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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
"Big Bossman" Ray Traylor Found Dead
September 23, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

 

NEWSFLASH!
Following completion of this column, I have gotten word that Atlanta media outlets are reporting that that cause of Ray Traylor's death is a heart attack. Purely natural causes, and any word on underlying causes of the heart attack are the details we'll now have to wait for.

On Wednesday evening, Ray Traylor was found unconscious by his wife in their Dallas, GA, home; paramedics rushed to the scene but were unable to revive Traylor, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

I have conflicting data in my records, but Traylor was either 41 or 42, and in either case, is gone far too soon.
 

The cause of his death is unknown at this time, and will probably remain so for several weeks, at least. Though suffering a perpetually bad knee that was last operated on in 2000, all reports are that he felt fine otherwise, and was even booked on a major indie show (reprising perhaps his second-most infamous wrestling role as the bodyguard

of the Midnight Express) in October, and remained on very good terms with WWE, as well. 

At only a shade over 40, with a well-earned reputation for being about as good a worker as you'll see for a big man (though, commendably LESS big than he was when he broke into the business at well over 400 lbs.), and owner of a unique "enforcer" gimmick that enhanced his value outside the ring (in case age or injury would limit him inside it), Traylor may well have had another WWE comeback in him.

Sadly, now we'll never know.

I actually consider it sad for a couple of reasons: first, anytime a guy (especially a good, conscientious citizen and family man like Traylor seemed to be) leaves this world as young as 41 or 42, that's just not right.  Nobody's ready to deal with that, least of all Traylor's wife and two young daughters, who of course will feel the brunt of this in a way we wrestling fans never will.

But hey, we mostly knew Ray Traylor as "The Big Bossman," as a wrestler. And this story sucks on another level, because it's entirely possible that an entire generation of wrestling fans has the wrong idea about the Bossman; not only what he was capable of in the ring, but also the caliber and importance of storylines he was a part of.  Let's just say that one more comeback for the Bossman might not have restored his legacy to its early 90's sheen; but one more run for Traylor in WWE might have gone a long way towards making the current flock of Attitude Era fans forget about some of the nonsense he'd been booked into during his final major WWF exposure.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, though... to understand just how Ray Traylor was underrated and how it might be best to remember him, let's just start at the top, OK, kids?

Because for as much of an impact as Traylor eventually made on the wrestling business during the very peak of the Hogan Era, and the way he came back to the WWF just in time to ride the wave of Attitude Era popularity, his early days and breaking into the business were anything but traditional.

Traylor grew up in Dallas, GA, and although his cool-in-a-late-80s-way, Jimmy-Hart-scribed theme song famously declared that Bossman was from "Cobb County, Georgia" (which was then Bossman's announced hometown for the rest of his career), I just so happen to have recently been on a Cross Country Road Trip and have an atlas handy... and Dallas, GA, is in Paulding County.  Which just doesn't have the same kind of ring to it, I guess.

But it must have been a pleasant enough place, since Traylor was born there, grew up there (where he was a stand-out football player at Paulding High School, and received an athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga as a result), and returned there to live after college.  And as far as I know, he continued to live there till the time of his death.

Traylor's was not a wrestling family. Nor did he have any particular interest in wrestling himself. So after college, he returned to his hometown just outside Atlanta, and needed to find a job. At 6'4" and over 300 lbs. in 1984, a few opportunities might have been available to Traylor that wouldn't have been available to an average joe.

One of those opportunities?  As a prison guard.  About 20 minutes up the road in Marietta, GA -- in more importantly, we've now crossed an imaginary line into Cobb County -- Traylor was put to work as a screw in the county jail.  However, for as important as the prison guard job would be to his later character development, it didn't really suit Traylor, and he was constantly on the look-out for other work and other things to try.

And again: being 6'4" and now inching closer to 400 lbs. means a few unique doors might be opened to you.  Being right in the heart of Georgia Championship Wrestling's territory as it was exploding in terms of its dominance over the NWA thanks to Ted Turner's Atlanta-based "SuperStation 17-WTBS," it wouldn't have been uncommon to have someone in the business spot the massive prison guard walking the suburban-Atlanta streets where he lived and worked, found out the guy was a stand-out high school and college athlete, and then gotten the idea that the guy should be a pro wrestler.

