Ringside Shadows #143: The Main Event
No, this isn't an entire train of thought dedicated to WCW's "event", Chuck Palumbo, nor is it associated with Rob Van Dam or Shawn Michaels in any way. What we've got here is a rundown of the top names of either promotion, the men who have carried the World Title in the past, those who are hurrying their way through the present and those who are destined to run with it into the future. The Bill Goldbergs, the Chris Jerichos and the Rocks of the modern wrestling world. The "go-to guys," the team players, the athletes that viewers will tune in for.
Carrying a main event is about more than just the gold. When a promoter gains the confidence in one of his workers to boost them up to contention for their prime slot, he's giving them a number of compliments and additional responsibilities. A main eventer is a moral leader to everyone in back, an example of where hard work and dedication (or, in turn, the right friends in the right places) will get you. He's a participant in the most important match of the evening, with the ratings or PPV buyrates resting heavily on the shoulders of his performance. He's a physical example for the company in the eyes of the public, promoted to those who don't watch the WWF or WCW programming regularly. Finally, a main event worker is the point of much ridicule and speculation. If the promotion is doing poorly as a whole, it reflects historically on the champion, (see Kevin Nash's WWF title run in the mid 90s) however, if business is good, the champion becomes a legend (Hogan's run in the mid '80s, Rocky's run today.) It's a lot of pressure, and many simply can't handle that kind of strain. I suppose the main event is where they separate the men from the boys, and the stars of tomorrow from the future McDonald's employees of the month. So how does today's crop stack up? Well, let's take a look.
Ah, the plight of 'Big Sexy'. While he can work a mic like second nature, Nash has been slacking more and more noticably in the ring over the past two years than anyone else in the business. His matches are consistantly bad, even when contrasted with a superb worker, as he continues to rely on the same moveset and structure time-in and time-out. I saw sparks of life in him that I'd thought had been long forgotten several weeks ago on Nitro, in the match that saw his third reign as WCW champion come to fruition, though the effort has since been eclipsed by a poor showing in the WarGames match.
Inserted right into the thick of things with the major league nWo angle, Nash has done little to reinvent himself since... always playing "the cool guy," even when heel. His recent turn (and resulting dismissal of the fans) has been good in that respect, so far, though he seems to ache for a return to his old ways. Probably the hardest thing for a heel to maintain is a proper aura, a personality that screams "evil," not "cool." It's easy to turn on the faces, perform run-ins and assault others with foreign objects, but in this confusing day and age where yesterday's heel is today's hero, becoming and remaining "bad" is an underspoken difficulty. HHH has done it, and Nash seems to be finally understanding what he's done wrong.
So long as he remains true to that character, I have no problem with Kevin Nash in the main event. Until his matches improve, however, I'll have to disagree with a continued reign as World Champion.
Without question, the most breakneck ascention to popularity in the history of this industry belongs to Bill Goldberg. Three years ago, Goldberg was facing Steve McMichael in throwaway matches at the start of Nitro. Today he's a million dollar enterprise, a measuring stick and a former World Champion that's apparantly grown a chip to match the tattoo on his shoulder. I've publicly defended Goldberg in the past while others have turned on him, and won't lie to you today either; he's exactly where he should be in the World Title mix.
Goldberg's just got "the look", something many strive for but few attain. He just looks like a wrestler, more so than anyone dressed like a clown, chicken or mortician can ever claim. On top of that, Goldberg's got a moveset that matches his look. Unlike Kevin Nash's lame powerbomb, when Goldberg hits a spear or jackhammer, it's vicious enough to make you forget that he hasn't done much else throughout the rest of the match. That sense of realism and violence is the root of his character, and he brings it to the ring with him every time he walks that aisle, whether he realizes what he's doing or not. While his vocal skills could certainly benefit from a pointer or two, he's far from completely inept on the stick. To be frank, he works the microphone like a rookie entering his third year... which is exactly what he is. With another year's worth of heavy work, he'll be decent enough.
