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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Who is the Icon"
Trivializing A Legacy for the Sake of an Ego
October 1, 2005 by Robert Zarp


The word "icon" is frivolously tagged to many wrestlers these days without proper reasoning, solid logic, or bona fide evidence to suggest they are truly iconic figures in this business. While nobody can deny men like George Hackenschmidt, Lou Thesz, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rodgers, and say "Classy" Freddie Blassie, for example, had numerous contributions to the sport of professional wrestling, the days of sports entertainment are plagued by a pestilence of ignorance and egotism that discredit all the contributions of several "superstars." Hulk Hogan claims to be the immortal icon, while Shawn Michaels to this day says he's the icon that can still go, meanwhile his recent pal Ric Flair is seemingly bitter toward the younger generation and still feels that he can be and moreover needs to be in the spotlight somehow. JBL even lays claim to being a wrestling "God."

Not to neglect the contributions of these four aforementioned men, as all five of them have had a definite impact on the business of sports entertainment, and even to some degree on the sport of professional wrestling. However, all four of these men are extremely arrogant, totally brash, and unabashedly narcissistic in their attitude toward the state of the business, in concerns to the past, the present, and the future. In order to understand why these four men who are no doubt well known can not yet be considered icons, one must examine their deportment, professionalism, and attitude both inside and outside a wrestling ring.

With Hulk Hogan, you have an over-the-hill, addled performer that was way past his prime in 1994, yet since then, in the majority of his matches, he has seemingly been able to come out on top, much to the delight, or in some instances disdain, for some wrestling fans. Hogan was never booked as a solid ring technician, as his status was based purely on charisma and hype, not on skill and ability. In that way, Hogan was able to make an impact on the sport by showing that the most popular wrestler may not necessarily be the most skilled. Hulk garnered an impressive six WWF World Championship title reigns, and that was in his heyday; however, upon his arrival in WCW, backstage politicking dictated Hogan six WCW World's Heavyweight Championship title reigns, thereby tarnishing his legacy to a degree. This man has been known to play the game of politics with the best of them to ensure he maintains his status as "the top guy," or at least one of them, and to continually put himself over younger and younger talent. In his last outing, he would not even put over the next man to be examined, Shawn Michaels, for once more the game was played by the bronze politician from Venice Beach. For these reasons, Hogan can not lay claim to being a legitimate icon in the sport, and while his name may be a household name, so is garbage, and it stinks when it gets too old too. By his actions backstage to secure his spot as a perennial top player, to keep the notion that he is a credible World Champion ten years or so after he hit his prime, is simply playing politics very well, not cementing one's status as an "icon."

As aforesaid, the next man to be examined is "The Heartbreak Kid," Shawn Michaels, who like Hogan has a tarnished legacy which makes one hesitant when considering him to be a true icon. No one can doubt that HBK is a phenomenal in-ring performer that carried the WWF along with a few other top tier players such as Kevin Nash and The Undertaker, to name a few, through the "dark ages" before the "Attitude Era," and that he has great skills both in and out of the ring. The first ever WWF Grand Slam Champion, being the first man to have held the four WWF singles competition championships at the time, a 2-time WWF Royal Rumble winner back to back in 1995 and 1996, and an innovator of the WWF, participating in many first matches, including Ladder matches, the Iron Man Match, and the Hell in a Cell Match. No doubt HBK has made a huge impact on the sport and his legacy can never be denied, yet unfortunately for him, that dynasty he established will forever remain sullied because he lacked professionalism and class outside of the ring. Whenever things weren't going Shawn's way, he decided it was time for him to take his ball and go home as it were, showing that when things don't go Shawn's way, HBK goes away. Instead of losing the title at WrestleMania, and helping to build another man's legacy, Shawn decided that he "lost his smile," and it was time to go home. For incidents as such, added with his total lack of regard for the next generation being created, Shawn Michaels can be called a hero, a legend, but he is not a true icon.

