Making the Case for Akeem / One Man Gang
One Man Gang came into WWF in 1987 as the big, bad bruiser from Halsted Street on the South Side of Chicago. 6 Foot 9, 438 lbs, he was an imposing big man with a look that was unmistakable. But on a cool,September night in 1988, with the aid of Street Magic, One Man Gang was transformed from a monstrous killing machine into a comedy act dressed like an Easter egg. A similar spell was cast on Brodius Clay years later. Mid to late 80’s WWF was certainly the land of the giants. I don’t know that the roster has had so many big men before or since. Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy, Big John Studd, Bam Bam Bigelow, just to name a few. One Man Gang tends to get lost in the mix when remembering this period of time. Akeem is remembered but your level of fondness for the character may vary. Having watched a fair amount of tape, I feel like there is something that set him apart from some of the other monster big men at the time. Using the NJPW rating system, with a handful of match and promo recommendations, I hope that Akeem will dance his way into your hearts and onto your list of the Top 100 Greatest WWE Wrestlers.
Between Akeem and The One Man Gang, his run with the company lasted from ’87 to ’90. Longevity hurts him but I feel like the company got the most out of him in that three-year time period. For most of that time, he was working against upper midcard and main event baby faces at big events and house shows. Both as Akeem and One Man Gang he worked main events against Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. I feel like Savage and Hogan kept working with him throughout this time because they needed an impressive big man who could bump and sell their offense during the big comebacks. King Kong Bundy had the look but couldn’t really sell like One Man Gang. Andre at this period of time was very broken down and, while his mere presence could elevate the caliber of a match, it was going to be an ugly match. While Gang is making top babyfaces look good at the house shows, the impression on TV was that One Man Gang was stretching out jobbers with his 747 Splash. It meant that much more when Hogan would kick out of the 747 Splash and begin his comeback because it was so protected on TV. Even as The Twin Towers, they were often seen on TV squashing jobbers but putting Demolition over all across the house shows. The company was also smart to capitalize on his name value in certain territories early in his run. You see him working against Ted Dibiase and Junk Yard Dog throughout the Mid-South through ‘87. If there is any issue, it may have been that he was too protected or that the booking was so against conclusive finishes at the time. I will elaborate more later but if you look up some of his matches as both One Man Gang and Akeem, many have DQ or count out finishes.
Flexibility is a difficult one to judge One Man Gang or Akeem on. The bulk of his work is squashing jobbers or putting over main eventers. More often than not, he was working against other big men which limited what he could do offensively. His Fall Forward Suplex sure looked impressive on TV but he wasn’t about to do that to Hulk Hogan. Even when he was going over a midcard babyface like George “The Animal” Steele, he wasn’t pulling that move out. He has a pretty good tv match against Bret Hart in 1990. One of his last matches of note was an Intercontinental Title Tournament match against Tito Santana that unfortunately ended in a count out and left you wanting more. Of course, one of Akeem’s best performances is the WrestleMania 5 match tagging with The Big Boss Man against The Rockers. One Man Gang could work against smaller guys and put them over. He didn’t have a lot of opportunities to do so but certainly was able to pull it off when he was given the chance. I included matches against both Bret and Owen Hart. We have seen both of them make the best of it against big stiffs but Akeem seems to be working with them better than most. You have to love the Philly crowd in the Blue Blazer match.
I feel like he brought a lot to the table as both Akeem and One Man Gang but in oddly different ways. As One Man Gang, he came in with the reputation of a big, bad ass. His look was intimidating. He could get the fans behind the babyfaces by throwing his weight around and using the moves that were so impressive in his TV squash matches. His run in the ’88 Royal Rumble helped sell the concept and set the stage for guys later on to get the “Diesel Push.” The Rumble was a completely new idea at this point and the safe thing to do would have been let Andre win another Battle Royal type event, since that was what fans were comfortable seeing in those days. Having One Man Gang go on an impressive run help sell the idea that this was something different.
