BURN BABY BURN - 17th
by Brad Stephens
Wrasslin.com Head Columnist
In just over a week's time, 'Unforgiven' will come at us live with a Four-Corners Main Event battle for the WWF title. In serious danger of being overshadowed by the Triple H/Kurt Angle showdown, with the promise of Stephanie's revelations and Mick Foley's possible McMahon-like heel turn (he hates Triple H, he publicly gave Angle as his favorite to win the King Of The Ring, he's now got the power- you figure it out), not to mention the return of Steve Austin, the WWF booking office may well pull out a shocker in the contest. After all, they do not want their prize to lose any credibility as it did back at 'Armageddon'. On paper however, The Rock should win, as Benoit has yet to reach the peak of his heel heat whilst The Undertaker is still somewhat held back by the remnants of his groin injury.
But what about contestant Number Four in the fracas? Indeed, here's the biggest X-Factor in the WWF title scene today, one standing at nearly seven foot tall and weighing some 326 pounds. Kane could well have struck it lucky with regard to his hunt for the gold, and a title run is certainly long overdue. The Big Red Machine as Jim Ross has affectionately labeled him has for the past three years been one of the WWF's most bankable characters, consistently in the top ten of their merchandising sales and always greeted with excitement by the crowds. Can he walk into next Sunday's event and capture the championship?
If he were able to gain the duke, few names on the Stamford roster have earned it more than Glenn Jacobs. Here is a guy that has been up north in excess of five years now, yet it was only after a painful two year merry-go-round of poor gimmicks and mismatches that he finally hit paydirt. Whereas Steve Austin dumped his lousy alteregoes himself and The Rock simply took advantage of the fact everyone thought he sucked, Jacobs's ride to stardom was not so easy. Yet he persevered, guessing correctly that Vince McMahon would not give up on him due to his sheer size and muscle mass. For Jacobs, the path to WWF glory has indeed been one of hellfire and brimstone.
It all started back in the spring of 1995. Jerry Lawler had come off an embarrassing defeat to Bret Hart in a 'Kiss My Foot' match at that year's 'King Of The Ring', forced to swallow his own wretched toes that had been everywhere except up Rikishi's backside. A fuming King carted himself off to his personal dentist, one Isaac Yankem DDS, and so Glenn Jacobs entered the WWF. Lawler used his broadcast position to sell the monster like never before, evidently having a laugh riot at the comic value of a guy with a ridiculous name but a physique that was certainly not to be laughed at. At 'Summerslam', the Hitman was forced to face Yankem, who had to that point never been seen on WWF programming. His entrance into the Igloo was met with awe, as only then did audiences begin to realise just how big this guy was. Moreover, he dominated Hart in a solid cat and mouse contest that ended only when Lawler earned his stooge a disqualification and the two choked Hart out flat.
Few athletes have ever had such a favorable entrance into the WWF, least of all against a main eventer like Bret Hart. Which makes it all the more surprising that Yankem never fulfilled his initial promise in the group. The feud with Hart had died out by November, after Hart had climbed his way to victory in a cage match on 'Raw' with Lawler amusingly suspended above the ring in a mini cage of his own. The match was of a calibre worthy of a PPV, but these were the days that 'Nitro' had exploded onto monday night television, and McMahon was on his guard. From there, the maniacal dentist jobbed to the Undertaker at the 'Survivor Series' as part of the phenom's vengeful return (he also pinned Lawler and Triple H, not needing the rest of his team to wipe out the alliance captained by the man now known as Viscera- my, how times and the pecking order has changed), and after that was never again even to be seen in singles or tag match-up on the PPV scene again.
The gimmick was simply not mature enough for the new wrestling audience that was emerging that year. Fans wanted angles that would push the barriers of acceptability, hence Goldust and his suspected bisexuality went down a treat whilst Austin's foul language tore the house down. Isaac Yankem was not groomed for this new attitude, in spite of his physical attributes. Consequently, the bookers novacaned the idea, and Glenn Jacobs was sent back to the training grounds of Memphis until they could think of what to do with him.
