Time Machine Thursday: Akeem the African Dream
The day of the week known as Thursday has worn many hats from major party night in college to last real day of the work week in the real world and “TBT” or “Throwback Thursday” in the social media world. Each Thursday for this column, however, shall henceforth be known as Time Machine Thursday, or TMT for short, and will bring you one of professional wrestling’s awesomely forgotten or infamously awful wrestlers or gimmicks which were ahead of their time.
LOS ANGELES, October 23, 2014 — Professional wrestling’s number one goal is to elicit a reaction from the crowd. Good guys get cheered. Bad guys get booed. If a wrestler waves the American flag and shakes hands with kids in the crowd, he is cheered. If a wrestler cheats during matches, insults you, your mother, and your local sports team, he is booed. Most gimmicks are usually that cut and dry. That being said, one must wonder what reaction the WWF was hoping to get for in this edition of Time Machine Thursday.
Standing at 6’9” and 450 pounds, George Gray certainly lived up to his wrestling name of the One Man Gang. This behemoth dressed like a biker, complete with an Easy Rider denim sleeveless jacket, chains and also sported a mohawk hairstyle and had tattoos on his head. Needless to say, he was an intimidating force in and out of the ring.
In 1987, when he arrived in the World Wrestling Federation, the One Man Gang began destroying “jobbers,” wrestlers who had zero chance of ever winning matches. After mowing down the “competition”, the Gang was positioned as a bad guy flavor of the month to challenge the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Macho Man Randy Savage. One year after he arrived in the WWF, Vince McMahon felt the One Man Gang needed a gimmick change. That gimmick change would go down in history as one, if not the most wildly inappropriate, yet hilarious gimmicks of all time.
In September 1988, the One Man Gang’s manager, The Doctor of Style, Slick announced that the Gang had recently found out that he was from Africa. We do not know who told Akeem this, but it is safe to say that he did not access Ancestry.com. Just for the record, Slick is an African American male, whose theme song at the time was “Jive Soul Bro” and referred to chickens as “yard birds.” This was to be the perfect storm of over the top racism that could only happen in the world of pro wrestling.
Oh, but it gets better. Slick then proceeds to invite WWF interviewer Mean Gene Okerlund to a dark alley to witness some sort of “transformation”. Mean Gene informs the viewer that Slick was supposed to take him to “deepest, darkest Africa.” I know what you are thinking, and yes, in one fell swoop, the WWF decides to commit 100% to this racially insensitive gimmick.
Slick appears behind Mean Gene and proceeds to bring out a troupe of African dancers who look like they just came from the palace scene in Coming to America. They perform a ritualistic dance and suddenly, in a cloud of smoke, a large man appears out of nowhere! Slick announces that the One Man Gang is no more. He has thrown down the shackles of oppression. Before you stands a man reborn, and that man’s name is Akeem! Mean Gene, and probably the audience, is agasp at the scene unfolding before his eyes.
When Gene informs Slick that he recognizes Akeem as the One Man Gang, Slick flies into a fit of rage. “Don’t you ever refer to him as the One Man Gang again!” If Slick had said that the One Man Gang was Akeem’s, “slave name,” the NACCP and the FCC would have shut down the WWF for good. Well, it could have been worse, right? In terms of Wrestling Train Wrecks, this is not even the worse thing the WWE has done on television.
Earlier in the year the One Man Gang was wearing motorcycle gang attire, and now Akeem would sport a huge yellow Dashiki complete with wrestling tights that had an outline of Africa on his back, all while talking “jive” and making herky-jerky hand and arm moves that would make a Parkinson’s patient blush. Akeem moved his arms and hands while he talked, walked, and stood, as if he were swimming laps.
Watch Akeem’s first match
Then again, this was 1988, and Political Correctness would not become the rage for a few years. Is this racist? Is this a tad insensitive? Is this pretty funny? Hell yes on all three. There is nothing funnier than a gigantic 6’9” white man pretending to be a born-again African American. This gimmick will never be done again. Jesse Jackson’s brain would explode in utter shock if a second Akeem happened in 2014. Though, one could argue that Chavo Guerrero’s “Kerwin White” gimmick was somewhat similar, but that is for another time.
The strange thing is this gimmick was actually getting over with wrestling crowds. It was absurdity at its finest and some people got it and laughed along. In another amazing twist of fate, Slick created a tag team with Akeem and another wrestler under his charge. The Big Boss Man was a southern wrestler with a crooked cop gimmick. Since both men had similar height and builds, they were dubbed the Twin Towers. This sounds like the set up for a joke. “So a white Southern cop and a big white guy pretending to be black walk into a bar.”
The Twin Towers never held tag team gold, but they were featured in a number of high profile feuds. They fought the tag team champions, Demolition, numerous times and also battled the Mega Powers (Hogan and Savage). The Akeem gimmick only lasted from 1988 to 1990. Akeem’s final match with the WWF was against his former tag team partner and recently turned good guy, the Big Boss Man, at 1990’s WrestleMania VI. Akeem then shucked and jived his way out of the WWF, and returned to “Deepest, Darkest Africa” never to be heard from again.