Friday, May 22, 2009

Wrestlers of Yore: The Honky Tonk Man

The second-greatest Elvis impersonator I ever saw was in Las Vegas. Rather than spending $50 bucks to see some gay magician or Celine Dion, we decided our evening would be best spent watching the "American Superstars" impersonator show at the Statosphere, where dopplegangers of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and the King Himself serenaded us with their greatest hits for the low cost of 20 bucks. The show was fantastic, though it also should be noted that I was blisteringly drunk for its entirety, and later spent a portion of my evening pulling the Tracey Gold Trigger (also known as the Tri Delta Dessert) in front of my hotel room's Porcelain God. I also lost about $500 gambling and have no memory of doing so. But I digress.

However, the far and away best Elvis impersonator I have ever witnessed was a man who graced my television screen every Saturday morning throughout my childhood, as well as the occasional Sunday pay-per-view. He sang, he danced, and he hit people over the head with his balsa wood guitar. That man was Wayne Farris, better known to you and I as the Honky Tonk Man.

Vince McMahon made no bones about presenting a cartoonish version of wrestling during the 1980's, with roided-up superheroes and dastardly heels, who were often saddled with career-crippling gimmicks. Fine wrestlers such as Terry Taylor, Tito Santana and Owen Hart were given impossible gimmicks such as "The Red Rooster," "El Matador," and "The Blue Blazer," shadowing the legitimacy of their talent with such goofy personas that made it impossible for crowds to take them even remotely seriously.

But the most over-the-top creation of Vince's had to be his christening of Wayne Farris, an otherwise decent-but-not-great wrestler, as the "Honky Tonk Man," a poor excuse of an Elvis impersonator. And he wanted to portray Honky as a fucking babyface (fan favorite)! Think about that for a second - if someone told you that a wrestling Elvis was coming to your town, would you go out of your way to see them, let alone root for them? Okay, maybe I would, but that's cause I'm a complete loser. But the rest of you would probably want to spend your hard-earned money on, oh, anything else.

Farris, to his credit, took the gimmick and ran with it. Realizing quickly that a wrestling Elvis would be better as a heel (bad guy) than a babyface, the Honky Tonk Man quickly became one of the most hated wrestlers in the 1980's WWF, hip-swiveling his way into the welcoming boos of the crowd. Farris cemented his heel persona by creating his own (insanely awesome) theme song, which he'd then proceed to give encore performances of in the ring. People grew to vehemently hate the man, especially after he smashed his guitar over the back of fan favorite Jake the Snake Roberts, an incident which Roberts claimed started his path to being a total crackhead. We'll save Jake's tragic tale for another time, but for now, let's just bask in the greatness of Honky's song:

Honky would then win the Intercontinental Championship from Ricky Steamboat, and defend his title by cowardly getting himself disqualified (allowing him to keep the belt) in feuds against Billy Jack Haynes, Bruno Sammartino, and Steamboat. Honky's most egregious offenses came in a feud with Macho Man Randy Savage, where he shoved down the lovely Miss Elizabeth on Saturday Night's Main Event in what was the first man-on-woman violence my young eyes had ever seen. (This was clearly before I discovered the pivotal works of Max Hardcore) I mean that shit was fucking scandalous for its time, and made Honky arguably the most hated heel in professional wrestling.

Honky at this time was proclaiming himself "the Greatest Intercontinental Champion EVER," and with a year-plus reign, few could disagree. To this day, his reign of one year, two months and 27 days stands as the longest IC reign, despite the best efforts of Santino Marella. However, Honky seemed primed to lose his belt at Summerslam '88, where the heroic gay barber Brutus Beefcake seemed prime to dethrone Evil Elvis. Then, sadly, Beefcake legit broke his face into a million pieces in a parasailing accident, and Honky had no opponent for Summerslam '88 (which also featured Miss Elizabeth stripping to her bikini bottom, giving me my first boner).

A cool, cocky and bad Honky Tonk Man walked to the ring at Summerslam and issued an open challenge to anyone who dared face him. At that point, the music of the Ultimate Warrior hit, and Warrior Warrior (his current real name) squashed Honky in 32 seconds. I am not embarrassed to say that nothing in my childhood shocked me more than seeing the Warrior (my favorite wrestler at the time) run down to the ring and quickly end the impossibly long reign of the dastardly Honky Tony Man. I may have been only five years old at the time, but I remember absolutely LOSING MY SHIT when this happened.

From there, Honky had a few not-terribly memorable feuds with the likes of Dusty Rhodes and even a stint as the manager of "Rockabilly" Billy Gunn, who is pictured below:

Rather than putting the ol' jumpsuit away, the Honky Tonk Man continues to this day to make appearances at your local indy wrestling show, playing "Cool, Cocky, Bad" before tens of people for a few hundred bucks a pop. Even now, at the age of 56, the man makes a comfortable living wrestling in the seemingly dead-end Elvis impersonator gimmick that Vince McMahon saddled him with. More power to him, even if he did shove Miss Elizabeth.