Friday, December 21, 2012

Tape Machines Rasslin Hall of Fame Class of 2012

About a year ago, I made some post when I was a little drunk where I named Eddie Guerrero the inaugural member of the TMAR Hall of Fame. This year, I have decided to name ten (10) new names to the Hall of Fame. LET'S GET TO IT. I could name one hundred (100) if I really felt like it, but I'll stick with ten for now.

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair

The simple fact of the matter is that Ric Flair is the greatest professional wrestler of all-time. He is not the best worker; though it pains me in my guts to say so, Shawn Michaels probably wound up edging Flair there. He's not the biggest star; that's Austin or Hogan. He's not the greatest promo; that's ... well, he might be the greatest promo. And while my pick for the absolute best pro wrestler I've ever seen is Eddie Guerrero, Ric Flair just was the man in so many ways, for so long. Longevity is huge, especially given he wasn't some chump losing his smile or the like.

Everything Hulk Hogan was not, Ric Flair was.

There will never be another Ric Flair. It's a dead artform, really; nobody in the game today comes close to Flair, and what's incredibly troubling is that I thought Ric Flair and his greatness was going to live on through all the old age bad matches, all the bad press (if I gave a fuck about his bank account or his dick, I'm sure I would see him differently, but I don't), and all of that other shit, because fact of the matter he was too great to ignore. But the younger generation doesn't seem to have the thirst to go back and learn where anything came from, and I blame that on the fact that today's professional rasslin bears little resemblance to the professional rasslin I grew up on, and the professional rasslin that I then went back and enjoyed. Someone who likes wrestling today, whether they like Cena and Sheamus or Punk, Bryan, and Aries, does not automatically have any desire to go back in time. I think rasslin fans my age are the last to have the old days calling out to them, and I'm just talking the 1980s through about 1995 here. Roddy Piper is somehow greater than Harley Race in the eyes of a younger generation because, well, because Piper ran around with Hogan, and did stuff in WCW when they started watching, and Race was long retired. Race doesn't resonate. I can kind of understand that; or Dory Funk Jr or Jack Brisco.

But I cannot understand how you think there's a single Kurt Angle match, let alone one with Shane McMahon, that can even stand comparison to a Flair match from 1989. It's just bizarre to me. It will never make any sense whatsoever. I mourn the loss of recognition for Ric Flair. That boys and girls and children of all ages and "men" and "women" of today don't honor Flair as the greatest there ever was, setting a standard that could be sniffed but never truly reached, saddens me.

Later edit: I'll call my own bullshit a bit; Angle-Benoit at Royal Rumble, at the very least, stands comparison to Flair-Steamboat. It's not better, but it was incredible.

Cactus Jack

This induction does not include Mankind, Dude Love, or Mick Foley. It's not that he didn't have some great matches under those names, I just prefer to remember Cactus Jack alone, as Cactus Jack, not particularly connected to anything else.

Cactus Jack was one of the early wrestlers in my fandom who showed me that rasslin takes all stripes and all kinds and all shapes and sizes and skillsets -- there has never been a clearer example of fuck how you look, how good are you?

Cactus Jack looked like deep fried shit, with his big, flat ass, undefined arms, ratty hair, tacky tights, t-shirt and all this. But he was remarkable. He was different. He was dangerous, and he was interesting.

The feud between Jack and Vader in WCW is one of my all-time favorite rivalries. It's also what sticks out to me first and foremost as a Vader fan. Cactus also had some great matches with Sting, and he tried to help make Ron Simmons look like an actual world champion, which didn't work because Ron Simmons wasn't good enough when you got right down to it.

ECW Cactus Jack is another level. Free to really be himself, he got to flex his muscles creatively and came up with some of the great promos of all-time. Personally, I'm of the opinion that the in-ring product of the original ECW largely sucked. It was all about emotion and passion there, which is great and makes for a wonderful change from what I've been watching sometimes. Cactus got to explore more of that in ECW, and he remained great working there, which helped him go into the Mankind stuff in the WWF.

Though he didn't get to do much Cactus Jack in the WWF, when he did, it was always worth it. Everyone involved for the 2000 Royal Rumble match between Cactus and HHH -- a top five all-time match for me -- deserves huge credit. You had Foley becoming different, nastier, so that it wasn't just a different outfit. HHH selling a transformation as if he'd just seen Death himself walking down to the ring to come after him. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler putting over Cactus Jack as a side of Mick Foley that couldn't be contained, and wouldn't be busting out Socko. It was perfect. And it worked again in 2004, when Cactus Jack was still so awesome he could make me care about Randy Orton for a little while.

Scott Hall

Scott Hall gets in because he was fuckin' cool. The Razor Ramon character was great, and looking back on it, it's even better now that I'm old enough to also find the humor in it.

The idea, which Flair expressed in his book, that Shawn Michaels had a great match at WrestleMania X with a ladder is complete hogshit. Yes, Michaels was the star of the match without question, but how many guys Hall's size ever had a great ladder match? He held up his end of that bargain.

