Well, hello. As some of you may know, I write on-and-off for TWO – TalkWrestlingOnline.com and that little ol’ wrasslin’ site has reached the big 10 – double figures now, and finally, the training wheels off the bike! It’s been an eventful 10 years, perhaps one of the most eventful decades in the history of Professional Wrestling. Along the way, there’s been people that have risen above the industry, that have defined the business. Some in good ways, some in bad, but all of them in a way that ensures they won’t be forgotten easily.
For TWO’s tenth birthday, I figured I’d scrape the bottom of the barrel that passes for my brain and give you my list – in no particular order – of the 10 people I consider as the defining characters of the what I call “The TWO Years”… I get the feeling there’s gonna be arguments about this one…
Say what you like about the end to his life – and I will in a few sentences – but Benoit’s legacy IN THE RING is not in question. When he finally had the trigger pulled on a long overdue run at the top of the card, the internet rejoiced. All was right with the world, when WrestleMania ended with Benoit making Triple H submit, and he and Eddie celebrated in a deluge of confetti, tears and joyous internet postings all over the world wide web. That should have been Benoit’s lasting contribution to the industry.
However, all of that would be swept under the carpet as the events surrounding his death unfolded in June 2007 and became clear. We all know what he did, I’m not going to go over it again. Why is he on this list? For the mainstream media, he was a symbol for all that was bad about wrestling; he was for all intents and purposes, everything that the general populous would have you believe wrestling and wrestlers were about. Like it or not, the Benoit murder/suicide was a defining point in wrestling’s perception by the public, and for that reason, he is on this list.
Eddie was a prime example of the highs and lows of a career, indeed life, inside the squared circle. Coming from a proud family, full of wrestling tradition and honour, his ascent up the ladder in the industry was assured. Coming to WCW from ECW pushed him into the public eye and propelled him into stardom that he was ill prepared for. Those fabled demons that haunted him in his life surfaced and took a hold of him; perhaps they never truly left him.
Eddie nearly died in a car crash, but he came back stronger, more determined than ever before. All that got him was an addiction to drugs and drink that would nearly finish the job the car accident begun. Those addictions would cost him his job with the WWE. Sorting himself out, overcoming those demons gave him a second chance at life that he took and made the most of. Sadly, Eddie never got the happy ending his story would have had in Hollywood. In 2005, Eddie died in his hotel room as a result of heart failure. The wrestling world united in grief for their fallen competitor, hero, peer and friend.
Yeah, you KNOW why he’s here. You may like him or you may hate him – but the point is, you know who he is. Never before has a booker been the subject of such outright hatred as Mr. Vince Russo. Russo was heavily involved in the Attitude era in the WWF, let’s not take that away from him. Critics would say that he was a success as he was kept on a tight leash by Vince McMahon, a leash that notably wasn’t in place during the WCW years… David Arquette, anyone?
Russo is credited with single-handedly killing WCW; perhaps a little OTT, even for the internet wrestling community, but there is no doubt he did contribute. Nonsensical booking, a habit for putting himself on screen (and even being World Champion at one point) and just a general feeling of chaos – all of these things and more were blamed on Russo. After WCW, he would go on to work for TNA, and even now, those “Fire Russo!” chants are never far away from live crowds, and the mere mention of his name will kick off huge arguments online.
Simply put, he is THE man when it comes to wrestling journalism. Wrestling is by and large a very insular community, and very secretive. Not a lot of detail about the inner circle really escaped for the average fan to consume… until the advent of the internet, that is. When the internet came along, any Tom, Dick or Harry could suddenly post any story and claim the exclusive. Ask almost any hardcore wrestling fan who has access to the net about wrestling writers, and one man’s name dominates the game: Dave Meltzer.
One of the few to make a living from this, and still maintain a level of credibility, Meltzer has a level of acceptance into the murky world of wrestling that no other writer has. Despite Vince McMahon’s disdain for what he terms “The Dirt Sheets” even he has been rumoured to have called Dave Meltzer for advice in the past. Like them or not, believe them or not, the sheets are here to stay, and Dave Meltzer is the King of The ‘Net.
The extreme messiah, or the obnoxious fat guy in the baseball cap? However you see Paul Heyman, he has been one of the biggest influences on wrestling. He built ECW up from almost nothing in the 90s. In the past decade, ECW as we know it may have died, but the legacy of it lives on in the fans and wrestlers to this very day. There was an obvious ECW influence on the Attitude Era, and all of that “edginess” would stem from Heyman’s willingness to push the envelope in ECW.
When he switched back to commentating on Raw, he more than held his own. When he was put on booking duties on Smackdown, he oversaw the finest era of the modern age in The Smackdown Six – Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Kurt Angle – and built the ECW brand back up with his involvement in the One Night Stand PPV. He had little to do with the watered down version of ECW that Vince McMahon envisioned, and eventually left WWE after a disagreement about the direction to promote his own multimedia website and has been mentioned as a possible “saviour” for TNA ever since.
