Lets be clear: Fake Razor Ramon and Fake Diesel was a bad idea. It was. If you listen to the Bruce Pritchard/Eric Bischoff episode of the Talk Is Jericho podcast you’ll hear Bruce himself say as much. He says it was made to prove a legal point, that the WWF owned those characters, that it was all part of the bad feeling that swirled around after Hall and Nash showed up on Nitro.
The jist of the angle was this: a returning Jim Ross shows up on Monday Night Raw, all angry and promising the return of Razor Ramon and Diesel. At the end of the show he cuts a promo, a worked shoot laying into Vince for the way he’s been treated since showing up in a toga for WrestleMania IX. And then out walks Razor, only its not Razor. It’s another guy cosplaying as The Bad Guy.
Over the next couple of weeks Razor Ramon (journeyman Rick Bognar) and Diesel (Glen Jacobs, the once and future Kane) would show up on TV along with a heel Jim Ross. They’d have a couple of matches on PPVs then, seemingly, everybody realised what they were doing and the Fake characters were written off screen. Bognar would leave the company, Jacobs would soon find a gimmick that stuck. Jim Ross’ heel turn was quietly forgotten because there was more important things to worry about, like Brett Hart versus Stone Cold and other things that actually made sense.
It’s a product of the bad blood between the WWF and WCW, something to be filed along with the Nacho Man and Huckster videos. But, as a giant stone cat head in the dessert once said to an evil wizard and his parrot, there is always a diamond in the rough.
The diamond in question happens on an episode of Raw, the week after Ross’ heel promo, on 30th September 1996. You can find it on the WWE Network. Fake Razor is having a match against Savio Vega, with Kevin Kelly and Jerry The King Lawler commentating alongside Jim Ross. Then, just to make things interesting, Gorilla Monsoon shows up at ringside. At that time he was the on screen WWF President, so wasn’t someone you’d see on commentary every week.
(A quick aside: remember on old PPVs when you’d see Monsoon and JR up in the rafters doing the commentary on WWF Radio? Why aren’t those available as separate audio tracks on the network?)
Apparently Monsoon is here to confront Good Ol’ JR about his attitude these days but also something else interesting crops up:
Jim Ross: I don’t even understand why you’re out here.
Kevin Kelly: Gentlemen please. The WWF president Gorilla Monsoon has joined us here at the broadcast desk. We are getting set to see the man you claim to be Razor Ramon, Jim Ross, in the ring taking on Savio Vega and I don’t know what to make of this match or the comments that you’ve made.
JR: Well its pretty obvious that thats Razor Ramon.
Gorilla Monsoon: Thats not obvious Jim Ross, that is not obvious.
JR: Look at your contracts-
GM: Let me explain something-
JR: Spend some more time here and look at his contract. His contract says his name is Razor Ramon
GM: But whats his real name? You know I’m concerned about whats going down here Jim Ross, I’m very concerned about your attitude and what you’re doing right now in the WWF
Read that last bit back again. Jim Ross says that Razor Ramon is in the ring, Monsoon asks what his real name is. His real name? This is on the air, this is at ring side, Gorilla Monsoon is asking what the real name is of the wrestler in the ring. I don’t remember him asking what Axe and Smash’s real name was, or The Ultimate Warrior’s or Mr Perfect’s.
But then after JR moans about Vince for a while things go really crazy:
GM: You know Jim Ross as president of the WWF I want to make it very clear especially to all the fans here in the WWF that in no time no way shape or form did we ever say did I ever say that Kevin Nash or Scott Hall were returning here to the WWF but you tried to perpetrate that fraud.
JR: I never said that Scott Hall or Kevin Nash were going to be here. You mentioned their name before I did. A great athlete by any name is a great athlete. Thats the bottom line.
GM: But it is not Kevin Nash or Scott Hall is it?
