Somebody Call My Momma: Brodus Clay and the Weight of Expectation
Deep down, I love Brodus Clay, and was always destined to. My love of big Brodie stems from a deep-seeded love of the suplex, which, I believe, is something that every wrestling fan shares. This explains the love most of us had or still have for guys like Scott Steiner, Taz, Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin, Brock Lesnar, and, yes, Chris Benoit: the suplex is just that majestic a creature, simple and beautiful in its brutality. Beyond Steiner and Lesnar, what unified the suplex throwers of the world is that they’re all undersized when compared to your typical main event wrestler. Chris Benoit made it despite his size, Benjamin was held back because of it, and Kurt Angle had the good fortune of being an Olympic gold medalist with good charisma and an unnatural drive. All of these men hold the suplex in common (Taz, who was forced to retire before he could really make an impact in the mainstream, was the Human Suplex Machine, afterall), and, outside of the piledriver, few finishing manuvers in wrestling have had the tenure of the suplex, nor have they looked as dangerous.
It’s not that wrestling fans are in love with danger (though there’s a loud minority that prefer broken glass and barbwire to hammerlocks and the armdrag takeover), but wrestling, the art of wrestling, is all about the perception of danger. When a man is lifted into the air and dumped onto his head, when he is flipped over and turned inside out and left lying on the canvas, it looks to all the world that the guy on the receiving end of the move should be dead, and that the man performing it is among the baddest on the planet. Brodus Clay? He can throw a suplex. A big suplex. A nasty suplex. Watch:
Clay is a monster, a legitimate nightmare of a man. He stands at 6’7″, weighs 375 lbs., and his weapon of choice is a move that aims to land other men on their head and neck. As a fan of wrestling, as a fan of the suplex, there was nothing to dislike about Clay. He looked so much like a potential superstar that he was shoehorned into Alberto Del Rio’s Wrestlemania main event despite losing his season of NXT, that he avoided the indignity of NXT: Redemption, that he was put into a WWE Films production before making his proper debut, and that he was given a lengthy series of squash matches on WWE Superstars. Finally, after months of waiting, this video played on Raw:
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really looking forward to Clay making his debut on Raw, squashing some poor bastard, and repeating this routine until they figured out what to do with him. Although squash matches are quick and boring, they not only allow a guy to showcase what he’s got (re: suplexes), but, more often than not these days, the guy getting squashed is somebody on the independent scene whose work I enjoy, who should be getting evaluated by WWE, and who deserves the exposure. It’s the best of all possible worlds, even if the path of Brodus “Mastodon of Mayhem” Clay was likely the same for every monstrous guy brought in by the WWE: He’d beat a bunch of people, run into and be stopped by John Cena or Randy Orton (or, last decade, the Undertaker), and be relegated to a series of go-nowhere feuds and matches until his eventual release. Nevermind the fact that Clay looked much more talented than the likes of Big Daddy V, the Great Kahli, Giant Gonzales, or Wrestlemania 2 headliner King Kong Bundy, that is the way of the world. But then this happened:
And it kept happening and happening and happening, often with Johnny Ace’s caveat that the debut “needed to be as big as possible,” and that he “would hate to be Clay’s first opponent.” The argument that his debut needed to be the biggest thing on the card was nice, but unnecessary–in the span between his initial hype video and his debut, really only three episodes of Raw were too stacked for him to appear: The one where Chris Jericho came back, the one where Kane came back, and the one with the Muppets, which was a Raw he was apparently legitimately bumped from due to the volume of Muppet sketches aired. It got to the point that, on the 1/2/12 Raw, Ace didn’t even talk to Brodus on the phone as he’d been doing for the past few months; he casually mentioned him in passing on Twitter. But, while the world (and Brodus) waited for Clay to make his debut, two things happened: Johnny Ace and David Otunga grew into their role as shitheel antagonists in a way that was ultimately different (and thus refreshing) from Vince McMahon, Paul Heyman, and Eric Bischoff, the big three of pro wrestling authoritarian dickery (“Big” Johnny’s antics on this week’s Raw were priceless, as was his disdain for John Morrison), and Clay’s debut had the sort of serious buzz among wrestling fans that the WWE’s been unable to manufacture in years. In the back of my head, I thought that Clay wasn’t going to make his debut until the Royal Rumble, where he’d either tie or break Kane’s record for eliminations; that, to me, was the only way to justify and pay off on months of legitimate build. What happened this week, when he finally made his debut?
