Published on August 22nd, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
THE BIG BOSS MAN: A Career Defined by Showing Up
This Week in Pro Wrestling Stories: August 22, 2017
Ray Traylor was at Jim Crockett Promotions to do the job. That’s it. His career was just starting, and he was being used underneath on the NWA’s flagship TV show. Booker Dusty Rhodes, maybe feeling a little mischievious that day, took a look at the 6-foot, 6-inch Traylor and booked him against NWA World TV champion Tully Blanchard for the taping.
Traylor was just a kid from Georgia, at the tapings because his trainer, “Nightmare” Ted Allen, had brought a group of job guys over from Rome. And now he would be wrestling one of the best wrestlers in the world on national TV.
Trivia: Big Boss Man is the second WWE Hall of Famer trained by Ted Allen. The other? “The Enforcer” Arn Anderson.
Blanchard, 5-feet, 10-inches tall on his best day, used a slingshot suplex as his finisher. It required two parts to be effective. One, Blanchard had to successfully hoist his opponent thigh-first onto the top rope; and second, the opponent would have to rebound into the suplex. They had the match, and when it was time for the finish, Traylor floated up, rebounded from the top rope, and went over onto his back perfectly. He started to think of believable ways he could beat the big man. “I can take it,” Traylor told him, meaning he could execute the move, and so they stuck with the suplex as the finish. When the finish came, Traylor did it flawlessly and took the pin by the world TV champion.
What started as a rib on Tully Blanchard opened some eyes at Jim Crockett Promotions. Specifically, Traylor’s ability and size caught the attention of Rhodes, who promptly took the big man off TV for 12 weeks. When he came back, he was wearing a suit, sunglasses, and a fedora and acting as Jim Cornette’s bodyguard.
“Dusty saw that, and said ‘I’m gonna do something with that boy,'” Jim Cornette told Steve Austin during an episode of Steve Austin’s podcast. When Traylor came back, he was wearing a suit, sunglasses, and a fedora and acting as Cornette’s bodyguard. He wasn’t Ray Traylor, a good ol’ boy from Marietta, Georgia, anymore. Now he was Big Bubba Rogers.
Bubba didn’t talk, which was good. In real life, Traylor had a naturally high-pitched voice, and Jim Cornette could talk enough for seven people as it was. So Bubba stood around and looked menacing. He could do that, for sure. As Cornette’s Midnight Express feuded with the James Boys (Rhodes and Magnum TA under masks), Rogers was a silent predator whose issues with the American Dream began to grow on a personal level, which would lead to a feud between the two. Less than a year in the business, and Ray Traylor was feuding with one of the top four draws in the country (behind Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Ric Flair). It was like something out of a Horatio Alger novel. As Big Bubba Rogers, Traylor would face Rhodes in a series of bunkhouse stampede matches. The blowoff to the feud was a steel cage match, which Rhodes won.
But most people don’t remember the matches. They remember a moment that caused the Dusty Rhodes some consternation on national TV. During an angle between Cornette and Baby Doll, Traylor inserted himself into the action. Rhodes ran in to save Baby Doll and promptly smashed a wooden chair over Traylor’s head. The chair exploded–but it didn’t even knock Traylor’s hat all the way off. Traylor never sold the chair shot. He calmly began taking off his coat and tie, getting ready to fight, until Magnum TA ran in with a pair of shovels, and Cornette pulled his bodyguard away.
After the angle, Cornette congratulated agent Klondike Bill, who was supposed to gimmick the chair so that it would break easier. Bill looked at Cornette in horror and said “Oh shit. I forgot!” Traylor took the full brunt of the ungimmicked chair and no-sold it, because he was supposed to. Rhodes was building him up as a monster who felt no pain, who was unstoppable. And Traylor’s commitment to kayfabe sometimes came back to bite him. Once, approaching a show at the Omni in Atlanta, he, Cornette, and the the Midnight Express rolled up to the venue in a cab. The driver accidentally shut Traylor’s hand in the door. Calmly–or at least as calmly as he could–Traylor said, “Hey, brother. The door. Hey, brother, the door.” The cab driver screamed, “Your hand!” and opened the door. Traylor put his hand in his coat pocket, grabbed his bag with his other hand, and marched into the Omni with Cornette behind him, asking if he was all right.
Traylor didn’t scream until the doors closed. “My God, why didn’t you sell that?” Cornette recalls asking Traylor.
“I couldn’t, Jimmy,” Bubba said. “The fans were watching.”
Traylor would eventually leave the NWA for the WWF/E, where Vince McMahon christened him The Big Boss Man, playing on Traylor’s former career as a corrections officer in Cobb County, Georgia. As the Big Boss Man, Traylor was put into an immediate feud with Hulk Hogan, which drew huge house show numbers across the country.
