INDUCTION: Babyface Honky Tonk Man – Was that REALLY the Plan? WrestleCrap Investigates!

33 Submitted by on Thu, 11 February 2021, 20:00

WWF, 1986

Every once in a while, I hit upon an induction I cannot honestly fathom we’ve never covered.  You wouldn’t even think that was possible after nearly 21 years (!!!!), but today we have one that somehow has slipped by: the early WWF days of the legendary Honky Tonk Man…when he was a good guy.

Mercy mercy, sakes alive!  Yes, kids, it’s true – when Wayne Ferris brought his Elvis act to the WWF, he came in not as the cocky heel that everyone remembers, but as an honest to goodness babyface.  Apparently Vince McMahon felt that someone impersonating a musician whose best days were thirty years prior (and had been dead for 10 years at the time as well!) would be wildly cheered by the Federation’s fanbase.

But did he really think that?  Or is that just something we’ve all heard for so long we’re supposed to believe it?

Here’s the thing – even though it’s been spouted for years that this was always the plan, I have never bought that.  I mean, as much as Vince has been out of touch in recent years, the Vince of 1986 seemed to have it together better than any other promoter.  Could he have possibly, in any way, shape, or form, really thought Honky Tonk would be a great good guy?

I say no.  And I’m willing to say why. 

Honky debuted on WWF television on the September 28, 1986 episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Gorilla Monsoon sang the praises of the music man from Memphis, while Bobby “The Brain” Heenan noted that if we wanted to solve the oil crisis we should just drain Honk’s hair.  With such classic commentary as the lead, it’s obvious that smiling good guy was what this was all about, right?

Furthermore, shortly after the match begins, we get no less than HULK HOGAN talking about how the guy we were watching in the ring was going to “shake, rattle, and roll all over the WWF!”  Listening to this, I can completely understand why everyone has always maintained there is zero question that Honky was to be plastered on lunch boxes shaking hands and smiling with the Hulkster.

But let’s get away from that still image, shall we, and look a little bit closer at what was actually happening in the ring.  You see, as Hogan is talking about how Honky is saying his prayers and eating his vitamins, he’s been beaten to a pulp by lifelong jobber Terry Gibbs.  

I know it’s impossible to believe watching WWE television today, but believe it or not, this was a company that was pretty meticulous with their product at the time…especially when it came to Hulk Hogan.  So having Hogan talk about how great Honky was while he was looking like a total buffoon in the ring may be a clue that not all was as it would seem.

Honky’s next appearance was on the flagship show for the company at the time, WWF Superstars of Wrestling.  He came to the ring as Vince McMahon talked about Wayne Ferris (yep, using his real name!), who he claimed was a wonderful “Memphis, Tennessee boy.”  So Honky came to the ring and he was slapping hands kinda sorta with the fans, but more than anything looked like he just wanted to get to the ring.  Seriously, do you see a smile on this guy’s face as he’s greeting the crowd?

Who does he think he is, Lex Luger?

Ah, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you, kid!

On the flip side of the coin, during the match we got an inset promo from the vile Mr. Fuji, who explained to us that he (Fuj) was beautiful while the Honky Tonk Man dressed in, and I am just quoting here, “the finest rags.”  Serious question: did anyone ever know what on earth this man was talking about?

Been too long since I’ve seen you too.

And if AJ Lee doesn’t know, ain’t nobody that does!

It would be a few weeks before we would see Honky on the syndicated shows again, this time on Challenge.  On this episode, he was featured in two segments, the first of which an interview that began with him shaking Ken Resnick’s hand.  He then runs his mouth about strutting and strolling and how he can’t wait to get his hands on the competition in the WWF.  However, listen closely and you will hear him note ALREADY that some fans don’t like how aggressive he is.  And heck, Ken even notes at the start that there is controversy surrounding him.

Later in the show, Honky is the guest on the Snake Pit with Jake Roberts.  Jake notes how his own mother is proud of her son, but questions how on earth a mom could cherish a goof who dresses like a guy who’s been dead for a decade.  Honky responds by telling Jake he needs to put grease in his hair and drive around in a ’59 Cadillac.

