Making the Case for Al Snow
Al Snow came into WWF and was saddled two failed gimmicks. As Avatar, he came to the ring with a mask, put it on, and took it off after the match. As Leif Cassidy, he was an out of touch New Rocker teaming with Marty Jannetty. Snow briefly left WWF as part of a lend-lease program with ECW, where he was able to retool himself and find the gimmick that dominated the rest of his career, for better and for worse. A lot of the Attitude Era was a blur for me. With the accelerated pace of booking and the addition of Smackdown, so much was happening all at once. Snow’s work can be lost in the blur, with only a few of the most notorious angles standing out. Remembered mostly as a comedy/hardcore act, not too many people have gone back to examine his work. I have watched a number of matches and angles. What I have found is one of the hidden talents of the Attitude Era and secretly good TV workers. Today, I would like to share with you my perspective on Al Snow’s run in WWF. Using the NJPW rating system, I hope to make the case on why I believe Al Snow deserves to be on your Top 100 WWE Wrestlers of All Time list.
Al Snow’s run with the company went from 1995 until 2003, with exclusion of the previously mentioned ECW run and the inclusion of a brief WWECW run in 2006. During much of that time, he was planted firmly in the midcard. Upon his return to the company from ECW until he became the head trainer on Tough Enough, Al Snow often had an angle running on TV. The comedy aspect of his act probably kept him from being a gatekeeper to the main event. During one of the hottest periods in company history, in the middle of a war with WCW, the company believed enough in this act to place him on TV quite frequently. During his eight-year stint with the WWF, he was put in a good position on TV for much of that time. Granted, he got a slow start as Avatar and Leif Cassidy. But from doing the JOB on the PPV to being head trainer of Tough Enough, Snow had some good roles in his tenure with WWE.
When searching for footage, invariably one will come around shoot interviews. Al Snow seems to fancy himself a heel, stating that he had played heel most of his wrestling career prior to being with WWF and ECW. In WWF, he was mostly a face and had little success as a heel. There was a period in ‘99/2000 when they tried to turn him heel, following a split with Mick Foley. The idea was turning Al into a sadistic crazy man instead of the friendly crazy man he had been to that point. That run featured some good work against The Hardy Boys and Too Cool. This is quickly transitioned though into teaming with Steve Blackman as Head Cheese. You could see him working hard to get this change in direction over but it just wasn’t connecting with the audience. They gave him some creepy theme music that I forgot upon hearing. One reason this may have not taken off is that he still had Head with him. No matter how hard JR tried to sell us that Al Snow was a sick man, fans wanted to chant “We Want Head”. Of course, when discussing flexibility and heel characters in regards to Al Snow, I have to mention The New Rockers. People didn’t want to boo The Rockers, new or otherwise. Fans, by and large, liked Marty Jannetty. Marty and Leif’s heel work consisted of stomping their feet and pumping their fists in the lowest energy way imaginable. My observation is that The New Rockers weren’t feeling it and neither were the crowd. Their work isn’t as bad as you may have heard. But like much of 1995 WWF, it didn’t connect at all with the crowd. Certainly, the booking didn’t help either. Who cares about a team that can’t win a match when one partner walks about on the other, such as this Smoking Gunns match from Superstars on 10/27/96.
You may think that this lack of flexibility would hurt his case. And you are kind of right. In addition to only getting over as a babyface, his spot on the card was laid in cement. There were attempts to elevate him. The aforementioned heel turn was an example. I recall reading in one of Mick Foley’s books that the company believed Tough Enough would elevate Al into the mainstream consciousness. That really didn’t happen. The impression I got from the feud with The Big Boss Man which lead to the Kennel from Hell Match was another attempt to elevate his position on the card. I guess they thought that a guy who talks to a dog would be more endearing than a guy who talks to a head. This isn’t a case where they didn’t try to elevate a guy. There was effort made. But the fans seemed to have a clear impression of who and what was Al Snow.
Which brings us to the intangibles. He had a connection with the audience. He was exactly over. The Head gimmick was over. Not super-hot. Not cold. Just over. While the audience got on board with what he was doing, there was only so far you could go with that gimmick. When they tried to move away from it, the fans weren’t terribly interested. For example, in the infamous Kennel from Hell Match, which I recently watched, the only thing in the actual match that fans reacted to was when Al pulled out Head and walloped Boss Man with it.
Another thing I think Al Snow brought to the table that is difficult to measure is how much he could do in the ring in a short period of time. Having watched a lot of TV Matches from this period of time, he manages to fit a lot of work into a short period of time, usually three to five minutes. There is a Raw match against Val Venis from late ’99 that is a good example of a match that felt like they did more work than the time would allow. I have also come to appreciate how much good work was being done on the C-Shows at this time. On Heat, he had decent matches with Edge, Christian, and Essa Rios which I will link to but there are plenty more examples. Look, I like Greg Valentine taking a half hour just to get warmed up as much as the next guy, and Valentine will get a high spot on my list than Al Snow. But since the Attitude Era, no one is getting half hour matches on Raw, least of all mid card comedy acts. Al being able to get the best match possible in the time allowed for a TV match was a real asset to the company.
