Tuesday night in the SmackDown Live main event, the slow-cadence chants of “Ellsworth” from the Pepsi Center mimicked the “Goldberg” chants that rained down the night before in the same building.
This is not the only way Ellsworth seems to be eating into Goldberg’s popularity. The lovable jobber spent much of Thursday with the top-selling t-shirt on WWEShop.com, outselling names like Goldberg, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Though Ellsworth, whose simple t-shirt of his signature facial expression is currently retailing for $24.99, has since come back to earth, his t-shirt is still a top-ten item as of this writing.
Ellsworth is just the latest people’s champion to enjoy an organic rise to fame. The WWE Universe is a very ironic bunch that tends to rally behind the underdog who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance. Though things don’t typically work out for these types long-term, WWE seems to be fully on-board with Ellsworth as his age and perceived low ceiling won’t allow Ellsworth-mania to become a runaway train that upsets the applecart a la Daniel Bryan in 2014.
Ellsworth represents a paradigm shift in WWE. Names like Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens would have been underdogs in WWE ten years ago. But now that they have become the norm, in terms of world championship contenders, the standards of the underdog have been lowered to incorporate the jobber.
It’s comparable to The New Generation, when the undersized Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart carried the mail for WWE during similarly lean times. WWE worked to combat serious steroid allegations by showcasing smaller world title contenders in the mid-nineties. As a result, names like The 1-2-3 Kidd and Barry Horowitz—who were perceived as enhancement talents—became the new underdogs and were given midcard pushes.
The reason otherwise talented performers like Zayn, Cesaro, Neville and basically every cruiserweight is getting lost in the shuffle is because these characters have blended together. The diminutive hardcore audience can only lend its support to so many wrestlers before getting burnt out on the same origin story.
Ellsworth is different. He looks different. He looks like he doesn’t belong. He stand out. As a result, his t-shirts are shipping out.