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  1. #1
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    KOTC R1: What does it mean to be TRULY elite?

    Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and Curt Hennig have more in common than you think, but the metric by which we always gauge someone as elite prevents these two studs from ever being thought of more than they should be.

    Dan Marino, as a rookie in the NFL, took over the quarterback position for his team in week 6 of the 1983 season and threw 20 touchdowns, leading the Dolphins to a 12-4 record. The next year, he broke the mark for most passing yards in a season, and by 1985 he competed in the Superbowl.

    He never won a championship.

    Mr. Perfect had a 2-year undefeated streak, was one of the final 2 participants in the Royal Rumble in January of 1990, and would go onto win the Intercontinental championship in May of that year.

    He, too, never won a world championship.

    For both Hennig and Marino, they will forever be unfairly judged for situations that really were out of their control.

    Dan Marino never had a runningback to take the pressure off of him throwing, with only one Dolphins runningback ever going over 1,000 yards for Marino's career. In the only super bowl he ever made it to, his defense gave up 38 points. Hennig never had the luxury of working his prime in the brand split era where lesser talents were given opportunities with many television shows and more championships to compete for.

    Curt was fantastic in the ring and utilized every second of every match with pin point psychology. Watch any documentary that has to do with him, and general consensus was that he backed up the name and the gimmick. Certainly a different time and a different context would have afforded him the opportunity to be a champion.

    Championships are important, but they are not the be all end all when gauging how good someone is. Marino is left off of most "greatest of all time" lists because he never won the big one. Hennig is not in the conversation with the elites because he never carried a company and never won a world championship.

    Titles are window dressing, complementary pieces of hardware that should be placed alongside individual accomplishments and not on top of them.

    So what does it mean to be elite if it's not championships?

    To me, it's the ability to span different eras and mean something to different generations of fans. I learned this lesson and came to this epiphany about why I think a certain individual stands in a class by himself from my daughter of all people.

    A couple of weeks before Wrestlemania XXX, we watched Hulk Hogan make an appearance on RAW and do his usual shtick of cupping his hand to his ear and pandering to the fans for a nostalgic pop.

    "Why is that old guy with fake hair wearing sunglasses?"

    My daughter didn't know the history of Hulk Hogan, but as an impressionable 7 year old at the time, she saw something for what it was.

    "When I was your age, he was the coolest. He's probably considered to be the greatest of all time," I responded.

    I proceeded to bring her to the WWE network and show her clips of Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant and facing the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania.

    "I don't understand why the guy with the face paint wasted all of his energy running to the ring and then snorts for no reason," she added.

    Seeing wrestling through a child's eyes is great. My daughter can watch the product with no partiality towards previous eras. No matter how hard I attempted to let her indulge in my nostalgia and sell her on the fact that these larger than life characters like Hogan, Warrior, Savage and others really were the greatest ever, she wasn't buying it.

    When I truly think of someone being elite, perhaps it's the ability to stand the test of time that should take precedence over everything else- mic skills, drawing power, wrestling ability, and championships included. With the PC culture, #MeToo, and everyone viewing things in a different prism now, maybe the attitude era will only be celebrated as the greatest by those who lived through it. Perhaps guys like the Rock, Stone Cold, and others we consider great will be judged harshly for their behavior. As we go another 50 years into the future, will Ric Flair's in-ring prowess and colorful personality hold up to a generation that is less forgiving of past mistakes? As racism continues to divide us, will Hulk Hogan continue to get the benefit of the doubt and be featured on TV?

    There is one man, however, that I do think will be remembered. One man that in 40 years I may be able to sit down with my future grandson or grand daughter and explain his greatness without much effort. One man, whether he is considered the greatest of all time or not, is in an elite class by himself.

    He opposed Hogan as something unique and fresh in the Hulkamania era, challenging him to the likes of which we had not seen up to that point. He, along with Shawn Michaels, were the glue that held the new generation era together in 1996 when the nWo was in full swing and the company could have shut its doors. He's the man you don't hear negative locker room stories about on YouTube, because said stories don't exist. He was a leader to the boys, and just about every generation of fan since 1990 remembers him for different reasons. He was truly a phenom, and he was elite.

    When I think of the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak, I don't compare it to anything athletically. It's not comparable to Brett Favre's ironman streak of 297 consecutive starts at a demanding quarterback position, Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak in baseball set back in 1941, or Tom Brady's record 9 superbowl appearances. When we think of an impressive Wrestlemania win streak like he has, we must do so under different pretenses. After all, wrestling is fictional.

