Throwback Thursday: WCW's Oz

Kevin Nash: one of the most important wrestlers of the 1990s. Not only was he "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel in the WWF, but he was a central figure in the renaissance of WCW as a founding member of the NWO.

And for a few months in 1991, he was a Wizard of Oz-inspired wrestler.

For the next few Throwback Thursdays, I plan to take a look at the lesser-known gimmicks of famous wrestlers. Not every wrestler is "CM Punk," "Macho Man Randy Savage," or "Nick Bockwinkel" throughout their careers. Many have to adopt -- well, odder -- gimmicks early in their career and we here at Wrestling Shame strive to celebrate those gimmicks.

Kevin Nash's first gimmick was as the orange-mohawked "Steel" as a member of the tag-team, the Master Blasters. When that tag-team dissipated, WCW brass decided that Nash would be best used as a green tight-wearing wizard in an odd mask with a beard who would be accompanied to the ring by Kevin Sullivan in a get-up that would be inspired by the Wizard of Oz.

Again, a group of supposedly intelligent people decided that a professional wrestler should have a gimmick inspired by a beloved fantasy film from the Great Depression-era.

A little background: in 1991, Tuner Broadcasting acquired the television rights to The Wizard of Oz, and executives at the company -- some sources claim it was Ted Turner himself -- requested that WCW create a Wizard of Oz-themed wrestler as a vehicle for cross-promotion.

Now cross-promotion with other media was nothing new in professional wrestling in 1991; indeed, there's also a long history of pro wrestling presenting characters or narratives that directly reference other influential texts. But agreeing to have a wrestler directly reference the Wizard of Oz created some problems.

For starters, I think there's always going to be an issue when a wrestling promotion brings in a character from another "world" into the professional wrestling "world." While I have no problem with celebrity appearances in wrestling, I really resist it when "universes" overlap in art -- see any crappy cartoon cross-over episode (save for when Jay Sherman visits Springfield). And WCW presented Oz as being directly from the Oz universe, so....well, this raises many questions. Does his power translate to the wrestling realm?  Is Sting fighting the Tin Man next week?

The second big issue with this is that the vast majority of your audience knows the source material fairly well: while I'd guess most people have never read Baum's original stories, they surely have seen the film. And if you decide to present someone as a "wizard" from "Oz," you need to know people will think of the Wizard from the film who is not really powerful at all. If you present a wrestler who is wearing emerald-colored tights and enters the arena through a stage meant to evoke the Emerald City and floating green-head, your audience is more than likely going to think "oh, there's a short, pudgy medicine man from Nebraska behind the curtain." You can't say "this is a different character from a cherished film" and then use all the imagery from that film and then say "forget everything about that film."

Third, if you are trying to have an Oz character who is scary, why not create a character that references the scariest figure of the film, the Wicked Witch of the West? I know WCW didn't have much -- if any -- of a women's division in the early 1990s, but you could easily create a WWOTW-inspired figure that would play to people's deep-seated apprehension of the character. Hell, Margaret Hamilton was too scary for an episode of Sesame Street, so it would work! I mean, it's not as though WCW would have a tag-team of flying monkeys!!

*pause* Welllll.....

The fourth major problem with this is that Oz premiered at a time when fans of WCW were really beginning to sour against the company because of the leadership of Jim Herd. Herd, a former St. Louis-based television executive, had been the president of WCW for nearly two years, and had, in short-order, basically alienated or infuriated most of the roster by promoting ideas that were, frankly, ridiculous. This was the man who not only introduced Ding and Dong, but also wanted to have Ric Flair shave his head and become Spartacus. So a tag-team of flying monkeys would be actually a step-up for the Jim Herd-era.

In any event, Oz premiered in May 1991 and....well, you need to see the video to believe it. Again, the only good copy I can find is via VideoMotion, and the link is here: Oz Debut

A few stray observations about his debut.

-First, kudos to Kevin Sullivan for selling his role as the Great Wizard. He also has to deal with a monkey. And how many times does he say "Welcome to Oz" here? I feel like he had another line, but couldn't remember it?

-Also, half the audience is mocking the entire presentation, which is pretty great.

-The best part of the entire clip is Kevin Nash's grammar. Nash is, of course, a noted grammarian, and his voice-over work here is stellar. Oz yells "I will show you who I is" and "I will show you who I really is." Of course, "is" is the 3rd person singular indicative of the verb be, when Nash should have used "am," the 1st person, singular indicative.

-As Rick pointed out to me in a Twitter exchange, who is the head wizard here? Why are there so many wizards? Is it Nash's Oz? Is it Sullivan's wizard? How does seniority work in the Oz wizard world?

-I just did a little research on Oz and in the expanded Oz world of Baum, there are a plethora of witches and wizards who are both good and bad. So I guess Sullivan and Nash are bad wizards. But again, do you think 95 percent of any audience knows this? I think most people will still be "wait, there's one fucking Wizard of Oz. Also, this is really stupid."

Anyway, over the next month or so, Nash --- er Oz -- would appear in a series of squash matches where he would appear to be a dominant force. Case in point, his match against Johnny Rich:

Impressive? I guess? Why doesn't he just use magic to pin his opponents? I mean he is a wizard. Come to think of it, maybe he's a really crappy wizard. Certainly there are talent-levels for wizards. In Harry Potter, Harry is really crappy at making potions, so it stands to reason that there would be more talented wizards than others in the Oz realm. Maybe this Oz just really, really, really sucks at magic. Oh and moving in the ring.

Let's also talk about Oz's theme. Last week, I wrote about shameful WCW themes in my post here, but man --- this one is lame too. It's both over-produced like most WCW themes of the era, and also a blatant rip-off of "Another One Bites the Dust." WHY WOULD OZ ROCK OUT TO THAT THEME?? I believe that WCW gave Oz a second theme that was a little-more mystical, but Professional Wrestling Rule #34 says that "if you need to give your wrestler a second theme-song in a month, you've got bigger problems."

Anyway, at some point in the latter-half of 1991, the brass at WCW realized that A) Oz was not getting over and B) this entire thing was stupid from the get-go. So for those reasons -- and also Nash claims he would tweak his contact -- Oz went on a lengthy losing-streak throughout the rest of the year. By the time the calendar rolled over to 1992, Nash would be repackaged as Vinnie Vegas, a wise-cracking mobster character and.....well, he'd eventually go to the WWF for reasons I can totally understand.

So what have we learned? Well, if you're a wresting booker, it's probably not the best idea to base a character off of a famous film or novel. Instead, you should stick to what really works: xenophobic and racially problematic characters that only reinforce traditional social norms!

Well, that and dead / undead undertakers from the Old West.

Got an early gimmick I can write about? Let us know! Also, follow us on Twitter at @wrestlingshame. Our 100th follower will win a prize!

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