Which is pretty much exactly how it happened.  An acquaintance of Traylor's put him in touch with an ex-wrestler in the area, and thus began the process of molding the the big man into a pro wrestler. In the age before reputable wrestling schools and refined training programs, Bossman's scattershot training was still enough to get him familiar with a few basics.  Even with what would today might be considered a "late start" on his wrestling career (Traylor never set foot in a ring until he was 23), his size combined with his surprising athleticism did the rest and did it fast.

Because essentially, Traylor caught the eye of Dusty Rhodes (already a big power broker in the Crockett/Georgia territories) just months into his training, and found himself on TV, on the recently-unGeorgia-tized "World Championship Wrestling" program (which would eventually become the promotion's name when it split from the NWA).  His NWA debut came in early 1986, when he showed up as Jim Cornette's suit-wearing bodyguard for himself and his Midnight Express.
 
Of course, as green as he was, Traylor was NOT rushed into wrestling matches.  Massive and more than a little mysterious, the newly renamed "Big Bubba Rogers," would administer beatings outside of the confines of a bell-to-bell wrestling match.  While he was doing his thing as a non-wrestling "bodyguard," his training also ramped up, and instead of random sessions with some forgotten ex-wrestler, Traylor started training and picking up tips from the NWA's best at the time, and working week-in and week-out with the likes of the Midnight Express and the Rock 'n' Roll Express probably helped even further accelerate Traylor's development.
 
I know this personally, because this is pretty much where Traylor was introduced to me during my nascent fandom. As you're all aware, sometimes I have trouble with 80's NWA history, simply because I lived too far north to really fall into the Crockett/Georgia sphere of influence, and even with TBS on my cable system, I always thought those Saturday Night shows from Center Stage Theater looked cramped, tiny, and bush league compared to the WWF's programs at the time.  And yet, Traylor is one of those guys I VIVIDLY remember knowing about well before he got to the WWF.

As "Big Bubba Rogers," Traylor was quickly splashed all over the pages of the PWI family of magazines right at the time when I was starting to read them to feed my Wrestling Jones.  By the time he stepped into the ring and became a full-time wrestler (late in 1986, at Starrcade, I believe), it already seemed like Big Bubba was the next big thing in wrestling.  This might be a mis-remembrance, but I'm PRETTY sure that Bubba was also named either PWI's Rookie Of The Year or the runner-up for that award within a year of his debut.

It was also around the time of his move towards full-time wrestling and not just bodyguarding that Traylor decided maybe he should quit the job at the prison. In a funny story I remember from an interview a year or so ago, Traylor says he continued prison guard work even after he was on TV, just because he wasn't sure the wrestling thing was gonna work out. When he was finally being booked for full road tours, he STILL tried to keep both jobs by asking for time off from the prison; they essentially told him to pick one job, Wrestler or Prison Guard, and stick to that.  Traylor chose Wrestler.

By mid-1987, Traylor took advantage of ties between Crockett/Georgia and the new UWF (a Bill Watts-run promotion that was absorbed into the NWA/WCW by the end of 1987) to move to that territory and win the UWF Heavyweight Title.  Less than 18 months into his wrestling career, and Traylor was holding the top belt of what could have been reasonably considered the #3 wrestling company (even ahead of the AWA, which is more standardly thought of as part of the "Big Three" of the 80s) at the time.

His reign was short-lived, but his work was well-received. He was already moving in the ring in a way uncommon for men his size, and he was still learning. After starting out as Silent Muscle for Cornette, his development on the microphone was maybe a bit behind, but it was coming along, too.  So would you be at all surprised to find out that Vince McMahon started sniffing around and showing an interest in Traylor by the end of 1987?
 
Of course you wouldn't. And when Traylor couldn't get Crockett to match Vince's money offer, he decided to relocate to the WWF.  I think he last appeared in the NWA in the autumn of 1987, and then Traylor and the WWF took their sweet time coming up with a new package for "Big Bubba Rogers," as he didn't debut on WWF TV until at least 6 months later.  I remember the seemingly interminible lay-off very clearly: as I said, I'd known to keep an eye on this "Big Bubba Rogers," and when PWI said he'd signed with the WWF, I kept waiting.  And waiting....

But the wait was worth it. Traylor's new package took advantage of Traylor's real life work as a prison guard, but significantly gussied it up. Shortly after WrestleMania 4, vignettes featuring an enormous, foul-spirited, mean, buzzcut prison guard started airing. The "Big Bossman," as he was called, strutted around the Cobb County Prison yard talking about the joy he derived from plastering people with his nightstick and other heelish stuff.