    Think of Kelsey Grammar who played the character Frazier Crane for 20 years on television- the first 9 years on the show Cheers and the latter 11 on his own spin off show named after his character. If you are a good athlete, opportunities for streaks are there. To me, it's more important that the Undertaker stayed culturally relevant enough to be a prominent player at each and every Wrestlemania for as long as he did. The WWE progressed into a brand split and had more mouths to feed than ever before, yet the Undertaker found his way onto a card that had pressure to be good each and every year, a card that needed its featured matches to deliver. To not only be featured for 2 decades but win is a comparable accomplishment to playing an engaging television character for 20 seasons and having an audience demand it for that long.

    Screen rant ran a poll that said that 65% of shows get cancelled in their first season. The point? Having an audience beg for your services over a sustained period of time like that says a lot about a character and certainly puts you in a class all by yourself.

    Here's the most important piece of convincing information I can tell you about why the Undertaker is elite and in a class different from everyone else. When I was 7 year old, unbeknownst to me, I witnessed the beginning of the streak when I ordered Wrestlemania 7 on pay-per-view March 24th, 1991. I slept with my light on that night and checked my closet for Paul Bearer. My young and impressionable self knew that a real threat was among the WWE and here to stay. I just didn't know how long it would stay.

    Fast forward 8414 days and I watched that very same streak end at the hands of Brock Lesnar with my then 7 year old daughter. If you have kids who like wrestling then you'll already know how special a moment like that is when, just for a second, your fandom intertwines in some weird time/space continuum. We both got to see the Undertaker at the same age in the same timeline within the streak. How cool is that? How rare is that?

    Taker never needed the belt to be relevant, he never needed to be the man to carry the company, and he never needed to speak often like the Rock- but he just might be the one we advocate for in 50 years when others don't stand the test of time. Maybe "elite" all along was never about titles, a mic, your ability to wrestle, or be the top draw.

    Maybe elite is bridging the gap between a daughter and a son and staying relevant to all ages. That's the kind of stuff that doesn't show up in the record books.

  2. #2
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Good stuff Type, this was quite a fun read although most of the sports references fell completely flat, I think the only one name I knew was Tom Brady but that is certainly a cultural thing, I've no doubt any Americans reading will know exactly what you're talking about.

    I also felt like things switched from taking about Mr Perfect to Taker in the middle somewhere. While both are fantastic examples of wrestlers whose work has stood the test of time in different ways, it felt a little like the switch came out of nowhere.

    Still I'm just being picky because it is a comp, all around this was a fun read and it is great to have you back kicking around.

  3. #3
    HUGE Member TheLAW's Avatar
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    I love me a good BIG Evil Respect column!

    I, like Sam, originally thoight this was going to be a Mr. Perfect piece. So i got a little confused, BUT I understood all of the sports references. USA! USA! USA!

  4. #4
    You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here
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    Echoing Sam's thoughts, it was a noticeable shift in the primary argument when you moved to the Taker section. Thus, it never shifted its theme, but it did essentially tell two different stories. Accordingly, I didn't think it flowed particularly well. It was reasonably engaging and it was well written, though, and I did enjoy the sentiment of it.

    My daughter has gravitated toward Charlotte Flair in the infancy of her wrestling fandom. My dad was a big fan of the Nature Boy. One of my fondest wrestling memories was sitting next to my dad in Orlando at WrestleMania 24 watching my all-time favorite retire his, and we used to WOOOO via text in the four years after that until he died eleven days after my daughter was born. Now, she wears a Charlotte shirt that says WOOOO and does the WOOOO herself. A lot of intersecting fandom there too.
    Author of The WrestleMania Era book series, author of The Doctor's Orders columns on LOP since 2010, LOP Columns Hall of Famer, former host of The Doc Says podcast on LOP Radio (2013-2018), former LOP Raw and WWE PPV Reviewer (2006-2007), and former LOP Smackdown Reviewer (2004-2006)

  5. #5
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    And this column is why Undertaker has a HUGE case for greatest of all time. He was never the focal point of the show but he was certainly top 5 from an importance standpoint at all times. Perhaps he will go down as the greatest some day but I think because most people only put the star of the show in that argument that he might get overlooked as greatest of all time. He certainly outlasted them all through almost every era of WWE.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the feedback. I was proud of this column but i will say that I kind of knew in the back of my mind that i didnt transition points the way I normally believe im strong at doing. Maybe it was the deadline aspect or overthinking things after Plan set the bar so high. Nice to be back writing, clearly I have to shake off some rust

  7. #7
    I am not that big of a fan of Taker, I always felt more inclined towards the Technicians like Kurt Angle and Jericho. That being said, Taker will always be a part of wrestling history, as a case of longevity and his body of work as a legit big man. He could brawl, play submission counters and do slow storytelling matches like Mania 25.

    This column is not your best work, but hopefully it is enough to bring you to the next round.

