SCOTT HALL “Say Goodbye to the Bad Guy”

By the Great Sun Jester

Scott Hall in the AWA

The first time I see Scott Hall is in 1986. He is teaming with a young Curt Hennig on the AWA’s show on ESPN. It is a time in the network’s history when the Worldwide Leader in Sports slates all sorts of “sports” programming like bowling, pool, professional wrestling, auto racing, and rodeo. The fledgling network, hungry for eyeballs, held their figurative noses in light of wrestling’s mid-80s explosion and set out to find their answer to highly rated wrestling shows on Ted Turner’s TBS and the USA Network.

The story goes that an unnamed ESPN suit recognizes then-AWA talent Sgt. Slaughter and green light the AWA. I’m certain there’s buyer’s remorse on, at least, an aesthetic level. The promotion initially films episodes on the East Coast, believing national television demands something far splashier than their far humbler Minnesota stronghold, but soon relocates to Las Vegas’ now long-gone Showboat Casino.

It never matters. Despite employing future behind-the-scenes television talents such as Mike Shields, AWA main man Verne Gagne and his Midwestern operation struggle to grasp they are not making 70’s television wrestling. They cannot match the WWF’s production values, but they don’t even seem to try too hard as there are frequent mistakes in the graphics, and assorted technical flubs inexplicably surviving post-production.

That’s how Scott Hall, professional wrestler, strides onto the national stage. Tom Selleck is riding high on CBS as Magnum P.I. and Hall shares several physical characteristics so, voila, the powers that be name him “Magnum” Scott Hall. Verne Gagne, promotional genius. The promotion can’t keep it straight, however. Other times they refer to him as “Big” Scott Hall.

Scott and Curt Hennig

He pushes through. He’s no great shakes in the ring then, still green as grass around the edges, but a physical Adonis with great energy. Selling me on any good guy now or then is an uphill climb, but I never change the channel when he’s on. The babyface role isn’t a good fit then and never will be, but Gagne’s audience embraces him anyway. (I disagree. He made for a great babyface, especially against Col. DeBeers.--Dr. M) Even if Gagne falls a little further behind modern wrestling every day during this period, the legendary promoter and former world champion hears the crowd’s cheers.

He readies the rocket for Hall’s back. Hall teams with homegrown AWA prodigy Curt Hennig and the booking build towards pitting them against tag team champions “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin and “Mr. Electricity” Steven Regal. It’s a wise move on several levels. The future “Mr. Perfect” isn’t as stiff and unconvincing as Hall’s babyface role, but it doesn’t work for him either. Hennig is less than two years from his first and only world title reign, but his supernatural in-ring polish and growing confidence in interviews gives Hall a mentor as well as a contemporary.

They take the belts and sustain their momentum. The chase is over, however, so some of the rose’s bloom soon fades and the promotion opts to move the titles. There’s a problem, however. Neither man wants to take the pin so, adhering to Vince McMahon’s dictum “get the match in the ring”, the promotion switches the belts to “Playboy” Buddy Rose and “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers via count-out and scarcely mentions it on AWA television. Hall leaves soon after.

Hello semi-obscurity. The seeming Next Big Thing, an Apter mag darling for a time, lands in Memphis for a brief run and bounces around other brief stops toiling for little pay or notice. He’s in the business, out again, then another opportunity comes up. The late ’80s find the wrestling world’s remaining territories drying up until the only players of note left standing are the WWF and the former Jim Crockett Promotions now calling themselves WCW.

No history of Scott Hall’s eventual stardom is complete without the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. The iconic wrestler and booker moves into a full-time behind-the-scenes position in early 90’s WCW and brings Hall in. His character The Diamond Studd is an embryonic Razor Ramon, Hall isn’t in full Tony Montana mode yet, but the basic outline is there. Hall gets a small push, nothing substantial, and eventually whatever momentum he has coming in fizzles out.

This is when it happens. The first time. The first major turning point. Hall puts in a call to the WWF and soon finds himself in Vince McMahon’s office. The story goes that Hall asks Vince if he knows the movie Scarface but the WWF head honcho does not; no matter. Hall says, “Say hello to the bad guy”, and reels in the gig of a lifetime.

This Maryland-born Army brat who grows up in Florida starts walking out with chains around his neck, a gaudy vest, hair slicked back, and a toothpick between his teeth. He’s instant heel money with Vince pushing him hard and, for the first time, he’s working with guys who carry him to the first great matches of his career.

Everyone talks about the Wrestlemania ladder match with Shawn Michaels, the Summerslam rematch, or his work with Bret Hart. One of Hall’s matches from that era deserving a look is his October 11h, 1993 Monday Night Raw match with “The Model” Rick Martel. The decorated veteran, a former world champion for Gagne’s AWA, still holds considerable in-ring gifts despite almost two decades in the business at that time.

As Razor Ramon

With Kevin Nash in the NWO

They go almost fifteen minutes in a see-saw bout for the then-vacant Intercontinental title. Hall is never an elite worker such as Michaels, or even Martel. He cannot carry a lesser opponent to his level, ala Bret Hart versus Tom McGee, but the Michaels and Martels of the business can lead him. A consummate ring general, Martel leads Hall to one of his best matches for a national television audience.

He has elite charisma, however. Vince McMahon turns Ramon babyface and he doesn’t lose any momentum. His look, physical talents, and charisma earn him time in the ring with the cream of the crop and Hall never looks out of place. During this period, as well, Hall, Michaels, Kevin Nash, and Hunter Hearst Hemsley amass considerable locker room clout.

It isn’t enough though. Hall plateaus with Vince McMahon’s company and his restlessness finds a historic outlet. WCW head Eric Bischoff calls the play of his career, signs Hall first then Nash, and their arrival upends the WWF’s longtime distant rival. Hall’s wrestling journey goes full-on nuclear with Hulk Hogan’s heel turn and the NWO’s formation.

He knows it’s the peak. How could he not? Hall and WCW ride an once in a lifetime wave for the next year and change as Ted Turner’s “rasslin’” company becomes a player at long last in modern entertainment. He’s probably betting it will last longer but he’s driving ninety miles an hour down a dead-end street. The crash is coming.

Few know it will be the Groundhog Day version of a crash. There’s no reason to rehash the gory details of his long fall from grace; the stories are legion across the Internet. The opinions as well, but no matter. Some will say, man, all of this for just a wrestler? Hall was a wrestler, a performer with a special gift, and these unique athletes entertained us in a world where finding the space to dream grows harder each day. He was a human being. May he rest in peace, but may we also see his like again and soon.