Their next idea was excruciatingly painful, and in hindsight many fans would have preferred to have undergone root canal surgery without the benefit of an anaesthetic. Having lost Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to WCW in the spring of that year, and subsequently seen their ratings plummit as the nWo was born, the WWF decided to attempt something of a coup in a desperate attempt to get back the ratings. In September, Jim Ross unleashed his venom on Vince McMahon over their personal diffferences, and then claimed to have resigned the artists formerly known as Razor Ramon and Diesel. On 'Raw' at the end of the month, even WCW executives tuned in to find out just what the Hell was going on, having paid Nash and Hall a substantial amount not to turn up.
The anger of the crowd that night was visible and audible when two imitation athletes walked out instead of their beloved superstars. Rick Borgner got the lucky task of having not to shave his chest for weeks and grease the hair, whilst our man in the trenches Jacobs got the leather of Diesel. The gimmick was doomed to bomb from the start, in spite of Ross' valiant efforts to sell it to the crowd ("these are two amazing athletes who could well have been the original Ramon and Diesel"). Perhaps had the WWF stuck with it and used Ross in a more active way as the unlikely heel (take note, bookers of today, the man can do more than play by play), the idea might have had a chance.
As it happened, the fans had spoken loud and clear. Razor and Diesel Mark II went to the 'Survivor Series' only to get battered by veteran Superfly Jimmy Snuka as the penultimate match of the evening ended in chair-wielding mayhem. One month later at the oh-so imaginatively titled 'It's Time' PPV, and they suffered a loss to the tag champions Owen Hart and the British Bulldog, in front of a noticeably small crowd of five and a half thousand. From a small gathering to the massive 60,000 plus in Alamo at the 'Royal Rumble', where Diesel managed to be part of the final few combattants, only to be thrown over to the floor before too long. Following these dark months, neither athlete was ever again seen at a PPV under that guise, and again Jacobs dusted off his blue suede shoes and headed to Memphis awaiting his orders from above.
Two strikes and still no fun must have made him think twice about his choice of career. He had given each gimmick everything that he had, and not many young athletes can claim to have shown such maturity in their early careers. Nevertheless, poor old Glen had no niche in the WWF and so couldn't even sell himself to the opposition. Yet Vince McMahon knew he had winner in that mass of bulk somewhere. Several months later, and The Undertaker was being persecuted by his former mentor Paul Bearer, whose face he had fried at the April PPV, appropriately titled 'Revenge of the Taker' (God, they really were short on PPV ideas back then). The rotund one blackmailed his dark angel into standing at his side once more, otherwise he would reveal to the world his secret.
As we all know, secrets never stay that way in the mad soap opera of WWF programming. Bearer and his charge crossed words, and so the 'fat man' spilled the beans. When The Undertaker was but a beefy boy, he and his brother Kane were left to play at the mortuary where their parents worked and where, by pure coincidence, Bearer trained. The Phenom hadn't been paying attention to those safety adverts, and played with matches, a move which burned the whole place to the ground with his parents and his little brother inside. If ever there was a moment when the WWF revealed that it had turned its scripts into sensationalist glitz, this was it. Not even Aaron Spelling could have come up with this one.
The plot thickened, as The 'Taker retaliated by explaining that it was his brother and not him who had played with the matches and nuked the family tree. Bearer remained unwavered, and claimed he knew the truth since Kane was- shock horror- alive. fans worldwide began to ask who was Kane, what did he look like, and just when would he come back to haunt his brother. As we all remained glued to our screens in anticipation, Glenn Jacoobs was getting to grips with the gimmick that McMahon had entrusted him with. He knew full well that this was his shot, and that the WWF were banking on it being a success, so much so that despite the dominance of their rivals in the ratings, they did not rush the idea along. After three months, and still no sign of this twisted soul as his big brother went into battle against Shawn Michaels in the first 'Hell In A Cell' for a shot against the champion in Montreal the following month.
The match was a classic, and after nearly a half hour of blood and brutality, it looked as if the man from the dark side was on his way as everyone had predicted to the 'Survivor Series'. But as HBK lay in a pool of his own blood, the lights went down and an eerie melody of organ music began to play. Through an explosion of pyro Kane was born into the WWF at last, a huge monster decked out in red and black leather wearing an ominous mask to hide his supposedly disfigured face. He ripped the door off of the cell, stared his brother out, and then naturally tombstoned his ass in the centre of the ring allowing Michaels to score the upset.