Lesnar was touted as “The Next Big Thing” when he arrived in the WWE, and for three years, he lived up to it. He was pushed, promoted, and packaged as the face of the WWE, a legitimate beast that gave the “sport” credibility. Behind the scenes, Brock wasn’t happy with his lot. He despised travelling, and longed for “real competition”, something the WWE couldn’t give him… so he quit. Brock went to the NFL, very nearly made it to the big time, until the Minnesota Vikings cut him from their squad. He went to Japan for a short time… but gave up on that too.
He then found his home in the blossoming world of MMA, and UFC in particular. Brock’s success in the UFC has by association, lent a credibility to wrestling that it hasn’t had in years. Fully aware of his obligation to provide a story to the media, and build interest in the fight to sell tickets or PPV buys, Lesnar has perhaps used his wrestling experience to enhance the UFC in a small way, and has slotted right into his role as The Bad Guy, the guy people will pay to see get beat up or do the beating. Wrestling planted the seeds, that UFC are now harvesting.
The perma-tanned hype machine just never truly goes away. Vince Russo thought he’d put the nail in the coffin of Hulkamania in 2000; Unbelievably (if it was almost anyone else) he would steal the show at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto. Not only that, he would go on to have another run on top of the WWE card as Undisputed Champion! In the next few years, he would periodically appear on WWE television from time to time, as a special attraction of sorts.
He even made an aborted early attempt at signing for TNA, appearing in one segment from Japan with Jeff Jarrett. After that, reality shows such as ‘Hogan Knows Best’ and ‘Celebrity Championship Wrestling’ and even running his own mini promotional tour in Australia occupied his time. He couldn’t stay away from “the big time” for long though – he and Eric Bischoff signed for TNA, and to all intents and purposes, took over.
Despite his age, and lack of ring time – he is still Hulk Hogan – THE most famous man ever to bridge the gap between wrestling and the mainstream media. Even now, mention wrestling to someone, chances are even if they don’t know a wristlock from an armbar, they know who Hulk Hogan is.
A perennial midcarder and tag team wrestler in the WWE, Jarrett came into his own in the last decade, in and out of the ring. His gimmick of the Chosen One in WCW certainly seemed true, as Vince Russo seemed to lean heavily on Jarrett more than anyone. Despite Jarrett being a multi time WCW Champion, when Vince bought out WCW, Jarrett was gone, lending credibility to the rumour he pulled a fast one on Vince when his old WWF contract expired one day before he was due to defend the Intercontinental Title for the last time. Jarrett has denied that in subsequent interviews, but the story persists regardless.
After WCW, Jarrett wrestled in the World Wrestling Allstars promotion in Europe and Australia, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. Jarrett founded TNA, along with his father Jerry and promoted them as the only real alternative to Vince McMahon’s monopoly on the wrestling world. Being the inspiration behind the other half of a big two (no matter how far apart they are) means that Jeff Jarrett is as important to the wrestling landscape this decade as almost anyone.
Oh come on, you didn’t seriously think he wouldn’t be on this list, did you? He is, by a long, long, long, LONG way, the most important person in wrestling today, yesterday and tomorrow. He runs the WWE with an iron fist and dictates company policy on and off screen. He pummelled his competition into submission, and bought them outright. He not only won the Monday Night War, in DVD releases from the WWE since, he rewrote them to fit his version of history.
Vince McMahon is seen as either a visionary genius, or an unbalanced madman. In my books, the reality is somewhere in between. Vince redefined the world of wrestling as a “sports entertainment” and how far you could realistically go on television in the name of entertainment. Like him or not, and there’s a fair number of McMahon haters out there, he quite simply IS wrestling in North America today. Can anyone change that? The next 10 years will decide…
Just a wrestler, or the most devious, self obsessed, snake like self promoter in the world? There are people out there, believe it or not, that will tell you he was in a relationship with Chyna for so long purely because she was so high profile, and always had his eyes on Stephanie to protect his own position, such is the hatred that Triple H conjures up in Internet circles. Marrying the daughter of the boss is pretty high on the list of ways to keep your job safe, after all.
He’s the highest paid member of the roster; sits in on creative meetings; has the ear of his father-in-law who happens to run the company; is probably next in line with Stephanie to take over the WWE empire; he’s a multi time champion and focus of the product when he’s fit; he actively holds down people he sees as a threat to his spot on the roster… yes, even the wrestling community needs a pantomime villain, it seems. Nearly every bad thing in the WWE gets pinned on Triple H by the internet eventually. He can’t be that bad… can he?
And there you go folks, that’s the Inno view of wrestling in the last 10 years, the people that matter. I can hear the crowd baying for blood at leaving off huge chunks of Indy wrestlers, no room for The Undertaker, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels or even Trish Stratus… There were a couple of names that very nearly made the cut, but I stand by the final 10.
Until next time… have fun, go mad.