For six glorious weeks in 1990, Battle Kat dominated the World Wrestling Federation. He wore an adorable sparkly black cat mask, pawpads on the bottom of his wrestling boots, and a cute pawprint on his bottom, as if one of his catboy fans had run through some soot in his rush to give Battle Kat a cheeky pre-match “peptalk”.
Yes, Battle Kat was lame, although he was hardly Robinson Crusoe in the early 1990s WWF. With Hulk Hogan gone and other big names aging and/or fattening, the writers waved in a series of characters with all the complexity of the back of a breakfast cereal packet. Battle Kat joined similarly nuanced early-90s characters such as the Big Boss Man (prison guard), Doink (evil clown), and Repo Man (clarification not required).
Battle Kat used “cat-like” moves in the ring, which means that he occasionally made vague claw-shapes with his hands, and incorporated laboured and largely pointless acrobatics into his offense. Compared with the lumbering wrecks still going from the 1980s heyday of rock-n-wrestling, Battle Kat was agile and young, but was neither if compared with someone, well, agile and young.
I have a soft spot for professional wrestling. I started watching a year or two after Battle Kat’s brief stay. WWF wasn’t on TV in Australia but I (and a friend) would rent shows from the local video store. It was the early 90s, so the characters were broadly drawn—the main event always seemed to be Yokozuna (ostensibly an evil Japanese sumo wrestler but clearly just an unusually fat American Pacific Islander) vs The Undertaker, who is probably best described as a superhero designed by Tim Burton on a bad day—but the action was terrific fun after a few beers.
We both loved The Undertaker of course, but my secret favourite was a character named IRS, otherwise known as Irwin R. Shyster. IRS dressed like Gordon Gecko from Wall Street, complete with suspenders and tie. He would come to the ring, remind the audience to pay their taxes, and then get roundly thrashed by some random good-guy. Alas, he never crossed paths with Battle Kat.
IRS was everything good about everything bad in early-90s WWF. He was young, charismatic, and a talented athlete. But his character made no sense whatsoever. Why on earth would an IRS employee accuse a professional wrestling audience of tax evasion? And why would victory in a wrestling match give him the moral authority to enforce payment?
Inevitably, Mr Shyster and The Undertaker crossed paths. The writers tried ever so hard for the conflict to make sense… why would an inland revenue man dislike an undead superhero? Simple: Irwin was piqued by The Undertaker’s refusal to pay taxes associated with his own burial. Genius!
I encourage you to watch this 50-second video on YouTube to see the full, glorious, explanation. (Sample IRS comment: “Being six-feet under is not a tax shelter!”)
I never understood why people hated IRS. Good government is the foundation of a functional democratic society, and taxes fund government. IRS was just a hard-working, righteous civil servant.
I only learned why he was hated so much later—his character was designed to antagonize the American tendency towards small-government libertarianism. (I’m Australian, and at the time the left was arguing for freer international trade to facilitate improvement of government services, while the right was arguing for introduction of progressive taxation to facilitate improvement of government services… not quite Reaganomics.) IRS probably got cheered in New York. And Canada.
Battle Kat was cut from the same low-irony cloth as The Undertaker, however was sadly never to enjoy the Dead Man’s longevity. The wrestler under the cat mask was Brady Boone, who was fired a month or so after BK’s introduction. Boone then suffered the double humiliation of seeing the Battle Kat being played by a replacement (that lasted two weeks), and of his month as Battle Kat being the pinnacle of his career. After being fired, Boone spent years of playing a barely-infringing-on-WWF-copyright knock-off character (Fire Cat) in minor federations in the US and Japan.
Boone finished his career as a referee in Ted Turner’s successful WCW. Sadly he was killed in a car accident in 1998, at age 40.
He did leave a legacy though: in his time as Fire Cat, he mentored an up-and-coming 21-year-old. That young man went on to have a long and successful career, and incorporated several of Battle Kat’s signature athletic-but-pointless moves into his style. The young man will turn 44 in a few weeks, and is well known to any modern wrestling fan. His ring name is Rob Van Dam.