EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, December 18, 1998
Kick-start the Black Hart
I pondered this as I watched Raw last week. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either. Just a solid build-up to what would end up being a less-than-perfect but better-than-bad pay-per-view. My father, with whom I often join for the week's wrestling on TSN, thought aloud. "You know," he said, as the Undertaker and the Rock were double-teaming Mankind, "all of [the WWF's] big talent is in the ring right now. Without them, they got nothing."
"What about Kane?" I responded, realizing how ridiculous that must have sounded. You know what? For the first time in a really, really long time, he was right. It's time the WWF brought out some new guns.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm not bringing up some vague ideas with no real goal in sight. I have a specific person in mind and it probably wouldn't be too big a stretch for readers of this column to guess who I mean. No, it's not Ken Shamrock. It's a guy who certainly has put on some of the better matches in the past year in the WWF, a wrestler who's consistent, and a man who's got guts and honour. He's one half of my favourite tag team in the history of the WWF. He's also a former inter-continental champ and he's held the tag belts more than a few times. Just in case it isn't obvious yet, his brother, a five-time former WWF heavyweight champion, went to WCW about a year ago, where he is a two-time United States title winner. Two of his sisters are married to other wrestlers, you know.
Yeah, I know I'm being obvious. Owen Hart could be the next big man in the WWF. I don't see why they haven't pushed him more in the past. He's a solid worker, a credible champion (in the mid 90's, he was the beneficiary of several title shots), and he has name recognition. He has all the tools. Let's go through them quickly.
First thing's first. The man can wrestle. Anyone who doubts that, well, I guess they can go wrestle him and find out. He was trained by Stu Hart, as everyone knows, and he's demonstrated his consistency through years of service. His finishing maneuver is a believable one, thanks to the other man who shares his namesake, and such other weapons in his disposal as the enziguri kick, the spinning heel kick, and the figure-four around the ring post (if he'd just start using it!) make him a force to be reckoned with.
In addition, Owen Hart has heat right now. He's losing is really fast thanks to the lame angles he's been a part of lately, though. The "whiny bitch" character Owen has been personifying is one of the few pure and classic heels in this day and age. He really is the "Black Hart." Unfortunately, he's been wanting some well-deserved time off of late, to take care of his family, and the WWF has decided that the best way to go about this would be to have him stop wrestling and make weekly ridiculous appearances on Raw. Steve Blackman is not a man with whom to start a feud if good heat is what he wants. And that count-out thing at the end of the Rock Bottom match -- I hope that Owen had nothing to do with it.
Finally, Owen Hart has something that is entirely lacking in so many of today's wrestlers, and that's ring psychology. You know how when Bret wrestled, especially in a big fight on a pay-per-view, he looked so focused on the match that he almost appeared to be stoned? That kind of look and consistency, which makes long matches without screw-job endings watchable and even (gasp) enjoyable, is more valuable than the WWF gives it credit for. Steve Austin doesn't have it. The Undertaker doesn't have it. Mick Foley and the Rock do, but not as much as the Harts do.
Look at it this way: the WWF doesn't have much of a choice. The main event talent of the WWF, as good as they are, are limited in number and get injured frequently (at least in the cases of Austin and 'Taker). They need a new drawing card, or they'll be relying on the same rehashing of Undertaker v. Kane, Austin v. Rock, and Undertaker v. Mankind which they've been relying on since Austin defeated the Heartbreak Kid in March. They gave up Bret, and they're still on top, but it just isn't going to last if they don't promote some people. My best guess is that Hunter Hearst Helmsley will be the first beneficiary of such a promotion, but I think that would be a mistake. Maybe it's time for Owen to become the second Grand Slam champion.
Here's this week's mail:
Douglas Fetherling, from email@example.com, writes:
*One of my favorite WCW wrestlers is Disco Inferno. This guy seems to be bouncing back and forth from face to heel on a regular basis. WCW has never known exactly what to do with him. He's not heroic enough to be a full fledged face, yet he's too funny to be a complete heel. What Disco seems to be is a true tweener. He can work with both heels and faces, the fans can think he's a goof and a jerk, or they can think he's lotsof fun. Originally, I suspect that WCW was trying to re-invent the HonkyTonk Man, who in my opinion really was "The Greatest Intercontinental Champion Of All Time" because he was so throughly hated for so long. Butwhen Disco began boogeing out to the ring, the fans tended to disco with him. On the other hand, when he has been tried as a face, the fans seem to lose interest. Disco is grey, but I don't think that was WCW's choice.*
Alright, I'll stipulate that some WCW wrestlers are neither black nor white. But in no case is this because WCW has decided they would fit such a role, it is invariably because they either turned them too many times and the fans are confused (or, even worse, the wrestler is confused), or because they have no idea quite what to do with their talent.
Tim Jackson, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
*I read your column about Heels and Faces and I agree with you entirely that in WCW everything is so black and white and in the WWF there are "faces" who are really "heels". Like Steve Austin, DX and others. This is the same in ECW a lot of their "faces" are "heels" too. Look at Taz, he is basically a psycho, violent guy who beats up on the other guys, both "heels" and "faces" and has a belt called F@#k The World! Then you have Sabu, Suicidal, homicidal, genocidal, he's a psycho too, he enjoys putting people through tables and such. The there is Rob Van Dam, he's a classic arrogant "heel" type character who loves himself because he thinks he is awesome. The thing is, he is awesome and the fans think that too, so they cheer him, it's hard not to cheer a guy who jumps of the ringpost, does a flip in mid air and lands 4 rows back in the crowd on his hapless opponent. I could go on, Terry Funk at N2R 98 interrupted matches attacked officials, but peopled chanted his name. And it's only a matter of time before people like Justin Credible and Lance Storm become faces too.*
Okay, you're right. ECW definitely uses gray. ECW is gray by its very nature. That's all for this week, thanks for reading, thanks for writing, I'll see you in seven.
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