It’s not uncommon for WWE to utterly waste a wrestling legend, nor is it unusual for WWE to try and fail at political satire, but in 2016 the company managed to do both simultaneously.
One night in May, WWE’s announcers informed the viewers that Darren Young, formerly of the Prime Time Players, had for the longest time been looking for a life coach. Young, humble as he was, obviously didn’t want to bother viewers by mentioning any of this in the preceding weeks.
Turns out, the person Darren Young was looking for was right in front of him the whole time:
They were spending so much time together already, I’m sure.
As a big fan of Bob Backlund’s insane promos from 1994 and 1995, I should have relished in the former champion getting screen time, but it soon became apparent that he and Darren Young had no chemistry whatsoever.
And when I say, “soon”, I mean the very first time Backlund spoke. WWE could have edited this vignette any way they wanted to, but instead they aired a segment that made it clear that Backlund and Young had taped their promos at completely separate times.
Backlund ended the segment by repeating that he was going to “make Darren Young great again”, which some of you more astute readers might recognize as the motto of Donald Trump.
Was WWE intentionally courting controversy by running an angle that paralleled Trump’s polarizing 2016 presidential campaign? If so, they were doing a really bad job of it.
See, other than being political conservatives who ran for president and have never eaten marijuana, Donald Trump and Bob Backlund couldn’t be more polar opposites.
Can you imagine Bob Backlund hosting beauty pageants or publicly defending his penis size?
Can you imagine Donald Trump penny-pinching or using words like “plebeians” or “convivial” in everyday conversation?
As a soft-spoken former collegiate wrestler, Backlund had much more in common with Trump’s former associate, Bobby Lindsay.
The weeks wore on, and the promos wore out, with only Darren Young’s occasional change of shirt suggesting that these things weren’t all filmed in one day.
As the mentor and protege developed their bond week after week by talking to each other via split-screen, the viewer just had to take their word for it that the two men had ever even been in the same room together.
Supposedly, in an effort to force Young to walk everywhere, Bob Backlund stole his car keys. This implied that Backlund rifled through Young’s bags at the studio that day, before the two men were made to stand in a red room and a blue room, respectively.
Another week, Backlund insisted Young recite all the United States Presidents in order, like he used to make autograph seekers do in 1995. This would be even more difficult today, as there have been so many more presidents since then. Mr. Backlund then started listing off Washington, Adams, et al, at which point Darren exclaimed, “Daaaaaamn!” This, of course, earned him a scolding from Bob.
One of the most important developments in the vignettes was the revelation that Mr. Backlund didn’t like or understand smart phones, telling his protege not to rely on that so-called piece of machine to tell time.
If any of what I just wrote makes it sound like Darren Young and Bob Backlund were ever in the same time zone together, I apologize, as that’s not how it came across on television at all.
Once WWE ran out of promos, it was time to re-debut Darren Young. With Bob Backlund in his corner, Young “won” a battle royal when his last two opponents eliminated each other.
This bit of dumb luck guaranteed Young an Intercontinental title match.
You would think Darren Young would start to emulate after Bob Backlund, so to speak. Incorporate amateur wrestling into his moveset.
Do those deep-knee lunges before his matches. Misuse big words (like emulate).
But aside from dressing like Mr. Backlund for Halloween…
…winning one match with a head bridge…
…and adopting the crossface chickenwing as his finisher for one week, Darren Young was as nondescript as Darren Young ever was.
Take Young’s gear, which read, “Block the Hate”.
Could you ever see Bob Backlund using “hate” (or, heaven forbid, “H8”) as a noun? No, he’d say, abomination.
Another missed opportunity? Merchandising. You know how many “Make Darren Young Great Again” hats WWE could have sold? Probably none, but they could have at least given them away to fans to make it look like they were into Young’s gimmick.
If Titan Towers could produce crate-loads of Backlund for President buttons in 1995 and give them away for free with every purchase of an Undertaker denim vest, surely they could have churned out a few thousand MDYGA caps to hand out on Raw.
WWE couldn’t even be bothered to imitate Trump’s typography.
There, was that so hard?
Given that Darren Young had recently come out as gay, I should at least give WWE credit for not giving him the slogan, “Make Darren Young Straight Again”.
But Art, you say, Darren Young was never straight.
And yes, you do have a point, but that still wouldn’t have made the slogan any more inaccurate than the one they actually used.
Darren Young’s first and last big match came against IC champion The Miz at July’s Battleground pay-per-view.
The two wrestled a competitive match until a confusing finish that saw Maryse slap Backlund, then trip and blame it on Bob.
This exacerbated Backlund, who attempted to tear off his shirt…
…leading Miz to push the crazy old man over.
Darren Young then made the save by slapping on Bob Backlund’s patented submission move, the… cobra clutch? The referee rang the bell to disqualify both The Miz (for beating up a senior citizen) and Darren Young (for applying the incorrect hold).
Young then stared at his hands like Bob Backlund once did, as if to say, “What just happened?” In this case, the audience was in the same boat.
Young immediately dropped from the IC title picture to feud with his former partner Titus O’Neil, who poked a giant hole in Young’s new “Make Darren Young Great Again” gimmick by pointing out that he had never been great to begin with. The rivalry got personal when Titus threatened to knock Backlund’s “old ass out” and later put the boots to Young’s 67-year-old mentor.
It was the kind of heated feud that could only be resolved through a series of roll-up victories, with Young coming out on top 2 out of 3 times.
These fluke victories failed to boon Young’s career, as he dropped further down the card to the pre-taped C-shows like Main Event and Superstars. There, Backlund would accompany Young to a never-ending series of matches with Jinder Mahal. If you had told me that within a year, one of those men would hold the WWE title, I would have said, “Bob Backlund’s a little old to be champion, isn’t he?”
Young and Backlund would also serve as background dorks for Enzo Amore to riff on in “sensitivity training”.
Darren Young’s last feud in WWE would be with the Shining Stars, who tried to scam Mr. Backlund into renting a time-share.
That night, Young would make his triumphant return to Monday Night Raw against the Shining Stars in a throwaway match on a throwaway holiday episode. After 45 intense seconds of action, Braun Strowman came to the ring to destroy everyone in sight…
…including Young’s tag team partner and fellow sensity training graduate, Bo Dallas…
…who for some reason was the one who got the Trump-style signs.
A few weeks later, Young and Sin Cara would try in vain to exact revenge on The Shining Stars for implying Bob Backlund was a retiree. Young got injured during the match and never wrestled in WWE again.
It’s too bad Young got injured when he did – the new President could have gotten him another IC title shot.