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A Brief History of Excitement: Big Johnny's Rise to Power
As you can probably guess from his mouthful of a job title, Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and General Manager of Raw and SmackDown John Laurinaitis has been through quite a bit in his 30-year career. A veteran of multiple wrestling promotions and an invaluable member of WWE’s behind-the-scenes team, Big Johnny is a journeyman in the truest sense, which is to say he’s navigated almost every nook and cranny of the sports-entertainment landscape.
And as you can also probably guess from his title, Laurinaitis is, at this point, a very, very powerful man. He’s steadily grown in power and presence throughout the years. From his humble beginnings as a Dynamic Dude, to his career-making years in Japan, Laurinaitis has steadily maneuvered his way to become one of the most influential – and controversial – figures in WWE history. ( PHOTOS: BIG JOHNNY THROUGH THE YEARS)
But his dubious legend has just begun, it seems. With his recent victory over John Cena, “Mr. Excitement” and his “People Power” regime are officially the driving forces of WWE. There are very few aspects of the squared circle that Big Johnny does not control, and if that weren’t enough, Laurinaitis has a team of Superstars at his back to ensure that things stay that way for a very, very long time.
But, to paraphrase another timeless product of the 1980s: “How did he get here?”
Well, we’ll tell you …
A most dynamic dude
Big Johnny’s rise to power was not an easy one, nor in the beginning, did he appear to be the prototype of the most powerful man in sports-entertainment. Then known as “Johnny Ace,” Laurinaitis made his bones as one half of the Dynamic Dudes, a tubular team of California beach bros who rolled down to the ring on a skateboard and rocked a pair of the most luxuriant mullets our eyes have ever seen ( LIST: BEST MULLETS IN WWE HISTORY). Alongside his partner, Shane Douglas, Johnny Ace quickly established himself as one of the NWA’s best, even competing under the tutelage of Jim Cornette before he abandoned the Dudes to manage The Midnight Express. The Dynamic Dudes were also a presence in the early WCW, although their entire Stateside run inspired more of a cult following than anything else.
Still, Laurinaitis would find his greatest success in the 1990s, when he made the defining decision of his career and moved to Japan. Johnny Ace flourished in the Land of the Rising Sun, where he made his name as one of the most talented competitors of his generation. Outside of the pomp and circumstance of the NWA/WCW, Laurinaitis found his niche as a brutally efficient in-ring technician whose toughness and innovation – not to mention a theretofore unseen act-first-talk-later mentality – helped propel him to the top of the tag team scene in a way fate never afforded him in the U.S. The Dudes went on to capture several Japanese tag team championships. Johnny Ace would make an impact in singles competition as well. In an infamous contest with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, Laurinaitis would also suffer a crushed larynx, the effects of which would permanently damage his vocal chords and bestow Big Johnny with the signature rasp that has come to be one of his defining traits.
Despite all his in-ring success overseas, however, Big Johnny was unable to replicate the accomplishments of Superstars like Mick Foley and Hulk Hogan and find stable footing as a WWE Superstar. Of course, he would find his way to the house that Vince McMahon built eventually, though not in a way anyone could have ever predicted.
That's "Mr." John Laurinaitis to you
Like many competitors before him, Laurinaitis eventually hung up his boots and tried his hand as a backstage executive, taking on a job in WWE under the tutelage of Mr. McMahon. In what the WWE Universe can now see was a foreshadowing turn of events, Johnny Ace was a boardroom natural. He made his home in the Talent Relations division of WWE, serving as the middleman between Superstars and upper management, eventually rising to the position of Executive Vice President of Talent Relations.
It was CM Punk who first ushered Laurinaitis into the spotlight, singling him out as a target in the now-infamous pipe bomb incident. In the middle of his tirade, The Second City Saint made special mention of Laurinaitis – one of the few people he actually targeted by name – as a “glad handing … yes man,” who was hindering the company from Punk’s full potential. ( WATCH)
From then on, the flood gates were opened. Laurinaitis, perhaps provoked by Punk’s inflammatory accusations against his character, began to appear on WWE programming as an associate of Mr. McMahon’s. Laurinaitis would put his efforts toward maintaining the then-status quo, infamously attempting to cheat the rebellious Punk out of the WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011 ( PHOTOS).
When Triple H was dispatched to relieve McMahon of his duties following the incident, Laurinaitis made his move and quickly positioned himself as a viable candidate to fill the power gap that threatened to tear WWE apart. Displaying the same shrewd awareness and unassuming killer instinct that led him to glory in Japan, Laurinaitis eventually finagled his way to becoming the Interim GM of Raw and, following a victory over “Team Teddy” at WrestleMania XXVIII, assumed control of Teddy Long’s SmackDown roster as well ( PHOTOS: TEAM TEDDY VS. TEAM JOHNNY).
(People) Power Player
Which brings us, finally, to now. Following the assistance of a turncoat Big Show, Laurinaitis was able to retain his job against John Cena at WWE Over the Limit ( PHOTOS), and with no challengers to his mantle in sight, it appears “People Power” will be the norm for a long time. The WWE Universe now finds itself in an oddly familiar position, with an authority figure running rampant by championing himself as the people’s voice, but choosing instead to dole out his own particular brand of justice and toying with the fabric of WWE like a sinister puppet master.
Only this time, no savior has yet figured out how to successfully defy the machine. Cena has been defeated, and while Punk has no love lost for Laurinaitis (and no shortage of desire to kick his head in), Big Johnny seems to have found a way to keep the WWE Champion at arm’s distance for the time being with an endless array of opponents that have included Mark Henry, Kane, Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan. And so now, the WWE Universe must wait while Big Johnny sits atop his motorized throne, smug grin firmly in place along with the knowledge that, for the time being at least, his power is limitless and ironclad. Same as it ever was.