Note from John Canton: Zac Soto was one of the seven writers picked to write for TJR in our 2013 Writer Search held this month. This is the column that earned him a spot on the site. Enjoy.
Heel Honor Roll 1: Kevin Nash
Every great hero needs a villain, and Heel Honor Roll is a column in which we take a look at some of the most effective heels in the business from history and today. Each week we'll discuss one of the many miscreants, jerks, and all around bad guys that we have (at least at some point) come to love in wrestling, and examine how they got doing wrong so very right.
Kevin Nash has become an object of scorn to modern wrestling fans. Much of this ire seems to be the unfair result of a bias against big men (wrongheaded because a great hoss fight is as good as any great lucha shootout) and rumors of Nash's involvement in the death of WCW (unfair because that murder has too many perpetrators to leave any one with the majority of the blame).
That said, some of this is certainly his own fault. Nowhere is this more true than in a controversial interview in which he threw copious amounts of shade at Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, two stars who have earned both mainstream success and critical respect. Despite all this, Nash dismissed both as "not bigger than life," adding, "I bet they could both walk through airports and not be noticed unless they have a gimmick shirt on and the belt." Leaving aside that this is simply not true when considering the talents and accomplishments of both Bryan and Punk, what makes this statement even more unfortunate is that Nash is leveling in retirement exactly the kind of wrestlers that he would have elevated with his particular personality and skillset as a heel.
What makes Kevin Nash the retiree seem bitter is exactly the sort of statement that would have made Kevin Nash the wrestler the perfect adversary for these two superstars to overcome. Because when Kevin Nash was at the height of his powers, he had a unique combination of larger than life presence, and brutal, disdainful honesty that made him a truly detestable heel.
Disdain came easy to Nash in his best work as a heel, which took place in WCW. He and Scott Hall arrived riding a wave of sneering disgust for the promotion, if not for the industry as a whole. Capitalizing on the fans' knowledge of his history, Nash derided the roster he was "invading" as beneath a superstar such as himself. While this claim has been made by many a cocky heel, Nash's undeniable physicality took it out of the realm of hollow pride and turned it into real menace. After all, it was one thing for Scott Hall to swagger onto the set of Monday Nitro and declare himself a king; it was another for this towering monster of a man to do so.
Nash's stature, when combined with the passion with which he spoke, gave the boast-turned-threat a hint of credibility that only made it more threatening. We all knew Scott Hall couldn't single-handedly dominate the entire WCW locker room, but Nash's sheer size at least let us believe that Nash thought he could. This is, of course, where truth and honesty are divided; the former is something definitively proven, but the latter is something genuinely believed, and while it may in fact be false, it is likely rooted in something real. It is this foundation of reality that generates the passion with which fans respond to the most hated heels. We hate them because we believe their claims to dominance to be a lie; we hate them even more because some part of us wonders if they're telling the truth.
Nash's work in WCW against The Giant, now known as WWE's Big Show, is a particularly effective example of Nash's combination of physicality, personality, and honesty turning what would otherwise be boastful arrogance into something uniquely fearsome and ugly. At WCW's Souled Out in 1998, a botched attempt at Nash's signature Jackknife Powerbomb resulted in the over 500-pound Giant being dropped squarely on his neck, an image that still creates unease in the viewer all these years later. Yet even though it was clearly a mistake, the moment became a defining one for WCW, and the credit for this goes to Nash's stellar work in promoting the act as an intentional act of irresistible power.
The viewer knew Nash was far from dominant over the Giant; we'd seen him play the cowardly heel in the weeks prior to the pay-per-view. Nevertheless, Nash's promos in the aftermath of the incident adamantly defined it as a lesson to be learned rather than a fluke. Nash's sheer delight in what he had done to his opponent, combined with the fact that he had, in fact, injured the Giant, made clear that he believed the injury to be one that he could repeat again. Hell, for all we could prove, he could. After all, for all of the circumstantial evidence we had that Nash wasn't actually stronger than the Giant, Nash had a notch in the win column that he could lean on for as long as he wanted, which he did incessantly to great effect.
Again, this is where honesty becomes a weapon in the arsenal of the truly memorable heel. We knew the spirit of what Nash was saying to be utterly false, and yet viewed at its most technical level, it wasn't an invalid statement, and Nash spoke with enough conviction to shake our faith. Nash straddled the line between schoolyard bully and terrifying monster beautifully, one minute a vulnerably arrogant liar, the next a proven destroyer of worlds. The fact that you never knew which was the real Kevin Nash was what made him that much more wonderfully loathsome.
This combination of cocky disdain, brute force, and fervent belief became a calling card for Nash, and made him an amazingly effective foil to any number of heroic opponents. Watch him gloat over being the man to break Goldberg's astonishing undefeated streak, and your anger is only increased by the fact that he'll always have that win to take out of context.
Listen to him dismiss young talents like AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy in TNA, and you have to acknowledge that on some level, however petty, Nash is right; the bona fides of these men pale in comparison to decades of accomplishments (indisputable accomplishments, to hear Nash tell it). As with all great heels, Nash's gifts were not only beneficial to his own connection with the fans, but with that of his opponents. Nash's work helped cement Hardy and Styles as "main guys" for TNA. Hell, his work with the Giant made a literal giant into a sympathetic underdog.
Somehow, Kevin Nash could always make you hate him so much that any indifference toward his opponent turned into support by default. In short, he was compelling enough to make you care about both him and his opponent. We always responded, and that is because Kevin Nash at his best was both a fraud and a prophet at the same time, standing firm on arguments that we knew to be patently false and yet were somehow, maddeningly, correct the way he stated them.
Viewed in light of Nash's career, his recent comments on Punk and Bryan, and more importantly the anger surrounding them, are just the natural extension of the heel he was when wrestling. Yes, we know what undeniable talents CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are, but then again, standing next to Kevin Nash physically, and compared to the bombastic persona he exuded and accomplishments he was able to achieve during his time in the ring, Nash's statements become believable; he is and has been bigger than anything Punk or Bryan have achieved up to this point, and, considering the odds and the era, bigger than anything they may ever achieve in their entire careers.
We know that he's wrong for saying it, and that his whole concept of what makes someone "bigger than life" is one taken wildly out of the context of the eras of the wrestlers involved, and that, dammit, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are superstars who deserved those championship reigns. And yet…wrong as we may believe him to be, we can't entirely dismiss what he says because he has, through sheer force of might and charisma applied throughout his career, earned enough credibility to believe what he says enough to make us question our own beliefs.
That's why we've always hated Kevin Nash, not because of the things he says, but because of how he makes us doubt the things we say.
Starting next week, Zac Soto's columns will regularly appear on TJRWrestling.com on Fridays. You can email him ator comment on the column below.