Tag Archives: Chris Jericho

A Promotion You Should Probably Know Better: ECW

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. This week we have Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. This is the First Day of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we’ll start by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Tomorrow, we’ll give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewings. On Wednesday, we’ll discussing the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure. After Hump Day we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List, before summing everything with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

There’s no such thing as indifference when it comes to Extreme Championship Wrestling.  It’s a promotion that many fans choose to look back on through rose-colored glasses, as the company that changed the face of wrestling.  Nearly as many consider it the group that ruined it.  They’re both probably right.

ECW started generating buzz with wrestling fans far before it went extreme.  Eastern Championship Wrestling had a reputation for strong shows, amazing athleticism, and of course, some wild brawls.  And where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Enter Paul Heyman—with a giant can of gasoline.

Paul Heyman and his group of circus freaks did everything they could to turn the volume up to 11, and get the attention of the wrestling world.  It worked.  Violent, bloody brawls.  Colorful but (mostly) believable  — or in the case of Amish Roadkill, so completely non-sequitur that it didn’t matter — gimmicks.  Logical storylines.

The company grew to amazing heights, despite ultimately appealing to an incredible small niche — fans of “hardcore” or “garbage” wrestling. Some will say that ECW was more than that, and it was for a short period, but make no mistake: ECW’s shadow did as much damage to the careers of people like Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko as ECW the company helped the careers of people like Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko by bringing them into the American spotlight in the first place.

But it wasn’t all bad, and ECW’s unique (to American audiences, anyways) style helped save American wrestling.  The then-WWF was having extreme difficulty finding its identity in post-Hulk Hogan world in 1995 and 1996,  struggling to catch up to WCW in the wrestling war.  WWF couldn’t touch the nWo.  The rough style and risque promos it stole from a little promotion in Philadelphia helped turn business around.

Less-than-PG matches and promos made legends of a million promos in WWE.  Triple H went from midcard to main event thanks to the crude antics of D-Generation X and Mick Foley will never escape the clip of him being thrown from the Hell in a Cell through a table no matter how many New York Times best sellers he writes.  Forget Austin 3:16—Austin passing out to the Sharpshooter, while wearing a crimson mask, made him a star.  The list goes on.

Without ECW’s influence, WWF might not have survived.  Considering WCW’s awful business practices bankrupted the company a few years later, pro wrestling as we know it now could have died more than a decade ago.  Instead, ECW gave WWF an identity to call its own, and to grow upon.  In a way, ECW saved WWF.  ECW saved pro wrestling, at least when it wasn’t trying to destroy it.

While the land of extreme may have provided an unintentional safe haven for the pro wrestling industry, it was anything but for pro wrestlers.  Extreme Championship Wrestling introduced a lot of dangerous trends to American pro wrestling, pro wrestlers, and pro wrestling fans.  Crazy bumps and “extreme” violence stopped being special, and became commonplace.  A Muta-level blade job became just another spot.  Proper selling went out the window, in exchange for rapid-fire spot exchanges (still the norm on the indies).  And in a post-Benoit world, we don’t need to go too far in depth on the consequences of too many unprotected chair shots and undiagnosed head injuries.

ECW made all of this commonplace, to a dangerous degree. To quote JMS Internet Technician Daron “Action” Jackson, those unprotected chair shots became the equivalent of dropkicks, and fans forgot how to appreciate good, technical wrestling.  They started refusing rest holds, or any slowdown in the action whatsoever.  It familiarized the crowd with three of the most offensive chants in all of professional wrestling: “you can’t wrestle,” “you fucked up,” and “boring.” ECW ruined pro wrestling – and its fans.  It’s taken nearly a decade (and a lot of PG programming) to reverse the damage done at the ECW Arena.

ECW had its pros and cons, ups and downs, stars and flops.  And despite catering to a very niche audience, the company’s impact on pro wrestling was vast and pervasive.  While that impact helped to revive a mainstream love of pro wrestling, it also did irreparable damage to the industry, the workers and the fans.

It’s why fans look back on the company with, pardon the pun, such extreme feelings.  It’s easy to love the group that changed the face of pro wrestling and brought genuine excitement to the product. And it’s  just as easy to loathe the promotion that helped teach pro wrestling fans to hate professional wrestling.

#JCPWCWWeek: Essentially Viewing A Promotion You Should Probably Know Better, Part Two

nWonew

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. For a curtain jerker, we have WCW and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions. This is Day Two of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by making JCP and WCW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better in two parts. Yesterday, we talked about the transition from JCP to WCW, and today we’re giving you the finer points of JCP’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing then finishing the epic story of the great lost promotion of our time. On Wednesday, we’ll expose some harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us. After Hump Day — and throughout the week — we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List and a couple of odds, before ending everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ erupts in a civil war, which will take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

It’s fundamentally impossible to provide an Essential Viewing of pre-80s Jim Crockett Promotions: there isn’t a lot of decent-quality surviving tape out there because it was over thirty years ago, and (as fans of Dr. Who know) it wasn’t uncommon practice as a cost-cutting measure to tape over old shows in the days of syndication and even if the video had survived, to internet generation types who post videos of wrestling online, anything before the computer revolution might as well be a blurry daguerreotype of a Civil War soldier’s ass.

