The ‘foreign heel’ is far from a foreign concept in the annals of wrestling history. From Nazi sympathizers like Hans Schmidt and Fritz Von Erich, to desert-dwelling madmen such as The Sheiks, both Iron and regular, to admirers of the Iron Curtain in Nikolai Volkoff and Vladimir Kozlov, you could fill a UN conference room with enough anti-American baddies.
For such a foreign heel to be effective, it’s important to coincide their reign of terror with real life events. So it made sense that The Iron Sheik would praise The Ayatollah (non-Rock n Rollah version) when dozens of Americans were held captive in Iran, because fans would want to see his Rollie Fingers mustache smacked clean off his smug kisser.
But what happens when you present a heel, or group of heels, sympathetic to a cause that flies in the face of democracy, at a point in which the movement is outdated?
Brief history lesson: for over four decades in South Africa, from 1948 to 1994, the nation was separated by a movement called “Apartheid”, in which the white government, and associated boosters, restricted any political recourse, and many rights, for black citizens. Dissenters were, at best, ignored, and, at worst, like activist Steven Biko, exterminated for their nerve to fight oppression.
As the 1980s wore on, Apartheid continued to be met with anger and uprising, as the anti-Apartheidists were backed by much of the free world. A series of secret negotiations working toward Apartheid’s end between the government and Nelson Mandela, then imprisoned for nearly three decades for armed anti-Apartheid activities, culminated in Mandela’s release in 1990. This was followed by Mandela’s election as the country’s first black President in 1994, the result of the election being the first multi-racial one in the nation’s history.
Let’s see: an oppressive government that is almost universally hated for their racist and corrupt manner of ruling over the individual.
You’d think Vince McMahon would play this one to the hilt, right?
Except he DIDN’T. The most prominent phony South African Apartheid sympathizer in wrestling history never made it to a WWE ring. Ed Wiskoski did briefly compete in WWE in the early 1980’s as “The Polish Prince”, but it wasn’t until he joined the AWA several years later that he made his biggest mark in the business as the reviled Colonel DeBeers from Johannesburg.
How reviled was DeBeers? The character was such a racist, he refused to even TOUCH opponents that were not white.
Thank God Verne Gagne’s wife wasn’t running for a Minnesota Senate seat.
Indeed, in the five years that Wiskoski performed in AWA, his most notable moments involved racially-charged feuds with “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, and black midcarder Derrick Dukes. In fact, in 1989, DeBeers would defeat Dukes in a match where the winner got to paint the loser yellow.
I guess if you’re going to lose out on the “Be A Star” sponsorship, the next course of action would be to try and woo over Dutch Boy.
But as AWA died in 1990, the racial divide in South Africa was narrowing. DeBeers continuing to enrage crowds with his separatist rhetoric would be like having the Iron Sheik hail Ayatollah Khomeini in 1999, ten years after he was dead and gone.
By the time of Mandela’s election, DeBeers was winding down his career, and it seemed apropos: there was simply no more life left in a character of that ilk.
And for Vince McMahon, to try and recreate DeBeers’ magic would only look out of touch.
Then again, this is VINCE MCMAHON we’re talking about. He pushed Umaga, an incoherent Samoan savage as recently as three years ago!
Never one to miss an opportunity, no matter how dead and buried it may be, McMahon imported The Truth Commission from satellite indie USWA in 1997.
Maybe the plan was to have them get over as monster heels by having them segregate the locker room. Considering there only about six black wrestlers on the roster and maybe four Latinos in 1997, it should have only taken the group a few hours to install some restrictive partitions.
Initially, the group consisted of four men. First, there was The Commandant, the only legitimate South African of the group. Bret Hart discovered actor Robin Smith while filming a TV show in the country, and recommended him to McMahon for his commanding verbal presence.
Sure beats John Laurinaitis discovering Kelly Kelly and Alicia Fox in the spank catalogs he subscribes to.
The masked gastropod pictured next to The Commandant is Tank, played by prior WrestleCrap inductee Mantaur. I guess after Triple H cultured him with etiquette lessons, that made him more susceptible to be brainwashed by Commandant’s divide-and-conquer plans.
Tank wasn’t long for WWE, and would be replaced by the much more nimble Luc Poirier, a French-Canadian journeyman who played Sniper. Sniper would frequently team with Recon, an athletically gifted youngster who gained a bit more fame as Bull Buchanan just a few years later.
To recap, Bull’s career arc went like this: white supremacist, violent prison guard, restrictive censor and, finally, rap-loving sidekick of John Cena.
No disrespect to the late Mike Shaw, but Bull gives him a run for his money on the whole “mid-life identity crisis” phenomena.
The centerpiece of The Truth Commission was The Interrogator, a seven-foot brute who was as savage as he was physically imposing.
And yes, you sharp-eyed readers out there will likely recognize Interrogator as Kurrgan, the leather-helmet wearing Human Oddity, as well as the giant fiend that boxed Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes.
Finally, The Commandant was phased out, as McMahon wanted someone that could physically take bumps in the manager role. This led to the signing of Don Callis, who was rechristened “The Jackyl”, to serve as mouthpiece. It should be noted that, instead of playing the role as a commanding officer, as Commandant had, Callis took the form of a Raven-like cult leader, more prone to doling out mind games than warfare tactics.
If you’re looking for a comparison, imagine if David Koresh was leading a faction of racist warriors, except they spent their days warring with other white guys called “The Headbangers” and “The Disciples of the Apocalypse” in wrestling matches.
In other words, you could say WWE segregated the Truth Commission from actual, marketable talents.
I mean, a stable that housed six supposed South African separatist guerrillas, five of them not actually South African, on display several years after racial strife was a globally-recognized issue within the nation?
Who thought THIS was a good idea?
Yeah, I don’t know either, dude
(And for what it’s worth, MMR would have been a much gnarlier Tank!)
(Note from RD: Note to mention a totally pimpin’ rap side kick for Cena. Word.)
The squadron of suck stomped their way to the ring mostly on the company’s B-shows. And make no mistake, when I say “stomped”, I mean it – their THEME MUSIC was just the sounds of patent leather hitting the pavement.
(Note from RD: You could say their music was a real toe tapper!
I’ll show myself out.)
Eventually, someone higher up in WWE decided that fans just weren’t getting into the heavy-booted, beret-wearing baddies, and went in a different direction. Jackyl and Interrogator were split from Recon and Sniper, and Interrogator was renamed “Kurrgan”, with the thought process being “Hey, he’s big and looks scary! Bet we can push him!”
Of course, that worked out as great as Giant Gonzalez’ push, except Kurrgan didn’t suffer the ignominy of having an ass-crack airbrushed on his duds.
Recon and Sniper struck out on their own after Jackyl disowned them, forming a team called “Armageddon” in 1998. Approximately 1,000,000,000 people saw the Bruce Willis movie of the same name that year, and approximately 999,999,999 less people remember there was a team in WWE in 1998 called “Armageddon”.
Come to think of it, Jackyl debuted in late 1997, when “The Jackal”, another Bruce Willis movie, was released in theaters.
Seems about right, since “12 Monkeys” at typewriters could have come up with a better idea for a villainous group.
By the end of 1998, Kurrgan was dancing away with the Oddities, Jackyl was leaving WWE (after a short stint managing Bradshaw and Faarooq, hence their original name, The Jackylites), and Recon and Sniper were long gone. Tank was moo’ing away somewhere, and Commandant went back to acting.
And alas, in spite of the Truth Commission’s most earnest efforts, the WWE locker room yet remained multi-cultural and diverse.
Because if they had succeeded, we may never have had John Cena as champion.
That’s a good thing. Right?