When the Bossman finally started showing up in the arenas and in the ring, instead of in vignettes, he quickly adopted "The Doctor of Style" Slick as his manager. And he also debuted a unique character hook: after he'd win a match over a jobber, he'd handcuff the poor guy to the ring ropes and then beat him with his nightstick for a bit.

And I gotta tell you something, kids: maybe it was just a phase I was in (precocious kid exiting childhood and entering teenager-ness), but it didn't take long before Bossman joined Mr. Perfect on my list of newly-debuted heels I kinda liked.  What is it about the very first heels I had the balls to cheer for dying like flies, man?  I can't remember if I was early enough to cheer them as heels or if I was just coming around when the WWF finally turned them, but if I was Roddy Piper or Jake Roberts, I'd be REAL careful taking care of myself....

Anyway, my point: between the cool theme song ("Hard Times") and the ass-whomping he put on chumps and the general "don't cross me" vibe, there was something compelling about this Big Bossman.  I even remember filling out some silly survey thing for the WWF during the fall of 1988; on it, they asked you to list your three favorite wrestlers.  I'm sure they LOVED hearing from the punk kid 8th grader who'd later develop into a REAL thorn in their side when I listed (in order): Mr. Perfect (heel), Randy Savage (who they were about to turn heel), and the Big Bossman (heel).
 
Bossman made his PPV debut at SummerSlam's debut in 1988, squashing Ko Ko B. Ware.  But as was the WWF's custom at the time, they basically built up heels so they could feed them to Hulk Hogan.  So over the course of the fall of '88, Bossman kept on doing his evil deeds until finally he crossed paths with the righteous Hulkster.  Bossman took out Hogan on the "Brother Love Show" with a nightstick attack to jumpstart the feud, and by that point, was probably the WWF's lead heel.  At the very least, he was the equal of Ted DiBiase, whose star had begun waning after never made an inch of headway in a World Title Feud against Randy Savage.

As tended to happen around November in the 80's WWF, alliances started forming.  Hogan and Savage gravitated towards each other, as they were the "MegaPowers," while that brought the Bossman (and his stablemate, Akeem) together with Ted DiBiase for a 5-on-5 Survivor Series match.  I'm sorry, kids, but I honestly do not remember the other members of each team at this point; but that's OK, none of them mattered.  What mattered was that in the match, Bossman and Akeem began a feud with Hogan and Savage when Bossman decided to turn the tide in his team's favor by handcuffing Hogan to the ring ropes in the middle of the match.  This forced Savage to wrestle the match alone for a good 10 minutes and against 2 men; actually, against 3, as Slick got involved copiously. In fact, it was Slick getting KO'ed by Savage that set up the finish, as the manager bump meant the Lovely Miss Elizabeth could go into Slick's pocket, get the handcuff key, and release Hogan from the ropes.  Then, in an Orton-like moment, Hogan FINALLY tagged himself into the match after Savage had done all the work, and finally eliminated the last member of the other team (I want to say Haku, actually).

On the surface, this big match had the effect of setting up a huge MegaPowers (Savage/Hogan) vs. Twin Towers (Bossman/Akeem) match on a live Prime Time NBC special. But beneath the surface, it was setting things up for an even more memorable subtext to that match, as it was the match where Randy Savage finally and violently turned on Hulk Hogan. When Savage accidentally collided with Elizabeth, sending her sprawling to the floor, it was Hogan who scooped her up and carried her to the back; and for the second time in 3 months, Savage was left all by himself against the Twin Towers.  And he didn't like it.  So when Hogan returned and graciously offered to tag back into the match, Savage slapped him in the face, and walked off to leave Hogan to do all the work. Of course, Hogan being Hogan, it was no problem: he dispatched two giants in about 5 minutes, and went back to do a big show-closing angle with Savage and Liz that cemented them as the WM5 main event. So hey: Bossman may not have ever headlined a WrestleMania, but WM5 couldn't have happened without him.