As Akeem, he really got into the character and played comedy quite well without crossing the line to becoming a complete joke. When you consider that the rest of his career before and after this was as The One Man Gang, it’s impressive that he pulled off this very different comedy gimmick. The fans enjoyed getting on him. He really got into playing comedy to the crowd. The real intangible was just the sight of The Twin Towers. As a kid, seeing Akeem and The Big Boss Man together, I thought they were going to do whatever they wanted in WWF. I haven’t seen guys that size team together and work together so well as a team. On that same note, that takes us to the six man tag at Summer Slam ’89, were The Twin Towers teamed with Andre the Giant against “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Demolition. The match isn’t a workrate classic. This match was all about the spectacle of seeing all these large men team together. And it certainly got people talking. I recall that the local morning radio show, which never talked about wrestling, brought up this event and specifically this match, including a trivia question as to the combined weight of everyone in the match.
Jump Up Factor
Akeem’s biggest moment with the company had to be the Saturday Night Main Event match where The Twin Towers faced The Mega Powers. The match wasn’t about Akeem and The Big Boss Man but the Mega Powers explosion was aided by their presences in the match. Hulk Hogan hadn’t left Randy Savage in the ring with just anybody. He left him alone with The Twin Towers. Savage did some great work on his own against the big men but they were dishing it out to him. They did such a good job getting the sympathy on Savage that it looked like Savage had a legitimate reason for being mad at The Hulkster. Macho Man still had fans on his side going into Wrestlemania 5. That is in no small part due to how The Twin Towers were built on TV as a team. It probably wouldn’t have been as threatening if Savage had been left alone with the Rougeau Brothers.
Speaking of WrestleMania 5, having poured over as much footage as I can find, the best match Akeem had in this run was the tag team match against The Rockers. Combing through the results, it’s the only match between these two teams. I think they could have built on this match and topped it if given the chance. Unfortunately, after this point The Twin Towers go on to facing Demolition on the house shows until SummerSlam and squashing jobbers on tv to build to the house show matches.
I know I am supposed to be making the case here but I have to be perfectly honest with you here. The one thing that hurts Akeem and One Man Gang more than anything is inconclusive finishes. A third big moment in his run is the break up with The Big Boss Man leading into WrestleMania 6. It was also one of the biggest disappointments to me as a young wrestling fan. This was one of the matches I was most looking forward to at this show. I had imagined two big bruisers, former partners, with a lot of hurt feelings get into a brutal brawl. What I got was The Boss Man knocking Akeem around for about two minutes. My ten-year-old self was terribly disappointed. But there was still hope. There was a rematch at Saturday Night Main Event. Although the match was more competitive, the ending hurt the overall impression a bit. Boss Man hits The Boss Man Slam, has Akeem dead to rites, then Ted Dibiase runs in, attacking The Boss Man. Boss Man already had his clean win at Mania but what was the point of this ending? Protect Akeem? It’s a little late for that considering the previous match and that he took The Boss Man’s finisher in this match. What was the plan for Akeem going forward? A count out loss to Tito Santana in the Intercontinental Title Tournament. The rest of Akeem’s run is the sparse TV appearance and jobbing to almost everyone on the house shows. So, would it have really hurt to put Tito over clean? It doesn’t end there. Following Big John Studd’s Royal Rumble win, he faced off with Akeem at Madison Square Garden. The match was never destined to be a classic but they did something clever to work around it. The match was built around one thing. Studd slamming Akeem. The match result? A double count out. Then Big John Studd gets on the mic and challenges Akeem to get back in the ring and give the crowd what they came to see, the Body Slam. Akeem obliges and the whole thing is a complete mess. At that point in ’89, I can understand wanting to protect Akeem but couldn’t he have just eaten the Body Slam, rolled out of the ring, and taken the count out? If you look through the footage, the biggest problem I have with Akeem is the number of count out and DQ finishes. Akeem isn’t doing the booking but there comes a point where these non-finishes aren’t protecting the guy.
