Tag Archives: WWF

#ECWWeek: Essential Viewing

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 Day Two of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we started by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing AND a Highlight Reel . Tomorrow, we discuss the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure before quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List on Thursday. Finally we’ll sum everything up on Friday with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

In 1994, Jim Crockett Jr. himself approached Tri-State Wrestling Alliance/Eastern Championship Wrestling promoter Todd Gordon about carrying the standard for the NWA. Based on nearly 50 years of NWA tradition, the move should have been an honor for the relatively small territory.

But Gordon and new booker Paul Heyman understood that following the death of Jim Crockett Promotions, the appearance of the title on WWF television, and the belt shuffling at WCW’s Disney tapings, the NWA Title had been devalued past the point of no return.

So, they — along with “The Franchise” Shane Douglas — did this:

Douglas’ promo isn’t great, with a “substitute news anchor reading off the prompter” feel to it, but he hits the right bullet points, successfully creating the sense of rebellion and anti-authority sentiment that made this dimly-lit moment the spark from which ECW’s “revolution” was ignited.

ECW had the attitude from that moment forward, but what really made the company work was that they offered an in-ring product that neither WWF nor WCW could even approach. The ECW-style was rooted in the super hard-hitting, fast-paced style of early 1990s Japanese wrestling. Matches like this one — between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko — is a perfect showcase of what ECW brought to the United States. Both men are nearly subatomic by the standards of height and bulk required in big-time operations of the day, but their work is so simultaneously smooth and physical that it seems like a well-choreographed dance performance compared to the awkward, herky-jerky main event style of the day.

If ECW was built on unapologetic, in-your-face attitude and high-level in-ring work, then Steve Austin was the perfect ECW star. He had only a short stint in the territory between his exit from WCW and debut into the WWF, but Steve Austin made the most of the time he had there. With the encouragement of Paul Heyman, Austin began developing the promo style that would make him one of the most successful wrestlers of all time.

Fifteen years before CM Punk, Steve Austin helped establish himself as one of the great characters in wrestling with this scathing shoot promo. Austin vented his frustration with the inner politics of wrestling, using impressions of Dusty Rhodes, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff that were as scathing and dead-on as Punk calling Triple H a doofus during his “Pipe Bomb” promo. Even if you were oblivious to the history of the Attitude Era, if you saw this promo from ECW in 1995, you would look at Steve Austin and say, “That’s a huge star.”

Austin put it well when he said that ECW was mostly “a bunch of violent crap.” The territory saw many great workers and historically significant moments, but everything was reduced in prestige and respectability by the fact that the company’s wrestlers treated each other like kidnapping victims in a snuff film. The unofficial motto of ECW was “more is more.” More spots. More risk. More violence.

When wrestling was at its white-hottest in 1997, both the WWF and WCW were borrowing heavily from the ECW playbook: outrageous injury angles, scantily clad women “spontaneously” bursting out of tight dresses, and a near-constant barrage of weapon shots and juice. Rather than reinvent themselves in the face of imitators, though, ECW decided to stick to the same tricks and turn them up to eleven.

The following match from Hardcore TV features three of the greatest tag teams in ECW history: The Dudleys, The Gangstas and The Eliminators. All three teams were crazy over, and fans loved their matches, but two of the three groups had the same gimmick: “guys who brutally beat up other guys” (The Gangstas had been involved in the notorious “Mass Transit Incident” less than six months earlier — I won’t link you to it, but you can look it up…). The result is a match that engages the crowd, but exposes the unsustainable nature of ECW’s booking for all to see. You could take this match “around the circuit” once, but how many times will fans pay to watch a six men sloppily beat the crap out of each other?

The escalating violence of ECW reached its crescendo at 1997’s Born to Be Wired in an ECW Title match between Sabu and Terry Funk. This match is possibly one of the worst ideas ever. It pits a then-53-year-old Funk against a then-seemingly-indestructible Sabu in a match that makes Funk look very old and Sabu look very destructible. The match, straight out of FMW, is every bit as gruesome as you would expect a match with barbed wire ring ropes to be.

The match’s signature moment occurs at the ten minute mark, with Sabu tearing open his bicep by flying into the barbed wire. Few moments embody the legacy and philosophy of ECW better. The match should have stopped for the sake of safety, but in the name of the religion of ECW (created in equal parts by Paul Heyman in order to control talent and stereotypical Philadelphians in order to feed their bloodlust), Sabu tapes his arm up with white athletic tape and finishes the match.