Though his heel run earlier in the year was cut much too short, for whatever reason, those two months showed more grasp on the role than most anyone else in the federation. In a promotion overflowing with cowardly heels in the vein of Chris Jericho's cruiserweight days, Goldberg was the steadfast evildoer that wouldn't back down from the opposition. In essence, he was playing the same character; strong, pissed and mean as hell, but this time he was fighting for the wrong team. I was sorry to see it go, but there really is no use crying over spilled milk. Perhaps someday we'll see that side of the man again, but until then he'll be burning up the ladder as the promotion's top face, which is where he belongs.
The newest face on our list, Booker's main event push should have been years in the making. Instead, he was held at or below the TV title, having never recieved the chance many felt was due after his breakthrough performance with Chris Benoit in their best of seven series. Call it the meddlings of Hogan, call it Bischoff's problem, it's all water under the bridge today (or is it the bridge under the water?)
His catchphrases and work with the stick don't really do anything for me, but I love to watch Booker T work. His style is a refreshing change of pace in this world of cookie-cutter carbon copies and redundant headlocks, sleeperholds and suplexes. With a kick-heavy offense (which is, in itself, usually reserved for martial artists), Booker's using his build to its fullest advantage. He's introduced several new and imaginative moves, combinations and reversals based on that alone, and when he ties those in with the basics that mold every worker in the same light, things get really interesting. His run as champion was nice and largely unexpected, and though I'd liked to have seen his first World Title reign extended into something special, a rematch on PPV for the belt will have to do for now.
As a champion, many will have difficulty accepting Booker T for another six months. It's a period of adjustment every champ goes through, and one I'm sure you remember from HHH's arrival in the World Title scene. He just needs some time to build credibility. After that, I think T fills the role of the hungry, athletic, young challenger to the dynasty of the more established WCW main eventers that surround him. He's right where he should be.
The black sheep of WCW's main event lineup, Jeff Jarrett came to Turner with high hopes. He'd dropped the WWF Intercontinental title only days before, and was met with compliments and good nature from his former employers on the way out the door, a rarity in this dog-eat-dog business. He's one of the true gems of this industry but, unfortunately, is also among the most overlooked. Much like Curt Hennig in the early 90s, Jeff Jarrett has all the tools you could ever ask for. As a second generation wrestler, he grew up in the business and has spent the better part of his life mastering it. On the mic, Jeff can cut a promo for just about any situation. He knows how to incite a crowd and isn't afraid to play the heel, even if it means lost personal revenue due to merchandise sales. In a word, Jarrett is an A+.
Yet, despite his apparant superstar potential, Jarrett has always found himself playing the second fiddle. He's a joke to WCW audiences, despite numerous World Title reigns, because he was booked that way. Every victory, every title defense was handed to him through outside interference. Now the crowd recognizes him as a fluke four time champion, the weakest link of Russo's new faction, or as "that guy with the guitar who says Slapnuts."
Put plainly, Jarrett shouldn't be in the main event. Much as I appreciate the guy, everything he's done and everything he should do, his place is not in the main event scene just yet. At the end of last year, when he was pumping out solid ladder matches with Chris Benoit, he seemed a sure shot for the big plate. Since then, he's traded indecisive victories with most of WCW's old guard before finally handing the belt over to Booker T, while Benoit has since won the World Title and promptly left the federation, having done everything he could do as a member of WCW. It's time for Jarrett to rebuild. Perhaps a run with the US title, defending cleanly against the likes of Kidman, Juventud Guerrera, Big Vito and Shane Douglas. Maybe then audiences will accept him for what he can be: a real chosen one.
Long the staple of WCW's appetite, Sting is their resident phenom. He's remained loyal for well over a decade, carrying the World title through troubled waters, talent raids and new highs. Honestly, you couldn't have picked a better man for the job, as Sting is one of the rare good souls in the biz. He'll do what's right for the company before he does what's right for him. He's forgotten more about working up the crowd than we'll likely ever know. His dynamic ringwork, while altered drastically since his late '80s knee injury, is still easy to watch and effectively unique. Even when wearing a mask earlier this year, you knew it was Sting by the way he handled himself. On the mic he tends to repeat a catchphrase for far too long, but is otherwise harmless. Crowds can't get enough of the guy, and he's bound to be over for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, Sting's also nearing the end of his career. He's led an unbelievable life between the ropes, but unless he wants to end up like a Flair, Hogan or Luger, the time to consider moving on is now, before his body begins to betray him. With that said, I certainly believe he deserves to go out on the top. The Stinger deserves one last run with the gold before saying "adieu" and wishing his fans well for the final time.
