Ringside Shadows #142: The New Youth
You may not have been looking, it might've slipped through in the blink of an eye, but the "next generation" is undeniably making good their threats to invade the main event as we speak. Chris Benoit and The Rock headlined a main event a month back with the WWF Title up for grabs. Booker T's already completed a strong run as a first-time WCW World Champ, and don't think it's his last. Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle are nipping at the heels of the few that remain above them on the WWF ladder, and neither has been in the fed much more than a full year.
Only six short years ago, Vince McMahon unveiled to the world his "new generation" of wrestlers, headed by names like Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kevin Nash and, eventually, Steve Austin and Mick Foley. These were the men to which he entrusted the sport's future. The names he called to carry his baby through the years after the Hogans, the Savages and the Warriors. Since that time, a lot's gone down. Two of the bigger names made a surprising jump to McMahon's only competition, only months after holding the World and Intercontinental titles, with others threatening to follow suit. Michaels and Hart severely limited the main event potential, after personal problems made a collision in the ring difficult at best. McMahon himself jumped into the thick of things, shoving Bret Hart out of the World Title scene and the WWF as a whole in arguably the most controversial move in the sport's history. The waters haven't exactly been smooth but the industry pulled through in the end, riding a wave of popularity the likes of which has never been seen.
Now that they're riding that wave (or paddling behind it, in WCW's case), the decisions made by the head of each federation become much more important. When the WWF was failing back in '94, McMahon had nothing to lose when choosing Hogan's heir. He could afford to take a risk, and it paid off for him in spades. It could be said that the entire resurgance of his empire was based solely on his willingness to risk it all, an action that meant quite a bit less when talking about a sub-million dollar act, as opposed to the billion dollar monster we see on Raw today. The time is now; with the "new generation" in the past and their replacements picking up the ball, it's time to define your main event. A few choices are obvious... Booker T, Chris Jericho, Jeff Jarrett and HHH... but who's gonna round out the card with them? Who will be their opponents? What follows are my three choices for each federation: read and become enlightened. (and write to disagree)
Why He Made My List: Despite a recent slip in performance, Kidman remains one of the best homegrown talents on WCW's roster. Sure, I realize he spent time in ECW and the indies before Turner snatched him up for their own purposes. WCW is where he hit it big, where he gained international recognition and it's where he's called home for nearly five years now. That's good enough for me.
For whatever reason, audiences (myself included) seem to enjoy a homegrown talent above and beyond anyone hired from another market, with few exceptions. Booker T, Goldberg and Sting are prime examples. Never spent time in the WWF or ECW, yet consistant fan-favorites. If WCW would take this ball and run with it, rather than focusing on the swerve, the shoot interview and the smart fan, perhaps they'd find something worth watching. But I digress.
Kidman has the talent, the universal appeal, the moveset and the personality to make a run atop WCW's card work for so many reasons. Though his size remains an issue, Kidman has the speed and technique to play the role Shawn Waltman (X-Pac) never did for this industry: a breakthrough star, finally opening the doors for the smaller guys to legitimately compete with the big boys. His unusually placid ring outfits, his humble appearance and his believably-proportioned body hits home with audiences. It's much easier to relate to someone who isn't three feet taller than you are, and I think many fans would find a bit of themselves within him.
Why He Made My List: I'm gonna go ahead and say it: Lance Storm is the next Chris Benoit. Though the WCW that housed Chris Benoit differs substantially from the one in charge today, I believe that with a few months of work, a little gimmick tweaking, a touch of luck and a return to the clean wins that built him as such a strong heel in the first place, Storm can maintain the breakneck pace Benoit set back in '94 and '95. Though it took five years and the absence of his services for WCW to realize what Benoit meant to them, I remain confident that they've seen the light early on with Storm. He's working the best gimmick in the place, bar none, and can back his harsh words up with actions when the situation calls for it. He's held three singles belts in the span of two months with the company, the fastest ascention for any worker in any fed in recent memory. He's without a doubt the most well conditioned man in WCW, and knows how to build a match better than any other, as well. Tell me there's something to dislike.
Unfortunately, the bookers-that-be have anointed Lance Storm as their newest "cowardly heel," a plague that's, in itself, decaying WCW from the inside. They've thrown him into a makeshift stable, alongside three workers that had little to no recognizability amongst the common fans. To top it all off he's feuding with the Misfits in Action, a stable headed by Hugh Morrus and the Wall; two complete wastes of time. From an outsider's perspective, one would think they're trying to sabotage themselves. Here was a successful gimmick, the lone Canadian who stood in the ring while his anthem was played, all the while attempting to ignore the jeers. He finally snapped and told the Americans off, further inciting them, and then went on to capture three of WCW's four remaining singles titles, basically telling us where we could stick it. The addition of another member was inevitable, but three...?
The fact that this angle's still seen on television is a testament to Lance Storm's talent. If the story had gone in any other direction, he'd be near the top of the card, not feuding with someone named after a penis. Still, Storm remains one of Turner's surefire hits. A talent that's bound to hold a world title somewhere, even if WCW doesn't learn from their mistakes.
Why He Made My List: Because he's defying the odds. Big Vito, for all rights and purposes, should be struggling for a spot on Thunder. He's worked as a shamelessly stereotypical Italian in angles involving The Godfather, (the movie, not the wrestler) pasta and his sister's wedding. He was involved in the ridiculous Hardcore division, and managed to make the title respectable again. More recently, he's been dropping matches to the main event heels. The important part is this; he's done it all while maintaining credibility. If he loses, he loses but he does so cleanly. He's ironed his character out flawlessly and never fails to play the role he's asked to on TV. That, and those losses against main event heels have been much closer than you might think.