For all its fame, this match contains the most abysmal clean finish of all time. The two men become inextricably tangled in the barbed wire, with their clothes torn to the point that they seem in danger of being stripped naked. A terrified-looking Bill Alfonzo tries to interject, cutting the wire in hopes of freeing the men to the point where they can actually wrestle, but it doesn’t work. Ultimately, Fonzie and a referee have to gingerly lift and roll Sabu and Funk back in the ring in order to go home on the worst pin ever executed. You know what would have prevented all that? One iota of restraint.

***

ECW finally got a national television deal just as they were finding themselves unable to deal with the constant brain drain of talent leaving for WCW and the WWF. By early 2000, Taz(z), Raven, the Dudley Boys, and The Radicalz were all in the WWE and Lance Storm and Mike Awesome were in WCW. The result was a mixture of wrestlers with blind faith in ECW (Tommy Dreamer) and wrestlers that nobody wanted (Balls Mahoney). ECW, the company where wrestlers tore their bodies to shreds to make their home team relevant had failed supremely: they weren’t relevant, and the wrestlers’ bodies were still torn to shreds.

The dying days of ECW were hard to watch on many levels, but one redeeming feature was that ECW on TNN gave many talented, hungry workers a place to ply their craft on TV. This match between Taijiri and Psicosis is a gem in the coal dust, a wonderful, albeit feeble beat in the fading pulse of ECW.

#JCPWCWWeek: Difference of Opinion (Ish?)

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 the Final Day of #JCPWCWWeek, the fourteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. We mixed it up by giving you a crash course in JCP and WCW and asked you to Essentially View a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. We exposed some harsh truths with the debut of Lies The WWE Told Us and quenched your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List. Now, we end everything with a Difference of Opinion, where JMS HQ actually doesn’t erupt into a civil war. But if we did, it would take place inside of a Doomsday Cage.

Nick: This was a weird week for us. I’ve written extensively about WCW and you are a pretty big JCP fan: Although our press times wouldn’t tell you it, this was actually a pretty easy week for us.

Dave: Well, I’m not old enough to be a real JCP fan, but I appreciate the hell out of what I’ve seen. And I feel like this week and last we had a lot of good stuff to say, so times be damned, I felt like it was important to unload both barrels.

Nick: So, the opposite of next week’s promotion, ECW?

Dave: I love several ECW stars (Sabu is one of my all-time favorites), but the promotion as its story lines are the most overrated body of work ever.

Nick: Yeah, and I feel like WCW and JCP especially are “underrated”, inasmuch as that kind of thing exists.

Dave: Agreed! You took the words out of my mouth. Bagging on WCW is so en vogue that people forget the good years JCP/WCW put together.

Nick: Like, “Roy Hibbert” underrated And even when they were “crap”, it was still good. The FPOD wasn’t “bad” in and of itself, at least for me. It’s that it was indicative of a real sickness in the company itself, but it’s not the first time somebody’s thrown a match for a buddy.

Dave: As I wrote in my comment on your FPOD post, I think it was outrageously unnecessary… but not the dump on the chest of wrestling that a lot of people make it out to be.

Nick: And I’ve seen those late-period WCW PPVs. There are some REALLY good matches. 3 Count is REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD.

Dave: Yeah, the quality of in-ring work was always insanely high outside of the main event in WCW. But most of their main eventers were either miles past their prime or larger than life characters who couldn’t deliver physically.

Nick: What’s weird is that almost all of the WCW fans I know NEVER gave a shit about the main event. At least in the sense that it being good was more of a bonus.

Dave: I feel like most of the WCW fans I know were in it for the match quality. Unlike WWF/E fans who love to engage in the top story lines.

Nick: As a life-long WWE mark I can attest to that. And I think that’s where WCW got into trouble. It wasn’t when they decided to get in the Hulk Hogan business, it was when they let him try to tell them to be like WWF. Where he ran roughshod over everyone with the idea that “the fans will love it, brother.”

Dave: Hey, look! It’s the same mistake TNA has been making the last decade!

Nick: That’s the most notable thing about JCP. It’s SO MUCH DIFFERENT than WWE.

Dave: Oh yeah. It’s SO sports-like.

Nick: Like, if you’re TNA, why aren’t you just recreating JCP now?

Dave: I couldn’t agree with you more.

Nick: And, I get it, WCW was primarily a television show first and a wrestling company second, but I totally agree with the guys on the Rise and Fall of WCW DVD, if JCP had stayed in the mid-Atlantic, they’d still be in business, probably national at this point. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if Magnum TA didn’t get into that car accident.

Dave: Magnum could definitely have been their Hulk Hogan. And, as you said, the Crockett name was so beloved in the Carolinas that their business could have stayed viable, but they got greedy, especially when they got the Road Warriors, and wanted to promote Chicago. JCP turned a great profit until they overextended themselves, whereas WCW intentionally operated at a loss in order to make money for TNN/Turner. People bag on Bischoff and Turner for handing out huge contracts, but the fact of the matter is that the expectation of WCW never to make money on its own. Which makes it unique in the history of big time wrestling.

