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The Bad Guy, Scott Hall

Eddie 'Latino Heat' Guerrero

Slobberknockers abound
Ringside Shadows #151: Injured Reserve

An injury is a fickle thing. In a form of entertainment that many would call a "phantom sport," nobody's supposed to get hurt. When the gladiators step behind the curtains, all the wrinkles of pain should vanish from their faces, their limps gone on a moment's notice. In an ideal world, the only bone they'd have to pick with their opponent would be over a missed spot or a poor performance. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far too real and injuries have become more and more common as audiences continue to demand something more explosive and dangerous each night. The Owen Hart tragedy, in particular, should have shown us things were getting a bit out of hand in that department, though no lesson has apparantly been learned from that disastar. But I digress.

Injuries are no longer a risk, they're a part of the territory. They'd just as soon go after a future superstar as a born loser, with the outcome being the same all around. Still, their continued appearances in the industry lend themselves quite nicely to a sort of "what if" scenario. Mark Price already explored several possibilities a couple weeks back in a column of his own, and while we'll be covering some similar territory, each of our reports boasts a couple instances missing from the other.

What follows is a run down of several big names that would have, could have or should have shaped the industry as we know it. They were all current or future main eventers in their own right, without question, and were cut down at varying stages of individual success... certainly before they could accomplish everything they'd hoped. While several of these names remain active in the field, the path to which the injury forced them is quite different than the one they were treading at the time of their accident. It's interesting to imagine how vastly different the world of wrestling would be, had these men achieved all they were shooting for, though just how different is limited only by the dreamer's imagination.

Scott Hall
As Razor Ramon in the halls of the WWF or the man behind the nWo invasion of '97, Scott Hall's already made a substantial mark in the industry as it is. He basically co-founded the ladder match with Shawn Michaels, circa Wrestlemania X, led the way in the giant migration of talent from North to South in the mid '90s and threw together more than a couple excellent matches along the way. With the world at his feet, the only thing standing between Scott Hall and permanent success was himself. Unfortunately, it was here that he made all the wrong decisions. Near the end of his WWF run, Hall began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. Though he still put out fairly strong matches at the time, his personal life was falling apart. Later, as the nWo machine began to sputter and wheeze, Hall was visibly spiralling out of control. He was absent for longer and longer periods of time, while WCW and the industry as a whole went on without him. Finally, several weeks ago, Atlanta made his termination official. I seriously doubt we'll ever see him again.

That's a real tragedy, too, as Hall had main event potential and more. Though he was never given the opportunity to grab the bright spotlight and run with it in the WWF, there was little question that his time was on the horizon. With Shawn Michaels, his constant running mate, already at the top of the card, it was only a waiting game until Hall received his big money PPV shot. As a character, Hall constantly blurred the line between face and heel, making him both more interesting and more believable than his peers. While a standard crowd-favorite would always drastically alter his motives, personality and style in the ring when he turned heel, (or vice versa) Hall maintained the same attributes regardless of his alignment. He was arrogant, slimy and damn good in the ring, whether the audience loved him or hated him for it. Hall was truly the first "cool heel," and though it's a trend I'm glad to see dying down I can't discredit him for that. As an Intercontinental champion, Hall was good, but as a World Champ, I think he could have been great.

Eddy Guerrero
I suppose it's a question of "which incident" in this case. One of the industry's most gifted athletes, Guerrero is also one of its most injury-prone. He arrived in WCW some time ago, as the first cruiserweight to gain any sort of attention, and later developed into one of the greatest natural heels of all time. Leading the LWO, Guerrero was at the forefront of a scorching anti-establishment angle that could have seen his long-overdue rise to the very top of WCW's roster, when he was involved in a devestating car accident. Several months later, Guerrero had scarcely been given time to get his feet wet again in WCW's pool when an elbow injury put him out of action once more. While sitting on the sidelines, Guerrero became involved in the real life political struggle that saw the Radicalz jump from WCW to the WWF. Upon his first match with the new employer, Eddy ripped his healthy arm out of its socket in a sickening accident that put him out of action once again. Only recently, Guerrero nearly lost yet another opportunity, as he landed on his head moments after his first stellar heel promo in the fed and injured his hamstring in the process. He's healthy, only a little worse for the wear.

