Three decades ago, WWF fans knew when the theme music for one of the greatest villains in the promotion’s history declared “he’s got long sideburns, his hair slicked back, he’s coming to your town in a pink Cadillac” that they were paying to boo The Honky Tonk Man.
He may be the inductee in the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame class with whom younger fans are least familiar, but his impact still resonates today. It’s hard to imagine musically-inclined heels such as Elias, Aiden English, Jeff Jarrett and WCW’s West Texas Rednecks (Curt Henning, Virgil, Barry & Kendall Wyndham, and Bobby Duncam Jr.) without the work of The Honky Tonk Man. The Elvis lookalike served as the WWF’s hottest heel for a record-setting run of 64 weeks as Intercontinental Champion from 1987-88.
Some may not know that Wayne Ferris (Honky Tonk Man’s real name) is the real-life cousin to Jerry “The King” Lawler. The now 66-year-old Ferris began his career wrestling with his training partner Koko B. Ware in smaller promotions, making his way through the American Wrestling Association (AWA), Jim Crockett Promotions, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and Stampede Wrestling, among other promotions, from the start of his career in 1977 through the early 1980s.
He made his televised debut for the WWF on the September 28, 1986, episode of Wrestling Challenge, defeating Terry Gibbs. Though he was originally intended to be a fan favorite Elvis impersonator, he took a heel turn after cutting a series of promos with Jesse “The Body” Ventura that insulted fans in a similar fashion to the brand of comedy at the time from comedian Andy Kaufman. Soon after, the Honky Tonk Man took on Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart as his manager and began a memorable feud with then fan favorite Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Honky’s record 464-day run as Intercontinental Champion began on the June 13, 1987, episode of Superstars with a victory over Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Ironically, Vince McMahon reportedly had to be talked into to giving Honky Tonk Man a chance as champion by none other than massive fan favorite Hulk Hogan, who befriended Ferris personally at the time.
As a champion, Honky Tonk Man gained a reputation as an any-dirty-tricks player who would do anything to retain his championship. He frequently got himself disqualified or counted out against challengers such as Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino, George “The Animal” Steele and Billy Jack Haynes to stay champion.
Honky Tonk Man began perhaps his greatest feud in September of 1987, taking on a challenge from uber fan favorite Randy “The Macho Man” Savage. The first nationally-televised match between the two occurred on Superstars on October 3, 1987, and Honky’s championship was only saved with interference by fellow Jimmy Hart stable members and 2019 WWE Hall of Fame inductees, The Hart Foundation. Bret Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart ran into the ring and attacked Savage, allowing Honky to retain by disqualification. Savage’s manager, Miss Elizabeth, tried to stop the attack on Macho Man, but Honky shoved her down. She retreated to the locker room and enlisted the aid of future Mega Powers ally Hulk Hogan to save Savage. Honky frequently kept up the heat in the feud with Savage by making unwanted advances on Miss Elizabeth.
After wrapping up his program with Savage, Honky Tonk Man battled another fellow 2019 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. Beefcake often threatened to cut Honky Tonk Man’s trademark “duck-tail” haircut at the time. However, Honky always managed to maintain the upper hand. Right before Beefcake was to get his final shot at Honky, The Barber was ambushed by “The Outlaw” Ron Bass the week prior to the show. It was announced that Honky would face a mystery challenger at SummerSlam. During SummerSlam, Honky took the mic and said he didn’t care who his opponent was. That’s when Ultimate Warrior raced out from backstage and pinned Honky in 31 seconds to end his record run at one year, two months, and 27 days.
He moved down the card after those days, joining fellow Jimmy Hart stable member Greg “The Hammer” Valentine as a tag team act titled Rhythm and Blues. Honky wound up his first stint with WWF in 1991 as a heel color commentator alongside Rowdy Roddy Piper and Vince McMahon on Superstars.
Honky’s second run with the WWF from 1997-2001 was memorable because he served as a manager and mentor for future Degeneration X member and fellow 2019 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Billy Gunn, who had a short-lived gimmick where he was known as “Rockabilly. It was Gunn’s and Outlaw Jesse James’ heel turn on Honky that eventually spawned The New Age Outlaws, one of the greatest tag teams of the Attitude Era.
Honky appeared again in WWE in 2008 in a memorable appearance when Santino Marella was attempting to break his record tenure as an Intercontinental Champion, often displaying a “Honk-a-Meter” sign to denote how close he was to the 64 weeks as champion. Honky was voted in on Cyber Sunday and defeated Marella by disqualification, wrestling as a babyface for the first time with the WWE.
Though he is often underappreciated, Honky Tonk Man is a deserving member of the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame class as one of the guys who influenced dastardly heels of future generations. He often utilized what is now known as “champion’s advantage” and other under-handed tactics that are common with heels in the modern era. Here’s a look at some of the Honky Tonk Man’s greatest moments:
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