So El Generico finally got the call.
This is great news for the man who many feel is not only one of the best unsigned talents on the indie scene, but also arguably one of the best talents in wrestling period. In the entire world.
In an era of exclusive contracts, even at the indie level due to the emergence of iPPV, Generico was one of the last true North American freelancers. A man so good, so talented, so respected, that he could simultaneously work for ROH, Dragon Gate USA, Chikara, PWG, and just about every other high profile indie, and have no problems navigating the sometimes difficult politics of doing so. In fact, Generico worked for ROH & Dragon Gate USA on the same day during Wrestlemania Weekend this past year. He refused to put his name on a contract, obviously knowing his value, and it did not affect his bookings one iota.
And as good as he is in the ring (and believe me, if you have not seen him, he is very, very good, in particular his amazing ability to draw babyface sympathy better than just about anybody on the globe, all while wearing a mask and almost never speaking a single word), you would be hard pressed to find a single person to speak a bad word about him personally. By all accounts, he’s a really great guy who is almost universally being congratulated for finally getting his WWE deal. Maybe not since Bryan Danielson has the entire wrestling community felt so proud and universally felt good about somebody getting the call.
The immediate reaction of many fans was also bittersweet. Everybody is in agreement that he deserves this opportunity. But a prevailing thought, is will the WWE properly utilize the assets that he brings to the table?
If he retains his gimmick, or a reasonable facsimile of the gimmick (think: Antonio Cesaro and his slightly modified “Very European” routine), there is no way possible, in my mind, that he will not get over. He will be a thousand times more popular with kids than Sin Cara, and at the very bare minimum will be a successful undercard comedy act. If they are willing to think outside the box and give him the chance, I have no doubt in my mind that he can be a main event level babyface. The fact that he doesn’t cut promos would actually set him apart and make him different enough for it to be a positive.
However, there will be changes. First, the name ‘El Generico’ is as good as gone. Ever since The Dudley Boyz left the WWE in 2005, and the WWE claimed rights to their ring names (which was shocking news some 8 years ago, believe it or not), the company standard has been to give freshly signed talent a new name, for the purpose of retaining the copyright. This annoys some fans, but in reality it is sound business logic. The WWE (and also TNA, who followed suit and also generally follows this policy) is not in the business of creating stars for anybody but the WWE. There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect intellectual property.
You can kiss the entrance goodbye. El Generico’s unique and distinctive entrance is a very large part of his overall package. It is highly doubtful the WWE is going to pay rights fees for “Ole!” by The Bouncing Souls.
Beyond the name & entrance theme, what else will change? The biggest fear seems to be that he will be unmasked. This makes very little sense, and would show a complete lack of understanding from the WWE side of whom they signed. Other masks have been removed (we’re getting to that), but none were as vital to the character as Generico’s.
Will he be asked to cut promos? Probably. Even Sabu was asked to speak during his brief WWE tenure. Unless you don’t know the language, it’s simply the way the company operates. Generico knows three languages, including English. He generally only cuts short, “broken English” (wink wink) promos, and even those are quite rare (ironically, he does most of his talking in Japan, where they can’t understand what he’s saying anyway).
The fear from some, myself included, is that whatever changes are made, will lead to the character losing it’s essence. But what is this fear based on? The prevailing thought is that the WWE signs, and then butchers, indie darlings. But is this true?
Let’s examine the last dozen or so high profile indie signings, and see how they’ve fared in terms of presentation in relation to their indie gimmick, and also execution of the gimmick. We’ll start with CM Punk’s signing in 2005, and work though to the current Triple H era developmental period. WARNING: The results may shatter your narrative.
CM Punk – Nobody is quite sure how he pulled it off, but CM Punk not only managed to retain his gimmick on the main roster, but he is also the only person I can think of who retained his ring name. He was pushed well from the day he debuted on ECW, and has never been anything less than a solid mid card act. He eventually became WWE Champion and one of the faces of the company. An unmitigated success be any definition, and has now essentially morphed into a more mature and refined version of his indie gimmick.
TJ Wilson – TJ Wilson was signed in 2006, but it took several years for him to debut on the main roster. When he finally did, Tyson Kidd was not all that much different than TJ Wilson. In fact, they are essentially carbon copies. Noting changed but the name. While not pushed hard, he is still on the roster today, having solid matches on B-shows.
Colt Cabana – Signed in 2007, and after a brief try as an announcer at FCW, Cabana was presented on Smackdown as ‘Scotty Goldman’ – a character which again, was essentially and exact replica of his Colt Cabana persona. The only thing that was changed was the name. Even the ring gear was identical, aside from GOLDMAN where CABANA used to be. He ended up being cut, but that was hardly due to the WWE butchering his gimmick, since, well, they barely changed a thing.
Matt Sydal – Also signed in 2007, Sydal actually debuted on WWE television as Matt Sydal on an episode of ECW. This lasted one week, as the following week he was referred to as Evan Bourne, and the name Matt Sydal hasn not been used on television since. Once again, and we are starting to see a trend here, as aside from the name, Evan Bourne & Matt Sydal are identical in every way, right down to ring gear and moveset.
