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I've never been as much of a hater on Kevin Nash as others have, whether it's Internet wrestling "geeks" or general wrestling purists who could never love his lumbering, big-man style. But Nash remains to me perhaps the most fascinating person in wrestling.
There are several reasons for this, which are:
1. He wasn't a bad worker. Like all big men, he needed someone to push him. Undertaker went through a stretch from roughly 1992-1997 where all he had was * matches with various untalented monsters. The one exception? Kevin Nash, at Wrestlemania 12. When in the ring with guys like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, and Undertaker in WWF, he could get put on a helluva show. In fact, he has three separate title matches with Bret Hart (King of the Ring 1994, Royal Rumble 1995, and Survivor Series 1995) that are the template of any big man/little man match. I think his title reign was such a flop because big men don't make good babyface champions. When he finally worked heel, in his title loss to Bret Hart at the aforementioned Survivor Series show, it was perhaps the best big vs. little I've ever seen. If they had made 1995 about babyface Shawn chasing heel Diesel, I think business would have been much different.
2. Nash is cynical about the business, and that is why he has survived. Ever wonder why the other stars from 1995 - Waltman, Michaels, and Hall - that hung with Nash at one point or another were completely f*cked up on drugs (and some still are) while Nash never seems to have suffered that fate? He's no preacher, but Nash seems to have understood the line between "being one of the boys," and having serious addiction problems. He was always in the business to make money. I have been watching all these WWE Classic's Legends Roundtable and all the old-timers talk about how these old promoters used to screw talent, do whatever they could to keep their pay down, and sometimes ruined them. Nash was able to essentially turn that on its head, get himself paid and taken care of for life, and used political clout to take care of himself.
More after the jump.
3. I can't help but think there is some truth about Nash's criticisms of smaller wrestlers on top. Don't get me wrong, the greatest wrestler ever is Shawn Michaels, but Nash understands the outlandishness of the business and that McMahon isn't always wrong when he says bigger is better. There is not doubt that both Benoit and Guerrero could not handle being champion. It ignores, of course, Bret Hart, Shawn Michales, and maybe even Steve Austin (among many others), but he's not all wrong.
4. That said, Nash is, in many ways, a waste of talent. He could have been The Undertaker if he ever loved the business the way Taker does. He showed glimpses of great talent and just never seemed to care to put it all together. Even in WCW, he'd come out of nowhere and have an awesome cage match with Booker T or work great tag matches with DDP against O'Haire and Palumbo near the end. But the fact that he has come out the other end of this career and he's not dead or near-dead, that he has all his millions, shows that maybe his cynical me-first approach to the business wasn't all bad when you put it into the context of how the business has killed so many of his contemporaries, both figuratively and literally.
Those of us who watch Daniel Bryan and CM Punk make wrestling into an art-form resent Nash reminding us what pro wrestling is at its core. We still to this day believe that what he says is completely wrong.
But he's not.
While Punk has been champion for nearly a year, his reign reminds me of Randy Savage's first title reign; done constantly in the shadow of the unquestioned star, in this case John Cena. I could watch Guerrero and Benoit wrestle each other for days, but I know the match that put 90,000 people in the Silverdome was perhaps the worst worked main even in WrestleMania history. But Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant put 90,000 butts in the seats.
What I hate about Nash is there is so much more he could have shown us. His matches with Hart, Michaels, Razor, Booker, and Undertaker were amazing. I think the heart of the reason why people don't like Nash is that he took so much from wrestling and got so much from it, and it doesn't seem that he gave enough back. But in many ways he was a pioneer in the way wrestlers have been treated. Guaranteed contracts, big money, and the chance to really take care of yourself for life is now much easier for professional wrestlers to attain because Kevin Nash got that contract from Eric Bischoff in 1996.
His legacy is mixed but it's not always what it seems.
Photo credit: Ming on Flickr.