SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, February 12, 1998

Luchadores don't fit in

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Over the past decade, wrestling has changed a lot. Probably even more than in the eighties. Since the new age of rock and wrestling, every year has seen emerging talent, falling stars, new gimmicks, old gimmicks returning, old gimmicks trashed, and a growing presence in our society. This subject has endless facts and endless opportunity for discussion, but today's focus will singularly pick out and pick on the little men of wrestling - no, not the midgets - the luchadores.

As regular readers of this column may now know, I am still a young wrestling fan and my knowledge of its distant past is sometimes sparse. In addition, there is a void of about two years in the early nineties when I could just no longer stand to watch the stuff. Maybe because I didn't have a creative outlet like this through which to really enjoy such a thing, or maybe because it just sucked. The fact is, though, that I got completely turned off by it, and it was going to take something big to bring me back.

I like to think that I give credit where credit is due and as it happened, Eric Bischoff, Terry Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall, only one of whom was known to me at the time (at least by their given names), are due.

At the time, though, they were the substance that kept me there, not the sizzle that drew me. I didn't just happen to tune in to Bash at the Beach when Hogan turned on Randy Savage, Lex Luger, and Sting. I did happen to tune in to a Monday Nitro just before it, though.

The match was for the WCW cruiserweight title. 'What?' I thought. Cruiserweight title? What the hell is a cruiserweight? I eventually guessed that it meant lightweight since there was a mention of weight and it wasn't 'heavy.'

Dean Malenko was defending the title. People may mock him now, but I remember his icy cold stride to the ring and frosty stance within it as a perfect foil for the emerging newcomer, Rey Misterio Jr. I don't really remember the match itself, but I do know how it ended. Misterio, whose mask intrigued me in that it didn't suck like all wrestling masks I had seen previously, executed a maneuver unlike any other I had ever seen. Bobby Heenan dubbed it a 'frankensteiner' and I was immediately in love.

Hold on, hold on. Don't go emailing me yet. I did find out later that the so-called 'frankensteiner' was actually a 'cradle hurricanrana' but hey, it was Bobby's fault. I still love that word. No, not frankensteiner. Hurricanrana. Say it with me. Let it roll off the tongue. Pretend you're French. Hurrrrrricanrrrrrrana.

Back to my point, which to get to quickly, is that luchadores changed the face of wrestling. Okay, I hope no one's going to argue with me yet, because that isn't quite the risque thesis I'm going to defend in this column.

My real point is that luchadores are completely out of place in the wrestling we watch today and that they have no place on Monday Nitro, Monday Night Raw, or any other wrestling show on television, or heck, in any wrestling ring in Canada or the United States.

Let me first qualify that statement. I don't want to eradicate them off the face of the earth. I just want to separate them from the heavyweights which currently hold our attention, even if the word 'heavy' has come to mean 'over two hundred and thirty pounds' instead of 'over four hundred pounds.'

I expect at least some will wish to argue, but allow me to defend the statement first.

Take a moment to examine the context we're talking about. This is the era of drugs, sex, and rock and wrestling. And blood and hardcore, too. It just isn't the same product they're packaging anymore. It isn't about the belt, it isn't about the win-loss column, and I can prove that to you. When was the last time that anyone who actually focused his persona on wanting to be the best wrestler he could ever got applause? Dean Malenko makes a great counter-example to my own point here. He sucks. No one likes him. He's a great wrestler and a mediocre entertainer. He's a horseman and you can dig that and don't tell me he rocks because he's a horseman because I agree. But he's cold, he's focused, he wants the belt for its own sake, and no one cares.

Kidman's great, but people are responding to his in-ring show the way I did that first time to Misterio's. Give it time, the novelty will fade. Juventud is useless by all accounts. Psycosis isn't so bad, but he's no Misterio. La Parka doesn't even count, and neither does Silver King. I love what I'm seeing out of Blitzkrieg, who has a damn fine name, by the way, but that won't last, either.

The cruiserweights invariably supply the best matches on a card, I'll give you that, too. But the overall effect is detrimental. It sets the bar way too high for performers who will never reach it, not on their best day, and gears the crowd to pop for spots as opposed to angles, which is what the main events are all about, now.