Ok, honestly – is that ANYTHING you’d have a BABYFACE say?

Back over to Superstars, Honky wrestles another squash match, this time facing Al Navarro.  As Vince continues to talk about what an awesome guy he is (and is apparently one of Bruno Sammartino’s favorites!!!), he grabs his opponent by the hair and tosses him out of the ring.  At this point Jesse notes that Honky is a bit aggressive.  He uses a preliminary Shake, Rattle, and Roll (with an elbow to the back of the head in the middle of it for some reason) to pick up the duke.  When Howard Finkel announces him as the winner, there are clear boos.

At this point, there is zero doubt he was going full on heel.  And again, looking at the first couple appearances on television, I don’t see how this wasn’t the plan from day one.

Let’s head over to Prime Time Wrestling, where we get Gorilla and Johnny V calling a match in Canada where Honky Tonk battles perennial bad guy jobber Mr. X….and the fans pretty much start booing Honky out of the building from the get go.  Even Monsoon, the same man who talked about how awesome the Gobbeldy Gooker was as fans catcalled the entire act live on PPV, can’t ignore it and explains that Honky Tonk has a few screws loose.  “The lights are on,” Monsoon Monsooned, “but there’s nobody home.”

From here, we get the legendary interview with Jesse Ventura, where Honky explains that he’s been doing everything he can to make the fans happy but he’s just not connecting.  So the pair decide that fans should send in letters giving him a VOTE OF CONFIDENCE.

Good gravy, look at that photo.  If Wayne Ferris held up a sign reading “I AM A HEEL” it wouldn’t be any more clear.

And just in case you didn’t figure it out, he explains he’s shaking a lot of greasy hands and kissing a lot of slobbering babies to gain support.  Holy crap was this fantastic.

So the ballots are tallied, and of course 95% of the fans don’t like Honky.  Undeterred, he explains that the figures must be wrong so he’s going to go to that “fat Jack Tunney’s office” and get to the bottom of it. 

From here, Honky kicks into the highest of gears, as he finds out the numbers were correct.  He completely flips out, giving what is unquestionably his greatest promo ever (and one of my all times favorites from anyone), as he tells us that he’s done shaking filthy hands and he may, with the good Lord above as my witness and I am not making this up start slapping babies on the way to the ring.

Let me repeat – the man is going to start SLAPPING BABIES.

BEST HEEL EVER.

I’m not sure anyone else even comes close.

And it had to have been the plan from day one.

Look, I don’t care who says otherwise.  I don’t care if it’s Dave Meltzer.  I don’t care if it’s Vince McMahon.  I don’t care if it’s Wayne Ferris himself.  It’s all too perfectly orchestrated for me to buy that this wasn’t the goal from the first note played on his woefully underrated original theme.

For once I am giving Vince McMahon credit.  Maybe I’m a fool for doing so.

But I don’t think I am.

Leave your comments and thoughts below!

(Also please note – we at WrestleCrap.com do NOT condone slapping of babies.  Or whatever was bleeped out in his promo.  I mean, that’s kinda just common sense but just to be sure everyone understands it, we felt we needed to post our position.  Thank ya!)


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33 Responses to "INDUCTION: Babyface Honky Tonk Man – Was that REALLY the Plan? WrestleCrap Investigates!"
  1. Sean Bateman says:

    what’s next? Honky’s time in WCW?

    • Johnathan G Barnes says:

      “I ain’t doing the job to that there Little Richard impersonation you got going… oh, you firing me and blackballing me from working for WCW in the future? That’s fine! I can rely on hustling marks out of cash by claiming I need a fresh Polaroid from my car at high school gyms.”

  2. Maverick MoPete says:

    Ahh, for the glorious days when Vince McMahon let the fans’ reaction be his guide as to if someone was a face or a heel.

