Every successful promotion has at least one guy like him. He is the guy that never quite makes it to the main event, or at least not for long. He is never given the big strap to wear. He putters around the mid-card. And yet, everyone remembers his feuds, and his matches. You compile a list of his opponents and they all seem to end up stars after facing him. He is the guy that the hotshot rookies always face on their rocket-propelled trip to the top. He is the guy that takes those rookies, and smoothes out their rough edges. He is the guy that gives them the rub.
In NWA or WCW, he was Arn Anderson, always content to stay in Ric Flair’s shadow. But to face Ric Flair, to climb the mountain, you had to go through Arn Anderson first.
Or he was Kevin Sullivan, booking his own divorce by pairing Chris Benoit with his wife Nancy aka Woman. Or he was Raven, pushing both DDP and Chris Benoit up the card at the same time, and elevating (almost) every member of his Flock from nobodies to recognizeable names.
In the WWF, well there are lots of names that come to mind.
Tony Garea, who could tag with anyone and make them look good… and probably help them win the WWF tag team titles along the way. In an era when no team had ever won the WWF tag team titles more than twice, Tony Garea won five tag team titles with four different partners – Haystacks Calhoun, Dean Ho, Larry Zbyszko, and Rick Martel twice. Four completely different wrestlers, each with different styles and personalities.
Or he was Fit Finlay, almost single-handedly building the career of the best female WWF wrestler of her generation, Trish Stratus. Not to mention, making an improbable comeback where he helped make Booker look like a King and helped Batista look like a champion.
Or he was Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who seemed incapable of having nothing less than the most memorable feuds in wrestling. Whether it was DDTing Ricky Steamboat on concrete, or Earthquake crushing Damian into snake burgers, or betraying the Ultimate Warrior so badly that the muscle-bound oaf disappeared from the WWF, or being blinded by Rick Martel’s “Arrogance”, or going berserk when Rick Rude exhibited the image of Jake’s wife Cheryl painted onto his tights, or crashing “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s wedding and getting a cobra to bite Randy on the face, although, according to legend, “Macho Man” proved more poisonous than the cobra given that it died of toxic shock shortly after biting Randy.
Jake was perhaps the most dangerous wrestler in the WWF, combining his take no prisoners attitude, his snakes and his signature move, the DDT, considered a killer move until Jake’s WrestleMania match against the Undertaker. Jake proved too much for Hulk Hogan, who cut short a feud with Jake, because Roberts was getting cheered more than he was. Neither Andre the Giant’s size nor Ted DiBiase’s money were a match for Jake.
Despite being involved in some of the most memorable feuds in the history of the WWF, despite being arguably the most important mid-card wrestler ever to perform in the WWF, Jake “the Snake” Roberts never won a WWF title. At least Ted DiBiase, another guy who helped propel many a career to the top, had his main event at WrestleMania, his title run with IRS as tag team champions, his Million Dollar Belt, and his thirty seconds of bliss when he thought that he had bought the WWF title from Andre the Giant, before Jack Tunney started invoking the rule book.
Jake’s most important match came when he made his comeback to the WWF as a born again preacher with a snake named Revelations, and in a Cinderella story fought all the way to the King of the Ring Finals… only to lose to… Stone Cold Steve Austin. A true passing of the torch match as Austin’s new loner gimmick and bad attitude seemed borrowed straight from Jake. In fact, Austin’s 3:16 speech, probably the most important promo in the history of wrestling… or at least the most profitable based on merchandise sold, that entire promo was a reaction to Jake’s preacher gimmick. In this case, Jake’s rub was worth millions, possibly billions..
Every successful promotion needs at least one guy like him. In the International Wrestling Syndicate, his name is Fred la Merveille.
Fred started with the IWS in January of 2002 at Season’s Beatings 2001 (so-called because there was another Season’s Beatings in December of 2002) as a comedy jobber brought in to face the heel IWS champion, the Green Phantom. Unlike some of the other jobbers that the Green Phantom had brought in to face him, Fred immediately made a connection with the sometimes-difficult IWS crowd, mocking the Green Phantom’s mannerisms to the crowd’s delight.
