They were paid to lose and lose often. They only had one job: to make the superstars they worked with look credible and dominating.
They were the unsung heroes of the glory days of professional wrestling back when the squash match was far more common, particularly on Television. You would watch them every week as they elevated the statuses of countless big name performers by selling, submitting and getting pinned.
The impolite term is jobber. The more accepted vernacular is enhancement talent. Regardless of what you call them, they served a paramount purpose putting over the biggest stars in the history of the business.
By the mid-90s, as WCW and the WWF went head to head on Monday nights, jobbers were mostly phased out. WCW dropped them first. When Raw was trailing Nitro in the ratings, the WWF soon followed suit. With rare, notable exceptions since (think Ryback in all those 2-on-1 handicap matches with nobodies in 2012 or some of the early WWE Ascension tag encounters last year), big names strictly face big names now.
And yet, when it comes to the WWE Hall Of Fame, the massive, historic contributions of full-time jobbers are completely overlooked. Every inductee thus far has been a superstar of some repute whether they won championships, had great matches or engaged in memorable feuds. While numerous Hall of Famers got their start as jobbers (Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Curt Hennig) or ended their careers putting over the next generation (Pedro Morales), that’s not why they were ultimately inducted.
There’s a simple solution to rectify this unfortunate oversight. Add a jobber wing to the WWE Hall Of Fame. And induct the following 5 performers in the first year:
1. S.D. Jones
He was the big man from Antiqua who wore those colourful Hawaiian shirts and was defeated so many times on weekly Television by so many major stars. Special Delivery Jones was one of the most familiar faces on WWF weekend broadcasts in the 1980s even though he almost always lost. Live events were a slightly different story where, despite defeat after defeat, he still managed to win a number of encounters over fellow jobbers and even big names of the era like Mr. Fuji, “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Luscious” Johnny V & Baron Mikel Scicluna, as noted by the invaluable site, The History Of WWE.
As noted by Wikipedia, Jones was a 3-time territorial tag champion back in the mid-70s when he worked for the NWA. And the closest he came to duplicating that success was being paired with Tony Atlas to challenge Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito for the WWF tag belts in a series of matches in 1981. They always came up short (although Atlas would win the straps with Rocky Johnson two years later during a TV taping).
In 1983, he was one of the many who tried and failed to bodyslam Big John Studd who offered him $8500 at the time if he succeeded. And he was the first guy on TV to put over a returning Sgt. Slaughter who had been absent from the WWF for two years. Slaughter would turn face and go on to feud with The Iron Sheik. Speaking of the Sheik, months after he served his suspension for an incident involving Hacksaw Jim Duggan in the summer of 1987, Jones gave him his first win back during a February 1988 house show at the then-named Meadowlands in New Jersey, also helpfully noted by The History Of WWE website.
In 1985, Jones was famously squashed by King Kong Bundy at the first WrestleMania in less than 30 seconds which helped raise the profile of the monster heel to memorable feuds with Andre The Giant, Hillbilly Jim and Hulk Hogan. (Jones was Andre’s tag team partner in the infamous November 1984 TV match against Studd & Ken Patera when the Eighth Wonder of the World’s hair was cut against his will.) That same year, he was even on the cover of the original Wrestling Album. He’s in the Land Of 1000 Dances video, too.
As Vince McMahon’s marketing machine went into full effect, Jones was the only jobber to get his own action figure. In fact, he had two. One with a red shirt and the other with a more typical yellow/blue top featuring painted palm trees. (Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant were the only others to have doubles. FEBRUARY 22 CORRECTION: Actually, Hogan had 3.) He continued to win occasional matches at house shows while almost always losing on TV (in 1987, he gave Outlaw Ron Bass his first MSG victory) right up until 1988.
In 2006, he inducted his good friend and former tag partner Tony Atlas into the WWE Hall Of Fame. Two years later, he died just days after suffering a severe stroke. For all the good he did for two generations of McMahons, S.D. deserves his own induction.
2. Steve Lombardi
Long before he was the cigar-chomping Brooklyn Brawler in dirty, tattered clothing and Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz with his face absurdly painted like a baseball, this New York native was the go-to jobber for putting over so many WWF stars in the 80s and 90s. When Ricky Steamboat debuted in 1985, Lombardi was the first guy he pinned on Television. During a 1987 house show at Hamilton, Ontario’s then-named Copps Coliseum, I saw him get destroyed by The Ultimate Warrior. In 1988, when Owen Hart was The Blue Blazer, Lombardi put him over during Hart’s first match at the revered Madison Square Garden, according to The History Of WWE. And in 1996, he put over a young Rocky Maivia in a try-out match. (The Rock praised Lombardi in his autobiography.)
