Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I Learned from In Your House 5

Xanta Klaus was a wretched character with a great beginning
Photo Credit:
In 1995, the World Wrestling Federation was draped in garish, neon-spandex and occupational gimmicks. However, in what was considered its financial nadir in the decade of the '90s, the company remained ambitious in scope. It expanded into monthly pay-per-views with the In Your House series, setting the groundwork for its show structure that has lasted into this very day. In Your House started out as a two-hour show that seemed to experiment with offbeat headliners that would probably main event an episode of RAW nowadays and other quirky matches. In Your House 5 was famous for the second in what seemed to be a string of British Bulldog title shots, the shortest casket match in history, and a hogpen match between Triple H and Henry O. Godwinn that was actually a damn fine brawl.

However, the event's signpost in history, for better or worse, was a segment that was nestled in the middle of the show. In Your House 5 took place on December 17, 1995, and obviously, the proximity to Christmas invited an appearance from Santa Claus. WWE has a long history of partaking in the holiday spirit, a tradition that continues to this day. Infamously, Ted DiBiase claimed that even Jolly Ol' St. Nick had a price, and when Savio Vega protested, he got the wrestling equivalent of coal in his stocking.

The payoff to the angle was the introduction of Xanta Klaus, the evil Santa clone who lasted all of two weeks before he flamed out due to crowd disinterest and a shelf-life that didn't extend past Three Kings Day at the very latest. The WWE's Gimmick Department must have worn an uniform that included Bad Idea Jeans in the mid-'90s, as Klaus wasn't the first nor was he the last in a line of awful, poorly-thought-out gimmicks that contributed to the desolation of the card below the Razor Ramon-Diesel-Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart-British Bulldog-Owen Hart-Yokozuna-Undertaker nucleus that anchored the company through its lean years.

Still, the idea was solid. WWE at the time was still marketed directly to children, and what better act of villainy could the company perpetrate than to have Santa sell out to the Million Dollar Man? Turning the purest symbol of Christmas innocence to kids all over America into a vile, corporate sellout is perhaps the most brilliant heel move ever, and one that I am shocked hasn't been repeated yet. The turn itself and introduction was hot and executed well.

WWE could have gone two ways with it, the good way and the way that ended up with a character with a fleeting half-life. Had it presented the future-Balls Mahoney as different type of character who used the Santa costume as a ruse, he may have had a better run in the company. Mahoney had a great run in ECW, albeit as a fun-loving, blue collar brawling babyface who drew off a sexually charged ring name, but at the same time, his skillset in the ring, combined with DiBiase's promo skills, could have made him work as a black hat in the mid-'90s WWE.

Mahoney/Xanta Klaus is a prime example of how WWE took a decent idea and muffed up the execution. In fact, most of its gimmicks in the low period of the '90s could have worked if executed differently. Maybe even Duke "The Dumpster" Droese could have been a greater success if his dumpster-diving oeuvre was tweaked better for the wrestling arena. And if he was a better worker. And if he had mic skills. And maybe Duke Droese was a bad example here. Still, wrestling and gimmickry go together like peanut butter and jelly, but if the promoter and creative team present those outlandish character threads as hokey, then they're going to come off as too cheesy for even kids to enjoy.

Still, even in overwrought schmaltz and fizzling out of Xanta Klaus, his debut moment remains as a bright spot on a surprisingly entertaining pre-Attitude Era pay-per-view. Even in the lowest of times, quality wrestling moments, matches, and events can be lurking as a pleasant surprise for those going back into the archives.