    Maybe it was the plan all along to make HTM a heel, but I can see how an Elvis Impersonator could potentially get over as a face.

    To Vince’s credit, when he didn’t, he didn’t keep trying to force Face-HTM down our throats in a desperate bid to get him over (coughRomanReignscough), he just nearly immediately turned Honky heel and gave the then-WWF one of its best heels ever.

  3. AK says:

    May have been a bit too risque for the wacky 80s but Honky sporting a shirt reading

    Eat
    Sleep
    Slap Babies
    Repeat

    Certifiable License to Print Money and an Intercontinental Title Reign longer than Bruno Sammartino’s Heavyweight Championship Reign.

  4. Al Boondy says:

    So this like having Kurt Angle ACT like a babyface upon his debut, so that the fans get all riled up and boo him into oblivion … That must have been WWF’s original plan all along, right?

  5. Josh Owens says:

    Was intended to be a face according to him.

  6. Garrett Edward Spears says:

    Honky Tonk Man is a fucking joke whether he is babyface or heel. His gimmick is 100% wrestlecrap. Him in the WWE Hall of Fame? He doesn’t deserve it.

    • Sepp says:

      In the words of the late Gorilla Monsoon: Will you stop?!

    • CP says:

      “ REPLY
      Garrett Edward Spears says:
      FEBRUARY 5, 2021 AT 3:16 AM
      RETRIBUTION won the 2020 Gooker Award? THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!!!!! RETRIBUTION IS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS TO HAVE HAPPENED NOT JUST IN THE WWE IN 2020, BUT IN WRESTLING HISTORY!!!!!”

      So this guy thinks Retribution, a terrible idea that was late 2000s TNA level stupidity, was one of the best things ever and Honky Tonk Man, who actually possessed several modicums of charisma and talent, wasn’t.

      Credibility zero.

    • CP says:

      You also said Retribution was the best thing in wrestling.

  7. Alfonzo Tyson says:

    Just found out today that “The Natural” Butch Reed was slated to beat Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental Championship…but he no-showed the Superstars taping and Honky was given the belt. The rest is history.

    BTW, there’s still PLENTY of material to be inducted. I’m still waiting for Rad Radford, The Dickson, The Heart Throbs, Kwee Wee, The “Get Well Hulk Hogan” Friendship Bracelets Angle…

    • ThePWBPoster says:

      Rad Radford lol I thought I blocked him out of my mind. Nice guy off set too, shame WWF never let Louie Spicolli to his potential but that was also on him given his abuse.

  8. C Boz says:

    I would love to provide my thoughts on whether the plan was always to turn Honky Tonk Man heel. But, sorry, the hairstyles in that shot of Mr Ferris and Mr Ventura are far too disturbing and distracting. Maybe ole Honkers got his ‘do greased up by rubbing it against Hulk’s oily chest before hitting the ring. As for Jesse’s hair… there are no words.

    Regarding the brilliant “slapping babies” comment… if only he could have overlapped with fellow Tennessee sort-of music man Double J (hey slapnuts) Jeff Jarrett, then they could have formed a tag team – naturally called the Slappers. It would have put a whole new meaning to the lyrics of “With My Baby Tonight”.

  9. Dave Craigid says:

    Pretty obvious even at the time that Angle was designed to be a delusional heel. It’s been done a few times over the years, you could argue the early runs of both William Regal and the rebranded/pushed JBL were of this mould. Then there’s occasions like with the Rock and Tetsuya Naito where they’re genuinely designed as bland faces and bomb so badly that they eventually turn heel and become huge stars eventually turning them face again.

  10. The House says:

    And here I thought I was original when I would give joke “heel” promos in my videography class in college where I promised I was going to “kick puppies.”

  11. IP Freely says:

    Honky Tonk Mans later heel heat is bigger
    Than anybody else of this generation
    And “go away heat” does not count

  12. Enhancement Talent 3 Mark II says:

    I agree RD. I think they planned on him being heel all along. I recall a promo (which I haven’t seen in 34 years) where he smiles like a face but asks all males in the audience to wash their greasy hands before they shake, and he asks the mommas to wipe the slobber off their babies’ faces before he kisses them. All while smiling like a good, well-meaning fella. Similar to a promo you describe above, but not quite the same one.

