The Mean 11.05.01: Test

Before we get to the meat of the column, let’s run through the “for the two people who care about Ben’s opinion section (kinda long this week, feel free to skip it):

We got some comings and some goings here at 411; everybody else has taken a chance to discuss them, so why not me (seriously, why not)? First the coming: Scott Keith, the Netcop himself, is now a regular here on 411. A big dream for me as he was the first guy I read religiously on the web (second actually, after the subject of the “going” portion of this column) and I truly do think when motivated he is perhaps the best read on the web when it comes to wrestling. I find it sad that somebody who once loved wrestling so much has become as cynical as Scott has, but given the amount of time he’s devoted to the business over the years, it’s understandable; and even negative, Scott is still an amazing read. It is definitely very cool to have one of my biggest influences writing wise (I’ll admit it) and somebody’s whose book I friggin’ own posting on the same site as me; welcome aboard Scott, we’re glad to have you.

Now the tougher part after months of teasing, Hyatte is abruptly gone. For readers who only saw Hyatte ribbing me once or twice in his news column, you were given the wrong impression that we somehow disliked each other. While I never knew Hyatte that well, I did speak to him a few times, and it was always fairly civil (couple of exceptions, but hey, the guy’s a powderkeg). Hyatte was the first person I ever read on the internet regularly and the first column (the Mop Up back in the Scoops days) that I actually looked forward to each week. I truly believe at his best, Chris was one of the funniest (Mop Ups) and the best (AAT) writers on the web; his ability to go from funny, to serious, to down right sick was phenomenal. Most importantly for my standpoint, Hyatte got me this job writing The Mean, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Hyatte, you will be missed, but I know you did the right thing for you at the right time; you left a legacy with me, Grut, Flea and others, and though we’ll never be you (although Grut can get pretty delusional), we’ll do our best to do you proud.

Also, on Smackdown, the Dudley Boyz made history by becoming the first team to win the ECW, WWF & WCW Tag titles. Now of course the race for ECW TV/WCW U.S./WWF IC is on as well as maybe World title Triple Crown. For the first, I’d say RVD would have a shot, but it’s looking like he may leapfrog that area (U.S. at the least), but since Rhyno is only one IC title away (same with Tajiri, but not looking so likely), I’d say he’s a safe bet. As far as World title goes, really the only guy with a legit chance is Rhyno, as Raven, Tazz, Mike Awesome, Tommy Dreamer, Justin Credible, and Jerry Lynn are all firmly in the mid-card. Ironic that all the guys who Paul E. put his World title on are treading water while the only truly over ECW guys in the WWF are RVD, Rhyno, Tajiri & Spike Dudley; the first only held the TV title, the second the World title for like five minutes, the third tag belts and a week long TV title reign, and the last two very brief Tag titles.

Enough of my rambling, onto the real show

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 Test…

Once upon a time in wrestling, it was great to be labeled “the next big thing;” these days, it seems to be the kiss of death more often than not. I’d have to say the origin of the term’s downward spiral came about circa early 1997 with something I like to call the “Rocky Maivia syndrome.” See Rocky got a decent enough initial response from fans that the WWF billed him as “the next big thing” and pushed him to the moon. The fan backlash was harsh, putting today’s Undertaker haters to shame (given how over Rock is today, this really seems like a lifetime ago). As a result, I can not remember, with the possible exceptions of Kurt Angle (but he already had name credibility coming into the WWF) and Rob Van Dam (still too soon to tell) in which the WWF has quickly pushed a newer guy based on initial reaction. Chris Jericho and Edge were over out of the gate, but had to wait years for their push; Rhyno is still waiting; Val Venis and D’Lo Brown may have given up by now. But there has been no bigger victim of the “Rocky Maivia syndrome” in the WWF in the past couple years than Test.

