Although WWE's humour is often broad enough that it strikes its audience across the face, every now and then they present something with a little more subtlety, usually with humour that's so far inside that you'd need to be deeply invested in the product to get it.
Oftentimes, such subtle humour comes in the form of name-based ribs. Through the years, there have been wrestlers who've appeared on television (not just for WWE) whose ring names were meant as a gentle (or not-so-gentle) poke into somebody's belly. And I'm not talking Oklahoma or Gillberg or anyone else that was an outright parody of a noted figure - the names I'm about to go over were designed to make a few people backstage have a laugh while going over the heads of the general audience.
10. Davey Meltzer
Today, the Dave Meltzer we all know and misquote is the foremost journalist on the subject of professional wrestling, a field he's covered for more than three-and-a-half decades. But this entry isn't about *that* Dave Meltzer - it's about *Davey* Meltzer, a mulleted, ample-gutted jobber whose claim to fame was getting mauled by "Dr Death" Steve Williams in a squash match in Herb Abrams' UWF back in 1990.
Thanks to the proliferation of the internet, journalist Meltzer is more well-known today, but in 1990, fans of the time were less likely to make the name connection, though Abrams sure knew who Meltzer was. That's why he had Williams beat "Davey" into the standard jobber coma, prior to shoving sheets of paper (a "dirtsheet", if you will) into poor Davey's mouth, post-match. Because, you see, Herb Abrams didn't much care for Dave Meltzer and his reporting of facts.
9. Simon Dean
In ECW, the real-life Mike Bucci played Nova, the gifted high-flyer whose superhero bodysuits and diverse moveset allowed him to stand out among the band of crazies. In WWE, Bucci became Simon Dean, the sugary, douchey fitness guru who hawked supplements and workout equipment in faux infomercials, while taunting the fans for their perceived inferior conditioning.
It turns out that the Simon Dean name was lifted from another ECW alumnus. The inspiration came from by-then backstage producer Dean Malenko, whose real name is Dean Simon. While the workout buff gimmick seems to be pretty far removed from the no-frills iciness that Malenko projected in his days as a highly-fluid technician, it's unclear of the rib extends anywhere beyond just the inversion of the name itself.
8. Freddie Joe Floyd
The colourful, scrappy Tracy Smothers has long been one of the most underrated professional wrestlers, on account of his consummate wrestling skill, his vivid and expressive selling, and his utter lack of inhibition. Smothers has a special place in the hearts of many who've ever seen him work (especially in his "Italian" phase in ECW), though he's less remembered for his turn as Freddie Joe Floyd, a rather-generic good ol' boy that never made it past the lower-midcard.
The Floyd gimmick was another rib on those in WWE's inner circle, namely Jack and Gerald Brisco. Jack's real first name was Freddie Joe, while Gerald's middle name is Floyd. The Freddie Joe Floyd character was billed as being from Bowlegs, Oklahoma, which is where the Briscos were said to hail from. Surely, the Floyd gimmick amused *somebody*, perhaps a certain ex-WWE office guy who now has a popular podcast.
7. CJ Lunde
Journey back to the 10 January 2017 episode of SmackDown Live, and you'll find yourself observing a rather interesting jobber squash. In it, Carmella scores the victory over veteran independent wrestler ThunderKitty, which was more notable for the clunky nature of the match, and for commentators Byron Saxton and JBL making jokes about ThunderKitty's unconventional throwback appearance. JBL couldn't have made it clearer that ThunderKitty didn't belong in a WWE ring, doing nothing except riff on her throughout the bout's duration.
For the match, ThunderKitty performed under the name CJ Lunde, with "Lunde" being a reference to legendary wrestler-turned-producer Arn Anderson's real name of Martin Lunde. One wonders that if JBL wasn't so fixated on ThunderKitty's unusual look that he'd have spent the match making a few loving wisecracks at the expense of "The Enforcer".
6. Tripp Bradshaw
One week after raking ThunderKitty under the coals, JBL himself became the butt of the joke. After a special "King's Court" segment in which Dolph Ziggler struck Jerry Lawler in the chest (as an allusion to what caused Lawler's 2012 heart attack), Lawler began to dramatically sell as though his heart was ailing once more. This brought JBL to the rescue from the commentary desk...except the cameras caught JBL comically tripping and falling at ringside during what was supposed to be a tense moment.
Leave it to WWE to not let the gag die there, as the following week on 205 Live, The Brian Kendrick was matched up with Tripp Bradshaw, played by Michigan-based indy wrestler Palmer Cruise. Truly, WCW missed the boat 25 years ago by not having a jobber work under the name of Tripp Ottman.
