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The 7 - Guest Columns - The Obtuse Angle: The Incredible Journey of Billy Gunn
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Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#1 Posted on 12.1.03 1023.47
Reposted on: 12.1.10 1025.18

The Incredible Journey of Billy Gunn
January 12, 2003

by Jeb Tennyson Lund

There is a rumor going around that suggests Billy Gunn will retire due to nerve damage resulting from an injury. One part of my mind says, "Adios, fat-head." But there is another part of my mind that will sincerely miss him. Billy Gunn The Load was so wrong and so disliked in so many ways. But, if you stop to think about it, it is difficult to say why. From that, he exemplifies much of what is terrible, and terribly maudlin, about wrestling.

Sure, smarts can marshal a laundry list of Gunn's supposed crimes against wrestling, but most of them aren't that bad.

  • His shrill, almost Gomer-Pyle vocal register: see Bob Backlund.

  • His winning the King of the Ring trophy: see Mabel.

  • His un-dynamic wrestling: see The Undertaker.

  • His penchant for harming other wrestlers: see Chris Jericho, RVD, etc.

  • His blown spots: see Jeff Hardy, etc.

  • His total want of compelling personality: see X-Pac, D-Von Dudley, RVD, Big Show, Chris Benoit, etc.

With the exception of the King of the Ring debacle, everything bad about Billy Gunn could easily be attributed to any number of fan-favorites. Many darlings of the internet are far more guilty of the selfsame crimes we level against The Load. (I call him The Load because a friend of mine came up with the name, likening him to a dead weight carried around the ring by his opponents.) And it's hardly fair to condemn him for the same acts (un-dynamism) that many cheered, when they were committed by Hogan, Savage and even The Rock.

Still, there is something missing some vital element whose absence has made Gunn into the unfortunate character that he is.

The Mysterious Case of Non-Appeal
To the uninitiated, there was nothing ostensibly wrong with The Load. He was (and is) tall, muscular and not terribly fast- nor terribly slow-moving. His face, although rather broad, never bore hints of the grotesque like Benoit's stubble and missing tooth, Guerrero's feathery mullet, Show's massiveness or Hogan's cedar-paneling color.

Also, a non-fan would never question his move-set. Granted, the FameAsser is heroically ludicrous on a level that only the WWE can truly approach. Then again, the People's Elbow makes far more demands on a viewer's patience than anything other than a BroncoBuster or Lionsault. For the most part, a first-time viewer might remark that Gunn performed no flips or tremendous feats of strength. But his array of punches, slams and suplexes was just as diverse as the moves of most main-eventers.

On the mike he was wanting. I always expected his New Age Outlaws catchphrase to one day morph into, "Uh course, if yer not daaayn with that, Ah got tew werds for ya! 'I suck!' " Again, however, his lack of talent never distinguished him from the pack of the similarly verbally constipated.

His blown spots never exceeded the frequency of Jeff Hardy or other archetypal spot-blowers. And his lack of personal intensity was attributable to many factors. First, the poor man had gimmick upon gimmick foisted upon him. He was "The Ass Man," for heaven's sake. You try to seem like a legitimate threat while walking around to a song that says something along the lines of: "I like to pick 'em, I like to sniff 'em, I like to stick 'em, I like to pro-rate 'em," or whatever that song said.

After initial success with The Smoking Gunns, The Load went on to endure many silly transformations. Later, he was forced into some decent storylines and tag teams, where the interesting aspects of the stories themselves took precedence over any considerations of his character. In short, when Gunn appealed to the audience, it was not on his own merits. Consider the irony of the success of the New Age Outlaws and later Billy 'n' Chuck. The former was a giant hole for RockaBilly and The Real Double J to find themselves buried in, yet some alchemy of silliness made them attractive, later putting them in good storylines that extended their appeal long after it was naturally dead.

In this case, Gunn's character was not developed, nor was it essential to the storyline. And when the conditions that made him get some heat became unnecessary, when the stage was struck and the props removed, Gunn stood alone without a leg to stand on. The same thing happened to Bob Holly. The only difference was that Bob Holly was never really successful or popular: thus, when the rug was pulled out from under his pushes or gimmicks, nothing changed.

But the most efficient exposition of this condition was the Billy 'n' Chuck sexual-ambiguity angle. Here, neither man had any semblance of personality at all. For several months, they exchanged one-dimensional dialogue, gave one-dimensional in-ring performances with one-dimensional "gimmick" endings... all leading up to a one-dimensional payoff with virtually no elements that could positively contribute to the career of either wrestler.

The whole thing was a toss-out gimmick intended to generate a little heat for two jobbers; yet, somehow, America didn't let us down, and proved that it was much more capable of hating gays than the bookers expected. But what must the average non-homophobic fan have thought when Billy and Chuck said, "Hey, it was all a joke"? A few things spring to mind:

  • You played along with a homosexual joke for an awfully long time.

  • What was your point?

  • Do you, Billy and Chuck and does the WWE in general get off on making me look like a fool?

  • Am I supposed to hate gay people? Because, now, I'm confused: I just hate this angle.

