What A Gimmick!
Where do we begin here? The look? The music? The fact that WWE thought we wouldn’t remember who this guy is and what he used to be? And that they thought we would believe he had turned Japanese?!
Before we break down this disastrous gimmick, let’s quickly look at who the man is behind the gimmick.
Matt Bloom – Before Lord Tensai
We first saw Matt Bloom in the then-WWF in 1999 as Prince Albert. It wasn’t long until he became known as just Albert, A-Train, and bizarrely, The Hip Hop Hippo. Bloom would form various alliances and teams with superstars such as Droz, Big Bossman, Test, X Pac, and Scotty Too Hotty.
He also had a brief run as Intercontinental Champion in 2001 before being released from his WWE contract at the end of 2004.
Matt Blooms in Japan
After leaving WWE, Matt Bloom left for Japan, where he made a big splash and name for himself. He was having the finest moments of his career, and when news broke out about him signing a contract to return to the WWE in 2012, fans were excited to see the transformation of an old staple of Attitude Era WWF.
So what did we get? Brace yourselves…
Lord Tensai Vignettes and WWE Debut
In the weeks leading up to his debut, some vignettes were aired teasing the debut of Lord Tensai in WWE. It was basically close-up shots of tattoos on his body and fake tattoos of Japanese writing on the back of his head, with Japanese-style music in the background.
Despite these vignettes not showing his face, everybody knew that this was Albert.
Lord Tensai’s Debut
So then the big day came, March 17th, 2012, we got the debut of Lord Tensai. He came to the ring in what can only be described as stereotypical Japanese clothing, a red robe, a helmet, and a cloth-type mask that covered his face.
He was joined by a man named Sakamoto. Sakamoto’s important role was to walk contemplatively to the ring and remove Tensai’s robe and mask once they were in said ring.
Lord Tensai Vs Alex Riley
The match itself, which was against Alex Riley as seen above, was your typical squash match. Tensai would punish Riley with vicious elbows and headbutts before the ref stopped the match after a Baldo Bomb. The match lasted around 4 minutes, which was probably about 3 minutes too long.
And it’s here where we get to the start of the problems. Once his mask was removed with Lord Tensai being revealed as Matt Bloom, he got a slight reaction, but it seemed that most of the crowd were apathetic and didn’t care. There was even a Daniel Bryan chant towards the end of the match.
Lord Tensai Winning Streak Turns into a Losing Streak
As most new characters do, Lord Tensai would win some squash matches against lower to mid-card wrestlers — still with little to no crowd reaction — where he built up a winning streak. This wasn’t surprising as we see this quite often, especially characters portrayed as monster heels.
Defeating John Cena
On April 16th, 2012, just two weeks after debuting as Lord Tensai, we saw something that WAS quite surprising. He beat John Cena in an Extreme Rules Match after spitting green mist in Cena’s face, followed by hitting a Baldo Bomb for the 1-2-3.
Yes, there was a distraction from David Otunga, but this was still an impressive win for the new version of Matt Bloom. He would follow this big victory by getting a pinfall over then-WWE Champion CM Punk in a handicap match where he teamed with Daniel Bryan.
Tensai at a Loss for Words
During this time, Lord Tensai was being used as John Laurinaitis’ hired gun with assaults mainly on John Cena and CM Punk, but it was also shortly after this that things would take a turn for the worst for Lord Tensai.
Firstly, the “Lord” was dropped from his name, which wasn’t particularly a bad thing, as it was ridiculous anyway. But then came his first loss, which was against John Cena on June 4th, 2012.
From here, Tensai would go on a losing run that would last the majority of the year. After some of these losses, he would randomly beat up Sakamoto, which would lead some to think that this might lead to Sakamoto bringing somebody in to go against Tensai, but this logical storytelling never came to fruition.
Tensai and Sakamoto Break Up
Sakamoto just disappeared from television without a word being mentioned about him again.
One of the reasons for Sakamoto’s break-up with Tensai may have been because of a racially insensitive Tout video Tensai made in July of 2012 while in character.
