Wednesday, July 14, 2004

#84. Ken Jennings, Wrestling, Movie Stars

Some settling, now. Brock Lesnar's botched aerial move from WM XIX was a shooting star press, not a moonsault. The important thing is, he failed to make it all the way around again and pretty much landed on his head. And never quite recovered professionally for it. It could be argued that Kurt Angle, who risked permanent paralysis to participate in the match, gained more from it than "The Next Big Thing," which is not inherently a bad thing, given how much Angle deserves to be seen as one of the premier if not that premier WWE personality of the current era, covering so well the fields of personality and ring performance as he has since he debuted more than four years ago. A year after this match, neither is still wrestling, because Lesnar grew tired of the personal strain WWE life can have and Angle's decision to have a 'ess invasive neck surgery than others (Chris Benoit, Steve Austin, Edge, etc. etc etc.) chose. He came backs within months, but has shown far less resiliency than at least Benoit, who is as much a machine as that Ken Jennings fellow from Jeepardy! (Congrats on passing the million mark, Ken. You have a long way to go yet, not to mention a near-guaranteed victory in the tournament of champions.)

I've heard too often that Lesnar walked away from Vince McMahon's opportunity of a lifetime because he hadn't grown up with the love of pro wrestling in his heart. The same argument followed Goldberg. But it's hard to put any stock in that when we also have Angle, who resisted entering WWE after his '96 Olympic victory (unlike, say Mark Henry, and look where that's gone) because he didn't think well of pro wrestling. He changed his mind and has the undying respect of guys like me. What's the difference between Angle, Lesnar, and Goldberg? All three were very quickly pushed into the championship scene after they first entered sports entertainment. All three were made out to be very big deals, before anyone had any real reason to consider them as such. Lesnar and Goldberg were big men, power players who seemed to be groomed to replace other power players, while Angle had the benefit of a broader definition, mainly because he entered in shape not much different than a Christ Benoit or Chris Jericho, both of whom he wrestled at his debut WrestleMania in 2000.

It was only natural, then, that he was going to be embraced more fully, and I don't think it has much to do with how well he was at developing a rapport with the audience, with his three i's and his insistance at being their Olympic hero right from the start. Da Man and NBT had mystique on their side, which Angle could never have, and they had the skills to back it up. People just began to ignore that fact when it became unpopular to support them. Goldberg was developing into quite the technical proficianist in WCW when he needed to eveolve his character. Maybe it's true that WWE only half-heartedly pushed him, and that was yet another contributing factor in his failure there. Whatever the truth, it's now a matter for historians, for all three, as to their overall impact. Angle might never wrestle on a regular basis again, Lesnar might never come back, and Goldberg is the least likely of all three to see Vince's playground again (though he seems to enjoy Japan well enough, where he could possibly have that dream match with Steve Austin).

It's funny how much Lesnar's departure demanded such a dramatic overhaul of Smackdown. There'll be those, and they'll probably be dominant right now, who will argue it was as much Angle's in-ring demise (at least for now) as it was Brock's sudden exit that pounded the third nail in the coffin and necessitated another Undertaker-like revival, and they would be kidding themselves. Angle has gone away before, most notably for the two months it took to recover from his ill-advised alternative surgery (or maybe he's just run himself too ragged in too short a time in establishing his legacy), and the show ran on without him just fine. There was Lesnar to carry things, give Thursdays meaning. But without Lesnar, it seemed as if there was no longer direction, and it took a lottery draft and the elevation of two lesser (by no means a phrase to insult either) stars to recover the ground. And to Smackdown's credit, the reinvention has gone quite well, even with Undertaker's latest, lackluster push (where're the complaints about that?).

It helps that it has Angle and John Cena to provide plenty of spark, most times together (oh, how I wish the two could spar again, as they did in 2003 to far less significance), and Eddie Guerrero as an immensely worthy champion. JBL has done a remarkable job, thanks in no small part the commitment to develop it, in creating Guerrero's ultimate nemesis (at least in this stage of his career). Booker T has become a dependable sub-main event performer. No, I would call him mid-card talent. In fact, he exists almost permanently in between, a counterpart to Y2J on Raw, which he could never have done on Mondays itself, given how many other wrestlers there who would love that honor. And RVD has finally developed his own niche in WWE, not as someone being pushed for any title, but as a guy who can give anyone, among those he's been given the opportunity to do with, a run for his money. He's never going to become the next Booker T, the next Y2J, the next HBK, not with his relaxed style, but it's enough to prove his worth as a dependable presence. Maybe a few months down the road he'll receive another shot at the heavyweight title, and really that's the most anyone can expect as forward momentum at this point in his career. He never even held the ECW heavyweight title, after all. It's the thought that counts, a whole lot more than it ever does with Kane.

