The return to the national wrestling scene of veteran Dutch Mantell as Zeb Colter, Jack Swagger's new manager, on WWE Monday Night Raw last week was a welcome surprise.
He had been toiling on the indy circuit for the last three and half years, after being unfairly ousted out of his position as a creative influence in TNA for being an ally of Jeff Jarrett's, when Dixie Carter discovered that "Double J" had lied to her about his relationship with Karen Angle while she was still married to Kurt.
Worse still, tragedy struck Mantell's family last August when his granddaughter Amelia was killed in a car accident at age 16. Simply put, this guy was somebody who deserved a break, after all the shit he had been through.
The gimmick he was given, a racist redneck masquerading as a real American patriot, wasn't particularly original, though it was clever to use Mantell's real-life background as a Vietnam War veteran as part of the character.
With Alberto Del Rio retaining the World Heavyweight Championship and Swagger winning the Elimination Chamber match tonight to set up a match between the two at WrestleMania 29, this is clearly an attempt to recreate the success of the feud between Eddie Guerrero and John Bradshaw Layfield in 2004, where JBL generated heat by hunting for illegal immigrants on the U.S. Mexico border that won him a "Great American Award" from heel Smackdown GM Kurt Angle and a shot at Guerrero's WWE title.
According to the seven year rule before it is safe to rehash a wrestling storyline, we were actually overdue a copy of this angle. However, the timing of the new act, suggested to Dave Meltzer in his latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter that WWE simply stole the gimmick from Lucha Libre USA after it garnered a surprising amount of pub using a similar character in RJ Brewer who vowed to rid the promotion of its Mexican influence:
"The act is almost surely taken from the R.J. Brewer character on Lucha Libre USA. ABC’s "Nightline" just did a feature on Brewer less than two weeks ago. Even though the character is with a promotion that nobody knows about, and the character is something nobody wrestling talks about with a company that barely exists and floundered on TV, it got a lot of major publicity. It had front page of the newspaper stories in the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury and other major West Coast newspapers and media sources. If a promotion not on the radar can get publicity (and part of it was Brewer’s character claiming to be the son of controversial Arizona Governor Jan Brewer), perhaps WWE believes they can as well."
A video of Brewer's Nightline appearance can be seen below:
In a stroke of genius, Brewer claimed to ABC's Linsey Davis that "this isn't a character for me" and is a genuine supporter of Arizona's SB 1070 (which he has stitched on his wrestling tights), a controversial piece of local legislation that obligates police officers to make an attempt, when practicable during a "lawful stop, detention or arrest", to determine a person's immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. When asked whether SB1070 was racial profiling Brewer said:
"No, I don't think so at all. I mean the constitution clearly states we the people, but it's we the people of the United States, not we the people of Mexico."
Sounds familiar doesn't it, Cagesiders? There's also déjà vu to be found from Brewer doing a promo on the border while several masked luchadors hop over the fence behind his back. I wonder where he got that idea from?
However, I doubt WWE will get the media interest that Lucha Libre USA did from this angle. The old saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" comes to mind. Those that have already covered the RJ Brewer story will realise that WWE is just trying to latch onto someone else's bright idea. Those that haven't will naturally be much more suspicious of a WWE mouthpiece's claims that their onscreen persona reflects their real-life beliefs than they would be if they heard the story from a no-name indy wrestler.
At best, this angle may turn Alberto Del Rio into the Latino hero that Vince McMahon obviously craves him to be. But one wonders whether in this day and age such blunt xenophobia will work. As always with these sort of storylines, WWE has to walk the very fine line of pushing hot button topics without crossing into tacky tastelessness, something they haven't always been good at in the past. I imagine we'll see whether they get the balance right this time around very shortly, Cagesiders, given that it's now palpably clear that they're going all the way to the top with Swagger and Colter's push.