By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Through the years, the band changed. It lost a member — the guitar player’s older brother — and the lads embraced pop music a little more. The band refined itself, broke out of Ireland and somehow cracked the mainstream in the United States. Gone was the raw aesthetic of the ’70s. In was the new wave radio/stadium rock of the ’80s. Before long, The Hype changed its name and took over the world.
Because now, they’re known as U2.
It’s one in a long line of band name stories that’s fun to look back on, decades and millions of dollars after the fact. I mean, not even The Beatles were immune from the name game (what’s up, The Quarrymen?), and did you even know that Radiohead was once called On A Friday? It’s wild to think of these groups as anything other than what we know them today, but “Paranoid Android” doesn’t necessarily sound like a song that a band called “On A Friday” would write, now does it?
I say all of this, why?
FROM PETE TO BUTCH
Because what’s in a name?
No, but really. The names of the bands changed, but the art they produced did not. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by The Hype” sounds awkward now because we’ve been conditioned for decades to think “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2.” If you love the song “Beautiful Day,” you’re going to love the song “Beautiful Day” no matter if it came from U2, The Hype or Bono’s Battalion Of Beastly Beasts. A name is a name, but the work is the work.
This, of course, leads me to the latest nonsensical move WWE made when it comes to renaming its employees. For years, we’ve grown to know (and kind of love) Pete Dunne. He made quite the impression at the first UK Tournament WWE held a bunch of years ago and he’s since only grown in popularity. In fact, out of the two finalists of that initial tournament, it’s probably safe to say a lot of us thought Tyler Bate would be the one coming out a superstar. Instead, Dunne has stepped up and stepped forward in ways impossible to predict.
He’s also not Pete Dunne anymore. In fact, as you probably know by now, his name is Butch. As in, well, Butch.
I had an Uncle Butch. Then there’s the producer/songwriter Butch Walker. But Butch as a wrestler? Okay, so we’ve had Butch Miller and Butch Reed, but the jury’s still out on whether this Butch will work. Judging by the immediate reaction from Wrestling Twitter, the name appears to be dead on arrival. Naturally, it doesn’t help that the former Dunne is also now saddled with a weird chimney sweep gimmick that runs counter to the bad-ass-ery with which he became synonymous over the last few years. He went from snarling and breaking people’s index fingers to wearing a paperboy hat overnight.
Now, before we go any further, one thing must be said …
I hate the name, too. Renaming Pete Dunne is one thing; renaming him Butch and completely re-imagining his character is another. Imagine if Adam Cole would have stuck around, agreed to cut his hair and become a manager on the main roster. What would his name be? Scary Larry? On no level am I saying that WWE does great stuff when it decides to tear up a name, a brand, an image and a personality on a dime just because it says so (or, more realistically, because it wants to own said name, brand, image and personality, and it can’t do so when all that’s already been established pre-WWE days).
But even so, what did you expect? WWE has found itself reverting back to the days of cartoon characters in order to get people over. It’s neglectful at best, hypocritical at worst. Think of all the documentaries — specifically about the Monday Night Wars — where the low-voiced narrator loved to point out how WWE was at some of its lowest times when it had a garbage truck man and a clown running to the ring to wrestle. WCW saw that, countered with the NWO and the game changed because that ultimately led to the Attitude Era, which sprinkled in enough realism to ensure maximum viewership, and the rest of history.
Now — and especially with AEW on the rise — WWE wants to go back to the days of caricatures and milquetoast gimmicks? It doesn’t make much sense to me, but I’m also not someone who revolutionized the entire wrestling business and is making one hundred trillion dollars a second while talking about how thankful he is for his life on the Pat McAfee Show. So, then, really: What do I know? Not much.
But I do know this …
CREAM ALWAYS RISES
It’s too early to give up on the former Pete Dunne.
As I mentioned earlier, names are names, but work is work. And in the wrestling business, the thing that stands above all else is one’s ability to wrestle. If you’re a good wrestler, a lot of other things can fill themselves in on their own. Now, to be fair, could you bounce back from being, say, a clown, if you spent years honing your skills as a good in-ring worker? Maybe not, but that’s also the exception and not the rule.
The former Pete Dunne and current Butch (how long before someone cuts a promo on him and replaces the U with an I?) is a really good wrestler, and for that matter, he’s also still really young. So, this isn’t the death knell for him. He could ride this out until his deal is up and go somewhere else. He could also make it his own and somehow turn this character into a brooding, fascinating presence that somehow, by the grace of God, produces compelling television.
But, with that said, too, who knows? Maybe Butch can find a way to make this thing work. And let’s not forget that we, as fans, still have a very loud voice, no matter how many boneheaded decisions WWE seems to make these days. Look at his fellow UK star, Gunther. The NXT 2.0 crowd still chants “Walter,” and even Vic Joseph slipped a week or two ago, calling him that as well. And at the end of the day, has the name change killed Gunther’s career?
