Heel Honor Roll #10 - Scott Hall
There's something that feels perverse about looking back at Scott Hall's time in WCW now that it is cloaked in the context of a then-unknown future. It's interesting to look back on that time now and see the trajectories of each of the founders of the NWO. Hogan becomes a living legend, and now a sort of lion in winter at TNA (where, I should add, he has recently done some of his most interesting work in years). Kevin Nash becomes the antihero, railing against times that were and times that are, living in the freeing sort of fame that comes from never having been "THE GUY", but always having been one of "the guys" from his era.
Scott Hall becomes a cautionary tale. He's the one that we should pity, and this is true now, but the problem is that we've applied this pity and the judgment that comes with it retroactively to his entire career. This is a shame, but it is to be expected; after all, Scott Hall was a character whose fictional persona blurred the lines messily with his real life excess. It's what gave him his edge as a villain who lacked the physical or historic presence of Hogan or Nash. Nash had physical menace and Hogan had…whatever it is that makes Hogan "HOGAN", but Hall was the dangerous one, the one whose talent and hubris and taste for excess all seemed to combine into the perfect storm. Off camera, played out in the real world, that storm was tragedy; on camera, within the bounds of fictional storytelling, it was just perfect.
The whole NWO experiment was meant to thin the line between truth and fiction in wrestling, which is why Hall was its perfect ambassador. When he debuted on WCW Monday Nitro, swaggering into the middle of a match and stopping proceedings, his cryptic announcement of "You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here" pushed truth further to the forefront of wrestling storytelling than it had ever gone before. After all, he was right, we did know him: He was Razor Ramon…except he wasn't, because fans had seen the end of the Kliq in WWF and more hardcore fans knew about the contract wars taking place behind the scenes.
Rather than debuting him as some WWF knockoff like "Billy the Blade" or some such nonsense, WCW decided to just let the Hall who had left WWF in a storm of controversy become the character in their story. This seems natural now, seeing as every new wrestler comes out trying to get over as themselves, only to go high concept when things aren't working as well as the writers would like, but back then, in the world where outlandish characters were the norm, Scott Hall as Scott Hall was a risk (something you can tell by the slight accent that Hall has to fight every instinct he has on the mic to keep down).
It was raw and effective, two words that capture the essence of Scott Hall the fighter. Hall was an internationally trained grappler, but wisely eschewed an overly technical style in favor of something less at odds with the barroom bravado that personified his character. Still, the technical expertise was there; Hall made standard ground-and-pound offense look significantly more painful than so many of today's WWE "hosses", and his "Last Call" Fallaway Slam and "Outsider's Edge" were impressive both in their apparent impact and deceptive precision. The result was a believable brawler, someone who fought in ways that looked real and urgent. The niceties of grace had no place in the ring for a man brought up on bar fights both real and kayfabe.
For showmanship, however, Scott Hall could always make time. As much as we all associate Hall with Nash due to the Outsiders, Hall's ability to connect with crowds skews closer to Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Nash conveyed implicit menace; Hall literally swaggered to the ring, arms held out like an airplane, before grabbing the mic to conduct his surveys in which he made abundantly clear that whatever your response was, he was still the winner. Hall was an asshole of the aspirational variety; we couldn't be Nash (size) and we couldn't be Hogan (the Hogan mystique), but certainly we could have a couple and swagger our way through life, gesticulating wildly and making our way through half skill, half improvisation. Hogan and Nash were clearly beings of superhuman strength; Hall made it all look easy, like one of us could do it.
"One of us" was the appeal, limit, and ultimately the cornerstone of the undoing of Scott Hall. We loved and envied this man who would walk among the gods. We hated and pitied this man who would be undone by his own self-interest and appetites. Unfortunately, this humanity is what kept Hall from ever becoming a contender for true main-even status (his title match against Sting in WCW was a well executed feud and match that could never gain traction because of how preordained it all felt), but it made Hall the most antihero of the NWO's villains. On the tag team scene and in the midcard, it made Hall the ultimate gatekeeper of legitimacy.
Certainly, Hall played the perfect foil to Nash by virtue of being the outsized personality to Nash's outsized physical presence, but in those moments where he got to shine individually, Hall was a special kind of cocky heel. His sneers and laughs, when paired with his wide-legged stomping and swaying around the ring, all swagger and disrespect, turned what in lesser heels would be played as disdain for competition into disdain for the constraints of normalcy. Defeating Scott Hall would mean a hero was defeating the worst parts of ourselves, which was something that made us like Scott Hall as an antihero and cheer for the faces who could overcome him. Scott Hall was like us, except he wasn't like us in that he refused to settle for being viewed as normal, and his bluster was entirely aimed at reminding us that he didn't, and wouldn't, live by our rules.
Which brings us back to the feelings of dirty voyeurism that Hall's present day tragedies lend to his previous successes. Certainly, one can't help but look at clips of Hall barely staggering his way to the ring at the now infamous indy show debacle and think of the time Eric Bischoff carelessly had Hall do the same as part of a storyline. It feels wrong to look back on Hall's fictional persona because we see it as tied so closely to his reality…but maybe that's not so much a cautionary tale as it is a tribute to the man as a performer. Hall is our Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin (though thankfully without their same tragically shortened life, thanks to the tireless work of friends in the business); he's a talent whose artistic expression can't be disentangled from his real life issues. We wouldn't want them to be.
While Hall at his worst has unfortunately become the defining vision of Hall's total career, one can only hope that, with time, we can remember Hall for what he was at his best: A darker, more broken Ric Flair who flaunted our restraints against excess both material and personal. And without Hall's deeply personal qualities of bravado, veteran savvy, and overindulgence in pleasure being mixed into who he was as a fictional character, none of it would have been the same. And so once again the question is whether or not we want our great artists to become less great by becoming less broken. Because Scott Hall reminded us all that at their core, great villains are just as much evil as they are damaged.