Discover more from Ring the Bell
Fade to Black, 2012
On the end of Kevin and Generico's Ring of Honor story, and on the difficulty of ending stories in wrestling.
Telling a story in wrestling is basically like writing a play.
Except that each scene is performed in front of a different audience, days or weeks or months apart.
And you only get to do each scene once—there are no second takes.
And there are no understudies, each role must be played by one and only one person; you can’t say “Oh, Sami sprained his knee, so this week the role of Sami Zayn will be played by Braun Strowman.” No, if an actor goes out with an injury that’s it, that character vanishes.
Oh, and you have to do all of your own extremely high-risk stunts.
Even if you manage to put something together with an actual arc, a direction and a point, there’s always the next storyline waiting in the wings, because wrestling is so serialized and unending. A truly satisfying story has some sense of denouement, the moment after the climax of the conflict where emotional resolution happens, where we find out what the story meant. Wrestling stories have a tendency to gallop right into the next feud, from bang into build, without the quiet moment that tells us why it mattered.
And then there’s maybe ten other storylines to work around, which means now and then someone wanders in and grabs your typewriter and types “LOL GOLDBERG WINS,” and now that’s just the way that act ends forever, fantastic.
Really, the surprising thing is not that there are so few satisfying stories in wrestling, but that there are any satisfying stories in wrestling.
These are the last recorded seconds of Kevin and El Generico in Ring of Honor together (Generico is crumpled on the mat, being checked by the referee):
It’s at Final Battle 2012, in December: a ladder match for the world title. Leading up to it, Kevin has been through a massive struggle just to get the match to happen, because he’s working under a couple of distinct disadvantages. One is that the booker, Jim Cornette, is reluctant to put Generico in a major title match because Generico is no longer under contract to Ring of Honor.
The other is that Generico flat-out refuses to talk to Cornette at all, because he despises him, so Kevin has to do all of the negotiating between the two. This has got to be frustrating for everyone involved, though Kevin’s annoyance is all for Cornette and his inability to understand that Generico shouldn’t be expected to ever actually communicate directly to the person trying to offer him a job:
It takes two solid months of ceaseless campaigning by Kevin to get Cornette to agree to the match.
Of course, there’s an extra urgency to Kevin’s efforts for a reason that wasn’t widely known:
They both know that Generico is going to get signed by WWE literally any day now, as soon as WWE’s lawsuit with TNA gets settled. Kevin and Generico don’t know when that will be exactly, so any match is likely to be their last match, and if they don’t get this one at Final Battle there might be no closure at all to their four-year story in RoH. When he remembers that sense of urgency, Kevin becomes animated, almost inarticulate, saying “we needed that match–” before breaking off in mid-sentence in frustration:
It’s been a long four years, crammed full of friendship and betrayal and blood and despair, and this match is their last and only chance to provide an ending as opposed to just a stopping. Getting an end to their story is worth two months of concerted effort against a stubborn foe for Kevin, so he perseveres and eventually gets it done.
Booking Generico versus Kevin at Final Battle 2012 is one of Jim Cornette’s last decisions at Ring of Honor before being replaced as booker and leaving the promotion in early October, an event that seems to make Kevin’s life at RoH better immediately. Less than a week later, Kevin defends his title against Michael Elgin at Glory by Honor XI. When asked about it on his RoH shoot video he says, “It was my dad’s favorite match of mine as champion, and I really liked it. It’s no secret that Michael Elgin is a fucking amazing wrestler, so I knew it was going to be good, and I was right, and it came out great.” Then he immediately launches into a detailed account of what happens after the match, as he celebrates his victory: a courier suddenly arrives with a box addressed to him. The crowd starts to cheer immediately, intuitively knowing what has to be in it: and indeed, Kevin opens the box to reveal Generico’s mask, like a mocking Yorick’s skull challenging him.
“That was a great moment,” Kevin says happily. “I’ve always said this about wrestling: I feel moments are more important than matches. And that was a moment. I felt like I hadn’t been part of a moment like that since Best in the World [more than a year ago], when I said ‘Fuck Ring of Honor.’”
Now, if you want a summary of Kevin as a wrestler, look no further than here, where he says cheerfully and lightly “I knew it was going to be good, and it came out great” about a main event title match that Dave Meltzer gave four and a half stars, and then proceeds to get super-excited about what a thrill it was to open a box. Moments are more important than matches, plots are more important than pinfalls; I don’t know how unusual he is in his approach to wrestling, but I get the impression that he’s in it for the stories, and stories have to have an end or they’re just a pile of events that didn’t go anywhere at all.
