When I first joined the internet back in 1998, wrestling was in the midst of what’s been nostalgically labelled as the Attitude Era.  Whether you were a fan of WWE or the about-to-die WCW (or even ECW), there were likely guys on the roster who weren’t being pushed as much as you wanted them to. Although it was unlikely that they would ever usurp the top-line guys like Steve Austin, the Rock or Hulk Hogan, it was nice to have someone in the midcard to cheer who wouldn’t always be turned into a joke simply because they had supporters.

These such guys quickly gained the label of “internet darlings” – a term that was later used as shorthand for “independent wrestlers who had gathered a following”. In some cases, this name was applied to guys who had achieved fame in Japan, but were finding themselves kept firmly in the midcard of WCW. Then there were guys whom had never wrestled outside of North America, were working with a comedy gimmick that screamed “midcard” and were simply never destined to main event. Yet they still had a following that willed them onto bigger and better things.

One of the first internet darlings that I can recall, particularly among those who hadn’t spent time in Japan, was D’Lo Brown.

Debuting in 1997, D’Lo was one of the lesser known members of the Nation of Domination, at the time when the Nation was made up of Faarooq, Crush and Savio Vega. As the most junior member, perhaps D’Lo’s biggest claim to fame was to take a Pearl River Plunge (Tiger Driver) from Ahmed Johnson onto the roof of a car during an episode of WWE’s short-lived Shotgun Saturday Night show Brown remained with the Nation after the group underwent a reshuffle, with Faarooq and Brown now aligning themselves with Ahmed Johnson, Mark Henry, The Rock and Kama Mustafa (who would later achieve fame as The Godfather).

As part of the Nation, D’Lo’s claim to fame came when he became the first man to win both WWE’s Intercontinental and European championships – at the same time. Brown first unseated Mideon for the European title in July 1999, shortly before claiming the Intercontinental title from Jeff Jarrett. He’s hold both belts for just under a month, dropping the straps to Jarrett at SummerSlam of that year, but D’Lo’s place in internet folklore was sealed. As the first ever Euro-Continental champion, Brown’s burgeoning following was convinced that this would be the sign of something bigger to come.

Unfortunately, that didn’t immediately appear to be the case, as Brown remained slotted firmly at European title level, as a feud with former Nation stablemate Mark Henry resulted in a fourth, and final, run with the title. However, an accident during this final run would derail D’Lo’s career, and end the career of his challenger: Darren “Droz” Drozdov – a former NFL nose tackle who had a brief career with the New York Jets and Denver Broncos before breaking into the wrestling industry. Droz had only made his WWE debut in May 1998, and had already “enjoyed” a run as the third member of the Legion of Doom in an offensive storyline which supposedly saw Droz plying Hawk with drink in a bid to get him kicked off of the team.

That alcoholic-enabler storyline was dropped and saw Droz move into a new pairing with Prince Albert (he of many gimmicks, later including A-Train, Tensai and presently, NXT Head Coach). Unfortunately, the early days of the gimmick saw Droz and Albert briefly team up with a character that was supposedly portraying that of a drug dealer. Wiser heads prevailed, and the Droz/Albert pairing continued without going into murkier waters.

October 5, 1999 would be the day that would be indelibly etched into the minds of both competitors. At a SmackDown taping in Long Island, New York, D’Lo Brown was booked to defend his title against Droz, in what should have been a simple victory for Brown. Midway through the match, Brown attempted to pull off a running powerbomb, a move that was popularised in Japan by Jushin “Thunder” Liger, and had become fairly common to D’Lo’s repertoire. In theory, it’s a simple move – lift your man up for a powerbomb, hold him there, then run a few steps across the ring (typically corner-to-corner), and then dump him on his back in a sitdown powerbomb. This night, however, the move would go awry, with reports suggesting that Brown got caught on Droz’s baggy ring attire, causing him to slip and lose control. Drozdov would be dumped head-first, fracturing two discs in his neck. The injury paralyzed Drozdov from the neck down, putting him in a wheelchair ever since.

