Executioners are a dime a dozen in wrestling. Since time immemorial, promoters running low on talent, ideas, or both have slapped black masks on wrestlers and trotted them out to the ring for a quick loss to their babyface stars. On the very first Monday Night Raw, for instance, perennial jobbers Duane Gill and Barry Hardy donned the hoods and stumbled their way to a loss to the Steiners.
Need further proof that the Executioner name was a one-way ticket to jobber-dom? Buddy Rose wrestled as The Executioner on the first Wrestlemania and lost to Tito Santana. This is the same Tito Santana who would lose at each of the next seven Manias (You might be saying, “Of course it was the same Tito Santana. How many Tito Santanas are there in wrestling?!” I used to say the same thing, until two more Matadors showed up in WWE).
Suffice it to say that by 1996, fans had grown so accustomed to masked “executioners” being mere fodder for the established stars that any attempt to get over with that moniker was a suicide mission. Leave it to Vince McMahon to try to break that convention when he debuted a new Executioner in 1996 to wreak havoc in the Federation. Keep in mind that this was on a pay-per-view built around a match where the object was to murder your opponent, and suddenly the idea of “The Executioner” being a legit superstar doesn’t seem so insane and far-fetched in the scheme of things.
It was at In Your House: Buried Alive that this new Executioner would debut during the main event, billed as the first-ever non-sanctioned match in WWF history. Of course, even my elementary school mind could figure out that you can’t call a match “non-sanctioned” and then advertise the hell out of it, book it as a main event, name the pay-per-view after it, charge fans money to see it, drive truckloads of dirt into the arena at company expense for it, film it, hire a referee to officiate it and a ring announcer to introduce it, commentate over it, then sell it on VHS.
The match ended when The Undertaker dropped Mankind into the grave and covered his back with a light dusting of soil, at which point the referee decided that Foley was just too dirty to continue and awarded Taker the match. The non-sanctioned match.
Just as it appeared that the Buried Alive match would be merely a less-disgusting version of a hog-pen match, who should appear and whack the Dead Man with a shovel but… well, we didn’t know who.
In fact, it was former Freebird Terry Gordy under the mask, back in the WWF for the first time in twelve years. There are a million different stories floating around about why the group had such a short stint with the company, but they all involve one or more of the Freebirds and lots of alcohol. Shocking, I know. I bet you thought Michael Hayes just had a sick cat at home to take care of or something.
It appeared that this man dressed in an unflattering Halloween costume was hired specially by Paul Bearer to murder the Undertaker by throwing him into the grave (but not before doing a very bad job of “digging up” Mankind from underneath dozens of molecules of soil).
If The Executioner were supposed to be Bearer’s right-hand man, he was instantly rendered superfluous when a bunch of other heels pitched in a la Royal Rumble 1994 to kill the Undertaker, getting to work shoveling dirt on the Phenom. Vince was flabbergasted by the prospect of the Undertaker being interred: “You were only supposed to be buried alive, not like this!” You heard the man: you were only supposed to be buried alive.
Unlike the Rumble ’94, though, there wouldn’t be a laughable segment where Undertaker “died” and then “resurrected.”
Oops, that’s exactly what happened. As hokey as it seemed on television, the pure spectacle of the Undertaker’s mysterious control over life and death must have sent a chill down the spines of the live audience. The supernatural feat was followed up with a dark match pitting the Godwinns against the New Rockers.
The Executioner hung around Paul Bearer as a hired goon, while also participating in some rather laughable photo sessions unbecoming of a man who lopped people’s heads off for a living.
Frankly, the goofy, vacant stare that Gordy constantly sported was far from menacing…
…although he never quite reached Duane Gill-esque depths of non-intimidation.
Executioner’s association with Bearer and Mankind would be immortalized in this action figure pack, allowing kids to recreate the fun of burying another person alive. Don’t judge; when I was five, I ran an angle with my action figures where Virgil accidentally killed Arn Anderson by knocking him off a chair in my kitchen.
In one slightly notable segment, Gordy appeared in the ring with Bearer and Mankind during an interview conducted by former tag team partner Michael Hayes. Could you say, “Freebird Reunion”?
Unfortunately, this was 1996, and Hayes was now “Dok Hendrix,” your middle-aged bachelor uncle who still swore he was getting his high school garage band back together.
At Survivor Series, The Executioner again thwarted The Undertaker, who, despite defeating Mankind and cosplaying as Batman all in one night, could not get his hands on Gordy’s boss, Paul Bearer.
Around this time, the Executioner made his wrestling debut, defeating Freddie Joe Floyd and becoming perhaps the first Executioner since the 1970s to win a match on WWF TV.
By the way, that was back when Lou Albano’s Executioners (Killer Kowalski and Big Jon Studd) held the Federation’s tag team titles. They were stripped of the belts after a third, unauthorized Executioner joined the team. That’s right: they lost the championships because future Executioner Terry Gordy and company hadn’t yet invented the Freebird Rule.
I’d like to say that The Executioner was impressive in the ring, but rather than a high impact move like, say, the Gordbuster, the masked man instead used the Asian Spike, which is a polite way of saying that he held his thumb to his opponent’s throat.
It was no Mandible Claw, that’s for sure, as fans could discern when his opponent failed to vomit after submitting to the move.
Finally, it was the Executioner’s moment of truth: a one-on-one match with the Undertaker at In Your House: It’s Time, contested under Armageddon Rules. In effect, it was a Texas Death Match where the opponent had to stay down for a count of ten after a fall to lose. In terms of memorable Undertaker-specific gimmick matches, this one ranks somewhere between the Last Ride and Rest in Peace matches.
Before he faced The Undertaker, The Executioner had to overcome an equally formidable challenger: his own hood, whose tiny eye-holes kept him from climbing the ring steps.
This match was highlighted by Mankind attempting to make a save for the Executioner, only to trip over the pretty blue mats and eat concrete.
In an amusing display of short-sightedness, the brawl between the two ghoulish wrestlers spilled through the beloved In Your House set and continued throughout the arena, despite a lack of big screen to clue in the fans in attendance as to what was going on.
Another of the match’s highlights was when the Executioner got knocked into the fountain outside the arena, tumbling gently down an incline into the shallow pond…
…splashing around as if drowning…
…and then calmly exiting. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so funny had the match been dubbed something less doom-and-gloom than “Armageddon,” unless the apocalyptic biblical battleground ends up having a water slide.
Eventually the fans (unaware of the backstage poolside shenanigans) witnessed Taker and an inexplicably wet Executioner wander back to the ring. A drippy Gordy would take a Tombstone and fail to make it to his feet by the count of ten, ending the match after the very first fall (not that fans were eager to see Black Blood’s doughy younger brother carry on fighting much longer, anyway).
After In Your House, it was pretty much the end of the line for Gordy’s Executioner character, as he was dumped by Bearer on an episode of Superstars shortly after. Since then, no Executioners have shown up in WWE. Gordy didn’t even re-appear with the Bossman in the Attitude Era with a gritty, rebooted gimmick as the guy who flips the switch on the electric chair or administers the lethal injections.
Either the “executioner” gimmick is forever damaged goods in wrestling, or promoters are starting to have their doubts about capital punishment.