Okay, there's also the matter of a number of wrestlers I've been dying to be used more whom I found on the injury list. Big Show and Kurt Angle, I've know about. Old news, and it's good that Thursdays have not suffered in the least from Show's absence, which is not as disparaging as it would have sounded two years ago. A-Train (a name D-Von once wrestled under, I've recently learned) is another, but he's never going anywhere on Raw anyway, so it doesn't matter. He was doing so much better on Thursdays, an had much, much more to lose than Matt Hardy in the transition. Christian was a surprise, as was Shelton Benjamin, but those were entirely welcome explanations, given how much they'd recently proven themselves and how rotten any other explanation would have been as a result. Scott Steiner and Test are two more, Test looking at the same neck surgery as too many others. His ring style has really be comparable? or am I missing something? These two are the opposite of Christian and Benjamin, unfortunately. Christopher Nowinsky, Blue Blood Tough 'Nuffer, is example of the danger of letting people who want to wrestle get in so easily. How many of those reality show stars will ever really amount to anything? He's been suffering Troy Aikman Syndrome, otherwise known as Concussion Land...

Wait a minute, Eddie's on this list?!? Hopefully his hamstring won't cause him to miss any time. That's be bad for Thursdays. I love JBL (more than I ever did Sid), but wouldn't like to see him champion for too long. I'd argue a massive push for Charlie Haas long before that. Jamie Noble is also working through the pain, and has recently gotten new ring attire. This former Jung Dragon deserves continued success in WWE, and it's a good sign for him that maybe his redneck persona is being slowly retired. Johnny Nitro, Shaniqua, and Matt Morgan are all developing their craft in OVW. Nitro I haven't seen wrestle, haven't heard much of him wrestling. Shaniqua is one of those Tough Enough champions who really didn't deserve it, and as I hear it will probably not be around much longer anyway. Morgan, who couldn't finish his TE year, could develop into the most significant alum.

Rico I knew about. Hopefully when he returns he'll have improved his characterization. Rikishi the report, which I got from, doesn't say what's ailing him. Perhaps a distinct lack of direction? Rodney Mack is another OVW rehabber. Will probably never go anywhere. Shawn Michaels is probably resting, but unfortunately is looking to return to find Garrison Cade syphoning off him for another attempt at superstardom. Ultimo Dragon never went anywhere, and now he's taking that and going back to Japan. Trish Stratus is the last of note (not counting a number who won't really be wrestling again, a.k.a. Rocks and McMahons). The report wonders how her absence affects the women's division. I already have an answer to that...

I also took a look at who's wrestled recently on Velocity and Heat. You can check off the names of Rene Dupree, Nunzio (in a match together that probably resulted from The Great American Bash), Funaki, Sakoda (still around after all), Billy Gunn & Hardcore Holly (now a full-time team, apparently, the League of Drop Kickers), and the Bashams; Tyson Tomko, Val Venis (who is officially never doing anything significant again), Maven (might eventually claim title of most significant TE alum; at least he's building a base for himself), Chuck Palumbo (apparently in his Monday-roster debut, finally), Rosey & the Hurricane (Helms desperately needs a new gimmick if he's ever truly going to fly), some jobbers (Vin Vain & Aaron Schlosser), William Regal, and Steven Richards (will never be signicant post-RTC). There's that.

Speaking of the Hurri-push, he had another chance Monday to show his wares, against Ric Flair. Euegene wrestled Benoit before receiving, ahem, vengeance from Evolution. Is Euege as a character a negative thing, or has he now transcended that? Something to consider as Nick Dinsmore continues to enjoy great WWE success portraying a mentally retarded individual.

Speaking of mental retardation, I read an article in the Boston Globe the other day in the regular "Life in the Pop Lane" column that insisted today's cinema stars can't hold a candle to the idols of yore. Yet another example of being unable to gain perspective, as has been such a problem for popular culture in the modern era. It seems the stars who helped establish TV and movies as something worth remembering will be remembered with suffocating nostalgia for years to come. Somebody has the mistaken impressive that the widely embraced stars of yesterday are inherently better than the widely embraced stars of today, and for reasons I have yet to decipher...The trend of the Retro Utopia continues.

And that's it, probably for more than a week. I will not be going back to the weekly update, and besides, I won't even be in town next week.

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