Bryan Danielson – When Bryan Danielson was (finally) signed in 2009, his indie rep (as quite possibly the best wrestler in the world) was such that the WWE was not only willing to bypass the usual transition stint in FCW (which he ended up asking for anyway, due to ring rust), but at first they also didn’t even bother changing his name. When Danielson finally debuted on season one of NXT, he was given a subtle, completely non insulting name change to ‘Daniel Bryan’, which was WWE’s way of saying “Look, we know you know who this is, ok? But we have to change it. We just do. It’s close enough, so just live with it.”. Aside from his (barely) new name, nothing was different. Same maroon gear, same ‘American Dragon’ ring robe, same goofy charm, same intense ring work. Over the years he has certainly morphed into something else, which in my opinion in a huge negative, but that is a column for another day and has nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is that yet again, another indie darling, the ultimate indie darling, entered the WWE persona unchanged.
Low Ki – Kaval was Low Ki in a body suit. He got over, legit won his season of NXT, and eventually quit because he wasn’t happy with his push.
Tyler Black & Jon Moxley – Signed within months of each other, Black from ROH, and Moxley from CZW & later EVOLVE, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose (along with Roman Reigns) made their main roster debuts in a big way at the end of 2012 as part of ‘The Shield’. Ambrose, with his unique swagger & promo style, is a near carbon copy of his previous incarnation from both the indies and FCW, and Rollins, aside from now being a heel, has the same look that he’s had for years. The only discernible difference between then & now, aside from Rollins getting his first extended run as a heel in many years, is the SWAT team ring gear.
Awesome Kong – Awesome K0ng in Japan and on the indie scene, Amazing Kong in TNA, and Kharma in the WWE. No matter what you call her, Kia Stevens has always retained the same exact instantly recognizable gimmick & look. The WWE changed nothing aside from the name. Her release had nothing to do with a bad gimmick. She was getting over and was released for HR reasons.
Claudio Castagnoli – Believe it or not, this is the man’s real name. Therefore, there was no chance he was keeping it, because there was no way for the WWE to ever own the rights. Antonio Cesaro, and the gimmick of a smarmy American hating European elitist, is a very subtle departure from Castagnoli’s previous “Very European” routine from the HDNet days of ROH. Instead of a scarf, a jacket. Otherwise identical, right down to the charmingly awkward promo style.
Chris Hero – Disclaimer. The next few examples have yet to debut on the main roster. Things can change. But as is, Chris Hero is doing the same exact act now as Kassius Ohno (“KO”) as he was doing on his final indie run as “That Young Knock Out Kid”. Same beard, same elbows, same everything, aside from a horrendous name chosen quite obviously to take advantage of the initials, and also as a homage to the legendary Muhammad Ali & the equally legendary Sonny Ono (right?).
Brodie Lee – Luke Harper is still dressed like a greasy trucker, the only difference now is the man previously pushed as a “7 foot monster” on the indie scene can no longer get away with that moniker in the WWE, where half the roster is his height, so now he’s a 6’5″ “monster”. Otherwise, gimmick unchanged.
PAC – Adrian Neville is one of the few people on this list who upgraded his name. PAC was an awful name, but even as Adrian Neville, it appears gravity has still forgotten this man, because he looks exactly the same as he did in Dragon Gate and still does all of his flippy do’s. The pattern holds.
Consequences Creed – Not exactly an indie darling, as his key exposure came from TNA, but aside from a slightly different haircut and no longer rocking the Apollo Creed American flag gear, there were no major changes to the man that most of you probably don’t remember anyway. Now known as Xavier Woods, a far less cooler name, but TNA owns the rights to the other name anyway.
If there is a trend of WWE butchering indie gimmicks, I am not seeing it. In fact, when you examine the evidence, you find the opposite. The WWE has done a remarkably solid job in retaining the basic personas of nearly every single major indie name they’ve signed in recent memory. The idea that the WWE instantly repackages new signings looks to be a total and complete myth.
The record is a bit spottier if we extend this international signings, but not to the degree you might expect.
Sin Cara is not only Mistico renamed, gimmick unchanged, but the WWE acknowledges this and doesn’t even bother hiding it. Sheamus was Sheamus O’Shaunessey in Europe. Drew McIntyre was Drew Galloway. Justin Gabriel was South African pro Justin Angel. DH Smith is Harry Smith, and this fact was never hidden. Nothing egregious to be found with these examples
There are four prominent examples of significant persona changes of international wrestlers, and half of those (Alberto Del Rio & Hunico) have worked out for the better (and interestingly, these are the only two examples of masks being removed, and as it turns out the WWE made the right decision in both cases). Tensai has been an unmitigated disaster for the former Giant Bernard/A-Train, and Yoshi Tatsu comes off as a cheap Halloween version of Hiroshi Tanahashi, but even that one is highly questionable because it’s doubtful he would have been pushed under any circumstances.
While I still can not completely kick the annoying thought that the WWE will somehow botch this El Generico signing, there is no recent historical evidence that this feeling is anything more than an irrational reaction to what amounts to an unfair WWE stereotype, particularly as we move further and further away from the John Laurinaitis era. Otherwise, show me significant, recent examples of the WWE butchering an indie darling.
I am going to give the WWE the benefit of the doubt that they will handle El Generico in an acceptable manner. You should too.