...and that's all I can find wrong with the guy. Give him his run, give him someone to pass to ball to (someone loyal, like Booker T) and put the plan into motion. Audiences would eat it up, knowing his time is near, and we'd only be left with fond memories of a great career, not the sad image of an old man who's lost his touch, boring us in white makeup. Sting is a great, and he needs to go out like one. Soon.
Big Poppa Pump rounds out the WCW end of things, still fighting his way to the World Title shots he's deserved for about 7 years, only to fall back down on the verge of holding the glory. Steiner is a shadow of his former self, apparently dropping his work in the ring to further concentrate on his phyisque and steroid acquisition. In the mid-90s, few were better than Scotty. He was more inventive than anyone in the sport, be it with his frankensteiner, (the very first hurricanrana in one of the big two US promotions) his steiner screwdriver, (a vicious suplex-into-spinning piledriver that was just brutal) or his trademark steinerlines. He knew how to build a match with pacing, psychology and tag team (or singles) dynamics. The only thing he was missing was personality, something his brother had in spades... which is why they worked as such an incredible tag team, I guess. When Scott joined the nWo everything changed, and many believed World Title shots were in his near future. Instead, Hogan stole the spotlight once more and embarked on yet another World Title reign of his own while Steiner was stuck in the tag ranks with Buff Bagwell.
Since then, Steiner's stock has flucuated rather wildly. When Hogan stepped away from the nWo and WCW in general to concentrate on his political aspirations, (heh...) Steiner was appointed the new leader of the group. Weeks later, Hogan was back and it was a return to the same-old, same-old. Steiner was a surprise addition to the second incarnation of the black and white stable as 2000 started out the gate, but the new group quickly fell into the same traps that had doomed its predecessor and Steiner was left in the US title ranks once again. His current angle seems to be more of the same, as Nash is undoubtedly the leader and Steiner is once again only an underling. Were he to turn on Big Sexy, Scotty could finally have something coming to him in the World Title picture, but don't count on that in the near future. Double S is in the same boat as Jarrett. Nobody's ready to accept him as a champion, because he's never stood on his own. He needs to rebuild.
The definition of a heel. Triple H has worked his ass off to get where he is today, and deserves everything he's recieved. He's despised by crowds the world over, yet all hold a strong amount of respect for him, as he will not back down and seems to never give up. Since losing DX and making a strong effort for the glory of the World Title, HHH has been booked to perfection and his efforts between the ropes reflect that. McMahon obviously has a world of trust in Helmsley, not only because of his immense push and multiple title reigns, but because of his continuing assured spot at the top of the card beside Vince's own daughter Stephanie. That the wedding angle has lasted over a year is a crowing achievement, that the audiences haven't turned on it is almost magical.
In the ring, HHH has come light years from what he was; a poor, repetitive face that seemed more concerned about the angle of his x-chop than the delivery of his dozen or so knee lifts during battle. His feud with Mick Foley taught him more than enough in the fields of pacing between spots, while his Iron man match with Rocky showed he knows more than he let on about psychology and building a strong, extended match. With a face turn seemingly on the distant horizon, I'm coming to appreciate his run as a heel more and more, especially when I think of what things have been like without it. I have absolutely no problem with HHH's role within the company, and after incredible segments like his confrontations with Kurt Angle over the last two weeks I hope to god it keeps going strong for another several years.
I don't think I'm going out on any kind of limb by saying Kurt Angle was the surprise runaway success of the past year. While anticipation was high for the arrival of Chris Jericho and (eventually) Tazz, Angle was busy working a year's worth of dark matches in preparation for his on-air opportunity. I remember attending a HEaT taping a year back (you know... when it was still broadcast live...?) and recall noting the dead silent house that sat and took in his participation in a dark match. My roommates and I felt sorry for him, since he was a very good worker, and took pity on him... screaming like we were starring in a remake of The Exorcist whenever he locked in a headlock, hit a dropkick or dropped his poor opponent with a leg sweep. When he finally took the match home with a powerslam, I'm pretty sure one of us climaxed. I find it rather humorous that now, only one year later, he's involved in the best feud in all of wrestling and can scrape up an emotion from the crowd with just the shift of his eyes.
