As I see it, there are two ways of looking at this quote. With objectivity in mind, I’ve looked it at from both sides and have seen the pros and cons of the statement.
On the positive side, I’m quite fond of Abyss. Ever since he donned the mask in 2003, looking like the ‘Super Shredder’ version of Mankind, he’s had a rather noteworthy run in TNA. Initially booked as a monstrous mute, save for guttural growls and screams, Abyss became one of the first “TNA originals” to carve out his own niche.
While not the greatest brawler who ever lived, Abyss found his calling as the classic horror movie villain. In his arsenal was a rather hefty collection of power moves, which are befitting of someone playing a mutant basement dweller with rage issues. To compliment those high impact moves, Abyss showed a willingness to take hard bumps. He’s gone through hundreds of tables. He’s landed on enough thumbtacks to make a case for them to be used as a holistic exfoliate.
It was there that he and AJ Styles stole the show, ending the night with a brutal steel cage match. Never before had Abyss had an opponent who could sell his superhuman power by bouncing off the canvas and the chain link with such athletic gusto. With Abyss able to take hard bumps as well, it made AJ’s comeback satisfying and amazing to watch. It was like a modernized Sting vs. Vader match-up.
Styles won the match to send the fans home happy, but I remember feeling that the bout had MADE Abyss. It was one thing to hold one’s own with the likes of Jeff Hardy, Monty Brown, Kid Kash, among others, but to emphatically close out the night with AJ Styles in what really could have been an outside ‘match of the year’ candidate is a good thing to have on one’s career resume.
At his best, Abyss is a reliable heel monster who’s willing to do anything to sacrifice his body in order to enhance the performance, as one dimensional as that can be at times.
Unfortunately, that’s also his negative.
In the modern world of professional wrestling, not just anyone can be “John Cena”. Whether you love the man, whether you hate the man, or whether or not you want to jam barbecue skewers into his eye sockets, there’s no denying that Cena is the standard for what a main eventer “has to be” in 2010 and beyond, whether we like it or not.
John Cena has the following qualities that make him WWE’s cash cow. In order, it goes: personality, appearance, ‘big time’ wrestling ability, media savvy, credibility, behavior.
So let’s compare, shall we?
PERSONALITY: John Cena connects with the audience, either for better or for worse. He comes off as self-assured, confident, never stumbles over his words, and can sell the conflict with a variety of opponents, enough to the point where he can suck in more than enough fans to buy the shows, buy his merchandise, keep ratings up, and continue to justify his push.
Abyss, however, wears a mask, which hinders his ability to connect with fans to a certain degree. He doesn’t have much experience on the mic, so he comes off, at times, as a blithering fool who’s in awe of Hulk Hogan. To that respect, he’s Lenny Small from “Of Mice and Men”, except in a pseudo-bondage mask. In other words, Abyss has a long way to go to reach Cena’s level.
Abyss looks like Hugo Reyes on Nutrisystem, but still with love handles. Need I say more?
‘BIG TIME’ WRESTLING ABILITY: This isn’t about hurrachanranas and shooting star presses. This is about the “main event wrestling style”, which is the ability to work a 15 minute main event with anyone, without it looking the least bit hokey. Cena’s had plenty of experience, performing in main event matches for over five years with a variety of opponents, so he has it down to a science. Even people who HATE him will admit that he’s had his share of “four star” matches.
Abyss is confined by the LSD-induced booking of TNA, but the big man has performed well with the likes of AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, and many others. Granted, a lot of his matches rely on the usual hardcore tripe, but we’ll go “yay” for Abyss here.
MEDIA SAVVY: John Cena’s done movies, appeared on prime time TV shows, and can be interviewed on Entertainment Tonight without looking like a goof. In other words, if Vince McMahon had to send one wrestler onto the interview circuit to represent him, Cena might be his first choice. Cena held his own on talk shows during the Chris Benoit fall out, and he didn’t look stupid. Mission accomplished.
Abyss….umm….I guess this would get an incomplete. I mean, he’s appeared on “Blue Collar TV” and “The Best Damn Sports Show Period”, but then again, haven’t we all?
CREDIBILITY: John Cena’s name is synonymous with being a famous wrestler. You can make the claim that his very name cracks the pantheon with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Andre the Giant, etc. If you say his name to a school teacher or a co-worker or even your parents, and none of them watch wrestling, there’s a 70% chance that they know who John Cena is. Granted, a lot of that has to do with WWE’s well-honed form of marketing, but still.
Abyss is nowhere near a household name. Ask the aforementioned people in your life. Maybe your teacher will say “Like “Seasons in the Abyss”, the Slayer album?”. First off, that’s as close as you’re going to get to Abyss being recognized right now, and second, your teacher is awesome.