There was a period in mid to late 1999 when Test could have been put over Triple H and handed the WWF World title, ahead of The Rock, Steve Austin, Mankind, and others, and to this day I think fans would have bough it; he was that over. Instead, after spending months getting over, Test was buried in heel tag teams for the better part of two years (with a brief excursion during early 2001) and is only now barely breaking out of that shell. What went wrong with Test? Let’s examine his career and see if we can’t find out

Andrew Martin was a wrestling fan and bodyguard for such bands as Motley Crue (a fact you will hear repeated countless times if you watch WWF reruns from late 1998) who wanted to parlay his muscular build into a career in the WWF. He turned to then-WWF employee Bret Hart in 1997 in hopes of breaking in. Hart helped with Martin’s initial training, and got him introduced to Canadian WWF contacts and involved with the WWF’s “dojo.” Vince McMahon, always a fan of marketable big men, saw potential in Martin, and offered him a contract in 1998. By this time Hart had gone through his infamous split with the WWF, and encouraged Martin to join him in WCW. Though he felt a loyalty to Hart, Martin had already gone through the WWF training program and did not feel like taking any steps backwards, so he took McMahon up on his offer, politely declining Hart’s.

Using his real name, Andrew Martin competed in East Coast independents, most prominently PCW and the ECWA, drawing decent reviews from WWF scouts. He was quickly moved up to RAW and debuted onscreen as the bodyguard of visiting band Motley Crue, ironically enough a role he had played in real life in the past. The next week, out of nowhere, still being referred to as “the bodyguard of Motley Crue,” cost Triple H his shot against WWF champion The Rock and ended the show with his arms raised alongside The Rock and Shane McMahon, the two most prominent members of the Corporate Team, the WWF’s top heel stable.

Despite Test’s rather unexpected high-profile debut, he was relegated to becoming the Corporate Team’s principle mid-carder (and “Hired Gun,” as Michael Cole said roughly 10,000 times) for the next several months, mainly teaming with the Big Bossman and learning the ropes from the veteran. He didn’t develop much of a personality or have any terribly significant feuds, but this was the WWF’s intent; they wanted to develop Test first as a wrestler and then as a personality, the first (and most logical) step to avoid “Rocky Maivia syndrome.”

Test got his first big pay-per-view match at Wrestlemania XV in March of 1999 when he and D’Lo Brown were the last two men left standing in a pre-show battle royal in which the survivors would go onto face World Tag Team champions Owen Hart & Jeff Jarrett later on in the show. Putting Test in the ring with two established wrestlers like Hart and Jarrett, who could easily walk a newcomer through a good match, helped allow Test to showcase the combination of power and agility he was sculpting into a decent in-ring style. In addition, teaming him reluctantly with babyface Brown allowed him to show his first signs of personality. Though the Tag Team title match is hardly the most well remembered match of Wrestlemania XV, it served its purpose as far as Test and his role in the WWF were concerned.

By the Spring of 2000, it was obvious that somebody with the last name McMahon had a soft spot for Test; most evidence to this day supports Shane as the benefactor, but I’m sure Vince played a role as well. Though the powers that be were for the most part able to rein in their enthusiasm and not push their new talented big man to the moon immediately, he still had spikes of ridiculous booking, the first being his debut, the second being his face turn and subsequent teaming with three established main eventers, Mankind, The Big Show & Ken Shamrock, as the anti-Team Corporate Union. The Union did not last long, but to his credit, Test began getting over as a modest babyface. By the time the Union split, he was considered over enough to be given the mid-carder’s equivalent of a golden ticket in his storyline with Stephanie McMahon.

One night, when Steve Austin became CEO of the WWF in one of those quirky 1999 storyline twists, one of the things he did was grant each active member of the Union whatever match he wanted (Mankind was injured, and thus got his medical bills paid for). Big Show actually proved smartest of the group surprisingly enough, asking for a match with World champion The Undertaker, Shamrock, the brain surgeon, wanted a Lion’s Den match with Vince McMahon, the evil leader of the Corporate Ministry, and Test wanted a date with Vince’s daughter Stephanie?

