EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, December 17, 1999
Canadian stars are buried
Because Canadian talent consistently gets buried.
Now, I'm not going to try to make this about Canada versus the United States, because it's not about that. Granted, North American wrestling promotions seem to be allergic to featuring the very competent athletes from Mexico and Japan in any significant light, and that anyone who's German or Middle Eastern seems to automatically be suited to heel-dom, but Canadians are close enough to Americans that people don't know the difference. At least not on the surface.
Canadians, especially Canadian wrestlers, are different from their American counterparts. Not better, not worse, just different. And though our boys may not be discriminated against due to their ethnic background, said background still holds them back.
Granted, there are probably more Canadian professional Big Two - and I say Two because I don't know much about the background of the ECW guys save for Lance Storm - wrestlers than there are Americans, if compared to our respective populations. The only other context in which you can ever really say that is hockey.
So granted that a lot of us have made it, and granted that Bret Hart is the WCW heavyweight champion, I still stand by my claim: Canadians are held back.
Bret Hart is an anomaly. He's a superb, fantastic wrestler who took a long time to get where he is. Not that it took him longer than any of his peers at the time, but to say that Bret Hart's the champ now and thus Canadians are pushed strongly would be erroneous, because Bret was pushed in a time when Canadians weren't held back, because the Canadian style was more in sync with what people are watching on television.
There was a time when there was a place for The Mountie, and The Quebecers, or The Amazing French Canadians, as they were known. That's because there was also a time when wrestlers needed to obtain some balance between wrestling ability and gimmick. So what Jean Pierre Lafitte lost in credibility with the eye-patched pirate gimmick, he made up with three hundred pound, top rope guillotine leg drops.
That balance, between skill and charisma, has shifted toward the latter. Athleticism is still important, but it isn't enough anymore. You could be super-athletic, and a tip-top wrestler, but if your style is anything but suicidal high-flying, that won't get you very far. And if it is, it won't sustain you there for very long.
Bret's career was made in a time when it was acceptable for someone like him to be the top dog. I think he's one of the greatest wrestlers I've ever seen, but let's face it -- if Bret Hart, at age 18, were to enter either federation today, he'd probably not make it as far.
Now, that may be a shame and it may not, that really depends on your taste. What's less subject to debate is that this shift in priorities has hurt Canadian talent.
Take a quick look at the guys I listed above: Benoit, Vampiro, Edge, Christian, Test. That's just five guys, and I know there are more, but I don't want to discuss everyone. Those five are undisputedly Canadian and they all have two things in common - they're great wrestlers, and totally underused.
Quickly, the recap. Edge and Christian are fantastic high flyers, and they're featured in a lot of great matches, but why don't you tell me the last story-line you can remember them being involved with. No, a series of seventy-four matches with the Hardy Boyz doesn't count as a story. It's just great wrestling. They've been in the league much longer than their Hardy counterparts, but they're basically in the exact same place as them, wrestler more or less meaningless matches. I've got no problem with that -- I'd certainly rather see it than not -- but I don't see why they can't be wrestling great matches with meaning, closer to the top of the food chain.
Next, Chris Benoit -- 'nuff said. He's been dissected over and over as the Man Without a Push. Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara are doing great things as far as rectifying that situation, but again, Benoit is an anomaly because of the reputation he carried as being the ultimate underdog. It still took him about five years too long to attain the status he's got, and whether he'll ever really be a contender is still up for grabs.
Ever since the first time I saw Vampiro wrestle, I knew I liked his look, his attitude, and his talent. And he's still delegated to lower mid-card status. WCW even made him re-negotiate for like half his salary or something. I think that sucks, because I'd like to see a lot more of him. Maybe eventually, but if it takes him as long as it took Benoit, then it doesn't look good for the Canadian Vampire.
Finally, Test. Before you remind me of those wedding bells and the fact that he was involved in what may prove to be the biggest angle of late 1999/early 2000, let me remind you of something.
The only pay-per-view really featuring the backlash of the wedding, so far, has been Armageddon. Follow this scenario, if you will: Test gets engaged to Stephanie McMahon, and both are constantly pestered by Degeneration-X. On their wedding night, the leader of D-X reveals to everyone that no marriage can take place, because he's already married to the bride! Then, seemingly because everything's been turned upside down, they break off their engagement.
