Today's entry comes to us all the way from Rey Mysterio country from one of the original TWB superfans, Butch Rosser. An old e-fedding buddy of mine, Butch currently spends his life DJing, watching wrestling and eating carne asada burritos just a scant few miles north of where those things would be wholly authentic. He also is the first entrant to be so damn verbose that I have to throw in a jump tag here, so yeah, if you're reading this from the main page, you'll find about 95% of what he wrote after the jump. It's all good though. Real, real good.
|Two legends surrounding a dick|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
5. Chris Jericho - Growing up in God's country - known to the rest of you mere mortals as San Diego - I grew up watching lucha libre on Saturday nights, and on Sunday mornings when the commercials came on football games. Like Australian rules football, I didn't get all the cultural nuances but I loved the Big Giant Points I could pick up on in my prepubescent days. I loved the fact there were evil referees that for no good reason were held in just as high a regard as the good referees. I loved the masks. I loved the fact grandmas swung purses at the meanies.
And into this world stepped a blonde-haired man nicknamed Corazon de Leon.
Watching Chris Jericho in lucha libre was jarring. It was like if they recast that Pig World episode of the Twilight Zone with Maryse as the lead. But he had a lot of talent, that much was obvious, and the fact he was a bad guy who the fans quickly derided with Corazon de Pollo just got me even more interested.
That was over 20 years ago. Watching him making WCW watchable in his brief moments when the spotlight wasn't on the nWo was always good (#4: ARMbar, the trip to Washington, the Ted Turner letter, #457: Canadian armbar, the slow-burning Malenko angle, #583: Mexican armbar, Ralphus, etc). Around this time, there was also a series of tubes that informed me that the people backstage writing the show weren't giving Jericho a fair shake. I thought that sucked. And as time passed, it became increasingly frustrating for me to watch Nitro at all. Like watching Brian Krakow virtually kill himself for Angela Jordan over and over again only to get run over by some pretty boy WHO COULDN'T EVEN FUCKING READ, Jericho's Sisyphusian efforts to make himself a commodity despite the tidal wave of idiocy he was swimming against only further put me in his corner.
And then his contract was up. And then he was off for the Promised Land.
I was one of those about to rock and WWE set the clock.
From praying to catch a moment on Thunder to smacktalking the Rock? What the fuck is Nitro? GO JERICHO GO!
In his first face run he helped elevate Stephanie to the highest realm of heeldom, paired with the Rock (how WWE never made those two a Lethal Weapon movie is some king-sized bullshit) for some of the most entertaining promos ever, and, oh, yeah, he and Lord Voldemort kicked out the mothereffin' jams over the IC belt before taking down the Two-Man Power Trip in what's probably the greatest tag match to never exist.
In the first heel run, despite being hHhampered (GOOD GOD AM I CLEVER OR WHAT) by some WCW backstageesque fuckery he still got to be a slimy, slimy undersized heel who still managed to escape with the belts. He & Shawn Michaels put on one of the best WrestleMania matches of all-time. He grew a manly, manly beard that would only be superceded by Odin, the Lord, Mike Knox, and Balkan women's privates in the seventies. The Christian angle began, but unlike the Stephanie Angle angle paid off logically and brought him back in the graces of the fans naturally and organically. Hell, he was so awesome he got to kiss Trish and I didn't even want to blow up his house. Even when he was feeling emotionally burnt out he managed to help introduce MITB to the WWE lexicon, put over Shelton for the IC belt, and Cena on his way out the door. When he made his '07 return, I knew I was psyched to see him again and he would be bringing something swank to the table.
And I was completely right.
Just not how I was expecting to be.
Outside of Punk v. the World lately I can't think of an angle I've enjoyed more in the past few years than Jericho/Michaels II. Watching Chris snap over time, then slowly stripping himself of all the familiarities that marked his first go-round he made himself stand out. (Unfortunately, he also set an archtype for WWE heels that's being followed to this day, but you don't blame Rakim for all these bullshit rappers on the radio.) Calculating, self-righteous, willing to employ any devious means at his disposal, the act of becoming the Bizzaro World Barney Stinson made Chris Jericho and I get a feeling when he's rememebered, this run is what he'll be remembered for above all. Why wouldn't it be? The epic series with Michaels. He took Hall of Famers and made them relevant for a whole new generation. He went on another run of epics with Rey Mysterio over the IC where that storyline in totality alone would make an awesome DVD. He was so secure in his spot that he put over Evan Bourne and JTG, knowing heat was a thing he could generate like Rachel Maddow at an Iow caucus. And in his (to date) last act with the company he again put over a younger talent by letting Randall K. Orton punt him upside the head.
Worked both sides of the fence. Excelled in either role, and redefined them. Put on good to classic matches. Made new stars up and down the pike. Put over the next class of wrestlers and ceded the spotlight. And overcame the bullshit on a multitude of occassions.
