One of the reasons I fell in love with professional wrestling, as I’ve discussed in many forms here at New Age Insiders, is the larger than life aspects. Much like their comic book contemporaries, there are heroes, villains, and the epic battle betwixt the two. However, unlike the superheroes on the page and screen. . .
Wrestlers don’t last forever.
Unlike Superman, whose history can be retconned (or recast), the heroes and villains in our squared circle universe are one-shot deals. Sure, we can see renaissances (HHH as an Authority figure post-wrestling, whatever the hell Ric Flair was doing when he held the IC title back in the mid 2000’s), but careers are fleeting. Before the advent of podcasts and social media, for the vast majority of sports entertainers, they faded into relative obscurity, save for the occasional convention or nostalgic appearance.
That’s not quite the case now. . . . The crux of this Musing Monday, the first in what might become a weekly segment, is this, my friends. . .
This idea has been percolating in the caverns of my cerebral cortex for quite some time now, looking back on it. There’s a reason (as I described on episode 2 of the NAIborhood podcast) why I don’t listen to a lot of professional wrestling podcasts, outside of NAIpod.
I don’t like who these heroes have become.
Jim Ross? I find him to be a rambling, bitter old man who can’t seem to help situating himself on a pedestal above the rest of us mere mortals.
Chris Jericho? I don’t mind him as much as some of the others, but he does tend to toe the corporate line just a bit too much for my liking. He’s the alumni fratboy who can’t help showing up at keggers now and then, trying to be “Mr. Cool” on one hand while knowing he needs to brownnose the right people now and then so that he can keep getting invited back each year.
(Ok, so I may have gone a little overboard with that analogy. It’s been a while since I’ve written a column for visual consumption, I’m rusty!)
Ric Flair? Oh boy, I’m not even daring to try that one.
Tazz? I’ll give him a try. He’s young enough and outside the business, plus he was always a fairly “real” announcer, even if he did abuse the “Holy ______” line a bit too much.
The other MAJOR ‘wrestler’ podcast that I can think of is Steve Austin’s, and his is the one that, back a year or so ago, I listened to with the most regularity. Much like Tazz, Austin seemed to be very much in the “I’m being me, and to hell with you if you don’t like it” camp, and I can respect that, even if I didn’t always agree or relate to what he was talking about, having never hunted, rode a 4 wheeler or had a need for “male enhancement”.
As life got busy and NAI and their podcast entered my life, I stopped listening to everything else, wrestling wise. Just not enough time or energy in my brain for THAT much sports entertainment. I saw Austin’s work on the WWE Network, which I’ve enjoyed, and I keep tabs on the topics and opinions of the Texas Rattlesnake.
Now, I was just a young teenager during the dawn of the “Austin 3:16” era, and being a fairly spoiled only child, I didn’t identify much with the “anti-hero” mythos. I had never wanted to attack my bosses with a bedpan or anything like that, except for the rare time that one parent caught wind that I had already borrowed money from the other, so I couldn’t walk out the door with $40 instead of the usual $20.
So, I never found Austin to be my hero, outside of respecting him for being a legitimate tough guy who overcome a lot of adversity to succeed in the world of pro wrestling. Plus, when he wants to be, he’s hilarious, and I love that.
Regardless, in the last few months, I’ve found myself starting to sour on Austin. It began with his issues with John Cena’s use of the Stone Cold Stunner. I understood the major point of his argument, that such a famous ‘finisher’ not be used as a ‘setup’ maneuver, but it still seemed silly to even talk about. Over the years, we’ve seen countless moves make the transition from match-ender to mid-match spot, and I haven’t heard a lot of people complaining (though perhaps I’ve just missed it - Correct me if I’m wrong). The DDT went from being world-shaking to Just Another Move, as did the leg drop, top rope elbow and powerslam. This is how wrestling works.
So I was perturbed by that, but I got over it, figuring that since I hadn’t heard the podcast, perhaps it was taken out of context. I felt the same way about a couple other issues and opinions that Austin has taken to the airwaves, and while I once again overlooked them for the most part, it started to slowly sour my perception of one of WWE’s all-time greats.