People don't cheer for Steve Austin doing something crazy, they explode when he appears and then again when he nails a stunner. And they repeat what he says. But if he delived a springboard hurricanrana, which he could never do, they wouldn't pop for him in the same way, and not nearly as much.

The WWF brass has probably already noticed this to some degree, or some other problem like it. They've phased out their luchadores, and only after a trial period of integrating them with the other talent (remember Vader v. Taka?). Meanwhile, down south, where the first hour of the show doesn't know what the last hour is doing, there's no continuity anyway so I guess I'd rather see some good matches than ten crappy ones in rapid succession. But cetaris paribis (that's Latin for 'all other things being equal'), I wish they wouldn't use them.

I'd probably watch a show with good lucha action. Or maybe I wouldn't. But just like too much of a good thing can spoil some other unrelated but far more important good thing, for example chocolate and pizza, in that order), the luchadores probably cause more harm than good.


Michael Zajac,, writes:

*Consider this, when did the Rock TRULY become the People's Champ? No answer. Well, allow me to elaborate. After a great match with HHH at SummerSlam, The Rock still hadn't really broken through as top line, main event kind of star. People kind of liked him and thought he was funny, but crowds didn't pop him the way he deserved. Fast forward to one month later. Hamilton, Ontario. INYH Breakdown, (the PPV we didn't deserve?). I'm sitting in section 124 of Copps Coliseum with 4 of my buddies waiting in anticipation as a cage is slowly lowered over the ring below. First Shamrock and Mandkind, but then we hear it, the best phrase in wrestling today. "Do you smell...", well you know what it is. Moments later The Rock appears to the biggest pop he had ever recieved to that point in his career. (A long overdue one if you ask me). After a great finish to that match The Rock's enitire walk back to the dressing area was filled with nothing but people chanting "Rocky, Rocky..." The next night. Raw Is War. Detroit, Michigan, (you know, Stone Cold's Zamboni ride), The Rock makes his appearance and all of the sudden he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, as they say, the rest is history.*

Don't mistake me, Mike, I think you have a great city. I've been there, I love it, and I think you got the shaft when Ottawa stole your hockey team a second time. But you said yourself that the Rock TRULY became the People's Champ at the ladder match with HHH. They were the ones who popped for him first. They started the "Rocky, Rocky" chants. You guys did it second. That, my friend, is history, and you, sir, are a revisionist.

*Just a couple of comments on your article about the WWF snubbing Montreal on its latest tour, and the absence of any TV and PPV appearances in La Belle Province.

I was at the 1997 Survivor Series as well. While the show wasn't as good as you made it out to be (Truth Commission, DOA...) the crowd didn't seem to mind. In fact, as you stated, we popped big for our home country heros and even our supposed enemies (Stone Cold, Kane...).

At first glance, it seems strange that the WWF hasn't done anything of particular importance in Montreal since then. Production costs can be reduced by 33% because of our low dollar. Montreal offers a fabulous nightlife which WWF wrestlers have been known to enjoy. And we are not without wild, crazy and loud fans. But let's dig a little deeper.

If you recall the Survivor Series, the announcer was some french local, which I think was a mistake since the show was being broadcast around the world, but mostly in the U.S. Also, perhaps the WWF is afraid that since there is no more Canada VS. U.S. storylines like there were back in '97, the Montreal crowd would have no reason to be that rabid. Thesedays, it is irrelevant to have hundreds of Canadian and Quebec flags waving in the stands. Also, Toronto makes much more sense to host big shows because of its closer resemblance to major U.S. cities, and the abundance of hometown heros (Edge, Val Venis, and dare I say Tiger Ali Singh).

On a final note, perhaps the WWF is still fearing retribution to the waythe Survivor Series ended, leaving us with an empty feeling inside.

Who knows, maybe there are behind the scene politics that are entering into the WWF's decision. But I agree with you that it would be great to have another major show in Montreal in the near future. I would sure go!*

I hate to break it to me, but much of what you say is right, and it's the best theory I've seen to date. By the way, nobody in the entire arena "popped for Kane."

I actually feel pretty bad. A lot of people wrote in with some great thoughts about last week's column, and I wish I could print them all. Let me assure you that I read each and every one of them and that if this were the summer and I wasn't doing literally (literally) ten billion things a day (literally), I would answer them all, too. Thanks for the thoughts! Have a great week, see you in seven.

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