Off The Ropes: Stop Throwing Around the Term “Legend” by Hab Rich

If you’re older than 35 and have watched professional wrestling for more than the last twenty years, this evolution should be fairly easy for you. If not, you might have a little trouble, but should still continue to read nonetheless.

First, think of your favorite wrestler. Easy enough, right?

Second, think of your favorite wrestlers best matches, let’s just say your two favorites.

Third, what, if any, impact on the business of professional wrestling did they have? Getting a little tougher, right?

Fourth, if they’re no longer actively wrestling, would you pay to see them get one last moment under the bright lights?

Finally, would you call them a legend?

To facilitate this process, allow me to answer my own questions. Bret Hart is and will always be my favorite wrestler. His IronMan Match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12 and his “I Quit” Match against Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 are two of his matches that I can watch over and over again. In terms of his impact on the business, I’d say he had plenty; as he (along with Shawn Michaels) helped to usher in a period in WWE where they weren’t relying on the prototypical 6’6”, 300-lb bodybuilding type superstars. These ‘smaller guys’ were going out there and putting on phenomenal matches and winning over audiences with actual wrestling. I would certainly pay to see Bret wrestle again, but considering his health, I’d just pay to see him at any type of ‘Legends’ event. I think I answered my last question with the previous sentence, because he most certainly IS a legend.

Still with me? Good! Do forgive me for burying my thesis paragraphs-deep into my column, but I’ve had my particular fill of folks throwing the term ‘legend’ around so carelessly. I know, I know, it’s a subjective term so there’s very little chance of a universal agreement, but when certain former personalities or ‘superstars’ for that matter, don’t really fit the legend criteria, I just think it’s blowing smoke up their asses.

I understand that there might be wrestling fans out there whose favorite wrestler had very little impact on the business, but maybe they enjoyed their matches or promos so much, and to them, that makes that wrestler a legend. I cannot and will not fault another fan’s logic, as I don’t want my own assailed. With that said, whether I agree with you personally on whether your favorite wrestler is a legend or not is NOT the reason for this column. It’s purpose is actually for us to find some common ground on superstars and/or personalities who are not really legends.

My made-up criteria can be applied to any current or former wrestler, and I think it would universally hold water, but another reason for this column is because of the recent emergence of a certain former superstar onto my Twitter timeline. This individual, a former valet for another Hall of Famer, was present during many classic matches back in his day, and may have even gotten involved in a few. I know the next sentence might be a little inflammatory, but I understand that in professional wrestling, everyone has a part to play and this particular gentleman’s part was that of a flunkie, masquerading as a bodyguard; a fake tough guy who barely won any matches, and quite frankly, was a big loser (I know, I could have come up with a better word than ‘loser’ but cut me some slack here).

If you haven’t figured out that I’m talking about Virgil, then shame on you. If you think he’s a legend, then double-shame on you. I understand he has to make a living and there are promoters out there willing to pay for his presence, but cease and desist with the talk of him being anything close to a legend. Sure, he was there, but ask yourself if his role couldn’t have been played by anyone else….go ahead, ask yourself, just be honest when you answer. Now, if you’re in that minority (no pun intended, but still chuckle-worthy) that believes he is an actual professional wrestling legend, then I’m sure seeing him finally defeat Ted DiBiase at SummerSlam 1991 for the Million Dollar Belt was the highlight of your fandom.

Not to be outdone, Marcus Alexander Bagwell is making the news rounds on the count of his new documentary. In one tagline I read where he (along with Sting more than likely) was one of two superstars that were there from the beginning to the end of World Championship Wrestling. This was news to me; not that I spit out my coffee after reading it or had to run and tell someone but news nonetheless.

If I can keep it real with my readers and call a spade just that, I’d rather watch a WWE Network special on The Repo Man’s top ten matches than to be caught dead watching a Buff Bagwell documentary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sometimes fascinating to see and hear certain superstar’s stories as it relates to the business of professional wrestling, but Buff’s is one I don’t particularly see burning up the torrents. None of my legend criteria would even remotely apply to him, unless you count he and Booker T putting an entire audience to sleep on Raw shortly after the Invasion angle.

Again, I understand that a man’s gotta make a dollar and Buff was fortunate enough to do so in a business that doesn’t readily discard former stars (unless you’re a racist or a double-murderer). But honestly though, are you in a hurry to see the documentary of a career midcard wrestler whose biggest claim to fame and exposure came from riding the coattails of the New World Order? I’m also purposely leaving out his more recent headline exposure as an alleged adult playmate (Google it at your leisure).

There’s a fine line between paying respect to someone who has been there and done things within the industry and declaring them a legend just because they did. Calling Virgil a legend or attempting to sell me a Buff Bagwell documentary clearly crosses this line with gross disrespect.