After about six months as the top (or #2) heel in the company, Bossman was about to get a demotion. He and Akeem started teaming together full time, and at WM5, they beat the Rockers, and seemed like they might be headed for tag gold.  Bossman also briefly diverted his attention towards a throw-away mini-feud with Hulk Hogan; Hogan had regained the WWF Title from Savage, and needed a disposable challenger or two to get his reign underway in style. His old foe, the Bossman, was tapped for the job.  And actually, he did it in style; the climax of the mini-program was a late-Spring Saturday Night's Main Event cage match that probably rates among the better Hulk Hogan matches you'll ever see.  If nothing else, I remember the two guys (probably about 13' and 700 lbs. between them) doing a superplex off the cage and being absolutely amazed. Back then, 400 lbs. men didn't do stuff like that; and even back then, I was sharp enough to catch onto the fact that Hogan didn't normally do much of anything risky, either.  Good stuff.

As promising as the Twin Towers tag team may have seemed on paper, I'm not entirely sure they ever really mounted a serious challenge for the tag titles. I didn't understand the concept then, but I'm thinking maybe it was because they would have been "division killers."  So although they continued working as a team, there was no carrot at the end of the stick, and so Bossman ALSO maintained a singles agenda, which for much of 1989 revolved around feuding with the man who "discovered" him and who'd recently arrived in the WWF himself, Dusty Rhodes.  Even without any title on the line, both men played their roles well, and this was probably the #2 or #3 feud for the WWF for the entire second half of the year.  I don't recall, but I'm pretty sure that Bossman got the last laugh in their rivalry (Dusty may have won the blow-off match, but I remember a big part of the feud was Dusty stealing Bossman's handcuffs/nightstick, and I *know* things ended with Bossman getting those things back; and probably using them on Dusty).

By now, we're up the start of 1990.  And even as a pimply faced geek just starting to make his mark in the high school band, it turns out I was an trailblazer as the year started: because the WWF couldn't keep Bossman a heel any longer.  The bad-assery combined with the charisma and surprising ringwork were being noticed by others.  So right around the time of the Royal Rumble, Bossman was part of an angle where he was commissioned by Ted DiBiase to attack Jake "the Snake" Roberts (DiBiase's foe at the time).  But when Bossman found out that his manager, Slick, had taken some ridiculous percentage of the fee for himself, the Bossman got upset.

So the Bossman helped out Roberts or otherwise un-did whatever his dirty deed was... and Slick didn't like that.  The two split, and Bossman rapidly found himself under attack from his former Twin Tower partner, Akeem.  The two wound up signing for a match at WrestleMania 6, and I remember thinking it'd be a Titanic Struggle and being kind of into the story.  And then the match lasted 90 seconds, and Bossman won.  Huh.  Well, didn't matter so much to me: I was happy the right guy won.

And Bossman caught on pretty well with the audience, too.  Even as he treaded water, establishing himself as a babyface with wins over jobbers, now that Akeem was dispatched (and out of the company), fans warmed to him enough that when the WWF made a major misstep and needed somebody to bail them out, they came to the Bossman.

Many fans remember "The Shockmaster," but what's often forgotten is that Fred Ottman was actually involved in TWO of the worst-executed, WrestleCrap-worthy debuts in wrestling history.  In the spring of 1990, Ottman was brought in as a personal friend of Hulk Hogan's named "Tugboat."  What the WWF apparently never stopped to think about is that as much as fans would lap up whatever Hogan served them, they just did NOT want their hero showing up on TV and claiming that some candy-striped, borderline-retarded-seemming, TOOOT-TOOOT'ing moron is his best friend in the world. But it didn't stop them from trying.
 
So after Hulk Hogan sufferened one of his bi-annual Super Beatdowns (designed to give him time off to make movies after even-numbered WrestleManias) at the hands of Earthquake, this "Tugboat" guy stepped in and launched a Hulk Hogan Friendship Campaign in which he asked all of the Hulkster's OTHER super-best friends out there in TV land to send Hulk get well letters, because otherwise, the Hulkster might never come back to the WWF.  I'm not sure if there was a donation involved, but this is also the way you could, if you were a complete blithering ass, get your hands on the precious "Hulk Hogan Friendship Bracelet."  The angle, to the best of my retroactive knowledge, tanked badly, and the WWF mail room was not exactly inundated with letters.  The WWF had set things up so that Hogan would finally make his return at SummerSlam, and that his Good Friend Tugboat would be in his corner for a match against Earthquake (who would have Dino Bravo in his corner).  The plan was to have Hogan get the win over Quake, maybe do some tag matches, but ultimately give Tugboat (promising superstar that he was) a feud with the hated Quake himself.