Jump Up Factor
For a guy who was mostly a comedy act, it is perhaps ironic that the most memorable moment he had in company history was unintentional comedy. That would be the angle in which The Big Boss Man fed Pepper the Dog to Al Snow leading to the Kennel from Hell match at Unforgiven 1999. This match overshadowed the far superior Hardcore Title Match between these two at Summer Slam ’99, which I thought was a lot of fun but had a crap finish. The Kennel match has become the stuff of legend and taken a life of its own. But if you bother to watch it, you are not going to see dogs doing the nasty around ringside. The match is a pedestrian plunder fest in front of a dead crowd with three moments that got a reaction. One was the return of Head which received a collective “Thank God” from the audience. Second was Boss Man handcuffing Al to the ropes. I think a few people expected Snow to get beaten ’89 jobber style but it didn’t happen. Third was Al’s escape from the cage which was quite athletic. It was also one of the few WWF Hardcore title matches featuring Al Snow in which blood was drawn. I’m not going to tell you it was a good match. It wasn’t. But the echo chamber opinion that it was the worst match ever is really overblown. Obviously, what the dogs were doing outside the ring took the crowd completely out of the match. But what took place in the ring was not that bad. The angle itself was also a piece of brilliant unintentional comedy. And why? It’s pretty sadistic that Boss Man would kidnap a dog and feed it to the owner. But Boss Man’s dialogue and delivery is just too damn funny. On paper, it looks like a horrific storyline. In practice, no one took this seriously. Or at least very few people did. I know I am supposed to be making the case but I must be honest. This is Al Snow’s most memorable moment with the company.
There were other big storylines Al Snow was involved with. In late ’99, Al Snow hatched a plot to get in between The Rock ‘N Sock Connection. Snow throws The Rock’s autographed copy of Have A Nice Day in the trash where Mankind finds it. Mankind learns to forgive and forget which forces an angry confession and heel turn from Al Snow. Al Snow teams with Chris Jericho against The Rock ‘N Sock Connection. The blow off between Snow and Mankind is an average Falls Count Anywhere Match on the 12/14/99 Smackdown. Snow gets a win over The Rock in a Brahma Bull Rope Match on the 12/20/99 Raw. The next night on Smackdown, The Rock gets his win back in a Steel Cage. These matches are all out there on line but not in great quality. This storyline also found its way onto one of the videos games storyline mode. At this point in the company, it was a pretty big deal that they use Al Snow in this position.
This heel turn for Al Snow lead to him chasing some bonus money put up by The McMahon/Helmsley regime against The Hardy Boys. The 1/3/2000 Raw featured a Steel Cage Match between Jeff Hardy and Al Snow that was quite good. The follow up was Al employing the help of The Dudley Boys in a Six Man Tag against Edge, Christian, and Jeff Hardy, also a pretty decent match. They really tried to sell that Al Snow had become a sadistic, crazy man but it didn’t last long. By the end of the month, he was teaming with Steve Blackman with the team name of Head Cheese. I feel like they could have gotten more mileage out of heel Al Snow, but I am here to talk about what is, rather than what could have been.
A personal favorite that I came across was Al Snow’s European Title reign setting up for William Regal’s introduction to the WWF. This time, he wasn’t coming in as A Real Man’s Man. Now Regal was appointed Good Will Ambassador to the WWF by Mr. McMahon. He was here to teach all of us Americans proper manners. So, he would do guest commentary for European Title Matches. The European Champion at the time was Al Snow. Snow would proudly misrepresent various countries in Europe in the most stereotypical way possible. Regal’s commentary was priceless. Snow had some decent TV matches during this run too. This leads to William Regal challenging Snow and capturing the European Championship. I love the way this was built. It was a good way to reintroduce the audience to William Regal. They took a title that didn’t mean much, put it on a comedy act, and used it to launch a new-ish character. Al Snow’s dumb American idea of what Europe is like vs William Regal’s worldly knowledge. This kind of well planned, week to week storytelling, with a tangible goal in mind is really something you haven’t seen in WWE in a while
Promo and Character Work
How one rates this category depends entirely on how you felt about The Head gimmick. Avatar left the audience confused and wasn’t around long enough to move the needle on anyone’s opinion of his promo or character work. Perhaps if he had worked with different masks and changed his wrestling style based on the mask he was where, that would have been cool. I doubt Vince has played Majora’s Mask though. Leif Cassidy doesn’t really factor into any of this either, unless you were impressed with how well he played a dork. I can only speak for myself here but I felt no need to boo the New Rockers for being out of touch dorks, as I myself was an out of touch dork.
