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Dexter Lumis and a Brief Exploration of Wrestling Parody

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Dexter Lumis

Developing engaging characters in wrestling has always presented an abnormal dilemma. By design, each wrestler’s goals on any televised or independent wrestling show need to be mostly identical, with minimal deviations; they want to step inside the ring because they want the shiny gold belt, and they plan on punching everyone else in the mouth in order to get it.

Which isn’t to say there’s no innovation to be had; arguably, the strictness of these parameters makes it easier to deviate, since it provides a framework to be built on, a blueprint from which a more nuanced character can emerge. You’re able to pair an undead Goliath with his demonic sibling or a traditionalist mat-based tag team with a duo of luchadors, and the story becomes more personal, or more indicative of the style of the fight itself. But in creating wrestling characters, WWE, AEW and numerous other wrestling promotions, have often fallen back on inspirations outside of their own medium. These wrestlers, who rely heavily or in some cases entirely on pre-existing media, represent the enduring case of wrestling parodies.

Dexter Lumis

Dexter Lumis is, therefore, another entry in this long lineage of pro-wrestling parodies, though they’ve found varying degrees of success in the past. Consider Razor Ramon. Scott Hall had previously wrestled under the moniker of The Diamond Studd in WCW, a Rick Rude-esque villain, as well as Magnum Scott Hall in AWA,  but when joining the WWE back in 1992 he pitched a complete repackaging under what became his most famous persona. Razor Ramon was always meant to be a shameless parody of Tony Montana, piggybacking off of Scarface’s enduring legacy — from Ramon’s thick Cuban American accent to his toothpicks, his pre-Tranquilo sensibilities and his catchphrases; he was WWE’s Bad Guy.

Ramon likely wasn’t the first clear homage character in wrestling; George The Animal Steele comes to mind as an out-there revisioning of the Missing Link as well as Frankensteinian tropes. But he’s interesting to analyse in that, at least at first, there was nothing particularly unique about Razor when compared with his inspirations. In his very first vignette, Vince introduces Razor as a ‘Cuban immigrant… who feels as though the streets of America are paved with gold’ before Razor appears adorned in chains and an open white shirt; one of so many instances where looking back on old WWF content should make any contemporary viewer squirm.

Razor here is a dastardly, gutter-trash heel daring to step onto hallowed American soil to steal your hard-earned dollars. His name is Ramon, Razon Ramon, and he’s here to take the world and everything in it, chico. Atrocious McMahon introduction and offensively loud background music aside, this vignette features many of the traits that would become standard of Ramon’s character in the ensuing years. 

The usage of parody in character design here is beneficial, in that Razor is delivered to the audience near-fully-formed; it’s a quicker and easier way of introducing new players in a fast-moving wrestling universe, since the audience can latch onto what they already know about the subject matter. You’re about to see what would happen if Tony Montana had issues with The Macho Man. In 2020, the very same pull is being utilised by the repackaged El Hijo Del Fantasma as Santos Escobar, albeit several years after Narcos was at the height of its fame — one aside to these characters is that wrestling usually finds itself at least two or three years behind what’s seen as popular culture.

In 1997 WCW jumped on the Mortal Kombat bandwagon and booked Glacier vs Mortis, their imitation of Sub Zero vs Shao Khan, in another example of wrestling mimicking a popular alternative at the time. It’s somewhat surprising that, particularly in AEW, video-game inspired wrestling characters haven’t endured, as they represent another positive of the character parody trend; it leans into the welcome absurdity of wrestling itself. 

These are the kind of school playground discussions children revel in; what would happen if Jack Sparrow swung from the SmackDown fist and joined the WWE? It’s ridiculous, but sometimes the ability to lean into ridiculousness is what makes wrestling so unique. It’s also easily achievable, as thanks to wrestling possessing ongoing lore with its own place in time, these characters can be slipped into storylines and trialled without too much disruption if they don’t catch on.

Which brings us onto the key idea being explored here; what makes parody characters like Dexter Lumis work? Part of makes Lumis worth watching is this inherent ridiculousness, that you’re watching serial killer Dexter choke out wrestler’s wrestler Roderick Strong, before staring all googley-eyed down the lens. Characters like Lumis stand out thanks to the people around them —  everyone remembers The Rock vs The Hurricane because of the dichotomy at play, as well as the commitment shown by both individuals. 

To approach the idea of wrestling parodies properly, it’d be remiss to not talk about Sting. He’s another prominent 90s parody success story, following his Crow reimagination, but he also played host to the questionable creation of Joker Sting, the ‘Insane Icon’, near the end of his TNA/Impact Wrestling run. 

Before becoming Joker Sting, Sting had managed to turn a silent Crow cosplay into arguably the most beloved non-WWE wrestling character in America. In TNA, Sting began to speak on the mic more, abandoning the quiet Crow persona in favour of a more real-world interpretation of his stature in the industry to date, that of a veteran presence. Sting began appearing without his iconic face paint in backstage segments, further turning the character away from the Crow persona and towards Steve Borden, longtime wrestler. 

Sting had, by this point, developed many faces, with Joker Sting serving as a warped amalgamation of Sting’s legacy and career alongside varying portrayals of The Joker, particularly Heath Ledger’s performance in the Dark Knight. 2011 TNA was a strange time; gone was any hope that Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan’s continued presence would legitimise them as a direct competitor to WWE, whilst mainstays like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe had been pushed out of the limelight in favour of the likes of Mr Anderson, RVD and the woeful Immortal stable. The Joker Sting saga (which you can follow in its entirety in a near-2-hour YouTube video), is perhaps the most obvious, and most divisive, example of a wrestling show promoting a parody.

Watching Sting, his face-paint smeared, force-feed Hulk Hogan his vitamins

Watching Sting, his face-paint smeared, force-feed Hulk Hogan his vitamins as he cradles his bleached body against the turnbuckle, has to be seen to be believed. There’s a serious love/hate thing about Joker Sting; it’s utterly stupid, and it builds to a Hulk Hogan vs Sting match in 2011 which nobody deserved, but Sting’s energy throughout the entire run is undeniably contagious. Despite how dumb it is, and how embarrassing it can feel, Joker Sting shows just how important the commitment to a character is to making parody characters work.

As an aside, it’s a shame that these high-concept parody characters have been almost exclusively reserved to male wrestling, at least within big-budget American promotions. There are some noteworthy exceptions like the undead bride inspired Rosemary, Su Yung and the newly debuted AEW star Abadon, but they lack the specific inspirations of incarnations like Lumis to be fully considered as parodies.

The once Samuel Shaw has had enough time to hone the character, and has received enough support in terms of booking to be rendered important in the grand scheme of NXT. Ultimately, wrestling is built on its characters, and as shameful of a ripoff as the Dexter Lumis character is, he has a wild entrance and weird mannerisms that keep you watching — as long as he’s not doing too many more badly edited Ricochet jumps, he’ll likely continue to be different and committed enough to maintain that interest on his return.

So, again, why does Dexter Lumis work? The success of these characters lies in how entrenched parody is with wrestling itself. It harkens back to wrestling’s origins in carnival and conmanship, this inherent showman mentality alongside tactics designed to separate you from your wallet. There’s a nostalgic, fan-fic quality to wrestling parodies like Lumis, as if they harken back to a near-distant time when these properties were cherished — before they lost their way or were surpassed by new entities on the unending conveyor belt of content. With Lumis, you don’t have to think about the failed Dexter finale and his lumberjack exile. Instead, you can root for the essence of the character reinterpreted and repurposed to choke wrestlers out, minus the plastic wrap and, you know, actual murder. There’s something oddly cathartic about that.

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