The Greek philosopher Aristotle is renowned through history as one of the wisest men to ever step foot on this planet. In his lifetime, Aristotle thought more about the right way to live and the best path to happiness than just about anybody. At the base of all of Aristotle’s theories was the idea of two extremes: deficiency and excess. Aristotle believed that if a person could apply these two extremes to any given situation and find the mean, or middle point, between the two, by living through the mean that person could have a virtuous and happy life.
In pro wrestling, deficiency and excess are everywhere. You have wrestlers that are giants, others that are the size of your average high school sophomore. You have guys that can give an amazing interview, others that can barely manage to get their own name out clearly. People who can fly, people with a great look, people with great technical skills and then people who seem to have no skill whatsoever.
But more than anywhere else, we can find Aristotle’s classic extremes in the example of the pro wrestling fan. Whereas Aristotle used “deficient” and “excessive,” we have come to use the terms “mark” and “smart.” The mark is the fan that is unschooled in the backstage dealings and inner-workings of pro wrestling. They only know what they see on TV. What they lack in knowledge, they make up for in enthusiasm. The smart is the fan that reads the internet every day and knows everything that is going on in front of and behind the cameras. But for all their knowledge, the smart often becomes cynical and loses the ability to enjoy the show.
The most interesting difference between these two extremes of wrestling fans is in the way they view certain wrestlers; one faction can love one wrestler while the other reviles him. As the marks have historically been in the majority, their opinion will usually decide who is and isn’t pushed, but as the internet continues to expand and the smart fan base grows, so does their influence on the business.
But let us take for a moment a wrestler whom the two factions are clearly split on. Let’s look at him from both a mark and smart perspective and then let’s try something a little different. Let’s attempt to find the mean between the two perspectives, the opinion that would be given by the fan residing between the two extremes; the logical and unbiased evaluation of the wrestler in question. Let’s take Kevin Nash
First a bit of history on the man known today as “Big Sexy” (or known as “The Guy Sitting Out His Contract,” take your pick). Nash became a wrestler following a basketball career cut short by bad knees that would continue to plague him through his wrestling career. At near seven feet and over three hundred pounds, Nash was one of those guys who wrestling promoters at the dawn of the ’90s (and still today) would take regardless of they had been a hoops star or an interior decorator the year before. Nash had an initial run in WCW that was less than spectacular as he was saddled with one bad gimmick after another: Master Blaster Steel (one half of a tag team based on the movie “Blade Runner”), Oz (based on “The Wizard of Oz”), and Vinnie Vegas (a gambling con man). Nash was released in 1994 and moved onto the WWF where he received his big break as Diesel, a character that initially said very little as Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard, but gradually grew into a character that was more or less an extension of Nash’s own personality. While in the WWF, Nash won the Tag Team, Intercontinental, and World titles within the span of a year (and held onto the World title for a year), and also began to hone his backstage political skills as he, Michaels, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, Sean Waltman, and the future Triple H formed the infamous backstage faction known as “The Clique” and marshaled their collective power in order to more or less run the WWF for several years. In 1996, Nash along with Hall jumped back to WCW using their real names and kick started the now, the gimmick that redefined wrestling in the late ’90s. During his ’96-’01 WCW run, Nash finally portrayed the character he had been waiting to play his entire career: himself. He was a wisecracking and cocky “cool guy” who shifted seamlessly between face and heel several times and picked up countless WCW Tag Team and World titles in the process. For most of his career, Nash has used the jackknife powerbomb as his finisher; as of this writing he is sitting out the remainder of his WCW contract and then weighing his options.
THE MARK: It is the Mark fan base that has been more or less responsible for the jumpstart and maintenance of Kevin Nash’s career. It began at the WWF’s Royal Rumble ’94, where Nash was booked to look like a monster, tossing out wrestler after wrestler before being eliminated by a group of almost ten wrestlers teaming up on him. The crowd response to Nash’s Royal Rumble run was phenomenal. When a mark sees Kevin Nash, they see first and foremost a seven foot tall man; furthermore, they see a guy who has long hair, rugged good looks and a cool demeanor; in short, he’s the guy every guy would want to have as a buddy in a fight and that every girl would love to spend a night with. When Nash does a big boot or a powerbomb, the mark loves it, because it is a huge man throwing around or pulverizing other wrestlers who seem like toy dolls to him. When Nash came to WCW and began to do more mic work, mark fans (and many smart fans) gravitated to a new aspect of Nash: his wit. As an nWo member, Nash began to exhibit his propensity for cracking clever jokes and a great sense of comedic timing (his role in the infamous “Arn Anderson Retirement” skit is a perfect example of this). When he took on the nickname “Big Sexy” and began playing up the cool and cocky sides of his characters, Nash was set. Mark fans will always love Kevin Nash because he is both the big monster whom they love to see pulverize the little guys, and because he is the witty, cocky guy that we all deep down want to be.
THE SMART: Though they acknowledge him with a sort of begrudging respect, the smart fans have, and likely always will, hate Kevin Nash. First and foremost is his lack of a moveset and/or quality workrate. Nash uses very few moves, is not terribly mobile, and rarely puts on good matches; while three moves is enough to impress a mark if you’re seven feet tall, it does little to impress a smart. Beyond his lack of in-ring skill, smart fans despise Kevin Nash even more for his backstage actions and his attitude. Nash has served as a booker on several occasions in both the WWF and WCW; each time, Nash pushes himself and those close to him and generally comes up with terrible feuds and storylines (see WCW circa May 1999 for good examples of this with the Steiner Brothers attacking Sting with Dobermans, and Nash himself battling Randy Savage in a feud that saw Savage do up Nash’s face in makeup and Nash dump raw sewage into Savage’s limo, among other catastrophes); Nash also almost always tends to wind up World champion when he serves as booker. Even when he is not booking, Nash has a habit of getting himself “in” with whoever is in creative power, be it Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, or whoever. The smart fanbase sees Nash as selfish, opportunistic, and lazy. That final criticism has not been aided by Nash’s own comments in the past that he really cares very little about his workrate and making others look good so long as he is making money and living the high life.
THE MEAN: You don’t have to like Kevin Nash, but you’ve got to respect the man. Even if you don’t agree with his tactics (and it’s pretty difficult to) you have to acknowledge that the man has achieved tremendous success and sustained it over a long period of time. Nash could be seen as a man living what I would call “the modern American dream”: he has achieved maximum success with minimum effort. He has used what he’s got naturally (a good look and body) and tempered it with an important skill (political savvy) to cover up what he does not have (tremendous athletic skill). People often refer to Triple H as the smartest man in the wrestling business, but I would not be surprised if ol’ HHH gained most of his knowledge from his old buddy “Big Daddy Cool.” Nash is not a stupid guy (breaking away from the stigma of the “big dumb wrestler”); once he got his big break, he recognized that it was principally the marks that make up the majority of the wrestling fan landscape. Nash was blessed in the fact that he already had a look and size that appealed to the marks, and he augmented this by developing an array of cool-looking power moves and highly likeable persona. Finally, Nash created a safety net by learning the ins and outs of backstage politics; this is what Nash hopes will save him should the smarts become the majority (and you better believe that Nash foresees that on the horizon; again, the guy is no dummy). Nash has never cared what the smarts think of him and likely never will; he’s not going to develop a workrate to appeal to the smarts, he’s going to fall back on his connections backstage. The job of the mean is not judge, but to evaluate: in final evaluation, Kevin Nash is truly one of the smartest men in wrestling.
Now the question is, what would Aristotle, a man who lived his life for the pursuit of virtue, think of Kevin Nash?
That, my friends, is a whole other column in itself.