Nick: Yeah, the difference between the WWF and WCW was always that WWF’s business, as I alluded to earlier, was the WWF and WCW’s business was “the wrestling show of a television network.” Whether or not they made any money was irrelevant. Things didn’t have to be sustainable, they just had to move the needle. And for a while, it worked. They were better at being “televised wrestling” than the WWF was at being the WWF. And it’s because they only had to be concerned about getting people to watch.

Dave: Right, they didn’t have to deal with nearly the same budgetary constraints.

Nick: Like, Bash at the Beach 1996 is the Platonic ideal of what a wrestling PPV is supposed to be. It’s almost a perfectly constructed wrestling show, and a singular moment in the history of wrestling. Purely in terms of “spectacle for which you would pay to see”, WrestleMania III is the only other one in the discussion. And that’s a TERRIBLE show, with one good match and one palpably important match, but that match is what made Hogan (spoiler alert) being the Third Man in ‘96.

Dave: This may be an unpopular opinion, but Hogan was much less of a piece of shit in WCW than he was in WWF. There were things he refused to do and guys he refused to put over, but it wasn’t like WWF where he wanted to be the only big star.

Nick: WrestleMania IX is 100X worse than the FPOD: It shits on his successor while making himself look like a million bucks, at least he just looked like an asshole after the Fingerpoke.

Dave: Yes, because WMIX actually involved undermining the five-year future of the company, whereas FPOD was done against another well-established top star with that guy’s consent (in fact, I think Nash had a hand in booking it.)

Nick: But, like I said, the FPOD of doom IS super important, because it is them blatantly giving up. They were literally saying “we can’t come up with something more interesting than Foley winning, so let’s just see how much heat we can get for something”.

Dave: The sad part is, the majority of wrestling writers still think that way: “How can we get the most heat on the heels?”

Nick: Which is the least WWE thing ever. The WWE is OBSESSED with “giving the people what they want”.

Dave: Rather than “How can we get heat on the heels to make the baby faces look good” And then when a company actually takes care of a top face (Cena), “smart” fans resent the hell out of it (as you and Andy have covered many times).

Nick: Exactly, people say “John Cena is Superman” because he never loses, but what they don’t get is that he never loses, because he’s Superman.

Dave: Yeah, you want to see Speed Racer in danger of losing the race, but he shouldn’t actually lose.

Nick: Daniel Bryan, Spiderman, is going to have to let Gwen Stacy die every once in a while. And CM Punk is always be angry, just like Batman.

Dave: It’s almost like these are time-tested archetypes…

Nick: And while I love that style, I think the real tragedy of WCW’s demise is that there will never be a truly viable alternative to that style in North America. There’s never going to be a professional wrestling organization that feels like a sports league again.

Dave: Absolutely. WWE has redefined the business in a way that has forever changed the discussion in a way that favors them.

Nick: Because they are Wrestling. When people say wrestling, they don’t mean TNA.

Dave: Right. Or ROH. Or Chikara. Or PWG…

Nick: You would be hardpressed to find someone who isn’t friends with a wrestling fan that has even heard of TNA. Most people in the country knew what WCW was.

Dave: Yeah, it’s pretty sad, but it’s a problem that seems impossible to solve.

Nick: So, to be clear, you don’t see TNA signing John Cena after they get bought by TNT when they lose the rights to the NBA, then get Punk and finally have Daniel Bryan/Big E. Langston to “invade” a few years later?

Dave: …Yeah, I think that’s safe to say. They’re still miles more successful than Pro Wrestling U.S.A., though.

Juice Make Sugar Presents: #TheNationWeek Top 10 – Stables

nation

Because we’re wrestling journalists — and Buzzfeed contributors —  we’ve decided that we needed to start creating a top ten list based on each Wrestler of the Week. We’ve decided to not include any criteria for the list, because we’ve been told by experts in the list-making field that it would just muddy our ability to explain why we’re right. You should understand, because you read us, that we know more about wrestling than you and what we think is best IS best. We promise. If you want, you can guess what why we’ve chosen these people the way we have in the comments. Where you belong.

