Midcard Faces is an ongoing series where I’ll be checking in with some fond memories of those wrestlers who got over, but never made it to the top. This is a mini-celebration of some favorite midcard babyfaces who we loved, but who didn’t find love in the main event. We continue this series with man’s duality in professional wrestler form, Pez “Shaska” Whatley.
How They Got Their Start
Pezavan Whatley played football and wrestled for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Aside from being the first African-American wrestler at UTC, Pez also has the distinction of being the institution’s third-most famous alumni, after Terrell Owens and Mr. Belding. If Pez had ever cut a promo, filmed a vignette or developed a catchphrase half as good as those gentlemen, he might have risen up the card a touch higher.
Now that I think about it, Velveteen Dream working out shirtless in his driveway and admonishing people to “getcha popcorn ready” absolutely should have been in the buildup to his match against Aleister Black at NXT TakeOver: WarGames. In keeping with the WarGames theme, we should have had Jim Crockett Jr. walk on in the background and drawl, “Hey Hey Hey Hey, what is going on here?”
“Pistol” Pez Whatley got his start in 1973 in The Sheik’s Big Time Wrestling before having a cup of coffee in Alabama and Tennessee, and then finally finding some minor success in Florida Championship Wrestling in 1984. He won the Southern Title twice and then entered the true midcard, where he was part of a trios tag team named The Convertible Blondes with Gary Royal and underrated Twitter enthusiast Rip Rogers.
That video above is from Angelo Poffo’s absolutely bonkers outlaw International Championship Wrestling promotion, and features an announcement that Pez Whatley had been suspended for having “Pipe Dreams,” which literally means hitting someone with a pipe. When a cursory YouTube search for a lost trios tag team inexplicably featuring a black wrestler from an outlaw promotion only yields one video, and said wrestler is a) not in the tag team and b) only mentioned in passing because he was suspended for being 40 years ahead of CM Punk in pipe related angles, well that’s just (kisses fingertips) beautiful midcard work.
Pez makes it into the program at the very, very end for an April 10th match in Springfield, Illinois promo, which I can only imagine was the inspiration for Paul Winfield’s entire career … if Paul Winfield was addicted to helium. Bonus points for ICW cutting to commercial by using this music. That is pure outlaw right there. That had to be a rib on Jim Cornette, right? Super Bonus points for Dime Store Wahoo McDaniel Apache Lou cutting a problematic promo on “animal” Pez Whatley from the locker room set of Debbie Does Dallas.
For an extra fun time, below is some tag team action with Pistol Pez & The Great Tio, preceded by Whatley providing color commentary for a previously-taped Ernie Ladd match that consists of 90 percent pronouns and the names of wrestlers that Pez can remember.
How I First Became Aware Of Him
This is the part where you’re asking yourself, “Hey, BOC, isn’t this supposed to be a series about babyfaces? Haven’t you just shown us a bunch of heel stuff from Mr. Whatley? Isn’t that picture just from a Brandon Stroud retro Best and Worst? What’s next? An obscure quote from a Paul Winfield movie none of us have seen?”
I totally understand where you’re coming from. I mean, if I were you, I would watch this video of “Ms. Macho Man 1981” in her bra and panties and be, like, “Hey, BOC, isn’t this type of humiliation exactly Southern Heel Work 101? And what *is* the deal with Ronnie Garvin and crossdressing?”
I was introduced to “Weirdly Excited Company Man Gimmick” Pez Whatley first and foremost. This was a guy who danced in place, talked about how great Jim Crockett Promotions wrestling was, and named off every feud in the company. He was teaming up with Pat Tanaka and taking on Greatest Heel Wrestling Tag Team of All Time, The Midnight Express.
I mean, just a few years earlier, this occured on Georgia Championship Wrestling television.
Holy sh*t. There are an extremely rare few circumstances where you will find anything more “Midcard Babyface” than a television match where no less than Junkyard Dog slaps you across the face to get you hyped up enough to regain your honor in the eyes of your wife and children in a match against Buzz Sawyer.
Jesus Christ, the whole locker room comes out to celebrate like Hickory High, and no less than the booker Ole Anderson puts it over in a promo only seconds later. Seriously. Then again, this is the episode where Pez hits the ring again to a Buzz Sawyer challenge for a second pin, Larry Zbyszko had his Heavyweight Championship belt stolen, and The Road Warriors kicked Precious Paul Ellering to the curb, so maybe Ole was trying to hotshot the entire territory in one TV taping.
Three years before that, he was taking chairs to the noggin from Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. off a distraction from the Macho Man while The Legend Killer was still sh*tting in his diapers.