This performance and the approval of the crowd earned Fred a permanent roster spot, but Fred immediately turned on the fans at Violent Valentine 2002, coming to the ring dressed as a policeman and announcing in French that he was now the IWS Language Police. Technically, Fred was a heel and acted like one, but right from the start Fred had a vocal minority of French fans prepared to cheer his every move. The same way that Bret Hart divided fans in the WWF with his Anti-American rhetoric, Fred divided fans of the IWS in Quebec with his Anti-Anglo rhetoric.
To a certain extent, you can point to Fred’s debut as a beginning of the maturity of the IWS. No longer was the promotion to be divided in easy to define terms of pure heroes and pure villains. Fred was the first wrestler to stand firmly in both camps, our first anti-hero.
In the same way, Fred represented a new maturity to how we handled the French/English divide. Rather than ignore the division, the IWS would make it part of their storylines. Rather than ask French wrestlers to speak English, we would tell them to speak French, confident that our fans could figure it out. This decision was also great for business as French Quebecois fans who previously ignored the IWS, now began to sit up and take notice. They began to talk about the IWS, and most importantly, they began to buy tickets.
At Body Count 2003, Fred made his first giant step towards giving other wrestlers the rub by rehabilitating the careers of the Angry Aryans. Damian and Viking had been stuck in a vile racist gimmick that had run its course. After Viking was set on fire, at Freedom to Fight 2003, while the crowd chanted “Burn Nazi Burn!”, there was no way to move forward with Damian and Viking as the Angry Aryans. Fred fixed that by bringing the two men out, and telling them that they were not racists; they did not really hate Blacks and Jews; they just hated people who did not speak French, which, in Quebec at least, is an acceptable hatred.
Fred named his stable, the SLI, the Syndicat de Lutte Internet, a French translation of the Internet Wrestling Syndicate, our name before we changed it to the International Wrestling Syndicate in 2005. They were immediately divisive as two thirds of the audience began singing Oh Canada to support the SLI’s first opponents, Hi-5 (Beef Wellington and Kid Kamikaze) and the remaining third began singing a patriotic Quebec folk-song.
Hi-5 were supposed to be the bad guys, a team of boy band loving technical wrestlers, but facing the SLI, the crowd made them heroes so quick that Beef Wellington complained that it gave him whip-lash. This match began an on-again, off-again feud between Beef and Fred that would continue through Hi-5’s loss of the tag team titles, and the break-up of Hi-5. It would include Fred seducing Beef’s girlfriend Elsa Bangz into the SLI, and would finally culminate at Know Your Enemies 2004 in a Quebec Rules match which Fred defined as making illegal all of Beef’s most effective moves including his top rope Ass Punch and his E, Coli pile driver. This feud helped make Beef the fan favourite he remains to this day.
Fred’s one and only main event match was at [blBlood, Sweat and Beers 2004 against the then IWS champion, Kevin Steen. The feud was based on Fred calling out Kevin for forgetting his roots. According to Fred, Kevin was so eager to be accepted by American fans and American promotions, that Kevin had forgotten that he was French. The odd thing about this feud was that it headlined the second ever IWS event to be filmed by Mike Burns of Smart Marks Video for distribution in the U.S. It seemed like promotional suicide to have the main event revolve around a local Quebec concern and for the promos leading up to it to all be in French.
On the other hand, there could be no denying the passion of a pissed-off Fred abandoning his comedy schtick to give Kevin Steen a serious challenge. The match elevated both men, along with Damian who saved Kevin’s bacon when he interfered late in the match and betrayed Fred.
Fred’s emotional feud with Damian consumed the IWS until their final confrontation at Un F’N Sanctioned 2005. After disposing of Fred, Damian set his targets on Kevin Steen in a series of violent matches that left Quebec fans with the quandary of which of their fights was the true match of the year for 2005.