In the video, Tensai noted that he was traveling with his personal chauffeur Sakamoto to Indianapolis—the site of that night’s SmackDown taping. He remarked that it was "very, very dangerous" to drive with a Japanese person.
Tensai then went onto slap Sakamoto as he was driving and ordered him "to open his eyes." It wasn’t long before Tensai’s career took a further dive, and Sakamoto was written off TV for good.
Teaming With Brodus Clay
Sometimes after having an unsuccessful singles run, teaming a wrestler with another wrestler who had a similar unsuccessful run can reignite the gimmick or help create a new, more successful one.
So perhaps maybe this could happen by teaming Tensai up with Brodus Clay, who was lumbered with a terrible gimmick himself as the “Funkasaurus.” Surely, it won’t be worse than what we have seen so far, right? Well, it seemed that creative saw that as a challenge.
Raw Roulette Dance-Off
So how did Tensai and Brodus Clay become a team? Were they fighting a common enemy? Did they both try and take a stand against the powers that be that they felt were holding them down?
No, on January 28th, 2013, they had a dance-off in the ring. Not just any dance-off, but a dance-off where Tensai was wearing women’s lingerie.
They formed a team known as Ton of Funk a couple of weeks later and would dance before and after matches with the Funkadactyls.
Tons of Funk Flop
Needless to say, they never became Tag Team Champions. However, they did get close a couple of times. It was only a matter of time, though, before they became a comedy act. Oh, and did we mention that Tensai was now called Sweet T? Yeah, that happened too…
Acts like this, although at times entertaining, don’t usually last. Tons of Funk would disband after Brodus Clay started turning heel, and Tensai and the Funkadactyls turned their backs on him. Tensai would then defeat Brodus Clay, marking the end of the Tensai character.
Matt Bloom would soon later retire from in-ring competition and take on a role in NXT developmental.
Where Did It All Go Wrong for Matt Bloom?
The short answer would be from the debut of Lord Tensai, but that would make quite a short story. Despite the WWE wanting fans to take Matt Bloom seriously as a monster heel, there were just so many ridiculous elements to the character.
It’s easy to get what WWE was trying to portray. Bloom had gone to Japan, had a lot of success there, had adapted to that style, and was coming back to WWE as a more complete athlete.
Similar to Brock Lesnar, where he was in WWE, left, and had a lot of success in UFC, then returned to WWE. But the main change they gave his look was MMA style shorts and gloves, and he had a more ground and pound style.
An Insulting Character
With Tensai, the fans had felt their intelligence had been insulted, and they stopped caring almost immediately.
We knew who Tensai was, and we knew he wasn’t Japanese, so why the Japanese attire and ridiculous writing on his head and face?
And why was he spitting green mist at people?
For the fans to be chanting “Daniel Bryan” during his debut match, after all the build and anticipation, speaks volumes. Despite his wins over John Cena and CM Punk, it was clear that the WWE had lost faith in Matt Bloom as Lord Tensai rather quickly.
Then there was Sakamoto, his Japanese worshipper (according to Michael Cole on commentary).
Upon researching this piece, I only saw one time where Sakamoto did anything to aid Tensai, and that was when he distracted the ref during the handicap match with Daniel Bryan against CM Punk.
Other than that, he just seemed to be there for Tensai to push around. Even this would have been okay had it built to Sakamoto recruiting somebody to fight against Tensai after all the abuse he had been the victim of. At least that would have made sense.
A Comedy Act
By the time WWE teamed Tensai with Brodus Clay, it was clear that there was nothing left for him. The team became a joke, a comedy act to get the crowd smiling, watching two huge men dancing. This is a shame, as both men could have had good runs as monster heels.
The failure of Tons of Funk, and the ill-advised Tout video Matt Bloom put out, marked the beginning of a stark decline for his character.
The keywords for us here involving Matt Bloom and his WWE return is “wasted opportunity.” Bloom could work in the ring, had improved so much whilst in Japan, and could have been so much more had he not been given this truly awful gimmick.
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