Then came the jump to WCW and the nWo storyline. Hogan's turn put it over the top without question, and Kevin Nash was great in his role, but Scott Hall made it go in the early days, in my view. He was the straw stirring that drink. He was a guy you could take however you wanted: The bad guy easy to enjoy, or the prick you wanted to see get what's for. Nash had a lot of the same vibe, but for me, Hall was just that bit better at it at that time. Also, Hall was a better wrestler than Nash.

Chicas are for fun.

Arn Anderson

Arn Anderson was an everyman, and he was the best everyman in professional wrestling history. Ric Flair needed muscle to roll the way he did in the 80s, and Arn was always at his side, his main man, his best friend. Though Anderson spent much of his time teaming with Ole and Tully, you could be pretty sure he'd be first on the scene if Flair was in any trouble.

The thing that made Arn Anderson special was that he was one of the few rasslers in history you actually eventually had to respect. Anderson never fronted about who he was. He wasn't particularly cunning, he wasn't a coward, he wasn't a true sneak, he wasn't a punk, he was a guy who showed up and fought and you had to actually beat him to actually beat him. Sure, he'd cheat, but that was just another part of his personality, not something that happened just because fans didn't cheer for him often.

Times when fans could cheer for Anderson also revealed that he had earned respect over the years, even drawing boos. When another force was such a sonofabitch that Arn Anderson had to stand up and defend himself, you could cheer for Arn Anderson. He was portrayed, in the latter portion of his career, as a wise veteran, a peacekeeper within the Four Horsemen -- the guy trying to keep the Pillman/Sullivan and Benoit/Sullivan issues in order. Anderson knew when to pick fights, and when to keep things calm. But when he had to make a true choice on Benoit and Sullivan, he chose the Horseman, not some working agreement outsider. He was the ultimate "sidekick" -- never No. 1, but the best No. 2 there ever was.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross is the greatest commentator in rasslin history, bar none. Gordon Solie was remarkable, a true professional, and fine, I can hear calling him the best. Bob Caudle, for my money, is today the most underrated ever. Lance Russell and Bill Mercer were great, each had their signature style. Gorilla Monsoon calling a match makes me happy every time.

But Jim Ross is just the greatest, similar to how Ric Flair is the greatest. There will never be another Jim Ross. You're not allowed to be Jim Ross anymore, a fat guy from Oklahoma who loves BBQ sauce and football and amateur credentials and facts.

Ross made every single commentator he ever worked with better for working with him. Caudle, Schiavone, Ventura, Lawler, Heenan, Savage, McMahon, Heyman, Cole, Dusty, Taz, Cornette, Bradshaw, everybody. Nobody calls anything like Jim Ross, even today when in theory he's past his prime -- I sure as hell don't hear it. If they had him out there every week, give him a month and he'll have lapped the field twice.

Jim Cornette

Another guy you'll never see the like of again: Jim Cornette. Phenomenal manager, terrific booker, great commentator, and after it's all said and done, maybe the last of a dying breed wanting to see the sort of wrestling we'll just never really see again on a major scale.

Jim Cornette hates a lot of the things I hate, hates some of the things I have enjoyed, and when it comes to what Cornette loves, I'm pretty much on board with all of it.

Also, nobody does the shoot interview the way Cornette does. Shoot interviews in general have a habit of boring me within 15 minutes, but I can listen to Cornette talk shit all day. My favorite shoot interview story ever, when Cornette was asked why Vader was a flop in the WWF. Here's a snip:

"I don't think he was a flop. I don't think he did nearly as well as he should've. I think part of the problem was Shawn Michaels. Leon was a very -- he's a big, rough, mean, y'know, former pro football player, and he was a stiff, hard-hittin' guy, and he was a tough, but he was a big teddy bear also, personally. You could hurt his feelings just like that. Shawn Michaels was used to everybody catering to him, and also was used to people working with him a lot lighter. ...

"Shawn didn't wanna work with Leon, he didn't wanna take the fuckin' asskickin' that came with workin' with Leon. Vince wanted to change his name to The Mastodon. I said, it's fuckin' Vader! He was a WCW world champion, everybody in the world knows who he is! 'Well, we can trademark it, he's a big Mastodon!' ... Fuck! So Leon, he just didn't fit. The fuckin' guys that he was supposed to work with didn't get him over. Leon was a high-maintenance individual also, and that didn't help him. It just didn't fuckin' work."

Bret "Hitman" Hart

There came a point in my wrestling fandom that I started to think Bret was overrated. Not while he was active; this came in about 2001-04 or so, when I was just sort of down on Bret Hart.

Then some time passed, and I was watching old shows, and old matches, and I realized just how fantastic Bret Hart was. Not only was he a consummate pro and an artist in the ring, but he was as good a bridge between the two boom periods as you could find, and was a player during those booms as well. In the 80s, Bret was the obvious workhorse half of a top tag team, and when he got chances, could really go as a singles wrestler, too. (His Best of the WWF Vol. 19 match with Ted DiBiase is great.)

