Tuesday, March 15, 2022

RIP Scott Hall (1958-2022)

The wrestling community is reeling today from the loss of Scott Hall, taken at age 63 due to surgery complications.

Given how fast things move in the pro wrestling industry it's easy to forget that Hall was an integral part of not one, but two hugely influential 90s events, not to mention one of the unlikely success stories in getting an offbeat gimmick over.

I first became aware of Hall thanks to a 1988 issue of Wrestling Superstars magazine, which included a feature about wrestling's strongest men.  Hall was ranked in the 30s somewhere and I noted his resemblance to Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. (in fact his first ring name was "Magnum" Scott Hall).  However the first time I saw him on television was in 1989 when he was brought into the NWA as part of their young talent initiative.  He had an obviously impressive physique but a forgettable persona, and thus got lost in the shuffle, only to resurface two years later with a completely different look, as Diamond Dallas Page's new prospect, The Diamond Studd.  For the record I had no idea this was the same guy at this point.  This gimmick didn't have much success either and Hall once again never got out of the undercard.

Then one Saturday morning in 1992 the WWF showed the first of a series of vignettes designed to introduce their newest signing, Razor Ramon, a foul-tempered, gold-chain-decked Cuban heel with an obviously fake accent, shown bragging about his street toughness and bullying various vendors and restaurant workers.  My first impression as a sixteen-year-old was that this character was goofy and cartoonish and wouldn't go anywhere.  

Then I saw his in-ring debut.  
From the vignettes I pictured Razor as 6'2", 240 pounds, about an average-sized WWF wrestler in 1992.  On seeing him in the ring however I was staggered to see just how enormous this guy was.  His power-oriented offense was explosive and dominant and he flattened some jobber with stiff strikes and stomps, before hitting a second-rope back suplex (a rare high spot at the time) and a breathtaking crucifix powerbomb called The Razor's Edge for the easy win.  From then I was invested in this character.  His accent may have been bad, but he was a convincingly dominant monster heel and he sold the character so well he managed to become one of the era's biggest attractions.  This is maybe the earliest instance I can remember of a wrestler's in-ring presentation totally winning me over when his gimmick failed to do so.

It helped that the company immediately got behind Razor, aligning him with Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect in their feud with WWF Champion Randy Savage and spotlighting him a few months later in a Title match against new champ Bret Hart (an early career highlight for Hall and one of the more underrated matches of the 90s).  By late-1993 Razor had turned babyface and won his first Intercontinental Championship, amid a Shawn Michaels suspension.  Since Michaels never lost the title, this was the perfect setup for a match at WrestleMania X to determine the undisputed champion, and history would be made in dramatic fashion.

When I first learned that Michaels vs. Razor would be a ladder match, I must confess I groaned.  I'd only seen two ladder matches before, one from 1987 between Dusty Rhodes and Tully Blanchard, a sloppy, disorganized brawl with awkward action, and one from 1992 between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, which I found plodding and quite disappointing.  Thus I went into the 'Mania X match expecting not to like it all that much.  What I got instead was one of the most gasp-inducing stunt shows I'd ever seen up to that point; these two worked a fast-paced, intense wrestling match for the first half and then pulled out all the stops once the ladder was introduced.  After nineteen minutes and numerous insane high spots, Razor climbed the ladder to retrieve both Intercontinental belts and cement his place as one half of maybe the most influential bout of the 1990s.  Yes this match seemed tame only six years later when the TLC match was invented, but HBK-Razor served as the template for the high-intensity big-spot bout.  Twenty-eight years later its influence can still be felt, and though it's been said that Shawn Michaels had a match with a ladder and Razor just happened to also be there, we shouldn't gloss over the fact that he more than held up his end of the bargain.

Razor's WWF career would only last two more years, as he'd develop drug and alcohol problems and be pushed down the card after facing his own suspension.  But then the revamped WCW came calling, and Scott Hall would make history again.

On May 27, 1996, Hall helped create a different kind of 90s template: the surprise debut.  Right in the middle of an inconsequential match, Hall emerged from the crowd dressed in street clothes, entered the ring with a microphone, and hijacked the show, declaring "I go where I want, when I want."  It was a moment that felt real and unscripted, and began a slew of 90s WWF stars jumping ship to WCW, a strategy that made the company feel much more cutting edge than their importing of 80s stars.  Weeks later Kevin Nash would follow suit, and the pair of ex-WWF invaders would add the biggest star in the industry to their ranks.  Thus began one of the most successful angles in wrestling history, the introduction of the New World Order.

Say what you will about WCW's follow-through on this burst of creativity; the long-term planning was clearly not there and the nWo's success burned out much faster than anyone predicted, but their invasion of WCW is still to this day one of the most significant events in wrestling lore and Scott Hall fired the first shot.

For any wrestler to have a pivotal role in even one such key event is more than most could even ask for, and Scott Hall got two of them.  In spite of his numerous real-life struggles, which did take their toll on his wrestling career, he still managed to make a major impact on the pro wrestling industry.

Rest in Peace Scott Hall: 1958-2022 

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