Three WWE Superstars have parted way with the WWE Universe in the first talent slash of 2010. With the ECW brand disbanding, and more talent migrating to the WWE’s other programs, it should come as no surprise that the list of unemployed around professional wrestling is growing.
And while many expect more of the same in the next two months (post WrestleMania and Draft Hangovers), I have been busy at work trying to make sense of the first three to hit the cutting room floor.
Gregory Helms, Maria Kanellis, and Paul Burchill were all handed their respective pink slips from World Wrestling Entertainment Friday. In the last four hours, my inbox, via phone and e-mail, has begun to fill with questions from fans wondering why each was individually taken out of the picture.
To quote the old cliché, “two out of three ain’t bad,” but for Paul Burchill, the WWE has finally taken out a quality piece that was never given his appropriate spotlight.
Burchill’s WWE career started with the same kind of independent promotion that we hear about a lot of development talent from nowadays. He made his first appearances wrestling on Velocity, when the Brand Extension actually meant something.
Saddled next to veteran William Regal, Burchill was billed as a snobbish heel with excellent technical skills and a pretty cool (albeit impossible) finishing maneuver. Many within the industry proclaimed Burchill’s immediate greatness, and felt he could do no wrong as long as he stuck with the company.
WWE seemingly had other plans, as this inaugural alliance with Regal would turn out to be his strongest gimmick.
Paul and William Regal were quickly split up in favor of a new gimmick for the up and comer. Burchill was repackaged as a long lost relative of the great pirate Blackbeard, and while WWE has a penchant for insulting our intelligence, this wouldn’t be the first time we would see a swashbuckling grappler.
Many fans are old enough to remember Quebecer Pierre’s bizarre turnaround as Jean-Pierre Laffite, the devilish mercenary whose biggest accomplishment was tampering with Bret Hart’s jacket.
However, Burchill wasn’t going to be booked as the same vicious swordsman Laffite had been a decade earlier. Rather, Burchill was going to play the all-too-obvious Jack Sparrow pirate from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, and seeing as the movies were massive at the box office, WWE was smart to jump aboard.
Burchill quickly rose to middle-of-the-card status, feuding with his former mentor William Regal in a series of matches that saw Paul get the upper hand, and even make Regal become his cross-dressing wench (because WWE believes that men wearing women’s clothes is always funny).
Most wrestlers would be disenchanted with such a blatant comedy shtick this early in their careers. If anything, it should serve as a mark on the wrestler that could kill any legitimate push he would ever receive, but Paul Burchill was quite different. Paul embraced and embellished the character with outlandish expressions and promos that made him hard to dislike.
Was it stupid? Incredibly, but so was having Pirate Paul swing into the entrance ramp on a rope. Burchill was, in essence, so wacky and over the top that it was impossible not to like the character, not to mention he was a decent enough wrestler when he got in the ring.
And then, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, Pirate Paul hit the bricks…hard. Vince McMahon still has his grasp firmly tightened around the WWE creative team when Pirate Paul developed into a strong baby face, and that was a major issue for the future of Paul Burchill.
Reportedly, Vince had never seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and was unaware of the Jack Sparrow character. Vince, being the egotistical dictator that is clearly indecipherable from his Mr. McMahon character, waited for the right opportunity to strike, and unfortunately that presented itself on an ill-fated evening in St. Louis, Missouri.
SmackDown Fans were unanimous in their dislike for Burchill, and while it was only one town throughout an entire continent, it was enough for McMahon to give Pirate Paul the axe. Mark Henry squashed any shred of push Burchill had left and sent the fledgling star packing back to the Ohio Valley.
Even more unfavorable, McMahon’s decision to end the gimmick came just before the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest , which would go on to be the highest grossing film of 2006, and one of the highest grossing films of all time. Burchill wouldn’t see any of it, as he spent more than a year absent from the main show spotlight.
In 2008, Paul got the call to come back to the main roster, this time as part of a tandem with his kayfabe sister Katie Lea. As if things couldn’t get worse from playing a pirate on a rope, Burchill was booked into one of the most predictable and boring angles in WWE history: incest.
For weeks, fans were led to believe that the former fun-loving fan favorite had soured on everything but his sister, who would do simply anything for him. Does it surprise anyone that this gimmick failed to get Paul over on the flagship program?
Still, despite all the poor booking and poorer gimmicks, Paul persevered. He was in line to win the WWE’s secondary title, the Intercontinental Championship, from Kofi Kingston by the Summer of 2008.
WWE had all but abandoned the idea of Paul and Katie Lea being torrid lovers, instead favoring the old “evil foreigner” gimmick, as they both spoke with British accents (because much like cross-dressing, WWE loves evil foreigners, too).
And then, something weird happened…again. Maybe it was just bad luck or bad timing, but Burchill found himself once again on the outside looking in (now more commonly referred to as the Dolph Ziggler Disease), as he was passed for an Intercontinental title reign in favor of Santino Marella.
Imagine you were scoffed at because the creative team preferred to give their No. 2 title to the only other successful mid-card comedy act of the past five years. Wrap your head around that. Burchill quickly fled to ECW, which, by this time, had become the rest home for the has-beens and the never-was.
With so much raw talent and ability, Burchill was stuck in a series of brutal matches with DJ Gabriel that produced little traction for either man’s career. He went on a nightmare losing streak (another staple of WWE creative loves, despite never effectively getting a wrestler over) before engulfing himself in what was easily the biggest feud of his career.
Burchill was going to prove that backstage reporter Gregory Helms and the Hurricane were, in fact, the same guy.
This being WWE in the PG Era, a storyline like this was golden, and tailor made for both men, considering they could each play in the crazed, over-the-top theatrics. Burchill competed in a series of matches with the Hurricane and other associates to try and establish Helms’ identity. He lost. Repeatedly.
Few rivalries get over when they are one-sided, and as Burchill continued to be embarrassed each and every week, pure wrestling fans sympathized.
All of his hard work in defeat led up to a mask vs. career match against the Hurricane in December, and, predictably, Burchill lost again. Having been kicked off of every brand WWE had to offer (and with NXT being an impossible afterthought), creative concocted one last shot at redemption for the once highly-touted prospect.
Burchill would return to ECW under a terrifying mask as The Ripper, a nickname he had developed in the minor leagues. He would come after the Hurricane as some sort of super villain, all the while searching for revenge against his former nemesis.
Okay, yes, this hit new levels of ridiculous. A superhero gimmick was silly enough, but a rivalry with a super villain? Somebody must have hit the ludicrous speed button on the mother ship. While this was hardly the worst gimmick Paul had dealt with in four years (hard to top incest, you know), he again made it work in a manner only he could.
His scant few promos were hilariously awful that you believed they were intentionally so, and a feud with the Hurricane might help to liven up an otherwise bland Tuesday night program.
So what happened? In one match, Burchill was stripped of his mask and his dignity once again as he lost to The Hurricane. He was subsequently fired from ECW for the second time, and didn’t resurface on WWE television prior to his February release.
Let’s review: Burchill, an immensely talented WWE prospect, goes from henchman status to goofy pirate to incestuous lover to evil foreigner to bumbling super villain, and finally to unemployment.
It's hard to believe that WWE could throw someone under the bus with such force, but what may be even harder to believe is that Paul Burchill did it all without ever once complaining about his situation. What a team player.