wound up supporting him.  Regardless, both men were past their prime (yet still effective brawlers) but didn’t amount to much after the gimmick ran its course.  Booker left the ‘E with a bitter taste in his mouth thanks to a drumming by Triple H (not the first time The Game made him look like a joke, either).

Effectiveness: C+

Raven’s Flock/Nest/Gathering

Notable Members: Raven, Stevie Richards, The Pitbulls, Beulah, Perry Saturn, Kanyon, Billy Kidman, CM Punk, Mickie James

Raven’s various stables have been seen in ECW, WCW, and TNA under different names, but all involved a group of social misfits who gathered under Raven’s tutelage and did his bidding.  In all versions, Raven used the numbers game to take advantage of his opponents and win various titles for himself.  In TNA, Punk and Mickie James were a part of his Gathering and in WCW, Kidman and Saturn received the biggest rubs for being associated with Raven.  Many of Raven’s ECW compatriots had individual success at one point or another but never really achieved main event status.

Effectiveness: B-

Kai En Tai

Notable Members: Yamaguchi-San, Taka Michinoku, Sho Funaki, Men’s Teioh, Dick Togo, Kaz Hayashi, Tajiri

Kaientai began in Japan in 1994 and was named in tribute to an organization put together by an actual samurai whose goal was to free Japan from feudal rule.  Interesting little factoid, eh?  Here’s another one in case you were unaware: Taka Michinoku was a member of the original Kaientai before they came to the WWF to assault Val Venis and his penis.  Yeah, I did write that entire sentence with a straight face.  Heh.  Doesn’t matter though, because they didn’t last in the ‘E and Funaki became the longest running jobber since the Brooklyn Brawler as a result.  In fact, Taka was arguably more successful BEFORE he turned heel in the WWE.  Indeed.

Effectiveness: C

La Familia

Notable Members: Edge, Vickie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Curt Hawkins, Zack Ryder

Edge’s dominance of Smackdown came about due to his association with the Guerrero family.  His Edgeheads Hawkins and Ryder were used as decoys and Chavo became his lackey as well.  This faction solidified Edge as a top heel (arguably he was already on that path since cashing in on Cena and shagging Lita on live television).  As for his flunkies, Vickie replaced “X-Pac heat” with “Vickie heat” and Chavo battled a leprechaun, both as himself and as an eagle mascot.  So…yah.  I guess not EVERYONE can be successful in a stable, right?  Edge’s rise to prominence and Vickie becoming the most hated personality since Mike Adamle boosted this stable’s effectiveness.

Effectiveness: B+

Dungeon of Doom

Notable Members: Kevin Sullivan, The Giant, Jimmy Hart, Kamala, Vader, Meng and the Barbarian, The Shark, The Yeti, Hugh Morris, Konnan

Sigh.  The poor man’s version of the Heenan Family suffered from ridiculously unbelievable gimmicks like the Shark (Earthquake) and the Yeti (a guy wrapped in toilet paper).  It was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time, as the wrestling business was quietly changing from tired gimmicks to realistic but slightly overblown personalities.  The cartoonish atmosphere was disappearing but Sullivan and his ridiculous crew did not.  The only man to come away from this unscathed was the Giant, known to most fans as Knucklehead…err, the Big Show.

Effectiveness: C+

Mean Street Posse

Notable Members: Shane McMahon, Joey Abs, Pete Gas, Rodney

Let’s face it.  These guys weren’t wrestlers (except for Abs).  They were a bunch of childhood friends whose goal was to make Shane-O-Mac look like more of a preppy bully.  Was it necessary?  No, because Shane already had the Corporation at the same time.  Was it effective?  They kept the now-defunct European Championship around Shane’s waist and held the Hardcore Championship 4 times between them.  Pffft.  Hell no, they weren’t effective!  EVERYONE held that Hardcore Title!

Effectiveness: F

Evolution

Notable Members: Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Batista

Evolution is an example of a heel stable done right.  You’ve got your wily veteran and mentor in Naitch, the powerful leader in The Game, the obnoxious golden boy in Orton, and the muscle in Batista.  Evolution is hands down the most successful stable in the last decade.  It turned Orton into a legit threat, made Batista into The Animal, and gave Flair a nice boost back up the card and into the hearts of wrestling fandom.  As for Triple H, his credibility as a leader (see DX, McMahon-Helmsley Era, Corporation) only added to the legitimacy of Evolution.  If it hadn’t been for Orton’s false start as a face after Summerslam, this group would’ve received an A+.