So, without further ado, we give you the definitive list of the Top 10 Stables:

1. nWo (WCW)

nWo

2. Heenan Family (WWF)

heenan_family_poster_state_of_shock_studios

3. The Corporation (WWF)

TheCorporation

4. Immortal (TNA) 

Immortal

5. The Four Horsemen

Starrcade-1989-Horsemen

6. #TheNation

Nation

7. The Million Dollar Corporation

MillionDollarCorporation

8. The Dangerous Alliance 

DangerousAlliance

9. Legion of Doom

LegionofDoom

10. Degeneration-X

DegenerationX

#JeffJarrettWeek: Essential Viewing

Slapnuts

It’s Day Two of #JeffJarrettWeek, a celebration of all things J-E-Double F J-A-Double R-E-Double T and the seventh 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 Double J oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. We march through Wednesday with a GIF parade, and then after Hump Day, we’ll fulfill our destiny as Amazon.com on steroids with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Exploding Guitar-fueled civil war.) 

As Nick addressed in yesterday’s A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better , Jeff Jarrett was introduced to the WWF crowd in the early 90’s as absolutely hateable. In this vignette from the golden age of WWF vignettes, Jarrett heels on both country music hating Northerners and the country music establishment for ignoring his considerable musical talents. This video is a perfect example of how Jarrett can take utter cartoon foolishness and somehow make it work – the man heels on a historic building, for Chrissakes. A fun (and highly intoxicating) drinking game would be to take a shot every time Jarrett gestures using one of his signature two-fingered points.

As stupid and outrageous as WWF-era Jeff Jarrett’s antics were, they perfectly complimented the character he played in the ring. He was the kind of heel who used every dirty trick in the book to win, and then celebrated his victories as if he had overcome incredible odds through clean living and the grace of God. Because of his decidedly dishonorable tactics and his inability to “be a man,” he became the natural opponent for Razor Ramon, a former tough-guy heel who WWF was transitioning into a kickass, man’s man babyface.

Jarrett and Razor had a fantastic feud, which worked because of their naturally-clashing characters and because, well, they could both really go in the ring. Their most famous match occurred at the 1995 Royal Rumble. The match is well-worked and features a tenacious babyface trying his best to overcome steep odds against a heel cheap and conniving enough to figure out exactly how to stack those odds. Of course, the famous aspect of this match is the classic heel finish, which shows the irritating Jarrett outsmart the overly-competitive Ramon to capture the Intercontinental Championship.

Jarrett’s heelish anti-charisma made him a spectacular Intercontinental Champion. He played the role full Honky Tonk Man, standing at the top of the midcard as the cheating gatekeeper. Jarrett’s ability to talk a big game and sell like crazy made him a perfect jobber to the stars. He could take a big beating from a main eventer, then slide back down into the midcard no worse for wear.

This rare — especially for the time — champion vs. champion from an early MSG Raw sees Jarrett take on New Generation World Heavyweight Champion Big Daddy Cool Diesel (count the capitals). Kevin Nash is, in some twisted way, the ultimate Jeff Jarrett main event opponent: a guy who needs a lot of help to have a special match. Jarrett effectively bumps and flies for Nash and, along with the Roadie, creates some really creative spots to showcase the World Champion’s immense size and strength. Around the six minute mark, Jarrett enlists the Roadie’s help to try and escape an arm-wringer, which leads sets up a super “Hebner kicks the heel’s hands off the ropes” spot.

Jeff Jarrett will always be the perfect wrestler to have that match: top-of-the-midcard “mechanic”. The fundamental job of whom is to “enhance” the hell out of main-event babyfaces that can’t really work. To his general detriment, however, Double J has always hungered for that tippy-top spot, even if that would be the wrestling equivalent of a great lineman wanted to play quarterback in the WWF – in Vince’s eyes, being able to protect the stars from the riff-raff until you know they can draw money was different than being able to draw money somehow — the traits that make you good at one position don’t necessarily translate to the other.

Jarrett’s pursuit of main event stardom led him to late-90s WCW, where everybody was a main eventer, which meant nobody was a main eventer. The degree to which WCW made Double J into a World’s Champion-caliber main event star is highly debatable and speaks to how and why WCW failed… but that’s a conversation for another day. The positive of going to WCW was that it offered Jarrett a fresh crop of stars with which to have good matches.

This match from Starrcade 1999 features Double J taking on [HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED], the premier worker of the day. Ladder matches were highly en vogue at the time, but generally presented as multi-man affairs (see: TLC) focused on crazy highspots and taking as many bumps per minute as possible. Here, Jarrett and [Tom Riddle] work an intensely physical ladder match that still maintains the storytelling structure of a typical one-on-one wrestling match. While Jarrett is sometimes characterized as a performer who needs bells and whistles to tell a story in the ring, this match with the displays him employing the ladder to enhance a solid story, not using it in place of one.

Chris Benoit vs Jeff Jarrett – Starrcade 1999 by RatedREdgeHead316

Jarrett is somewhat unfairly remembered as the avatar of the dying days of WCW. He ate up a lot of TV time in the last year of WCW’s existence, partially because he was one of the last men standing who actually knew how to play a top heel. His brash, loud-mouthed style eventually became too Attitude Era for even the height of the Attitude Era, though, and his promos, while capably heelish, ultimately became so over-the-top as to lose their focus on wrestling (The Russo Effect).