What else can you ask?
4. Ultimate Warrior - One of the first wrestlers I ever saw, he was the one who got my attention and kept it. The theme music that made you want to just start whaling on people, the coked-out run to the ring, the rope shaking, the bright colors. There are tons of reasons to denigrate his current mental state for the most part, and unlike the other 4 guys on my list he won't be known for his five-star classics. But as a kid growing up I loved the Warrior because he was visually interesting, strong in a way I could never be, and pretty much punched the bad guys in the face. Failing having ever been a big Hogan fan, there was really only one other way to go.
And now, a top 3 that is pretty much predictable and been pored over by better men than I in this space, so forgive any tingles of deja vu you may get.
3. Shawn Michaels - To paraphrase the first biography of Foley, it wasn't so much the actual things Shawn did as much as the way he did them - literally everything looked good. As much as I feel LT doesn't get enough credit for being the most dominant defensive force of the eighties while being cracked out of his gourd, Shawn doesn't get enough credit for his early run. Sure, he was a backstage king-sized asshole, but truth came to shove he went out and usually put on four or five star classics.
He turned Marty Jannetty into the Andrew Ridgeley of wrestling.
He & Scott Hall took the ladder match to prominence and in a small way set the standard for all air-traffic-control matches to follow.
The Monday Night RAW match with the late great Owen Hart offered a mere amuse bouche of breaking the fourth wall that Mssrs Brooks and Levesque are dining out at today.
Even when he was acting in his own selfish self-interests, he turned "losing my smile" into a meme in our circles.
The Bret fued led to perhaps the most controversial match of all-time, and again, started something often imitated and never fully duplicated.
Considering how limited he was in movements, the passing of the torch to Austin was nothing short of a modern miracle.
And when he came back - not uncoincidentally enough like the #5, and their two feuds were the flowers growing for the past few years in the WWE's post-Attitude pot of dirt - he was just as good, if not better than he was before. It's so weird watching his Summerslam 02 return with the benefit of hindsight knowing that he was going to be right back to bumping around like a pinball, putting over the nascent members of Evolution in order to Make Them Names and having a string of good matches with John Cena.
The last time I saw Shawn Michaels, he was selling a match I barely cared about and got invested in by the force of that sheer promo and mostly his involvement in it alone and did some awesome non-verbal work to do it, too.
The joke in the nineties used to go "If God was a wrestler, he'd be Shawn Michaels." It's a funny line, to be sure.
But some of that humor is based in complete accuracy.
2. The Rock - Unlike Morrissey, the pompadour almost ruined this man's career. Also unlike Morrissey, there was nothing quiet or subtle about the connection this man made to the audience. Once the full force of his charisma was unleashed almost as a reaction to the rise of #1 - relax, we're getting there - he seemed to be a catchphrase machine that served as an ATM for VKM. Even haranguing the audience there was something that just made the fanbase want to laugh and cheer for him.
Within months of the only good and shocking Montreal Redux he was back to being cheered. Mick Foley as both opponent and running buddy continued making him a high-level face even when they were rebuilding the wreckage of the tag divison, and then with ol'-what's-his-face out of the picture he was able to cement himself as the babyface with the conch during a long-running feud with Triple H at his heel best.
And really, the Hollywood Rock era led to not only maybe the best pre-tween-Punk Titantron of all-time, but a charming blend of egomania, comedy, cowardice and periodic ruthlessness not seen outside of Jeff Winger. Hell, he singlehandedly tried make Shane Helms' sorry ass a major face and even put him over. The concerts were criminally good, and it was small wonder he'd go on to perform excellently on SNL (last time I used the phrase YOU DON'T TALK TO NICK ATRELL THAT WAY! in normal conversation: five days ago) and a string of big box-office blockbusters.
With any luck, I'll be yelling at him to beat the Fruity Pebbles out of Cena at Wrestlemania 28 live in Miami.
1. Steve Austin - In one life, a pretty boy technical dick.
In another, far more profitable life, a beer-swilling foul-mouthed everyman.
All the big stuff is going to get got in a little bit, but I wanted to spend some time talking about the first life since it was my introduction to Austin. I was just beginning to smarten up when it came to wrestling, even though I had yet to find the IWC. A handful of bad guys got in my good graces, and it was something I always felt slightly off about it. Stunning Steve Austin helped break that wall down. Arrogance is unearned confidence. Walking around like you're fucking awesome when you are fucking awesome? Completely justified.
Great as he was on his own, his Hollywood Blonds run with Brian Pillman may have put together my favorite year a tag team's ever recorded and highlighted by an insane match against the Horsemen where it was like watching Doomsday fight Lex Luthor, a four-man Can You Top This? of slugging and cheating and everything that makes a man love the professional wrestling.
