The Mighty Hercules. Most don't remember him in a bad light in the WWF. At the same time not too many people remember him as anything special either. Just another big muscular guy with an impressive power game. If that's the case though, why exactly did the WWF hire him in the first place? Well, let's find out...
Raymond Fernandez was his birth name when he came into the world on May 7, 1956. In terms of wrestling he was a fairly late starter having his first match in late 1981. To start with he competed under the name of Ray Hernandez going up against guys like Bobby Jaggers, Assassin #2, and Gordon Nelson for Championship Wrestling from Florida.
As you'd expect he didn't gather many wins to start with and was either putting the other guy over or taking them to a time-limit draw. His time would be split between the CWF and tours of Texas as well. Ray would even get a chance to go against Harley Race, for someone who hadn't been in the business for even a year at this point, he could not have asked for a better rub.
It was when he moved on to the Central States territory in 1982 that everything started to really come together though for Hernandez. May 27 saw Ray, who had now changed his name to Hercules due to the impressive physique he already had, won his first championship. Mark Romero was his victim and the reward was the NWA Central States Television Championship.
Apparently he impressed Harley so much during their feud he was brought into the territory part-owned by Race and given a decent push. Whilst still competing singularly as the champion, Herc also started to team up with Dewey Robertson and the duo captured the NWA Tag-Team Championship (Central States Version). They had defeated Mark Romero and Mike George in early August of the same year.
Hercules now had two titles. They dropped the belts back to the same team by August 19 only to regain them again on September 30. Robertson and Hernandez lost the belts for the final time on November 31. Two weeks later Hercules was defeated by Mark Romero for the Television championship. In total Hercules had held the title for 200 days making him one of the longest reigning TV champions in that territory.
Even though the Central States wouldn't see any further championships for Hercules there was a second, a much more remembered feud with Harley Race. This time Herc was taken under management by Sir Oliver Humperdink in the House of Humperdink stable. The feud is very fondly remembered and did real good business for the Kansas based territory.
Once the feud culminated it was time for Hernandez to move on to Jim Crockett Promotions where he would don a mask for the first time. He became Assassin #2 along with Jody Hamilton. It was as part of the Assassin team that he would appear on his first major card, Starrcade: Flair for the Gold. The Assassins defeated Rufus R. Jones & Bugsy McGraw on November 24, 1983.
Hernandez wouldn't remain in JCP for too long though, it's hardly surprising when he had gone from headlining against Harley Race in Kansas to being mid-card, under a mask, and as part of rehashed tag-team. Mid-South was next on the road for the powerful Florida native. The final match took place on April 8, 1984 in Charlotte, North Carolina where Hercules lost in a Mask Vs. Hair match to Jimmy Valiant.
It has to be remembered though that at this point in time Hernandez was still pretty green in the business, with only a few years under his belt. With his greek statue like physique, natural athleticism, great conditioning, and being able to quickly pick up the grappling game he had already made waves.
On arrival in Mid-South though it was decided that a bit more guidance would be the best thing for Hercules and he was teamed up with the wrestling legends, Mr. Wrestling II also known as Johnny Walker. Hernandez again donned a mask and became Mr. Wrestling III.
Their partnership was short lived though and by June 16, 1984 the two were scheduled to face each other in a no disqualification match at the Superdome Extravaganza show from New Orleans, Louisiana. Hernandez came out on top over his former tutor and soon after he unmasked going back by the name of Hercules Hernandez.
After a short alliance with Jim Cornette and a feud with Jim Duggan, next for Hercules would see a partnership with Ted DiBiase as part of Skandor Akbar's Devastation Inc. after Cornette sold his contact. On December 23 Hernandez and DiBiase defeated the Rock 'N' Roll Express to win the NWA Mid-South Tag-Team Championship. Only two days later they dropped the titles back to the same team though.
Hercules made a stop off down south in World Class Championship wrestling shortly after leaving Mid-South. Whilst in Texas he picked up victories over the likes of Kamala, Chris Adams, Gino Hernandez, Kelly Kiniski, and others. It wouldn't take him long to return home though and by May 26, 1985 he was the NWA Florida Southern Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Brian Blair.
He had a series of hard hitting matches with Wahoo McDaniel. Then he defeated Hector Guerrero for the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship on June 30. He held both his titles until he vacated them upon leaving the CWF in July 1985. A short tour of Puerto Rico later he was in the WWF.
After being in the business for only four years, Ray Fernandez had become a star in every territory he visited and battled some of the biggest names of the time within the territory system. There can be no doubt that he had the potential for a serious push within the WWF, but for whatever reason he just never received it.
At a time when the territory system was beginning to crumble beneath itself, Ray managed to pull himself up to the top of it in a short amount of time. Unfortunately though, one can only wonder what if the WWF had put more time into him? Judging from how he achieved so much in just the first four years of his career, something that quite frankly should be seen as overachieving for any rookie. It's pretty safe to say when the ball was tossed to him he would have knocked it right out of the park.
By Jimmy Wheeler
As unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society