Beloved indy fed Ring of Honor recently caused an uproar amongst their fan base via a drastic change in the creative department which I recently discussed. I took a “wait and see” approach before jumping to conclusions that the loss of former head booker Gape Sapolsky would spell doom for my favorite promotion, but now I’ve witnessed something that gives me great cause for concern: the transformation of ROH wrestling academy graduate Mitch Franklin into a buffoonish lumberjack named Grizzly Redwood.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Mitch Franklin is Grizzly Redwood.
On the 11/26/08 edition of Ring of Honor’s Video Wire, Mitch Franklin “showcased” his new lumberjack gimmick and the WWF circa 1993 in all it’s childish, cartoon-like glory flashed before my eyes. Let me start by saying that if a wrestler’s gimmick were that he was once a rough, tough outdoorsman who had bested the elements all his life and now wanted to try his hand at fighting for money rather than at the lodge over flapjacks, there might be some value in that character. Although such a gimmick really wouldn’t belong in the ROH that I know and love, with a little creativity it might be fine, especially in the lower card where comedy fits in nicely during opening matches and four corner survival contests. However, that’s not the deal here. Grizzly Redwood is acting like he believes he’s a real lumberjack, and that he never was Mitch Franklin.
We all recognize Redwood as the former Franklin, who has appeared on many shows, and ROH’s attempt to treat him as a “new” character (and to pretend that Franklin himself has apparently been vaporized) simply insults our intelligence. Are we supposed to have forgotten his former persona, or not be able to recognize him with the beard? Did he “become” a lumberjack like the One Man Gang once evolved into Akeem? These are valid questions that a thinking man’s fan will ponder. While any explanation would be favorable to nothing at all (which we currently have), keep in mind that most Ring of Honor customers turned to the indies to get away from the nonsensical story lines and silly gimmicks found in promotions like WWE and TNA in the first place, so the sheer stupidity of the character is doubly distasteful to many ROH fans.
As if the mere presence of a lumberjack at a wrestling show and his unexplained origins weren’t bad enough, he’s a BAD lumberjack to boot, unable to split wood! At the end of that Video Wire we saw American Dragon Bryan Danielson, a man who’s “only” a wrestler and not a professional logger, show Grizzly how it was done after Redwood repeatedly failed to split pieces of wood. Remember, this all happened indoors, at a pro wrestling show! The concept of a “bad lumberjack” wrestler is even dumber than a wrestling lumberjack in this day and age, especially in a company like Ring of Honor, and it reeks of the unfunny garbage churned out by WWE for years. What’s worse, of all the talent on the roster to involve with Redwood, the very last man who needs to be mucking around in that sort of nonsense is Danielson. American Dragon elevates everyone with whom he works, but mixing him up with the absolute worst gimmick in the promotion doesn’t give Redwood the rub, it just makes Danielson look silly. And after all he’s done for ROH, Dragon deserves far better than that.
Never mind the fact that today, modern technology has circumvented the need for men to stand out in the woods swinging axes for hours to fell trees, and although there are still those employed as “loggers”, they aren’t what Grizzly Redwood acts like. So not only is it odd for him to have suddenly developed this other career, but where would he actually do it? At least back in the day, T.L. Hopper and Duke the Dumpster Droese could have actually found work as a plumber and a garbage man, respectively. Like a comedian once said, “If you wear a cowboy hat and a big belt buckle but don’t actually ride horses for a living, then you’re wearing a costume!” I admit that among the gang of training academy graduates ROH works into their main shows, only Rhett Titus seems to have developed a real gimmick that works, so writing characters for the other bland curtain-jerkers is always a good idea. But they’ve got to be characters the fans can identify with, not outlandish gimmicks straight out of 1993.
