Where have you gone, Zeb Colter?
Gone is the jaded Vietnam veteran character who lampooned Tea Party conservatives while promising to help the son of an old Army buddy make his way to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In his place now is a rambling racist and “America Firster” who spends as much time spewing hate onto the crowd as he does directing his clients in the ring.
I especially do not like this direction the Colter character has taken. He reminds me now of a long-lost relative of the guys from Duck Dynasty, but with a better-groomed beard.
When Wayne Keown returned to wrestling big time earlier this year as Zeb Colter, I was a big fan of the character—not the politics, but the character. I thought it was one of the freshest, most original and topical characters to come along in WWE in many years.
The fact that one of the industry’s best creative minds was behind the character just made expectations that much greater. The man who entertained millions of fans for years as “Dirty” Dutch Mantel now was going to entertain this generation of wrestling fans.
Colter was going to join Paul Heyman in ushering in a new era of colorful wrestling managers. Better yet, WWE was getting some major media run from news outlets like CNN and Fox News for spoofing Tea Party activists and anti-immigration sentiment.
So what happened?
First, the “son of an old Army buddy”—Jack Swagger—torpedoed any push with his March arrest on DUI and drug charges. It took the luster off his Elimination Chamber victory and his WrestleMania 29 match with Alberto Del Rio. This was supposed to be the culmination of Colter’s rant about Mexicans “sneaking across the border” and living illegally in the United Stares.
Second, Colter started directing his vitriol toward others, and it became much more edgy and cringe-worthy. He was not focusing on his client’s opponent as much as he was going after the crowd, the arena location and so forth. It was like the wrestling was secondary to the way in which Zeb Colter could rile up the crowd.
I know that is part of what a manager is supposed to do, but Colter is doing it in ways that do not make you mad as much as they make you squirm. He suddenly has become the crazy uncle that you feel obligated to invite to family reunions but you are scared to death of what he going to say once he gets there.
So is the Zeb Colter character permanently damaged? Not necessarily. With the right tweaking, Colter can become fun to watch again.
First, Colter needs to cut down on the rants and allow his heel clients to generate more of their own heat. His best client, Antonio Cesaro, has mastered that ability during his time in WWE. Unfortunately, his original client, Swagger, has not. Swagger could stand having someone like Keown in his corner as a mentor.
He also needs to bring back the old sneaky moves that managers like Bobby Heenan and Captain Lou Albano were so good at doing.
Distract the referee so your clients can get in those extra shots. Or if the client distracts the referee, get in some of those sneak shots yourself, then turn to the crowd and shout, “We The People!” with your hand over your heart. If need be, get the opponent to give you a serious bump or two so that your client can avenge those bumps and turn up the crowd heat.
Horn in on the opponent’s backstage interview and get them riled to the point that the upcoming match will definitely be over with the crowd.
Keown is old-school enough that he knows all those tricks forward, backward and inside out. He also knows that he never will match fellow heel manager Heyman in oratorical skills, so he needs to pull out those old tricks. He needs to take more ownership in his character’s direction.
Wayne Keown is one of wrestling’s great old soldiers. But unless he and WWE Creative can find a way to breathe some fresh life into Zeb Colter, he will wind up like other old soldiers and—in the words of General Douglas MacArthur—just fade away.
Follow Bill Atkinson on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963.