And so, in spite of thirty years of prior history, we’ll touch on the biggest (and last) decade of JCP’s existence: the 1980s, before Nick provides undeniable video evidence that they took all of the greatness they had in North Carolina, moved to Atlanta, became WCW and crapped all over it.

In the 1970s, Wahoo had been a huge part of the Mid-Atlantic’s transition from featuring mostly tag teams (as I covered yesterday) to being a territory with legitimate main event singles matches. McDaniel legitimized first the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship through his feuds with Johnny and Greg Valentine and then later the United States Title when it became JCP’s top singles title (not counting the traveling NWA’s World’s Champion.)

So when he took on Flair — who for anyone that managed to watch wrestling outside of the WWF’s considerable shadow was the 1980s in professional wrestling — it was undeniably fascinating, even if only to see the spectacle of the territory’s top star of ’75-’80 wrestling the top star of ’80-’88.

The fact that Flair and Wahoo held the World and U.S. title belts respectively places this match in the fall of ’81 during Flair’s first run as “The Man.” and while the match isn’t either man’s best, as Wahoo was past his prime at this point, Flair was a fantastic athlete at the time (as he was for much of his career) and coming into his own as a character. Furthermore, it’s interesting to see the tricks that Flair took from Wahoo and made his own: the way he paces the match early, the stiff chops to pop the crowd, the well-timed color, among others.

As the 80s took shape, Ric Flair’s talent and charisma were so evident that the Crocketts would have been fools not to hitch their wagon to him. Pushing Flair became the top priority of JCP (and by extension the NWA who they largely steered) to the point that the first Starrcade was literally called Starrcade ’83: A Flair For The Gold (which should have carried the subtitle: Spoiler Alert, He Wins).

In the build to Starrcade, the Crocketts cast Flair as the hometown boy about to make good by taking on big bad Midwesterner Harley Race. Flair wasn’t as magnificent a babyface as he was a heel, but he knew what to say and do and how to play to the fans in the Mid-Atlantic. This set of promos from the build-up to Starrcade shows Flair cutting promos on Race and pledging assistance and brotherhood to babyface (and once and future rival) Ricky Steamboat.

As we touched on last week with our Tully Blanchard feature, Jim Crockett Promotions at its height wasn’t just about Flair and Dusty, it was about robust cards filled from top to bottom with some of the greatest role players of all time. The mid-to-late 80s were a deep era for tag team wrestling in both the NWA and the WWF, and one of the Crocketts’ most valuable acts at the time was The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

Neither Ricky Morton nor Robert Gibson was a total package as a wrestler, but as a team they were one of the top ten acts of the 1980s. Even on worn out old tapes, their matches sound like Beatles concerts with near-constant high-pitched feminine screams throughout. Ricky Morton got the heat on heels with his selling as well as anybody every did, and Robert Gibson cleaned house in a way few wrestlers of his size ever could. If men (or in this case tag teams) are to be measured by the mark the make on history, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express are one of the most important tag teams of all time. Easily half of the babyface tag teams that followed them from The Rockers to The Hardy Boyz were direct imitations of the The Express.

This match sees The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express take on NWA Tag Team Champions Ivan Koloff & Krusher Krueschev (two evil Soviets played by a Canadian and a guy from Minnesota). The match is ‘80s tag team psychology at its best and helps illustrate how good both wrestlers and promoters were at giving the fans what they wanted to see at this point.

As our journey finds us in 1985, it would be impossible to write anything about Jim Crockett Promotions resembling Essential Viewing without talking about Hard Times. As we covered last week, The Four Horsemen broke Dusty Rhodes’ ankle in maybe the biggest injury angle of all time. When Dusty came back, he cut the now-legendary Hard Times promo, connecting his own suffering as a wrestler to that of working class Americans whose industrial jobs were suffering in the early days of Reaganomics. Hard Times is to wrestling as Born in the U.S.A. is to rock music. Was it presumptuous for the rich and famous Rhodes to compare himself to struggling laborers? Probably. Did it get him white hot over? You know it!

In the latter half of the 80s, Jim Crockett Promotions’ goal was to wrap up the pantheon-level Dusty-Horsemen feud in a way that created the next big star to lead the NWA. The Crocketts and booker Dusty Rhodes were heavily invested in pushing Terry Allen, known as Magnum T.A. (Tom Selleck pun? Yeah, we’re in the 80s.) as the next top babyface in the territory. Allen brought a lot to the table: he had a good look, could talk so well he often did color commentary, and understood how to build sympathy and build a comeback.

Dusty rubbed Magnum T.A. the only way he knew how: by putting him storylines with the great Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes’ self-centeredness aside, the plan worked, and following a fantastic feud with Tully Blanchard (some things just keep coming up, don’t they?) that culminated in their brutal, amazing I Quit cage match at Starrcade ’85, Terry Allen looked well on his way to becoming the next face of Jim Crockett Promotions.