The plan was ditched just weeks before SummerSlam, as the WWF did an injury angle with Tugboat, because they FINALLY realized what a drag a clown-who-thinks-he's-a-sea-faring-vessel might be on Hogan's popularity.  Tugboat would not be heard from again in any substantive way until he ditched that gimmick, and became the slightly-less-silly "Typhoon," forming the Natural Disasters tag team with his one time foe, Earthquake.

But in the interim, Hogan needed a new corner man for SummerSlam. And of all the upper-mid-card babyfaces he could have picked from, who'd he take?  The Big Bossman.  Quickly inserted into that spot (he'd previously been mucking around in the middle of a throw-away Roberts/Bad News Brown feud that was predicated partially on who had the more disgusting pets), Bossman's stock soared again. Hogan overcame Quake in the SummerSlam match, Hogan and Bossman started teaming up around the country against Quake and Bravo, and Bossman got singles wins over both guys on house shows and whatnot.  Bossman was also part of Hogan's team at Survivor Series that fall, where an amusing footnote had Big Bossman's mother coming into play: opposing team member Rick Rude and his manager Bobby Heenan allegedly made "inappropriate comments" about Bossman's mother, and Rude was suspended from the WWF as a result; it remains on of the dumbest, flimsiest excuses for a suspension of all times, and only becomes funnier when you get to Bossman's antics of 1998.  But anyway, the message that was getting across: Bossman is ALMOST as awesome as Hulk Hogan.

And when you're ALMOST as awesome as Hogan, that means one thing: you're set to be the top babyface challenger to the InterContinental Title.  So that's where Bossman was positioned as 1991 got underway, setting his sights on the IC belt held by (d'oh!) Mr. Perfect (who, conveniently enough, was managed by Bossman's-mother-mocking Bobby Heenan, which is how they hooked it up). So two of my favorites locked up for the first half of 1991, and somehow, they BOTH managed to win the feud.  I think their most famous match was probably WM7, where Perfect lost the match via DQ.  So Bossman wins the match, but Perfect retains the title!  I was happy.  It was a move that probably kept the title on the right guy (Hennig was a bit smaller than usual WWF main event size at that point, and an actual WRESTLER, so the belt did him more good than it would have Bossman), but protected Bossman as he headed into his next big feud.

And logically enough, said feud was against a newly arrived heel custom made to clash with Bossman. Most fans probably never stopped to think how dumb it was, but the WWF managed to convince us that American Law Enforcement Officers HATE Canadian Law Enforcement Officers when "The Mountie" (Jacques Rougeau in a nice RCMP outfit and luckily still MONTHS away from having a theme song even cooler than the Bossman's) debuted and crossed paths with Bossman.  How'd it play out?  Well, Bossman might have walloped a perp or three with his nightstick, but the Mountie was WAAAAY more evil, because when he debuted, his post-match schtick was using a shock-stick to tazer his beaten opponent's into unconsciousness.  Jerk.  So Bossman simply HAD to step in and insist that there's a right way and a wrong way to take advantage of an alleged criminal.  And the shock stick just took things too far.

So the two feuded for the summer of 1991, and I think they paid it off at SummerSlam, where Bossman beat the Mountie in a match where the loser had to spend a night in jail. But in an odd twist, the Mountie came out of the match in better shape; he was soon poking about the IC Title picture, while the man who jailed him was spinning his wheels. Left with no singular foe, Bossman slid down the card during the autumn of 1991 and winter of 1992.  His first WWF stint hit bottom at WrestleMania 8, where he was tossed into a pointless 8-man tag match that might as well have not been on the card at all.

But shortly after WM8, the WWF did it's usual spring cleaning and resetting for 1992, and that meant debuting a new character, one who was coming for the Bossman and who would once again give Bossman a high-level feud.  Vignettes featuring the same prison as Bossman walked when he debuted 4 years previous started airing with cryptic voice-overs.  Somebody from Bossman's past, some psychotic criminal who believed he'd been abused by the Bossman while in the Cobb County Jail was on the brink of being released back into society. And he was coming to the WWF, and he was gonna make the Bossman pay.

I remember thinking it was actually a pretty cool little storyline, and when "Nailz," a 6'8" psycho wearing his orange prison jump suit, debuted, I was looking forward to the big feud and the big showdown between him and Bossman.  Of course, at that point, I was still young enough to have NO idea how the wrestling business worked and that Nailz was gonna squash the Bossman, but hey... the internet hadn't been invented yet as far as I knew.

