- Michael Rickard II
The Ultimate Surprise
Originally presented at Canadian Bulldog's World.
Arrogance is the art to take pride in one’s own stupidity.
You’ve probably heard the saying “don’t let your mouth write checks that you can’t cash”. Nobody likes a loudmouth. For decades, wrestling promoters have used peoples’ disdain for big mouths to help sell tickets. Savvy promoters know that giving a wrestler with the gift of gab a microphone can lead to fans screaming for their favorite wrestler to silence the loudmouth. The man who is successful becomes a hero to the fans.
That’s what happened one night at Summer Slam when the Ultimate Warrior became the man who finally shut the mouth of the Honky Tonk Man, one of wrestling’s biggest loudmouths. Interesting enough, the Honky Tonk Man originally entered the Federation as a fan favorite but his obnoxious personality soon earned the fans’ hatred. He failed to win the fans over when he tried to showcase his alleged singing and dancing talents.
Born Wayne Ferris, the man who would become known as The Honky Tonk Man honed his skills working in the same Memphis territory as his cousin Jerry “the King” Lawler. In Memphis he worked as Wayne Latham, gaining notoriety for his involvement in the famous "Tupelo Concession Stand" Match. However, it was when Ferris moved to Stu Hart’s Calgary Stampede promotion that he developed the character that would gain him success in the WWF. It was in Calgary that Ferris spun himself into what’s best been described as a sleazy Elvis impersonator.
Thus, when Ferris was invited to join the WWF, he had a ready-made character for Vince McMahon to promote. After a brief run as a babyface, the Honky Tonk Man was turned heel and paired with the infamous manager (as well as a fellow veteran of the Memphis promotion the Honky Tonk Man had worked in) Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart. This association with Hart only compounded the fans hatred for the Honky Tonk Man. To make matters worse, the Honky Tonk Man won the Intercontinental Championship from popular wrestler Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat in a match that most fans considered a fluke victory.
This accidental champion was one who fans expected quickly drop the title. The problem was that nobody could beat him. As flukey as his win was, the Honky Tonk Man managed to hold onto the belt night after night. And it was against top opponents too. Time after time, the Honky Tonk Man employed a range of cheating and dumb luck to hold onto that belt. This infuriated the fans who couldn’t believe that the Honky Tonk Man could hold onto such a prestigious title for so long. To make such matters worse, the Honky Tonk Man’s reign eventually made its way into the record books as he passed the previous champs record for holding the title. This led to the Honky Tonk Man proclaiming himself as “the Greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time”, a boast supported by the quantity (if not quality) of his reign.
After fifteen months, it seemed that the Honky Tonk Man was never going to lose the title. This seemed to be the case with the fans as well as the champion himself. As far as he was concerned, he was bulletproof. That seems to be the only explanation for what happened that fateful night at Summerslam. Wrestling is built on the idea that on any given night, any wrestler can beat any other wrestler. This is why the open challenge has always been seen as a bad idea.
However, to someone as cocky as the Honky Tonk Man, this seemed like a good idea. Call it hubris or the classic case of pride going before a fall, but the Honky Tonk Man was about to learn that he wasn’t bulletproof. The Honky Tonk Man was originally scheduled to face Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake at Summer Slam. Dumb luck intervened again for the Honky Tonk Man and Beefcake was unable to make the match. That meant the Honky Tonk Man had the night off. However, the Honky Tonk Man wasn’t about to leave without gracing the fans with an appearance (despite the fans boos, the Honky Tonk Man had deluded himself into thinking he was adored). Soon, he was on the microphone, issuing an open challenge for anyone in the back to come out and meet him. Immediately, the announcers pointed out the folly of such a challenge. Then, a familiar strain of music played, and the fans were on their feet. The Ultimate Warrior was on his way.
The Ultimate Warrior had exploded onto the WWF scene like none other before him, squashing opponents night after night. His distinctive heavy metal theme music would play, he would run to the ring, shake the ring ropes, and in a matter of seconds, the referee would be raising his hand in victory. The Warrior seemed unstoppable. Still, the Warrior was about to face the man who grappled with the likes of Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, and Jake Roberts and held onto the title. The Honky Tonk Man had taken dumb luck and mixed it with cheating to form a recipe for success. Was the Ultimate Warrior about to join the ranks of previous challengers who had reached for the brass ring and come up short?
The answer was a resounding no. The Honky Tonk Man was about to find out that his luck had run out. The Warrior burst into the ring like a runaway train. Seconds later, his arm was raised in victory, and he was the proud wearer of the Intercontinental Championship Belt. This squash match saw the Honky Tonk Man’s reign finally brought to an end.
The Warrior would use the Intercontinental Championship to springboard himself to the WWF Championship. For the Honky Tonk Man, his championship days were over but his legacy as the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion remains to this day.