Epic Fail: Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!
Copyright 2009 Mike Rickard
Originally published at World Wrestling Insanity on August 24, 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.
Whether you call them gimmicks or characters, wrestling fans have come to expect their wrestlers to have something that sets them apart from the pack (besides talent). While some traditionalists argue that wrestlers never needed gimmicks or characters to get over, that's really not true. Wrestlers have used gimmicks or played characters for decades. Cowboys, wildmen, the All-American, the dastardly foreign menace- all of these archtypes have made it easier for promoters to book wrestlers by adding a little razzle-dazzle to them.
That's why it's no surprise that when Vince McMahon decided to highlight the show business aspect of wrestling, his promotion was heavy on characters with wild gimmicks. Once McMahon got the Rock and Wrestling Era into full gear, wrestlers sported musical entrances, flashy costumes, and a menagerie of bit players ranging from Damien the snake to Frankie the macaw.
At its best, a gimmick can help a wrestler make the jump from star to superstar. The Undertaker's gimmick helped wrestler Mark Calloway go from "Mean" Mark Callous in WCW to the top of the pack in the WWF. Gimmicks (like managers) can help guys get over who might not seem like star material on their own. While gimmicks can be a good (or even great) thing, they can also harm a career. In one wrestler's case, a gimmick took what looked to be a promising career and permanently damaged (some would argue destroyed) it. In this case, the wrestler was Terry Taylor and the gimmick hardly needs any introduction. It has become synonymous with bad booking and how a lousy idea can stick with someone for the rest of their life. Of course I'm talking about the gimmick known as "The Red Rooster".
Born Paul W. Taylor III, the man who would become better known to wrestling fans as Terry Taylor got his start in the South. Taylor's good looks nearly saw him become one half of the innovative tag team the Fabulous Ones but Steve Keirn would eventually earn the spot, forming the team with Stan Lane. Undaunted, Taylor continued wrestling, attracting the attention of both fans and promoters alike with his fluid ring-skill and good looks. A subsequent run in Bill Watts' Mid South Wrestling proved to the fans that Taylor was more than just a pretty boy, cementing his popularity with male fans who might have questioned his toughness.
Naturally, Taylor's good looks didn't hurt him either. Female fans flocked to see him, making him one of the more popular wrestlers alongside other heartthrobs such as the Rock and Roll Express, the Von Erichs, and Magnum T.A. Taylor soon found himself being profiled in wrestling magazines, a sign of his growing popularity. In the ring, he earned various regional championships and became a viable contender for the NWA World Heavyweight championship.
By 1987, Taylor was a top star in Bill Watts' Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), the successor to Mid South Wrestling. However when Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) bought out Watts' financially troubled UWF, Taylor (along with most of the stars of the UWF) had the rug pulled out from under him as the UWF stars became little more than jobbers for Crockett's wrestlers. In Taylor's case, he was put into a short-lived program where he was jobbed to Crockett's star Nikita Koloff. Taylor's experience in UWF would be a harbinger of his next trip to greener pastures.
In 1988, Taylor entered the WWF with a reputation as a solid worker with an enthusiastic fan base, a fan base eager to see how he would fare in the WWF. Some fans were skeptical, believing that Taylor would have trouble succeeding in a promotion that revolved around pushing big muscular wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior as opposed to technically proficient workers like Taylor. Others pointed out that while the WWF favored big men, it also recognized the need for good workers and that wrestlers such as Ricky Steamboat and Ted DiBiase had shown there was room for success for guys like Taylor.
One of the keys to Taylor's future in the WWF would be the gimmick the WWF gave him. By the time of Taylor's debut, everyone had a gimmick, regardless of their reputation prior to entering the WWF. This point was driven home when seven-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race entered the WWF as "King" Harley Race. Race's record-breaking reign as NWA champion was ignored in favor of booking him in his new persona as the arrogant king of wrestling. While some fans didn't care for the WWF's reliance on saddling everyone with a gimmick, it was the way the company did business. Taylor had the skills to get the job done in the ring. Now, his fans could only hope that their favorite would get a good gimmick that he could use to springboard himself into the WWF spotlight and then show the fans the skills that had served him so well thus far.
Sadly for Taylor, the gimmick that could have done this ended up going to another man. Legend has it Taylor was originally considered for the role of "Mr. Perfect", a role which could have propelled Taylor to the top of the federation (as it did for the man chosen to play "Mr. Perfect"- Curt Hennig). Instead, Taylor was saddled with a gimmick known as the Red Rooster. It would be a classic case of one person getting the gold mine and the other getting the shaft.
As bad as the gimmick sounded, it was even worse in practice. Sporting red hair spiked to look like a rooster, Taylor entered the ring in red tights strutting around the ring like, well...a rooster! The gimmick itself was just so bad and so was the way in which it was implemented. Normally, having the top heel manager of the promotion (in this case Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) guiding your career was a good thing. Instead, Taylor was portrayed as having Heenan take him under his wing (no pun intended) in order to show how Heenan could manage anyone to the top. From there, things got even worse when Taylor entered the ring. As if strutting around the ring like a rooster wasn't bad enough, WWF announcers had fun with Taylor's looks and name during matches. For example, during a Taylor/DiBiase match, Vince McMahon recalled famous chickens such as Chicken Little and remarked on Taylor's smoothness in the ring as "poultry in motion". After DiBiase defeated Taylor and stuffed a one hundred dollar bill in his mouth, Jesse "The Body" speculated on how much chicken feed Taylor could buy.
Eventually, Taylor parted ways with Heenan, turning babyface and wrestling on the undercard at Wrestlemania V. At this point, the WWF could have had Taylor dump the "Red Rooster" persona (just as he had dumped Heenan as his manager) and make a fresh start. Instead, the WWF kept the gimmick on him and began jobbing Taylor out to the company's heels. Showing his professionalism, Terry Taylor continued to put on good matches even though he was doomed to count the lights by the end of the match.
In the end, the "Red Rooster" gimmick devastated Taylor's career. No matter how good Taylor looked in the ring (and he could put on one hell of a match), the gimmick killed him. He became the laughingstock of wrestling with fans mocking him and wrestling magazines wondering how someone so talented could sink so low. Fans who had never seen him before his entrance into the WWF wondered why his fans were so big on him. The fans who had supported Taylor's career prior to his WWF days were shell-shocked. How could such a talented wrestler end up as the butt of so many jokes?
In a testament to Taylor's ability as a wrestler, he actually managed to salvage his career when he left the WWF for WCW in 1990. Unfortunately for Taylor, WCW (which was doing its best to be a poor man's version of WWF) saddled him with lackluster gimmicks such as Terrance Taylor and "The Taylor Made Man", hardly the way to rebuild his reputation after the "Red Rooster" debacle.
A talented wrestler, Taylor would never have trouble finding work but he would have trouble finding main event success. His career never rebounded from the Red Rooster gimmick. Fortunately for Taylor, his reputation in the ring saw him find work backstage as a booker and agent and recently, as head of talent relations in TNA. To this day, fans still wonder how Terry Taylor's career would have gone had he played "Mr. Perfect" (or just about anything but "The Red Rooster"). Instead, they can't help but equate "Red Rooster" with epic fail in the gimmick department.
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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.