    • Dave says:

      I remember that promo too, but if I remember right it was one of the last promos he cut before the “Vote of Confidence,” if not the last one, so it’s obvious which way they were leaning him by that point– they had seen which way the wind was blowing, and they decided to follow it.

  13. Mr. Boing says:

    This begs the question…. why was this an induction?

    This was actually a great story line lead up to a heel turn.

    everything 80’s WWF was tacky but still good in some respect

    • Dr.Gonzo says:

      Because he really was meant to be a babyface. Honky has said so himself many times, when he sat down with Vince and Hogan, he was told he was going to be a babyface.

  14. Dave says:

    I don’t know if I agree with your logic, there, Lou… uh, I mean RD. Look at how huge Hulk Hogan was in 1986– Vince knew that they could slap his face on absolutely anything and it would sell. Dude was basically a license to print money at that time. So do you really believe they would have him endorse HTM at all if they didn’t believe the fans would listen? I mean years later they didn’t have the Rock come out and raise Roman Reigns’ hand at the end of the Royal Rumble just so that fans would boo him out of the building– they did it so it would be seen as Rock giving his stamp of approval to Roman, making him the ultimate babyface. But which one of those actually happened?

  15. Mav says:

    A great induction from the golden age. We all hated Honky so much as kids. I remember he was facing Jake Roberts in Buffalo in 1987 with Jimmy Hart in a cage above the ring. I was so hopeful that Jake would win the title. I don’t know that anyone has ever played the cowardly heel better.

  16. Big says:

    When he first debuted it seemed to me that they wanted him to be their de facto Jerry Lawler and, given that he’s his cousin and billed from Memphis, maybe wasn’t a bad choice. They even had him pull down the straps on his gear to show when he was mad and had had enough.

  17. Brownie_the_3rd says:

    I can believe that Vince told Honky that he’d be a face as a way to get him to sign the contract, it wouldn’t be the first or last time Vince would lie to get what he wants.

  18. Doc 902714 says:

    HTM once said in a Shoot Interview that the original plan was to make him face, citing that Vince wanted Honky to be a poster boy for marketing Elvis-like jumpsuits and scarves. But Honky had been a heel in 0ther Feds (mostly Canada) and knew that it wouldn’t work. During HTM matches they’d have inset promos from faces (Hogan, Tito Santana) to endorse him. And conversely heels of the day (mr. Fuji, Paul Orndorff) to disparage him. So you gotta believe Vince was trying to push HTM hard as a face. HTM Vote of Confidence became the catalyst that would turn Honky heel….And the rest as they say is history.

    Also if you mailed in your vote during HTMVOC to the address, you would be added to the their mailing list and would receive a WWF Merchandise catalogue for your efforts.

  19. Amanda Traphagan says:

    My take is that Vince McMahon is a HUGE Elvis fan and who wouldn’t be?
    I am! So he ran with the logic that the fans would seemingly go along with
    the logic that Elvis even an impersonator of him is as All American as Apple pie

    I believe McMahon probaby hated making HTM heel as he never likes being wrong
    about anything but got over it once he had somebody to face Hogan and the other
    good guy stars of 80’s WWF.

  20. Brad Essex says:

    This sound like a great rewriting thr book idea him as a face. Win the intercontinental title but during the title run watch him slowly slip into madness turned crazed heel.

  21. Unknown says:

    In many ways, this reminds me of how the Rock finally turned heel and became one of the biggest superstars of the Attitude Era in the process…

  22. Honky's Hairdo says:

    Honky was the best IC champ in the history of all the times. Need proof? Santino Marella never once called for the Jeri-meter, the Miz-o-meter, or the Pat Patter-meter.Case closed.

  23. Rose Harmon says:

    Anyone else weirded out by Jesse with hair?

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