There's a reason Angle's success has been so runaway; he's stupendous, all around... be it in the ring or on the mic, backstage or on the entryway, he's unbelievable, especially for someone relatively new to the industry. Now that his attempts at stealing Stephanie away from her husband have hit full speed, his character is really defining itself. What many expected to be a bland, patriotic face character has since developed into a well-rounded, selfish, tremendous heel that's put HHH in a position many of the viewing audience have found themselves in as well; an unwanted love triangle. Angle plays the dickhead heel very well, and knows precisely when and where to introduce humor to the drama. In short, he's very, very real.
Given two years, there's no question in my mind that Kurt Angle will have defined his niche as one of the all time greats in the industry. He'll be a multiple time champion, possibly the second ever grand slam champ, and everyone on the 'net will be saying "I told you so." Losses to the Undertaker and Big Show in his first few high profile PPV appearances will mean squat by then, as they're beginning to even today. Angle is ready for the main event, and I'm eagerly awaiting the day they make it official.
The Rock is the WWF today. He's ascended to another level, one that only Hogan and Austin had before him; a pop culture icon. You'll see people on the street wearing his t-shirts, only to announce they don't watch wrestling, much like the "Hulkamania" or "3:16" tees of the past. Something about Rocky just hits a nerve in the minds of anyone who sees him... funny, considering he was among the most rejected rookies in the WWF's history. Back then he was "The Blue Chipper," Rocky Maivia. A "shoe in", JR told us, "for future stardom." Well, you know the WWF fan as well as I; they don't like it when things are shoved down their throats. Poor Rocky was booed mercilessly throughout his first year, and I don't mean that he was a good heel. Maivia was a face all the way, but he was the clean man in a day when the dark, dirty anti-hero ruled the popularity charts. The exact opposite of Steve Austin.
His rise to stardom is pretty much formulaic. Taking note of his continued non-popularity, the WWF turned him full heel as a member of the Nation. Fans took notice and continued to boo him, though more in the sense of a heel, not a face they didn't want to see. When a few cheers snuck in, Vince made his move and launched the Rock to the finals of the World Title tourney back at the Survivor Series, facing off against McMahon's own heir apparant and fan favorite, Mankind. When Maivia turned on the lovable Foley, fans almost chased him from the arena. He was the WWF's most hated heel. Not long after, Maivia had turned on McMahon, established himself as "The Rock" and formed the largest following in our sport. Vinnie Mac had gotten his way, he'd just taken the scenic route.
It's not that Rocky's such a bad worker, just that he's contrasted by the likes of Angle, Jericho, Benoit and Helmsley. He's probably the weakest main eventer in the WWF's roster in terms of technique and work in the ring, but his popularity more than answers that. If the Rock isn't in the main event, the fans don't go home happy. It's as simple as that. If the fans don't go home happy, they don't come back and, eventually, there's no WWF. Vince isn't an idiot, and neither am I. The Rock needs to be in the main event.
He's the golden boy, the surefire star, the one WCW let get away. Everybody knew this guy was a main eventer except Eric Bischoff, and I'd be willing to bet he's still kicking himself today for keeping him in the cruiserweight division for so long. Jericho's altered his style quite a bit for the WWF audiences, eliminating a lot of the ferocity in his finisher (the transition between Liontamer and Walls of Jericho is enormous) and many of the high flying moves in his arsenal, but landing with more of a heavyweight moveset in exchange, convincing those that would've questioned his place otherwise that he was ready to compete with the big boys.
Still, his style is an interesting amalgamation of the two, including much of the speed that cruiserweights rely on, while maintaining the power that makes him a formidable heavyweight contender. Though he's slowed down and forgotten some of what made him so incredible over in WCW, his public perception and net value have improved drastically. In WCW he needed help from Paul Wight to defeat Stevie Ray for his final title reign, a run with the TV belt. In the WWF such a match wouldn't be an issue.