With Paul Bearer as his mouthpiece, since his vocal chords had apparently been singed in the fire, Kane began to walk a path of literal destruction in the WWF. Superstar after superstar was battered all the way to Hell as he rampaged his way towards his brother. At the 'Survivor Series', we knew that this gimmick was the one for this giant, as he simply manhandled Mankind, throwing him onto the concrete floor with no mercy and using his body to do some redecorating around the announcers' position. Mick Foley explained that that night, as several superstars contemplated walking out on the WWF over the infamous double cross in the Main Event, he knew his pal Glenn would stay, since at last he had a bankable image.
For the next two months, it was more of the same as Kane dared his brother to fight him. The angle was lucid and neat, as UT refused point blank to fight his flesh and blood, pulling off some impressive acting work that was almost convincing enough to make you believe he really was staring a ghost in the face. At the 'Royal Rumble', it appeared as if he and his long-lost sibling had reunited as he went in to the Casket Match against Shawn Michaels. Surprise surprise, it was all a ruse, and Kane chokeslammed the Phenom into the box before setting it alight with Paul Bearer. Proclaiming that they had enacted their own justice, the gruesome twosome destroyed Vader at 'No Way Out', crushing his face with a wrench. Kane's continued silence added to the aura of the character as he marched his way across the WWF. Inevitably, the Undertaker returned, and after some fancy showdown using their supernatural powers (talk about suspending disbelief) on 'Raw', they clashed at 'Wrestlemania XIV'. It was your typical big man contest, apart from the opening where Kane tombstoned baseball legend Pete Rose simply because he was in his way. Both men survived the other's tombstones, but eventually after three of the piledrivers, one top-rope clothesline and yet another finisher, The Undertaker barely go the three count. Kane was non too pleased, so cracked a chair over his brother's head to say thanks, leading them both towards the first 'Unforgiven' PPV and the very first Inferno Match on WWF television.
The rules were simple enough- the ring was surrounded in flames and the only way to win was to set your opponent on fire. Nice. In the meantime, Paul Bearer had added yet further momentum to the now incredibly-over angle by claiming he was Kane's father having done the horizontal mambo with his mother on the kitchen floor of the mortuary (I can tell you, my father is a successful funeral director and mortuaries don't have kitchens- maybe I'm nit-picking here, but if you want to be accurate...). The match went the way of the dark man following interference from a returning Vader, so he was seen off again at the following PPV with yet another tombstone. The next night, and Paul Bearer was reunited with a deranged Mick Foley, who had reverted back to his Mankind persona, allowing the Big Red Machine to beat his brother and go to 'King Of The Ring' to face Austin for the championship.
Stipulations abounded that night, another indication of how far McMahon would push the limits. Following the 'Hell In A Cell' that no one will forget, Kane stepped into the ring in the knowledge that should he lose, he would have to set himself on fire, After seeing Mick Foley nearly die, the audience genuinely believed that Kane may well be about to barbecue himself. Cleverly, to add weight to the feud without detracting from his mystique, Kane was allowed to talk, but Jacobs' voice was hidden thanks to a voice distorter. After a brutal battle and interference from his brother and Mankind, Kane drew first blood as per the stipulation and took the belt at last.
It was a short-lived glory to be had, as the following night Stone Cold bounced back in anger to reclaim his prize. This was the age of the WWF's meteoric rise to the top, and McMahon seemed more keen on an Austin/Undertaker showdown for the title than keeping the belt over Kane's shoulder. Just to show that there were no hard feelings, he did give Kane not one but two runs with the tag gold that summer, only to have him turn on Mankind with a sledgehammer allowing him to reunite shockingly with his brother and take on Austin at 'Breakdown' in September in a handicap match for the gold. However, the powers that be wanted to run and run with this angle, and so had both men simultaneously pin Austin after a double chokeslam, allowing McMahon to run off with the title in glee.
