Zeb Coulter, played by "Dirty" Dutch Mantel, re-debuted Monday night after a nearly 20-year absence from Vince McMahon's traveling circus. He was the crazy-eyed Vietnam veteran that accompanied Jack Swagger and then cut a racism-fueled, white paranoia laced promo after his new client made Zack Ryder tap with the newly (and appropriately) dubbed Patriot Act ankle lock.
Dutch Mantel has been in the industry for decades, though not frequently on the national stage in front of the camera. Much of his work since his last run with then-WWF has been behind the scenes as a booker and road agent for TNA and promoting matches throughout the south and in Puerto Rico.
It didn’t make any sense for Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler to seemingly expect all of us to remember him. I have been watching WWF/E for more than 20 years and didn’t realize who it was until I found it mentioned on Twitter. He used this same character under a slightly different name, Uncle Zebekiah, while managing the short-lived powerhouse tag team The Blu Brothers and some big strapping young Texan named Justin “The Hawk” Bradshaw.
If WWE is dedicated to this character, it could be transformative to Jack Swagger’s career and the company’s landscape as a whole. The company has historically latched onto newsworthy items, particularly fiery and controversial political ones. The rise of the Nation of Domination was a throwback to the Black Panthers. Hulk Hogan’s first WWF Title victory was over The Iron Sheik, who rose to prominence in part due to the conflicts with Iran and throughout the Middle East.
We have not seen WWE take on such a potential tinderbox of subject matter since Muhammad Hassan was an American-born Arab sick of being profiled as a terrorist following the attacks of Sept. 11. The storyline took off and drew huge crowd reactions. Then after masked men attacked the Undertaker, network execs ordered the storyline to be pulled, and Hassan was released to avoid further complications with the business community.
The introduction of Zeb Coulter could have the same issue. He is a paranoid 60-year-old male who “doesn’t recognize” America because it’s not as he idyllically views the nation through an unrealistic and historically inaccurate revisionist lens. He is a Vietnam vet (Mantel did actually fight in the Vietnam War) who sports impressive facial hair.
In WWE’s PG environment, I’m surprised to see this character featured, considering it will raise some flags among many audiences. While the Muhammad Hassan character pointed the finger toward racists and called them the problem in order to draw heel heat, Coulter and now Jack Swagger are the racists themselves.
While the rise of the Internet Wrestling Community and the infusion of young fans, including many African Americans in urban areas and Hispanic fans throughout the southwest and California, has created a more diverse WWE Universe, there is still a large rural, "white and proud" contingent in the viewing (and paying) audience. It will be interesting to see how this audience and network execs receive this character.
If the character sticks, it could be a huge step forward for Jack Swagger. A natural progression for the All-American American to a proud American Patriot that is disgusted by his nation is a much-needed development. When Swagger returned, he wasn’t any different than when he left. He was an angry, butt-kicking machine instead of a jobber to the stars, but it didn’t change the fact he was a guy in a singlet that had trouble delivering a convincing promo. His character didn’t have definition. It didn’t have motivation. There wasn’t anything there to separate him from the cast of fellow midcard heels.
While it hasn’t reached that level yet, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that this is going to lead to a collision course with proud Mexican hero Alberto Del Rio. Before reaching that point, Swagger needs some time to sink into the character. There is one man that can get Swagger over with this new direction and that is Uncle Zeb’s former client John Bradshaw Layfield.
JBL is with the traveling active roster announcing SmackDown shows. He’s a respected star and a brilliant wrestling mind. He understands characters and nuance. While JBL did play a racist, border control storyline in the early days of his character transformation in a feud against Eddie Guerrero, he could play a reformed, enlightened American.
As a counterpoint to drive home Zeb and Swagger’s fringe extremism, JBL can try to calmly explain to them the greatness of the American dream, the ideal of the nation and how they are missing the point. A subsequent attack, beatdown and declaration that JBL isn’t a true American patriot would receive huge heel heat. While JBL is slowed with age, he could still deliver a solid 8-10 minute PPV quality brawl with Swagger and tap out to the Patriot Act.
With Alberto Del Rio coming to JBL’s aid, we could launch into a pretty entertaining feud between the All-American Patriot Jack Swagger and the Mexican Hero ADR. Even temporarily putting Swagger over ADR, breaking his ankle and running with the World Title for a short time before ADR returns as a conquering hero could establish him as a greater draw.
The reaction backstage and follow-up to Zeb’s promo will be interesting to follow. It’s a curious time to debut this new character for Swagger as he has no clear feud heading to WrestleMania, unless they plan on rushing into a World Title feud with Del Rio this quickly. Perhaps an attack on Rey Mysterio and match against the reigning Mexican babyface of choice would get the job done.
Regardless, Jack Swagger segments are worth sticking around for the first time since his debut on ECW years ago.