BEHAVIOR: The ability to be a law abiding citizen, as well as avoid being a cancer among the boys in the locker room. Cena stays out of trouble, although the lack of backlash against him may be due to others fearing for their own careers, should they speak out against him. But still, Cena seems like a nice man for the most part.
Abyss seems to be the same way. He’s worked closely with TNA’s creative staff during the early Spike TV run, and you never hear a bad thing about him. He seems eager to please, and has proven to be a reliable hand in a promotion where turmoil is common. So, good on Abyss.
But, of course, a lot of these qualities that are required of a main event-caliber superstar tend to hinge upon how management and bookers set the table. After all, WCW once had Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit under contract in the same three year stretch, and none of them came anywhere close to the heights they’d see in WWE later on.
So, now that we’ve established that a power player like Hulk Hogan thinks SO highly of Abyss that he’s willing to make a somewhat reaching comparison between Abyss and John Cena, you’d think that Hogan would do everything imaginable to put “The Monster” on the fast track and protect him, right?
Hogan’s grand scheme to make Abyss into the next John Cena, apparently, is to make him a starstruck doofus with a limited intellect.
In other words, Eugene with a mask.
The trouble began when Hogan saved Abyss from a massive beatdown at the hands of several heels, including everyone’s favorite camera-hogging non-draw, Eric Bischoff. Hogan took Abyss aside and explained that he had to stop being such a basket case because, damn it, Abyss was once a feared monster who used to rip opponents apart like wrapping paper. Abyss had better shape up, and recapture that old monster spirit, sayeth Hulk.
That was good.
So Hogan gave Abyss his WWE Hall of Fame ring, and indicated that the ring would help give him the guidance and ability to become the top star of TNA.
That was not good.
(Quick sidenote: does every WWE Hall of Fame ring have mystical powers, or just Hogan’s? Because TNA could do a segment where Ken Anderson disrupts the funeral of recently deceased Hall of Famer Baron Mikel Scicluna, and have him snatch the ring from the corpse’s body, so that he can combat Abyss’ power! Or they can become tag team partners with wonder twin rings. I know, bad idea, bad….wait, hang on, I think Eric Bischoff’s faxing me a job offer….)
The problem I have isn’t so much this wondrous hunk of finger metal that Hogan offered Abyss. The problem I have is their association. I mean, I recognize that Hogan is possibly the biggest draw in wrestling history, and that it’s a good idea to try and use some of his rub to make somebody a bigger star, and Abyss is as good a choice as any.
But Hogan, let’s face it….is not cool. Granted, we all mark out when he makes one of his nostalgic one-time appearances in WWE, but that’s not because we want to see him vanquish some villainous title holder and become champion again. We cheer for Hogan out of time-earned respect. He’s a relic from the 1980’s who, if he didn’t have a semi-famous daughter and a forearm tattoo, would be so far removed from “hip and relevant” that his agent would be fielding calls from “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”.
About 85% of us who watch wrestling would at least agree that Hogan is welcome as a fun diversion who’s entitled to pop the fans, since he helped build the industry. As far as his current presence within TNA, let’s make a comparison to another entity.
In the NBA, who would the Hogan equivalent be? I guess Michael Jordan, right? After all, they’re the biggest stars of their eras, and their eras were roughly at the same time, so it works. Both men are certainly world famous, to be sure, and neither one of them can act, so let’s go with that.
If the NBA, much like TNA, found themselves desperate to build its stars, they could re-associate Jordan with their product. Moreso than his ownership of the Bobcats, obviously. So let’s say Jordan was brought in to make, say, Kevin Durant a bigger star. Not a bad idea, since Durant has “future star” plastered all over him.
If Durant fawned over Jordan, generally acted slow intellectually, and his eyes bugged out when Jordan handed him his 1991 NBA Championship ring, would you take Durant seriously?
Of course not. Besides, Kevin Durant would never lower himself to that.
Neither would John Cena.
If Hogan is serious about turning Abyss into John Cena, then he needs to step back and realize that he could never give off a healthy rub by teaming with Abyss, all the while running through his slow 1980’s paced offense.
Abyss needs a fresher look, more time to work with good opponents, and a chance to gain footholds with media outlets before we can make any sort of comparisons between him and the Doctor of Thuganomics.
Sound difficult? It is. Not just anyone can perfect the formula like Cena has, and that’s why he’s a mega star. That’s also why Hogan’s comment about his goals for Abyss looks so incredibly short-sighted and stupid.
Sadly, Abyss is about to learn the hard way that just because Hulk anoints you with “a-mania” doesn’t mean you’re coated in Teflon.
When he isn’t watching WWE, TNA, or his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, Justin Henry can be found writing. It is his passion as well as his goal in life to become a well-regarded (as well as well-paid) columnist or author. Subscribe to The Cynical Examination, his wrestling blog, at http://www.facebook.com.
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