Before Zeb Colter pined for a return to "real America," he was an excellent performer in the ring.
At WrestleMania 29, Colter will accompany Jack Swagger for his world title match against Alberto Del Rio. If Swagger has been watching video of Colter in his prime, he'll have a better chance of making that match a memorable one.
Colter (real name: Wayne Keown) wrestled for decades as "Dirty" Dutch Mantell. He may not look intimidating now, grayed and rotund, but he was once a powerful, gritty performer.
He feuded with Randy Savage in the late '70s—a rivalry that produced a number of hard-hitting, intense matches.
His most famous feud was against Memphis legend, Jerry Lawler. Mantell showcased just how rough and tumble he was in their clashes. Their famous barbed wire match for the AWA Southern Heavyweight title is no technical masterpiece, but a story well told.
Mantell and Lawler both did a fantastic job in making the danger of the barbed wire an elevated state of drama. Both men appeared fearful of the barbed wire, making it all the more menacing.
What jumps out right away about Mantell is how vicious his strikes were on Lawler.
He clocked Lawler, punching him in the throat and stomping him mercilessly. Even his headlocks have an added barbarity to them.
Mantell exuded hatred from bell to bell.
His match against Kevin Sullivan in 1981 for the Continental Wrestling Association for the TV title shows what he can do in a less intense environment.
Mantell infused aggression into his mat wrestling. With every wrench of Sullivan's arm, it appeared that Mantell was looking to tear the limb from the socket.
He had decent speed for a man with his build. His technical skills were solid as well, but it's the savageness of his game that was most startling. He pounds Sullivan with thundering forearms. He manages to make every hold look torturous.
Mantell's style was to ground his opponent down, where he replaced flash with grit. His toughness was obvious at first glance; his intimidating aura radiated off him. The man credited with giving Steve Austin his ring name seems to have passed along some of his attitude to Stone Cold as well.
No one will ever confuse Mantell with Ricky Steamboat in the ring, but his matches were always compelling.
He brought viciousness to the ring that was hard to look away from. Whether he was talking a bloody beating from Abdullah the Butcher or riling up the crowd in Puerto Rico, he'll forever be known for being able to tap into the audience's psyche.
Beyond anything he did between the ropes, though, Mantell's legacy will be about his ability to talk.
Mantell has been bringing an enthralling energy to the microphone for years, something he does for WWE now. Swagger can certainly learn a lot listening to Mantell as Colter, but looking back at Mantell's in-ring work would benefit him as well.
Lessons of tenacity and theatrical brutality await.
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