5. Willie "Scoop" Watts
Even ECW wasn't above taking a dig at an enemy through the use of broad satire, laid-on thick. Paul Heyman had been fired from WCW by Bill Watts (pictured above) in late-1992 following a number of altercations that ultimately led to a Heyman lawsuit against WCW for ethnic discrimination (Heyman alleged that Watts had directed numerous anti-Semitic remarks towards him prior to his termination). Ultimately, WCW settled with Heyman out of court for an undisclosed amount.
The acrimony carried over to Heyman's early days in ECW, when Joey Styles briefly quit the company in 1994 over the hectic travel schedule. Styles was temporarily replaced by a man dubbed Willie "Scoop" Watts, a name that can't even be called "thinly veiled" parody. This particular Watts happened to be black, which was Heyman's way of mocking the perceived racism of "Cowboy Bill", whose own WCW exodus centered around controversial remarks about minorities that Watts made in a previous interview. "Scoop", however, was apparently ill-equipped to handle the announcing gig, and Styles took his old job back after a matter of weeks.
4. Scott Colton & Chris Guy
"Hey Colt Cabana, how you doing?" CM Punk's longtime running buddies Cabana and Ace Steel have had their cups of coffee with WWE, and were present in the front row at Money in the Bank 2011, the site of Punk's finest hour. While Cabana had a brief WWE run a few years earlier as Scotty Goldman, and Steel regrettably took part in the ill-fated Donald Trump/Rosie O'Donnell match in 2007, they each had prior WWE experiences in which they ribbed each other.
In September 2004, Steel had his hair cut by Eugene in a Taboo Tuesday hype segment on Monday Night Raw, whilst going by the name 'Scott Colton' for the bit. Scott Colton just so happens to be Cabana's real name. Two years later, Cabana would be squashed by Umaga in a match on Monday Night Raw. For that bout, Cabana performed as 'Chris Guy', which is Steel's given name. Oh, that wacky Windy City crew and their harmless hijinks.
Before his ironic rebirth as "Virgil - Lonely Wrestling Superstar", Mike Jones had himself a rather notable, if often playfully mocked, career inside the ring. His greatest claim to fame was as Ted DiBiase's muted bodyguard Virgil, a dutiful sidekick that would often take a beating in DiBiase's stead. His 1991 babyface turn, and subsequent victory over DiBiase at that year's SummerSlam for the Million Dollar belt, were the high points of Jones' career.
So how did he end up with the name Virgil? According to DiBiase himself, Bobby Heenan suggested the name as a rib on Dusty Rhodes, whose real name was Virgil Runnels. The idea of mocking Crockett's top dog with a manservant character bearing his name was too good for McMahon to pass up, clearly. Years later, WCW would gain a measure of revenge when Jones was brought in, at times naming him "Vincent", and later "Shane".
2. Akeem The African Dream
Standing about 6'8" tall and weighing more than 450 pounds, the imposing, mohawked George Gray had a suitable-enough presence to play the role of The One Man Gang, a super-heavyweight street fighter hailing from the meanest part of Chicago. For little more than one year, Gray played this character at WWE events, before an unusual (and questionable) makeover. In a ceremony that included tribal dancers performing around a barrel fire, while Slick brandished a boombox, Gray was reborn as Akeem, the African Dream.
In an earnest attempt to shatter the scale of Intentional Unintentional Comedy, this new Akeem spoke with very thick jive enunciation and mimicked Slick's animated strut, which was offset by the fact that Gray was as white as a dinner napkin. The entire absurd spectacle was yet another rib at Dusty Rhodes' expense, mocking Dusty's own imitable speech patterns and physical mannerisms ("African Dream" being a play on "American Dream").
1. Baron Corbin
We end this list with a naming rib that's not as malicious or spiteful as some of the preceding entries. Corbin has been a staple of NXT and WWE programming for several years, first gaining a measure of fame by defeating a string of helpless jobbers in a matter of seconds each time.
According to former NXT creative assistant Rob Naylor, he was the one who suggested the name Baron Corbin. For those of you who know your independent wrestling, Corbin was actually named after Darin Corbin, a Midwest-based indy veteran of promotions such as AAW, IWA Mid-South, and CHIKARA, in addition to occasional appearances on WWE programs as an extra. Naylor came up with the name as a playful jab at a peer, even offering a light-hearted apology to Darin on Twitter, on the night that Corbin destroyed CJ Parker at NXT's second TakeOver event.