It’s the Final Day of #AhmedJohnsonWeek, our celebration of all things Pearl River, and the first installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started off with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, and then gave you the finer points of the Tony Norris oeuvre with Tuesday’s Essential Viewing. We asked the important questions on Wednesday with A Series of If…Whats on “Big T” Tony Norris. Yesterday, we make our Amazon.com-on-steroids dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…”. Today, we finish everything off with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Legal-Rights-to-the-Letter-T-fueled civil war.)
Nick: David, this is going to be a tough one for us to do, mostly because we both think that Ahmed was somewhere between Warrior and Warlord, and not in a good way.
David: I tend to agree, but the eternal optimist inside of me says that no man is without some merits.
Nick: Then, what are they? Because, as a fan of the guy when I was growing up, I look back now, and find myself just hoping his muscles stay in his skin.
David: Well, there was the off-the-charts look, and until everybody realized how awful he was, a solid connection with the crowd.
Nick: Which begs the question: even with all the injuries, was he lucky?
David: Lucky in the sense that he was born looking like Vince McMahon’s ultimate fantasy. Kidding aside, though, I think he did “get it” in terms of understanding wrestling, and in an earlier era (the territories) or a later era (a true developmental system) he could have had a forum to actually improve.
Nick: What about the mouthwords? His NoD promo is a piece of gold, but much like Wayne Rooney, he needs subtitles despite the fact that English is nominally his native tongue.
David: I don’t think he was any worse than, say, Ryback, but Ahmed existed in an era when WWE wasn’t as good at hiding people’s weaknesses. Even with sometimes-taped Raws, they never did him any help with editing.
David: But, we’re really getting into a chicken vs. egg argument as to who’s more to blame: the subpar wrestler, or the promotion who presents subpar wrestlers on their television.
Nick: I’m not sure if editing could have made “You Best Make Sure” sound less like Juice Make Sugar, but I don’t disagree. I didn’t do much looking back for my pieces, but you obviously did. Did your opinion change for him?
David: You know, I won’t say my opinion changed, but it did evolve somewhat. I used to think Ahmed was irredeemably awful, but having done research for Essential Viewing, I found that he could be made to look like an actual wrestler by exceptional workers.
David: He was the proverbial broomstick that great guys could have a match with.
Nick: But, honestly, what was his ceiling? To me, it’s marginally above Mason Ryan’s
David: Well, if you put Mason Ryan in 1996, he would have been World Heavyweight Champion.
Nick: Because the steroids were better back then? #Boom
David: Honestly, I think within the context of his era, Ahmed could have been a solid babyface challenger to run against an evil heel (say, Undertaker). Or, if he had been a good (safe) enough worker, you could have built him up as a heel and had Stone Cold knock him off.
Nick: Could he have ever held the WWE title? And, been deserving, and not just an angle.
David: Well, in the sense that anybody who is predetermined to win the belt can be champion, he could have been champion. I think he could have “gone around the circuit” of major WWE cities once. And then nobody would want to see him ever again.
Nick: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see Ahmed do anything other than the Pearl River Plunge more than once.
David: It was a great finisher.
Nick: Has watching him in all his epic meh-ness done anything for guys like Batista in your mind?
David: Batista is Dean Malenko compared to him.
Nick: Obviously, different eras and all, but Batista looks like Roger Federer out there compared to Ahmed Johnson, who is so Andy Roddick it’s silly.
David: Yeah, I think that’s a good comparison.
Nick: I also feel like Ahmed was the final straw for unsafe guys, because watching him makes me worry about guys who never wrestled him to begin with.
David: He was definitely an accident waiting to happen. Like I said, now they have an actual developmental system which serves to either correct or eliminate guys like him.
Nick: He seemingly made up new ways to botch things, and as you mentioned in that Owen match, he really took liberties.
David: Oh yeah. He stomped Owen until Owen stopped selling and rolled out of the ring. Unfortunately, for years and years, a huge part of being a good heel was being able to sell for big babyfaces who couldn’t work a lick.
Nick: What would have happened if Jeff Jarrett wasn’t a racist?
David: Oh gosh. Jarrett is Southern, and “racist” is the easiest thing on Earth to call a southerner. And wrestlers are notorious for coming up with reasons it’s other people’s fault they didn’t succeeed. So, I’ll let Ahmed call Jarrett a racist and just say they didn’t see eye-to-eye on who should go over.
Nick: Speaking of shoot interviews, my favorite story of his was him and Hawk doing shows together, and Animal getting pissed at him for it. Where he throws Animal under the bus and blames him for not being able to join LOD.
David: That would have been marginally worse than Road Warrior Puke. Ahmed matched the Road Warrior image, but their legacy didn’t need that for a minute.
Nick: It would have been better than Demolition adding Crush when Ax couldn’t go anymore.
David: I almost believe the story, though. Animal made such a stink over Hawk doing The Hellraisers with Sasaki.
Nick: Which brings us to the the first time I realized that maybe Ahmed wasn’t that great: WM 13’s street fight between LODAhmed and the Nation of Domination. And I won’t even count that Ahmed tried to break Ron Simmons neck, of course. As I was not aware at the time that someone potatoing you in the ribs was carte blanche to try to KILL HIM.David: Yeah, the Ahmed vs. the Nation was basically a sandbag versus a bag of sandbags. I think the issue with Ron Simmons was the ultimate sign that the locker room was done bailing Ahmed out. He was the first black World Champion, and I don’t think he was interested in elevating Ahmed to that level. Partially because he knew Ahmed was kind of terrible and partially out of bitterness because Simmons’ push was rapidly rolling back down the hill.
Nick: Especially when you have a guy like the Rock on the roster.
David: But, as ugly as the last year of his run in the WWF was, it looks like Citizen Kane compared to his time in WCW.
Nick: WOAH. Woah, woah. Are you saying fighting in a PPV match sponsored by the letter T wasn’t as good as being IC champion during the hottest period in the history of the business?
David: Well, it’s more that being billed as a champion who happens to be black is better than being used in a blatant “black-on-black crime” feud.
Nick: Do you think that’s why he ate his way out of the business? Or was that an inevitability?
David: I think all professional athletes are battling their weight for most of their careers, whether it’s needing to keep it on or keep it off. Between bumps, major injuries and PEDs, Ahmed’s body just wasn’t capable of keeping on the right amount of the right kind of weight anymore. Like so many stars of his era, his body collapsed under the weight of the anabolic dream of the late 80s and early 90s.
Nick: And the Grand Slam menu at Denny’s, apparently.
David: But unlike most of those other guys, at least Ahmed still has his life.
Nick: Which, I guess, that makes him a winner.
David: Yeah, the guy made good money in the business and is still alive. And unless you’re a total mark, you have to understand that puts him ahead