The return of Jack Swagger to our television screens also saw the reappearance of Zeb Colter to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). To a few keen viewers, Colter was quickly recognized as one Dutch Mantell. The overwhelming response to this revelation:
"Who the hell is Dutch Mantell?"
The lack of awareness about the accomplishments and abilities of Dutch Mantell is the embodiment of "Underrated and Under Appreciated". A man with a storied career in professional wrestling is completely unknown by the common fan.
Luckily for you, dear Cagesiders, I'm here to fix this problem...
Dutch Mantell -- born Wayne Keown -- made his debut in 1973, and was a fixture of the Memphis territory. During his early career, Mantell established himself as an one of the top workers in the South and a great promo man who was capable of playing a face or heel. Mantell's adeptness lead him to the portrayal of one of the earliest known tweener characters in professional wrestling. Mantell's work would also provide the prototype for one of his protegees -- Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The year 1978 would also prove to be one of the biggest in Dutch Mantell's career. For the majority of the year, Mantell was engaged in a long-running feud with "the Macho Man" Randy Savage. The feud produced great matches and a contrast of styles in the promos that would help Savage fully flesh out the Macho Man persona. Mantell's low-key and steady approach to his babyface work provided a great foil that the Macho Man could bounce off of and flourish from.
Their feud was a great boon to the city of Nashville, demonstrating that the city could in fact draw a good crowd in the shadow of it's rival city, Memphis. The two of them would also lock up years later in 1984, under the auspices of Jerry Jarrett's Continental Wrestling Association (CWA).
The most significant year of Mantell's career, though, was 1982. This year, which was probably the greatest year in the history of the Memphis territory, saw Mantell feud with Jerry "the King" Lawler in an infamous face versus face feud. The angle was divisive for the fans, as both men were beloved in the territory and feuds between two good guys were such a rarity.
Lawler's matches with Mantell during this feud were amongst the best of his career. His respect for Mantell was so significant that Lawler put Mantell over clean in matches, something that had not happened in a long time. Their feud would come to a conclusion in a Barbed Wire Match that saw Lawler regain the American Wrestling Association (AWA) Southern Heavyweight Title.
The jump to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) --
As CWA finally closed up shop in the late 80's, Mantell would make the jump to World Championship Wrestling (WCW). It wouldn't be for long, however, as he initially served as a commentator, eventually becoming a part of The Desperados. However, this stable was quickly abandoned after Stan Hansen decided to leave WCW. The Desperados quickly became jobbers and was dissolved, and Mantell left the company.
After his failed tenure with WCW, Mantell would join Jim Cornette's Smokey Mountain Wrestling as a commentator for three years before heading to World Wrestling Foundation (WWF).
The days of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) --
Mantell portrayed Uncle Zeb -- a predecessor to Zeb Colter -- and managed The Blu Brothers, as well as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw (JBL). As that incarnation of JBL soon fizzled out, so did Mantell's career in WWF. So, he headed to Puerto Rico as a writer, producer, and booker.
The Puerto Rican era --
To truly do justice to Mantell's time in Puerto Rico, I asked for Cagesider IRodC's opinion on what he meant to wrestling in Puerto Rico:
Before we get to what he has done in Puerto Rico, you have to realize that Puerto Rican wrestling was booming and had a ton of stars from the United States, such as Macho Man and Ric Flair.
After the incident that caused Bruiser Brody's death -- which is something that has been explored by many people, but the true story has failed to materialize -- the biggest stars of wrestling in the United States stopped coming into the island. After that, some prospects came in, but that is a story for another day.
Pre Bruiser Brody's Death--
Dirty Dutch Mantell was one of the best heels in pro wrestling when he came to Puerto Rico. Using some of the same tactics he has been using recently as Zeb Coulter, he was downright despised by the fans. Some of his best work he did in a tag team with "Cowboy" Frankie Lane called "Los Vaqueros Locos", where they would put up $1,000 dollars to any team that could beat them.
Keep in mind, this is a rabid audience that thought wrestling was real for a long time -- actually, there are still some people that do. The difference between Dutch Mantell the wrestler, and Wayne Keown the person, was non-existent. He insulted the Puerto Rican people, their coffee, the women, and everything in between. The feedback given to him was both the greatest, and worst, thing a wrestler could receive.
He has said himself that he, "couldn't leave his hotel room for fear of being attacked by fans that despised him because of his wrestling character. Yet the arenas, basketball courts, and baseball stadiums would be filled up to see him get his comeuppance and celebrate his defeat".
He did have a face turn against someone who I consider to be the greatest heel in pro wrestling history, Chicky Starr, which you can see in this video:
Post Bruiser Brody's Death--
After the Bruiser Brody incident, a lot of wrestlers from the U.S. stopped coming to Puerto Rico. But Dutch Mantell was one that stuck around, and is probably one of the most remembered heels during the 90's. While Dutch Mantell was still wrestling, his impact became much more than that -- after another boom in Puerto Rican professional wrestling during the beginning of the 21st century.
International Wrestling Association (IWA) Puerto Rico was one of the hottest things going, and Mantel was responsible for booking hundreds of hours of television shows from 2001 to 2003. This is where many talented wrestlers flourished, wrestlers like Ricky Banderas (Judas Mesias in TNA), Apolo (El Leon in TNA), Shane Sewell, and others made wrestling must watch every week. Many of the older wrestlers stayed with the company as well, so there was a mix of familiar faces with new talent.
The quality of what Dutch Mantell produced was not the only great thing the man accomplished, but the quantity of quality wrestling that he produced by himself is astonishing, and something WWE desperately needs.
Mantel set a record while in Puerto Rico, in the number of hours that a single writer produced a TV wrestling show as he was responsible for four hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for a total of 208 hours a year for five years straight. His ratings also set records as his shows regularly ranged in the 12 to 15 range, with his highest being an 18.1, with a 55 share of the TV viewing audience while working for WWC in 2000.
Check out this video package of the work he did in IWA Puerto Rico.
Notice the crowds, best wrestling crowds I have ever been a part of.
[Thank you 'IRodC' for your help! If I'm not careful, you may be taking my job in the near future.]
Post Puerto Rican era, TNA days & beyond --
After Mantell's time in Puerto Rico ended in 2003, he would join Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) as a writer, producer, agent, and booker. Mantell's most important contribution to TNA was his time booking and writing for the Knockouts division during it's prime years. After leaving TNA in 2009, Mantell would bounce around various independent promotions before making his way back to WWE on the Feb. 11 episode of Monday Night Raw.
Mantell was an outstanding performer, but also a guiding hand for many professional wrestlers. He was an early mentor for wrestlers such as the Undertaker, Kane, Ultimate Warrior, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. On his personal website, Austin gives credit to Mantell as being the biggest influence on his development as a professional wrestler.
Mantell was one of the first in the business to engage in shoot interviews, and his interviews are still some of the best in the business today. The man has forgotten more about professional wrestling than most of us will learn in a lifetime.
Dutch Mantell is one of the greats who no longer exist in the consciousness of many wrestling fans. Hopefully, his current run in WWE will get more people interested in the life and career of Dutch Mantell.