It seemed like a soap-opera angle destined for failure, but for whatever reason, fans ate up the Test-Steph relationship. Stephanie was actually tolerable on television at the time, playing the sweet, naïve young girl, while Test really demonstrated his acting chops, portraying a burly but sensitive wrestlers who was just looking for a nice girl (he got down on his knees to ask her out! Female fans swooned while nice guy male fans said “he’s one of us!” as for everybody else, guess there wasn’t enough of them). Test got very over very fast, caused no problems backstage, and continued to improve in the ring, becoming probably the most agile and versatile big man in years. They teased putting the IC title on him one week on HeAT and the fan response was tremendous (though they ended up leaving the belt with Jeff Jarrett).

Test had the proverbial “golden ticket” in his relationship with Stephanie, and the perfect foil in Stephanie’s overprotective older brother Shane McMahon. He was not a trained wrestler, but Shane more than made up for his lack of training with enthusiasm and exuberance, and a strong desire to make Test look good. In the weeks leading up to the “Love Her or Leave Her” match at Summerslam 1999, Test squashed his way through Shane’s buddies The Mean Street Posse: Rodney, Pete Gas, and Joey Abs. Of the posse, Abs was the only trained wrestler, but there purpose was not to have good matches with Test, it was to let the big man destroy them and make him out to be a monster, a task they were more than up for.

The match with Shane stole the show. Both men were perfect in their respective roles. Test was a destroyer, and without having to give and take as he would in a normal match (he wasn’t in there with a “wrestler”) he could focus on his strength: his incredible offensive arsenal which ranged from hard-hitting powerslams and powerbombs to graceful flying elbow drops that should have been impossible for a man his size. Shane cheated his way to a few offensive maneuvers, but everybody knew why he was in there: to get his ass kicked, and Shane did it with panache. The fans took to the hated Shane getting destroyed with vigor, and when all was said and done, when Test and Stephanie embraced in the middle of the ring, some cheered for love standing triumphant, while others simply hailed their new hero. Were Test today a multi-time WWF champion, we would look back on his match with Shane McMahon at Summerslam 1999 as the match that “made” Test but this was not to be.

Vince McMahon made a babyface turn a few weeks after Summerslam to provide some opposition for new heel World champion Triple H, and as a result Shane was turned face as well. This all affected Test as well as Stephanie reconciled with her brother and father, Shane suddenly professed the respect he had gained for Test, and the two became buddies. The explanations given were non-sensical, but with the over no matter what side they were on McMahons all on Test’s side now, he was even more over than before.

The WWF fumbled a bit in the fall of 1999, not having Test wrestle as much and building his character more, having him and Stephanie get engaged and Stephanie subsequently get amnesia then recover (yes, Vince Russo was winding down his run). The problem here was that Test was still raw on the microphone, but fantastic in the ring, but fans weren’t getting to see that. A potential feud with Davey Boy Smith, the guy who accidentally gave Steph a concussion and the European champion at the time to boot (a perfect title to put on a rising star like Test), was blown off in a single cage match on RAW; it was especially strange as Smith was just as directionless as Test at the time, but look at a pay per view from the time period (Survivor Series 1999 for example) and you can see that the focus was on building Triple H and the main event scene without much concern for the mid-card, a trend that would expand in the months to come.

Test became more of an armpiece for Stephanie McMahon, appearing with her, Vince, and Shane on television. He did get some main event level matches as a result of the booking, since as a character he was the boss’ future son-in-law. Test put on good shows with Triple H, and got to be the star of a big eight man elimination match pitting HHH’s DX team against Test, Kane, Shane McMahon, and The Rock the week before Survivor Series 1999, in which Test scored the winning pinfall on HHH after interference from Steve Austin and Arnold Schwarzengger of all people!