Which brings me to today’s news, which served as the inspiration for what has been a fairly rambling column. Roddy Piper claims that his podcast (yet another one I dare not listen to, for having heard enough of his promos, I know will be borderline incoherent) was taken off of the airwaves of Podcast One at the request of Steve Austin. Apparently Piper had former Mad TV star and wrestling fan Will Sasso on his show, who did an Austin impression. Steve didn’t take kindly to that, and according to Piper, made enough noise to get Roddy’s podcast off the ‘network’.
Now, as with all rumors and issues like this, there are certainly 2 sides to every story, and we definitely don’t have all the facts. Piper’s podcast undoubtedly wasn’t doing as well in the download ratings as Austin’s, and for all I know was a train wreck from episode 1. The decision to cut his show might have very little to do with Austin altogether.
But it continues to paint this picture, one that goes against the mystique of one of wrestling’s great heroes.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Texas Rattlesnake. The toughest SOB in the WWE universe. The inspiration for countless balding blue collar workers the world over.
Steve Austin. The guy who walked away from WWE because he didn’t like the hand he was dealt, booking wise. The guy who couldn’t help but comment (or was it complain) about “his move” was not being used properly. The guy who (APPARENTLY) couldn’t handle some tongue in cheek impressions, so got a fellow “brother” pulled from the Podcast One airwaves.
Unfortunately, in the fantasy world that is professional wrestling, our heroes aren’t immortal, despite what recent video games might portray. They get hurt, they grow old, and they change - from the Mythical Heroes we cheered for and adored to . . . well. . . to people. Outside that squared circle, they become human beings once more.
What hurts the most, perhaps, is that we are reminded, time and time again, that the sport we all love is merely entertainment, and can be fleeting.
Clark Kent never yelled at kids to get off his lawn. Bruce Wayne didn’t lament some other hero using insignia laden tools. Those heroes are forever.
I just wish ours were, too.
As much as I love the WWE Network (and if you follow me on Twitter, you know I obviously do), I miss the days of my youth watching WWF PPV’s. Inviting a group of friends over, my parents snacking us up, dragging a mattress down the stairs to have our own wrestling matches on the living room floor.
The reason I miss that so much is because with all that fun and frivolity, it didn’t matter if the wrestling wasn’t up to par. In the case of Wrestlemania 13, this was more of a double or triple bogey. Despite the incredible array of talent, this card was lacking.
Still, it is Wrestlemania season, and to be honest, this probably isn’t the worst card in the world. Onward!
Highlight: Even close to 20 years later, the thing that stands out to me now is the same thing that did back in ‘97 - Phil LaFon was a fantastic wrestler. With all the crazy characters and goofy gimmicks, I find myself drawn to the guys with serious in-ring talent. Hence why my Twitter images are usually of Malenko, Regal and Arn Anderson.
Lowlight: Honestly, I enjoyed this match a lot. I was sad that the Blackjacks and Furnas / LaFon got eliminated so quickly, so I guess if I had a problem, that’s it.
So What: With Wrestlemania 31 already having multiple multi-man matches, I doubt there will be anything more than a traditional tag match for the titles in a few short weeks. However, this was a fun way to start a show, and a KiddAro vs. Usos vs. New Day vs. . . . .
Seriously, I can’t think of another decent tag team. Man, WWE has a lot of work to do if they want to make tandem wrestling fun again.
I was all set to write about how this was a battle of two WWE Hall of Famers before realizing that The Rock hasn’t made it in yet. Let that sink in for a minute - Rikishi will soon be in the HOF, but The Rock is not. I know he will be eventually, but still, that’s a crazy statement.
Highlight: Despite the credentials, this is not the greatest match I have ever witnessed. In fact, it is easily the worst match of this Wrestlemania. My two highlights, if I have to pick them, are the fact that Bob Backlund is on my TV screen and Rocky Maivia’s hair. It was just so ridiculous.
Lowlight: The fact that even in 1997, WWF would take a Samoan, put a mask over part of his face and try to pass him off as an Arabian character.