Billy and Chuck were "gay" for dubious reasons, turned "straight" for dubious reasons, and now only Chuck has enough years remaining to try to work off that foul stigma from that foul angle.

Given the above conditions, a more suitable description of The Load might be that nothing was ever outstanding about (or for) him. He was an unexceptional wrestler whose brief flirtations with mass appeal made his basic solidity and unexception appear dislikable when the crowds stopped cheering. If the audience suddenly stopped booing or cheering The Undertaker, leaving him to do his schtick in a vacuum, a similar dislike would probably result. After all, a big boot, a chokeslam, a punch, a suplex and a powerbomb are not that different from a punch, a suplex, a slam, a clothesline and a FameAsser. And not one of them seems that great in a silent arena.

The difference is that The Undertaker would have had a character to fall back on; Gunn, sadly, could rely on nothing. Once he was straight again, or once he was no longer The Ass Man (some would argue that these two statements say the same thing), he wasn't anything at all. Just a guy with vinyl shorts, a decent body and a conservative move-set.

The Discreet Charm of Billy Gunn
The curious matter of Gunn's lack of appeal was, and is, part of his charm. Billy Gunn, by accident, encapsulates much of what is interesting about wrestling: the relentless pigheadedness of the crowd. It's undeniable that a hot crowd can make a decent match good and a good match great. But a crowd can also make a decent wrestler terrible. And sometimes, it can just make someone "un-great."

Because "un-great" is what you think of when you think "Billy Gunn," isn't it? You certainly never think that he was:

  • a 10-time tag champion with three different partners;

  • a 2-time former Hardcore champion;

  • a former InterContinental champion;

  • the man with the second-longest active tenure in the WWF/E behind Undertaker (in a day and age when most other "Loads" manage to get fired pretty easily); and

  • the man with the second most wins ever on Raw.

In part, "un-greatness" was Gunn's fault. But also the audience the very interactivity of watching and performing wrestling turned him from an average wrestler to the most successful failure ever. There was enough injustice to harming him that we could never fully cheer it, but each victory also seemed suspect.

Moreover, he inspired just enough dislike or just enough of a lack of enthusiasm for fans to do nothing. Bookers never seemed to know what to do to solve this. Somehow, the general fan apathy was enough to forbid a Rocky Maivia push, but also enough to prevent that general level of ubiquitous disdain that is now termed "X-Pac heat." No one seemed to like Billy Gunn, and there really wasn't a good reason for it. The opposite case is Rikishi, where most fans seem to like a few of his spots, also for no good reason.

And that is what I find charming, in a horribly sentimental sort of way. The crowd turned off all sensors regarding Billy Gunn, but they never managed to really turn against him. I think this was because most people implicitly understood that we need the Billy Gunns. Just as we need to cheer a bit when Rikishi dances, even though nothing else about him is colorful, we need to not like a certain wrestler for no valid substantial reason at all.

Billy Gunn never found a place in the hearts of the majority, but he did have his place in our estimation: somewhere above contempt and below sympathy. And despite the fact that he never excelled at the myriad of talents required of a wrestler, he never starkly failed at them, either. In many respects, Billy Gunn was already gone before he left us. His career is much like the old Bull Terrier, Bodger, in The Incredible Journey. Except, in this case, the dog traveled all that way, only to never crest the final hill. And no one knows whether to cry out in sadness or satisfaction: in a sense, no one really knows what happened.

Pax Vobiscum, Load.
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#2 Posted on 12.1.03 1054.01
Reposted on: 12.1.10 1055.36
The reason for the apathy and even dislike of Billy Gunn is explained right at the beginning of the column: Where as most wrestlers fall into 1 or maybe even 2 of the 6 disturbing categories, Gunn fell within all 6.
Also; throwing Michaels and Lawler out of the equation, doesn't Bob Holly actually qualify as #2 in longevity dating back to the Sparky Plug error now that Charles Wright is gone? Either way, it is scary to think that the #2,3 and 4 in longevity in the WWF/E recently were Charles Wright, Billy Gunn, and Bob Holly. Always questionable about how 3 uninteresting and not extremely talented performers found ways not to get purged at least once.
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#3 Posted on 12.1.03 2218.04
Reposted on: 12.1.10 2218.23
I liked the Chuck & Billy team. Once they got past being in comedy matches, they put on some damn good tag matches, most notably against Helms/Moore, and post-wedding against Knoble/Tajiri (Gunn did an outstanding job selling Knoble & Tajiri's work on his leg).

Too bad Gunn got hurt just as the SD tag division was getting ramped up.
Wolfram J. Paulovich
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#4 Posted on 13.1.03 1327.12
Reposted on: 13.1.10 1329.04

Yes, I took into account that Gunn possessed all the problems listed at the top of the article. But if those were the only considerations for WWE success, I wouldn't have gone on to write the rest of the column.

The "problems" I mentioned at the top were these:

His shrill, almost Gomer-Pyle vocal register.
His winning the King of the Ring trophy.
His un-dynamic wrestling.
His penchant for harming other wrestlers.
His blown spots.
His total want of compelling personality.

