This past weekend we learned of the passing of the Big Titan, Rick Bognar, via his brother.
No additional information has been provided on the sudden death of the forty-nine year-old. If you’re a wrestling fan that never watched WAR or FMW wrestling back in the nineties, you’ll most likely remember Bognar, if you remember him at all, as the fake Razor Ramon brought in alongside the fake Diesel (a pre-Kane, post-Isaac Yankem Glen Jacobs) by a disgruntled Jim Ross.
Of course, you may have purposely blocked anything outside the rise of Steve Austin in the WWF in 1996 from your mind – especially this angle, and who could blame you.
In 1996, the Monday Night Wars were in full swing, and Hall and Nash had defected from the WWF for more guaranteed money and less working days in the WCW. Scott Hall’s departure from the WWF wasn’t shocking. His push was seemingly over, and he was destined to stay atop the midcard, below the world title hunt. Rumor has it that Vince was already concerned with Hall’s alleged drinking and substance abuse. Nash’s departure was a little more surprising, but he too found no reason to stay, his title contention push after a financially disastrous run as a babyface champ in 1995.
Their appearance in WCW on the other hand, shocked the business, and revolutionized 90s wrestling by forming the nWo and incorporating corrupt heel bosses and violent gang bat attacks and black shirts and jeans and on and on. It also began an almost two year domination by WCW in the ratings war on Monday night.
The WWF on the other hand was struggling. Bret Hart was never everyone’s favorite, Shawn Michaels seemed to have trouble staying on top, the Undertaker was perhaps never fully utilized, Steve Austin’s rise to the top was a year away and the triumvirate of the Rock, Triple H and Mankind’s awesome runs two years away. The WWF found itself in reaction mode.
Some reactions worked okay. Though I was never the biggest fan, Degeneration X, a bit of an nWo ripoff, was big. Vince eventually going full heel, à la Bischoff in WCW, became one of the greatest and most enduring angles in WWF/E history.
Some of the reactionary measures, on the other hand, stank. Fake Razor and Fake Diesel was one of those. It was bad, Gobbledy Gooker bad. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always potential in a heel turn from Good Ol’ JR. And crabby JR on the match call is fantastic. On the other hand, when heel JR was the stick doing a stand up promo during this time, his quick wit often abandoned him. And all reason abandoned the WWF creative team when they brainstormed that heel JR was the perfect vehicle to introduce the “returning” Razor and Diesel.
It sounds as if it could be an intriguing angle: have JR heel out on the WWF abusing him and firing him multiple times and not standing by him during his Bell’s Palsy and not letting him attend his beloved mother’s funeral, then have him tease “sources” saying Razor and Diesel were coming back. I mean, a fan, like me, flipping back and forth in ’96 was used to quick jumps between the WWF and WCW. Problem is, there’s no reasonable conclusion to it. The WWF didn’t have Hall and Nash under contract so they can’t actually shock the wrestling world. The plan they did have in mind was based on a backstage impression.
Bognar had briefly wrestled in Paul Heyman’s ECW. Apparently, he did a funny Razor Ramon impersonation in the locker room. And that, only that, birthed an entire angle when WWF creative got word of it.
Neither Jacobs nor Bognar pulled it off very well. A locker room impersonation is one thing. Actually donning the Razor gimmick tights and boots and doing an appropriation is an abomination. And it came off that way.
By all accounts, Bognar was well liked in the business. His actual wrestling game was just a little too clumsy for the big time, and his time in the WWF ring was spent by doing the Razor thing too much. Jacobs too was well liked, and obviously McMahon eventually saw enough to look past two bad gimmicks and gift him the Kane character. The Kane introduction, unlike this rushed reaction of fake gimmicks, was a near six month television build. Arguably though, the consequences of fake Razor and fake Diesel reach beyond the twenty-plus year run of Jacobs as Kane.
Here’s the deal: Vince reacted legally as much as he did with the television product at the time. He sued WCW for using Hall and Nash in trademark infringing ways. McMahon maintained that Hall, by slicking his hair and chewing on a toothpick and using and somewhat Cuban accent, was playing the WWF character of Razor Ramon on WCW television. Likewise, by using his jackknife power bomb and wearing leather pants in the ring, Nash was still playing Diesel. The “fake” angle on WWF television had real consequences for that lawsuit.
When the WCW inevitably reacted to the fake Razor and Diesel by alluding to their having the “real” wrestlers on their television, McMahon had them trapped. Here he suggested, WCW was acknowledging using the WWF wrestling past of Hall and Nash to promote their own storyline and TV product. Therefore, McMahon was justified in saying that the WCW infringed on WWF product. And the courts agreed. Despite the WCW trying to clarify on television broadcasts that Hall and Nash were not under WWF contracts, WCW, and especially Bischoff’s, continued insistence that Hall and Nash were outsiders from “that other promotion” to further the intriguing storyline sunk them in the courts.
One stipulation of the lawsuit loss in 1996 was that should the WCW ever be available for purchase, Vince McMahon be given priority in bidding. In 2001, lo and behold, that paid off. McMahon controls WCW character, storyline, and library in perpetuity.
Heel JR, on the other hand, was dropped almost immediately. I think if you listen the effects are lasting. JR found some humor in his sassy heel voice that carried into the Attitude Era, despite his generally playing face, to the benefit of us all. Otherwise, the WWF fans weren’t having the awkward heel JR as a promoter of individual wrestlers, especially fake ones. No one wants to boo JR, and he didn’t pull it off well. WWF creative did well to abandon it quickly. Fake Razor and Fake Diesel were written off pretty quick too, hanging around to make up Survivor Series and Royal Rumble numbers, but otherwise disappearing all together in early 1997.
While Jacobs survived and thrived in the WWF/E for years to come, Bognar was soon unceremoniously released. He was able to sustain in promotions in Japan and Puerto Rico and Mexico and his native Canada sporadically through 2012, sometimes wrestling in those promotions as Razor Ramon. I don’t think the WWE has tried to sue over that one.
The passing of Bognar is sad to hear of, and I’ll pour a fake beer out for the passing of Fake Razor Ramon, and a crazy time in wrestling when even weak storylines had lasting impact.
You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.