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Darrell Johnson

About Darrell Johnson

Darrell is a dude from Arizona who likes wrestling. Like any good, pretentious fan, he views pro wrestling as a testosterone-laden synthesis of high drama and ballet. He loves the athletic wrestlers, but prefers the ones with great comic timing. As such, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, and AJ Styles are his long-time favorites. In addition to writing for TheSteelCage, he is the sole contributor to the occasionally humorous blog at www.zazzumplop.com.

Author Archive | Darrell Johnson

The Origin of Kane, Part 2 of 2

Click here in case you missed Part 1 of 2.

Lawler and his dentist became fast friends. To Lawler, Yankem was valuable protection against The Hit Man; plus, when that temporary crown needed to become a permanent one, they could finish the procedure in whatever town the WWF brought them. It was a windfall for Yankem, too, finally having a regular patient and getting some side coin kicking around The Best There Is, Was, and Ever Will Be.

A King and His Dentist

A King and His Dentist

The relationship was going well until Lawler got a call from his insurance company.

I’m sorry, Mr. Lawler, but only EMERGENCY dentistry is covered by your plan, and a simple crown does not qualify.

Well, sir, an emergency would be something like an accident that broke your teeth and caused such bleeding as to endanger your life.

I understand that you’re paying for the maximum plan offered by your employer, but you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for this.

“I can’t believe it, Isaac. What am I gonna do? I can’t pay in full right now — I’m just a simple grappler and my mortgage has interest rates so high, I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up.” Dr. Yankem was crestfallen. He had worked so hard for his first loyal patient and would have nearly nothing to show for it. “Don’t worry about it, Jerry,” Isaac grumbled. And off he went.

Dr. Yankem was at a crossroads. He still owed multiple banks to get his practice off the ground. His absence from Memphis over the months of wrestling and impromptu dentistry all but assured that patients would be even scarcer if he returned. He enjoyed wrestling Bret Hart (because really, who wouldn’t?), but after the government took its percentage from every paycheck, the WWF wasn’t feasible as a part-time gig.

Dr. Yankem’s inner curiosity took over. Why is it that Jerry “The King” Lawler, of all people, was unable to acquire adequate medical insurance? How could a routine crown operation be prohibitively expensive? And why doesn’t the doctor see even a fraction of these high costs?

He started reading about the origins of insurance companies — how they sprouted mostly from attempts to stem The Great Depression. People didn’t have money, so they scrambled to find ways to pool what money was there, so as to ensure that the neediest got the care they deserved. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield emerged, surged, and eventually merged. Meanwhile, FDR’s New Deal made it more acceptable for the government to provide Welfare, Social Security, and public-project employment. As people’s dependence on insurance companies melded with their dependence on the government, medical insurance became necessary and sometimes required by law. Naturally, this caused insurance rates to rise steadily. Thus, Dr. Yankem reasoned, what might have shortened The Great Depression is what’s causing the mess we’re in now.

Who is to blame for this? Isaac fumed. There must be someone to incur my wrath.

He read further: in the panic of The Great Depression, the predominant economic theory was that government intervention would become necessary in times of crisis. The private sector, the theory stated, had inefficiencies that would not be able to adequately affect macroeconomic problems. The main proponent of this theory was a British economist named John Maynard Keynes.

John. Maynard. Keynes.

Dr. Yankem’s blood boiled as he stared at that name. You idiot economist, how could you be so short-sighted? You’re the reason I can’t make it as a dentist; you’re the reason my friend can’t pay his bills. His insides got hotter and hotter until something snapped in his brain — I must fight this. I must fight this on TV, in writing, and in the ring. No longer shall I be mild-mannered Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS.

A slow growth rate in aggregate consumer demand is no match for a well placed choke slam.

A slow growth rate in aggregate consumer demand is no match for a well placed choke slam.

Much like Bruce Wayne named himself Batman because of his fear and hatred of bats, Dr. Isaac Yankem gave himself a new moniker derived from that with which he vehemently disagrees: Kane.

And so Kane, as he is now known, seeks redemption for his failed practice and justice for the victims of collective economics. Instead of root canals, Kane finds an outlet for his frustration in chokeslams. He might still have an unhealthy relationship with fire, but it is he who is in control, not whatever forces immolated his family. Most of all, he will daily prove the power of the individual by Tombstoning any grappler, politician, or retired baseball player who gets in his way.

