The Common Denominator – The Evolution of the Funkasaurus

Hello, Internet Wrestling Community. You don’t know me, but I’ve had my eye on you for quite some time, and now I walk among you. I’m Ralph Hardin, but I usually go by Kid Ralph when online. It’s like Kid Rock, but minus the Rock (and the Hepatitis) and plus the Ralph (please, spare me all the Ralph jokes, I assure you I have heard them all).

Anyway, I am very excited to be the latest addition to Inside Pulse. Just some background on myself and what I’m doing here…

By profession, I am a newspaper reporter for a small daily in the Memphis, Tennessee area. Actually, I live in West Memphis, Arkansas, home of the West Memphis 3 and wrestling “legend” Sid Vicious (in fact, I have actually played softball against Sid, not that that matters).

Having lived here my whole life and being 38 years old, I have grown up on wrestling. I was around when Jerry Lawler and his crew were drawing thousands every week to the Mid-South Coliseum and elsewhere on the circuit, when 8 out of every 10 homes in the area were tuned to “Championship Wrestling” every Saturday morning around here. I also got to see many future superstars of the 80s and 90s cut their teeth inMemphiswrestling rings.

As a kid and into adulthood, I watched any wrestling I could find, from WWF/E to NWA/WCW, AWA, UWF, AWA, and anything else. I used to collect wrestling magazines and store them carefully next to my beloved comic books, fancying myself somewhat of a wrestling historian, I suppose.

The history of wrestling is where I find myself at home. I have a degree in history and taught history and psychology for five years before going into journalism. So, when the opportunity to become a part of this website arose, I decided to put all of this acquired wrestling knowledge and a continuing love of the industry to use.

You may have noticed the name for my column, “The Common Denominator.” My plan is to look at a wrestler, gimmick, idea, etc. from days gone by and find a wrestler from today’s scene and compare them, discuss them in general or raise the possibility of repackaging someone with an older gimmick to get them more over, or, as is the case for this inaugural installment, take a look at a modern-day performer and compare him to the stars of bygone days and chart a path for success. With all of that out of the way, let’s get started, shall we?

Brodus Clay, or What the Funk is Going On?

If you’re like me, you might have eventually decided that Brodus Clay was never actually going to debut. We saw the promo packages promising his debut (or re-debut, or whatever) for weeks, only to have it pushed back and then, honestly, forgotten – by me at least.

But then it came. This tattooed, ass-kicking wild man was really going to debut!

And then the music hit…

Not some scary thrash metal pulse-pounding number or even spooky Baroque piece with Omen-like chanting. Nope. Instead, we got the Funk…and with it, the Funkasarus.

Now, I have to admit, my wife, my son and I all got a bit of a chuckle when he came out. “But, but…he’s supposed to be all big and scary,” my boy said. There was dancing and the Funkettes and the Run-DMC gear. Personally, I thought it was great. Definitely a curveball from the Creative Department (or whoever came up with it). Also, I think it is absolutely awesome the way he announces his own moves as he prepares to perform them. That’s a great and clever bit, and if he can get the crowd to do it along with him, he might be on to something.

Now, here’s the thing: This is not the first time this sort of thing has been done (although it may be the first time it has been done in such a “meta” self-aware manner). The idea of the singing or dancing or hepcat character goes at least back to the 1970s. Light heavyweight Mid-West and AWA mainstay Buck Zumhofe used to boogie down to the ring with an old-school boom box on his shoulder, long before entrance music was in widespread use. Of course Buck was no Funkasaurus, weighing in at about 180 pounds soaking wet – which he usually was, covered in disco sweat and and sporting a perfect porn-stache.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and the whole Rock N’ Wrestling period. By then, there were a number of performers who had music-related overtones to their gimmick. The Fabulous One’s with their ZZ Top theme music and Jackie Fargo-inspired strutting spawned a dozen or more clones, from the Rock & Roll Express to the Midnight Express to the Midnight Rockers to the Fantastics and no telling how many more on the regional circuit.