When Nailz finally arrived on the scene after months of vignettes, he did so with a splash, taking out Bossman with a brutal attack during the summer.  Bossman sold the attack by taking 2 months off from TV, during which time Nailz decimated the entire babyface roster (well, the curtain-jerkers, anyway).  Bossman returned with a vengeance in the fall, and it didn't take long before he and Nailz were signed to a special "Nightstick Match" at the Survivor Series.  In my heart of hearts, I was sure this was where Bossman got his revenge.  Little did I know I know that Big Man Fetishist Vince McMahon had huge plans for Nailz that included polishing off Bossman and then moving into a huge feud against the Undertaker....

BUT WAIT: little did Vince McMahon know that Kevin Wacholz (the man who played Nailz) was not quite right in the head.  After a backstage confrontation between the two (in which Vince may or may not have been choked or punched), it was NAILZ whose WWF tenure was about to be shortened.  So Bossman actually did get the win over Nailz at Survivor Series that year, and Nailz disappeared from the scene shortly there after.

But though he got the "blow off" win over his hated rival, it was only by accident, and there was nothing left for Bossman to do.  He stuck around, and I think he put over the returning Bam Bam Bigelow at the 1993 Royal Rumble.  And then he was gone from the WWF before WrestleMania 9.

This almost exactly 5-year-long run contains a TON of cool and important stuff, and Bossman's value to the Hogan Era WWF is probably under-estimated by most fans.  From being a headlining heel during his initial 18 months to developing into a surprisingly effective upper-card babyface for his last 3 years, Bossman challenged for titles, was both a main event foe and main event partner of Hulk Hogan's, and was integral to the set-up of a WrestleMania main event.  There are a lot of guys who probably won more titles or have higher visibility with fans who can't boast the resume of the Big Bossman during this run.

Of course, the story takes a bit of a turn, here, as Ray Traylor had to leave the "Big Bossman" gimmick at the door when he parted ways with the WWF.  The entirety of the next five years can be summed up in one word: underwhelming.

Immediately following his WWF departure, Traylor split his time between Japan and SMW, but by the autumn of 1993, Eric Bischoff was firmly entrenched at WCW, and was on the cusp of getting Ted Turner to open up his bottomless checkbook.  Seeing a former WWF headliner on the open market, Bischoff signed Traylor to WCW in time for (I think) Halloween Havoc.  Traylor debuted as babyface ally of Sting's, even got to challenge for Rick Rude's "International Title" at one point shortly after his debut, and I can't recall vividly, but I think WCW even idiotically tried to bring in Kevin Wacholz at some point early in Traylor's WCW run in an attempt to rekindle a feud that was probably best left dead (and to re-employ a guy who was probably best left unemployed).

But although WCW had big ideas for Traylor, they had a huge problem: they didn't know what to call him on TV.  He showed up, and they thought maybe just "Bossman" would be OK, but obviously, it wasn't.  They tried just "The Boss," but the WWF legal team jumped on that, too, and by early 1994, WCW couldn't use that name.  Their hands tied, they quickly de-pushed Traylor until they could figure out what to do with him.  By mid-1994, WCW was in full-on Spend Mode, and had signed Hulk Hogan.  Hogan liked surrounding himself with guys he'd worked with in the past and trusted, including Traylor, so WCW finally got around to repackaging the guy: he became "The Guardian Angel," a take-off on the organization of the same name (in which regular citizens are ever vigilant and fight crime when they see it; and also, apparently you have to wear a goofy-ass red beret while doing it).  

This time, I think the actual Guardian Angels gave the gimmick their sanction, so that wasn't the problem. The problem was that it was a really silly outfit and gimmick for a business that was just finally starting to inch towards slightly cooler and more real personalities. So "The Guardian Angel" flopped with fans despite being re-pushed into a near-the-top-of-the-card role as an ally of Sting and Hulk's. So WCW decided on a heel turn, and Traylor ditched the red beret and started calling himself "Big Bubba Rogers" again.  There, see, was that so hard, WCW?

