It was the early 90’s, and the spawn of Hell had arrived. No matter where we turned, we could not escape the horrible fate that was…The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They had movies. They had a cartoon series. An action figure line. Comics. CD’s. A live tour. Condoms.
Ok, well, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. The Turtles merchandise was EVERYWHERE!!! It was a pop culture phenomenon, and with pop culture phenomena, you of course get the wrestling knock-offs. The WWF, ECW and Global all had Elvis rip-offs. WCW was trying out a Spider-Man clone. And USWA out of Memphis was the granddaddy of them all. Over the years they had gimmicks based on Star Wars, KISS, every major slasher franchise in history…even Super Mario Brothers. And they also had… Cowabunga.
And like most wrestling ninjas before him (Kato, Kwang, Super Ninja, Jamie-San), he was neither Asian nor a martial artist. To make matters even worse, he wasn’t even a real turtle. Nope, inside that high-priced realistic get-up was Chris Champion. Champion, already a Wrestlecrap alumni for his part in the New Breed tag team, has had a long and storied career of martial arts-based gimmicks. In Florida, he was the Karate Kid. In WCW, he was Yoshi Kwan (and according to an interview with him, you can blame Tony Schiavone for screwing up the name, which was SUPPOSED to be Yochi Kwan (or “Fast Chi” in Chinese). Champion, as Cowabunga (or Kowabunga, I see it spelled both ways), emerged in the Memphis USWA area. Like 90% of Tennessee-based gimmicks, it was beyond goofy and probably cost the USWA costume department about $40 or so (which, considering what some of their costumes looked like, is splurging). Naturally, I’m pretty sure Jerry Lawler had some input into it. At some point while using the gimmick, Champion got into major trouble for some sort of sexual involvement with a teenager. Somehow, I don’t think Master Splinter would have approved.
A second Cowabunga, more commonly referred to as The Ninja Turtle, showed up later on in Jim Cornette’s Smokey Mountain Wrestling. In fact, this Turtle wrestled a lot of comedy matches against Cornette himself. It obviously wasn’t Champion in the get-up (which, btw, looked to have cost SMW about $30 less than the Memphis outfit), so who was it? Well, a few times it was veteran Tim Horner. But most of the time, it was late Brian Hildebrand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that name, you may recognize Brian under his WCW referee name, Mark Curtis.
That’s not quite the end of Cowabunga, though. In June 2002, NWA Midwest (based in….yep, Tennessee) held a card on which The Ninja Turtle was defeated by Spider-Man. Now, between you and me, I’m not sure who was behind the mask that time, but a certain Chris Champion wrestled in the very next match, so draw your own conclusions.
Be sure to tune in next week when we look at all the gimmicks based on the Teletubbies (ok, not really, but there WAS a Barney gimmick I’ll be getting around to soon).