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The Origin of Kane, Part 1 of 2

Isaac Yankem wanted to give to others what he never had. One of two sons of a broken family in Tennessee, Isaac grew up without many of the comforts of modern life. The Yankems never went to Disneyland or ate at Ruth’s Chris. They didn’t even buy Kraft-brand mac-n-cheese. It should come as no surprise, then, that dentistry was not in either parent’s budget.

As the years passed, Isaac and his brother grew. Grew they did — by adulthood, both would eclipse seven feet tall. Such a pituitary gift makes for an imposing man. Adolescence, however, brought that lanky awkwardness that any tall teenager must suffer. At 15, Isaac was six-foot-four; his teeth were untended and yellowing, his hair bushy and oily. Because his family budgeted every penny even down to the water bill, he was allowed to bathe only twice per school week. Isaac was not the prom king.

A Portrait of The Monster as a Young Dentist

A Portrait of The Monster as a Young Dentist

A life of awkwardness brought unpleasant stares from pretty girls, jeers from halfwitted boys. Like many such teens, Isaac grew angry. He was angry that he was so different from all the other kids. He was angry at his off-brand, ill-fitting jeans and the musty, bargain-basement warehouse it came from. He was angry at his father, who seemed to take a shine to his brother (actually half-brother, he liked to remind himself). This anger manifested in the usual ways: fights in school, truancy, a taste for underground punk music. Then came May 19.

The authorities never determined what caused the fire. Isaac himself would be blamed on several occasions, but he denies it to this day. It didn’t help that in the aftermath, neighbors would see him playing with fire — patterns in lighter fluid on the driveway sparked by a leaf and a magnifying glass. Had he been able to afford a therapist, he would be told that this is a natural element of grief — the desire to understand what went so, so wrong. Whether or not he was to blame, all the world knew was that young Isaac would have to go on without his mother and stepfather. Only the father who never cared for him and the rival half-brother remained.

Weeks later, Isaac looked into his bathroom mirror, eyes still red with grief. He took stock of what he had lost and what he had left. Realizing that the scales tipped sharply toward the “lost”, he knew something had to change. He laughed at the absurdity of it all when he caught a glimpse of his stained, rotting teeth. This will be the way out, he thought. I shall fix in others what is broken in me.

Upon graduating high school, Isaac enrolled in dental school. He was a star student, though he frequently got low marks for not using enough novocaine. His classmates bristled whenever Isaac would laugh at a patient’s fear of the drill. Still, bedside manner was not emphasized in this particular dental academy, so Isaac soon earned the title, Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS.

Now, open wide, and say aah!

Now, open wide, and say aah!

He opened a practice in Memphis, hoping to give his home state the gift of oral hygiene. The plan was to practice dentistry for good; along the way, he would pay off his student loans and eventually be able to afford to fix his own teeth. Having such horrendous chompers was bad for business, so patients and referrals were few and far between.

Dr. Yankem’s story could have ended there — a failed dentist unable to get his feet underneath him, finally breathes a bag of laughing gas until he reunites with his mother. But a patient came who changed everything.

“Hi, I’m Jerry,” said the patient as he removed his crown. “Thanks for taking my appointment on such short notice. I do a lot of traveling and today’s the only day I could come in.”

“Happy to help,” said Dr. Yankem. “Now let’s take a look at that tooth.”

The check-up went well. Such a slow office was to the patient’s benefit, for he was able to get his procedure done right then and there. Before he left, the patient had a question. “Doctor, I’m not sure if you know me, but my name’s Jerry Lawler and I’m a professional wrestler.”

Dr. Yankem spluttered, “Of course I know who you are. This is Tennessee. You’re wearing a crown, and I don’t mean the temporary one I glued to your jaw.”

“OK, OK, good. Listen, I’ve been having some trouble with Bret Hart of late. You’re a big guy and, with respect, you like dealing out pain.”

Dr. Yankem could only chuckle at that. “What are you proposing, Mr. Lawler?” A star was to be born.

Part 2 of 2 can be found here.

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Don’t Be a Star, Be an Adult

For the last couple years, the WWE has run an anti-bullying campaign called “Be A Star”. As an avid rasslin’ fan, I see the ads all the time — various wrestlers stand in front of a white background to talk about how they were made fun of as children. The oddest confession is that from Sheamus, a seven-foot-tall, muscular Irishman with shocking red hair and skin the color of Elmer’s glue. He said that kids called him “fat”. You mean they didn’t go with “ginger” or “paleface” or “my god I can see your heart beating through your translucent chest”? Sheamus’s corner of Ireland had some unimaginative name-calling.