Practically every big name that worked for the promotion during that time can claim they had at least one win over Lombardi. (During this period, he also occasionally played Kim Chee, Kamala’s masked, safari-attired handler.) In early 1989, he aligned himself with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan who had just been fired by The Red Rooster during a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping. Now going with The Brooklyn Brawler moniker, Lombardi attacked Rooster and Gorilla Monsoon during a Prime Time Wrestling broadcast. That set up a series of matches between Brawler and Rooster that began in February and ended in August.
According to The History Of WWE, and it should be noted they don’t have complete results, Rooster pinned Brawler at least 63 times. (I bet the real total is even higher.) In the end, Lombardi only got one victory which came during a MSG show on February 20. As Rooster was attempting to suplex Brawler back into the ring from the apron, Heenan pulled his leg out from under him and held it down while Brawler got the 3-count. (Curiously, this would be the same finish in the Ultimate Warrior/Rick Rude WrestleMania 5 match-up that put the IC belt on the Ravishing one two months later.)
At the very next MSG event, Rooster beat Brawler with Heenan notably banned from ringside. After their program ended, it was back to jobbing for Lombardi until he briefly feuded with the mustachioed Big Bully Busick in 1991. In late 1993, early 1994, according to Wikipedia, he briefly replaced Matt Borne as Doink The Clown before his brief, ill-advised stint as Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz. Returning to the Brawler gimmick in 1994 he later won the right to a WWF Championship match in 1997 against then-titleholder Shawn Michaels who only retained thanks to the interference of his D-Generation X buddies. Lombardi got some measure of revenge when he pinned Triple H three years later in a handicap match on an episode of Jakked.
Although he has made the odd TV appearance since (he supported Kamala as Kim Chee in the gimmick battle royale at WrestleMania 17), these days Lombardi is an off-camera road agent who always attends the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and is often singled out for his contributions to the business. One of these years, he should be invited to talk about them on stage.
3. “Leaping” Lanny Poffo
Not many jobbers had an actual gimmick but this Canadian-born curly-haired second generation performer with the sparkly silver trunks had a memorable one. Arriving with his brother, Randy Savage, to the WWF in 1985, before every match, the poet laureate would recite a poem usually about his opponent(s) and get them riled up by mentioning their current rival(s). Then, he would throw out Frisbees which contained those same verses to every crowd he entertained. And yes, he wrote every word.
More often than not, it would be all for naught. He would usually get his ass beat. (Savage, on the other hand, would go on to become InterContinental Champion and a 2-time World Champion.)
Only rarely would Poffo defeat his opponent (almost always a fellow jobber) with a moonsault off the top rope, a move rarely seen in 80s wrestling. And he had one of the stiffest punches in the business (at least that’s the way it always looked and sounded). Poffo’s in-ring abilities afforded him plenty of “hope spots” in his countless squash matches against the biggest names, mostly heels, of the day as he put over a substantial number of them in the second half of the 80s.
During a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping in 1987, Poffo was booked to take a headbutt from Andre The Giant during a 20-man battle royale. Unfortunately, Andre hit him a little too hard before eliminating him. Poffo’s face was a bloody mess and he had to be stretchered out of the arena. According to Wikipedia, the bridge of his nose had to be stitched up.
At a WWF house show in Madison Square Garden in March 1989, The History Of WWE website notes that Poffo turned heel declaring his support for his brother (without acknowledging that fact) who was about to drop the WWF title to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 5. From then on, he was The Genius, maintaining his rhyming ways but now also positioning himself as some kind of great philosopher and ring strategist. (He started carrying around a fancy clipboard he would often use a weapon.) Channelling the daintier aspects of Gorgeous George, Poffo, now with long straight hair, would hilariously prance around the ring, doing cartwheels all the while baffling his opponents and winning. The previous year, he put over Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart at the outdoor WrestleFest ’88 supercard in less than five minutes. In 1989, Neidhart was putting him over.
When his brother defeated Hacksaw Jim Duggan to become the Macho King in the fall of 1989, it was Poffo who recited a poem in his honour during his televised coronation ceremony. Although Canadian promoter Jack Tunney (the fake WWF President) did acknowledge their real-life familial relationship during a radio interview on a local Hamilton, Ontario radio station in the late 80s, the WWF itself never once brought it up during this era.
The Genius would go on to be “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig’s cornerman and advisor as he feuded with Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship. In perhaps his greatest moment, with a big assist from Mr. P, Poffo got a count-out victory against Hogan during a late 1989 Saturday Night’s Main Event taping. (They later stole his belt and smashed it to bits. It has long been rumoured to have been recycled as the Hardcore title.) Poffo & Hennig would team up to face Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior on another SNME and lose. But the post-match clothesline fest would continue to build the Hogan/Warrior WrestleMania 6 storyline.
