The Mean 7.2.01: Jerry Lynn

Well, despite being out in the woods doing manual labor for the past week for the summer camp I work at during July, I’m spending the wee hours of the morning while my girlfriend sleeps to belt out a new edition of everybody’s favorite philosophy based pro wrestling column; you can thank me later.

Pretty similar feedback to the Scotty Steiner column from everybody who wrote. As for other wrestling stuff, I haven’t been able to watch for a week (no TV in the wilderness), but hey, my pick for KotR won it all! All hail the reign of the King of Awesomeness! Now then, let’s get into it…

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each week I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two. This week, let’s take a look at Jerry Lynn

We’ve all heard it before: “nice guys finish last.” A phrase that isn’t heard as often is that “guys who work hard in their field and are good at it finish last.” The only place this phrase is really heard is in the pro wrestling business…and you can generally hear it being used to describe former ECW World and WWF Lightheavyweight champion Jerry Lynn. Let’s take a look at where the man has been…

Jerry Lynn got his start in the Minnesota independent scene in the eighties. He made his first big impact in the early ’90s in the now defunct Global Wrestling Federation (also home to Harlem Heat, Buff Bagwell and others) in a series of matches with a young man named The Lightning Kid, real name Sean Waltman, today known as X-Pac. The matches were high-flying technical spectacles (with Waltman’s incredible bumping style and Lynn’s finely honed technical expertise) not seen on North American soil ever. It caused both men to get noticed by promoters all around the world and both travelled to Japan to compete for a variety of promotions. However, the next step each man would take would b very different.

Waltman went on in 1993 to debut in the WWF as the 1-2-3 Kid, and has since gone on to success both there and in WCW as Syxx and X-Pac. Meanwhile, Lynn found himself bouncing between the U.S. independents, Japan, and Mexico, loved by promoters and putting on grea t matches, but never getting called up to the “big time.”

The problem was that Waltman had always played the heel in the feud and was seen as being the one with enough personality to make it on a national level. In the first of many strokes of irony that would plague Lynn’s career, though both he and Waltman had worked hard in their series, it was principally the more grounded Lynn who planned and carried the story of the matches. Lynn was an avid student of the athletic aspect of wrestling and even early on in his career was a master of putting on great matches. The problem was that as the nineties went on, wrestling was shifting more towards entertainment and interview skills were becoming an invaluable commodity…a commodity Lynn was missing.

As WCW head Eric Bischoff was changing the face of wrestling in the mid-nineties, a major part of his plan was to introduce elements of the Japanese/Mexican brand of wrestling (more wrestling, less entertainment) to fill his mid-card and get audiences excited for the slower, but more well known guys at the top of the card. For the most part, he did a great job pushing guys like Rey Misterio Jr. and Juventud Guererra, but he dropped the ball with Jerry Lynn when he brought him in in 1995. Feeling that an American simply competing with foreigners wouldn’t be enough to get Lynn over (although the intention was never really for any of the foreign guys to get over), Bischoff created the “Mr. J.L.” gimmick, placing Lynn under a Mexican style mask and bodysuit. But rather than simply bill J.L. as another luchador, Bischoff billed him as “an American wrestling and dressing a Mexican style,” a ridiculous gimmick that killed Lynn’s WCW career pretty much out the door. He had one decent match with Sabu at Halloween Havoc 1995, but for the next two years was relegated to the syndicated shows and tours of Japan before being fired following an injury.

Lynn was picked up by the WWF for a couple of matches in late 1997 basically only to put over Taka Michinoku to help establish the new WWF Lightheavyweight division. Though he didn’t win a single match during his short WWF stay, the mask was off and WWF announcers were the first to play up the “misused by past promoters” side of Lynn, mainly out of spite towards WCW, but it was something that Lynn’s next employers would play up heavily.

Towards the end of 1997, Lynn moved to Paul Heyman’s ECW. Famed for taking guys that nobody else could make stars and getting them over, and also home to fans who appreciated good wrestling as much as a good interview, ECW seemed like the perfect home for Lynn. Even more Lynn’s past was played up as ECW was emerging after years as competition for the WWF and WCW and was eager to take shots at their competitors. Nevertheless, this didn’t change Lynn’s success ratio as he lost his first few singles matches to Chris Candido and Justin Credible before being placed in midcard tag teams with Tommy Rogers and Chris Chetti. Once again Lynn was planning out and putting on great matches (particularly with the still green Credible), but the fans saw none of this, only Lynn getting beat.

Just when it seemed as if Jerry Lynn was destined to languish in the midcard for good, Heyman came through. On a routine episode of ECW TV in the spring of 1998, Lynn was given an upset win over Credible, who at the time was in the midst of a huge push. Throughout the summer of ’98, Lynn and Credible put on an amazing series of back and forth matches reminiscent of Lynn’s earlier series with Waltman (unsurprising as Waltman and Credible had been friends for years and had similar in-ring styles). Heyman’s brilliant strategy worked, and the workrate loving ECW fans took to Lynn in a major way.

