Friday, September 7, 2012

Wanna learn how to sell? Be like Steven Richards, but don't be him

WWE Velocity was a late-night show that aired Saturday nights on SpikeTV during the mid 2000s. It was recap program that went over what happened the previous week on Smackdown. Matches featuring midcard talent and "jobbers" (unsigned guys who come in just to lose) were shown between the recap segments.

Above is a video of Steven Richards versus Bob "Hardcore" Holly. Holly had been a WWE superstar from the mid 1990s until 2008 or so. He was a good wrestler and was one of the biggest stars of WWE's Hardcore division during the late 90s. Richards has always been one of my guilty pleasure wrestlers. One when I say that he's one of my favorite wrestlers, people crinkle up their nose and say, "Really? Why?"

I remember watching this match in the summer of 2005. It was shortly before the SummerSlam pay-per-view, between my first and second years of college. Richards was still advertised as a member of the "Blue World Order," his ECW group that had reunited briefly in WWE, but it was pretty much over by this point. WWE was trying out a new role for Torrie Wilson, as she was the ring announcer for the match. About that, let's just say that her best role right now is to continue being Alex Rodriguez' girlfriend.

With an art form like professional wrestling, it is often easy to overlook when somebody is performing their craft very well. Likewise, it is much easier to spot when somebody is doing a bad job (Ahem, Torrie...). I remember at the time being very impressed with how Richards tried to avoid Holly's finishing move at the end of the match. It didn't look rehearsed; Holly tried to hit it and Richards tried to stop it, just like if they were in a real fight. Now, I doubt anybody would try Hardcore Holly's finishing move in a real fight, but just humor me for a moment.

I remember reading on a few weeks after that something that really caught my attention. Apparently Vince McMahon had gathered the Smackdown locker room together and made them watch that match, specifically to call attention to Steven Richards' ability to "sell" (pretend like he's hurt, act like it's real).

Why am I talking about this right now? I follow Steven Richards on twitter (@MichaelManna, his real name) and he uploaded this to his YouTube channel. The other day he tweeted the link to this match. I saw that and, never knowing if the story was actually true or just a rumor, tweeted to him, "Is that the one Vince made the locker room watch so they'd learn how to sell?" He replied to me, "yes......and then I sat home for 4 months."

When CM Punk unleashed his initial pipe bomb promo last year and the fallout that came from it, he talked about politics a lot and how talented wrestlers were held back over the years in favor of muscled-up ex-football players and other such talents. A case could be made for putting Richards into that category. Vince McMahon thought he was good enough at selling moves that he wanted the entire locker room to learn from him. Did it get Richards anywhere? No. He apparently wasn't used for four months after that, and when he was used it was always to put over other superstars.

Richards broke out in the early 1990s in ECW and was a sidekick of sorts to Raven, one of the top heels in ECW history. After a few years as a lackey, he started to break out and show his talents in main event matches. He was being compared to Shawn Michaels at the time, until a neck injury halted any momentum he was gaining.

A weak run in WCW reprising his Raven's lackey role got him nowhere, as did a subsequent stint in ECW. After undergoing neck surgery, he made his way to WWE in the late 90s and a broken ankle stopped his midcard comedy character from going anywhere. He came back in 2000 with short hair and wearing a tie. He was tired of the crass, tasteless filth in WWE and was using his new group, the Right To Censor (RTC) to clean up the WWE.

It was meant to mock the Parents Television Council (PTC), who were waging a real-life fight against the WWE for similar reasons. The PTC had successfully managed to convince Coca-Cola and the US Army, among others, to stop advertising with WWE.

By 2001, the RTC was no more. Richards career had peaked. He had been an upper-midcard villain who received a lot of attention on WWE programming. After that, he disappeared for a while before being repackaged as the character he has effectively ended his career with, a deranged psychopath.

He became a midcard mainstay on lower-tier shows like Velocity and Sunday Night Heat, which Richards unofficially renamed "Stevie Night Heat," even putting it on his trunks at one point.

He left WWE a few years ago and showed up in TNA in 2009. He had a brief partnership with Raven a few times that never really went anywhere. He feuded with Abyss and Mick Foley mostly. Near the end of his tenure there, I felt like they were really going somewhere with him. It seemed like they were gearing him up for the role of veteran wrestler going for one last shot at glory. A short feud with AJ Styles went nowhere and he left TNA shortly thereafter. He revealed in an interview with that TNA President Dixie Carter had referred to him as "washed up."

I feel like Richards never got anywhere near the amount of success that he should have received. If wrestling were really based on talent, Richards would have no doubt been a world champion many times over. But, it's not. Instead, he was used to get lesser talents over and to play the midcard comic relief. And, he was good at both of those things.

While his career may have fizzled out, his life hasn't. He has avoided becoming one of the countless wrestling tragedies that pop up over the years, especially his ECW generation. Now in his early 40s, he has transitioned to the next stage of his life, with wrestling looking to be his side project he does for fun. He may not have gotten all he deserved out of wrestling, but he seems to be getting a lot out of life these days. Good for him.

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