This match shows Magnum at the height of his babyface powers taking on Nikita Koloff. Nikita was not a great worker, but he had tons of Cold War heat and played his character well. This match displays everything that was right with Terry Allen. If you close your eyes and imagine an alternate course of history, you can see how the guy who wrestled this match could have gone on to do big things.

Unfortunately for JCP, wrestling fans, and most of all, Terry Allen himself, Allen was involved in a horrific car wreck in the fall of ’86 that left him paralyzed and ended his career. In addition to being a tragedy on a human level, Allen’s accident was a kick between the legs to JCP and the NWA, who were close to putting their eggs in his basket.

In an interesting turn of events, with Magnum T.A. unable to wrestle, Dusty and the Crocketts decided to turn his rival Nikita Koloff babyface. In a move that shook the foundations of Cold War wrestling booking, Koloff showed sympathy for his injured opponent and essentially claimed to fight in his honor in spite of their political differences.

Two years later, Jim Crockett Promotions would be out of gas and out of money. The loss of Magnum T.A., the cost of jet fuel, and the company’s decision to serve two masters by promoting nationally while still trying to stay a regional company all came together into a thick, meaty stew of failure. The Crocketts, The Horsemen, and Dusty Rhodes had created some of the greatest wrestling moments of all time during the ‘80s, but they had been crushed by the weight of their own ambitions. Even though Ted Turner acquired JCP’s roster, title belts, and lineage, something died when the last great regional promotion became a cable TV show.

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After making it through much of the pre-nWo fiascoes following the transition of the organization from the wrestling offshoot of a promotions company to the wrestling offshoot of a media company.

Even though it marked a paradigm shift as massive as anything the industry had seen before, Hulk Hogan turn into “Hollywood” Hogan at 1996’s Bash at the Beach wasn’t even the most remarkable thing that happened that night, nor would it have the longest-lasting impact on the industry. That distinction belong to the first match of the night, a lucha libre barnburner between Psicosis and Rey Mysterio, Jr:

The bout, which ends after a top-rope powerbomb from Psicosis being reversed into a hurricanrana by Mysterio, gives a delicious slice of the true lesson/legacy of WCW, and its predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions, the idea that being a global phenomenon in the world of professional wrestling means doing everything, and doing it well. A card from the golden era of post-NWA WCW — essentially between the ‘96 Great American Bash, from just one month before this match to July 6, 1998, when Goldberg defeated Hulk Hogan on an episode of Nitro (for free) — is like remind you of what most of the cards for WWE PPVs look like today, with an eclectic mix of performers, gimmicks and story lines that scream “there’s something here for everyone, we promise!”.

But, as we talked about yesterday, this was the Terry Bollea show. Instead of allowing the things that needed to happen to build a company around the wattage and heat that came from the nWo’s name on the marquee, Bollea — along with Nash, Hall and eventually Vince Russo — would do seemingly whatever it took to keep their names in lights.

The nuts and bolts story of WCW’s downfall is well-tread, even by yours truly. There are pressures points that are brought up constantly: ending Goldberg’s streak with a cattle prod, the Fingerpoke of Doom, Ric Flair being declared insane and ending up at a mental institution, the Russo-Hogan incident, Ed Ferrara’s raison d’etre:

Which makes sense, as these moments, and the moments like them are “what” caused WCW to fail. The “why”, comes from a much different place, though. Someone in charge thought most of these were a good idea, whether it was for the company, for wrestling or for themselves. That’s the only explanation for letting people like Chris Jericho, William Regal, Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko, HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED and Brian Pillman go, even after matches like these:

Unlike JCP, who was put out of business WWF largely through backroom political/business maneuvering and machinations, WCW’s “lost” the battle against Vince McMahon much more than he won it. And because of this, WCW’s demise meant something much larger. Ending the way it did didn’t just mean that the WWE had lost a competitor for cultural hegemony. It meant it had lost competition for cultural hegemony, period.

By proving unable to beat out WWE even with piles of Ted Turner’s money, it created a vacuum both inside the industry — by leaving almost the entirety of recorded wrestling in the hands of one entity — and wreaked havoc on any other high-profile media company — the only people who could possibly match WWE’s production values and marketing muscle — ever trying to reach for the throne again.

We’ll spend more time this week talking about what that all means, but ultimately, it means that professional wrestling is worse off for what happened to WCW, and because of that, we’re all worse off. Period.

Odds and Ends, Fits and Starts: Raw Regurgitated, 12/2

It’s hard to say if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that CM Punk was the person I least enjoyed listening to in a three-way conversation between himself, Kane and Stephanie. At the very least, Corporate Kane has very quickly become my new favorite gimmick remix, replacing long standing champion of my heart, Matt V1. That’s right, I’m a proud MFer.

Stephanie’s a pretty awful actress — which is more than okay considering that she still manages to be better than Dixie Carter and understands how to serve as corporate executive for a business that isn’t the professional wrestling equivalent of a sinking ship on fire — but she plays “awful/detached insanely rich person” like Meryl Streep.

