Main event talents come and go in the world of professional wrestling. When you are on top you tend to suffer criticism that is undeserved, although not all of it is undeserved. This week I came across another set of criticisms of John Cena. I began thinking back to other top guys that WWE has had over the past twenty five years and examine their significance. As I went back and dug through championship reigns throughout the years I came across one name in particular that stayed with me more than any other: Kevin Nash. Nash’s time in WWF as Diesel was where he became a main event talent. When people look back to the top guys in wrestling history Nash is most remembered for his time in the NWO than what he did in WWF, even though he spent twelve months as a dominant champion. In retrospect, Nash’s time in WWF as the champion was the most interesting and unappreciated part of his career.
In 1994 Nash had been a bright spot in the mid card as he and Scott Hall fought over the Intercontinental Championship. Even as a heel fans were eagerly waiting for the opportunity to cheer Nash. They anticipated the day when he would stop taking orders from Shawn Michaels and drop him. That day came in November during the Survivor Series pay per view when he once again was on the receiving end of HBK’s super kick. Nash was finally free from Michaels and ready to start anew. Very few could have guessed just how dramatic of a change Nash’s career was about to undertake. Days after his split from HBK, Nash entered Madison Square Garden and demolished Bob Backland in seconds to become the new WWF Champion. The win was reminiscent of Hulk Hogan’s win over the Iron Sheik a decade prior as WWF was now launching a new super hero.
Nash’s championship was very different from others. He didn’t have someone building him up to get to the main event. He was more catapulted than anything. The WWF really had a lack of depth to the main event scene. Bret Hart had spent months against his brother Owen. After beating Owen, Backland was rebuilt as a threat to Hart to give him an opponent. Nash didn’t have a bunch of mega heels to face. Instead, he built himself up over his championship reign. It started at the Royal Rumble in 1995. That night Nash went up against Bret Hart in a fantastic match. This could have been the night Nash proved that his championship win was no fluke by decisively defeating the top guy on the roster. Instead fans saw them fight to a draw. The match probably could have headlined Wrestlemania that year, but Hart was used to build Nash as a credible champion, despite the finish. In fact, the draw actually helped Nash. He had burst to the main event scene out of nowhere. He was heading to a Wrestlemania showdown with Michaels that had been building for nearly two years. Michaels was no exactly a main event guy yet. He needed to be built himself as a credible threat to Michaels. WWF beautifully built both men at the Rumble ppv by having Michaels last through the entire Rumble match to win. Nash went up against Hart in a draw that served to build him as a credible champion while not killing the credibility of the storyline. Nash had just won the championship. There was no realistic way he could just walk into a match with the top guy and beat him and yet possibly have a mid card talent like HBK posing any threat to him at Mania. Not only would a win over Hart be unrealistic, it would have pushed Nash too hard, too fast (faster than he already was).
Nash had another good outing in a match against Michaels at WM. He was able to come out of the match looking stronger than ever. Having retained his title at Mania, Nash was now the top guy in the company. He went into a feud with Psycho Sid. Sid would become the first of a few mega heels WWF built to showcase Nash as a dominant champion. He was being served in much the same way Hulk Hogan was and the way Steve Austin would later be, as well as how John Cena is served today. Nash would fight over the summer against Sid while WWF built up a monster in King Mabel to challenge Nash at Summerslam. Nash would put Sid away in a Lumberjack match before going on and knocking Mabel out of the way as well. It seemed like nothing could stop Nash. WWF had done a very good job of building up their next top star.
Another heel was about to be constructed as Nash’s next victim. After spending years in tag teams and mid card limbo, Davey Boy Smith turned heel and began a campaign to take the championship from Nash. Smith was always a believable addition to the main event and he was a good wrestler. He was a perfect heel to keep Nash going strong until his next obstacle. That next obstacle never came. WWF changed things up by cutting the Nash-Smith program short and launching into a brief, yet intense feud between Nash and Hart. At Survivor Series Hart dethroned Nash in a rare baby face-baby face No Hold Barred match.
In his autobiography Shawn Michaels claimed that Nash’s reign was ended prematurely. It’s hard to take HBK seriously on this one given his history with Hart and his close relationship with Nash. After all, had Nash held onto the title, he likely would have been the one dropping it to HBK at Wrestlemania XII. But it seemed like there was no way to hold off on pushing HBK to the title any longer. A repeat of HBK-Nash may not have drawn the audience they were looking for since they had just fought they year before. It seemed like Bret was just getting one more reign that was stretched out a bit even though he really was just a transactional champion from Nash to HBK. Or maybe it was because of the corner WWF had painted themselves in. They had booked Nash very strongly but had failed to follow up on any of the heels they built to fall to him. In the process they ended up with an abundance of top baby faces between Nash, Hart, HBK, and Undertaker while main event heels were all but extinct. Nash was the best choice to fill the role that others had been used for to make him look strong. The only way to pull off a quick and aggressive heel turn was to have him lose the very title that he had been carrying for twelve months.
Nash went into a tweener phase for a few months, but his growing frustrations with his own shortcomings to regain his title eventually overcame him. He became an all-out heel by Wrestlemania and had a huge match with Undertaker before serving as HBK’s first challenger for his newly one WWF title. After losing to Shawn, Nash was gone from the World Wrestling Federation. He had signed a deal with WCW and his reign as Diesel was dead.
Just where Nash would have gone in WWF is up in the air. By that time Vader was with the company. An alliance between Nash and Vader would have been very interesting, but it is tough to say what else he would do, especially since Nash went and formed the NWO. There is always the question of what could have been, but we also have to appreciate what was given to us. 1995 was the year of Kevin Nash. While he may not be remembered as a great wrestler, he does deserve to be acknowledged for what he accomplished.