Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Ringside Shadows #111: The Youth Movement

Along the way to this past Tuesday Review, I stumbled across an interesting topic and expanded a bit on it. In all the hooplah surrounding the big talent jump of just two months back, I found it really easy to spell out the end of the road for everybody's favorite Turner subsiduary.. but I've forgotten something. Possibly the first rule in this business is to never count on a victory until the bell has sounded and the winner's been announced. Bischoff and company made that mistake regarding the collapse of McMahon's empire five years ago, many have since done the same with a singles match or two, and now I've done so without really thinking about it with the bastard son of Kevin Sullivan. Let me expand.

Youthful exuberance

It's really easy to overlook the facts when a promising young star like Chris Benoit or Eddy Guerrero jumps ship. It's effortless to fall right into the naysaying, claiming WCW will never find a suitable replacement, no matter how thoroughly they might search. The facts argue the opposite point though, as for every good worker lost another half dozen stand ready to grab the abandoned ball and run with it. Where were Kurt Angle, 'Crowbar', Essa Rios, the Jung Dragons or 3 Count at this time last year? One of the most entertaining aspects of this profession is the endless supply of young talent... one finds a certain amount of satisfaction in watching a promising young worker develop into a solid veteran. Let's take a look at today's prospects, and how they're doing at the moment;

Over in the WCW side of the court, we've seen the official introduction of the 'Jung Dragons' stable in an encounter with 3 Count that may as well have been labeled a stable match. It's great to see a bit of promise behind Kaz Hayashi for a change, as he looks to be the leader of this group by default. Easily the most competant of the 6 in-ring last night, even Kaz couldn't save the end result from a spotty mess... but we won't hold it against them just yet. Much like the Hardys of last year, 3 Count's greener than a dog's ass in the summertime (?) but consistently showcases a willingness to learn and improve, as well as an ingenuity to create and execute new stuff. The 'sleeper cutter' (hey, Madden called it..) that finished off the match last night, while a bit silly, looked strong and really drives the point home. I'm not completely sold on either of these teams just yet, but I'd certainly choose to watch a rematch over another overdone Hogan / Flair segment.

The Wall's recently been granted the gimmick men would kill for, often labeled as a 'Goldberg push'. While not completely horrendous, the Wall isn't up there in my list of personal favorites. He had potential enough as Berlyn's bodyguard, but was hurried out before that gimmick had time to fully develop. I suppose they were afraid of losing two workers to the toilet bowl of popularity, but when they snapped Berlyn out of the picture, they sucked more than a failed gimmick out of the mess. In the months after Wright's departure, the Wall's efforts have been on a consistant downward spiral. It must be pretty easy to forget why you even bothered in the past, when all it takes is a mean look, a big body and a nice push. It's a shame, but I suppose you couldn't have your black without white, your Jeff Hardy without Viscera. The Wall could still surprise me and put forward an effort to improve, but for right now I'd seriously doubt it. I mean, why not? The money's all the same.

Before I take the cross-promotional leap, I've a word or two on another of the names I'm keeping an eye on.. that being Crowbar. While he needs to get away from that name as fast as possible, his ringwork's still offering a thing or two and he's far from shabby on the mic. I'd scold the higher-ups in WCW for encouraging him to take more and more risks with his health as a means to get more over with the audience. Sure, it worked for Foley, but a good reason the said push worked had as much to do with his nearly legendary history as his monsterous bumps. All that and they've just proven they don't really know how to do such a push correctly.

Again making the comparison to Foley, the man was lovable because he didn't know when to quit. No matter how terrible the shot, how large the opponent, Foley kept getting up.. and we cheered louder and louder each time he defied the odds. Mick's the essential sympathetic hard-ass, and it wouldn't have worked any other way. The best way to elevate Crowbar (if you insist it must be in this extreme fashion) isn't to just send him out there, bandaged up, to absorb table shot after table shot and then wheel him out on a stretcher. If anything, such a push would label him as a target, an easy victim. Fans would remember him as "the guy who takes the stiff bump, but never dishes it back out". Or, in other words, the born loser. Why bother?

Over in the WWF scheme, things have really started to pick up. The recent introductions of Tazz, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Perry Saturn, Kurt Angle, Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero have pretty much built their future for the next decade. Add to that the reintroductions of Rikishi and Essa "Papi Chulo" Rios, and things really do look bright. It's out of the workers' hands and into those of the bookers.

From the introduction of the WCW 4, I'd feared for Tazz and Jericho above all else. With such an intense heat coming from the net just englufing everything around this huge jump, there were bound to be casualties. Unfortunately, it would appear that I was half right. Jericho's continued along on his merry way, playing a tame face, right in the middle of the Intercontinental picture. Tazz has seen things go the other way, though, as he's gone nearly unnoticed since his big introductory 'V' over Kurt Angle. When he feels like selling (which he apparently wasn't this past Monday), Tazz can kick out some of the most intense, well fought matches in the industry. His suplexes are as wicked as you'll get, and he's got a nice finisher in the Tazmission. He's built perfectly as the unstoppable monster and if he's pushed that way, there's little to stop him from being absolutely huge. Associating him with the Big Bossman was a poor choice, and the weeks without a solid victory have certainly taken their toll on the modern beast from the east. Tazz isn't somebody you develop over time, he's somebody you roll over competition all the way to the top. Unless the higher ups in the WWF realize that soon, it might be over before he's even had a chance to get started.