Whilst the injury left an indelible effect on Drozdov’s life, Brown’s career went south afterwards, as the match caused him to understandably become gunshy in his future matches as his confidence appeared to hit an all-time low, in spite of Droz’s attempts to absolve Brown of blame.

In the weeks that followed, D’Lo dropped the European title to the British Bulldog – ending his final title reign inside a WWE ring. His WWE career would run for a little over three years more, but he would slip further and further down the card in more and more forgettable tag teams. First, a reunion with former Nation member the Godfather would end up with a brief feud after a D’Lo turn. That morphed into another forgettable team in the summer of 2000, where Brown tagged up with Chas (formerly “Mosh” of the Headbangers), to make up the opening card act known as Lo Down. Initially wearing plain black tracksuit pants, the team gained a manager in Tiger Ali Singh (another lower card wrestler whose WWE career was a flash in the pan), with D’Lo and Chas changing up their gear for baggy pants and turbans. The gimmick didn’t exactly reignite D’Lo’s career, and whilst Singh and Chas were released in early 2001, Brown found himself appearing more and more often in WWE’s then-developmental groups – Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) and Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA).

Brown slowly morphed into a commentary role, but returned to the ring with Teddy Long as manager in one in a long line of WWE’s “here today, gone tomorrow” pushes. By mid-February 2003, Brown was let go by WWE, placing him at a career crossroads at the age of 33.

Initially resurfacing in TNA, Brown teamed with, then feuded with AJ Styles in the early days of that company, but after a brief run with the tag team titles, he found himself back in the familiar midcard, before leaving in the summer of 2004. From there, D’Lo would wrestle internationally, appearing with both All Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH, being one of the featured gaijin on tours for those companies. A brief run in England followed, highlighted with a series of matches against Joe E. Legend (better known for his short WWE run as Just Joe) following in the UK. The bad news was that those matches had been designed to cash in on a television series that Brown and Legend were an integral part of. Unfortunately, the British television show “Celebrity Wrestling” bombed so badly that ITV (the network carrying the show) cancelled it within weeks, restricting the show to a Sunday morning airing.

In spite of that, Brown returned to WWE for a six-month run that was characterised by a brief feud with then-Intercontinental champion Santino Marella, before spending time in Ring of Honor and back in Pro Wrestling NOAH for what was meant to have been a retirement run. Barely weeks after his 2009 retirement, Brown signed once again for TNA, in a role that saw him be the company’s lead road agent and also head of talent acquisition and development. As is almost always the case with retired wrestlers, Brown resumed an active role on television in 2013 as the Vice President of the interminable Sons of Anarchy-inspired group, Aces and Eights. Brown would slowly slip down the card, and as we reached the summer of 2013, Brown would depart from TNA for a second time.

Following that final TNA run, Brown returned to Japan with the struggling All Japan Pro Wrestling, but after participating at All Japan’s Real World Tag League tournament (alongside former WWE flop Kenzo Suzuki), Brown’s full time wrestling career was finally over, with Brown only having five matches in 2014 and 2015 combined (according to cagematch.de).

So, what went wrong? While it would be easy to point a finger at the Droz accident as being the catalyst, the fact remains that in spite of the internet clamour surrounding Brown, WWE had already slotted him as a “midcard at best” talent during the height of the Attitude era. Although the post-Droz era Brown was restricted to tag teams, it was clear that the company’s booking of him created a self-fulfilling prophecy – in the midst of Brown’s crisis of confidence, the company had seemingly already lost faith in him. Even though he was showing glimmers of the old D’Lo in 2003’s pairing with Teddy Long, the damage had already been done, as Brown’s contract, coupled with his time back in developmental, made him an easy target for a company looking to cut costs.

Although Brown’s post WWE runs weren’t earth shattering, they continued to show signs that – if booked properly – Brown could have been a dependable midcard act for years to come. Sadly, in spite of people’s words, the events of that night in Long Island tainted Brown’s career, and left him unable to capitalise on what could have been.