The real problem with the WWE: They won’t let people get over by giving them nearly insurmountable odds against new stars so that they could get over with the crowd by doing the seemingly impossible. If they did that , they could use that narrative dynamic to sell one of the 6-8 PPVs — depending on how one feels about buying the Survivor Series and/or Extreme Rules every year– that don’t sell themselves, while making stars out of everyone involved. If only they did that, things would be so much better.

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Odds that Dolph Ziggler would face Big E. this early in his IC championship reign for the belt at a PPV: 1,000 to 1. Odds that Damien Sandow beats Langston for the title at TLC: 1,000 to 1. Odds E. loses that belt to Dolph Ziggler at the end of his run: Pick ‘Em. Odds Ziggler faces E. for the Unified Undisputed World War Wrestling Championship Belt Title after Langston wins it: 1,000,000 to 1.

If they are doing “Summer Rae is a female version of Fandango in the ring” with this “dancing while wrestling” thing, it might be the best news in the history of wrestling, because Here Comes the Emmalution. But if they are just having her do this because that’s what they think ladywrestling should be, they might as well just keep the women of NXT down in Florida until they all retire.

Things that are beautiful, but not long for this world: sunsets, a refreshing breeze, #BadNewsBarrett

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*** WARNING: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE! *** PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIMES *** Man, they should just give Daniel Bryan a shovel, so he can dig his own grave, amirite? Anyone who thinks this Wyatt storyline isn’t fantastic — even with the fits and starts with Daniel Bryan’s whereabouts that 8% of the crowd actually worries about — is a bummer on the level of people who that John Cena has been the most popular performer in the company for the last ten years because of politics. And those people are as depressing as Hulk Hogan being the most popular performer in the world for 20 years because of politics.

And in all this Bray Wyatt “join me” business, while it’s hard to say what’s going to happen, the real interesting dynamic is whether Wyatt is trying to con Bryan, or whether he just wants him to turn heel. The former screams “Hero’s Journey,” while the other leads to a feud with CM Punk — after he nobly dispatches the Shield by himself in a parallel storyline.

This is pretty much the perfect “midcard” feud: it has tons of intrigue and even more stakes, but doesn’t involve a major title, won’t be featured at the end of any show and never be truly resolved, and still serves major purposes in terms of narrative momentum for both characters, marks a fundamental shift in the direction of their careers and, most importantly, will lead to much better things in the future for everyone involved.

Like Andy said last week, this is all highly interesting stuff with huge stakes, and it should be clear that this would be bogged down if the WWE or WHC was involved, especially in the ramp up to the most important “WrestleMania season” ever. They’ve figured out a way, in a manner not unlike Community or Arrested Development, to not just mix meta-commentaries into the product as a nod to those “in on the joke”, but to debate the very notions that the commentaries are pointing at.

Wyatt talking about “taking down the system because they don’t know what they have in you” is the exact same idea as the Bluths complaining about cuts to housing orders that sounded suspiciously similar to the ones made by FOX regarding the number of episodes they wanted to produce.  By making this about existential ideas involved in the modern interpretation of wrestling by its most vocal fanbase — “us vs. them” and shadow politickings — it’s allowed the Reality Era-storytelling to be folded back into the standard tropes of the industry, something that the Attitude Era, like grunge, just never had in it.

What “happens” backstage become, more or less, a new wall of kayfabe, a new layer of storytelling, a new tool to be used to leverage butts into seats. And they are doing so by pushing the fourth wall against every screen they can get their hands on.

That this — the incorporation of formerly radical ideas by the “establishment” — is more often than not what happens after revolutions should not be missed. They — meaning the WWE — are finally calibrating the effect of the internet to a time before Cyber Sunday or even Taboo Tuesday, and that’s a good thing. It coming with more complaining than you can shake a stick at? Something we should be used to by now. *** WARNING: YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE! *** PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY SONIC MILKSHAKE ON YOUR WAY OUT***

WOAH. You can bury Edge and Chris Jericho, hotshot story lines to the top of the card before quickly discarding them in favor of much shinier new toys, and compare yourself to Harley Race and Hulk Hogan, but having Kane be a dick to Daniel Bryan is a bridge too far, Hunter.

***

As someone who has spent an entire life neck deep in white privilege — ICYMI: it’s great, for me anyways, thanks cultural hegemony! — it feels weird to get mildly indignant that a young man working toward his Ph. D is being put into a storyline with two of the most racial caricature-y characters in recent memory in which he’s been accused of stealing the others’ dance routine and companions, seemingly simply because they all happen to share a preponderance of melanin in their skin. But, yeah, this just feels kind of gross, even if it is just entertainment, and the all seem to A) not care about whatever weird racism pangs happen in my head and B) be genuinely enjoying themselves. The only saving grace is the the other guy in the feud (Tensai) was treated just as one-dimensional in Japan, so at least the U.S. isn’t the only one in the “depressing racial stereotypes” game, just the leader in the clubhouse.

Speaking of depressing racial stereotypes, if the WWE believes we are going to be fooled by this Sin Cara/Hunico switch just because it assumes we think all masked wrestler look alike, well … they are probably right.