Say what? Now, I may need to trawl through way more of the WWE Network but I can’t remember Razor or Diesel being referred to by their real names at any point whilst in the WWF, at least at this stage in history. When they came back to the company in the 2000s then fair enough, but during the New Generation Era?.
Thats not to say that this can’t happen. When Curt Henning first came into the company he went by that name with Mr Perfect as a nickname before his real name was phased out just leaving the gimmick name.
When Razor Ramon came in he was Razor Ramon. When Diesel first showed up with Shawn he was Diesel.
And again, this is Gorilla Monsoon asking for a wrestlers real name. This is a company man, someone who has been in the business since the 60s. Hell, he even had a number plate that read KAYFABE.
It’s a mind bending moment. Sure, by this point kayfabe was on it’s last legs. The influence of the internet was growing monthly, the curtain was being lifted. There had already been body blows dealt to the veil of secrecy that covered wrestling; the various trials and TV shows and what not had meant that wrestling being ‘fake’ was an open secret but this wasn’t something that was talked about on camera, not at this time.
But then it goes on:
GM: They don’t like it Jim Ross because you’re portraying him to be what they think and remember as Razor Ramon and he’s not he’s somebody else. Who is he? What’s his name?
JR: As far as I know his name is Razor Ramon. Thats what it says on his contract. And didn’t you see his contract come across your desk?
GM: No his contract never came across my desk with his real name on it and not Razor Ramon
JR: Well maybe you should pay more attention thats all I know
His contract would be in the name of Razor Ramon? Thats not beyond the realms of possibility. Did you catch Paul Heyman on the Stone Cold podcast? At the end where he talked about renting a car out as Paul E Dangerously? Take it with a pinch of salt but back then it was another world back so it’s possible.
Possible, but crazy. A proper contract in your kayfabe gimmick name? Sure this fits into the reality that is projected on camera but Monsoon gives that a massive kick in the lower abdominal area.
JR: You may like Razor, you may not like Razor. It’s really not, thats the fan’s opinion but we can’t deny the fact that this guy is a big strong rugged athlete-
GM: I’m not questioning it.
JR: -and thats exactly what the WWF should have as their foundation, outstanding athletes and this guy is one of them
GM: Nobody is questioning that Jim Ross, about this guy being an out- standing athlete it’s obvious that he is. But why do you portray him as somebody he’s not? To me you’re trying to hoodwink the fans of the WWF and somewhere down the road you’re going to have to pay for that.
Oh boy. Where do we go with this?
Why do you portray him as something he’s not? Well, maybe we could ask the same of a lot of the people that Vince brought in and repackaged in the late 80s and early 90s. Terry Taylor as the Red Rooster? Konnan as Max Moon? Nailz? Many careers were thrown against the wall by creative to see what would work. Every now and then you’d get an Undertaker, but that was how WWE works; they want to own everything, they want a TM over the wrestlers name so they can make money off it. But who the actual person was like was generally subservient to the gimmick, it was only when the wrestler could break out of that straitjacket that they could really perform. Sure gimmicks change over time, One Man Gangs become Akeems, Smashes turn into Repo Men, but it was always the character that was pushed and not the man.
So having Monsoon, someone who put these gimmicks over on the mic for years, question that is mind boggling.
There’s a similar moment on the previous week’s Raw; there is a match with Barry Windham, well, it’s The Stalker which is his current gimmick. Some guy with camouflage face paint who hails from “The Environment”. During his match one Stone Cold Steve Austin joins Kevin Kelly on the mic, and refers to Windham by name:
Stone Cold: As far as Barry Windham’s concerned, The Stalker, why the hell does he got all that paint on his face? I know who he is, everybody else knows who he is, is he embarrassed or what? Whats the deal with that?
Wrestlers have generally always worked under a gimmick, very few have their real names. There was a period in the early to mid-2000s when WWE went down that route (John Cena and Randy Orton, for example) but looking at it as a corporation, it’s clearly better for the company to have your roster work under a name that you own the trademark to. Once you had your name, that was it. You weren’t supposed to look behind that curtain.