Probably the most interesting thing with Guerrero is the way his injuries have interwoven with one another. Had he not been involved with the car accident that put him out for months on end, I'm of firm belief that WCW would have realized his potential and elevated him to a slot near the top of the card, as evidenced by their strong television support of the LWO angle and all the related developments. In his position higher on the card, Eddy wouldn't have been involved with the Filthy Animals gimmick that produced his elbow injury later down the line and wouldn't have been out of action at the time of the Radicals' movement. Hell, he might have found himself headlining the Souled Out card that saw Chris Benoit's world title win in the place of Sid... an act which, in turn, may have kept them from jumping ship in the first place. If the said talent jump had, in fact, gone down anyway, Guerrero most certainly wouldn't have injured his arm in the WWF ring. As easily noted in the replay, Eddy was landing differently to lighten the impact on his still-recovering right arm, which put him off balance and resulted in a terrible injury to his left. With Guerrero still healthy, the Radicals would have remained a face stable, feuding with DX near the top of the card (as booking plans at the time called for.) The fact remains, however, that Eddy Guerrero has still got a chance. Whether in WCW or the WWF, there's little doubt he would be near the top of the card today... working as one of the greatest heels around.

Curt Hennig
As Mr. Perfect in the late 80s and early 90s, Hennig was stupendous. Often heralded as one of the WWF's greatest creations, the character was filled out to perfection by the blonde second generation athlete. Everything from his well groomed appearance to his snide offhand comments were dead on, and none could argue with the near perfection of his ringwork. Fans abhored this man, and he reveled in their hatred. Working with Bret Hart, Hennig proved himself in the Intercontinental hunt as a legitimate upper midcard contender, with the seeds planted and already sprouting for a run at the top. Unfortunately, it was at the height of his promise that fate stepped in, leaving him on the sidelines with a nagging back injury throughout the height of his popularity. Though he's returned on several occasions since, the spark his been missing from his eyes, that extra bit of youth from his step. Hennig had missed out, and he knew it. While he remained technically strong, he never managed to recapture the magic he'd enjoyed under the guise of Mr. Perfect. Now, as his age catches up with him, Curt must find himself looking back at what should have been a multi-time World Champion's career.

The WWF left little doubt as to Hennig's intentions during his initial run with the federation; Mr. Perfect and Hulk Hogan were destined to collide. With Hogan riding out the remainder of his popularity wave at the time, a feud with the super-hot Hennig was all he needed to rekindle that flame and soar with the eagles once again. Perfect / Hogan was definately in the cards, and I'd be willing to bet they'd have given Hennig the nod at least once, netting him incredible noteriety as the man who beat Hogan, heel heat the likes of which we haven't seen in quite some time, and a reign (however brief) as the WWF's centerpiece World Champion. With the continued push of his victory over Hogan behind his back, he could have embarked on feuds that never came to be during his tenure in Titan. More importantly, however, he wouldn't have taken so much time off in the prime of his career and would likely remain in terrific shape today.

Mick Foley
With his official injury list reading like a transcript from Faces of Death, Mick "Mankind" Foley built his career on punishing himself for the fans. Three hundred and twenty five stitches, six concussions, a nose broken twice, a broken cheekbone and jaw, four missing teeth, five broken ribs, multiple dislocated shoulders, second and third degree burns covering much of his body, a broken wrist, a torn abdominal, a broken knee and two thirds of an ear missing, there's little doubt Foley nearly killed himself for the business. Ultimately, though, that's what got him to the top. Without the crazy stunts, suicidal dives and inhuman threshold for pain, Mick would probably be flipping burgers in New Jersey today. Without the injuries, the word Foley would still refer to those guys that make sound effects for big screen productions.

Magnum TA
Back when WCW wasn't even a glimmer in Ted Turner's eye, the NWA was running rampant with match after match, feud after feud and star after star tearing up the scene. In the era that spawned the Four Horsemen, the Steiner Brothers, Lex Luger, the Midnight Express, and countless others, it was Magnum TA who had successfully captured the public's interest as a whole. With a brief feud with Ric Flair and the young Four Horsemen already under his belt, Magnum had delivered the goods with his now-historic "best of seven" series with Nikita Koloff. Just days before teaming with Dusty Rhodes in a match against the Horsemen, Magnum was involved in a terrifying car accident that tragically ended his wrestling career before it had really begun. He returned to provide color commentary on several occasions afterwards, as Koloff switched from heel to face and carried on in Magnum's stead. The NWA attempted to pick up the pieces and move on, but the industry had been knocked on its ear by the sudden departure of an up and coming, surefire main eventer.