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And, finally, we’ve reached an impasse with the Shield six-man tags, as this was one of the first that felt “stale”. While it was a very good match with one or two spectacular moments, watching three guys work over one in the corner makes a lot more sense when it feels like they almost need to do it, not when it’s clear that one of them has beaten entire teams of other people by himself. Roman Reigns’ ascension seems like it will pretty much force the Shield to change how their matches are structured in order to keep the heat as the crowd builds anticipation for Reigns to go into full-blown destroyer mode after well-timed hot tags. Or, they could just keep running train.

The most important part of this match was not the re-dissolution of Kofi and Miz’s team or the solidification Ryback-Axel tag team, but the moment of self-actualization the two man achieved after they, as Jerry Lawler put it, “realized that maybe they weren’t Paul Heyman guys, but Ryback and Curtis Angl-Axel guys”. Namaste, Big Guys.

Ole!

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Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate. Please don’t bring back Sexual Chocolate.

It’s so much fun to watch Antonio Cesaro to get moments of awesomeness like ending a “house of fire” hot tag with the sweet smell of Swiss Death.

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I’m one of “those” people. I enjoy silly promos from Randy Orton about being people’s nightmares, I like when John Cena says “yadda yadda yadda, jack”, I even enjoy when he uses that silly finisher of his to put people through the table. And I’ve realized why: I like when the crowd reacts to things. And, when they are on, and put together in the right storyline, there is nothing on earth that the crowd reacts more to than Randy Orton and John Cena.

HAVING SAID THAT, if they do not end this thing with an undisputed champion, or at least one title — and it does not matter how they get there, even if it involves the return of the Yeti — they will have lost sight of what they are, and become what they hate. They’ll be WCW.

#ShawnMichaelsWeek: Difference of Opinion

Shawn Michaels (16)

It’s the Final Day of #ShawnMichaelsWeek, a celebration of all things HBK and the eighth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. We’ve given you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing before marching through Hump Day with a GIF parade paid for with Hidden Gems. Yesterday, we made our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. Today we finish everything off  with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.) 

Nick: Did you get my message about The Shield being one of next month’s  Stables of the Week?

Dave: Yes. I did. That sounds like a good idea. My apologies again. This week has been freaking crazy, as Don West would say.

Nick: Oh, to be clear when I ask if you’ve seen stuff I mean “Did you get that thing I sent you?”

Dave: DIDJA GET THAT THING I SENTCHA?! God bless Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law. If only the Colbert Report hadn’t killed it.

Nick: IS THAT STEPHEN?

Dave:: KEN’S BACK!
KEN’S BACK!
KEN’S BACK!
STEPHEN’S BACK!?!
..Awww…

Nick: Oh, and the other He Should/You Should Bray Wyatt thing, where we tell wrestlers who they should watch to get better and fans who to watch if they like those wrestlers?

Dave:: Yeah, it’s kind of a fine line because you don’t want to do anything too obvious. Like, anybody with the internets can find the similarities between him and Waylon Mercy. So we’ll need to actually explain HOW they’re similar. Not just like “He’s a bigger guy in a Hawaiian shirt…”

Nick: Oh, exactly. And it’s easy to say to Bray “you should wrestle like Mideon!”  but not everyone says to him “you should check out Bam Bam, Real Talk”.

Dave:: Or “If you liked the Follow the Buzzards vignettes, you should watch the Waylon Mercy vignettes, because they’re very good in a similar way and they directly influenced the character.” That works better.

Nick: Yeah. Like in the way, after watching both of their old matches, that Chris Jericho is so HBK he doesn’t even know it.

Dave: I think Shawn Michaels was such a game-changer for smaller guys that every smaller big-time guy can’t help but be him. Whether it’s Jericho or Bryan or A.J. Styles.

Nick: Also, I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to watch his body of work and not want to try some of the things out. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned doing all the stuff this week. He has so many good-to-great matches, it’s kind of silly.

Dave: Oh yeah, definitely. He could elevate anything into being a hot match. His two primes both came during down periods in the business, and in spite of how tepid a lot of crowds were at those times, his matches always got the biggest reaction.(His first prime being the late new-generation/infancy of the Attitude Era, his second prime being the post-attitude/”ruthless aggression” era.)

Nick: I remember distinctly you explaining the noise that came out of the crowd during his match with Jericho at the Great American Bash they had at Nassau Coliseum. Or, lack thereof.

Dave: Oh, yeah. When you’re working catering you can hear the crowd very distinctly, and that match was silent. There was more noise for Cena-JBL and they were brawling “in the parking lot” (said in my best Tony Schiavone voice) where the crowd was only watching on the Tron.

Nick: But in a good way. Michaels is beloved, and that match especially was an exercise in “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”

Dave: Oh yeah. They took the idea of the blood feud and pushed it to the point where people were actually uncomfortable. But not Bully Ray hold-your-nose uncomfortable, actually emotionally questioning why Jericho was such an awful person. Which got that character over so big that a certain kind of mark now believes Jericho’s been a top star his whole career.

Nick: Exactly. And I think Michaels is the only one that could have pulled that off. Which was weird for me, before this week.

