Friday, September 11, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Austin needs a new monster opponent
King Kong Bundy comes out during Hulk Hogan's match against the Magnificent Muraco and avalanches him repeatedly. Jake Roberts sneaks out from the crowd and DDT's Sting onto a chair. After the Big Boss Man squashes a hapless jobber, Nailz assaults him, cuffs him to the ropes, and beats him with his own nightstick. Terry Funk, after congratulating Ric Flair on another title win, piledrives him onto a table.
All of these acts were unexpected, unprovoked, and unbelievably violent. And each one was the spark that lit the powderkeg of a classic feud which led to some of wrestling's most memorable moments. These despicable acts of brutality made household names of some of the participants, and for those who were already well known, only increased their popularity or infamy. In all cases, their subsequent meetings drew mega-heat from the fans and were highlights on the house show tours, televised programs, and PPV Supercards of the year.
How does this relate to wrestling today? I'll answer that with another question: What's next for Stone Cold Steve Austin?
The current WWF champ has gone through virtually all of the promotion's active roster. He has defeated everyone that has opposed him, regardless of size, skill, and reputation. The seemingly unbeatable Kane? Stunned and pinned. The "Phenom", the "man who feels no pain", the Undertaker? Stunned and pinned. The self-professed icon, Shawn Michaels? Stunned and pinned. And the list goes on and on.
Currently, there is nobody in the WWF who can be regarded as a serious threat to the Rattlesnake. And until Steven Regal or Dr. Death Steve Williams heal from their injuries, there's nobody who can challenge Austin with any credibility. Heck, even the WWF realizes this, thus booking a Triple Threat match at the next IYH - only combined will The Brothers Grimm be able to strip Austin of his coveted title.
So, how can a challenger be considered a serious threat? How will fans accept an opponent as a legitimate threat to Mr. 3:16?
An attack which is unexpected, unprovoked and unbelievably violent.
Picture this scenario: Raw begins. Vince McMahon comes out, badmouths Austin as usual and demands that Austin puts his belt on the line that night against, say, The Rock ("He captured your I-C belt, now you'll lose the World Title to him too.") Austin comes out, confronts Vince and stuns him. As he climbs the turnbuckles to "salute" the crowd, a figure jumps the guardrail, slides into the ring, and Pearl Harbours the champ with a giant avalanche in the corner as Austin descends. He then proceeds to beat Austin senseless. Weapons are used, refs and suits are thrown about like confetti, and the beating continues until the police come out and break it up. Austin is carried out on a stretcher, yet his attacker still pummels him, even in his unconscious state.
In a matter of minutes, you've got the most hated man in wrestling.
Later that night, The Rock is awarded the title due to forfeit, as Austin is hospitalized and can not defend the title. This is dual purpose: First, to get the title scene fired up with some new participants (HHH, Owen, Shamrock, Severn, etc., can all get involved). Second, to make the fans hate the man who caused this even more than before.
Upon Austin's eventual return, he's hell-bent on revenge. The subsequent feud is classic. Matches are fights to the death, neither one caring about the title, but only focussed on destroying one another. Picture the Bret-Austin feud times a factor of 10. (Throw in some ECW-like violence, you've got the potential for the feud of the decade).
So who in the WWF is capable of handling this heel-role? I think that the villain in this scenario has to have a few characteristics, if only to further enhance the appearance of the all-time monster heel.
1) He's got to be big. A Marc Mero type just wouldn't seem intimidating enough.
2) He has to be a good worker. While Kurrgan or the Giant Silva have the size and physically look the role, these encounters have to be diverse enough to incorporate a variety of matches of different lengths and intensity. Similarly, Dan Severn wouldn't fit, since his style is primarily mat wrestling and submission. We want a man who can throw in some quickness, lots of power moves, yet still have a varied offense.
3) He should have a great tough-ass reputation. This is why Kama or Faarooq wouldn't quite fit. These men have lulled in mid-card status too long to be believable in this situation. This man has to be able to credibly take a beating and come back for more.
4) It can't be someone who Austin has consistently beaten. That's why Mick Foley doesn't get the nod. Although he can perform like no other, he has been beaten by Austin too recently to be a perceived threat.
Currently, I think there is only one man in the WWF who could convincingly fill the role... Vader.
Sure, he has jobbed lately. But his recent time off due to injuries and his weight-loss campaign have sort of made people forget about the Mastadon, and his embarrassing losses to Kane. What a better way to bring him back.
His new leaner, meaner look is even more intimidating than before. And suggests a new attitude.
His reputation is without compare. When he first entered the WWF, he was regarded as a major threat to all titles. He was touted as the man who would beat Shawn Michaels for the belt. His first match was the Royal Rumble, where he dominated. His attack on Gorilla Monsoon 24 hours into his WWF stay was violent and unprovoked. Prior to his WWF entrance, he was the man who was Hulk Hogan's biggest challenge. He was unstoppable. He was feared.
Workrate? Excellent for a big man. Remember his classic matches with Ric Flair in WCW? Remember his matches against Shawn Michaels as recent as 3 years ago? And a man that size doing a moonsault? Hell, yeah, he can work.
The man can still draw monster heat. Heck, given the scenario above, Sable could emerge as a mega-heel. Given his size, strength, name and skills, Vader would be great in the role. And once again, wrestling fans would have a feud that would be a classic.
Bob Kapur is from Mississauga, Ontario. He can be emailed at email@example.com