The problem was that while Test was getting some decent matches and a significant push on RAW and Smackdown, he didn’t wrestle at Unforgiven, didn’t wrestle at No Mercy, and didn’t wrestle at Survivor Series; after that fantastic match at Summerslam, Test had gone three months without a match on pay per view. Much of Test’s time was devoted towards building towards the inevitable marriage to Stephanie. One problem was that fans were trained at this point to expect a swerve, and knew Steph and Test were not going to end up married; this would of course do something big for Test, but it sucked heat away from him as all his segments were leading to a goal everybody already saw. The bigger problem was that the WWF’s lead writer Vince Russo jumped to WCW in October of 1999.

Many wrestlers who found great favor with Russo suffered when he left, but Test was no friend of Russo, he simply got screwed over because Russo was scripting his “marriage.” Worried that Russo would somehow give away whatever twist ending the WWF had in mind, the WWF put off the marriage which led to the lack of wrestling (presumably the marriage was to have occurred in the early fall, and Test would not have had to sit out so many pay per views). When the marriage finally did occur on a “very special RAW,” as expected the happy couple did not walk down the aisle in a semi-surprising twist, just prior to the marriage the villainous HHH, thorn in the McMahon family’s side, revealed via video footage that he had drugged Steph over the weekend and married her in Vegas.

HHH was no longer WWF champ when he “married” Steph, so a feud with Test seemed perfect as without the World title involved (a title Test clearly was not yet ready to win), there would actually be some question in the fans minds over whether the established superstar would continue his run at the top or the young stud would go over. But instead, HHH feuded with Steph’s 50+ year old father Vince, while Test lost to Al Snow in a match shown on Heat before Armageddon 1999. At the same pay-per-view, Steph turned on her father and revealed that she and HHH had been in cahoots all along. Vince left WWF television and another fantastic opportunity for Test to feud with HHH, now once again WWF champ, arose. Test was not as over as he had been during the summer, but he was garnering some sympathy as the “jilted” lover and fans expected to see him get at least a match or two with the man who stole his fiancée (and heat source). Instead, Test faced DX members such as X-Pac and hired guns like Big Bossman, with the implication being that he would eventually get to HHH; he never did.

To appease the somewhat vocal and alienated Test fanbase, Test was given a run as Hardcore champion, but the division didn’t really suit his style, and after he lost the belt to the diminutive Crash Holly, he lost just about all of whatever babyface heat he had left. He started to appear infrequently on television (as his former fiancée and her new hubby were ruling the main event scene), sometimes teaming with Val Venis (another man who saw an early push die hard) putting over new WWF acquisitions like Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn.

When Trish Stratus, a buxom Canadian fitness model, was hired by the WWF in early 2000, the writers could not get her on television fast enough. She wasn’t particularly gifted in the art of public speaking, but Stratus was gorgeous, well-endowed, and in good enough physical shape that she could easily be taught to play at least a semi-active role in wrestling. The WWF was hopeful that Stratus would fill the void that had existed for nearly a year since Sable had left the Federation; a role that Debra could not fill due to commitments to her injured husband Steve Austin, that Chyna could not fill because it simply wasn’t her, and that girls like Terri, Tori, the Kat and Ivory were just not right for. Stratus simply needed some up and coming mid-carders to attatch her to, and luckily for Test, he and Stratus were old friends. Test and Stratus were paired with the former Prince Albert (no just Albert), another very versatile and talented big man, as the T & A stable.

Test & Albert formed an impressive heel power team, but a bad pay per view debut against Al Snow & Steve Blackman at Wrestlemania 2000 took them out of the immediate title contention picture (which it was rumored they would be pushed towards immediately). Venis was added to the stable in June and managed to win the Intercontinental title, but he, as well as the T & A team were clearly just accessories to give Trish a reason to get out there; far less than Test deserved given where he had been a year prior.

The fact that T & A became on-again, off-again hired guns for the new heel stable that included HHH, Steph, Shane & Vince (the latter two having once again turned heel), it was starting to show that the WWF was anxious to erase all memory of Test’s near push (though they did thankfully acknowledge tension between Test and Steph, making for some nice segments). Test’s friendship with Shane was also reaffirmed during this period, a point that would become key a year later.