So What: Seriously, The Rock isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet. To quote one of my favorite superheroes - “What’s up with that?”
So What 2: Those who think ths IC title isn’t being valued should go back and look at this. Comparatively, its no contest.
So What: Besides the fact that both of these talents will likely be wrestling at this year’s Wrestlemania, some 18 years after their match here, this will be four Hall of Fame talents wrestling in back-to-back matches at WM13. Yes, Goldust is a Hall of Famer. No, I don’t even think its debatable.
Highlight: Again, not a stellar match or anything, but its fun to watch these guys back then. Goldust back when his outfit was primarily gold and HHH doing the deep bow and acting all elitist - You know, back before he married into the WWE family and actually became elitist.
Lowlight: While I give all the credit in the world to Terri “Marlena” Runnels for being tossed around like a rag doll by Chyna at the end of this match, was it really necessary? I think not.
Ok, seriously, this is crazy. Rock. Rikishi. HHH. Goldust. Owen. Bulldog. Mankind. Vader. That’s 8 guys in the last 3 matches that either already are or will be in the Hall of Fame someday. At least in the NAI Hall of Fame. (Not even counting Paul Bearer, another HOF guy) I’m sure this has happened before, but I don’t remember a time when I saw a PPV card that looked to be stacked like this, even if the matches weren’t nearly as good as you would hope.
Highlight: Owen Hart was a phenomenal wrestler. He’s a fairly polarizing figure, but I really thought he was a special talent.
Lowlight: I don’t remember why Foley and Vader were a tag team here (was it just because of Bearer?), but they could have been a dominant force if booked properly.
So What: My own personal one here, but I can’t wait to get to the NWA / WCW cards on the Network that feature Vader vs. Cactus Jack. Such brutality.
So What 2: Do you think Owen and Bulldog ever get into the HOF?
Murderer’s Row of talent continues. Seriously, has there been a better lineup in PPV history?
Highlight: Has there been a better submission move in history? Just this single application - Can it be beaten? Cena passing out to the Accolade doesn’t come anywhere close to this. From Bret’s repeated uses to Austin pushing up, screaming, blood pouring down his face; just a perfect moment.
Lowlight: Back before WWE figured out how to properly film crowd brawls, these two get lost in the masses a couple times. Completely nitpicking, but this match was that good.
So What: I’m not sure if we’re seeing Cena and Rusev heading down the road to a Submission match at Wrestlemania, but after watching this, Dear God, I hope not.
OK, so the streak of Hall of Fame talents ends here, even though this features LOD, Ron Simmons and Crush, who is a guy I could probably make a HOF case for if I wanted to.
Highlight: Might be hindsight, but I love this Nation. The old-school one, back before The Rock got involved. JC Ice and Wolfie D rapping the entrance, D-Lo and others dressed in Malcolm X suits and surrounding the ring, even just the look for Faarooq, Savio Vega and Crush. This worked for me a lot.
So What: If New Day is going to turn heel at some point (and let’s face it, it’s bound to happen), this is what they should be seeking to emulate. Big E could pull off Faarooq’s look in this match, down to the beret and the uber-tight tanktop.
Lowlight: Well, as much as I enjoyed the build-up, the match stunk.
I’m not an expert on Mania main events, and I know that at some point The Miz is part of the conversation, but this match was completely underwhelming.
Lowlight: Much like Mania 25, I bet that if Vince could go back in time, the Submission match would be last (just like Taker / HBK) and he’d put the title match somewhere in the middle. There really is a difference between the best match and the one that is supposedly most important.
So What: I’ll say that again. There’s a difference between the best match and the one that is supposedly most important. In other words, please don’t end my Mania with Roman Reigns. . .
Highlight: Seeing the Old School Undertaker. Hearing Psycho Sid’s music, which is awesome. Watching Shawn Michaels, obviously under some sort of chemical influence, keep looking at himself in the monitors during commentary. Bret Hart owning the whiny character.
Basically everything but the actual wrestling.
