The bizarre tale of the ill-fated hook-up between the glam metal monsters and WCW wrestling.
In 1999, WCW was at the top of the wrestling tree, though about to tumble off disastrously – regularly beating the monolithic WWF (as was then) in the ratings, WCW had the biggest stars and the most spectacular shows. It would all go terribly wrong within no time – bad decisions and falling ratings would see the company sold to the WWF in 2001.
Kiss, by 1999, were already wearing out the goodwill that had greeted the reunion of the original lineup and the return to make-up and extravagant stage costumes of the 1970s. It’s not only that the band were continually trading on past glories, with new albums being lacklustre efforts. More galling was Gene Simmons’ continual and shameless efforts to rinse the Kiss fanbase with ever more ludicrous merchandise, selling the Kiss name to just about anyone for anything. Kiss had never been shy about their commercialism, but while comic books, action figures and lunchboxes were okay in the Seventies, the sheer relentlessness of Kiss cash-ins by the turn of the century was testing the patience of all but the most forgiving fan.
There was much to connect Kiss and professional wrestling – both featured larger than life, comic book figures, outrageous stage shows and weird mythologies, so bringing the two things together probably seemed a brilliant idea. WCW head Eric Bischoff struck a deal with the band to create a stable of wrestlers based on the Kiss characters, with the first to be launch lifted from Simmons’ Demon – probably a better fit than any of the other Kiss characters (imagine a wrestling Paul Stanley…).
Rookie wrestler Dale Torborg was given the role, and although it meant burying his own identity behind a prefabricated character, he was thrilled – not only was this a big break, but he was a huge Kiss fan to boot. The character made his debut on August 23rd 1999, as part of a live Kiss performance during the top-rated WCW Nitro show. But rather than a spectacular start, this was a debut full of bad omens.
Kiss, of course, were beyond shame at this point, so performing on a wrestling show was hardly their lowest ebb. But the live version of God of Thunder rather than one of their pumped-up party anthems seemed an odd choice, and the performance is surprisingly lacklustre and badly shot – you barely see most of the band and it’s a plodding version of the song. The Demon character is introduced in dramatic form, inside a sarcophagus. Unfortunately, the doors of the sarcophagus wobble and creak open before the big reveal and it feels more like a scene from 1980s Doctor Who than an awe-inspiring unveiling of a new wrestler. The appearance of the Demon is decidedly underwhelming. And it isn’t Torborg. At the last minute, he’d been replaced by the more seasoned Brian Adams.
Not that many people saw it. For reasons best known to themselves, WCW had scheduled this spectacular at the end of the show, after the main event. The wrestling fans had tuned out and the Kiss fans had probably not even tuned in. It became one of the lowest rated segments of the company’s history.
By this time, Bischoff had been ousted from his position, and no one else thought this whole Kiss tie-up was a good idea – in fact, many considered the new character an idea way to humiliate the departed boss. Adams bailed and so Torborg was once again handed the role, now something of a poisoned chalice. WCW were contractually obliged to feature the character, but there was nothing in the contract dictating that he should win anything, and so the Kiss Demon became something of a company whipping boy, defeated in a series of embarrassingly short matches. Kiss owned the merchandise rights, but it’s hard to imagine that Kiss Demon T-shirts were flying off the WCW merch stalls.
In the end, the efforts of Kiss to reboot their characters into wrestlers proved considerably less successful than their move into being comic book superheroes. It’s not that wrestling fans are any less accepting of the ludicrous – this is the ‘sport’ where people pass themselves off as zombies, vampires, aliens and psycho monsters, and where comedy dwarves are still a thing after all – but the Kiss Demon seemed especially contrived, and without the support of the company, the character was never going to fly. Eventually teamed with other make-up wearing monster characters, the Demon would fizzle out, unlamented by anyone except Torborg, who eventually retired from wrestling and returned to his first love, baseball. For many, the character is seen as symbolic of the decline of WCW as a whole – bad, expensive ideas and misguided celebrity tie-ups would bring them down with a speed that was remarkable.
But with festivals like Download featuring wrestling tents and there seeming to be a much closer connection between heavy metal and wrestling all round, maybe the Kiss Demon was before his time, and might yet make a comeback. I’m sure if Gene Simmons thought that there was money in it, the character would be back in a flash. For now, fans will have to make do with the action figure (because of course there’s an action figure).