Now, wait a minute. The grudge match that followed this was Triple H, who ruined their wedding and their happiness, against, not the groom, not the man who he actually directly hurt, but the bride's father?
You'd think that the young gun, the guy the WWF apparently wanted to 'push', the man at the center of the angle (in theory), the groom whose marriage has been cut off, would be the guy to try to fight for an annulment. But no, it's the fifty-three year old man who deserves a piece of Triple H. Right.
That series of events right there was what made me decide that this had to be said. It was no accident that things turned out this way. Vince McMahon versus Triple H could headline pay-per-view. Test against Triple H, at least in the minds of the WWF, could not. I don't disagree with them, but if they were really serious about pushing Test to the next level, I think this might have been a good way of doing it.
A conscious decision was made, one which called for Test to step aside because it was deemed to be the wise decision. The young, talented athlete lost out to the charismatic old man.
I think that's a darn shame, because I would have bought Armageddon for a properly pushed Triple H versus Test match, with the exact same stipulations. There would only have been two differences to the match: one, Test can actually wrestle, and could have put up a realistic fight, at least part of which could have taken place in the actual ring, and two, I think it might have been an even bigger heel turn to have Stephanie turn on her former groom-to-be than her good-then evil-then good father who actually deserved it anyway.
Oh yeah, and three, it would have made the career for the could've-been-next main eventer in the WWF.
But again, the young Canadian lost to the older American, not because he was Canadian, but because of our value differences.
It seems like just about half of the wrestlers who come out of this country come out of The Dungeon in Calgary, and they don't preach the kinds of values the WWF searches after so fervently. They preach discipline, technical ability, training, more training, and more training. They reflect the old ways of wrestling. So, thus, does young Canadian talent. It's a shame, really, because all those guys I pointed out above -- they've been heralded as having main event talent for years. But none of them are, none except Hart, who was a main event draw years ago.
There are holes in my argument, and I could see them before and as I wrote this. Jericho, for one. Well, there are always going to be exceptions. To say that most Canadians enter the industry with more of an eye for wrestling than for entertainment is not to say that they all do. But I still think that this was worth saying, and it had to be said. Because our home-grown athletes are not getting the recognition they deserve.
Not Edge, not Christian, not Vampiro, not Test, not Benoit, not Storm, and not Owen until it was far too late.
Go back twenty years, thirty years, forty years, and you can't say that about the talent we produced then.
Maybe it's time we caught up to speed and started to change our direction and our focus, and that our wrestlers concentrated on entertainment instead of wrestling.
Or maybe it's time that wrestling, while it's still called that, slowed down and met us somewhere in the middle. While it still can.
Here's this week's mailbag:
Matt, from MPetersson@aol.com, writes:
"Hi Eric, I am a religious reader of your column and I have one question, what is Tatanka doing now? Thanks, Matt."
From what I hear, Matt, Tatanka still wrestles on the Indy circuit, doing small shows here and there. Also from what I hear, he isn't in particularly great shape anymore, and probably wouldn't be very suited to doing another run in the big leagues even if he wanted to. I always liked his gimmick and his style, but toward the end of his WWF career, he struck me as something of a less-athletic Lex Luger, someone with a limited arsenal and with not much to of interest to say. If you see him performing near you, go see him, because that's the only way you'll ever be able to.
Chris Hirsch, from Hirsch5543@aol.com, writes:
"Another good column as always but at the end you said "I am not surprised that Goldberg/Jarrett beat the novice yet tired combination of Rock and Sock/Jericho and Snow." They gained on them but they still got beat by over two ratings points which is big in my opinion. You may not have meant that they beat them but that is how it came out."
Chris, you are so right. I totally mis-spoke there. What I meant to say, of course, was that relative to the rest of their respective shows, Goldberg/Jarrett was a better rating and Rock/Sock/Jericho/Snow was worse. It came out jumbled. Getting beat by two points is still getting beat, even if it isn't by four.
Chalk it up to my disclaimer last week, I was in the midst of exams, which can take something out of you at this level. Apologies for the misunderstanding.
David Embrey, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Hello Eric, got a question for you. Have you ever seen a pair of tag-teams that work better and bring more out of each other in the ring than Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boys? I've watched both teams wrestle other teams, as well as individual wrestlers and all four are good to great. But when they wrestle against each other, it is always great and in their dual-ladder match it was Amazing and my vote for Match of the Year!
