Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jabroni Companion #14

Just to warn you in advance, I’m going to make a fairly shocking juxtaposition with this batch of wrestlers. It’ll be obvious soon enough…

XXVIII. Bruno Sammartino

For a generation of wrestling fans, “Da Brune” was the biggest star in all of professional wrestling, and like their idol came to believe, things were never the same, never quite as good again, when that era came to an end. That era, specifically, runs from about 1963, when he captured the WWE championship for the first time, to 1980, when he lost a bloody steel cage match to one-time pupil Larry Zbyszko.

This was well before my time. I knew about Bruno from his reputation, but never had a chance to see him in action, except later, on DVDs. I quickly deduced that his remarkable fleetness indeed made him a standout, despite whatever other differences in overall style might have made his matches difficult to follow from a modern perspective. I probably would have been a fan.

I was disturbed, however, the more I heard about him, his bitterness toward professional wrestling so overwhelming that he essentially deleted himself from the public record. He was not a fan of the changes Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan brought about only a few years after his heyday. I guess I’ll never really understand why, and will just have to suspect that it’s because Bruno himself was not involved in the explosion of popularity that resulted. Anything else, any other consideration, is superfluous. Wrestling is wrestling. It’s not as if he attempted to bring his fame to another promotion, one that more closely adhered to his ethics (imagine a Ric Flair-Sammartino feud!). He simply withdrew, after of course attempting to oversee his son’s potential in-ring career, which quickly fizzled. Perhaps he was a victim of politics.

Or maybe he couldn’t stand believing that the man who was a legend in New York didn’t have as much crossover appeal as everyone used to believe, that he simply didn’t have as much to offer as he liked to believe, at least in a form he would have preferred.

Bruno, if Bret Hart can make peace with professional wrestling after the Montreal screwjob and his brother Owen’s death, so can you. I’m just saying. You cared about it for twenty years. I don’t believe you can just switch off that kind of devotion. Maybe you can, but you’re doing more damage than good. But then, newer generations won’t care. Maybe you’re okay with that.

XXIX. Kevin Nash

Nash is basically the opposite of Sammartino. He struggled for years to find a role in professional wrestling, and WWE finally made him its top star for a short while, and based on that, he made a career of basically giving back.

It sounds absolutely ridiculous to make that assertion, given the popular opinion of the guy for years, how he was seen in WCW as a Hogan-in-the-making. But that impression itself was always a little absurd, when you think about it. WWE wanted him to be its new Hogan, and that simply didn’t happen. He hardly made an impression as champion in WCW, even though he was a driving force of its creative resurgence with the New World Order. He later staged the mother of all comebacks with TNA, and never once served as its heavyweight champion. Think about that. Even after the point where he finally figured out how to maintain a steady schedule and remain healthy, he never so much as sniffed the title. For a man as tall as he was, he seemed more interested in working with the wrestlers who were several feet shorter. He did the same in WCW, when he helped elevate Rey Mysterio’s stature (figuratively speaking), even if that’s a fact that’s conveniently overlooked in most retrospectives. He did with same with Alex Shelley, and Eric Young. The sad fact is, fans hate to give him any credit.

But they cheered like crazy at this year’s Royal Rumble, all the same, when “Diesel” made his appearance. Consider this one an argument to rebuild Kevin Nash’s reputation.

XXX. Scott Hall

Included in this block not so much for his Outsiders association with Nash, so much as his even more ironic association with the legacy of Bruno Sammartino, Scott Hall is perhaps one of the most tragic stories in professional wrestling history.

Not even to mention his career before “Razor Ramon,” Hall still struggled to get any respect, from fans and peers, even when “The Bad Guy” became one of WWE’s most popular stars. He was probably never even in the running to become a world champion. He never sniffed the title in WCW, either. You will probably hear that it was because of his reliability, which became a greater and greater concern as the years advanced and he found it harder to hide substance abuse.

I don’t know, maybe I just came along when he had everything figured out, looked like a million bucks, and carried himself as well. He competed in the historic ladder match with Shawn Michaels, but found himself almost completely forgotten when anyone remembered it. How’s that for justice? He led the New World Order invasion, was probably the only man who could have done it so brilliantly and effectively, but was still an afterthought. Like I said, was never a world champion. How does that even begin to figure? Even as a transitional champion, a few months, a few minutes, that would have been fine. Not even that.

Kevin Nash has recently stated that Hall’s problems are connected to his ego, his poor self-respect. When you had all the potential in the world and were in the right place at the right time, and were still overlooked, I can figure how a guy would build a complex. Even if it’s something he’s struggled with his whole life, a little appreciation, a little acknowledgement would go a long way.

Well, in my own opinion, you, Scott Hall, are a living legend, a pillar in the sport of professional wrestling. Even on your worst days you have more charisma than most of the talent that has been better rewarded than you ever were. Maybe that’s the cruel irony, maybe that’s what disturbs everyone in the aftermath of your latest incident. You always deserved better.

The business and the fans, both of them, can sometimes be cruel.

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