On the stick, Jericho remains one of the top go-to guys in the industry. He can talk circles around anyone, keeping the crowd entertained and the intensity showing in his glare the whole way through. Though he's used them in the past, Jericho is not catchphrase reliant, and usually has good enough taste to alternate his big catches when he's been using one for too long. Watching a Y2J interview very rarely becomes boring. Ultimately, though I'd love to see him with the title right now, it isn't his time yet. Jericho still has some proving to do before fans and professionals alike can seriously consider him a threat to the World Title. He's on the verge, mind you, he just needs a few more high profile wins to cross that line. Chris will deserve his spot in the main event within six months.
Here's a guy that missed the bus. He was working main events with Steve Austin and the Undertaker less than a year after his debut. He was a surprise to the bookers, as his character wasn't really supposed to last beyond that initial feud with his brother. When the fans took to him, they hurriedly threw him into another feud in an effort to keep him in the public eye, a feud that led straight to Steve Austin and the WWF title. The audience loved it, and when he ended Austin's first World Title reign, they called for his blood. Tell me, how could this guy not consistantly main event in the months after?
They stuck him with X-Pac, almost threw him into DX (and accordingly changed his ring attire to.. ugh.. green and black) and, in one of the most embarassingly funny moments of the last ten years, had him shout "suck iiiiit" into his voice box. Come to think of it, they're lucky that alone didn't kill him off for good.
The man underneath the mask, Glen Jacobs, is a surprisingly good worker, especially when his size is taken into consideration. Here's a man that nears 7' (the WWF's height for Kane isn't quite correct) and climbs to the top and delivers a flying clothesline. He's best when opposed with smaller or regular sized men, as his fellow giants often slow things down considerably and expose themselves along the way. He shouldn't be allowed on the stick, but that's ok because his character isn't supposed to talk. Add to his arsenal the intimidating explosion that marks his entrance, the arena bathed in red light and possibly the coolest mask in the fed, and you've got quite a forboding figure.
With so much untapped potential, it's consistantly amazing to see the WWF miss over and over again with this guy. I suppose it's good to see that even they aren't infallible, but it remains a shame that it had to happen to him. Until the bookers give me reason to believe otherwise, Kane is at the bottom of the WWF's main event rotation, below Jericho... who I don't really consider a main eventer yet.
See Sting's description, as the Undertaker fills it pretty much to a T. He's the WWF's resident phenom, a loyal champion that's stuck around through two generations. I really don't care for his new gimmick, but he deserves one last run if just for his decade of dedication. He's slowing down considerably, though, and if he isn't phased out soon, things could get ugly.
I read somewhere that, backstage at Benoit's first WWF match, McMahon was heard to utter "this guy's it.. he's the future." In the hands of the federation's venerable bookers, it's hard to argue otherwise. Benoit's only flaw in the past has been his lack of a mic presence, and even that is becoming a non-issue, as he visibly becomes more and more familiar with the stick in his hands. Benoit has been the top worker in the world for nearly six years. Not North America, not WCW, the world. To steal a line from HHH, he's that... damn good. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Benoit is his adaptability. He can work any style in the world, depending on his opponent: American heavyweight, Japanese junior or European brawling. He knows it, he knows how it works, he knows what contrasts it, and he knows how to make it dynamic. Benoit tells a story like few in history ever have.
On the stick, well, he's developing. Until he reaches a sort of peak, he won't be ready to seriously compete for the gold. Unfortunately, the state of things today have made that much a necessity. Except in special cases like Kane, work on the mic is a must, almost moreso than talent in the ring. Benoit needs to continue his improvements in this area to ensure he doesn't end up like the bully in High School that, when confronted, would only come back with "yeah, well... your... your mom's really fat."
He needs about three months facing upcoming talent, teasing them on the stick and taunting the Rock, or a huge angle, to really break through to the core WWF fan. Until then, he'll just be a big body, a good wrestler and somebody the average fan glazes over in their list of "favorite faces" or "hated heels."
until next time, i remain