When in the influx of Hogan sent Austin out, he started showing the signs that would rise him to prominence in WWE in ECW. I hadn't seen any of Austin's ECW run until well after the fact, but you can see him starting to become Stone Cold. It's like listening to Sandanista one day and London Calling the next. And then he went to Stamford and became a big giant star!
Well, that took about a year and a half.
And another year and a half to get to the throne after that.
Make no mistake about it, in a world where sometimes the most minor lower-card event or match threatens to Change Everything Forever, the Austin 3:16 promo actually did. It forced the WWE to go towards a newer and edgier style. It birthed the Anti-Monitor of the cool heel, the ruthless face. It led to Bret Hart going from top babyface to evil scumbag to out of the company in about - you guessed it - a year and a half. It filtered down the card, where an increasingly bratty Michaels and his big-nosed walking fanny pack would turn their own backstage assholeitude into on-camera assholeitude, thus providing another trough for Vince to get his duckets. Some dick with a pompadour who was being shoved down our throats cut his hair, found his promo skills, and would go on to electrify the world for multiple decades. It'd lead to Mick Foley becoming a lovable schizo who seemed absolutely determined to find out the limits of the human body and generally (and thankfully not literally, though almost) killing himself for his amusement.
Hell, that promo was so awesome you probably forgot it also birthed the also famous "and that's the bottom line" tag, didn't you? Understandable.
And, oh, by the way, despite a shitton of crippling injuries, Austin merely modified his style to account for his wrecked body. No longer the workrate king he was once he pretty much through sheer force of will invented the WWE Main Event Style. Though my favorite matches of his were the two big ones against Bret (the definition of getting over in a loss at Survivor Series '96 and then in maaaaaaaaaybe my favorite WM match ever, the double-turn submission match at XIII) his series against Foley as well as the Rock once they feuded over the Winged Eagle are all good-to-great brawls that have nuclear heat.
And count me as another Internet Contrarian who loved the heel turn. Even if it didn't work because of, well, long-term logic (when your ruthless SOB decides to get paid for being a ruthless SOB...how do I put this...YOU STUPID OLD MAN YOU KNEW I WAS A SNAKE) Austin's character logic was faultless: post car-rundown he was no longer secure in himself enough that he could beat a man whom he'd defeated at two other WrestleManias especially on the heels of a pay-per-view loss weeks prior to another rival, so he decided to get the fullest insurance plan necessary in order to hold the thing he desired the most in the world that made him feel whole like his old pre-accident self even if it meant giving in to his most hated rival. But of course, it didn't work: even when Matt Hardy was being valiant and draping his body over Lita's in a vain attempt to save her every time Austin swung the chair my reaction was a hearty yell of GET 'EM, STEVE!
Why was that? I liked the Hardys back then; hell, I usually liked anybody Austin faced in '01 when they were up against Austin. But I always, always rooted for Austin, no matter how Corporate he got. It probably didn't help his opponents' matters in my biased eyes that betwixt he & Kurt Angle they were responsible for my nominees for the two funniest on-camera moments in the history of Stamford: the Hero/Jackass exchange being played by World Champion-level guys emulating Daffy Duck & Bugs Bunny despite being well in their thirties (assuming) and the cowboy hat/badge saga with Austin's one-off reference to the Treasure of Sierra Madre being such a perfect button it drew literal laughs from the audience in real time despite the fact he was being positioned as an overlord of evil scumbaggery who would tee off on his former best friends and the grandfather Best Announcer I Ever Got To See (sorry, Gordon).
And there's the fact that they were throwing the babyface kitchen sink at Austin that year, and stacking a heel turn on top of the one he'd just done some 12 weeks prior to the first one, and yet have you ever looked at that list Austin went in against? A bunch of talent that at the time they were trying to elevate in order to diffuse his loss from the babyface side: the Canadian Chrises both seperately and togther in some awesome live TV matches and surprisingly underwhelming PPV fights, the aforementioned Hardys and Lita, even Spike Dudley got a few TV shows worth of spotlight and established himself as a plucky undersized babyface willing to fight for his woman. In addition to them, Austin also had to fight off the Undertaker and Kane, and went into the summer and fall exchanging some awesome PPV main events against and with Angle and Rob Van Dam. And none of it mattered. Not even when he apparently sold us all down the river (again, to a different set of McMahon).
We just liked Austin too damn much.
He was back on the side of the angels by the end of the year, with no weird grace period in order to fully transition him. The moment he decided to Stun this instead of that everybody threw up a collective "About fucking time" and cheered their lungs out all over again.
And lest you think his connections to making WWE history ended back in the aughts, let me just remind you: somebody had to put Mr. C.M. Punk in that #1 contendership match before Money in the Bank. And who's shirt was being worn when the Promo Heard Round The World. Maybe those are little seeds that may grow into something come next April in Miami. They could be.
You don't know.
So there's my fave 5. And ladies and gentlemen, your brush with greatness is over.