Unfortunately, as soon as Big Bubba returned and got rid of his silly gimmick, he fell in with a bunch of dudes who couldn't say the same thing. As part of the "Dungeon of Doom," Bubba was surrounded by idiocy, and as such, his own stock dropped.  By the end of 1995 and into 1996, Bubba was reduced to Dungeon of Doom in-fighting, as his old foe Earthquake had come to WCW and joined the group (as "Avalanche").  And them two hosses, they had a history!  So even though they couldn't mention it, and even though their names weren't the same, Bossman and Quake rekindled their old feud for a bit in WCW!

As the nWo rapidly expanded in 1996, Big Bubba was one of the many former WWF wrestlers to join the group. But at that point, he was lucky to be considered a member of the "b-team."  The nWo got THAT bloated.  Traylor stuck with the nWo for maybe a year, but then after an injury hiatus, he returned and found out the nWo didn't want him any more.  So he tried to lead an attack against the nWo...  I think he had one showdown against the nWo in which he got the Steiners to be his partners, but for the most part, Bubba was leading other c-teamers, and obviously, he was NOT the one who got to take down the mighty nWo.

It also didn't help that, for some unknown reason, WCW decided that "Big Bubba" wasn't an adequate name. They had Traylor go on TV and reveal that his name is "Ray Traylor," and that's the name he wanted to wrestle under.  And Ray Traylor is a nice name and all, but anyone who thought it'd catch on like "Big Bubba" must have been smoking something funny....

So this is how Ray Traylor's WCW run ended with a whimper in either late 1997 or 1998.  He spent almost the entirety of 1998 on the sidelines, the first time since 1985 when his visibility dropped that low in the wrestling world.  But continuing a trend that he'd begun during his Japan/SMW/WCW years, Bossman aggressively whipped himself into the best shape of his career in 1998, and in October, he returned to the company and the persona that made him: he returned as the Big Bossman in the WWF.

Well, not at first; at first, he was a mysterious masked assailant on the payroll of Mr. McMahon. His identity was known to most internet fans, but when a suddenly-svelte Bossman unmasked that fall, it might have been a suprise to a lot of fans.  As a henchman for McMahon's Corporation, Bossman was immediately sacrificed to Steve Austin, and then found himself feuding with Vince's lesser adversary: Mankind.  Mankind and the Bossman traded the newly-created Hardcore Title at least once or twice in late '98 or into '99, marking Bossman's first taste of gold since the UWF Title 11 years previous.

Although Bossman was decidedly stuck on the mid-card, it didn't take long for him to add ANOTHER title, as he and Corporation-mate Ken Shamrock enjoyed a few months as tag champions.  But then, Bossman was back on his own in time for WM15.  In fact, he was feuding with the Undertaker (as the Corporation at the time had no love for the Undertaker or his newly formed "Ministry").

This led to what seemed like the nadir of the Hell in the Cell tradition, as Taker beat Bossman inside the Cell at WM15, including an unconvincing "hanging" of Bossman by Edge and Christian at the end of the match.  Not good at all, folks.  But luckily, hanging is NOT fatal in pro wrestling, so Bossman was back in action in a matter of weeks.  However, he quickly became a man without a country when, against all logic, Vince McMahon's Corporation fused with the Undertaker's Ministry.  Don't ask me, folks; I didn't write it, I just remember it.  So not only was the "Corporate Ministry" now one entity with about half-as-many spots to be filled.... but Bossman just got done violently feuding with Taker, anyway, so it'd be weird to have him still around the group.  But they also didn't want to turn Bossman face, I guess, so they just sort of had him wander away on his own.  And sadly, if you thought Hell in the Cell against Taker was bad, well.... you ain't seen nothing yet!

Bossman decided to go back after the Hardcore Title, which was now held by Al Snow. And that wasn't the only thing in Snow's possession, as he'd also taken a shine to a puppydog named "Pepper."  I think they traded the title a couple of times over the summer and fall, but along the way, they did a really lame skit in which Bossman tried to make his peace with Snow by inviting him over to dinner (three camera set-up, naturally, in purest Crash TV Hollywood-ization).  The two had a nice dinner, seemed to put their differences aside, until Bossman revealed that the main course had been.... oh, come on, even if you DIDN'T see it, you know what's coming... it was PEPPER STEAK.  GET IT?!?  

That led to one of the most demoralizingly bad matches of 1999, in which Bossman and Snow battled inside a "Kennel From Hell" (they fight inside a regular cage, but then that cage is enclosed in a Hell in the Cell, and between the two cages are RABID DOGS.  That'll learn the Bossman to cook puppies!  The brawling was tepid, the dogs were uncooperative, and this just sucked folks.  For the second time in less than 8 months, Bossman was a party to befouling the previously-thought-bulletproof Hell in the Cell concept....  anyway, Snow won the match, and the feud, but apparently, somebody was a big fan of Bossman's heel work, because his Year of Suck was just getting started....

