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The Curse of Tony Norris' Unfulfilled Potential
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By Paul Herzog

The memory is a tricky beast to figure out, sometimes. We get blinders over the passage of time, where the great athletes of our youth jump higher, run faster, throw farther in our mind's eye than they did when actually competing. It's tough to judge the degradation of an athlete's skills when 10, 15, or 20 years have passed since they first burst on the scene. It is what makes a career-threatening injury doubly tragic. If the athlete is able to perform again, we have a clearer picture of what they used to be and can make the comparison to where they are now. When the skills are diminished because of a combination of attitude, fate, happenstance, something non-injury related…well, that is the case of Tony Norris.

Without knowing his full background, I very probably saw one of the first shows that Tony Norris ever performed. By my best recollection,iIt was in late fall of 1992. I drove down from Dallas to visit an old college friend, another wrestling fan. It just so happened that he heard a radio ad for a show at an outdoor amphitheatre. Having grown up in the frozen winters of the Great Lakes, it normally never gets what I would consider to be cold in Houston. But man, it was cold that night. The hot chocolate vendor was the favorite of the small crowd, as opposed to the beer man. There were a few familiar faces wrestling…Chris Adams, Action Jackson, and Chaz Taylor. Most of them, and the other guys on the show, pretty much cashed it in with half-hearted performances. They braved the 35-degree temperature. The lack of overhead lighting rig would normally provide a small measure of heat. As fans, we were cashing it in too. Rather than reacting to the action in the ring, we wondered what we were doing there and tried to keep warm. There was one guy who didn't cash it in. That night, he was known as the Night Breeder, and the only first impressions I've had that were comparable were the Road Warriors and Hulk Hogan.

A short while later, I saw him again, this time as a new heel in Skandor Akbar's stable at the Sportatorium. He was called Moadib, from the Nubian Desert, and he was even more fun to watch when I wasn't cold and miserable.

You know the flat-footed jump from the floor to the apron that X-Pac does? Moadib did that. You know that big press slam that Steve Williams did? Moadib did that. You know that huge flying shoulder tackle that Road Warrior Animal did? Moadib did that.You know that picture-perfect floating moonsault that 2 Cold Scorpio does? Moadib did that.

As a young and impressionable smart mark, it wasn't very cool to go visibly bonkers for a wrestler, especially not at a Global Wrestling Federation show. But if you look at TV from that time, there I am in the front row, bowing in homage and rooting like crazy. Pretty soon, I wasn't the only one. Like the Roadies and Hogan before him, no matter what they did for him as a heel, eventually, he was the most popular man in the area. And when Jim Crockett took over, the Moadib name was gone, replaced with Tony "The Regulator" Norris, lead baby face.

I'm not sure what he was regulating, but at least we got to see a bunch of impressive athletic feats on a weekly basis. And after the show, he was friendly and interested in talking about professional wrestling. He wanted to know what ECW was like, and if guys in Japan really hitting each other with baseball bats covered in barbed wire. He came across as a fan, as one of us, the only difference being that he was a 300-pound guy who could do anything asked of him in the ring.

In retrospect, we should have seen it coming. Tony Norris got sloppy. He put two of Marc Valiant's teeth out with an ill-judged moonsault. Mike Davis was knocked cold with a clothesline. John Hawk (now known as the WWF's Bradshaw) can probably still feel some of the shots that he took during one of their many battles in late 1994 and early 1995. Stiff or not, still relatively green or not, it was clear that Norris was ready for more, and soon the WWF's call came, and he became Ahmed Johnson.

The decline started, perhaps not coincidentally, with the increase in money, profile and fame. The Tony Norris we knew in Dallas was replaced by a man who weighed more, didn't move as well, wasn't as impressive, and kept hurting the other wrestlers in the ring. Eventually, his attitude became the death of him, and he was let go from the WWF roster after 2˝ years.

He was a former Intercontinental champion and PPV main-eventer who couldn't get booked on Indy shows, even in his home state. Stories floated that when he did take an Indy date, he'd be difficult to deal with and often demand a change in his transportation or money on very short notice. The guy I knew who loved professional wrestling, loved performing, loved being part of the business disappeared. The fact that WCW brought Tony Norris in after two full years out of the spotlight is a testimony to their desperation for talent, for anything that might get them another tenth or two in the ratings. The current Big T has nothing in common with the Night Breeder except his fingerprints. And I'm not happy about it.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@worldnet.att.net.

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