Effectiveness: A

Legacy

Notable Members: Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase, Cody Rhodes, Manu, Sim Snuka

By contrast, Legacy in the long run was a failed attempt at making Randy Orton into a leader.  The storyline was that Orton had learned a lot from Triple H and Flair so clearly it was time for him to take command of his own stable.  The idea here was solid: second and third generation superstars coming together to make a name for themselves.  Unfortunately, it took so long for Randy to finally choose his stablemates (Manu and Snuka clearly were not ready) that by the time they were ready it was already too late.  You can’t have infighting in a group in it’s early stages, and the fact that Orton, DiBiase, and Rhodes never looked dominant at the same time really hurt their credibility.  Orton won the Rumble and destroyed the McMahon-Helmsley family, only to lose at Mania.  DiBiase and Rhodes faced DX, who only put them over ONCE, and the rise of JeriShow pushed their tag team further down the ranks.  In fact, the only thing Legacy managed to do was give Orton the successful face turn that had been attempted years earlier.  Cody Rhodes is still coming into his own on Smackdown and DiBiase is treading water on Raw.

Effectiveness: B

X-Factor

Notable Members: X-Pac, Albert, Justin Credible

Ah, X-Factor.  What a pathetic gathering.  This was the WWE’s last real attempt at pushing X-Pac.  Billed as a DX-Lite, X-Factor didn’t amount to squat as none of the three could escape the gaping black hole that is Chyna’s va….X-Pac’s heat.  Credible was better off wearing a jockstrap on his head and calling himself Aldo Montoya again.

Effectiveness: F

Latin American Xchange

Notable Members: Konnan, Homicide, Hernandez, Apolo

LAX was a TNA stable that was created due to the controversy surrounding illegal immigration.  They began after 3 Live Kru broke up, which formed both LAX and the James Gang.  After a feud with the former Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, LAX battled Team 3D and America’s Most Wanted en route to the TNA Tag Team Championship.   Konnan’s national exposure helped put Homicide and Hernandez on the map, but since we’re talking TNA here that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Hernandez has since gone on to feud with Matt Morgan and Homicide is enjoying success on the independent circuit.  Konnan is currently spending time in AAA.  As for the team’s effectiveness?  They haven’t exactly left a lasting impression, and it remains to be seen where Homicide and Hernandez go from here.

Effectiveness: B-

Spirit Squad

Notable Members: Kenny Dykstra, Nicky (aka Dolph Ziggler), Mikey, Mitch, Johnny

Yawn.  The Spirit Squad was good at one thing, and one thing only: they were very easy to hate.  Unfortunately for them, they appeared at the worst possible time: the DX reunion.  Everyone knows once Triple H is involved in a storyline that anyone NOT on his side gets absolutely squashed.  See Rated RKO, Legacy, JeriShow.  And I’m not counting Dolph Ziggler, because if the Squad put anyone on the map it was Kenny, who was grossly underused on Smackdown.  Ziggler appeared after a failed caddy gimmick and a series of “Hi, I’m Dolph Ziggler” skits that went nowhere.

Effectiveness: D

The Cabinet

Notable Members: JBL, Orlando Jordan, Basham Brothers, Jillian Hall, Amy Weber

During JBL’s only run as the longest-reigning WWE Champion in Smackdown history, he created a stable that was supposed to help propel him through the stratosphere as a top heel.  It worked, to some extent, but the Cabinet was unnecessary as JBL was fully capable of getting people to hate his guts all by himself.  The Cabinet members themselves didn’t really go on to great success (I don’t count Orlando Jordan as US Champion a success) and the only one who stuck around for a number of years was Jillian.

Effectiveness: C+

La Resistance

Notable Members: Sylvan Grenier, Rene Dupree, and Rob Conway

La Resistance were a trio of French-Canadian sympathizers who drew great heat as a tag team but didn’t go anywhere as singles competitors.  Since they didn’t fare so well after they broke up, they didn’t exactly leave much of an impression.

Effectiveness: C-

And there you have it, folks: part one of my heel stable retrospective.  Next week I’ll discuss more heel stables, including the Four Horsemen, the Hart Foundation, DX, and the Main Event Mafia.  As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Elimination Chamber Thoughts

I thought that both chamber matches really delivered, but arguably the breakout star of the evening was John Morrison.  The man is INSANE, as evidenced by his irrational behavior dropping from the ceiling and landing on Sheamus.  Kudos to CM Punk for his outrageous antics, especially his mocking of Orton before eliminating the Viper with a GTS.

Cheap Plugs

Since this column is actually being typed up on Monday (I’m out of town for the week), the following links may be outdated by the time you read them.  Regardless, be sure to check out the following:

Pulse Glazer is back with a review of last Sunday’s Elimination Chamber PPV.

Although old news, Chris Biscuiti provided us with his thoughts on who should have replaced Ziggler at the PPV.

Finally, the always lovely and exquisite Chantal discusses last week’s Hotties and Notties.

Until next time, so long…and thanks for all the fish.

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