At King of the Ring 2000, T & A was involved in a fourway match for the Tag Team titles, involving champions Too Cool as well as The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian. It was widely speculated that T & A was being prepped for a run as heel champs and would go over in the match (having been feuding with the Hardyz, the team expected to win the belts and hold them for a significant duration in 2000) in the weeks leading up, but Edge & Christian became unexpectedly over as heels and the fan response warranted them going over at King of the Ring for the titles. T & A and the Hardyz wrapped up their feud at Fully Loaded in July with a six person match also involving Stratus and the Hardyz’ valet Lita, with the Hardyz going over and winning the Tag titles from Edge & Christian a couple months later (ironically enough E & C ended up getting so over that even the Hardyz’ reign proved brief, and E & C ended up getting yet another run).

Venis left the stable towards the end of the summer, and the WWF became anxious to move Stratus away from T & A to erase the “mid-carder” stigma, envisioning bigger things for her. Fortunately, the WWF was again recognizing the potential of both Test and Albert as well (Test was finally given a singles match against HHH and a pre-match promo to express a year’s worth of rage, a really well done semi-shoot interview about Test resenting HHH getting all the success Test felt he would have gotten had he “married” Steph), and decided that they would go for the full monty, breaking up the team as well as the stable and give Albert a heel singles push, and resume the babyface push for Test that had been shuffled aside a year earlier.

The storyline went that Trish wanted to advance in the WWF by getting close to Vince McMahon, who had recently “divorced” his wife Linda. Initially, Trish worked towards a relationship with Vince by doing dirty work for Steph (though they would later feud). Steph had one stipulation for Trish in order to become her henchwoman: she could keep Albert around as hired muscle, but she had to ditch Test.

Albert and Trish both turned on Test in a tag match, and quickly allied with Steph. The next week Test had the opportunity to take on both his former teammates in a Handicap match, but lost when another McMahon thug, European champion William Regal, attacked him. For the second time in two years, the WWF decided to forego the logical feud for Test (in this case Albert), but this time rather than demote Test, the purpose this time was to skip a boring feud and give Test a significant singles title, and establishing him as a legitimate potential main-eventer by having him obliterate Regal, a competent veteran and champion, and a man who had just come off a mini-feud with Steve Austin.

Test had a solid, if not spectacular stretch during the winter of 2001. He wrestled and defended his title successfully against the best of the WWF midcard, although more often than not on Heat and Jakked rather than RAW or Smackdown, and he still couldn’t make it back onto pay-per-view. Still, the fans very getting up on Test, who had focused on his in-ring intensity and being able to tell more of a story with his offense; he was no longer a “nice guy,” he was a monster, a character with a lot more staying power.

Just prior to Wrestlemania XVII, Regal sent former European champion Eddie Guererro after Test, and just like so many before him, Guererro fell to Test and his devastating new big boot finisher. Guererro received a rematch at Wrestlemania and managed to come out on top, but only with the help of his Radicalz teammates Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko. The fact that it took three men to beat Test allowed Test to showcase his offense by pounding Guererro, but gave Guererro the opportunity to get over as well.

Following Wrestlemania, Test came to the aid of his former enemy and old friend Shane McMahon, now riding a wave of popularity having defeated his heel father in a street fight at Wrestlemania and having purchased WCW, promising to invade the WWF. Vince signed his son to a Last Man Standing match with the 500 pound Big Show at Backlash, but when Shane was grossly overmatched, Test came to his aid, knocking the monster out. For the next month, Test feuded with Show as well as ECW import Rhyno, even getting another brief Hardcore title reign. Test was in a good place, high in the midcard, being put over as the best of the WWF’s big men.