Years ago when Paul Burchill debuted his new swashbuckling gimmick, he explained that pirate blood ran through his family tree and in order to honor his ancestors he’d dress and act like a pirate from now on. This made perfect sense in that the character knew he was not actually a pirate, but was purposely dressing like one as an homage to his forefathers rather than actually somehow thinking he was a pirate. That simple reason is all we intelligent fans ask for. They even had an explanation for the ridiculous Boogeyman back when he first crawled down the entrance ramp with a mouthful of live worms. His original story had something to do with a kayfabe television show that UPN cancelled back when SmackDown! aired on that network, and the actor who was to play the Boogeyman character on that show needed work, which led him to participate in UPN’s new talent initiative for WWE.
At least there was a reason, however absurd, for the Boogeyman’s bizarre antics and appearance until his gimmick became confused when Michael Cole and Tazz claimed on commentary that he was actually a real nightmare monster made manifest in real life, not an actor playing a role. This of course leads me back to a variation on my old Undertaker argument; if a creature from the darkest depths of children’s imaginations could become real and walk the Earth, why would it care about winning a wrestling match? The character would have worked beautifully if WWE had claimed that the loss of his television role caused the actor to snap, refusing to remove the makeup or stop acting like the Boogeyman due to insanity, and lashing out at the world in response. That would have made him a dangerous and compelling character, but instead Vince McMahon chose to take the less interesting approach and make him Undertaker-lite.
Another unexplained gimmick that left inquiring minds in the dark belonged to greaser-throwbacks Deuce and Domino, who seemed to actually believe they were from the 1950s. But they must have noticed they were not in the 50s when they traveled from city to city for wrestling shows and saw all our “modern” technology and innovations. I wonder if they thought they were in the next sequel to Back to the Future. And that wonder is the problem. If “creative” is going to present fans with something questionable, then they need to provide some explanation, regardless of how overboard it might seem at first. Otherwise we’re all left wondering if the character is crazy or if the promotion thinks we’re crazy. I don’t want to feel stupid or like my intelligence is being insulted while enjoying one of my favorite hobbies.
So is Grizzly Redwood really Mitch Franklin in a costume? Perhaps he’s trying to stand out from the other recent grads, or perhaps he fell and hit his head, causing amnesia. Lame and soap opera-like an explanation as that would be, it’d certainly be better than nothing. Just give us something; anything.
Tell us what the heck is going on with old Grizzly, and we’ll go from there. As a character, he’d be a much better fit in TNA’s X Division along with such over-the-top gimmicks as Black Machismo, Curry Man, the Guru, Maple Leaf Muscle, Shark Boy, and the Sheik. In his current form, Grizzly Redwood certainly doesn’t belong in the same promotion with serious competitors the likes of Austin Aries, Erick Stevens, Roderick Strong, Brent Albright, Tyler Black, and Nigel McGuinness.
If ROH owner Cary Silken terminated his long relationship with Gabe in order to utilize this new style of booking, then perhaps he would be better off simply shutting down Ring of Honor instead of taking the once hot promotion down the dark path to “sportz entertainment”. It’s bad enough that major matches are now ending with screwjob finishes, the exact opposite of ROH’s major appeal, but what if the mid-card becomes populated with Wrestlecrap? These two factors alone are enough to change the face of Ring of Honor so that longtime fans will no longer recognize it. What good can come from alienating your loyal fan base who purchase $20 DVDs faithfully, attend show after show and constantly hawk and shill ROH to other wrestling fans? Changing the product drastically enough to alienate us seems counterproductive and foolhardy at best. Mr. Silken, what are you thinking?
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man’s? ” – Friederich Nietzsche
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Speaking of ROH, Ace Glazer previews weekend shows in his latest Ring of Honor Weekly, and John “the Wiz-Kid” Wiswell discusses the short but impactful ROH career of Erick Stevens in this week’s Cult of ROH.
Jonathan “Corporal” Kirschner discusses all things CHIKARA in The Chikarticles .
Finally this week, with the holidays upon us Scott Keith looks back at WWE’s new Christmas tradition, the Tribute to the Troops show from 2006 courtesy of WWE 24/7.