I mentioned them specifically in regard to Billy Gunn, citing his problems, in short, making a profile. Winning King of the Ring is a silly criterion for evaluating the career of a Cruiserweight; it did happen to Billy Gunn, however, so it was applicable. There are other "wrestling characteristics" that I could have listed negative ones that Gunn didn't possess, and positive ones that Gunn possessed to his credit.

But, Redsox, if those problems listed at the top are the only criteria for goodness/badness in wrestling, let's edit a bit and look at them again. King of the Ring is too specific. Also, the Gomer Pyle comment was somewhat exaggerated, and guys with more annoying voices have prevailed in the past. So let's see what we have left.

His un-dynamic wrestling.
His penchant for harming other wrestlers.
His blown spots.
His total want of compelling personality.

I just described Goldberg. And Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Sid Vicious and Ron Simmons. And also, in my opinion, Brock Lesnar.

And, if you define dynamic as, well, dynamic not just as "doing something someone else doesn't do" (and then doing that something else all the time) then I've also just described Jeff Hardy and RVD.

The fact is that coming up with a list of must-haves and must-not-haves is a ridiculous way of evaluating a performer in a sport as nebulous, ever-changing and interactive as wrestling. If "good move-sets" and "good workrate" were as all-important as list-makers want to believe, Tajiri would be defending the title in a 3-way dance with TAKA and Billy Kidman, and the Rock would long ago have been swallowed by the earth for being a two-trick moron.

There was, indeed, a reason why I wrote the rest of my column, and it was precisely because that list atop it cannot begin to tell the whole story about Gunn or any other wrestler.
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#5 Posted on 13.1.03 1337.29
Reposted on: 13.1.10 1342.09
Personally, if Bill Goldberg never returned, I'd feel that he came back to quickly. Lex Luger has been worthless since his motorcycle accident. Kevin Nash has killed 1 company, and almost killed another in his career. Sid is Sid. In other words, he sucks. And for Jeff Hardy, I've been campaigning for him to get put on a six month vacation for a long time.
My opinion of Gunn is that he fell into one lucky gimmick (NAO were formed on Shotgun in Syndication), and because of that he was able to stay employed for an additional 5+ years. Once he left that gimmick, his flaws became more and more glaring. Hopefully, he joins Billy, Flexy Lexy, Sid The King of the Squirrels, and Big Lazy Kevin Nash in a place far away from the wrestling spotlight.
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#6 Posted on 14.1.03 1445.37
Reposted on: 14.1.10 1445.51
A great article. Now I finally have words to describe my (and everybody else's) peculiar like/dis-like/total ambivolence of Gunn.

Nice to see something a little more articulate than the average fare every now and then. Keep it up.
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#7 Posted on 14.1.03 1831.44
Reposted on: 14.1.10 1833.04
"Moreover, he inspired just enough dislike or just enough of a lack of enthusiasm for fans to do nothing"

I know, Right! Gunn was the ultimate get out of your seat to take a piss/shit performer. My liver thanks you Billy.

You hit the nail on the head with this article. I always wondered why Gunn got to stick around so long. IMO anyone who cannot sustain heat when in a program with Rocky should be fired.

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#8 Posted on 19.1.03 0246.25
Reposted on: 19.1.10 0246.26
Remember "The One"? That gimmick/persona was never fully explicated, but for some reason, it got Billy Gunn really fuckin' over. What the hell was that? RD at Wrestlecrap even asked what was he The One of? The One with a bad haircut? The One with ugly tights? The One still lucky to be employed? I think his association with Chyna kept him over, who was also really fuckin' over. Heck, they even teamed with a perrenial fan favorite in The Rock to fight the uberheel Right to Censor. My, how things change. . .
On a side note, I hadn't seen Smackdown in a month, so when I saw Charlie Haas sitting with Angle and holding up the flag at the 10th anniversary show, I thought it was Billy Gunn with another makeover.
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#9 Posted on 19.1.03 0338.18
Reposted on: 19.1.10 0340.24
It blows my mind that anyone thinks the fameasser is a less believable move than the freakin' stunner. Granted, for walking out and abandoing fans and then beating his wife, Austin has become a net darling, but that's no reason to pretend he had a lot of moves or any good ones. From late 1997 to late 1999, Austin had about 5 moves. When he came back from the bone spurs in late 2000 he was a different man and took more chances but for that initial period off the stinger Owen gave him, he was horribly limited in the ring.

The stunner is still the most ridiculous move I've ever seen in wrestling. People mock the legdrop of Hogan's, but I maintain if you drop a heavy leg across someone's throat it will do more damage in a real-life situation than kicking him and attempting to pull his neck down onto your shoulder as you land on your ass. I've seen many a misguided teenager try to use this move and it's pathetic. Anyone not being paid to sell it is going to be totally unaffected by it. What's more I have never seen this move performed in front of a non-fan without being questioned as to whether or not "that's supposed to look like it hurts". It's an insanely bad move.

The fame-asser, or rocker dropper, is a fine move---that's my point. In theory, at least, it is no less realistic than a bulldog or a face-buster. That's the only point I'll disagree with you on. Otherwise, good piece.

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