Every once in a while, I hit upon an induction I cannot honestly fathom we’ve never covered. You wouldn’t even think that was possible after nearly 21 years (!!!!), but today we have one that somehow has slipped by: the early WWF days of the legendary Honky Tonk Man…when he was a good guy.
Mercy mercy, sakes alive! Yes, kids, it’s true – when Wayne Ferris brought his Elvis act to the WWF, he came in not as the cocky heel that everyone remembers, but as an honest to goodness babyface. Apparently Vince McMahon felt that someone impersonating a musician whose best days were thirty years prior (and had been dead for 10 years at the time as well!) would be wildly cheered by the Federation’s fanbase.
But did he really think that? Or is that just something we’ve all heard for so long we’re supposed to believe it?
Here’s the thing – even though it’s been spouted for years that this was always the plan, I have never bought that. I mean, as much as Vince has been out of touch in recent years, the Vince of 1986 seemed to have it together better than any other promoter. Could he have possibly, in any way, shape, or form, really thought Honky Tonk would be a great good guy?
I say no. And I’m willing to say why.
Honky debuted on WWF television on the September 28, 1986 episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge. Gorilla Monsoon sang the praises of the music man from Memphis, while Bobby “The Brain” Heenan noted that if we wanted to solve the oil crisis we should just drain Honk’s hair. With such classic commentary as the lead, it’s obvious that smiling good guy was what this was all about, right?
Furthermore, shortly after the match begins, we get no less than HULK HOGAN talking about how the guy we were watching in the ring was going to “shake, rattle, and roll all over the WWF!” Listening to this, I can completely understand why everyone has always maintained there is zero question that Honky was to be plastered on lunch boxes shaking hands and smiling with the Hulkster.
But let’s get away from that still image, shall we, and look a little bit closer at what was actually happening in the ring. You see, as Hogan is talking about how Honky is saying his prayers and eating his vitamins, he’s been beaten to a pulp by lifelong jobber Terry Gibbs.
I know it’s impossible to believe watching WWE television today, but believe it or not, this was a company that was pretty meticulous with their product at the time…especially when it came to Hulk Hogan. So having Hogan talk about how great Honky was while he was looking like a total buffoon in the ring may be a clue that not all was as it would seem.
Honky’s next appearance was on the flagship show for the company at the time, WWF Superstars of Wrestling. He came to the ring as Vince McMahon talked about Wayne Ferris (yep, using his real name!), who he claimed was a wonderful “Memphis, Tennessee boy.” So Honky came to the ring and he was slapping hands kinda sorta with the fans, but more than anything looked like he just wanted to get to the ring. Seriously, do you see a smile on this guy’s face as he’s greeting the crowd?
Who does he think he is, Lex Luger?
Ah, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you, kid!
On the flip side of the coin, during the match we got an inset promo from the vile Mr. Fuji, who explained to us that he (Fuj) was beautiful while the Honky Tonk Man dressed in, and I am just quoting here, “the finest rags.” Serious question: did anyone ever know what on earth this man was talking about?
Been too long since I’ve seen you too.
And if AJ Lee doesn’t know, ain’t nobody that does!
It would be a few weeks before we would see Honky on the syndicated shows again, this time on Challenge. On this episode, he was featured in two segments, the first of which an interview that began with him shaking Ken Resnick’s hand. He then runs his mouth about strutting and strolling and how he can’t wait to get his hands on the competition in the WWF. However, listen closely and you will hear him note ALREADY that some fans don’t like how aggressive he is. And heck, Ken even notes at the start that there is controversy surrounding him.
Later in the show, Honky is the guest on the Snake Pit with Jake Roberts. Jake notes how his own mother is proud of her son, but questions how on earth a mom could cherish a goof who dresses like a guy who’s been dead for a decade. Honky responds by telling Jake he needs to put grease in his hair and drive around in a ’59 Cadillac.
Ok, honestly – is that ANYTHING you’d have a BABYFACE say?
Back over to Superstars, Honky wrestles another squash match, this time facing Al Navarro. As Vince continues to talk about what an awesome guy he is (and is apparently one of Bruno Sammartino’s favorites!!!), he grabs his opponent by the hair and tosses him out of the ring. At this point Jesse notes that Honky is a bit aggressive. He uses a preliminary Shake, Rattle, and Roll (with an elbow to the back of the head in the middle of it for some reason) to pick up the duke. When Howard Finkel announces him as the winner, there are clear boos.
At this point, there is zero doubt he was going full on heel. And again, looking at the first couple appearances on television, I don’t see how this wasn’t the plan from day one.
Let’s head over to Prime Time Wrestling, where we get Gorilla and Johnny V calling a match in Canada where Honky Tonk battles perennial bad guy jobber Mr. X….and the fans pretty much start booing Honky out of the building from the get go. Even Monsoon, the same man who talked about how awesome the Gobbledy Gooker was as fans catcalled the entire act live on PPV, can’t ignore it and explains that Honky Tonk has a few screws loose. “The lights are on,” Monsoon Monsooned, “but there’s nobody home.”
From here, we get the legendary interview with Jesse Ventura, where Honky explains that he’s been doing everything he can to make the fans happy but he’s just not connecting. So the pair decide that fans should send in letters giving him a VOTE OF CONFIDENCE.
Good gravy, look at that photo. If Wayne Ferris held up a sign reading “I AM A HEEL” it wouldn’t be any more clear.
And just in case you didn’t figure it out, he explains he’s shaking a lot of greasy hands and kissing a lot of slobbering babies to gain support. Holy crap was this fantastic.
So the ballots are tallied, and of course 95% of the fans don’t like Honky. Undeterred, he explains that the figures must be wrong so he’s going to go to that “fat Jack Tunney’s office” and get to the bottom of it.
From here, Honky kicks into the highest of gears, as he finds out the numbers were correct. He completely flips out, giving what is unquestionably his greatest promo ever (and one of my all times favorites from anyone), as he tells us that he’s done shaking filthy hands and he may, with the good Lord above as my witness and I am not making this up start slapping babies on the way to the ring.
Let me repeat – the man is going to start SLAPPING BABIES.
BEST HEEL EVER.
I’m not sure anyone else even comes close.
And it had to have been the plan from day one.
Look, I don’t care who says otherwise. I don’t care if it’s Dave Meltzer. I don’t care if it’s Vince McMahon. I don’t care if it’s Wayne Ferris himself. It’s all too perfectly orchestrated for me to buy that this wasn’t the goal from the first note played on his woefully underrated original theme.
For once I am giving Vince McMahon credit. Maybe I’m a fool for doing so.
But I don’t think I am.
Leave your comments and thoughts below!
(Also please note – we at WrestleCrap.com do NOT condone slapping of babies. Or whatever was bleeped out in his promo. I mean, that’s kinda just common sense but just to be sure everyone understands it, we felt we needed to post our position. Thank ya!)