While Shawn Michaels found God, one man named John "Bradshaw" Layfield, better known as JBL, decided that he was indeed a God himself, one of the squared circle at least. In a time when people were becoming seriously injured, and some like Brock and Bill decided it was their time to go, WWE needed a new heel to contend for the WWE Championship at the time held by Eddie Guerrero. JBL, with a smug smirk and total arrogance as he made his way to the ring, was a natural heel that truly annoyed the fans enough to where they were ready to see anybody defeat him once and for all. JBL was able to hold onto the WWE Title for an unprecedented 10 months, quite a lengthy title reign by WWE standards in quite some time. He defeated Guerrero in a Texas Bull-Rope match and a Steel Cage match; he defended his title against The Undertaker two PPVs in a row, once in a Last Ride match; he was able to overcome Booker T; then he was somehow able to defeat Guerrero, Undertaker, and Booker in a Fatal Four Way match; then in a Triple Threat match he usurped victory over Kurt Angle and The Big Show; in his final defense, he won over Big Show in a Barbed Wire Steel Cage match. The man overcame several obstacles, and with each successful title defense, the fans became even more bloodthirsty for his fall. JBL was finally a major player, but a "God" he is not. In an unexpected move during their feud, JBL decided to hail all his German fans in a tasteless salute that not only landed WWE in hot water, but ended John's appearances on most news shows and even led to his own show being cancelled. Recently, at ECW One Night Stand, JBL was said to have been very rough in the fight at the end of the show, legitimately bruising Blue Meanie's face and nearly breaking his nose in the process. Once more, a strong dynasty was mired by the pure ego of one man, and the sheer lack of professionalism both in and out of the wrestling ring, thereby making JBL more a top player, but not a legend, not an icon, and most certainly not a "God."

Finally, for this list to come to a close, we must evaluate the legacy of one man whose consideration in this article may be considered pure blasphemy by some wrestling fans, but regardless of personal bias, one must acknowledge the entire scope of the career of Ric Flair before considering him to be an icon. To be fair, no one person could ever deny the contributions Ric flair has made to this business, nor can one be blind to the sacrifices he made to strive and survive as one of the most well known and respected wrestlers ever. Amassing numerous championship title reigns in several promotions all across these United States, and even all around the world, Ric Flair certainly knows his way inside the wrestling ring. At a time when being muscle bound and overpowering was almost essential to being a success in any promotion, Flair was able to show in the 1980s a more technical wrestling style mixed with dirty fighting tactics that truly made him a standout performer. However, much like Hogan, Flair surpassed his prime in the early 1990s, yet to this day he remains in the squared circle, and furthermore, over time, his professionalism outside the ring has deteriorated. When the WCW President at the time Jim Herd decided that Ric Flair was not essential to the company's success, as laughable as that seemed, Flair handled the situation in a very selfish manner. Instead of handing over the World's Heavyweight Championship belt, he decided to keep it and show up on WWF Saturday Night's Main Event with what he called "the real World Title." While this was fresh and compelling programming, the fact remains that this was the antithesis of how to handle the situation in an ethical ilk. Although some may claim Flair was as big a politick backstage as Hogan and Randy Savage for example, the truth is that WCW rarely pushed Flair to the top during his tenure in the dying days of that company as he was perpetually portrayed as a fool. However, that is not to say that Flair did not discredit any of the work by the younger performers, especially those of the cruiserweight division, as Flair is a known opponent to that style of wrestling. In his autobiography, Flair even goes as far as saying that men like Bret Hart and Mick Foley were not credible champions that were anywhere near his level. Sad to say, Ric Flair has become rather bitter toward many wrestlers from his time as well as having a keen disdain for a wrestling style that strays away from the "traditional." With Ric having this attitude, his legacy becomes tarnished somewhat, as he is undeniably a legendary figure in this business, but to claim he is an icon is not to be.

With all these men claiming to be the icon of professional wrestling, some may have to wonder who truly then is an icon of this sport. Chances are the men that can be said to be true icons of the squared circle are those that never claim to be one to begin with. Look at a man like Bret Hart that contributed so much to the industry yet does not try to maintain a status as "the top guy" in the sport. Take Terry Funk as an example of a man that knew when his time was finally over, and was able to conduct himself with total professionalism in and out of the ring as well as helping create a solid foundation for several wrestlers of the next generation. Even Mick Foley can said to be an icon, a man that was so professional in the way he handled himself as a pro wrestler, yet he never put himself over as the one and only "top dog." Who is the icon" Well, in all honesty, only time will ever tell.

by Robert Zarp ..


Gino wrote:
I just read your article, and all of your points are valid, and then I thought of two men who completely fit your criteria... The Rock and Mick Foley...