Dave: Yeah, Michaels is probably the best sympathetic babyface ever. Hilarious, considering that outside of kayfabe he’s one of the least sympathetic figures you can imagine.

Nick: Exactly. Like, I really meant all the stuff I said at the beginning of the week. He’s was a VERY conflicted figure for me. But after watching match after match of him, it’s so obvious why him nearly ruining the company is not considered that big of a deal.

Dave: Yeah. As much as he was a terrible guy when he ruled the roost, he kept them afloat at a time where they easily could have sunk.

Nick: And you also realize, that was ENTIRELY what they were selling the company on at some point. “Shawn Michaels wrestles a LOT”

Dave: Oh yeah. “Watch Shawn Michaels take a ton of bumps and then have an emotional comeback.” Steamboat was better at the formula, but he wasn’t nearly the star Michaels was in his prime.

Nick: Was he the worker? I ask because I don’t “get” it with Steamboat.

Dave: I think they’re really, really similar. Both great at building sympathy, both kind of repetitive in terms of the actual moves and sequences they did in the ring, but both over like crazy with the fans.

Nick: Michaels seems like he makes a much better heel, though.

Dave: I think it’s really hard to contextualize Steamboat if you live in a world in which the WWE is always thought of first in terms of professional wrestling. Oh yeah. Steamboat would be an abominable heel.
And I don’t mean that in the “What an abominable heel!” way. I mean that in the “He’d be awful at it!” way.

Nick: Alberto Del Rio as a face.

Dave: Yeah, pretty much.

Nick: And I think that’s what separates Shawn from most other guys. He was also the top heel champion. He can’t talk a lick, but man, he could make you Effing Hate Him.

Dave: It’s funny that for most people under, say 25, Michaels is the consummate baby face. But if you actually watched wrestling in the 90s, you know he spent almost all of his time as a great heel.

Nick: Yeah, he also is, as cliche as it sounds, Mr. WrestleMania

Dave: Well, as you wrote about, it’s hilarious how he was dead set against creating one of the biggest Wrestlemania moments of all time… until the payoff was right and ‘Taker was threatening him with actual physical violence. I think all those superlatives like “showstopper,” “Mr. Wrestlemania,” “The Main Event” were just hype slogans in his actual prime. It was all marketing. When he made his comeback, they pushed him as if those things were real. Which is the magic of pro wrestling: you can actually do that.

Nick: Which kind of touches on what I think is actually the most interesting thing about him: there is a segment of the population who thinks he’s not so good.

Dave: I think there’s a certain population of fans who want to play the “I hate everybody who held people down” game, and those folks will never forgive or accept him. Plus it doesn’t help when you have Shane (Gregory?) Helms constantly telling internet smarks about how his miraculous conversion is a work to make money and he’s still a jerk and blah blah blah. I think Michaels is a hilarious example of a guy where “smart” wrestling fans accept him for who he was and “smarks” hold it against him.

Nick: So, given that, what do you think his ultimate legacy is?

Dave: I think he’s a face on Mt. Rushmore, in terms of WWE history. He’s one of the top four or five stars they’ve ever had.

Nick: Yeah, to me, he’s the best big game player they’ve ever had, not just in the sense that he worked well at major shows, but that he’s also one of the great free TV guys of all time.

Dave: Oh yeah. He’s not only “Mr. Wrestlemania,” he’s one of the top performers in the history of Raw as well.

Nick: And, while we both know what I think about him personally, should we also downgrade Ric Flair because he’s crazy?

Dave: If we’re going to make fun of Ric Flair, “crazy” is just the starting point.

#ShawnMichaelsWeek: GIF Parade

flair-vs-hbksuperkick

It’s Day Three of #ShawnMichaelsWeek, a celebration of all things HBK and the eighth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started off with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, before we gave you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. Today, we march through the end of Hump Day with a GIF parade and, because we love you, give you some hidden gems from the Showstopper’s catalog later. Tomorrow we’ll make our “Amazon.com on steroids” dream come true with Juice Make Sugar Recommends… before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.) 

Normally, the Wrestler of the Week GIF Parade is just a weird little story that we use as an excuse to post a bunch of GIFs, but this time, we had an idea. A countdown of the top 10 Superkick GIFs (that we could find without really trying).

Honorable Mention: Chris Masters shows why you shouldn’t lead with your chin while running towards someone whose finisher is called “Sweet Chin Music”.

MagicSuperkick

10. Kurt Angle taking a bit of a phantom kick, beautifully. 

AngleSuperkick

9. The Miz doing a yeoman’s job of selling it like he’s just been shot in the face with a foot (which, if you are wondering, is the proper way to sell it)

MizSuperkick

8. Chris Jericho, selling the kick by FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH (or the ring apron)

 ring apron

7. After #8, you can understand why Y2J just couldn’t take it anyone

 JerichoSuperkick

6. This is more the work of Charles Robinson, who chose the cannon sell. Lil’ Natch, you chose… wisely

RefSuperkick

5. Although the WrestleMania XII match between Shawn and Bret is highly (highly) overrated, but beautifully shot. Kind of like Gravity. Amirite?

ironmansuperkick

4. One of the best “double sells” of anything ever. Both Triple H and HBK deserve some sort of medal.

BloodySuperkick

3.  My personal favorite GIF ever, from my personal favorite feud ever. Using the wheelchair in the sell is why he’s Bret Hart and you are not.