After his loss to Damian, Fred regrouped by returning to the past and rekindling a feud with his old foe, Beef Wellington. Their match at Freedom to Fight 2005 at the historic ECW Arena, Viking Hall, in Philadelphia, was one of the most memorable on the card, or in Fred’s career. After Fred tried to cut a promo in French and got booed down, Beef. found himself being backed by the crowd, who cheered him on with “U.S.A.” chants, much to Beef’s surprise. By the end of the match, Fred had won over the crowd with the quality of his wrestling, and he found himself being cheered with “Please Come Back” chants.
Buoyed by this American support, one year after head-lining the IWS as head of the SLI, Fred dissolved the SLI and formed, in its place, the SLI-USA, at Blood, Sweat and Beers 2005. Fred returned to his comedy roots, dressing like Uncle Sam, trying to speak in fractured English and mangling the US National anthem, worse than any singer before him. He also turned on his long-time ally, Viking, and took under his wing IWS rookies, Maxime Boyer, Shayne Hawke and Jagger W. Bush.
Viking’s feud with the SLI-USA propelled him to the top of the IWS and led directly to his feud with IWS champion, EXesS, voted as the 2006 Quebec Feud of the Year. Once Viking won the IWS title, like Damian he turned his sights on Kevin Steen. Their bloody brawl at Hardcore Heat 2006 was voted 2006 Quebec Match of the Year.
Like Viking and Damian before him, Maxime Boyer found himself at odds with Fred la Merveille, and like those two before him, once having disposed of Fred, Max found himself at the top of the IWS, in a competitive but friendly feud with the IWS champion, Viking, that saw the two teaming together almost as often as they fought against one another.
Before the SLI-USA was dismantled first by Viking, and then by Maxime Boyer, Fred had a memorable albeit brief feud with Player Uno based around the violence found in video games. They clashed at Devil’s Night 2005. It is probably pure coincidence that following that match, Player Uno seemed like a totally different wrestler, using fewer moves, but hitting those moves with a new vicious attitude. Doing more with less. A new strategy that only impressed the fans, but lead directly to Uno’s run as IWS Canadian champion.
The most recent man to feud with Fred la Merveille is his former protégé, Shayne Hawke. “Le Maudit Roux” recruited Above Standards, Carl Choquette and Eric Lauze, to help him beat Fred. This was an effective, if shortsighted move, Above Standards are cheap muscle. Those two losers would sell their souls for a ham sandwich.
On the other hand, beating on Fred three on one is exactly the tactic that would make Fred take you seriously. As many others have learned in the past, Fred is never more dangerous than when, in a fit of anger, he ditches his comedy schtick, rolls up his sleeves and gets serious. Fred is not without his resources and he is not without allies. And in a real fight, Above Standards have all the staying power of a Popsicle in a sauna.
On the gripping hand, maybe that “Damned Red-Head” Shayne Hawke has learned the most important lesson in fighting Fred la Merveille. Beating Fred la Merveille is not so important as fighting him. Almost everyone who confronts Fred ends up higher on the IWS card afterwards. Shayne is just ambitious enough to throw himself under the Fred la Merveille bus, confident that no matter the result, it can only improve his career.
Like Beef Wellington, Kevin Steen, Damian, Viking, Maxime Boyer and Player Uno before him, Shayne Hawke is ready to fight Fred la Merveille. He is ready for his rub.
I also wrote about Fred la Merveille in the article When We Were Marks: Fred la Merveille, the SLI-USA and the New Crusade. It can be found here: http://the-w.com/thread.php/id=27752 . It reads like a rough first draft for this article, but it is worth checking out for the secret origin of Player Uno.
I remember being at the ECW arena for that show, and Fred really did well there. I was happy to see that he took a different and funny direction with the SLI-USA group after the Philly show. I haven't seen him live since then because I live in NJ, but I always tried to read about his involvement in IWS after he had such a good showing in Philly.
The problem with big guys isn't inherently in their bigness, but when they're so slow that they just can't keep up the pace of matches around them. Vader was huge over in WCW, when he was still healthy and working like a maniac.