This promo on Sid Vicious (I promised you the dying days of WCW, didn’t I?) shows Jarrett at the height of Attitude Era indulgence. His promo in the ring is muddied by the presence of The Harris Brothers, anonymous good-looking women, and some very ill-fitting sunglasses. However, Jarrett still manages to deliver in a heelish, though convolutedly heelish, way.

Jarrett was also a key player in the signature moment of the death of WCW: Bash at the Beach 2000. Through a laundry list of political machinations that can best be explained by Vince Russo himself:

Jeff Jarrett “lost” the title to Hulk Hogan, who was immediately stripped, followed by Jarrett vs. Booker T for the now-completely-illegitimate WCW World Heavyweight Title.

While Bash at the Beach was perhaps the nadir for WCW, it was actually an incredible moment for Jeff Jarrett. He, along with Booker T, needed to have a match that would kept the title strong and do what Hulk Hogan was utterly incapable of doing: exciting the crowd with a good match. The match that followed followed through, and ultimately led to Booker T becoming a huge star in WWE.

After the fall of WCW, Jeff Jarrett famously assisted in the founding of the next opposition company: Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (see my Wrestler You Should Prob… AJ Styles from last week for more on this). If you want to see the Essential Viewing of the NWA-TNA era, check out the three disc “Jeff Jarrett: King of the Mountain” collection. It does an admirable job showcasing both Jarrett’s biggest matches and some otherwise forgotten gems (who thought Monty Brown would ever be involved in the “best of” anything?) from the early years of TNA. Since that collection is out there, I won’t dwell on the early years of TNA here, aside from this one match with Jeff Hardy from Victory Road 2004.

This match, along with the BFG Monster’s Ball is one of the reasons Jeff Hardy eventually became a multi-time World’s Champion in the WWE. Much like a young Jeff Jarrett was capable of bringing a great match out of the immobile Diesel, an experienced Jeff Jarrett is capable of showing an excitable, highspot-oriented star how to have a dramatic main event style match. Jarrett and Hardy do just enough ladder spots to thrill the crowd, but much like the earlier match with Benoit [we’re over it], Jarrett knows how to make the ladders an integral part of the story being told, not just tall objects from which to jump.

Before Jeff Jarrett’s disappearance from TNA television, he engaged in perhaps the greatest feud of his entire career against Kurt Angle. Double J and Angle had a natural rivalry, as Jarrett legitimately wooed away Angle’s wife, which quickly became wrestling’s worst-kept secret. Real-life issues aside, Jarrett and Angle were perfect opponents, as Jarrett was the perfect cheap victory-loving braggadocious heel to oppose Angle’s righteous and confident-because-he-deserves-to-be top-wrestler babyface.

Jarrett vs. Angle brought TNA fans a number of extremely good matches before Kurt forced Double J to “say adios,” writing him off TNA television for an indeterminate length of time. The most spectacular match between the two was their cage match at TNA’s 2011 Lockdown event. The cage gimmick was invented to give the honest babyface an even playing field to go toe-to-toe against the slippery, cheating heel, and this match used that formula to the tee.

Looking at two decades of Jeff Jarrett all at once is perhaps unfair, as he has had a long, varied, and always-interesting career. Double J has been a great midcarder, a self-indulgent main eventer, and a great main eventer at various times in his run. With that said, he’s always been a tremendous in-ring performer and a strong heel promo. Jeff Jarrett has taken almost as much heat over the booking style of Vince Russo as Russo himself, but when you divorce Double J from the way he has been booked, it’s clear to see that he is truly one of the top workers of his generation.

#AhmedJohnsonWeek: Difference of Opinion

Second Opinion Ahmed Johnson

It’s the Final Day of #AhmedJohnsonWeek, our celebration of all things Pearl River, and the first installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started off with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, and then gave you the finer points of the Tony Norris oeuvre with Tuesday’s Essential Viewing. We asked the important questions on Wednesday with  A Series of If…Whats on “Big T” Tony Norris. Yesterday, we make 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 Legal-Rights-to-the-Letter-T-fueled civil war.)

Nick: David, this is going to be a tough one for us to do, mostly because we both think that Ahmed was somewhere between Warrior and Warlord, and not in a good way.

David: I tend to agree, but the eternal optimist inside of me says that no man is without some merits.

Nick: Then, what are they? Because, as a fan of the guy when I was growing up, I look back now, and find myself just hoping his muscles stay in his skin.

David: Well, there was the off-the-charts look, and until everybody realized how awful he was, a solid connection with the crowd.

