June 21, 2007
"The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero
REAL NAME: Elijah Samuel Burke
While boxing for Jacksonville's Club 5 and Club Push, Elijah Burke supposedly racked up an outstanding record of 98-1. His WWE.com profile claims that his record was actually 102-1, with his one solitary loss the result of a disqualification, when a hyped up Burke refused to back into his corner after knocking his opponent down. Neither of these statistics have been confirmed -- if they are in fact true, however, it would be a record almost unheard of.
Burke was discovered by the WWE in 2003, and was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE's developmental promotion, immediately. It was in OVW that he was taught the ins and outs of the wrestling business. Burke was a quick learner, and on December 8, 2004, he captured the OVW Heavyweight Championship. In an interesting note, Burke was offered a spot in the Spirit Squad by the creative team, but he decided against it -- a move that ultimately left him in OVW while the Spirit Squard ran rampant on Monday Night Raw. His patience probably paid off though, as he was given an MMA cornerman gimmick and paired with Sylvester Terkay. The duo would make the move to SmackDown!, debuting on July 28, 2006. In Burke's first match, he defeated Scott Wright, and he later ended Vito's four-month undefeated streak.
However, their stay on SmackDown! was short-lived -- merely four months after they debuted on the blue show, they were sent to the resurrected ECW brand. Shortly thereafter, Sylvester Terkay was released from the WWE, leaving Burke to fend for himself. This development proved to be a boon for Burke, who formed a new stable in ECW, coined "The New Breed." The New Breed, comprised of Burke, Matt Striker, Kevin Thorn, and Marcus Cor Von, began a prolific feud with ECW Originals Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, The Sandman, and Balls Mahoney. The feud culminated at WrestleMania 23, Burke's WrestleMania debut, where The New Breed was defeated by the ECW Originals -- a result that surprised many, since RVD, Sabu, and Sandman were all expected to be released following the event. However, the ECW Originals were kept around for some time afterwards, eventually losing to The New Breed on an episode of ECW on Sci Fi in a WrestleMania rematch (which many believe far surpassed their WrestleMania showdown).
Following this program, Burke began attempts to recruit CM Punk into The New Breed. After several weeks of deliberating, Punk agreed to join their ranks, only to turn on them two weeks later. Burke thus began a feud with Punk, losing to the straight-edged superstar at Judgment Day 2007. Their next meeting was a three-on-three tables match at One Night Stand 2007, pitting the team of Burke, Striker, and Cor Von against CM Punk, Tommy Dreamer, and The Sandman. Punk's team was victorious that night as well.
Shortly after One Night Stand, the WWE held a draft lottery in a three hour Raw special. ECW World Champion Bobby Lashley was drafted to Monday Night Raw, leaving the ECW title vacant. Burke was quickly pushed into title contention -- probably a good indication that WWE believes that Burke has the goods.
On the June 19 edition of ECW, Burke lost to Chris Benoit in a match to determine who would go on to wrestle for the ECW title on June 24 at Vengeance. The match ended up being Benoit's last. Later, Burke rose to become the number one contender again, unsuccessfully challenging Punk at the Unforgiven PPV. He stayed in the ECW mix, had a brief fling against Batista, and aligned himself with new ECW import Shelton Benjamin, before disappearing from TV for months.
Burke returned to the scene with the 2008 Royal Rumble, and was in the 24-man battle royal at WrestleMania XXIV to establish the number one contender for Chavo Guerrero's ECW title. The rest of 2008 was pretty much a write-off for Burke; he appeared irregularly on WWE programming. He was released from his WWE contract on November 10, 2008.
He laid low on the independent wrestling radar, until signing with TNA in July 2009. Now known as "The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero, he debuted on August 16th, at the Hard Justice PPV, competing in the Escape the Cage Match to become No. 1 Contender for the X title. Working as a heel, he would then feud with Suicide. By the fall, he was on the good guy side, aligned with Matt Morgan and Hernandez.