As I watched Bully Ray repeatedly bash Flip Gordon's knee with a steel chair during Ring of Honor's Best in the World pay-per-view June 29, I felt like I was back at the Baltimore Arena (as it was known then) several decades ago rather than at the UMBC Event Center in 2018.
The way the crowd vociferously jeered Bully Ray for his heinous actions, and subsequently erupted into cheers when Colt Cabana ran into the ring with a steel chair in hand to prevent Bully Ray from inflicting further damage on the helpless Gordon, was a throwback to an era when pro wrestling fans had no trouble suspending their disbelief; they bought into the simple concept of good versus evil and were emotionally invested in it.
It's a rare occurrence in pro wrestling today, as fans largely are "smarter" and snarkier. They're more apt to pop for cool moves than anything else, and while they might cheer the babyfaces and boo the heels, the raw emotion is lacking.
Few in the business are better at eliciting that raw emotion than Bully Ray, especially when he is in full heel mode. Since signing with ROH in 2017, he has proved to be a valuable asset for the company. Not only is he a compelling character and one of the best at cutting promos, but the WWE Hall of Famer and former member of The Dudley Boyz -- one of the greatest tag teams of all time -- also adds to the star power of the roster.
I've seen where some wrestling pundits have been critical of Bully Ray's role in ROH. They contend that the veteran is hogging the spotlight, but I couldn't disagree more. Young performers such as Gordon and lovable underdog Cheeseburger are "getting a rub" from Bully Ray by working a program with him.
The more Bully Ray insults and attacks Gordon and Cheeseburger, the more the fans care about and support the two babyfaces. It's not like Bully Ray is squashing them when they meet in the ring, either.
Like any bully, Bully Ray has a big mouth, but he shies away from a fair fight, even when facing guys significantly smaller than him. His MO is to attack opponents from behind and give them a swift kick below the belt.
In the match between Bully Ray and Gordon in Baltimore, the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Gordon was ready for Bully Ray's attempted ambush and proceeded to beat the hell out of his 6-foot-4, 280-pound foe. Fans had never seen that side of Gordon, who is known for his spectacular acrobatic moves rather than his brawling skills, but he was bent on avenging the previous beatings he had received from Bully Ray.
The last time a bully got a whipping that bad was when Ralphie battered Scut Farkus. The only way Bully Ray could stop the onslaught was by delivering a low blow, thus losing the match by disqualification.
Cheeseburger, who at 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds more resembles a French fry, doesn't look like he could fight his way out of a Happy Meal box, but he came within an eyelash of pinning Bully Ray during their no-countout, no-disqualification match on this week's episode of "Ring of Honor Wrestling." Even though Cheeseburger ultimately lost, he won over the fans for valiantly standing up to the bully.
Cabana also got involved in that match, and once again the crowd reaction was deafening when he confronted Bully Ray. The fans are now salivating for a match between them. While the veteran Cabana obviously doesn't need "the rub" from Bully Ray, it's a mid-card matchup that will enhance the overall show.
As for Gordon and Cheeseburger, not only is working with Bully Ray helping them get over to a greater degree, but it's also an invaluable learning experience. Bully Ray has been wrestling for more than 25 years and has a wealth of knowledge.
Bully Ray's detractors might say he should spread that knowledge in a behind-the-scenes role rather than as an in-ring talent, but Bully Ray is just too good of a performer to not be utilized in front of the camera while he still has the ability to perform at a high level.
Bully Ray's range was on display during his first major storyline in ROH, when he played the role of the beloved, respected veteran who was forced into retirement due to suffering a career-ending injury at the hands of the Briscoe Brothers.
The ultimate goal of that angle was to put heat on the Briscoes, who turned heel after having been fan favorites for years. Mission accomplished, as the Briscoes currently have more heat than anyone in the business -- with the possible exception of Bully Ray, who turned heel a few months ago and ended his retirement. In the blink of an eye, he went from being a sympathetic figure to a remorseless psychopath.
Bully Ray has always thrived in the latter role.
To steal a line from the late, great Roddy Piper, when Bully Ray is good, he's good, but when he's bad, he's better. And he's making his opponents and ROH better as well.