I was just as surprised as the rest of you schmos when I heard that the WWE put their top strap on The Miz. Now don’t get me wrong. He’s a solid in-ring performer. He’s got good control on the mic. And, most of all he draws great heat from the crowd. So, if he scores pretty high in some of the key elements, then why is there so much hoopla over him being the top guy with the most prestigious strap?
Well…look at him. Does he look menacing? Does he make his opponents shiver in their boots upon first sight? Is he larger than life? Does he have enough of the ‘it”factor?….Seriously. This guy looks like a kid my 10-year old daughter would beat the shit out of in the school yard.
Take a trip with me down memory lane – The year is 1987. We’re fresh off of Wrestlemania III, arguably the best Wrestlemania of all-time. You’ve got Hogan vs. Andre headlining. Piper is retiring and heading to Hollywood. Bundy damn near killed a midget. And most of all, the classic climax between Steamboat and Savage for the Intercontinental title. Yeah, those were the days.
I was a huge fan of Randy Savage as a kid. I even wrote “Macho Man” on the back of my under-roos – even though I learned later in life that that tactic wasn’t going to go over well with the ladies when we were getting down and dirty. I was also a huge fan of Ricky Steamboat. The dude brought karate into wrestling in an era when every kid wished they were a ninja like Sho Kosugi. Steamboat was a high flyer and his matches were show-stealers. So when my two favorites locked up for an epic battle, it was nothing short of a dream come true.
What I didn’t know as a kid, was that even though Steamboat won the Intercontinental title from Savage, he wasn’t planning on hanging around the WWE much longer. Just as quick as he won the title, a plan had to be figured out how he was going to drop the title. Truth be told, I can only recall seeing 3 title defenses by Steamboat. Immediately after Mania, he defended against Hercules on Saturday Night’s Main Event. He then defended against Butch Reed on Saturday morning Superstars – ironically, Reed was the choice for Steamboat to drop the title too but he apparently went AWOL – and lastly, against The Honky Tonk Man.
I remember anticipating all of Steamboat’s challengers. On the Saturday morning in June, I had a little league game. The game started at 10am, the same time Superstars went on the air. Steamboat defending against Honky, I figured it an easy win. So easy, it wasn’t worth me getting to the game late. I get to the game, perform like I’m a future Yankee and never have a second thought about Steamboat’s title defense. At least not until Andrew arrived.
Andrew was a teammate of mine. He wasn’t that good and mostly rode the bench. So him getting there late didn’t make much of a difference to the game. When I got back to the dugout, he quickly approached me and said, “Did you hear the news?…Honky Tonk beat Steamboat for the title”. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “He fuckin’ won!?!?”
Never in a million years did I think it was possible. How could this buffoon possibly beat Steamboat? Did he nail him with a foreign object or some giant Thomas Edison Invention? There was no internet, no re-runs, no way of me finding the match to see if it was true. I waited until the following week when they recapped the match in Special Report hosted by Mean Gene. But it wasn’t true enough for me. My father arrives home with tickets to Madison Square Garden. He says Steamboat is in the main event. I’m two steps ahead of you old man – Steamboat is getting his rematch at MSG and I’ll be there to witness history. Damn that Jimmy Hart. The “Mouth of The South” interferes and now there’s a lumberjack match scheduled for next month. I guess I’ll miss history, but as long as Steamboat walks away as champion, it’s kool and the gang with me….Well, that never happened.
HonkyTonk Man called himself the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. Kind of like how The Miz calls himself “the must-see WWE champion of all-time”. Honky actually became the longest reigning Intercontinental champion of all-time. And he did so but defending against the best WWE legends the federation could throw at him, including Randy Savage. But how could it be? Was he really that good? If Savage couldn’t take the title away, then who would?
As time passed on, HonkyTonk became the guy you loved to hate. He’d sell out arenas because fans were dying to see who would give this Elvis impersonator a dirt nap of his own. Challengers came and went, but Honky always found a way to keep the title. After a while, you started to respect him. He wasn’t that bad in the ring. His Shake, Rattle and Roll fit his gimmick. His promos were hysterical. Jimmy Hart was an added bonus because his participation in match always gave Honky the upper hand against any challenger. And most of all, people paid good money and sold out arenas hoping to be there the night the magic finally happened.
When The Ultimate Warrior plowed over Honky at SummerSlam 88, the eruption of the crowd nearly blew the roof off the building. Although the Warrior had a solid following, it wasn’t so much the fact that he won that got the people all riled up, it was the fact that the Honky Tonk Man finally lost. Honky was so good at his craft that the reaction he earned was unparalleled to any other that night.
Love him or hate him, Honky Tonk Man was in fact one of the greatest of all time because his run got under the skin of the people. He toyed with their emotions so much, they couldn’t wait for someone to shut him up. And as close as their favorite stars came, he always managed to escape with the title. This is that thing you youngsters hear about all the time called “Psychology”. Something the art of pro wrestling has long lost. But Honky mastered it.
So what was the purpose of this long winded story?
The Miz could easily be this generations Honky Tonk Man. He may not look the part, but with the belt around his wait, he IS the part. Like it or not, you need to accept the here and now. The longer he holds onto that title the greater he’ll become. And the longer he holds onto that title, the greater it will be the day he drops it.
The problem is that the WWE’s creative team is weak. They wouldn’t know how to tell a solid story if it lap-danced on their face. I guarantee that most of the WWE writing staff weren’t even wrestling fans before they started their writing job or never took the time to go back, watch and learn from the true classics. Why am I so critical? Because The Miz is in a senseless feud with Jerry Lawler. That’s right! He wins the gold and feuds with a 60-year old announcer. Miz needs to be booked and go over on the likes of Cena, Orton, Undertaker, Morrison, etc. He has the same skill set as HonkyTonk Man. He draws the same heat and people want to see his head ripped off. The more they crave and foam at the mouth for The Miz’s downfall, the more they’ll pay to see it when it happens.
Years from now, he can be the guy fans look back on and say, “Remember when the Miz was champ?..He barely got out of the ring with the hair on his head but he managed to keep the title…That guy was really ‘awesome’”. But as for right now, the WWE’s controversial “must-see champion” is beating up on elders and and forcing viewers to take bathroom break during his segments.
He may not be the biggest or the best, but The Miz has the tools to keep the viewers engaged as long as he holds that title by hook or by crook. And that type of magnetism is what he can rub off onto a young star who is chosen to defeat him. This run will determine if The Miz has the ‘grapefruits’ to be remembered as a legend or if this was just another one of the WWE’s temporary forced feedings. There are only five words that will help make this a legendary success – “Remember The Honky Tonk Man”!!!