The brothers grim were miffed, so after Austin had beaten up the boss the next night, they temporarily crippled him using the ring steps, with a tombstone for good measure. No one knew what the Hell was going on that autumn as we went into the 'Judgement Day' PPV and the battle between Kane and his brother for the belt with Austin as the referee. It was here that the story of Kane took on a new dimension, as in something of a shocker, he turned face, building on his enormous heat after Paul Bearer attacked him in the ring in an effort to aid his former protege. Austin however scuppered all chances of a clean ending, therefore the title was vacated and put up for grabs in McMahon's 'Deadly Game' at the 'Survivor Series'.
As the WWF departed upon even more outrageous storylines using Vince's son Shane and all sorts of political backstabbing, Kane was starting to emerge as a highly popular face, solidified by The Undertaker's confession that it was indeed him who set alight the Mortuary (not that anyone cared by the point). Sure, he jobbed to his on-screen brother at the PPV, but he came back later that night to cost him any advance in the tournament and then one month later crushing his hopes the Buried Alive Match against Austin. McMahon and then script-writer Vince Russo chose to run with the idea and have Kane presented as a human being rather than a monster. The Esmeralda to his Quasimodo would be Chyna, as he was forced into the Corporate Team following the threat of institutionalization. He and the treacherous D-X witch became quite the item, but she would break his heart at 'Wrestlemania XV' and reunite with Triple H after a terrific contest, spelling the end of Kane's term with Team Corporate (but not before poor old Pete Rose had been dropped on his head again).
Evidently, the character of Kane had come on in leaps and bounds since his entry into the WWF. He had made the successful transition from destructive beast to gentle giant needing to be loved, a line that had never really been carried out over such a long time span before in the WWF. Kane was beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the group's most unique figures, and the creative team wished to maintain this status. Cue X-Pac, who became Kane's 'buddy' and tag partner as they battled their way to two tag team championships. Kane was portrayed as a sensitive, 90s kind of a guy, and went apeshit when he realized his evil brother had attacked his friend. Hugs and crotch chops with his stick-like partner turned to chokeslams on his brother as Kane became a defender of loyalty for the fans.
Oh the irony. Fans loved every minute, so X-Pac reunited with D-X and back-stabbed his mate, leading to yet another feud in which Kane was seen as the downtrodden gentle giant betrayed by those close to him. The creative team were in all actuality quite sadistic on this one, giving Kane his first ever girlfriend in Tori only to have her run off with X-Pac after he had defended her honour- boo hoo. Kids across America even wrote fan mail to the monster wishing him well, can you believe. Incredibly, the gimmick was over with the crowds, even more so when a Slimfast-addicted Paul Bearer reunited with his 'son' to wage war on X-Pac and his jezebel bitch. By the spring of this year, the young lovers had both been tombstoned repeatedly and even given the stinkface by Rikishi (as had- you guessed it- Pete Rose), just going to show that the WWF does in a twisted sort of way uphold moral values of truth and justice.
So what now for Kane? Upon his return following injury, he has crossed his badass brother yet again, indicating that his days of being a sensitive tool of destruction are over for the time being. He and his brother resolved nothing at 'Summerslam', although he was briefly unmasked. Whether we ever get to see some sort of scarred face remains an issue, especially as now Kane has started to talk normally which could suggest that his scars have healed and he may be ready to unmask permanently. It is clear that the WWF is keen to get Kane over as a top heel once more, hinting that he may even be aligned with Raven in some unholy alliance. Combine that with the new look and new attitude he has been given, and it seems that Kane's makeover has a real long-term purpose. He certainly has a huge fan base to build upon, as well as a strong track record of impressive and moreover popular performances under his wing.
A far cry from the days of wrenching people's teeth. Glenn Jacobs has successfully climbed up the slippery WWF ladder. He has taken brutal beatings, impressive bumps, lost weight when told to, gone along with all storylines, in fact has done everything that management have told him to without question in spite of his rough start in the game. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all. Surely the least the WWF could do is reward their resident Big Red Machine with a run at the top? Time will tell, but in retrospect, I'm sure Glenn Jacobs will just be happy that, after years of struggling, his character is firmly established in the echelons of the WWF. Kane should be around for a long time to come. No more drills or leather pants for him then.....