By Reyan Ali
5:55 PM EDT, October 17, 2012
WWE Raw World Tour
$15-$95, doors 4 p.m., Oct. 21. XL Center, One Civic Center Plaza, Hartford, xlcenter.com
In the seven years of Brodus Clay's wrestling career, few evenings have entailed as much risk as that of January 9, 2012. During an edition of USA Network's "WWE Raw" broadcast live from Corpus Christi, Tex., the man born George Murdoch made his grand return to on-air programming after five months of downtime and buildup. Officially debuting on WWE programming in December 2010 on its third-tier show "NXT," the beefy Clay had thus far only played a mohawked heel. He was perpetually curt and cross, and had little in the way of notable traits or prominent screen time to connect with the audience. While playing plug-ugly for smug Mexican aristocrat Alberto Del Rio during a ladder match at the 2011 Extreme Rules pay-per-view, Clay suffered a cut to the head so nasty that its aftermath resembled an assassination attempt gone right. It was the closest thing the man had to a memorable moment in WWE.
His comeback in January changed that. After weeks of hype that Clay would be back soon, the 375-pounder finally appeared — now in drastically different form. He had become "the Funkasaurus" Brodus Clay, a.k.a. "the only living, breathing Funkasaurus in captivity" and a transplant from Planet Funk. A disco ball appeared for his entrance; catchy, kitschy funk poured out of the speakers; two sprightly dancers named Naomi and Cameron accompanied him to the ring; and Clay closed his entrance by dancing himself. The mohawk as signature detail was gone, now replaced by a red tracksuit and pork pie hat — the combination of which turned him into the fourth member of Run-D.M.C. In action, Clay still used offense heavy on splashes, throws and strikes — occasionally turning serious — but the character makeover alone gave him new potential for upward mobility. To Clay's credit, he pulled off the image swap and the fans bought the gimmick instead of rejecting it. As it turns out, both the good-natured Funkasaurus and hostile NXT figure come from his off-screen personality.
"I can either be the funniest guy in the room and life of the party, but I also can be the most uncomfortable-looking dude in the room at the same time," the 34-year-old says. "[With] the two personas I have, [the creative team] were really just trying to figure out, 'Which one should he show the world?' I'm glad [for] the wisdom that I didn't necessarily understand at the time, but looking back, it was the right decision."
The Exeter, NH-born, Calif.-bred and Tampa, Fla.-based Clay took an unusual route to get to his industry. His youth was fractured: His mom had him at 15 and his brother shortly after that, and his dad wasn't around for too long. Clay and his brother stayed with different foster families, but the siblings' biracial background and Clay's aggressive attitude created problems. "It was tough going at times — a lot of ups and downs — but the good news is me and my brother always managed to stay together, which was very important to me," he says, later noting that he and his brother would return to their mother's care. "One of the constants was I was always a huge wrestling fan and watched it almost uncomfortably religiously."
After trying unsuccessfully to break into the business a few times, he took up bodyguarding. While working security at the Los Angeles location of the Saddle Ranch, a popular restaurant, he was discovered twice: once by Snoop Dogg's people for a bodyguarding job, and once by ex-WWE wrestler Tommy Dreamer, who facilitated his entry into wrestling. Clay was with the rapper on and off while training with WWE's developmental camps, and his wrestling moniker is partially a tribute to his old boss's real name of Calvin Cordozar Broadus. "He gave me a really good speech about 'You've got to follow your path and it doesn't have to do with me or anybody else,' so he was real cool like that," Clay says, discussing when he left Snoop's side for good. "A lot of employers don't say that."
The popularity and entertainment value of Clay's current character undoubtedly marks a professional apex, but when you're best known for a goofy character, the wrestling business rarely allows you to move higher up the card toward the choicest main event spots. Nonetheless, Clay is totally confident that his work ethic will yield good things. "Some of [success is] luck, but I believe my life has dictated that hard work always pays off. When I do the work, then I should be able to get there," he says. "If I don't do the work, then I won't get there, but it'll be nobody's fault but my own."