Operation Gimmick Impossible – Mission 2: Saba Simba

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It’s Cpl. Dick Peter back with my second mission assignment as part of the Top Secret Classified Operation known as “Gimmick Impossible”. Last week, I debriefed everyone on the evil ex-convict known as Nailz. Well, this week I get to tackle a more lighthearted gimmick from happier times.

 

Objective 1: “Mr. Africa”
The 90’s were filled with phrases of high expectations. Everyone claiming to be the wrestler or tag team of the 90’s. It was a fresh, new decade for all those wanting to forget about those jean jacket, spike collar, hair band, 1980’s. You couldn’t watch a TV program or movie without someone uttering those words “it’s the 90’s”, which was meant to the progression in the world of everything from technology to women’s rights. At the end of the day, the 1990’s also represented the worst decade of professional wrestling gimmicks known to man. And they didn’t wait very long to get started!

Twuz the end of the summer/start of the fall of 1990, and several WWE talents were on  their way out, which meant it was time for Vince to start recruiting some new talent. McMahon was on a mission to take us back decades in evolution with his latest gimmick idea.

Question: What do you do with a guy who spent the better part of a decade as one of the top drawing baby faces of the territories? A guy who once PRESS SLAMMED the 300+ pound incredible Hulk Hogan over his head and PINNED him in the middle of the ring at Madison Square Garden. A guy who was one-half of the first ever African American WWE Tag Team Champions. A guy who had spent the last year perfecting a heel character on the independent circuit that was really gaining steam in the Apter magz? Well you sign him to a contract and make some money off his ass.

OR, if you’re WWE, you give him a ridiculously racially driven “African Tribal” gimmick and essentially do nothing with him. For you see, if Akeem pretending to find his “tribal roots” in deepest, darkest, Africa (wherever that may be) wasn’t bad enough… WWE went out and found themselves a character to counteract the heel Akeem, who was obviously faking his “heritage”. The WWE’s answer was to go out and find a real African American to play the part of..well..an African. And that’s how we ended up with…

SABA SIMBA

Translated to English, Vince McMahon claimed that Saba Simba meant “Seven Lions”. But they didn’t go out and find just any African American to play the part. No Sir! WWE went out and found themselves one of the most recognizable black wrestlers of the past decade and a half, as noted by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper SEVERAL TIMES during the debut of Saba Simba as seen below.

Watch as Roddy Piper craps all over the gimmick from the moment it comes out the curtain. WWF Superstars of Wrestling, aired 9-15-90.

Not that this gimmick had a prayer to begin with, but the Hot Rod made sure that the few people who may have bought into it, did not. Now you’d figure with this being a taped program, and Vince being the owner of the company, they could have easily redubbed the commentary or Vince could have told Piper to avoid the mocking of Simba. But Something tells me McMahon got off on Roddy mocking Tony Atlas in his ridiculous attire. That’s right, for those who skipped the video, the Saba Simba gimmick was portrayed by Tony Atlas.

Roddy made everyone very aware of that. For a guy who spent most of his career being billed as “MR. USA”, he was now… Mr. Africa. Vince’s explanation was that Atlas had went back to his roots in Africa and taken on his tribal name because he was “proud of his heritage”. Apparently, that also meant that Atlas would begin wearing some of the most ridiculous garb ever worn to a ring, and that covers a lot of ground. Simba’s gear consisted of a spear, a wooden shield, a loin cloth, some furry ankle warmers, and the most prestigious head dress of all time.

I won’t lie, I’d love to have that headdress, but as a wrestling gimmick this think stunk to high heaven the moment a Lion’s roar came blaring over the arena speaker and the Fink introduced us to “Samba Simba”. As generic WWE generated tribal music played, Atlas would “dance” his way to the ring, for what was described as “looking like he’s walking on hot coals”. This gimmick was a little early for twerking, but Atlas certainly had a shot at inventing the “back that ass up” dance with this nonsensical entrance into the ring. Ironically, just as his entrance started with a lion’s roar, Vince exclaimed that was also the name of Simba’s finisher, “The Lion’s Roar”… Frickin brilliant. Simba would hoist his opponent up onto his back for a Samoan Drop, but he’d dance around before dropping them. More flipping brilliance. This gimmick had winner written all over it.

 

Objective 2: The Last Battle of Africa
Following his debut, WWE began to play up a potential Simba vs. Akeem feud. Akeem & Slick would begin cutting insert promos during Saba Simba squashes.

You’ve heard of the “Last Battle of Atlanta”? Well this would have been the last battle of Africa, and I assure you once the fans got done watching such a mess it truly would have been the LAST battle of Africa. Luckily, for everyone involved, Akeem split from the WWE less than a month after Atlas arrived and we were spared the international incident.

 

Objective 3: Back to the Drawing Board
Simba would continue to appear sporadically in squash matches on TV for the next 3 months, have a brief stint in the 1991 Royal Rumble match, and play the pawn in a Greg Valentine baby face turn at MSG. Atlas’ final appearances as Saba Simba came in late January 1991 episodes of Prime Time Wrestling where he did jobs for Power & Glory (with Paul Diamond as his partner) as well as the Barbarian. If you were going to describe Saba Simba by a month of the year, it would have to be may, because he came in like a LION, and left as quiet as a lamb. ROOOOAARRR, Indeed…

 

Debriefing Mission 2: Saba Simba
Quite the goofy gimmick to begin with. Let’s face it, with or without Roddy Piper this semi-racist gimmick was going to flop right out of the starting gate. It’s a shame that Vince felt this tribal character would get over better than Mr. USA himself. But times were tough, Atlas was hurting financially, and he very much welcomed this gimmick if it meant a roof over his head and food in his mouth. It didn’t help that Atlas’ readymade opponent Akeem split before the feud could get going. Can you imagine what goofy shit they would have done to build that thing up? It’s been almost 24 years since the debut of Saba Simba, wow 24 years? Man am I old! But even though we’re now over two decades removed, Saba Simba is one of those characters we can look back on in fondness, if for nothing else than because we know it only lasted 4 months. Atlas would go on to work a short stint for Bill Watts in WCW during 1992, and continue on the indy circuit for years. Atlas returned to the WWE in the mid-to-late 2000’s for several years, working as everything from the manager of Mark Henry to the sidekick of the Abraham Washington show. Saba Simba, however, has never been heard from again.

It’s time for me to meet with the Commander for my next Mission. Until next time CrazyMaxers, this is Cpl. Dick Peters, standing at attention.

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