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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lashley Backlash? Will His Biggest Win Become His Biggest Regret?

Reposted from Volume 13 of The Wrestler.

By Brady Hicks

It seemed like the crowning achievement of a very young career. Newest ECW star Bobby Lashley—in his first title match since joining the brand—speared ECW champion The Big Show and made the pin. The fans in attendance at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Georgia, came alive, realizing they had witnessed history. And Lashley, with a smile on his face and a new title belt, looked as if he had just conquered the world.

He finally won a big one: the ECW heavyweight title. And Lashley hadn’t just defeated The Big Show, he had also outlasted four other stars—including Hardcore Holly, C.M. Punk, Test, and Rob Van Dam—in the “Extreme Elimination Chamber” at December to Dismember. To nearly everyone in attendance, it seemed that Lashley had made the right decision leaving Smackdown, where he had been running in place for about a year, never really making a good name for himself, and always coming up short in the few World title opportunities that had been given to him.

“I’ve talked with him about this before. It’s a disagreement we’ve shared for a long time,” said Chris Benoit, who mentored Lashley during his time on Smackdown. “In Lashley, I see youth and determination and a whole lot of strength. But I also see over-anxiousness. Bobby Lashley just loves to jump into the deep end for everything he gets involved in. It’s just his personality. He thinks his time is now and thinks he is invulnerable to all of the shortfalls that have derailed all of those young guns before him. Even though Bobby won the ECW championship right out of the gate, I think it may be too much, too soon for him.”

Many insiders agree with Benoit. They say Lashley is far from fully developed as a wrestler. His inexperience didn’t prevent him from beating some mid-card talent or even lucking his way into a title belt or two by catching opponents by surprise. There is also fear he will start to believe his own hype. “I’ve seen it many times, where a young wrestler develops some sort of a ‘false reality’ as to how good he really is,” said Matt Hardy, another of Lashley’s backstage friends on Smackdown. “I worry for him that by achieving the successes that he has this early in his career, that it could actually harm him in the long run.”

In other sports, they call it “peaking too early.” In wrestling, it has spelled many a long, frustrating period for those who achieved too much, too soon in their careers. For every Tom Brady to step off the bench late in the season and unexpectedly help his team win the Super Bowl, there is a story of an athlete who sets a goal for himself, achieves it early in his career, and founders from that point forward. And many of Lashley’s peers feel his early success in ECW could also potentially signal the end of his effectiveness.

By beating an injured Big Show so easily, Lashley may assume that titles, fame, and marketability are all within his reach. He may assume that these successes are just the beginning for what is to be a long and prolific career.

Lashley’s inexperience continued to be a factor until he switched from Smackdown to ECW. During the King of the Ring tournament, that inexperience caused him to lose his temper against Booker T, who went on to win the crown and cape. It caused him to lose the U.S. title to a physically inferior but more experienced Finlay. And—most recently—it cost him at No Mercy when he seemed more consumed with showing up Batista than actually winning the Smackdown World championship.

Fortunately, there is no solid evidence that Lashley will become the latest victim of his own success. He enjoyed a considerable amount of success before becoming a pro wrestler. When Lashley attended Missouri Valley College, he was able to win national wrestling championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998 after placing fourth in the U.S. during his first try in 1995. Throughout 1997 and 1998, Lashley was the NAIA National Wrestling champion and later became a champion in the U.S. Army.

Even after entering pro wrestling, Lashley pinned former Smackdown World champion John Bradshaw Layfield to win the U.S. title only eight months into his run on Smackdown. Lashley has shown an ability to cope with success in the past, but he has never experienced such high-profile success as his ECW title victory. Will it be too much for the young man?

“One thing’s for sure: You have to admire the kid’s guts,” said Tommy Dreamer. “He set a goal for himself, and he went out and achieved it. And he was able to do so very quickly, too. That doesn’t mean that he’s finished developing as a wrestler. It just means that he was fortunate enough to bring home a title belt in spite of all that he still has to learn.”

Unfortunately for the ECW champion, enjoying success before gaining experience can be a dangerous thing. But, if anyone is up to the task, it just may be Lashley.

1 comment:

Tim Haught said...

This is a classic article for a magazine like PWI or the Wrestler, reminscent of articles from years ago asking whether or not Tommy Rich and The Giant have peaked too soon.

Obviously this article is written in kayfabe, but it expresses the very real issue with first year world champions and the Vince McMahon good ole' boy's network.

Many fans have quite backlash to guys who seem too green or don't work a specific style that McMahon shoves to the forefront of sports entertainment. Hell, even the Rock had to be pulled back from his initial push, as fans wouldn't respond the way Vince wished.

I partially go into this in my article "Examining Vince's Megastar Mentality" which you can read right here at the Pro Wrestling Pundit.

I think that Lashley currently is right where you need to be on the WWE Bell Curve. You have some guys that are really only over with smart fans and others who are really only over with marks. They are to the far left and right of the graph. Lashley is maintaining his spot for now in the middle, but is starting to lean towards the marks, as his inability to talk, quick push to a World Title, and position in a big Mania match have exposed him a bit to smart fans. Still, his brawl with Umaga and dive through the cage were exciting stuff for any wrestling fan. WWE needs to protect this guy from the wrath of the smarks, cause he's on his way down Batista Boulevard to John Cena Drive.

And P.S. that was the best promo Matt Hardy ever cut. If he could do that on live tv, maybe the souless Hardy (check the September Archives) will get out of the midcard.