Following a three way feud with Lance Storm and Mikey Whipwreck that solidified Lynn even further, at the beginning of 1999 Heyman decided to take the next step. Lynn was moved into a feud with Television champion Rob Van Dam, ECW’s most popular star and a man who had held the belt for over a year and seemed unbeatable. Rather than turn Lynn heel, Heyman simply made the matches clean and scientific, playing up the competitive spirit of both men. At two consecutive pay per views, it seemed as if Lynn had RVD beat, only to have the champ pull it out at the last second. The strategy of Heyman again worked as Lynn was now seen as the guy who had come closest to beating a guy who was unbeatable.

With Lynn on a roll and RVD ready to move up to World title contention, Heyman probably should have moved the TV title onto Lynn in the fall of 1999, but for some reason hesitated to pull the trigger on a push for either man. Instead, RVD continued squashing mid carders, and Lynn was put in a feud with Yoshihiro Tajiri. Heyman’s failure to pull the trigger on pushes and advance storylines is a big factor in the eyes of many towards what eventually ended ECW.

ECW was dealt a harsh blow in early 2000 when RVD and Lynn both went down with serious leg injuries. When both were set to return, Heyman tried to salvage both men by placing them against one another at Hardcore Heaven 2000 and playing up Lynn being jealous of the attention RVD received while injured. Unfortunately, despite getting the upset (finally) over RVD at the pay per view, Lynn still lacked the interview skills to play a decent heel, and was quickly moved back to the squeaky clean, technical babyface role in the summer of 2000.

At Anarchy Rules 2000, Jerry Lynn received his biggest break ever as he went over longtime rival Credible to win the ECW World title. Credible had been a failure as an experimental champ, and a guy who was over with the fans was needed to salvage the title. Unfortunately for Lynn, he was never intended to be anything more than a transitional champion, and lost the title to Heyman’s new pet project, Steve Corino, a month later.

In the final months of ECW, a heel push was again attempted for Lynn, giving him Cyrus as a mouthpiece. ECW fans still didn’t buy “nice guy” Lynn as a heel and the push failed even as the promotion came to a crashing halt in January of 2001. Lynn has the dubious honor of being the final loser of a televised ECW match, losing to RVD one last time in the main event of ECW’s final pay per view, Guilty As Charged 2001.

Fortunately for Lynn, he had improved enough and become a big enough star in ECW that the WWF came calling. Lynn made his WWF debut prior to the Backlash 2001 pay per view and beat Lightheavyweight champion Crash Holly for the title in his very first match. It seemed as if the WWF was pushing Lynn as the dominant force in the LHW division, giving him decisive victories over Holly, Michinoku, Brian Christopher, and Dean Malenko. However, again issues came up as Lynn was unable to forge a personality for himself, straddling the face/heel line as usual, and his push was abruptly ended when Jeff Hardy beat him for the title in yet another ironically great match; Lynn has not been seen on WWF TV in almost a month.

So is Jerry Lynn destined to spend his entire career making others look good? To be fair, he has achieved more in his career than plenty of other wrestlers, but there are those who would like to see him pushed even to the next level. Is it possible? Let’s take a look…

THE MARK: Jerry Lynn is another wrestler in the Chris Benoit mold who gets over during his matches rather than prior to them. Lynn was very little interview skills, and one could almost call his bland, nice guy demeanor his gimmick. Once he gets in the ring and starts pulling out great moves and sequences, the fans start popping, but even a month into his reign as LHW champ fans still didn’t know who he was as he walked down the ramp. Furthermore, Lynn doesn’t have a very distinctive look (average build, long blond hair…seen it all before), another knock against him.

THE SMART: Lynn is a favorite on the internet, but not to Chris Benoit or Jericho levels. There is the occasional outcry for him to receive a bigger push, and he certainly has his cult fans, but there are always about ten or more guys ahead of him on the smart fans “why isn’t he getting pushed” list. Jerry Lynn is a guy who smart fans give high star ratings to his matches and label him a good worker, but they’re in no hurry to see him get too many World title shots.

And finally…

THE MEAN: Alas poor Jerry Lynn, because it really does seem like the adage discussed at the beginning of this column is true in his case. In a WWF with so much talent and so many guys who can both work a great match and deliver a good interview, it is no surprise to see Jerry Lynn lost in the shuffle. Until he can develop interview skills, Lynn gives short attention span minded WWF fans no way to remember him from match to match. ECW shutting down hurt a lot of people, but Lynn is certainly at the top of that list. ECW fans were a rare breed, and the only type who could really appreciate a guy like Jerry Lynn. In ECW, where substance mattered over style, Jerry Lynn had finally found a home.

The upside for Jerry Lynn is that there will most likely always be a place in wrestling for him, unfortunately it just won’t be at the top of the card. Wrestling will always need guys like Lynn, Malenko, and the like to put on solid technical matches to wow the crowd, help the new guys, make guys look good, etc. Even after his active career is over, I would not be surprised to see Lynn flourish as a trainer. But for all his hard work and skill, it is truly sad that wrestling can’t find a better place for a guy like Jerry Lynn. I for one would like to see him on TV more often in any role. Will that happen? Only the WWF knows for sure.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.