The fans are slowly rallying behind him and, for once, Russo is listening. He's booking Vito in more and more important roles, testing the waters for a possible main event run in the future. Vito's formed an alliance with Goldberg and officially crossed Russo himself on air a couple weeks ago, leading to a much larger pop than I'd expected. The guy's a throwback of sorts, as he comes to the ring with a body that isn't etched in stone, yet you still believe he could boot your head off your shoulders without giving it a second thought. He's WCW's Eddy Guerrero; probably the only man in the promotion that isn't moving up the card too quickly or too slowly, but working up the ladder at a speed that seems just right.
Big Vito's come through in the clinch more than once, and until he pulls a screwup of epic proportions (ie tripping over a wire and taking the nitro-tron down with him), I'd imagine we'll be seeing more and more of him in the immediate future. A great middle man for any stable and a future main eventer, Vito is somebody I'd accept on my team without a second thought.
Why He Made My List: Like I said a few lines back, Guerrero is probably the only guy in the WWF that's making a well-paced climb up the ladder of success. He's worked his way through the belts in the proper order, and his great performances and clean victories have convinced fans that he isn't a fluke, he deserves the praise. While he's still a ways from the World Title scene, the waters have been tested with a strong showing in his match against HHH on Raw's main event last week. Again, like Vito, his gimmick needs some fine tuning before it can go all the way (the overdone accent needs to go), but remains close enough to make such comparisons a believable possibility. Nevermind that he's one of the top workers in the world.
While I won't agree with his continued involvement with Chyna, I will acknowledge that she seems to have been that extra little boost he needed to get over. The two have good chemistry together, but Eddy needs to drop her soon if he wants to get serious about a run at the top of the card. All their segments seem to end up a comedy, and that isn't really becoming of a main eventer.
If nothing else, Guerrero heads my list because he's the perfect blend of personality and technique. He's large enough to challenge the heavyweights, but small enough to keep up with the cruisers. His moveset is about as inventive and diverse as they come, capped off with one of the most beautiful finishers in the business. In addition, McMahon doesn't have to worry about Eddy embarassing himself if he's given a microphone. He can build a feud using his arms or his mouth, and he's got "the look," which is something no amount of words can describe. He's prime time material, and it's only a matter of time before the certification is stamped.
Why He Made My List: Because he should be there now! While Snow has been grouped in with the has-beens and never-weres because of his struggle to find a gimmick that works, something helps him stand apart from the Ding Dongs and Bastion Booger: he's got the talent to work with the World Title. Properly motivated, Al Snow can keep up with the best and carry the worst. His strange mesh of styles in the ring is both quirky and intriguing to watch, and when he snags a mic, they really don't come much better. The catch is this; Snow must be motivated. If he's given a feud that's obviously going nowhere, he won't make any extra effort to make sure it doesn't. On the opposite, though, if he's thrown into a feud that's worthwhile and interesting, he'll make it exhillerating. Case in point; his oft-referenced feud that almost was with the Rock. In the heyday of the Rock'n Sock connection, Snow played the role of the friend that was pushed aside in the shuffle. His anger was justified and relatable, and gave fans an interesting delimma: do I side with The Rock, because he's the guy everybody likes or do I side with Snow, because I think he's got a point? It could've been huge, but the WWF didn't want fans second-guessing their allegiances to the Rock, so the plug was pulled.
Al Snow has everything you'd want in a big draw except the motivation to get there. He's been so close so many times that I wonder if he truly has the desire any more. Granted, that's quite a problem, but it's a risk I'd be willing to take in exchange for what Snow could offer in the end.
Why He Made My List: Personality.
Crash has one of the most interesting, clearly defined personalities in all of wrestling. He's the little guy that doesn't take any crap. He's explosive, TNT in a barrel, and a surprisingly strong worker in addition to it all. He found a nice little niche in the Hardcore division, but the time has come to move on. I briefly thought the WWF was about to get serious with him after his strong showing at the King of the Ring tourney, and it's still not too late for that, but I seriously doubt things are about to pan out there. What Crash needs is a solid series of matches against larger men. Some would end with close losses, some with crowd-awakening victories. Most importantly, they'd all be clean. Crash needs to build a reputation away from the garbage cans and singapore canes, one closer to his rarely-seen mat skills. His recent alignment with Dean Malenko could be just that.
Now that big brother Bob has been out of the picture for some time, it's about time Crash builds an image all his own. The bleached blonde hair and Hardcore Holly tights can shift to something more unique, more his. There's a lot of exploring to be done, and when the end of the tunnel is reached, I think we'd be looking at a man that could conceivably carry the World title. It would be one hell of a risk, but like I said, Vince got this far by risking it all. Who needs certainty? The fans tune in to be surprised, and they wouldn't see Crash coming from a mile away.
It's best remembered that for every Steve Austin, there is a Curt Hennig. For every Shawn Michaels an Eddie Gilbert. A talented star that, for one reason or another, never made the big leagues. A can't miss prospect that somehow missed. In compiling these short lists, it's certain that I'm overlooking several men that deserve a slot in the main event, some of which will no doubt prove me wrong and climb to the top of the world as champion. Both federations are big places, and we're certainly about to find ourselves treated to a wild card or two, but my judgement calls these six the logical future. It's gonna take a lot of hard work on the part of both parties (those listed and those not) to prove me right or wrong, and for better or worse, I'll be sitting on my couch enjoying every minute of it.
until next time, i remain