But where’s the common denominator, you ask? Where’s the Funk? And I don’t mean Terry (although having said that, someone should totally have been calling Terry Funk the Funkasaurus as a rib on his age as far back as the mid-90s).

Well allow me to introduce you to Paul Neu, better known in early 1990s WCW as PN News.

Now this fellow was like the forerunner to not only Brodus Clay, but also Men on aMission, R-Truth, Doctor of Thuganomics Era John Cena, and a host of others. Not only was his “Yo, baby! Yo, baby, yo!” entrance song/crowd sing-along the closest you were going to get a majority of WCW’s fan base of the time to listen to a rap song (these are, after all, the same folks who would cheer for the heel West Texas Rednecks over the hip-hop themed, Master P-led face No Limit Soldiers years later), but it instantly added to his popularity due to the audience participation aspect.

You would have to include Rikishi and his buddies 2 Cool in the discussion. Rikishi wiggled and jiggled his way into the Main Event Scene for a while (although, admittedly by the time super-serial “I did it for the Rock” Rikishi was participating in WWF Title matches, he had stopped dancing for the most part).

Which brings me to the common denominator: How much real success did any of these guys have? Excluding the aforementioned tag teams, Buck Zumhofe held the very lightly regarded AWA World Light Heavyweight Championship any time they needed to take it out of the mothballs for a month or so to showcase some up and comer. PN News? I think he had some success inPuerto Ricoafter his run in WCW. Rikishi came close, but I doubt Vince ever seriously entertained the idea of Rikishi, WWF Champion.

And that’s the issue Brodus Clay is going to face going forward for better or for worse…being taken seriously. His predecessors were there to pop the crowd, be entertaining and fill in the gaps between the serious matches.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are wrestlers out there who can have a completely over gimmick and have level of success without a lot of wins or titles (for example, I always liked Brutus Beefcake. Outside of a run with the tag belts with Greg Valentine, did he ever hold a belt? Did he ever win a feud?). I mean, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking “success” in this day and age means a good win/loss record or even holding a title, but they do mean something. If Brodus and WWE are satisfied with the big goofy Funkasaurus squashing enhancement talent and getting funky in the ring, then great. Santino Marella seems to be having a lot of fun, after all. But, if Clay can find a way to retain his fun-loving, crowd-pleasing demeanor but turn it on and really perform when he’s matched up with a quality opponent, then he and the ‘E could really take the character places.

I’ll give him this: He’s certainly embracing the gimmick. And he doesn’t look uncomfortable with it. I’m not familiar with his mic skills, but if he can translate the look into a passable promo and maybe inject a few PG-threatening catchphrases that include “funk,” it couldn’t hurt. But can you ever see Clay pinning, say Randy Orton after a devastating delivery of his Aw Funky splash?

What it comes down to is whether or not this is the character Brodus Clay plans on taking on and building toward a future. Of course, he could at any time drop the shtick and become the monster we were all expecting from the get-go. We as fans will buy a gimmick change. After all, Dolph Ziggler used to be a cheerleader and Kane was an evil dentist, and they went on to have success. Will Brodus Clay have to drop the Funkasaurus to make some serious noise in the WWE? Or will he fade away like RIkishi and Buck and PN News?

If so, he will be just another example of (cue ominous music)…the Common Denominator.

 Before this threatens to reach “TL:DR” territory (or is it too late?), another feature I’d like to invite anyone with a taste for old-school wrestling or just interested in taking a trip down Memory Lane set their DVRs to record AWA Wrestling on ESPN Classics. They have absolutely no set airtime. It just comes on apparently in the wee hours when they don’t have a 20 year old football game or 1970s “World’s Strongest Man” competition to air, and they make no attempt at running episodes in any kind of order, but just the other day I got to see the Rock & Roll Express vs. The Nasty Boys from 1988 and the Midnight Rockers vs. the incredibly underrated Badd Company. Plus a ton of other cool stuff. I have considered recapping some of these shows or some other obscure matches off of YouTube, so If that is something that you might enjoy, let me know in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

Tags: , ,

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!