Hasn't enough been said about the WCW four? If you've read any of my writings prior, you'll realize just how much I enjoy seeing each of these men work. Benoit's been a heavy favorite of mine for years, with his unparalleled mesh of styles. Malenko knows the mat like few others and recently captured the freshly relaunched Light-Heavy title.. which he's bound to build a strong division around. Saturn kicks it like nobody has a right, and remains one of the workers I'm highest on at the moment, and Guerrero's been among the world's top 3 or 4 workers for what seems like an eternity, and he's got the attitude to go all the way in the WWF. It would be quite easy to get over-anxious with these guys and shove them right down the throats of the audience... I know I would've blown it with them by now. Luckily, the writers in the Federation have done right for a change in this instance.

Benoit's taken the leap to high midcard within months, as we all expected him to (I mean... he was carrying the WCW World Title not two months ago). Malenko and Saturn, the two I was most worried about, are just coming into their own niche as tag workers. And then there's Eddy. When I read news of his accident at the Smackdown tapings, I was literally in shock. I've never spoken to a computer screen before (I'm told it's unhealthy), but help me, I let slip a bewildered "oh, no" when Matt Spence passed along the bad news. I honestly thought there was no way out of this hole, and I was a bit disturbed that he'd hurried back to action. Again, I was proven wrong as officials held true on their promise to "turn a bad into a good" and now Guerrero's nearly ready to return to action, at least as high on the card as before.. if not higher. When push comes to shove, I've been far from trustworthy about the treatment of these guys. Only recently, I realized things have been progressing perfectly from day one, and I'm finally ready to just sit back and enjoy the ride they have in store.

..and then there was the "ayatollah of rock and rollah". The man who many had pegged as the essential cog in the machine of the future. I'll give it to you, he had all the tools during his WCW run. His matwork was superb (matches with Malenko, Mysterio and Guerrara rocked naked goat nuts), he was consistantly inventive and entertaining on the mic, and he played the cowardly heel like none had ever done before. His intro to the WWF ranks was the best ever put forward in my book. They piqued our interest with the 'Millennium Countdowns' for weeks prior. They delayed it just long enough to drive us crazy, but not long enough to send us away.. and then the music hit, and "JERICHO" flew onto the Titan Tron. It's a great memory, and I really wish they could've followed it up with a stronger initial run. Instead, he came out with a incredibly weak version of the liontamer, a bigger build and a surprisingly limited moveset. Where he'd once been known as the most creative mic worker in the country, Jericho now worked the same catches into each promo. Don't get me wrong, Chris is still among the cream of the crop.. he's just a shadow of the man he could've been. His talk of 'paying his dues' came true in a way none of us would've hoped for, an extended feud and association with Chyna. Now that he's found an opponent who can keep up in Angle (and Benoit!!), the answers should start to appear.. has he really lost a step, or was he merely pacing his opponents all that time? Either way, I can't complain with where he's headed.

Certainly the surprise success story of the year, Kurt Angle has impressed both in and out of the ring by developing a superb heel character and creating a ready-made combo of an olympic / pro wrestling ring style. Angle's certainly come a long way from the green rookie nobody wanted to see, working a dark match at the Heat I attended several months back. He plays the role of the cocky jock almost too well, and I couldn't see a simultaneous Intercontinental and European reign working as well for anyone else. It was interesting following his unbeaten streak, and it's just as interesting watching him gather gold today. Angle's simply the guy you love to hate (don't tell me you've never met anyone with a personality similar to his), and he's doing an admirable job. There's just nothing else to it.

Finally, the man we've heard so much about as the Mexican pimp daddy, Papi Chulo. Though green as... green (no more senseless dog ass jokes here), Chulo's got quite a bit of potential and plenty of time to pick up his slack. His look fits the role to a 'T' and he isn't afraid to take off on a whim. His moonsault is a thing of beauty and he brings along Lita, certainly the most interesting new face in the WWF. An extended feud with Malenko would be beauty, and it's even more appealing now that it looks close to being a reality. Rios showed a willingness to pick up as he goes Monday night, and a couple more Malenko carry jobs / teaching sessions may be just what the doctor ordered to put this lucha together into a solid worker. I haven't seen any promo work, which leads me to believe he's either terrible on the stick or doesn't know English well enough to try. It's sad what a factor that is, but without it I wouldn't look for him above European level. The WWF looks to be high on this kid though, so I'm hoping to be proven wrong there.

And that, as they say, is that. I've certainly left off a good chunk of promising young talent from this list (most notably ECW's youth).. names like Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Blitzkrieg, Juventud Guerrera, and Psychosis are certainly contenders to keep your eye on, and may be subject to a follow-up column in the near future. Simply put, no matter how many nay sayers like myself there may be across the bandwidths, there'll always be a new generation of young talent eager to prove their readiness and make a name for themselves. So long as that burning desire remains, the future is always a place worth waiting for.
until then, i remain

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