No, but what has hurt him is at the heart of the problem here, and that’s the booking. You mean to tell me this guy is booked to be the NXT UK Champion for hundreds of days and has a classic series of matches with Ilja Dragunov, all the while establishing himself as the bad ass of bad asses … and now some 20-something rookie cousin of the Usos takes him to the limit on a random episode of NXT 2.0? Have Gunther all you want, I’m more worried about humanizing the guy. Imagine spending years working to have all that aura, all that fanfare, all that reputation … and it’s gone on a whim because, well, a couple guys said so. It’s criminal.
It’s also my biggest worry for Butch as he navigates his way through Smackdown. If the WWE creative forces define him down with 50/50 booking and irrelevant tag/six-man tag matches and feuds that go nowhere, it’s going to be such a waste of what could have been a hell of a future. Speaking of the future …
If the future is now for the guy, then the future means Butch. And if we’re going to have to live with Butch, I pose to you a tweet from Conrad Thompson on Friday night:
“So what would you have named him instead of Butch,” he asked. “For the purpose of this exercise, he can’t keep his name as Pete Dunne and you can’t reply ‘literally anything else.’ Put your thinking caps on. What you got? What’s the name you would have tried instead of Butch?”
The responses to the tweet ranged from funny to serious to nonsensical to provocative. At one point, the conversation diverted to him needing a last name. “Butch Dunne,” for instance, would have worked well enough, some argued. In response, Conrad pointed out that historically, a lot of people have lost portions of their names in WWE. Think Riddle or Cesaro or even Big E. Then there were people who actually offered up some alternative names to Butch. There was The British Bullfrog, which was kind of funny. Tommy Killington also got me.
But then there was something from someone called Mikey 3count and he said this: “Honestly, the problem is not always the name. People just don’t like the fact that it was changed and that drives the anger. If Pete and Walter were Gunther and Butch from the start, people wouldn’t know any different and wouldn’t’ bash the name. It’s the change they don’t like.”
And I don’t know that Mr. 3count is all that wrong.
While we can probably all agree that simply calling someone “Butch,” even if that person has no past, isn’t necessarily the most ideal name in the wrestling world, I do wonder how much of the backlash is rooted in fans being tired of WWE pulling this silliness, and how much of it is a gang of die-hard Pete Dunne fans that just can’t stand to live another day now that his name has been changed.
I get it. The change is jarring and it does kind of suck. But … I don’t know. Let’s play the game for a second. Imagine Butch was Butch when he first wrestled Tyler Bate on the WWE Network years ago. You might look at the name at first and say, “hmmmm, not sure about that,” but then you’d probably push it aside and just be happy you’re watching a Butch match because Butch always has good to great matches. Conversely, what if his initial name was Butch and on Friday, WWE announced he’d go by Pete. I’m not so sure everyone would be on board with that, either.
So, change for change’s sake is never popular with anybody, be it in wrestling or any other facet of life. It’s not easily (or ever) understood and it more often than not is needless. That said, though, in the case of WWE …
OWNING A NAME
Maybe it’s not so needless.
Also pointed out in Conrad’s tweet thread was the fact that the wrestler known as Pete Dunne … well, he owns the name Pete Dunne. This isn’t new in WWE. That’s a company that loves to dot its I’s and cross its T’s when it comes to ownership and if they’re missing out on potential revenue streams, they need to make sure they make that right ASAP. With all these wrestlers coming in after having made names for themselves elsewhere, WWE presumably does not want those wrestlers to be the sole proprietor of their character’s identity. So what do you do?
It’s not new and it’s not uncommon and it’s not surprising that this is the WWE way. Compounding the nonsense, however, is that it kind of feels like the company never puts much thought into whatever it decides to change when it comes to names. “Butch” screams “open up the B section of the name book and throw a dart,” doesn’t it? Between the company loving single names and loving owning those single names, none of this should have come as a shock to anyone.
And to Conrad’s point … you got a better idea? I don’t. If you’re playing in that weird WWE world, where no last names are needed, I don’t really know that a good alternative would exist in the current moment. Maybe ball him Dunne? But that’s just inviting bad jokes, isn’t it? Oscar, because he’s a grouch? Thomas because that’s his real life middle name? If the rule is you gotta change the name, I don’t know that there’s much better or much worse than Butch.
Changing his look, though? That’s a bit of a different story.
Still, at the end of the day, it’s going to be about the guy’s in-ring work, his ability to connect with the crowd and his evolution as a wrestler. So far, name-change notwithstanding, the old Pete Done has done just that. Will the new Butch be able to continue to carry that torch?
Who knows — perhaps by the time it’s all said and done, “WWE Universal Champion Butch” will sound as natural as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2.” But then again, we’ll never know how much of a ring that “Where The Streets Have No Name by The Hype” could have had, either.
In the case of the former Pete Dunne, only time — and talent — will tell.