As a side note it’s interesting that we get a glimpse of JR positioning Razor as an athlete, something that he would always work to put over when he was settled in as the voice of the Attitude Era.
JR: You know, I get I get criticised for helping recruit a great athlete to the WWF and because he’s going to be called Razor Ramon everybody’s making a big deal out of it. I think a lot of this establishment and the corporate suits are overreacting. You know I didn’t bring Doink here. He didn’t come under my watch.
KK: Irish whip, oh my Savio Vega big heel kick.
JR: I didn’t recruit clowns to wrestle in the WWF. Were you proud the clowns are wrestling here? You’re a hall of famer, did that make you proud to see a clown in the ring?
GM: Hey, we deal in sports entertainment here Jim Ross-
KK: Big clothesline!
GM: -and if you want to entertain the little ones at home I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Bit shocking to see JR lay the boot into Doink here. Sure, face Doink was just a plain bad idea but the original Matt Bourne Heel Doink deserved a lot more than a feud with Crush. But again, it’s interesting to see the Sports Entertainment banner being waved by Monsoon.
It’s also interesting to have it infantilised almost straight away. Entertain the little ones? Fair enough but this is wrestling, the greatest sport of them all. You can almost hear the backstage talk here, the clash of the two points of view. One side, the sports entertainment and the other side the pro wrestling. It’s something that WWE swings between constantly, with what Vince wants being the final decision.
But this isn’t the best bit of the match, this happens at the end.
Now, remember whilst the philosophical battle about the company is behind thrashed out between JR and Monsoon, Kevin Kelly and The King are still there. Lawler keeps his peace for most of the match, occasionally telling JR this isn’t the time or place and to call the match. Kevin Kelly actually is trying to call the match, squeezing in as much play by play as he can.
At times he sounds genuinely upset at JR’s change in attitude, at one point calling Ross his idol. He’s like a child listening to his parents fighting. But this reaches a peak at the end of the match when Fake Diesel comes down (heroically dodging a backstage interview with Doc Hendrix) and interferes in the match. As the Fake wrestlers start laying into Savio, Kelly’s existential crisis explodes:
K: And now just like we saw at In Your House Mind Games Razor Ramon and Diesel are looking like they’re ready to do a number on Savio Vega.
GM: Why are you calling them Razor Ramon and Diesel?
K: It’s the names I’m given Mr Monsoon, I don’t know what to do!
“It’s the names I’m given Mr Monsoon, I don’t know what to do”. Wow. As a critique on the micro managed commentary style of WWE it’s phenomenal. You can just picture Vince backstage barking orders into a headset as Kelly struggles to get everything across on air. You almost feel sorry for him as his part in the theatre of wrestling crystallises for a moment, beholden to a boss who commands his every utterance. You can see people like Jim Ross or Monsoon himself able to stand up to Vince, to let their personality shine. But Kelly? You can see it in his eyes that he’s completely broken.
As a whole, the angle is a failure. But as a microcosm of where the company is at the time it’s fascinating. This whole thing about the names that wrestlers are given is very portentous given that it was over the next few months that JR himself would chip away at the Mankind gimmick to reveal Mick Foley underneath. It wouldn’t be that long until they’re talking about Edge (you know, the vampire guy) being at WrestleMania VI as a teenager. Kayfabe always meant that you had to be your character even when on the road but the door began to swing both ways and the person underneath began to be seen on camera as well.
It would be about 14 months and one screwjob before Vince did his promo that would officially name the Attitude Era. This almost forgotten match on a random episode of Raw feels like the first rumblings. One of the iconic voices of the company goes on air and asks what a wrestler’s real name is.
I might carry on in this thread and go back to try to find any more diamonds, I doubt though that they’ll have a moment quite like Kelly’s on air moment of clarity