It's strange to think this far back or in this broad a sense, but the loss of Terry "Magnum" Allen was something that literally reshaped the way things turned out today. Much like Hennig, it was only a matter of time until Magnum captured the elusive gold that fit snugly around Flair's waist, and the NWA was backing him heavily against the threat of Hulk Hogan in his heyday. Though Flair is undoubtedly the greatest of all time, the popular consensus will always see Hogan as ruler of the '80s, with the WWF plowing head-on into their "Rock'n Wrestling" success and introducing the industry to a vast new audience. With the intense popularity of Magnum to counter his unchallenged reign as king of heels, Flair and the NWA could have captured the WWF's new audience with an amazing feud or two and moved ahead as the new leader in sports entertainment. Instead of Hogan vs. Andre, the pinnacle of the '80s could very well have been Flair vs. Magnum. It's hypothetical talk, but very big talk all the same. We could have ended up looking at a completely different landscape, with different focal points and memories.

The Dynamite Kid
Similar to Mick Foley, the Dynamite Kid systematically destroyed himself to get where he was in the mid '80s, though not nearly to such a severe degree. Where Foley would dive headfirst off a twenty foot cage, into piles of thumbtacks or sharply onto a concrete floor, Dynamite's form of self-destruction was a bit more traditional. He'd deliver standard moves of the day in spectacular and original fashion, throwing himself and an opponent off the top rope all the way to the floor in a sickening superplex gone bad. He basically created the snap suplex, and redefined the diving headbutt. Through the years of beatings, stress and steroid doses, the Kid's back finally gave out on him, forcing his career to a close and dooming the Kid to life within the confines of a wheelchair. Dynamite's style was literally a generation or two ahead of its time, as he emphasized psychology, a unique blend of convincing submissions and spectacular high flying, and an effort of 125% each and every match.

Had Dynamite managed to escape serious injury all the way to today's scene, however unlikely that is, I think he could have made a profound effect on the direction of the industry and the dedication of the youth. Many of today's greatest young athletes consider him an influence at the very least, (with Chris Benoit going so far as to say he wouldn't be wrestling today if not for the Kid) and I think his presence in the backstage area as a peer and, later on, a mentor would have been nothing but healthy for the future. Where a Matt or Jeff Hardy isn't getting the chance they should to round out their game in today's crash TV format, Dynamite could step in and give them the schooling they need to utilize proper pacing and psychology, and then to integrate it into a five or ten minute match on Raw. Though I seriously doubt Dynamite could have gone much further in singles competition during his time, due to his size, I could see him having a profound effect on the upcoming generation(s) as a backstage presence.

Finding stardom in the WWF as the 1-2-3 Kid, aligned alongside Razor Ramon, X-Pac never achieved much during his initial run and was canned just after Hall and Nash left the promotion. Picked up as an early member of the nWo, Waltman became Syxx and entered into the highly competitive cruiserweight divison. Racking up successful feuds with Eddy Guerrero and Chris Jericho, among others, Syxx was building a name for himself as one of the industry's finest before a water bottle thrown from the stands scored a direct hit on his head... breaking his neck. Waltman had experienced troubles with his neck in the past, and this aggrivation of the injury put him on injured reserve for quite some time. Just as things appeared to be ready for his return to the ring, Eric Bischoff laid down the boom and sent him his pink slip. Noticing WCW's blunder, the WWF quickly snatched him back up, dubbed him X-Pac and sent him to the ring to join Kliq member HHH in the ultra-hot stable Degeneration X.