  8. #8
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    Good column, Type. Hardly an error on the technical side of things (only that the actor’s name is spelled Grammer, not Grammar), so you are in smooth sailing with regards to that aspect.

    Structurally, I thought both “halves” to the column, independent of themselves, flowed extremely well and told a nice story each. The formatting of the column section that compared Marino and Perfect was nicely laid out, both in terms of aesthetics and content. In the second half, going from the discussion of why Hogan and Warrior fail to meet your bar in the manner that Undertaker succeeds to the discussion of Undertaker felt like an organic flow and natural build to the piece de resistance. My only point of contention is that both “halves”, when pieces of a whole, felt a bit too segmented. I was getting right into the Marino/Perfect comparison, digging it, and then felt a little shifted upon the transition to the Taker section. I almost found myself looking for when you were going to relate back to the opening stanza!

    I say, “a bit too segmented”, mind – not tremendously so. Maybe that extra level of fluidity finds its way in there with an opening of “What does it mean to be elite?” and then structurally including the Marino/Perfect portion on the same side of the bread as the Hogan/Warrior stuff.

    Putting on my very keenest nitpicking spectacles, I’ll pick on the instance where you mentioned the hesitation to compare Taker’s WrestleMania streak to athletic feats. You hit the magic number with the three examples, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tiny kernel of neuroticism in me that loved your first two examples (Favre’s streak and DiMaggio’s streak) a lot more than the third (Brady’s feat which isn’t a streak in the truest sense of having it be consecutive). Maybe go with the Patriots’ streak of making it to the AFC Championship game for 8 consecutive years instead? Then all three examples follow that pattern. Really minor thing, of course!

    Love the Frazier comparison, and I especially love your stat on cancelled shows. That really puts into perspective how harsh (relatively speaking) of an audience the field is dealing with, and therefore how triumphant something must truly be to beat it not only once, but year after year. Really nice thing about this inclusion is that you mention it, but allow the reader to get that message without blatantly typing it out. To continue the analogy, I wouldn’t be surprised if 65% of WWE wrestlers lost their first WrestleMania match! (You know, given the number of multi-person matches that go on now, it must be higher than 50%).

    I also enjoyed the feel-good aspect of the column…though I will admit that my guess is that I, as a slightly colder, slightly more distant wrestling fan than some, enjoyed it slightly less than the average reader. I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for a second, and probably be a bit of a dick in the process. By stripping away the bells and whistles – which I really oughtn’t do, as they are wonderful supplementary pieces to your argument and not superfluous – your position really comes down to the Undertaker being elite due largely to his ability to be impactful and loved across generations. Would a similar, if slightly diluted, argument that Kane would have a more rightful claim to being called elite than Stone Cold Steve Austin not have at least some merit, based on that?

    To earnestly argue that would be ignoring parts of your entire tenet (though not the core of it), and I promise I’m not actively embracing that counter-argument. But I think, with the sharpest needles and the most diligent of searching, something in that vein certainly could act as a counter-argument to poke a hole in your argument. To put it more succinctly, I love what you are describing as something you and your daughter could share even when both were 7 years old – I just don’t know if I’d buy 100% in that “Elite” is the perfect description of that. “Transcendental”, maybe?

    All that said, that was again simply taking a Devil’s Advocate stance, and when we’re really doing nothing more than splitting hairs on word definitions, it goes to show that it’s a pretty soft critique. The most substantive critique I have is in the segmentation feel from the two halves of the column. Overall, I do think this was a well-written and enjoyable column, and I think you came out swinging for this tournament.

  9. #9
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    Tough draw you got my friend.

    The column for me seemed very disjointed. I dug that initial discussion of Curt Hennig and tying it to Dan Marino in terms of championships and such and whether or not that alone makes a wrestler/athlete ELITE. Then the column turned, and it even turned a little bit more. For me it never really found the flow that it needed to truly make the point you were looking for.

    In terms of idea you were there. In terms of execution I think you fell short. I know it's been a bit since you've written regularly and I think it showed here. Not a bad effort though; hopefully you'll get another chance.

    Good luck!

  10. #10
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    You’ll find few fans who love Mr Perfect more than I do, and I agree in a different time and place he very well may have become champion. There are other factors at play, no doubt, but it’s a valid point. Your daughter’s critique of the Ultimate Warrior is spectacular. I think it’s very hard to fully appreciate an era you didn’t live through. Undertaker is indeed a pretty easy character to “get” and may be more accessible to those in other eras, though it’s hard to judge until he fully hangs up the boots. Longevity is in his favor also, as you alluded to. I wanted to hear your daughters reaction to Undertaker. I think there’s also an aspect of recency bias to address, but an interesting piece.

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