There are moments in professional wrestling that irk us fans. One recurring moment that has always irked me is where a non-wrestler will come to the ring and receive a bigger reaction from the crowd than a hard working up and comer who had just been through a great match. You?ve seen this several times. A promoter, a commissioner, or a general manager comes out to the ring and throws out a string of words that bring out the most rabid of reactions from a live crowd. Brian Kendrick can do a breathtaking moonsault but it will garner no reaction, but when Vickie Guerrero comes out, the crowd responds. Be it Eric Bischoff, the McMahons, or any Raw or Smackdown commissioner/general manger, they so often get a bigger reaction for the words they say instead of the actions the wrestlers execute. However this annoyance of mine brought me to a dilemma: If a non-wrestler can steal the thunder in a promo, should wrestlers themselves be able to do the same thing by stepping out of the ring, because of retirement or injury, and steal that thunder for themselves in a non-wrestling role? The answer: Yes, and because of that my annoyance with the crowd reaction is something that I just have to deal with and get over. (Get what Brian? over)
In 1997 two wrestlers, Sting and Steve Austin, achieved heights of popularity they had never seen before based on their lack of in-ring action. Now Austin wrestled a majority of the year, and the match that made him, his Wrestlemania XIII match with Bret Hart, also occurred that year, but it was something Austin did outside the ring that made him more popular than ever. In August of that year, Austin was given a piledriver by Owen Hart that put him out of action for a few months. During this time, Austin went on a rampage trying to avenge his injury and get his hands on Hart. His rage climaxed not in a match with Hart (the rematch with Hart seemed more about vindication than revenge), but in a fury one autumn night. That night, Austin gave the Stone Cold Stunner to Vince McMahon, a move that propelled Austin’s popularity and officially killed the prerequisite for a baby face to be a white hat-wearing hero. The match with hart had given Austin a reputation as a true fighter, and his angle with Hart actually garnered him sympathy, but the moment with McMahon we all were now living vicariously through Austin. Who didn?t want to beat the crap out of their boss? How could anyone hold back when Austin, a man apart, dropped his boss? While wrestling was changing drastically in ?97 with heels becoming cool and Bret Hart seeming out of touch, Austin’s stunner to McMahon legitimized there was no going back for this trend. While I may be upset when Brian Kendrick doesn?t get the same reaction as Vickie Guerrero, it is moments like Austin’s stunner on McMahon that prove it isn?t always a bad thing. Had he not been in that position, he may never have achieved what he did. There is no telling what wrestling may have missed out on had it not been for that night.
Sting barely wrestled at all in ?97. In fact, it seemed a bit absurd that he would get a title match at WCW’s biggest show of the year at Starrcade despite not having beaten any contenders in months, but Sting’s rafter walking that year changed his character forever and was strangely one of the best angles WCW ever put together. When Sting came down from the rafters at Uncensored and proclaimed his undying allegiance to WCW it was one of the finest moments in wrestling. It was a story of a broken man, forever changed by betrayal, still finding it within himself to stand up and defend that which had turned against him. As WCW’s last beacon of hope, Sting’s time away from the confines of a ring bell added a new depth to his character and cemented his place as the premiere wrestler of WCW’s reign.
1997 was by far the most screwed up year of the decade for professional wrestling, but also the most exciting. It was a transitional year in which ECW debuted on pay per view, heels became cool, and classic baby faces became pass?. Whenever I think about developments in wrestling where Stephanie McMahon is getting a bigger reaction than Shelton Benjamin, and while I still feel it is unjust, I just have to remember that it isn?t always a bad thing to have someone in a non-wrestling role achieve that level of heat. After all, we are the ones cheering them on. Besides, who knows where it may take us?
In closing I just want to extend my sympathy to the family, friends, and fans of Mitsuhara Masawa. I wish I had followed the man’s career more closely while he was alive. Believe me; I will be going through everything of his I missed now. I wish I had appreciated what he had given while he was around.
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