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In 1970, American singer and comedian Ray Stevens released “Everything is Beautiful,” a Grammy-nominated song that surmised: “Everything is beautiful in its own way/like a starry summer night/on a snow-covered winter’s day.”
Well, Ray, you’re wrong. Go watch Brodus Clay vs. Tensai on WWE SmackDown from December 20, 2013, and tell me if you still stand by that declaration.
There is nothing beautiful about this match. There is no soul to it at all. I watched it with the most open of minds and best of intentions, and I can’t find a scrap of art to it.
The story is that these two former teammates are now at odds. Clay, the Funkasaurus, is done with Tensai, his powerhouse partner. The duo, known as Tons of Funk, were two big, tattooed bruisers who loved to dance and harnessed their zeal to a handful of wins.
Clay transformed from a grinning, gyrating hero to an increasingly aggressive brute. Xavier Woods using Clay’s theme music kickstarted this move into villainy. Eventually, Clay pushed Tensai away and fully accepted his dark side.
It was a heel turn that made a lot of sense. Clay after all, is a large, imposing man with black tattoos stretched up his powerful limbs. The Funksaurus gimmick, complete with Clay dancing under a disco ball alongside his dancers the Funkadactyls before ripping away his tearaway pants, always felt like a miscasting. I wasn’t the only one asking at the time why this monstrous man was doing a comedy act.
So here was Clay’s chance. The disco ball and dancing were done with. It was time to be a colossus by first devouring his ally.
The first problem was that WWE gave them the tightest of windows to tell their story. The match ran for just 1:48. It’d be a tough task for Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa to do much of anything with that amount of time.
The second issue was Clay, the man now wrestling as Tyrus.
He isn’t a good wrestler. Wrestling is a medium that is so diverse and rich with multiplicity that “good” in this world can mean a lot of things. But none of it applies to Clay/Tyrus. His charisma is underwhelming. He’s no great storyteller or technician. Clay is simply a big dude with an imposing figure. That’s all he has to offer.
It shows when he’s asked to step it up in the ring and hammer home a narrative. He can’t.
We saw that against Tensai. The match is flat and unmemorable, a nothing burger with nothing sauce.
Clay goes on the attack early. He hits Tensai with an array of power moves. He runs into his fellow big guy, shoulder blocks him, nails a running splash.
None of it has any juice to it.
It’s not the moves that make a wrestling match, it’s the spark behind them, how they help craft a story, the emotions they generate. None of that happens here. It’s a soulless impression of a wrestling match.
To show off his shift in character, Clay mocks the dance moves he and his brother-in-arms once did.
Soon after, the Funkadactyls, the dancers who have been accompanying Clay during his whole funky dancer gimmick, come with out with Xavier Woods on the entrance ramp. Their presence annoys, and most importantly, distracts Clay.
That allows Tensai to schoolboy his foe for a cheap win.
Watch enough WWE and you might get numb to that sort of finish because they have been doing it ad nauseum for years. You can forget how unsatisfying it is. It’s a signal that this match isn’t the important one, the next one is. It’s an unemphatic transition.
After the three-count, Woods and Tensai celebrate with the dancing duo of Naomi and Cameron in the ring. A scowling Clay looks on from the outside.
The villain has been displaced and dealt with surprisingly easily.
WWE had a whole host of seemingly better ways to take advantage of Clay and Tensai’s separation. They could have had Clay batter and injure his old partner. A clean win for Clay. A grudge match that showed off Clay’s viciousness.
But in retrospect, WWE was right not to bother with any of that. Just do a run-on-of-the-mill TV match and move on.
The fact is Clay wasn’t worth putting booking effort in. He stinks.
His post-Tons of Funk solo run didn’t produce anything memorable. In a slow period creatively for the company, he struggled to crack the main shows of PPVs.
In 2014, he did a stint in NXT where he was allowed to be far more aggressive and serious. He wore darker gear and played a snarling bruiser with a bad attitude.
It felt like maybe Clay and WWE had found the right formula for him. At the time, I was optimistic about his direction.
His big moment came against Adrian Neville (PAC) for the NXT Championship. It’s a bout Mike Smith of Daily DDT called “lackluster.” Rich Kraetsch of Voices of Wrestling wrote of it: “This wasn’t awful but it wasn’t very good either.”
Those are apt descriptions for most of Clay/Tyrus’ work. Whether you focus on work rate or spectacle or just pure entertainment, his matches haven’t hit the mark.
WWE clearly agreed. Clay was soon among a long list of names the company released in June of 2014.
Okay, now here was his real chance. The powerhouse could march on without WWE’s shackles. No more Vince McMahon. No more comedy. Clay could be Tyrus, a truer version of himself.
Given all the freedom and ample opportunity in the spotlight with both Impact Wrestling and now the NWA, Clay has been *insert Mad Men “Not great, Bob!* gif.
CageMatch.net is not perfect, but it’s a valuable a point of reference. The numbers show off Tyrus’ lack of hits. His highest rated match (not counting Battle Royals) on the site is a 4.57.
His big NWA title win at Hard Times in New Orleans is currently sitting at a 2.54 rating.
Tyrus’ NWA run hasn’t just been underwhelming and forgettable like the majority of his WWE work, though. It’s been worse. His athleticism is worse. He’s in rough shape. A few basic moves leave him gassed.
He trudged through matches, a plodding, painful version of pro wrestling.
The Funksaurus shtick always seemed like a mistake. It felt like yet another example of WWE holding back a talent with a bad idea. But look at Clay’s work before and since. Look at what he’s done as Tyrus.
Dancing and tearing off his pants was the man’s peak, the apex of his character arc.
All the glitz is gone. All the bells and whistles WWE used no more. All that’s left, is the light shining down on a below-average wrestler.
Wrestling, like any art, is subjective, but bad art does exist.
Artist and curator Anna Choutova in a 2016 interview with Dazed Digital said: “Bad art is unchallenged, safe, and stale. Art that has nothing new to offer, nothing interesting to bring to the table. Background noise if you will, elevator music.”
What a spot-on description of everything Tyrus has done in a wrestling ring.