Traylor was more than just a big man, and in WWF/E, he got a chance to prove it. He was quick as a cat and agile, to boot. Think Baron Corbin, but with an aptitude for the business. He had size, he had presence, and despite his grizzled, veteran look, he was still young. He teamed with Akeem the African Dream (AKA One Man Gang) to form the Twin Towers, the team against whom the Mega Powers (Hogan and Randy Savage) would finally implode. Boss Man and Akeem would hold the WWF/E tag team titles for a time, and then Traylor would move on to high-profile singles feuds with Da Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) and Nailz (Kevin Wacholz).
Trivia: Before coming to the WWF/E, Traylor (as Big Bubba Rogers) defeated his soon-to-be tag team partner, Akeem (as One Man Gang) for the UWF heavyweight title.
After an unremarkable return to WCW where he went through multiple gimmicks (The Boss, The Guardian Angel, and finally Big Bubba Rogers again), Traylor returned to WWF/E, where he’d had his biggest success. He spent the Attitude Era feuding with the likes of John Tenta and Al Snow, including the infamous Kennel in a Cell match, which was voted the Worst Worked Match of 1999 by the Wrestling Observer. (And as much as we love Boss Man around these parts, it was a shoo-in for that award.) The feud, ostensibly over the Hardcore title, took a weirdly gruesome turn. I’ll let Wikipedia tell you about it:
… In the WWF’s Hardcore division, Boss Man’s major feud was with Al Snow, a feud that eventually involved Snow’s pet chihuahua, Pepper. At SummerSlam, the two had a Falls Count Anywhere match that spilled into the backstage area, the street and, finally, into a nearby bar. Just prior to the match, Snow had set Pepper’s pet carrier near the entranceway. Minutes into the match, Boss Man picked it up, taunted Pepper, struck Snow with the carrier and carelessly tossed it behind him. Commentator Jim Ross immediately apologized to viewers for the act, and stated that Pepper had been removed from the box before the match.
Two weeks later, Boss Man kidnapped and ransomed Pepper, arranging a meeting in which he fed Snow a meat dish supposedly made from Pepper’s remains. The two settled their feud in a Kennel from Hell match at Unforgiven, in which a blue solid steel cage surrounded the ring, itself and ringside surrounded by the chain-link fenced “cell”. The object of the match was to escape from the cage and the cell while avoiding “attack dogs” (which turned out to be disappointingly docile) positioned outside the ring. Snow won the match and retained the Hardcore title, which had been returned to him by Davey Boy Smith, who had defeated Boss Man for it. Boss Man would later win back the Hardcore title in a triple threat match involving Al Snow and The Big Show, and would hold it until January 2000, when he lost it to Test.
But despite that weirdness (or maybe because of it, who knows?), Traylor eventually ascended to the main event again, this time feuding with Big Show over the WWE title. While Traylor never won it, he had the size and ability to work with the giant and put on credible performances. The Attitude Era was good to the Boss Man, as he feuded with Undertaker (infamously being “hung” after a Hell in the Cell match) and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Eventually, he was assigned to OVW to help train young talent. In 2003, he was released, though he stayed on good terms with the company.
Even though his career was inarguably a success, it’s important to remember Ray Traylor, the man, too.
“He was a nice guy,” Cornette recalled to Austin. “He was fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor, and he was into the business without being markish.”
Traylor died from a heart attack at his home in Dallas, Georgia, in 2004, at age 41, leaving behind a wife, Angela, and two daughters, Lacy and Megan. He was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a part of the 2016 class.
I wrote about the greatest of all time, Ric Flair. The Nature Boy was hospitalized on Aug. 12 and placed in intensive care. He was placed in a medically-induced coma before he underwent surgery to remove a blockage in his colon. The surgery has been hard on Flair and his family, but daughter Charlotte reported on Sunday that Ric was awake and communicating. He’s still not out of the woods yet, and reportedly faces a long, uphill battle. Keep him in your thoughts. When people talk about Flair as the greatest wrestler of all time, remember it’s not just the in-ring work. It’s not just the promos. It’s not just the titles, nor the money he drew. It’s not just “the character” of the Nature Boy. It was also the man behind that facade we saw. He showed up, night after night, in town after town, and laid it on the line. We’ll never see his like again.
Site owner/editor JP is still wandering around the Western U.S. of A on vacation, hanging out with his family and enjoying every minute of his summer time off from his teaching day job. He got some good shots of the eclipse yesterday, the lucky so-and-so. I’ll be interviewing Ring of Honor’s Punishment Martinez and Flip Gordon on Tuesday afternoon for a story that drops on Wednesday morning. In addition, I am likely heading to the ROH show in Atlanta on Saturday, August 26, to do a PWS first: Live-blogging a show. It’s a busy time for me, as I’m closing on a house this Thursday, movers come on Friday, and–oh, yeah–my mom’s birthday is tomorrow. Yikes. When did August get so busy?