BestSuperkickSellEver

2. For most people, this is the best Superkick ever and the highlight of Shelton Benjamin‘s career. And they are right. It’s just not the best Superkick GIF ever…

SheltonSuperkick

1. THIS is the best Superkick GIF ever.

RunawaySuperkick

#ShawnMichaelsWeek: Essential Viewing

Wrestlemania-19-Shawn-Michaels-Chris-Jericho

It’s Day Two of #ShawnMichaelsWeek, a celebration of all things HBK and the eighth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. Yesterday, we started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. Today we give you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing and mix up things tomorrow with some Hidden Gems from that very same catalog. After Hump Day, we’ll make our “Amazon on Steroids“ dreams come true with Juice Make Sugar Recommends… before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.) 

There’s a dirty little secret about Shawn Michaels career that no one likes to talk about. It’s not the pills. Or the Playgirl shoot.

It’s that he’s a TERRIBLE promo.

While some might argue Kevin Nash, it’s not a stretch to say that out of anyone who has been made the face of the WWE for any extended period of time in the post-Hogan era, he is the worst on the microphone. In the entirety of his title runs there wasn’t a single good, let alone great, promo. There are okay ones, like his notorious “Lost My Smile” speech/interview:

But even that is significantly more infamous/important than “good” with HBK buoyed by having Vince standing next to him explaining the parts that a babyface is supposed to get over himself. And when it comes to “commentating on a match your opponent at the next PPV is in”, HBK makes Brie and Nikki, the Bella twins, sound like Gordon and JR, the Solie twins. This is, of course, because of his pathological inability to get anything or anyone else over through his words.

For much of his career, he made up for the live mic work by being — when he wanted — among the most helpful performers of all time. His colleagues consistently put working with him — like this one with (former Wrestler of the Week) Mick Foley — among the highlights of their careers:

The match — which starts after HBK spends two minutes saying the words “nervous”, “jittery” and “whackjob” before explaining that Mind Games (the name of the PPV) don’t work on him because he’s dumb — is long, and allows both men to “explore the studio space”. The match, which went on for a full 26 minutes, is one of the first WWF matches to incorporate the “within the context of the match” hardcore style that Foley had made famous.

This, and the two Ladder Matches with Razor Ramon:

(from WrestleMania X)

(from SummerSlam 1995)

show Michaels makes expert use of his surroundings to give fans a familiar story – good vs. evil — told in a new way: amoral weapon and “foreign” object use, informed by an understanding of the stakes involved. In these cases, a “whackjob” was trying to take his title by any means necessary, and the rules “requiring” him (and Razor) to do “whatever it takes” to get the title above them.

Michaels didn’t always do right by the other man in the ring, however. With great power comes great responsibility, and we all know exactly how HBK dealt with responsibility. For instance, this match with Nash, as Big Daddy Cool Diesel fought HBK in the second main event (behind a surprisingly good Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor match at the top of the marquee):

An enjoyable romp, but outside of the last three seconds, nothing about this does anything to make Diesel look like the WWF’s Intercontinental Champion, let alone its World’s Champion. Aside from being one of Bret Hart’s least favorite matches — or, more accurately, yet another excuse for the Hitman to complain about the Heartbreak Kid in his autobiography — this (again, the co-main event for the biggest show of the year) shows what happened when Michaels didn’t want to play ball with his opponent.

Well, I mean, one of the things:

The Screwjob is — *possibly* outside of Hogan/Andre and Mankind/Taker’s Hell in a Cell — the best known match of all time. What’s usually ignored, though, is how good the match is before its ignominious conclusion. For two guys who loathed each other, Hart and Michaels put on a fantastic match that far outstrips their highly overrated — a word we don’t use lightly around here — 60-minute Iron Man showdown from WM 12, and not just because they didn’t have to figure out how to do an hour’s worth of work without passing out in the middle of the ring.

Up until the end, it remains easily the best match in what may have been the best rivalry in the history of the company, but it still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth when watching it, no matter how much has been forgiven or how long ago it was.

Michaels then worked a program with Taker, after making a brief stop in CrazyTown to visit Ken Shamrock, which resulted in the back injury that took him out of action for four years.

After coming back in 2002 on the heels of a “best friends, better enemies” feud with Triple H, Michaels became known primarily — and now will have the legacy he has now, instead of what it was after 1998 — for his work on the company’s flagship show. He more than earned the title of “Mr. WrestleMania” despite A) losing most of his matches on the show and B) not being the guy with “The Streak”, losing to Taker TWICE — including his retirement match.

Instead of explaining each match, though, it’s best just to watch them. He has what was either the best or second best match from WrestleMania XIX (Jericho) through WrestleMania XXVI (Undertaker), which is an Edwin Moses-level athletic accomplishment mixed with a David Hyde Pierce-at-the-Primetime Emmys run.

