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Heel of "00s"
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By Paul Herzog

My esteemed colleague Frank Dusek wrote a column in the early days of WrestlingClassics.com, naming Eric Bischoff as the "Heel of the 90s". Frank succinctly laid out five criteria that must be met for a performer, be it a wrestler, announcer, valet, manager, etc., to really get over and be successful. Those criteria were believability, extension of a personality, being something that the average fan can never be, ability to control a crowd, and drawing power. Frank plugged everyone in the business into his mental computer and Bischoff's name came out on top. OK, I've no idea how Frank did it, and one might pick Vince McMahon's on-screen persona as the best heel of the last decade. Hell, they might pick Vince McMahon's off-screen persona. Bischoff, however, is an excellent choice, and had a smugness in his performances that was the focal point of the New World Order, no matter who Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash might feel was the most important member.

It might be a little presumptuous after only three months, but I've got a nomination for "Heel of the 00's", and his name is Don Callis, better known today as ECW's Cyrus. When word first leaked last year that Paul Heyman was going to be bringing in Cyrus as part of the ECW crew, I was a little surprised. If I had a dime for every time I thought Heyman was making a mistake, my son's college fund would be well on its way. The difference being that this time, I didn't think it. I knew it. I was certain. Callis was brought into a no-win situation in the WWF as the Jackyl, a last-minute replacement as the man running the Truth Commission. Their former Commendant had visa problems and couldn't get back into the U.S., so Callis stepped in as a mind-controlling guru, which went over like a…well, there's no simile here. He didn't get over. Not with the Truth Commission, nor by teaming Faarooq and Bradshaw as the Acolytes and writing the symbols from Led Zeppelin IV on their chests. Callis was doomed, although to be fair, it wasn't entirely his fault.

That didn't make him any better of a fit in ECW, though. No matter whose fault the WWF failure was, there is no bigger kiss of death with the ECW faithful than to bring in someone who was a failure in one of the Big Two. Especially someone who really didn't change his gimmick at all…he still spoke cryptically, had the same clothes, the same hair, the same sunglasses. He was better on color commentary than Joel Gertner, and settled into a quasi-heel position to give some good interplay with Joey Styles on PPV broadcasts. I couldn't figure out why you'd go out of your way to fly him in, though, especially from the remote reaches of Winnipeg. For a company on a shoestring budget, there wasn't enough creative benefit at first to account for the expense. Note the words, "at first".

It took a gimmick that only ECW could pull off to put Cyrus in the super-hot position he is today. Only Paul E. could think of making heels out of TNN, the network that helped save them from the brink of financial ruin by putting their wrestling show in every cable home in the U.S. and Canada. Granted, the average ECW fan would rather watch PBS than any other shows in the TNN family. The demographics of blue-collar Philly and Nashville do not mix. Still, no college basketball coach other than Bobby Knight would dare think of criticizing CBS. NFL management caters to every whim of the networks that pay the bills. When NBC wanted to put microphones on NBA coaches, David Stern & Russ Granik immediately took their wish and made it league policy. So I can't believe Paul E. thought of making TNN the bad guy. And moreover, I can't believe he picked Cyrus as the focal point to do it

It was basically the same gimmick they used when first bringing Bill Alfonso in during 1995; the backstage guy meddling in what gives ECW its identity. Back then, Fonzie was a referee who actually wanted to enforce the rules in the most lawless wrestling arena in the country. This time, Cyrus has a headset and a prominently displayed backstage pass, calls himself "Network" and interferes on behalf of the TNN community. He plugs Roller Jam, Rock'n Bowl, and his new concept for when ECW gets pulled off the air, Extreme Championship Shuffleboard. He tries to circumvent the ECW brass and name Rhino the new TV champ once Rob Van Dam broke his leg. He tries to prevent Joel Gertner from giving himself dirty nicknames. He has heat.

And he fits Frank's criteria, to a "T". The introduction was so gradual that it's easy to suspend disbelief, and think that he really does have TNN's best interest at heart, rather than just playing a role on a wrestling show. His personality oozes everything negative you think about television and other entertainment executives. His position of power is unattainable by the average fan. The fans can't take their eyes off him while he's out there, nor direct their ire somewhere else. Heck, I'm not even sure that they aren't hurting Rhino by putting him with Cyrus…the fans are ignoring the monster because they are too busy yelling at this tall, skinny guy with long hair threatening to have the show yanked from the TNN schedule. And finally, he does have drawing power in this role. It's hard to prove it yet, since it's only been a couple of months with this character. And like Mick Foley said in his book, most ECW diehards will go to the show whether any one performer is there or not. But ECW is primed for the one angle, the one thing that will draw the initial attention of casual fans. WCW had their New World Order. The WWF had their Steve Austin. And ECW could have their Cyrus.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@worldnet.att.net.

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