Bret vs. Austin and it isn’t even close. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that match, my favorite one would be the tag team elimination match. Not the best Wrestlemania, despite perhaps the best cast.
Will New Day turn heel? If so, will it work? Should R-Truth be involved?
Should the IC ladder match go on last at Mania? It has to be first, right?
Is there a better roster than the one we saw here? Could it be more underwhelming?
Over the last twenty years, no single archetype has been more beloved in wrestling than the anti-hero. Whether it be an individual (CM Punk or Stone Cold) or a group (the early nWo or DX), anti-heroes are the living embodiment of what the vast majority of wrestling fans would like to be, if it wasn’t for those pesky laws, rules and regulations keeping us in line. While we desperately want to give our boss the finger, crotch-chop the rude barista at Starbucks or knee the idiot yelling into his cell phone right in the head, we know we can’t, so we live vicariously through the anti-hero.
Dean Ambrose is poised to be the next great anti-hero in wrestling; in fact, one could argue that he’s already there. Over the last few weeks, Ambrose has gone to whatever lengths necessary to exact his revenge on Seth Rollins for betraying The Shield and joining The Authority. He’s attacked him before a match, during a match and after a match. No amount of security is seemingly enough to stop Ambrose; kick him out of the building and he’ll find his way back in. If not, he’ll lie in wait for you in the trunk of your car, a moment that will likely been one of the more memorable of 2014.
When you listen to Dean Ambrose speak, you are drawn in by his charisma. You can feel the vitriolic hate emanating from his every pore. You can see, as my partner Doc Manson so eloquently calls it, the Portrait of Malice. But you don’t always understand or remember exactly what he said, which is a problem, one that can be solved with today's lesson.
Lesson: The biggest superstars always have a catch-phrase fans can latch onto.
Oh, you didn’t know? Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s true, it’s damn true. In order to be the best there is, the best there was or the best that ever will be, wrestlers need to smell what The Rock is cooking and get themselves a saying. Whatcha gonna do, brother, if you don’t have one? Well, if you’re not down with that, I’ve got two words for you. YOU’RRREEE FIRRRREDDDDD!
You see my point. Call them mantras, mottos, slogans or whatever, but a good saying immediately bonds you with the fans. It’s something they can say along with you, even if they hate you at the time. It’s something that people can use on social media to find their fellow brethren. Plus, and don’t think this isn’t important, a catch-phrase can instantly be put on merchandise, growing your overall brand.
Do you need more proof? OK, fine, let’s talk about Steve Austin, who many (including myself) are comparing Ambrose to left and right. It’s time for a history lesson.
March 1996 - Wrestlemania XII. “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin, the Million Dollar Champion, defeats Savio Vega. Lame character, lame match, lame future for Austin.
June 1996 - King of the Ring. After winning the annual tournament (a good omen, but by no means a career maker), the newly christened Stone Cold Steve Austin says for the first time in history “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.”
March 1997 - Wrestlemania 13. Stone Cold, blood streaming down his face and locked in The Sharpshooter, passes out from pain and loses to Bret Hart. This match, which is deserving of its own column at the very least, cements Austin’s main event status, a status that was all but guaranteed with his victory speech 9 months earlier.
Now, whether Austin would have still reached top-guy status without that fateful improvisation is a thought experiment of its own, but there is no argument that the birth of that catch-phrase catapulted Stone Cold to a new echelon of success. Plus (or perhaps, thanks to this) it sold a LOT of t-shirts.
How many T-shirts? In 1998 alone, there were 12 million Austin 3:16 shirts sold. That’s 1 million shirts a month; over 30,000 shirts sold a day.
So now, back to Ambrose. As I said earlier, many have been watching Dean these last few weeks and seeing the similarities between The Lunatic Fringe and The Texas Rattlesnake. Both have no respect for rules or authority. Both will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Both will fight through pain, injury and overwhelming odds, likely doing so with a smile on their face.
Dean Ambrose is heading down a path that can lead him to main event status and, quite possibly, the Hall of Fame. However, he won’t get there if he doesn’t find some sort of saying that can further connect him to the WWE Universe. And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.