Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kevin Nash: A Retort

Kevin Nash
By Chad Smart
@chadsmart & @my123cents on Twitter

I wasn’t planning on commenting on Kevin Nash’s idiotic comments. Mainly I felt Nash made the comments knowing they would cause uproar and it’d get his name back in the spotlight. Since Kevin gave his thoughts, and I like stealing Kevin’s gimmick, I felt there were some additional points to make. Thus, this essay was born.

Growing up in the 80s, I was/am a fan of glam rock/hair metal and remember when bands like Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Warrant got pushed aside for Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden there was some backlash from “rock” fans. There’s a quote I remember reading from around 1993-94 that said, “Musicians stopped looking like rock stars and started looking like guys who just got off work at the gas station.”  In a sense, I see where Nash is coming from with his comments about Benoit, Eddie, Punk or Daniel Bryan not standing out in a crowd. There was a time when wrestlers were taller, bigger, and more muscular than they are now. Does that automatically make today’s wrestlers inferior? I don’t think so. As Gorilla Monsoon used to say, ‘any small guy can beat a bigger guy on any given day.”  Before I move on to my thoughts on why wrestling isn’t as popular as it was during the Attitude Era let me ask you this, if Steve Austin wasn’t “Stone Cold” and you saw him at the airport would you notice him. A guy in a ball cap and camouflage jacket sitting by himself playing Angry Birds on his phone doesn’t exactly scream big star.

I won’t say Nash is wrong to say wrestling business hasn’t been the same as it was during the Attitude Era. However, I don’t feel that has anything to with Benoit or Eddie or Punk being champions. It has more to do with the wrestling landscape and the reluctance of WWE and TNA to change the status quo. As I’ve written about before the Attitude Era happened because of a perfect storm in wrestling. Eric Bischoff positioned WCW to be a competition to WWF and had the financial backing to level the playing field. This forced Vince McMahon to stop going through the motions of lazy booking and come up with some new ideas. At the same time Paul Heyman was leading his land of misfit toys under the ECW banner providing a different, more mature presentation to the standard wrestling product. Had WCW not launched Nitro, had ECW not developed a cult following, would wrestling have had a boom period in the late ‘90s? Would anyone have cared that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were trying to take over WCW Saturday Night? Would middle fingers, hardcore matches and “puppies” become a staple of RAW if there was no pressure to improve viewership to compete with Nitro?

The night Austin 3:16 was born
Courtesy: WWE
Another aspect to look at from when the wrestling business was popular is the amount of freedom wrestlers had over their character compared to today’s wrestlers. No writer came up with “Austin 3:16.” Steve Austin thought up the phrase as he was walking to the ring to face Jake Roberts. If “Austin 3:16” wouldn’t have been uttered, would Austin be as popular as he is today? Once again I have to point out that had Kevin Nash not played a part in getting Triple H in trouble as Nash and Scott Hall were on their way out of WWF, Triple H was scheduled to win King of the Ring ’96 and that would have had a major impact on the Attitude Era.

One of the biggest problems over the last ten years, which seems to be slowly fading, is the lack of characters in wrestling. Hogan, Savage, Dusty, Austin, Rock, even Nash were larger than life personalities. That’s what draws fans in and makes them want to watch. Look at the past decade, it seems every wrestler had a similar look; muscular, six-pack abs, short hair, may or may not have tribal tattoos, lacking in personality.  When everyone is the same, no one stands out.

Vintage Chris Jericho
Since he’s tweeted his thoughts about it, I’ll use Chris Jericho as an example of what’s changed in wrestling. Jericho is about the same size as the guys Nash critiqued. When Jericho first debuted in WCW there wasn’t any real reason to pay attention to him. Sure he was a good worker, but it’s not like WCW was presenting him as a star. What helped get Jericho over with the fans was his exaggerated persona. Putting his hair in a stupid side ponytail, wearing flashy jackets, basically doing anything he could to stand out from the pack. Then when he got to speak, Jericho ramped up the personality, created several catchphrases and over time the fans started flocking to him. Imagine if Jericho’s debut in WCW was the character he was portraying in WWE during his last run before this year. Would a suit wearing, slow speaking, serious Jericho had gotten over in WCW or WWF back in 1996? Doubtful. But because he had 10 years of being a superstar, Jericho could modify his persona and keep fan interest.

I may get some backlash for what I’m about to say. I think of CM Punk’s biggest faults isn’t his size, but his inability to create the bigger than life persona. Doing the straight edge, “I’m better than you” persona in Ring of Honor works because the fan base is made up of people who fit into the same demographic as CM Punk. The same persona doesn’t translate to an audience comprised of and a product aimed at children. Sure, when Punk dropped the pipe bomb last year it got people talking because it was a throwback to the Attitude Era where guys would make shoot comments and wrestling fans would hit their keyboards to post on message boards about not believing what they just saw on TV. Unfortunately, within a couple weeks, WWE went back into safe mode and made John Cena the focal point even though he wasn’t champion.

John Cena
Courtesy: WWE
That brings me to what I consider to big the biggest detriment to the wrestling business and why there won’t be another spike in business anytime soon. WWE, for whatever reason, doesn’t want anyone besides John Cena to be a star. Sure other guys may be champions, but they will never be presented as bigger or better than Cena. This is not a personal attack on Cena as I feel he’s an underrated wrestler and should be commended for the charity and publicity work he does for WWE. The problem is Cena has been the focal point for 7-8 years while only missing about 3 months of work due to injury.  And, I would think that Cena has the body type Kevin Nash would think a wrestler should possess.

In addition to keeping Cena on the forefront, remember when he was “fired” during the Nexus angle yet appeared on every episode of RAW until he was reinstated, the template for booking shows has grown stale. RAW still operates under the same set up it started in 1996-97. Most TV shows which air for more than 5 seasons run into fatigue of becoming tiresome due to repetition. The difference is most TV shows only do 22-24 episodes a year, while WWE (as they’re proud to tell you) does 52 episodes a year. After 884 shows, it’s time for something to change. That’s why I have to give TNA some credit. They seem to be trying to mix up the generic wrestling television show formula and are having some success. Hopefully in time fans will forget the 9 years of mediocre television TNA produced and will give Impact another shot.

To summarize, Kevin Nash is an intelligent idiot who knows how to stay in the spotlight. Wrestling’s popularity has nothing to do with the size of the wrestlers bodies. It is the size of the wrestler’s personalities that attract fans. 

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