While it may be easy to disregard Waltman's injury, as he hasn't done anything noteworthy afterwards and remains in good health, one mustn't overlook the result of his jump to the WWF. The night after Wrestlemania XIV, X-Pac's arrival has been labeled a turning point in the war between Bischoff and McMahon. Viewers, curious to see the aftermatch of the biggest event of the year, tuned in to see Steve Austin and stayed to watch Syxx-Pac. His shoot interview at the beginning of the program will go down in history as one of the most important of the decade, and was a pure definition of what the WWF Attitude era was all about. Fans liked what they saw, and one by one flipped their channels from TNT to USA. Had Waltman not jumped ship at the right moment, fans may have checked on Austin's victory and then switched back to Nitro for the duration. Had his speech not been so heartfelt and memorable, many wouldn't have stuck around for half of it. Shawn Waltman was the right person at the right time, and he gave the WWF that extra something they needed to get going in the right direction again. Sure, Vince would have certainly overtaken WCW at some point anyway, but this way he did it in style. The WWF was doing the same they'd done for the past few months, but Waltman gave them the added attention they needed to strut their stuff. He brought the viewers on that night, and the boys got them to stick around.

Steve Austin
As a cult favorite star in WCW, Austin found himself rubbing the dog the wrong way for much of his time in the Southern promotion. By stealing the show alongside tag team partner Brian Pillman time and time again, Austin made all the wrong kinds of enemies backstage, a problem that seemingly solved itself when Ric Flair took over the reigns of the company in the mid '90s. Primping Austin as a future main eventer, Flair was oblivious to the power struggles going on behind the scenes until it was already too late. Eric Bischoff took over and, as Austin was on injured reserve, (the exact injury is debated, be it a shoulder or knee) fired him over the telephone. Austin went on to become a rocketship bound for stardom in the WWF, holding the Intercontinental Title for months before a botched sit down tombstone piledriver nearly broke his neck. He took a significant amount of time off before making his big return and climbing to the top of the card regardless. Years down the line, with the neck injury still nagging him, Austin took ten months off for intensive neck surgery and rehabilitation. He's recently returned, to mixed reviews.

Much like Guerrero, this is a game of "which injury, which time." Austin has made it no secret he was unhappy in the Bischoff-helmed WCW, and I'd imagine he would have left the promotion on his own if and when he were given the chance. Therefore, the time off that prompted his release over the phone (and subsequent development of the Stone Cold character) is insignificant in the end, as I'd see him ending up in the WWF either way. The real issue here is the neck injury, delivered at the hands of the late Owen Hart. Before this crushing accident, Austin was a brilliant technician in the ring. He took risks with his body that gave a certain unpredictable air to his character, a trait he held in common with a pre-main event Sting. He was probably one of the most well-rounded workers you'll ever find, and no better evidence can be produced than the opening ten minutes of the match that nearly snapped his neck. Austin and Owen worked together beautifully, and had put together a stupendous match right up to and including that fateful spot. They'd traded turns on the offense, kept the crowd interested with choice gestures at just the right moments, and were headed to a big finish that fell flat on its face when Austin laid motionless on the mat. Both men knew their art inside and out, and they were giving the crowd one to remember.

After his return, Austin was a completely different character. Much as Jushin Liger completely remodeled his style from high flying to mat-based after a knee injury, Austin reinvented himself. He went from a technician to a brawler, and proved his versitality by doing both well. The style shift fit his character, and crowds everywhere got into it, but the unpredictable nature that had made him so perfect was gone. Understandably, Austin wasn't about to take any more chances with his body, not when he was this close. He perfected the brawling and continued producing excellent matches up until last year's Survivor Series. I'll be devoting an entire column to his return later in the month, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

So, in retrospect, would the world be a better place if Eddy Guerrero hadn't gone out on that New Year's eve, or Austin hadn't laced up the boots that night? I'm not certain. Would things have turned out a whole helluva lot differently? Without question. These are the events that got us where we are today, the tragedies and troubles that shaped the way we see things. Just imagine who could be next, and what unexpected turn we'll take next..

I'll be attending the Smackdown tapings this Tuesday night in Indianapolis, so it's quite likely that I'll be dealing with the spoilers in next week's post. If that bugs you, skip over the column until they air and then stop in again to see the stories that go alongside the event. I promise this won't be like every other Smackdown report that hits the 'net. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'll be in the nosebleed seats, so don't look for any inventive signs from me on that night.

until next time, i remain


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