Both men have achieved greatness in the WWE, both men have achieved greatness outside of the WWE (Rock with his actual mainstream popularity in the film world, and Mick with his string of successful novels), and, to me at least, both men never tarnished their legacies. The Rock, although he left the WWE to pursue acting, never made it seem like a springboard to acting. He was always willing to come back and push the next big thing up the ladder a little (Brock Lesnar, Goldberg) and not take up all of the viewer's time, proclaiming himself the best. He comes back for spurts at a time and gives this men a rub to get them over with WWE fans. As for Mick, he did the same thing with Orton (and Batista when teamed with The Rock at Wrestlemania 20) and quickly exits, as to not overshadow the actual contracted talent. I think both of these men deserve icon status also because both never overstayed their welcome, and left on top.
Mike Nichols wrote:
Terry Funk" He did NOT know when his time was up. The guy had 87 "last" matches. Mick Foley" As much as I like the guy, he never reached iconic status. Bret Hart" If he is an icon than so are Michaels, Hogan, and Flair. Hart stirred the pot just as much as those three. Moreso after he was forced to retire but he did it nonetheless. In my eyes, Hart, Flair, Michaels, and Hogan ARE icons but they do have a tainted record. If you want to look at the definition of an icon it is: 1. An important and enduring symbol. 2. One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol. There is a man who fits that mold to a T. The Undertaker. He is an important and enduring symbol who is the object of great attention and devotion. The guy has a legacy that is like no other. He has given so much to the WWE and wrestling in general that it is almost an insult to Mark Callaway for you to have left him out of your article. He has won numerous championships. He is undefeated in 13 Wrestlemania apperances. He is a WWE mainstay for the past 15 or so years. THAT is an icon.
shan Zafar wrote:
Your saying Ric flair is not a icon" How can you even think that" Ric flair is the MAN and the reason he kept the WCW title when he left was because at that time who ever was the champion had to leave a deposit and when Ric Flair was Leaving WCW that idiot Jim Herd would not give flair his deposit back instead he told flair to take the title and leave not realising what impact that would have on the business when flair would would show up on the rivals show with the world title".And by the way bret hart is a true Icon.
Adam Veltri wrote:
Good article but as I was reading through your article and as you discounted the guys you didn't think deserve status; I was wondering does anybody deserve that status" Thankfully, someone mentioned the Undertaker because by going by your definition he is a guy who has maintained his position at the top while conducting himself with professionalism by putting over guys consistently like the Rock and Foley, who you mentioned. However, I'm not sure that guys that weilded power like Flair and Hogan should be discounted as icons. It just makes them not necessarily great guys behind the scenes. Not everybody liked Babe Ruth and now- Barry Bonds (yeah - even with the steroids) but there is no denying their great status in the game of baseball. Bret Hart was no different either as he refused to job to Michaels at Survivor Series as I'm sure that is not the only example. Steve Austin was another that just left when he was sick of the writing team. It is evidently also a game of politics backstage with the success of Flair, Hogan, Hart, HBK, Austin and Triple H have all continued to have. You don't nessarily have to play that game to be a success with Taker, Rock, and Foley all being examples, but it definitely helps one maintain it. I think all these guys definitely deserve the "Legend" status. As far as being an "Icon", the WWE kind of has made that definition to be someone that changed the business so to speak and Hogan fits that bill. Hogan brought mainstream popularity to wrestling as Steve Austin has. The WWE gives HBK that status because they say he changed they style of wrestling in the ring. I'm not sure he alone deserves that credit though as Hart is just one of the guys that also contributed there. Hart and Michaels both paved the way for Benoit, Guerrero, and Jericho to have the success that they have had. However, that definition of an icon is a kind of limited as I think it should be combined with being on top (no matter the means) for a very lengthy time period. Flair and Taker would fit then along with Hogan, Austin, HBK and Hart. Foley and Rock put a lot of guys over like the Taker but their runs at the top are no where near the sizes as Taker, Flair, and Hogan's.
adam kennedy wrote:
You can claim that the Rock is the icon but he was never truley on top. When he was at his absolute best (1999-2001) Steve Austin or Triple H was always paraded as the top dog in the buisness. The Rock was an amazing athlete and may be the best known wrestler of all time (at the moment i'd rank him ahead of hogan in the most known chart, Hogan ahead of Rock in draw value). There never will be an icon of pro wrestling. Maybe the man that truley represents the buisness is Ric Flair, a hell of a wrestler with an attitude that sucks
Chris Dalgleish wrote:
_*What about Steve Austin. Although he carried himself somewhat unprofessionally after getting the sack from WCW. Sting" And in regards to Ric Flair and 'The Real World's Title'. He didn't refuse to give it back as such. Jim Herd and WCW wouldn't pay him his money back so technically he owned the belt.Vince McMahon could've been included in that column. What about other non-wrestlers like Earl Hebner or Gordon Solie. Bobby Heenan" What about Roddy Piper" What has he done wrong" That's the thing about 'legendary' blokes these days. Most people go by that WWE Hall of Fame thing and don't think about others. Raven could even be considered a legend in some people's minds.
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