Just to prove Whatley’s babyface bonafides beyond a shadow of a doubt, peep this video of Pistol Pez working with Canadian Midcard Royalty Leo Burke in Maple Leaf Wrestling and winning by DQ. The very next video in the cue is Tito Santana Vs. Leo Burke, for god’s sake.
Here is Pez Whatley being so Old School Midcard babyface his tag partner Vinnie Valentino cuts his promo in f*cking Italian. I don’t know if Bruno Sammartino ever did that! I can’t stop watching Pez here looking like Ricky Bobby not knowing what to do with his hands.
Then this happened.
Um, what? It appeared to my young eyes that Pez Whatley had a mental breakdown in the span of a nanosecond. At first blush, in a reality where Bo Jackson exists, being called “the greatest black athlete in the world” doesn’t really seem like an insult, but I guess one can’t really ascertain what goes on in the mind of a dancing shirtless man with scissors in the back pocket of his Dockers. Poor David Crockett is beside himself, and that is saying a lot for a guy who somehow survived a Russian Sickle.
The next thing you know, Pez has changed his name to “Shaska,” joined Paul Jones’ Army, and started dressing like a Bond Villain Henchman.
How are you going to be standing in the same camera frame as Baron Von Raschke and be the weirdest dude in the room? Shaska developed an unhealthy obsession with collecting pieces of Jimmy Valiant’s hair and squashing famous jobbers like George South.
When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader. My parents would encourage this interest and buy me abridged versions of the classics when Golden Apple Books had lost their sparkle. A Tale of Two Cities. Great Expectations. The Prince and The Pauper. Once I had inhaled the set in a single afternoon, my parents merely shrugged and pointed me in the direction of my father’s massive collection of National Geographic and hoped that would last the summer before school started.
At the time of Whatley’s dastardly heel turn, I was in my third reading of the abridged version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I suppose it was then that I made the connection between the conflicted wrestler and the cursed scientist. Perhaps it was merely an overactive imagination coupled with a lack of worldly experience that made the synapses of my mind equate “Wrestler With Top Hat” with “Fiend With Top Hat,” but who is to say?
Regardless, whenever I see old footage of Shaska Whatley, I am inevitably compelled to start fantasy-booking the Netflix series about a Victorian-era African doctor who experiments on himself and ends up in an underground bare knuckle-brawling society. I picture it as a combination of Lionheart and The Frankenstein Chronicles. We’ll call it Dr. Whatley and Mr. Shaska.
Here’s Mr. Shaska going from teaming up with Pat Tanaka to squashing Chief White Eagle.
These guys should have heeded Apache Lou’s warning. I, on the other hand, will not heed the warning in my brain of having a funk/chamber quartet mash-up soundtrack so that Dr. Shaska can boogie to the ring by the docks in Whitechapel.
Why I Stopped Seeing Him
Whatley eventually left Jones’ Army and entered into an unfortunate tag team gimmick known as “The Jive Tones” which also now happens to be my least-favorite improv team name of all time. He bounced from JCP to Florida, had a brief fling in Kevin Sullivan’s Goon Squad, and then eventually returned to his babyface ways under the nom de plume “Willie B. Hert,” which also now happens to be my second-least favorite improv team name of all time.
There are few things more desperately Midcard Babyface than entering to The Miracles 20 years after their heyday and low-fiving toddlers.
Slipping further and further down the card, Pez Whatley split his time between wrestling a 50 year old Iron Sheik in something called Pan American Championship Wrestling in Jacksonville, Florida …
Slumming it at the fairgrounds in Anderson, South Carolina “down a cakewalk” …
And being jobbed out to The Million Dollar Man in the middle of his Jake “The Snake” Roberts feud.
Vince McMahon missed a hell of an opportunity here, because if Dr. Whatley became Mr. Shaska in the NWA after being ranked above Bo Jackson, then having Virgil hand over a hundo to be shoved into his unconscious mouth should have gotten us Black Panther with the Venom symbiote in the WWF.
Whatley would continue to work as enhancement talent in WCW before his eventual in-ring retirement in 1998. Seeing as Mr. Shaska couldn’t leave graps alone (The Game needs him), he transitioned smoothly into a behind the scenes role in WCW and as an assistant trainer at the WCW Power Plant.
What Are They Doing Now?
Pez Whatley passed away from cardiac arrest in 2005 while waiting for a transplant for his own enlarged heart.
And in a completely tragic way, that makes total sense. Like so many of the guys who I grew up watching, Pistol Pez was taken from us way too soon. As you can tell from the above match with the International Wrestling Association’s Mr. Excellent, Whatley never fell out of love with the wrestling business. His heart was just too big.
When you are able to have a 25-year career while having a split personality, you, sir, are an amazing Midcard Face.