The day before Final Battle 2012, Kevin’s son comes down with the flu. Kevin leaves home and heads to New York City, and then the inevitable happens:
But again, there’s no rescheduling for something like this, no second chance for an ending. So Kevin heads out for what he knows will be his last match ever with El Generico in Ring of Honor, possibly their last match ever anywhere.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a vicious match, full of brutal spots as they both try to scale the heights and capture gold one last time. Kevin and Generico batter at each other with a grim, bleak relish as Generico tries to take away from Kevin his proof of superiority and Kevin desperately tries to hold him off.
Kevin throws Generico into so many different barricades that it feels like every person in the first couple of rows ends up with a chance to touch and cheer on Generico for what they don’t know will be the last time.
They don’t know, but El Generico, reaching out to touch and be touch, knows. And Kevin, hurling him toward his fans in apparent brutality, knows too.
As it turns out, even the flu can become part of the story, because Kevin spends a lot of the match looking almost existentially nauseated. He’s exhausted, he’s going on sheer spite and cussedness. You get the impression Generico would have to kill him to get that title off him; now and then you almost feel like it’s a possibility. One of the best moments in the match is when Generico clocks him with a ladder and Kevin, reeling, starts to fall–but finds the wherewithal to somehow flip him off as he drops:
It’s hilarious but it’s also perfect for who Kevin is: unable to let it go, unable to stop spitting defiance even as he falters. But Generico’s an avenging spirit and he can’t stop either, and so as they fight they slowly manage to assemble–seemingly without any real plan–a contraption of ladders that reaches almost to the title. Scrambling up it together, they finally reach a stalemate, swaying precariously on their makeshift perch; a point where they can do nothing but stare at each other while the crowd chants please don’t die and the Ring of Honor championship hangs above their heads.
“I hate you!” Kevin yells, desperate and frantic as they scrabble at each other, and finally manages to kick him between the legs as he did three years ago at his turn. As Generico buckles, Kevin grabs him and folds him up in preparation for the package piledriver. “This ends now,” he howls, the last words Kevin ever says to El Generico in Ring of Honor, and piledrives him through both ladders.
Generico drops as if he’s dead and lies there, completely unmoving, as Kevin scrambles up the ladder and unhooks his title. The still-reigning champion barely takes a second to celebrate before he starts to hurry back down the ladder, tossing the title down before him to the mat so he can get down faster.
(The match has gone on for 28 minutes at this point; the PPV is almost out of airtime).
Kevin poses on the turnbuckle with his title, triumphant for the crowd–and then he stops and looks back at Generico, still motionless in the middle of the ring. He gets down off the turnbuckle and drops the belt, then staggers to where Generico lies. There’s a tense, awful pause.
And then Kevin helps Generico to his feet.
He doesn’t hug him, he doesn’t even shake his hand, he doesn’t show any kind of affection–this isn’t some kind of curtain call where the wrestlers break character. In fact it’s vitally important that everyone is still in character. Because when Kevin helps Generico stand, when he reaches out and Generico accepts that moment of connection, they move past their feud, past the bitterness and the hatred and the pain. Just a little bit, just enough to give closure. Just enough to let both of them move on. Jim Cornette is gone, and Kevin has laid his rivalry with Generico to rest; it’s not a happy ending, but there’s some hope to it. Maybe, maybe things will be better for him in this new Ring of Honor that he reigns over as champion. It’s closure, it’s an ending, it’s a moment.
That didn’t happen.
Well, it happened, there in that ring on that night. But the only reason that anyone who wasn’t there knows it happened is that Kevin talks about it during his shoot interview. Because there at the end of their match, their time finally, literally runs out. The broadcast ends before Kevin helps Generico to his feet, and the moment is not included on the DVD. The only people who witness it are the people in attendance that night; for everyone else, it may as well have not happened. When Kevin talks about it, he details it just as I described it–how there’s no handshake, how it means that maybe Ring of Honor can be different for Kevin now.
When you know what’s missing, the last seconds of the show look different. Looking at them again, now it’s clear that Kevin, exhausted and sick, is staggering around shoving ladders out of the way specifically to get the ring clear and ready for the final tableau with his former friend, his most tenacious enemy. He’s trying to clear away the debris, to untangle four years’ worth of story and bring it down to one quiet moment that will give us–and them–a sense of closure and the ability to move on.
He’s still getting everything into place as the camera fades to black.
Next: PWG and Kevin and Generico’s last matches, and the end of their story.