Nick: Which begs the question: even with all the injuries, was he lucky?

David: Lucky in the sense that he was born looking like Vince McMahon’s ultimate fantasy. Kidding aside, though, I think he did “get it” in terms of understanding wrestling, and in an earlier era (the territories) or a later era (a true developmental system) he could have had a forum to actually improve.

Nick: What about the mouthwords? His NoD promo is a piece of gold, but much like Wayne Rooney, he needs subtitles despite the fact that English is nominally his native tongue.

David: I don’t think he was any worse than, say, Ryback, but Ahmed existed in an era when WWE wasn’t as good at hiding people’s weaknesses. Even with sometimes-taped Raws, they never did him any help with editing.

David: But, we’re really getting into a chicken vs. egg argument as to who’s more to blame: the subpar wrestler, or the promotion who presents subpar wrestlers on their television.

Nick: I’m not sure if editing could have made “You Best Make Sure” sound less like Juice Make Sugar, but I don’t disagree. I didn’t do much looking back for my pieces, but you obviously did. Did your opinion change for him?

David: You know, I won’t say my opinion changed, but it did evolve somewhat. I used to think Ahmed was irredeemably awful, but having done research for Essential Viewing, I found that he could be made to look like an actual wrestler by exceptional workers.

David: He was the proverbial broomstick that great guys could have a match with.

Nick: But, honestly, what was his ceiling? To me, it’s marginally above Mason Ryan’s

David: Well, if you put Mason Ryan in 1996, he would have been World Heavyweight Champion.

Nick: Because the steroids were better back then? #Boom

David: Honestly, I think within the context of his era, Ahmed could have been a solid babyface challenger to run against an evil heel (say, Undertaker). Or, if he had been a good (safe) enough worker, you could have built him up as a heel and had Stone Cold knock him off.

Nick: Could he have ever held the WWE title? And, been deserving, and not just an angle.

David: Well, in the sense that anybody who is predetermined to win the belt can be champion, he could have been champion. I think he could have “gone around the circuit” of major WWE cities once. And then nobody would want to see him ever again.

Nick: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see Ahmed do anything other than the Pearl River Plunge more than once.

David: It was a great finisher.

Nick: Has watching him in all his epic meh-ness done anything for guys like Batista in your mind?

David: Batista is Dean Malenko compared to him.

Nick: Obviously, different eras and all, but Batista looks like Roger Federer out there compared to Ahmed Johnson, who is so Andy Roddick it’s silly.

David: Yeah, I think that’s a good comparison.

Nick: I also feel like Ahmed was the final straw for unsafe guys, because watching him makes me worry about guys who never wrestled him to begin with.

David: He was definitely an accident waiting to happen. Like I said, now they have an actual developmental system which serves to either correct or eliminate guys like him.

Nick: He seemingly made up new ways to botch things, and as you mentioned in that Owen match, he really took liberties.

David: Oh yeah. He stomped Owen until Owen stopped selling and rolled out of the ring. Unfortunately, for years and years, a huge part of being a good heel was being able to sell for big babyfaces who couldn’t work a lick.

Nick: What would have happened if Jeff Jarrett wasn’t a racist?

David: Oh gosh. Jarrett is Southern, and “racist” is the easiest thing on Earth to call a southerner. And wrestlers are notorious for coming up with reasons it’s other people’s fault they didn’t succeeed. So, I’ll let Ahmed call Jarrett a racist and just say they didn’t see eye-to-eye on who should go over.

Nick: Speaking of shoot interviews, my favorite story of his was him and Hawk doing shows together, and Animal getting pissed at him for it. Where he throws Animal under the bus and blames him for not being able to join LOD.

David: That would have been marginally worse than Road Warrior Puke. Ahmed matched the Road Warrior image, but their legacy didn’t need that for a minute.

Nick: It would have been better than Demolition adding Crush when Ax couldn’t go anymore.

David: I almost believe the story, though. Animal made such a stink over Hawk doing The Hellraisers with Sasaki.

Nick: Which brings us to the the first time I realized that maybe Ahmed wasn’t that great: WM 13’s street fight between LODAhmed and the Nation of Domination. And I won’t even count that Ahmed tried to break Ron Simmons neck, of course. As I was not aware at the time that someone potatoing you in the ribs was carte blanche to try to KILL HIM.


David: Yeah, the Ahmed vs. the Nation was basically a sandbag versus a bag of sandbags. I think the issue with Ron Simmons was the ultimate sign that the locker room was done bailing Ahmed out. He was the first black World Champion, and I don’t think he was interested in elevating Ahmed to that level. Partially because he knew Ahmed was kind of terrible and partially out of bitterness because Simmons’ push was rapidly rolling back down the hill.

