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Morgan won't suc-suc-ceed with gimmick

| Sunday, May 8, 2005

Stepping from relative obscurity and onto a national platform would be difficult for any WWE rookie.

For Matt Morgan, the transition will be even harder.

Morgan, who initially gained notoriety on Season 3 of "Tough Enough," recently joined the "Smackdown" roster, wrestling under his real name. Devoid of a traditional, one-dimensional costume, WWE made up for that by saddling Morgan with an equally inane character attribute.

He studders.

Morgan is an imposing figure -- he stands nearly 7-feet tall and weighs more than 300 pounds -- and he is an equally impressive athlete. He doesn't need a silly gimmick to "get over." What makes WWE's decision even more improbable is that Morgan actually speaks well. He isn't a stereotypical wrestling giant, who mutters when he speaks or struggles to string words together -- he just plays one on TV.

The opposite of Morgan is former 3-time NWA champion Dusty Rhodes, who struggled for years with a real-life lisp, but he transformed his deficiency into a memorable part of the "American Dream" persona, one that Rhodes truly embraced.

"Dusty was so damn good," said Terry Funk, a friend and former opponent of Rhodes throughout the 1980s. "He extended his wrestling personality to include that lisp. That kind of stuff is wonderful."

Conversely, Morgan's "studder" is a phony personality quirk devised by a tapped-out WWE creative team.

Sadly, the career plight Morgan is about to endure is typical WWE protocol. Vince McMahon's obsession with being more entertainment and less sports often clouds his judgment as a simple wrestling promoter who helped define basic, yet relevant, characters such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. "Stone Cold" and The Rock were nothing more than personality extensions of Steve Williams and Dwayne Johnson, respectively. Both used professional frustration as motivation to prosper.

Neither Williams nor Johnson were handed specific lines or "scripts" to follow when delivering an interview. And, unlike Morgan, they certainly weren't forced to portray characters that weren't consistent with their own personalities.

"There are not a whole lot of great actors out there anyway, and that's what wrestlers are doing when they follow scripts -- they're acting," said Funk. "Wrestlers are lousy actors, and actors are lousy wrestlers."

"They (WWE) come up with these off the wall characters, when just letting us (the wrestlers) be who we are works."

Funk rattled off a list of A-list superstars, most of whom are legends, and none deviated too far from their own persona.

"I am who I am," Funk said. "Ric Flair is Ric Flair; Mick Foley is Mick Foley. And take a look at Dusty (Rhodes), he is the 'American Dream' "

For a more recent example, look no further than Kurt Angle.

The Pittsburgh native is an Olympic champion, and he parlayed that accomplishment into a prosperous WWE career. He did that by channeling his competitive nature into a smarmy character that overtly boasted about the shiny, gold medal around his neck.

McMahon gave Angle a forum and an overall outline to follow in regard to that persona. After that, Angle made the character his and instantly connected with fans.

No scripts.

No forced dialogue.

No studdering.

Just Angle, the Olympian, playing Angle, the cocky Olympian, who is entertaining and coherent on the mic and thus one of WWE's top draws -- just by being an over-the-top version of himself.

"As a wrestler, every word has an opportunity to turn that turnstyle and sell another ticket," Funk said.

But fans aren't going to buy a ticket if they can't even understand what the wrestler is saying.

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