WrestleMania XIX (w/ Chris Jericho)

WrestleMania XX (w/ Triple H and Tom Riddle)

WrestleMania 21 (w/ Kurt Angle)

WrestleMania 22 (w/ Vince McMahon)

WrestleMania 23 (w/ John Cena)

WrestleMania XIV (w/ Ric Flair)

25th Anniversary of WrestleMania (w/ The Undertaker)

WrestleMania XXVI (w/ The Undertaker – Streak vs. Career )

These matches, which all manage to tell different stories, are a testament to Michaels late-career renaissance that completely redefined his legacy from a gifted ne’er-do-well who never matches his potential to someone who turned his life around and became what everyone thought (and hoped) he could be.

These are the definition of Essential Viewings, both in the sense that they tell you why Shawn Michaels is perceived the way he is despite his shortcomings, and why wrestling (and the WWE) — even aside from the fact that HBK “trained” Daniel Bryan — has evolved into the product it is today.

A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better: Shawn Michaels

HBK

It’s the First Day of #ShawnMichaelsWeek, a celebration of all things HBK and the eighth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we’ll start by making Shawn a Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. Tomorrow, we give you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing before marching through Wednesday with a GIF Parade paid for with Hidden Gems from the Showstopper’s catalog. After Hump Day we’ll make our Amazon.com-on-steroids dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…” before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.)

There’s a moment in the Undertaker-Michael casket match from the 1998 Royal Rumble when you actually see Shawn Michaels break his back. Whenever they used to play JR’s “bahgawd, he’s broken in half” in the Don’t Try This at Home montage, I never thought of Mick Foley flying off the Cell into a table. I thought about Shawn Michaels clipping the edge of that casket, and the disks in his back that were nearly caved in on impact. About him finishing that match without really being able to walk, of him going into Boston a few months later to help usher in the Attitude era by making Steve Austin look as good as he possibly could while also having to drag his own carcass around the ring.

I do that a lot with Shawn Michaels: processing things differently than they actually happened, trying to not let what was actually involved in the show that he and his co-workers put on change my mind about what I’m watching.

Ignoring that Michaels’s crippling pill addiction nearly cost the WWF the Monday Night Wars against WCW, that his stroke backstage did every bit as much damage as anything his buddy Kevin Nash did with the nWo, isn’t easy, though. It does, however, make marking out during his astonishing matches against The Streak feel less like watching mid-90s Bulls games, wondering how close this game was to one of the times Jordan gave a teammate a black eye at practice or lost a few grand at a blackjack table.

And looking back at him like that certainly does some good. Ignoring the things that went on around that period helps to make you love Shawn Michaels and all he’s given to the business. Seeing past his role in the Montreal Screwjob just months before that fateful Rumble match, or that it took Taker threatening to actually beat his ass for him to let Austin pretend to, helps you enjoy 2008’s Feud of the Year with Chris Jericho without reservations.

But those things did happen, and when you find out about them, they irrevocably shift the way you have to feel about him. You can still enjoy his work, still bask in his greatness. It just feels different. You go from asking the questions of him that we do of people like Gretzky and Brady — things like “What motivates them?” and “How do they keep at it?” — to the question that historians asked of Richard Nixon: “How can one evaluate [him], so brilliant and so morally lacking?”

***

There is, of course, a difference between the type of poor moral character that Michaels displayed backstage during the depths of his problems and, you know, breaking and entering in an attempt to rig a national election, but it still creates cognitive dissonance when looking back on his accomplishments.

That he’s so well respected by his peers — put at or near the top in most self-reflexive polls culled from his fellow workers,  including No. 1 on WWE’s 50 Greatest countdown — makes the situation even more confusing. Michaels is, by most accounts, the most gifted “ring general” in the history of the business. He’s “called” — planned out and relayed to his opponent upcoming spots, extemporaneously — nearly every significant match he’s ever been in, using (along with his opponents) a seemingly innate ability to read the crowd in order to improvise stories that the fans reacted to at a main event level for much of the last twenty years.

He is adored without reservation by most fans, beloved in a way most people  — like Hunter, his honest-to-God best friend — could only dream of, receiving a hero’s welcome every time he comes back. They know only of his considerable resume in front of the camera, that he’s Mr. WrestleMania, The Showstopper, The Icon.  And since the only goal of professional wrestling is to entertain us, it’s difficult to argue anything about his legacy and have people listen to you without making it clear that you are an idiot for even caring.

But Michaels serves, like many greats before him, a broader purpose. He was put on a pedestal, and nearly lost many people their jobs because of his inability to handle the pressure. Of his own admittance, he did many things he’s not particularly proud of, and when looking at his entire legacy, those things should be taken into account.

Do they define him? No. The entirety of anyone’s life is a complicated thing to discuss in 1200 words, and Michaels’ journey has assuredly not been an easy one, and he’s dedicated nearly the entirety of it to the business, something for which he should be commended. However, when people transcend the work they do, when they become an example for proceeding generations the way that Michaels has, there’s a responsibility to learn from the mistakes to make the future better. Whether you can do that and enjoy his work is up to you.

Just don’t think about it too hard.