Nick: Especially when you have a guy like the Rock on the roster.

David: But, as ugly as the last year of his run in the WWF was, it looks like Citizen Kane compared to his time in WCW.

Nick: WOAH. Woah, woah. Are you saying fighting in a PPV match sponsored by the letter T wasn’t as good as being IC champion during the hottest period in the history of the business?

David: Well, it’s more that being billed as a champion who happens to be black is better than being used in a blatant “black-on-black crime” feud.

Nick: Do you think that’s why he ate his way out of the business? Or was that an inevitability?

David: I think all professional athletes are battling their weight for most of their careers, whether it’s needing to keep it on or keep it off. Between bumps, major injuries and PEDs, Ahmed’s body just wasn’t capable of keeping on the right amount of the right kind of weight anymore. Like so many stars of his era, his body collapsed under the weight of the anabolic dream of the late 80s and early 90s.

Nick: And the Grand Slam menu at Denny’s, apparently.

David: But unlike most of those other guys, at least Ahmed still has his life.

Nick: Which, I guess, that makes him a winner.

David: Yeah, the guy made good money in the business and is still alive. And unless you’re a total mark, you have to understand that puts him ahead

A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better: Ahmed Johnson

Better Know Ahmed JohnsonWelcome to our very first (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week. As the name implies, every week we will be producing a series of pieces on a random (or not so random) performer who has either touched us in a special (no, not that type) way or is especially relevant at the time for one reason or the other.

Beginning with this, #AhmedJohnsonWeek, we will start every series off by making the WotW a Wrestler You (Should) Probably Know Better. Then we give you some Essential Viewing from their oeuvre, before dropping something good on y’all for Wednesday, like a Series of If…Whats. On Thursday, we’ll make our Amazon.com-on-steroids dreams come true with something we’re calling “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“, and then we’ll finish everything off with a Difference of Opinion wherein two of us will discuss the merits of the performer for your entertainment.

When we came up with the idea of presenting a wrestler every week from every angle we could think of, Ahmed Johnson was (for obvious website name-related reasons) the only person we ever had in mind as the inaugural Wrestler of the Week. At least on a personal level, the Pearl River Powerhouse was always more than just a misheard catchphrase, bright red trunks and a walking lesson on the dangers of overeating and steroid use.

For people who grew up watching the WWF, giant men bursting at the seams with muscle (and steroids, naturally) were the main attraction. The only three performers without veins coming out of their veins were Jake Roberts, Roddy Pipper and the Guy Who Carried Hulk Hogan’s Bags, and we were trained to think “intense guy with epic look who also acted strong” was the Platonic ideal of what wrestling should be.

However, after Hulk Hogan — who for all his faults had enough charisma to (mostly) fill the Silverdome — a long string of Warriors and Warlords paraded through the WWF with their tassels and S&M gear trying to recapture the magic of Hulkamania. They achieved varying levels of success, but a lack of charisma for Warlord and discernible in-ring talent (along with a rather severe case of the crazies) for Warrior would ultimately doom them to short-lived runs of any significance, with Warlord’s excitement deficiency relegating him to tag team work and mid-card jobbing for much of his time in the WWF.

That’s because while being able to put on an armbar correctly is a basic building block for success in professional wrestling, what really matters is the ability to interest the crowd in what you are doing. This seems obvious, and it should be. The goal of a professional wrestler is to articulate to the crowd the intensity of what’s going on in the ring through his actions. When you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how physically impressive you are, you become Nathan Jones: another name in a long line who never quite caught on or made anybody care about what you were doing.

Though too much on the other side isn’t any better, as was the case with Warrior. His complete inability to do almost anything correctly in the ring was nearly as big an impediment to his success to as keeping the fans interested without an ounce of natural charisma was to Warlord. Because charisma is perhaps the most important characteristic that all successful professional wrestlers share (other than timing), Warrior reached much greater heights than Warlord, despite a relative lack of polish in the ring.

But, telling a story through action only goes so far if you can’t speak the very basic language in the first place. Wrestling is just a series of tropes built on top of each other to tell a story. For anyone that’s ever watched Azarenka play Sharapova, grunting and over-the-top gesturing can only last for so long before people start to notice your inability to stop making unforced errors or get any winners off. It’s easy to forget that for all the rope shakes, Warrior’s finish wasn’t a Gorilla Press Slam followed by the Big Splash because it looked cool, but because it seemed like the best way to make him look strong and agile without requiring him to really be either. His “grammar” was terrible, constantly flubbing his moves, working in the wrong direction from the rest of the match and never really knowing his own strength, managing to both be not strong enough and too powerful for nearly half his moves to work in any match. So, when the time came to sell a WrestleMania by himself, it was clear he wasn’t up to the task despite filling the SkyDome the year before. For all the excitement he generated initially, it was the same exact story fans had been seeing for the better part of a year and they wanted something new.