Shortly after the Kennel From Hell, the WWF found out that Steve Austin's neck was in really bad shape and that he'd have to be written off TV for a year.  His role in the WWF Title picture meant severely shaking things up.  So, in a surprise move, the WWF changed gears in mid-stream at Survivor Series '99, and put the title on The Big Show (a babyface, defeating the heel Triple H).  But HHH needed to take a few months to focus on his new marriage to Stephanie McMahon and a feud with Vince, so who to face the Big Show in the interim?  The WWF tapped the Big Bossman.

Bossman, who once got Rick Rude fired from the WWF for comments Rude made about his mom, suddenly bit into Big Show with an attack based almost exclusively on Big Show's dad.  As I recall, it went like this: Show's dad was diagnosed with cancer just as Show was starting his title reign, and a week later, SOMEbody faked a note to Big Show claiming his dad had died.  Bossman later took credit.  Big Show no-likey.  Then, a few weeks later, Big Show's dad died "for real" (in a fake storyline), and Big Show was sad.  But Bossman showed up at the funeral in the Blues Mobile, and started mocking Show and his dad over the loudspeaker.  And then he hooked the casket up to the back of his car and dragged it around. And for the coup de grace, Bossman made a visit to Show's mom; emotionally distraught, Show's mom admitted that she'd had an affair and that her now-dead husband was NOT Show's biological dad or something.  Of course, Bossman had "secretly filmed" the meeting, and showed the footage on TV, and began calling Show a "bastard."

Now, all this might sound "so bad it's good" to some of you. And if it'd been a throw-away angle low on the card, maybe it would have been.  Still WrestleCrap at its finest, but maybe funny enough that you look back on it fondly in a way.  But this was your WWF Title feud for 3 months, and rarely, if ever, was the title mentioned or a was it a driving force behind the animosity.  Just annoying and dumb as hell.  And of course, once they finally hooked it up in a PPV match, Show decimated Bossman, and that was that.  All that work for a one-off disposible challenger.

As 2000 started, Bossman's days as an important player in the WWF were numbered.  Dispatched by Show, Bossman tried out a series of tag partners, most notably Albert (now "A-Train") and then Bull Buchanan.  It was with Buchanan that Bossman had some mild success, and the duo even made it onto the WM2000 card together.  But later in 2000, any chances the duo had of making it to the top of the tag ranks was short-circuited when Bossman needed knee surgery.

Bossman was off TV for an entire year, and when he returned in the fall of 2001, it was only briefly. Returning as a heel, his career had also come full-circle; perhaps not likely to be taken seriously as an active wrestler, Bossman's last run with the WWF was as a bodyguard (to Booker T).  I think his only PPV appearance (and his last one ever) came as an also-ran in the 2002 Royal Rumble.  Before winter 2002 was up, Bossman was off TV entirely.  During the summer of 2002, he was reassigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he was an assistant trainer for the WWF's developmental territory.

I believe his contract with the WWF and his duties in OVW ended late in 2002, although he remained on very good terms with the company.  In the last 2 years, he's remained out of the wrestling spotlight almost entirely, making only sporadic appearances on the indie scene (and also appearing once or twice in Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling).  I know he had become very involved in fundraising and local politics in his hometown in Paulding County, Georgia, where he was living comfortably off the money he had made and wisely saved during his peak years.

And again, though we might not know what aspirations Traylor had in terms of returning to the business to finalize his legacy, I do hope that in some small way I've been able to clue some of you in on how talented and important a performer Traylor was. The occasion for doing so is a sad one, but any chance to point out that the Big Bossman was about so much more than HitC-ruining, puppy-cooking, and funeral-crashing is one I feel compelled to take advantage of.

The Bossman of the 1988-1993 WWF not only played a huge role in key storylines and matches for the company, he was also a remarkable performer and one of the first super-heavyweights to start raising the bar for how athletically gifted Big Men needed to be inside the squared circle.  Let's not forget about that, folks.

Ray "Big Bossman" Traylor is dead, too soon, at 42.  Our sincere condolences go out to all his family, friends, and fans.


  
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Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

 

 

 


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