And then came the Invasion. Shane McMahon brought in the former WCW roster and invaded, and unsurprisingly the popular Shane lost his face heat and turned heel, bringing his invaders with him, and the home WWF team, including Vince, turned full face. The Acolytes appointed themselves head of the WWF midcard and gained word of a mole within the WWF leaking information to Shane. Everybody suspected Test due his past ties to the younger McMahon and an Acolyte led beatdown ensued. Weeks later when ECW joined the Invasion on WCW’s side, it was revealed that WWF commentator and former ECW owner Paul Heyman was the mole, and the WWF apologized to Test, but it was too little, too late. Test took a few weeks off of television, then returned to cost The Acolytes the Tag Team titles, now a member of the WCW/ECW Alliance.

Since becoming an Alliance member, Test has stepped his power game up another level and has pulverized everybody from 140 pound Spike Dudley to the massive Kane. He has also once again formed a tag team, this one with former WCW World champion Booker T; the duo has held both the WCW and WWF Tag Team titles. Unlike his previous teams, in his team with Booker, both Test and Booker also wrestle high-profile singles matches (Test is currently pursuing Edge’s Intercontinental title and looks to have a decent shot). The announcers put Test over on every show, and it appears he’s finally on the verge of greatness but we’ve heard and seen it all before. Is it for real this time? Let’s take a look

THE MARK: Test is a big man, an impressive visual, but the challenge for him is setting himself apart from the other big men, because he’s not the biggest, the tallest, the strongest, or the most colorful. At first, Test’s draw was his relationship with Stephanie McMahon, then later with Trish Stratus. Now Test’s extra added quality is his ability to wrestle with a more exciting and varied offense than your average big thing. This is what is best, as valets come and go, but talent stays as long as a wrestler works hard, and Test has proven he will do that. So long as Test goes out of his way to set himself apart from the rest of the “big man” set, he’ll remain at the very least moderately over with the mark fans.

THE SMART: Test isn’t a particularly important name one way or the other on the internet. smart fans appreciate that he can do a beautiful flying elbow drop as much as any other fans, but I can probably list a hundred other guys they’d rather see pushed over Test. If he has a bad match, they’ll jump on him, but they jump on anybody. If he has a good match, the internet will give Test his due, but don’t call for him to be pushed to the moon. Back in mid-1999, when the smarts were very anti-HHH (the times they change or do they), they did call for Test to go over him, but they would have been happy if anybody went over him. The smarts are generally apathetic to Test.

And finally

THE MEAN: It’s not hard to envision an alternate world where the WWF capitalized on Test’s mid-1999 popularity, put him in the sensible feud with HHH, and maybe even have given him the World title. Would he have gone on to become a superstar on par with The Rock & HHH? Would he have been another victim of “Rocky Maivia syndrome?” Who knows, only one thing is really for sure: it may have been the best thing for Test, it may have been the worst thing for Test, but it would not have been the best thing for the WWF. By having HHH feud with Vince rather than Test, by having HHH marry Steph, by pushing Cactus Jack and The Rock as his opponents and putting HHH over, the WWF built one of the biggest superstars ever, and helped keep the Federation alive during the year Steve Austin, their biggest star, was injured. Test may have been sacrificed in 1999 and 2000, but his sacrifice opened the door for HHH, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, and much of the WWF’s current success. Test proved the ultimate team player and the word is that he didn’t complain once.

Now it’s two years later and Test has been patient; I really do think his time has come. I’m looking forward to Test over the next couple years. I’m a Test fan; I like his offense, I think he’s becoming a better interview by the day, he’s a hard worker, and he can only get better. I do think he is the best and most versatile big man in the business. Whether or not he ever makes the main event, only time will tell, but he’s talented and dedicated (and big) enough that he’ll always have a place at the very least. Test made quite the sacrifice in 1999, and I do believe he will be rewarded in due time. It would have been cool to have seen WWF Champion Test in 1999, but if he ever does earn it for real, it will be much better, and the WWF as well as Test will be ready for it. Will the time ever come? We shall see.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.