I digress. The Be A Star campaign has been going full-force for quite awhile. In addition to the ads, wrestlers make a lot of public appearances to decry the horrors of being called a mean name. They visit schools nationwide to say yes, I know I can dead-lift a yak, but back when I was a kid it wasn’t all roses. People made fun of me at school! Called me skinny! Called me fat! Never mind that on RAW not too long ago, Triple-H called CM Punk a “skinny fat-ass”. I was amazed that Punk didn’t cry and run away, or at least call Vince McMahon to upbraid Triple-H for engaging in such blatant bullying activity.

Why didn’t it happen this way? Not because it’s wrestling, but because these are grown men who understand that insults are about as harmful as you choose to make them. That’s the fundamental lesson I’ve learned from watching wrestling as a kid. When one wrestler insulted another in a promo for a big match, I never thought “Don’t say that, Stone Cold, you might hurt Undertaker’s feelings!” Instead, I thought, “Careful, Stone Cold, if you make him too mad, you’re gonna pay for it at Summerslam!”

Yes, children should be taught not to insult each other. But the WWE taught me through years of Monday Night RAW that no matter how hurtful a person’s words might be, it’s still up to me to decide how to react to it. Do I let the heel “win” by letting him get under my skin and thus put me off my game at Judgment Day? Or do I “rise above” it and use it to fuel my eventual victory? The WWE’s message for decades hasn’t been “don’t be a bully” — it’s been “don’t let bullies bother you”.

The WWE is embodying this message right now — last Monday, RAW General Manager John Laurinaitis decreed that anyone insulting him or making fun of his (raspy, Super-Dave-Osbournesque) voice would suffer “serious consequences”. Predictably, someone (The Big Show, this time around) was caught backstage making fun of Laurinaitis’s voice. Show was subsequently shamed into apologizing. Repeatedly. It was a pointless set of promos, but it makes my argument more salient because Big Show was the good guy in this situation. Laurinaitis was rightly painted as a thin-skinned asshole who uses his perceived power to build his own ego. In other words, he’s a bully — an actual bully — not some jerk who manages to succeed at making you feel bad.

-Darrell

Originally posted on May 11 at zazzumplop.com. You can follow Darrell on Twitter at @zazzumplop and sometimes (when he’s feeling extra witty) at @nostraslammus

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The Tussle for Tickets

Hello, fellow rasslin’ fans. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken to all of you; for that, I’m sorry. Since this is the week of Wrestlemania XXVI, I felt I had to break my silence and take part in the great wonderland of blogging about pro wrestling.

Specifically, what drew me out of the network of caves and tunnels I call home was a post I happened upon on Craigslist:

When I saw that listing, I decided that I couldn’t pass it up. Why? First of all, I stupidly neglected to get Wrestlemania tickets of my own. Yes, I know, I live in Phoenix and I have no excuse. Stop badgering me. Secondly, I consider myself a student of the sport of wrestling, so I think I’ll be ready for whatever combat style this weirdo might have. I’m smart, flexible, and I don’t cotton to nonsense. And finally, I have an extra ten grand kicking around from a recent inheritance, so if I somehow lose the match, it won’t be a huge loss. I can pay off student loans later; this is important.

So, mystery Craigslist poster, I’m calling you out. I’m throwing my hat, my jock, and my money into the ring. I just need to know a few things first. For instance, are you for real? I’d hate to do all my stretching, strap on a singlet, and oil myself up only to find out that this was an elaborate plan to have sex with me. This being Craigslist, you’re going to have to prove that sex-offending isn’t one of your motives.

Perhaps an even better question to you, sir, would be about the tickets themselves. How did you get them, and why are you so willing to part with them? Are informal wrestling matches so hard to arrange that you have to offer valuable prizes to find any takers? Did everyone back out of your wrestling club because you took it too seriously? I envision a long-time friend taking you aside and saying, “Look Lenny [I decided your name should be Lenny in this scenario], we’re grown men. I just had a hernia operation and can’t practice suplexes with you anymore. Personally, I got tired of it by high school. We’re worried about you, Lenny, and if you keep this up, you’ll have to find a new group of friends.”

At the moment, it appears that you’re either a sex offender, or you’ve recently lost all your friends. Are either of these good assumptions on my part? Regardless, I await your response, O masked clown. Feel free to comment on this post or email me directly. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

-Darrell

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Let the Speculation Commence!

