Epic Fail: The Braden Walker Experiment
Copyright 2009 Mike Rickard
Originally published at World Wrestling Insanity on July 16, 2009
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops. The book reminded me that for every Star Wars, there's ten Battle Beyond the Stars and that no artist has a perfect track record (just look at Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and I'll rest my case). In the spirit of kicking a man while he's down, I've decided to take a look at some of wrestling's biggest flops of late Join me as I look at some of the biggest misfires in the history of the squared circle.
One of the highlights of Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling during their first few years in business was their tag team division. TNA's tag teams provided action not seen since the 1980's second golden age of tag team wrestling and no team exemplified this better than "America's Most Wanted" ("Tennessee Cowboy" James Storm and "Wildcat" Chris Harris). Their battles with Triple X, Team 3-D, and others provided nonstop action for fans who longed for the excitement that good tag team wrestling can provide.
By 2006, TNA chose to split up AMW, hopeful that both men could breakout into singles success. Unfortunately for Harris, this was the beginning of a downward spiral that would culminate in his WWE run as Braden Walker, one of the worst pushes ever for a wrestler debuting in the WWE. Harris' run in the WWE damaged his credibility in the eyes of many fans, spawning Internet parodies such as the Braden Walker WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2009 video and the Definitive Braden Walker 3 disc DVD set. How could the man who lit up the ring as one half of AMW sink see his WWE run become an epic fail?
Harris' troubles actually began in TNA following the storyline split of Storm and Harris. The AMW breakup angle seemed to get off to a good start with Storm breaking a beer bottle in Harris' face and causing a storyline injury to Harris' eye. TNA set things up well to start the feud but they then made the unwise decision of putting Storm and Harris into a Blindfold Match as their first high-profile match against one another. The Blindfold Match, long notorious for stinking up the joint at Wrestlemania VI was no way to get a feud off to a good start and it killed a lot of the heat in the Walker/Harris feud. While TNA did a good job of rebuilding some excitement for the feud with an excellent Texas Death Match, things were never the same. From there, things continued to get worse for "The Wildcat" as he saw himself put into a program program with Black Reign (a subject for a future Epic Fail). Soon, Harris was jobbing his way down the TNA ladder most fans assumed he'd ne climbing. By the end of his tenure in TNA, Harris was involved in that classic Russoesque angle-complaining about how the company was holding him back. Meanwhile, James Storm was enjoying a healthy push and eventually put into Beer Money Inc., a team with Robert Roode. Since neither Storm nor Harris went into a sustained singles push, it's hard to explain why they were split up to begin with.
Following the expiration of his TNA deal, Harris decided to test the waters of the WWE. It was a move he would soon regret. In an interview with Alan Wojcik, Harris had little good to say about the way management handled his push, calling them "two-faced" and criticizing the way they kept changing how to package him as a character.
After being signed to the WWE, fans waited for Harris to debut, and waited and waited. Despite having worked for several years as a regular player on TNA, Harris spent a lengthy amount of time down in Florida Championship Wrestling, the WWE's developmental territory. When Harris did debut on WWE television (appearing on ECW) , it wasn't as Chris Harris, it was as Braden Walker, a generic-looking wrestler with a generic name. Walker's debut turned out to be a flop with some fans criticizing Walker's physical appearance and former WWE Superstar Lance Storm reportedly asking in his blog, "Is a treadmill a banned item in the WWE Wellness Policy"). As if that wasn't bad enough, Walker's debut match consisted of an offense comprised of of nothing but clotheslines. Fans who had delighted to Harris' work in TNA would be hard pressed to believe this was the same man who lit up the Six Sides of Steel against Triple X.
Things quickly went downhill from there. Fans took an instant dislike to Walker with yours truly forming the "Braden Walker Sucks" bandwagon and many jumping on. After a couple more awful appearances on ECW, Walker was future endeavored by the WWE. The sting of his short run and quick release was compounded by fans taking shots at Walker such as a faux video of Braden Walker being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and a fake ad for a 3 disc "Definitive Braden Walker " set by WWE Home Video.
In the end, fans of "The Wildcat" , leading fans to wonder Wha' Happened?
More than anything else, the WWE's total lack of effort in pushing Harris is what makes his short run such an epic fail. In Harris' defense, he wasn't the first talented wrestler to fall through the cracks in the WWE and definitely not the first TNA star to suffer a poor push. However it's difficult to remember the last time such a talented worker got such a half-assed push. It's hard to deny that the WWE put little effort into developing his character nor did they give him much time to make his mark in the company. Anyone who saw Harris' work in TNA knows what he is capable of doing. Unfortunately for the WWE (and Harris), his debut was botched terribly, earning it the distinction of an epic fail.
6.75 x 9.75 in, 300pp, paperback
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About the Author: Mike Rickard has been writing about the sport of kings since 2005. His work has been seen on Pro Wrestling Illustrated's website, Pro Wrestling Torch, Gumgod, World Wrestling Insanity, and Canadian Bulldog's World.