The swaggering Funkasaurus from Planet Funk was decidedly not what was advertised by the glowering, menacing Brodus Clay who trumpeted about being the fall of humanity, and, from geeky internet reports, it wasn’t what was originally planned. If you’re a wrestling conspiracy theorist (and, if you watch wrestling, you probably are), you might be tempted to connect the dots and deduce that the Funkasaurus is Brodus Clay’s punishment for essentially leaking his planned debut match against John Morrison some weeks ago. Regardless, the moment you heard Justin Roberts say “From Planet Funk,” your reaction was to immediately love this Brodus Clay or hate him.
If you hated the Funkasaurus, I feel you. Those hype vignettes for Clay pimped him as a cross-pollination between Taz and Vader, a big dude who could work good matches in a company that has historically had big dudes who could hardly throw convincing punches. Giving up that goldmine for Planet Funk, in terms of what was expected, is like giving up a penthouse suite for a roadside motel. This is nothing new for the WWE, and that’s what’s been so heartbreaking about being a mainstream wrestling fan: they’re never satisfied with having good wrestlers. In Brodus Clay, like with Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore or “Pirate” Paul Burchill or Steve “Real Man’s Man” Regal, they were given a pretty good steak (in Regal’s case, a great steak), but for whatever reason they’re requesting that the chef dump a ton of glitter on the plate. Perhaps, once the initial shock and comedy value of the Funkasaurus has been wrung for every drop the concept is worth, poor Brodus Clay, like Eugene, won’t have much of a career to look forward to. If that ends up being the case, then yes, as a wrestling fan, I’ll be angry right along with those of you who wanted Brodus to run through a bunch of nobodies every week like Raw was an episode of WCW Saturday Night from 1993.
But right now, I love the Funkasaurus, and while it’s a weird comparison, much of the reason why I love the version of Brodus Clay is similar to the reason why I love the Chris Jericho silent treatment angle: Knowing the weight of everybody’s expectations, the WWE threw a curveball that literally nobody saw coming. Yes, Brodus Clay can throw a mean suplex, but so what? This is 2012, and if you’re not TRENDING WORLDWIDE on Twitter, you’re not notable. This is unsubstantiated and totally based on my observation of the internet wrestling community (I don’t do much observing, to be honest), but, based on things like Twitter, Tumblr, and message boards, it’s entirely possible that Clay’s debut stole the show from Chris Jericho, whose own shtick is so next level that the one-two punch of Jericho’s crazy light-up jacket and Brodus Clay on the same show should be causing the (WWE) universe to collapse in on itself.
This is the same Brodus Clay who destroyed a million jobbers, who should have won NXT, who was involved in a World Heavyweight Title match at Wrestlemania, and who could end up as a guy I’d be more than willing to pay money to see wrestle. But there’s no way that was happening right now. Not with Jericho back, not with Kane back, not with CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler tearing down houses, not with the Rock looming in the near future and, of course, the constant threat of the Undertaker or Triple H or Kevin Nash or, hell, Rob Van Dam making a run at Wrestlemania. If regular Brodus Clay debuts in such a jam-packed environment, he becomes forgotten as soon as he’s left off Raw so David Otunga can take two swigs from his travel coffee mug. The Funkasaurus? It’s the same Brodus Clay, only he gyrates to get out of waistlocks and apologizes for the suplex. It’s a unique character (not really, but still) in a sea of look-and-soundalikes. It’s fun, and on a show that has relentlessly beaten the fun out of guys like Santino, and is aiming to do the same to Zack Ryder. It featured what was perhaps a subtle nod to Gob Bleuth’s tearaway pants. It’s somehow found a use for the girl who told Steve Austin that her favorite match was Melina vs. Alicia Fox, beyond being the recipient of the best browbeating in reality TV history.
Not only is this everything I love, goofy gimmick included, but it’s got an easy exit strategy: give Clay different music, drop the dance moves, have him beat the tar out of a few guys, and how many WWE Superstars outside of the mighty, unflappable John Cena would dare to make fun of Clay? This transformation is not unheard of. Umaga, for example, was great, but he started life as a Samoan gangster who crashed fake gay weddings. People are willing to forget Vader’s foray into Hulkamania and flat do not remember that Bam Bam Bigelow was a good guy in the 1980s. The reason why is simple: Mention it, and they’ll dance on your grave. Someday, the Funkasaurus will go extinct. Until then, funk is on a roll, and I hope Brodie keeps rolling right along with it.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.