Get used to seeing this logo over the next few months.Now that No Way Out has passed, it’s officially WrestleMania hype-up season. Allow me to kick off that season officially on The Steel Cage with (mostly) baseless speculation. Here’s how I see the card playing out at this juncture:

Let’s start with the WWE Championship and new (old) champ Triple-H. As much of a surprise Edge’s relinquishment was, I was a little disappointed that the belt didn’t go to the dead man. Regardless, who will challenge for the title? Consensus at our local watering hole was that now that Raw has a heel champ, Orton will jump over to SmackDown to challenge HHH. I’d say that makes the most sense, considering both plot and promotion.

That would leave Cena free to challenge to regain his title against Edge. Honestly, that’s okay by me. You know I’m not a Cena lover, but he needs to be in a major match at WrestleMania, and Edge can build a good rivalry with Cena over the coming weeks. It’s not my dream WrestleMania title feud between Cena and Jericho (which I think would awaken Cena’s dormant mic talent), but it would do.

Now, to the real speculation: what the hell does Mickey Rourke have to do with all of this? I’m not too enthused about the way this angle is going. I wasn’t too enthused about how it started, either. First off, Jericho should have a bigger match than the cutesy guest-celebrity match. Yeah, it’s nice that Jericho is getting the mainstream exposure that comes with it, but come on — the celebrity match is normally the least compelling, most predictable match of the night (guess what? The guest celebrity will win in an amazing comeback!).

Secondly, where exactly are they going with this? My buddy’s theory is that Rourke agreed to participate, then heard that his involvement might hurt his chances at winning the Oscar. Once the ceremony passes (on February 22, says the internet machine), Rourke will be back in and this silly Ric Flair un-retirement suggestion will fall by the wayside. I think the theory has merits.

Assuming the theory is correct, there’s still one huge question mark: how can you get fans behind a match between a major Superstar and one or two aging men with no business in the ring? Rourke was a boxer, sure, but he’s 57. Ric Flair is 60. At this stage, nothing is believable. The only thing that might work would be if Rourke decided to have an actual wrestler in his corner… like Umaga. And the loser would have to shave his head or something. That’s an exciting idea that’s never been done before, right?

Ugh.

And what kayfabe motivation does Jericho have to even participate in such a farce? A Hollywood actor mentioned your name on some crap syndicated entertainment show, and now you’re getting butt-hurt? You were WWE Champion mere weeks ago! The writers have given Jericho nothing to work with. He’s trying his best (that segment with Flair, creepy as it was, had its moments), but I am not excited.

Okay, rant over. Let’s move on to the rest of the card.

To a happier point, the Money in the Bank match will make its return, and I can’t wait. Result aside, it was the second-best match of last year’s show, so I have high hopes. What mid-level Superstar will get a surprise victory? There are lots of possibilities, but I have a couple initial thoughts. The obvious “surprise” winner, in my mind, is Kofi Kingston. He’s catching on moderately as a face, he’s a high-flyer who can make a ladder match entertaining, and Vince has been promoting him more than I like. He reminds me of a less infuriating CM Punk, so he’ll be my cynical prediction as MotB winner. My hopeful prediction is that Christian gets a slot and wipes the floor with everyone. That would please me.

What about the ladies? Personally, I want a Melina-Phoenix rematch. Beth Phoenix is by far their most believable and entertaining wrestler, and her manager(s) are outstanding. Santino on a big stage and Rosa Mendez dressed to the nines? Yes please.

Now, the real question: who’s posing for Playboy? They’ve had a Diva on the cover every year since 2003; they have to continue the tradition. According to various sources I read in the last five minutes, Kelly Kelly turned down the opportunity, which is a borderline tragedy. I read speculation that Michelle McCool will be in, or possibly Layla. I’d be 100% okay with any or all of them, but my long-shot hope is Alicia Fox. Or another Maria spread. Just throwing that out there.

(And now begins the countdown to the inevitable “Please let it be Mickie James!” comment…)

Umm… what else was there to talk about? Oh yeah, other belts. Uh… I bet Tommy Dreamer challenges and beats Swagger for the ECW belt. That would be a nice arc for Dreamer’s supposed swan song. He has another title run in him, I think.

Any other matches you want to see? I’m still holding out hope that Flair and Rourke will fall through and that Jericho will weasel his way into one of the championship matches. I’m an optimist.

-Darrell

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