Then, when the steroid stuff came inevitably calling, and the WWF was reeling, there was Bret Hart to lead a "New Generation." That period of the WWF largely sucked, if we're being totally honest, and Bret Hart wasn't a huge draw. But he was a stable, reliable, wholesome good guy at the top of the card. And unlike John Cena, he didn't throw out HAHA FAG! jokes for ten miles if you gave him a yard, and unlike John Cena, he could have a good match without having to be dragged to it, and without forcing yourself to accept limitations like being able to look competent at running.

Later in his career, Bret served as a great heel, who didn't do anything he didn't do as a babyface other than some typical heel tactics, who still disliked the same sort of opponents he always had, who didn't understand a changing world around him. But the lack of understanding wasn't Bret's fault; he'd been taught that wrestling was religion, and that good needed to triumph over evil in the end, and though that still generally happened, the definitions of good and evil had become blurred to the point of not making any sense to him.

But apart from all that shit, another reason I've grown to once again love Bret Hart is simple: Eventually, he put the past behind him and didn't forget what made him who he is. He could have been a new Bruno Sammartino, bitching and moaning forever, and with stronger convictions, to boot. Instead, he buried all of his hatchets. I will not consider his godafwul match with Vince McMahon here, however.


Sabu is the rare wrestler who if you tried to describe him to someone who knew rasslin to some degree but had never seen him, you're going to wind up at, "You just have to see him, I guess." He was a high-flyer, a risk-taker, a hardcore wrestler, a deranged lunatic, and a great silent character actor.

Sabu becoming one of the world's most highly-regarded wrestlers in the 1990s was something unusual. But then, Sabu was incredibly unusual. There was really nobody quite like him. The Japanese deathmatch guys were, with respect to their toughness, generally not as gifted as Sabu. Cactus Jack was a wild motherfucker, but he wasn't as wild as Sabu.

Terry Funk gets a lot of credit for putting ECW on the map, and Paul Heyman for the vision, and Tommy Dreamer for being the heart and soul of the company, but Sabu, through his ups and downs there, is the absolute first name I think of when I think of the real ECW. And his WWE comeback for the relaunching wasn't bad, either; he actually had something left, and was doing his damnedest to make one last go of it. He did as well as could have reasonably been expected.

I will also always remember the first Sabu match I ever saw. In 1993-95, I was only a casual viewer of wrestling, but I'd watch some shows now and then, and generally knew who was doing what, and I'd pick up magazines sometimes and read them (not buy them - we had a grocery store across the street, I used to go in and just read the whole magazine). I'd read about Sabu. Then later, I rented Halloween Havoc '95, and he was in a very short match with Mr. JL. It was kind of crap, but even as just a short taste of what Sabu had to offer, it made an impression. Later, when I got to see Sabu live in 2004-05, he made further impressions. For starters, he's a nut, and it's tremendous.

Sabu photo was taken by The Atomic Elbow.

The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael "P.S." Hayes, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, and Buddy "Jack" Roberts)

The Von Erich boys would not have truly been the Von Erich boys without the Freebirds, and World Class would never have been anything more than a regional promotion without the Freebirds.

More than the Horsemen, more than any other tag team or stable ever put together, the Fabulous Freebirds played great as a gang of brothers. They seemed more like brothers than even most brother tandems or groups (the Von Erichs not included in that one, though they weren't terribly far off).

The fact that these guys are not int he WWE Hall of Fame is, at this point, a disgrace. Michael Hayes was one of the great stars of the 1980s, Terry motherfucking Gordy was one of the great big men wrestlers to ever step into the ring, and if Arn Anderson is the best No. 2 of all-time, then Buddy Roberts gets my vote for the best No. 3 -- even better than Tully Blanchard as far as the impact he had on his group, if not on Tully's level in the ring. Buddy could go, but he wasn't Tully there.

They were bad dudes, they changed the game, and they to this day have the greatest ever wrestling t-shirt and the greatest ever wrestling theme song. And in Texas, where they really made their bones, they were a perfect storm.

Brian Pillman

Pillman kickstarted "cruiserweight" style wrestling in the U.S., really, even if the WCW light heavyweight division didn't totally take off, and even if he didn't really work that style for too long.

He proved to be more than a kamikaze high-flyer, having a lot of great matches along the way, and also of course the Hollywood Blondes team with Austin.

What made Pillman special though was the type of weirdo he was. You might be gathering by now that I like strange professional wrestlers, and Pillman was among the strangest, in a very good, creative way. He was so far ahead of the time, and he did that repeatedly. Had Pillman not had the shattered ankle and had lived past 1997, I'm confident he would have been a major star in the Attitude era. Hell, maybe even with the ankle, even if he had to do it as a manager or commentator, Brian Pillman wasn't just made for what came after his passing, he was already beyond most of it. The guy was an envelope pusher every second of his pro wrestling career, in and out of the ring.

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