I just hope the Hardys or the mini-Sabu's, especially, don't go too far (like trying a Sinton Bomb off of the top of a Steel Cage on Raw) and hurt themslves badly. I want to be able to watch these guys for a long time...hopefully with some gold and a good plot line....What do you, and other readers think?"
David, I agree with you that those two tag teams can put on a show like no other combination I think I've ever seen, but the fans are going to tire of it eventually.
It seems lazy, to me, to just throw these guys in a ring together while spending much time and energy on complex story-lines to get the likes of Val Venis or Mark Henry over. Push the guys we love, push Edge, Christian, and The Hardy Boyz. Personally, I'd like to see Edge and Christian go at it as allied singles, and have the Hardy Boyz remove those pesky tag titles from the New Age Outlaws - and keep them, for a long time.
And yeah, if they keep doing those dangerous moves, they're pound to pay for it later, but not everyone is Mick Foley. These guys are in really, really good shape. Nonetheless, it's a risk, and one they shouldn't have to take week in, week out because no one wants to bother giving them an angle.
Marc Hughes, from email@example.com, writes:
"MAN YOUR ARTICLE SUCKS!!!! YOU ARE THE WORST WRITER!!!
AUSTIN BEING TREATED LIKE A PIECE OF MEAT?!!!! WHAT ABOUT HOGAN? FLAIR? HART? WHY IS IT OKAY FOR THEM TO BE TREATED LIKE MEAT AND NOT AUSTIN!! WWF SAVED WRESTLING?! NO, THE nWo ANGLE DID!!! REMEMBER IN '96? HOGAN TURNED BADGUY AND THE WHOLE WORLD WAS WATCHING!? PEOPLE JUST GOT SICK OF THAT THO. THAT'S A GIVEN! BUT AUSTIN-MCMAHON SAVED WRESTLING MY ASS!!! AUSTIN A GOOD WRESTLER?! THEN YOU GO AND PRAISE HIS NON WRESTLING ANTICS!!! I HATE WHEN 'INSIDER WRITERS' LIKE YOU GO AND SAY HOW WRESTLING IS NOT WRESTLING ANYMORE AND THEN GO AND PRAISE AUSTIN!!! CHRIST! THEY HAVE A TOY OF AUSTIN NOW THAT IS SPECIFICALLY MADE NOT TO WRESTLE! JUST TALK! SAYS SOMETHING DOESN'T IT? JUST ANOTHER AUSTIN D*** SUCKER"
MARC, I THINK THAT IT MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA IF YOU RELAXED, BECAUSE YOU'RE CLEARLY GOING TO SUFFER FROM SOME KIND OF WRESTLING-RELATED ULCER AT THIS RATE.
SOMETIMES PEOPLE WRITE ME MEAN-SPIRITED LETTERS, WHICH CAN SOMETIMES STING, BUT IN THIS CASE, IT ELICITED MORE OF A LAUGH THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
HOGAN AND FLAIR ARE LIKE EIGHTY YEARS OLD AND SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR A WRESTLING RING.
WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, THE NWO ANGLE REVIVED WCW, NOT WRESTLING, AND IT DIDN'T ACHIEVE NEARLY THE SUCCESS OF THE AUSTIN-MCMAHON ANGLE. LOOK AT IT IN TERMS OF MONEY, BUY-RATES, RATINGS, WHATEVER, THE ANSWER IS STILL THE SAME.
MAN YOUR LETTER SUCKS!!!! YOU ARE THE WORST WRITER!!!
Some comic relief courtesy of SLAM! Wrestling.
Thanks, as always, for tuning in, everyone. Thanks especially to those who wrote, doubly especially to Mr. Hughes, who really changed the way I see wrestling (analytically speaking). Have a great week!
By the way, readers, my ICQ and MS Instant Messenger lists got wiped recently when I was wiping my hard drive. If you want to take advantage of the easiest way to ask me questions when they're just for me, or just to chat and give me the column ideas I love to get, give me a ring at ICQ#10595535 or MSIM@ firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks readers! That goes double for old friends I haven't heard from in awhile!
Send email to email@example.com.