I rather liked The Head gimmick and Crazy Al in general. He never rose to the level of Tom Hanks in Castaway but I think that was the general idea with how Al interacted with Head. The crowd seemed to be behind the gimmick. Early into the run, he started a stable of guys who generally lose called The JOB Squad. Much like Head, feelings on The JOB Squad vary. At this point in the 90’s; smart, insider language was infecting the product. Snow, almost from the beginning, would throw around smart terms that better than half the audience didn’t get. This sort of thing played better in front of an ECW audience than a WWF audience. Snow wore the t-shirt long after the faction had run its coarse. They tried to tweak the Head gimmick by giving Al Snow a dog but it just didn’t work the same. Theoretically, Pepper should have worked better than Head. People talk to their dogs all the time. It should have been more relatable but not so much. At the time, Snow was primarily in the Hardcore division. Head was a useful prop. He could use it to smack an opponent and win a match. No one wanted to see Snow wallop someone with Pepper. I think it is remarkable that he could get over by interacting with and playing off of an inanimate object.
If Head isn’t your thing, there was other work he did during his run with the company that I think was quite good. The feud with Foley leading up to 2000 was some of Snow’s best promo work. Some of the anger about the jokes written in Mick Foley’s book came off as real, and for all I know he was channeling some real anger. Between Snow’s team with Foley, the heel turn, and the series of matches vs The Rock ‘N Sock Connection, Head faded into the background. He still brought Head to the ring but it didn’t play a role in the feud or promos. The team with Steve Blackman was another case were his character work had nothing to do with Head. In a way, during the Head Cheese run, Blackman took place of Head as someone Al would bounce silly ideas off. Blackman would then call him an idiot. There were a lot of fun, short segments with Snow and Blackman during the run, based mostly around Snow pitching ideas to Blackman on how they could get over with the crowd. Blackman played a good straight man to Al’s crazy character, they made a good pair, playing off each other. They were a pretty underrated team in the ring as well. Unfortunately, their comedy act wasn’t going to rise above a certain level in the stacked tag division of 2000. They get lost in the shuffle of some legendary tag teams of that year like The Hardy’s, The Dudley’s, and Edge and Christian. Head Cheese is worth reexamining if for no other reason than to see what kind of character work Al Snow could do that didn’t center around Head.
I also liked the role Al Snow played as friendly mentor and trainer to the Tough Enough contestants when they would appear on WWE television. It didn’t lead to great success for anyone but Al did his part as helpful veteran who wanted to see Maven success or teach Chris Harvard some manners. He was a counterbalance to Bob Holly, the cranky veteran who likes to hurt people. This was the beginning of the end for Al Snow in WWE, eventually becoming a color commentator and sparsely used through 2003. Snow’s role as likable trainer on Tough Enough which bled into his role on Raw and Smackdown is still worth mentioning.
I feel like Al Snow is underrated as a worker. As a single and a tag worker, Al Snow could really go in the ring. He is large associated with the Hardcore division. From the footage I have watched, that is some of the weakest examples of his work. He was able to get creative with his Hardcore work, adding comedy spots like the Bowling Ball Below the Belt bit. He had a good walk around brawl with D’Lo Brown for the Hardcore Title in ’99. They did some creative things that I felt stood out. I already pointing out some of the work he did with Big Bossman aside from the Kennel match. Hardcore Matches in the company weren’t really built around giving guys a chance to show their best work. Most of them came off as tame compared to a lot of the stuff happening with other companies at the time.
What I think a lot of people don’t notice is the not Hardcore Matches he had during his time with the company. In particular, how much he could do with limited television time. There is a 2/5/01 Raw Match with Chris Benoit which only goes about four minutes but seems a lot long. They trade stiff looking blows in and out of the ring, work in some arm psychology, and still have time for Al to get in a couple of moonsaults for a near fall. The European Title run which I already showcased also points to this positive trait for Al Snow. One of the best matches he had that I have seen was against Triple H on Smackdown of 10/21/99. The match is only about five minutes but Snow gets momentum on his side and the crowd really gets behind him, hoping he pulls off an upset.
I also have to mention his work as a tag team wrestler. The New Rockers didn’t catch on with the audience but in the ring, they were not that bad of a team. Early in their run, there were certainly some hiccups in terms of coordination. They get it figured out quickly. While they are not as good for a team as The Rockers, they did get their tag offensive working well in tandem. They worked the house shows with Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon which I imagine were good. It’s too bad they didn’t make tv. Snow’s team with Mankind was short lived but fine. Even though they were tag champions, they didn’t have enough time together to really gel as a team. I have already stated my appreciation for Al Snow and Steve Blackman. Head Cheese was a team that, much like Snow, could put together an entertaining, three to five minute match on television. Their role was usually putting over more established tag teams. Still, they had good chemistry as a team and did a good job making other teams look good. You can find footage of them facing most of the teams of this era on line. I can’t help but think that they could have been a top team if they had been put together a few years before or a few years after this. The ’97 tag division was virtually nonexistent and the ’02 tag division wasn’t a whole lot better.
Most of the main points have already been made in this article. If I can say anything in conclusion it is that I have found Al Snow to be unrated. If you look just beneath the surface, I think you will find a very polished worked that put on some fast paced, well worked matches in the Attitude Era. Workrate certainly suffered during this period of time but if you look on the undercard and C-Shows, there were some guys putting on pretty good matches. Al Snow probably will come in between 80 or 90 on my list. To me, he stood out as a veteran, solid worker who anchored the midcard during a time when workrate wasn’t a high priority.
– Michael DeDamos