Promo Skills and Character Work
From the moment which he entered WWF until the day he left, One Man Gang/Akeem was managed by Slick. Slick handled the bulk of the promo work while Gang added in a word or two at the end. I would hardly be the first to lament the lack of managers in WWE since the turn of the century. One Man Gang/Akeem is an example of how well it worked and why. As One Man Gang before and after WWF, he wasn’t a good promo. His strength was in his character work. He needed someone like Slick to handle the interview, letting him stand around looking mean, or in the case of Akeem, acting goofy. For this project, I recently watched some Albert/A-Train/Lord Tensai. There is a guy who could have really used a Slick, Bobby Heenan, or even Mr. Fuji. I can’t recall a single Albert promo. I am not even sure what his voice sounds like. From the footage I watched, Albert was quite capable in the ring, more so than One Man Gang, but the audience seemed to have no connection with the guy. Slick already had a connection with the audience. They loved to see him get punched by a babyface. One Man Gang may have been intimidating, athletic, and had a reputation from other federations. But pairing him with Slick gave the audience an immediate reason to hate the guy.
Character work is what I feel is a strong suit of One Man Gang/Akeem. As One Man Gang, he crafted a look that was unique and immediately recognizable. The mohawk, tattoos, jean vest, dark sunglasses, and with a malicious laugh, this looked like a guy who had just fought a biker gang by himself. Everything about how he carried himself told the audience that this was a bad man you didn’t want to mess with.
Then One Man Gang underwent a transformation. He was reborn as Akeem, the African Dream. The character is certainly not something they would try to get away with these days. But damn if it wasn’t funny. Akeem was basically another rib on Dusty Rhodes, kind of like Virgil except Akeem actually acted like The American Dream. A fat white guy who talks like he’s black. Yeah, that was a poke at Dusty Rhodes. Funny thing is, I would have thought Akeem would have been sent packing when Dusty Rhodes actually entered WWF. I would have also expected a feud between the two. I found two matches and, guess what, they ended in a count out.
Say what you will about Akeem, for what was a rib on Dusty Rhodes, he sure got a lot of mileage out of the gimmick. Akeem was a drastic departure from One Man Gang but he ran with it and got the gimmick over. Compare this to Marc Mero, who had only been Johnny B. Badd in his entire career. Upon coming to WWF, with a pretty big push, he was asked to be a different character and looked lost without a map. There are other guys who have been asked to change their characters and have had rough transitions. It’s not an easy thing to do. But Gang embraced being Akeem and made it work for him throughout the rest of his WWF tenure. For being asked to work such an out there gimmick, he doesn’t seem bitter about it, as this one clip will attest to.
I have to include the transformation. In kayfabe terms, Mean Gene always got some crap assignments.
Compared to other big men of the era, One Man Gang bumped well, he sold well, he worked the crowd. I wouldn’t count him amongst the best workers in the business but I think he has some things working for him. His offense looked impressive. The bulk of his offense was Gang throwing his weight around but it worked when you consider his size. I think it was a good, big man style. I have watched a fair amount of shoot interviews, I don’t recall anyone saying One Man Gang was unsafe to work with. Compare that to Ahmed Johnson, whom had a brutal looking offense and apparently it was brutal on his opponents. Gang lands hard on some of those splashes, from the footage I have watched, and it doesn’t seem like he injured guys. Correct me if I am wrong. I am including two matches he worked with Randy Savage as both characters. I think they showcase his work about as best as I can recall. The Rockers match at WrestleMania 5 is also worth a look and it’s not hard to find. If The Twin Towers had faced The Rockers more than once, perhaps I would have more video evidence to show case Akeem’s work.
One of the things I have come to appreciate about One Man Gang has a lot to do with something I appreciate about the company at the time. They had a clear vision for where this man’s place on the roster was. It had a very specific role to play in his three years with the company and I feel like he played it well. Call it a “B+ Player” if you will but guys like that are important to building the product. Sure, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage would have been over no matter who they faced in the company. But having a quality opponent like Gang helped them through ’87 to ’89. Certainly, The Twin Towers helped add to the mystique of Demolition. I believe the best one could place him on a list is 90 through 100. Call it a sentimental pick, if you will. There are certainly a lot bigger stars and better workers you can rank on the list. But amongst big men in the history of the company, he was better than most.
– Michael DeDamos