After the steroid trials, and following Hulk Hogan’s DISASTROUS exit from stage left after WM IX/King of the Ring 1993, Vince McMahon seemed to realize that smaller workers who put an emphasis on storytelling in the ring would work if they had even a modicum of charisma. And thus the era of skinny wrestlers my dad thinks he could beat (that’s not a knock against them as much as how hilarious my dad’s perception of wrestling is) holding the belt as the WWF worked through its most fallow period, dropping in the ratings despite the talent at the top of the card with superstars like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Diesel putting on quality matches.

And while there were other reasons the product was down, like the insanity of the Day Job era and characters like Bastion Booger, this lack of interest was largely a function of the previous generation’s successes and excesses. Having trained fans for years that wrestlers should look like Davey Boy Smith or Don “The Rock” Muraco AT WORST, while the best of them looked like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, when “short skinny guys” Hart and Michaels were rolling around in the ring with the likes of Hakushi, something had to give.

That something was Ahmed Johnson.

***

After years of guys who looked like members of my family becoming champions, WWF fans were clearly ready for the type of big-bodied bruisers with charisma coming out of their pores (who couldn’t wrestle a lick) that the company had ridden to unprecedented success just a decade before. Which is why, after training for two years, Ahmed Johnson thrust into a series of serious feuds with wily veterans like Jeff Jarrett and Golddust, pushing Johnson rapidly to the top of the card despite a complete lack of experience and a less-than-stellar (read: terrible) understanding of the basics between the ropes.

That didn’t stop fans like me for loving him, though. He, for the first time in a generation (or at least what felt like a generation) gave us exactly what we wanted from a WWF Superstar. He was big, intense and charismatic. Although he couldn’t speak clearly into a microphone to save his life, he could say dramatic things and make the audience feel something. Whether or not that was homophobia is a whole different question, but wrestling fans in the 90’s weren’t ready to ask those questions and the lack of moral ambiguity  — Golddust was bad because he was a jerk, who also happened to be androgynous and enjoyed inciting “gay panic”, Ahmed was good because the WWF said so — answered them for us.

Ahmed Johnson spoke to us on a visceral level, through gestures, taunts and a certain level of bordering-on-reckless velocity at which he hit his spots. That he was not always (okay, more often than not) in the right spot, again, didn’t matter to us. He was there, he was ours, and he was going to beat up people we didn’t like because they had done wrong by him, and since he was us, us.

And while hilarious amounts of weight gain would ultimately be his downfall, his balls-to-the-walls style, done with a footballer’s intensity and the desperation of an impoverished youth got people behind in exactly the way Vince McMahon thought they would. He was, in fact, on his way to a WWF title match, and on the precipice of a truly remarkable career with his status as the first African-American Intercontinental Champion before injuries derailed everything. But, as was always the case with Ahmed, these were largely his fault. From cutting his hand during a spot he’d done in literally every single one of his matches to taking dangerous moves incorrectly or giving those same moves even more recklessly, he showed the danger of giving guys so green such power in the ring.

Which is why, following his injuries and his discarded push to the WWF title picture he essentially fell off the face of the earth. Other workers became tired of working with him, for fear of both their safety and his, and Vince McMahon realized that his Platonic ideal was a pipe dream, as the modern wrestling world had shifted from body slams and clotheslines to suplex and chair shots that a big burly guy who had trouble with the craft would never be safe enough to work with no matter how much charisma they had.

Guys that would come after him, most notably Batista, began going through much more intense training before being given the chance and the idea of pushing them in the ring before they were ready was seen — in large part — as an absolute no-no. While never expected to work at the level of their smaller counterparts and still injury-prone because human bodies aren’t totally supposed to built that way, these men are now expected to be safe with themselves (and even more so) their opponents.

Which is why, Ultimately (pun intended), along with helping to reinvigorate the idea of the “perfect look” McMahon Main Evetner, this will be a his legacy: revamping the requirements for a main event bruiser. Also, I mean, have you seen the Pearl River Plunge? That thing was the tits.

And because we are Juice Make Sugar, we leave you with this, the reason for our name and our favorite wrestling related things on the internet, Fun With Ahmed:

WARRIOR VS. ARSENIO: BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS

To quote my friend, E.J. Judge, this is like two extinct dinosaurs from different geologic periods encountered each other.

To me, it’s like staring into the sun: a good way to go blind if you look directly at it.

To quote my friend, E.J. Judge, this is like two extinct dinosaurs from different geologic periods encountered each other.