Poffo would eventually split from Hennig (Heenan would manage him to his first IC strap) and move on to represent The Beverly Brothers for a time in 1991 and 1992 while occasionally teaming with them, sometimes successfully, in six-man tags. Poffo would leave the company before the end of ’92.
Poffo briefly returned to the WWF in 1994 before being offered the Gorgeous George gimmick from Savage who had somehow acquired the rights to use it. But WCW never booked him and Savage gave the idea to his then-girlfriend Stephanie Bellars instead, as noted by Wikipedia.
Savage would die of a heart attack while driving with his second wife in 2011. After many years of resistance (because his brother wanted the whole family inducted which included father Angelo whose yellow trunks inspired Hulk Hogan), Poffo finally accepted the honour of inducting the Macho Man alone into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. When is some prominent figure going to induct the poet laureate himself?
4. Barry Horowitz
As he was being introduced before every match, this proud Jewish American would buck himself up with a pat on the back. The gesture got over so well the WWF turned it into a T-shirt. Too bad it didn’t lead to many victories.
For much of the late 80s and early 90s, he did jobs for practically every major star you can think of during his tenure. Only rarely, particularly during house shows, did he ever win.
Things started to change in 1993 when he appeared as a masked wrestler named The Red Knight during a 4-on-4 elimination match at the Survivor Series, his first pay-per-view. Captained by Shawn Michaels, Horowitz’ team would see all its members defeated by The Hart Family.
Horowitz would go on to challenge The Quebecers for the tag belts by aligning himself with The 1-2-3 Kid. He would also get an InterContinental title shot against champion Jeff Jarrett. He lost both bids for championship glory.
Then came 1995. Horowitz was booked to face one of the Body Donnas, a tag team with a fitness gimmick. During a solo TV match against Skip, Horowitz got the surprise win which led to the famous Jim Ross line, “Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins!” In their rematch at SummerSlam, Horowitz was victorious once again.
After beating Hakushi in another upset, Horowitz started teaming with him. They would both be eliminated during a traditional tag match at the 1995 Survivor Series. Horowitz’s final hurrah would be his one and only appearance in the Royal Rumble match in 1996. Despite drawing a high number (25), Owen Hart threw him over the top rope. After that, it was back to jobbing until he was let go by the WWF in 1997. He would go work for WCW for two years before a final run on the indie scene.
Long before his jobber/underdog days in the WWF, Barry Horowitz won a number of titles working the territories in the NWA. But for all the good he did elevating the stars of his day, it’s his enhancement talent period that deserves to be enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame.
5. “Iron” Mike Sharpe
He was billed as “Canada’s greatest athlete” and in the early 80s was even managed by “Captain” Lou Albano which led to exactly one WWF title shot against then-champion Bob Backlund. (He lost.) With a suspicious-looking forearm band, a famously hairy chest and a relentless grunt, things were looking good for this Hamilton, Ontario native, at least in the beginning. But then, he split from Albano and there were no more title shots.
For a little more than a decade, “Iron” Mike Sharpe, the third second-generation wrestler on this list, was a reliable win for a whole slew of WWF superstars. He was the first TV opponent for Tugboat. Along with Tony Ulysses, as noted by The History Of WWE, he helped put over a new team called The Powers Of Pain during their first televised WWF tag bout. And when Ivan Putski had a comeback match at Madison Square Garden in 1987, as noted by Wikipedia & THOW, Sharpe gave him the win.
When Hulk Hogan needed someone to shoot wrestling scenes for a video that would air on Dolly Parton’s short-lived variety show, Sharpe was the guy who got the job. (According to Wikipedia, Sharpe was Hogan’s tag team partner when they wrestled in Japan.) Along with Horowitz, he would continue to work as enhancement talent well into the mid-90s but unlike Horowitz, despite his early push, he would never get another one, although he did beat Boris Zhukov of The Bolsheviks in round one of the 1988 King Of The Ring tournament. (The Red Rooster made him submit in round two.)
It’s a testament to how good he was as a heel that the three times I saw him live at Copps Coliseum in the 80s, he was always booed by his hometown crowd. Some time after retiring in 1995, he started a training school for the next generation. But then an unfortunate gardening accident in 2007 derailed everything (a massive cut on his one of his legs led to a serious infection) and Sharpe basically became a wheelchaired recluse, too ashamed, sick & depressed to go back to his much happier life, until his death earlier this year.
The WWE acknowledged the end of his life through a press release but there were no ten rings of the timekeeper’s bell nor a tribute video on either Raw or Smackdown. No dedication in his memory, either. An induction into the jobber wing of the WWE Hall Of Fame would be the best way to honour his seriously underappreciated legacy.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 22, 2016