The Legend of Mordecai: Vince McMahon loved this wrestler’s gimmick-until he didn’t
Vince McMahon's greatest creation never saw the light of day.
“Mordecai would have been Bray Wyatt before Bray Wyatt,” said Kevin Fertig, who played Mordecai in WWE. “But thirteen years ago today is the last time Mordecai was seen on WWE programming.”
Mordecai was played by Fertig, who has wrestled professionally for the past 15 years, but was inexperienced when he arrived in WWE.
“I had the world by the balls,” said Fertig, who was 27 when Mordecai debuted in May of 2004. “Mordecai had the sign of approval from God himself, Vince McMahon.”
The character was created during a sit-down meeting between Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and then-Senior Vice President of Talent Operations John Laurinaitis. Fertig had been on the road with WWE for six months, working dark matches and house shows in a tag team with Travis Tomko when Vince called him into his makeshift office at Boston's TD Garden.
“I sat in front of Vince with Stephanie McMahon on one side and Johnny Laurinaitis on the other,” said Fertig. “Vince took off his glasses and looked up from his notebook, then started staring right through me. Now when the devil is looking right at you, you look right back. Eye to eye, I had a stare down with Vince McMahon.
“Vince told me, ’I don't need tag teams. I need singles stars. What can do you do?'”
Fertig was ready for the question, as he had previously worked in WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling as Seven, which was a character based off the seven deadly sins. He also grew up in a Southern Baptist house in Memphis, Tennessee and attended a church that was filled with 12,000 people during services.
“It was like the Six Flags for Jesus,” said Fertig. “We had a pastor who worked in hell, fire, and brimstone, and I fell in love with the idea of an over-the-top religious zealot character. The Bible is so powerful. There is a representation of how you read into it, but no one ever wants to hear that you're bad or going to hell.”
Fertig enthusiastically spoke with McMahon about how wrestling could use a character that led the audience in prayer, dressed in all white as a sign of his purity, and proclaimed he was on a crusade to rid the world of sin.
“I told Vince my idea of a religious zealot who was enraged by sin,” said Fertig. “I laid out my idea of long coats and a cross, almost Pope-ish, and even vignettes with a confessional where I punch through the confessional booth and choke out the sinner. Vince's eyes blew up and he looked at me and said, ’Holy s—.'”
As Fertig walked out of the impromptu meeting, he was flagged down by Laurinaitis.
“Laurinaitis grabbed me when I walked out and said, ’Son, you're about to make a million dollars.'”
The very next day, Fertig was pulled while eating his meal in catering and instructed to follow Steve “The Brooklyn Brawler” Lombardi to make pre-tapes so McMahon could better gauge his formula for the Mordecai character.
“Vince watched me as I stoically said, ’Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,'” recalled Fertig. “Vince loved it, and he immediately got ’Taker, and they both watched me. ’Taker gave me a nod, which meant I did something great, and this led to the point where Vince was going to play God and I was casting judgment upon all of WWE.”
The payoff to the Mordecai character was a storyline with The Undertaker that would have ultimately climaxed with a match at WrestleMania.
“It was supposed to be me and ’Taker at WrestleMania 21,” said Fertig. “This was going to be even more unique because the cowboy dressed all in black was the good guy and the guy in white was evil. We would have built that up throughout the whole year, which would also have allowed ’Taker some time for a smoke-and-mirrors angle so he could rest the wear and tear on his body.”
But Mordecai was abruptly scrapped from WWE programming, and there was never any legendary feud with a soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer. The character that would have bridged the gap between Kane and Bray Wyatt went straight to hell, and The Undertaker eventually defeated Randy Orton at WrestleMania 21, improving his WrestleMania undefeated streak to 13-0.
“I was on my way to stardom, right up until I got in a fight at a bar in Louisville, Kentucky,” said Fertig. “That led to a lawsuit, and Vince was so mad that I screwed up and ruined his vision.
“I was a dumb young kid. I wasn't ready for that role. The past is what makes the future, and you have to live with it, but it would have been incredibly awesome.”
Fertig is still wrestling at the age of 40, even making an appearance this weekend, alongside Sting and Lita, at Days of the Dead in Indianapolis. Yet, when he stares into the firelight, he recalls the ghostly white memories of Mordecai.
“I'll always remember what could have been,” said Fertig. “I could still go back someday, and I'm a lot more prepared now than I was then.”