Dear TNA Wrestling,
I’m writing this late on Sunday night, wishing my job would have allowed me to get home in time to see No Surrender. Even though I haven’t seen the results yet, I’m sure the Ultimate X tag team match was terrific, Chris Sabin probably had a pretty nice bout with Senshi and the Rhino-Christian Cage showdown was intense. I’m guessing some lucky fans even got some leather strap shots in on Jeff Jarrett.
By the way, whoever came up with the idea for the Fans Revenge Match gets some props from me. It’s one of the more creative ways to turn the heat up on a heel in recent memory, and the contest that allowed fans to express their feelings for Jeff was just the icing on the cake. Never got around to shooting that video of myself talking about why I hate Jarrett, which is why I’m writing this letter instead.
Thinking back, it’s safe to say I disliked Jarrett the first time I saw him on TV, which was during his first run with the WWF. You might remember his Double J gimmick revolved around country music, which happens to be one of my least favorite genres. That alone was enough to turn me off, even though Jeff was pretty solid in the ring. More than anything, I recall feeling sorry for “the artist later known as Road Dogg” as he toiled as The Roadie. Guess it was just the country music, not Jarrett himself.
I know I was supposed to hate Jeff when he returned to the WWF a few years later. After all, his gimmick that time around saw him putting female wrestlers, ring announcers, managers and just about any other girl he could find in the Figure Four, and male-on-female violence is definitely not cool. The thing is, we all know that it was just wrestling and no one was really getting hurt, and in the privacy of my own house I actually thought some of the segments were kind of funny. I’m not a big fan of Chyna, and I was pretty unhappy when she won his Intercontinental Title, though it was pretty understandable since he was jumping to WCW.
Speaking of that jump, my brother Max and I were in the crowd in Philadelphia for Nitro, holding a “Welcome Jarrett” sign and feeling pretty smart that we knew he’d be showing up. Since we were looking forward to seeing him, we obviously didn’t hate him back in 1999. Jarrett really seemed to hit his stride during the final few years of WCW, wrestling at an even higher level than before and ascending to main event status. Cynical folks will probably say he got to the top because he seemed to be a favorite of Vince Russo, and there may be some truth to that. Calling himself The Chosen One certainly didn’t do anything to erase that assumption. I remember booing him at the height of his WCW stint, but it was because he had become the top heel in Atlanta. He must have been doing something right.
The boos have followed him to your promotion, though now the reason behind the negative crowd reaction isn’t as clear. Jarrett still plays a pretty mean heel, and he’s done it consistently even though the landscape of TNA has undergone constant change for the past few years and the players come and go even more frequently than they do in the WWE. Still, it’s hard to separate Jarrett the character from Jarrett the owner, which makes it equally tough to decide if the fans jeer him because he’s a bad guy (the desirable kind of heel heat) or just because they feel his family ties keep him at the top of the card (not quite as good). My gut tells me it’s a mixture of both.
Does it even matter? Maybe not in the short term, but thinking about a wrestler in terms of his legacy in the business, I’d say it does. The “what have you done for me lately” mentality is more prevalent in sports and entertainment today than ever before, and occurrences of revisionist history are at an all-time high. Just as it’s a shame when fans focus solely on Triple H marrying into the McMahon clan and forgetting the time he was carrying the ball after Stone Cold and The Rock moved on, it’s just as much of a disservice to say that Jarrett is nothing more than the favored son of a family business. He deserves a little better than that.
For me, a wrestler who is worthy of world championship consideration has to have two things: the ability to put on good matches with a variety of different opponents, and some kind of microphone presence so he can be entertaining during non-wrestling segments. Sure, some great champs have more strength in one area than the other — say, Chris Benoit, for instance — but if you can do those two things, you’re okay in my book. Jeff Jarrett qualifies on those criteria, so even if his backstage “stroke” got him his opportunities, I couldn’t honestly say they were wasted on him. Since his style is more consistent than spectacular, I’d even say he could be one of the more underrated grapplers of his era when it’s all said and done.
Writing this letter has turned out to be pretty therapeutic. I discovered something pretty surprising when I actually sat down and typed all of this out: I don’t hate Jeff Jarrett at all. Smashing people over the head with a guitar might be getting a little old, and knowing he’s going to be in one of the main event slots at least every other month in TNA may get a bit stale. I’ll definitely be pretty happy seeing Samoa Joe make TNA’s top heel submit and the fans get their revenge, if that’s indeed what happened tonight. But looking back on my memories of Jarrett have reminded me that I rooted against the villain, but had respect for the wrestler. And where there’s respect, it’s hard for hate to exist.
It’s just as well that I never found my video camera, because this would have made a really lousy entry to the “Why I hate Jeff Jarrett” contest…