Hands in the Air: Kevin and El Generico Win the Ring of Honor Tag Titles, 2008
On timing and disappointment in wrestling
The ancient Greeks used a specific word–kairos– to mean roughly “the ability to choose the perfect moment to act.” They used it, for example, to describe the gift of knowing exactly when to loose an arrow in order to hit the target perfectly. Wrestling is a constant struggle to achieve kairos, because any wrestling promotion is basically an intricate ecosystem of interconnected parts: feuds and wrestlers and venues and dates. It’s like finding the right moment to hit a target, only the target is always moving and there’s a series of shifting screens between you and it and oh yeah your bow and/or arrow might just break at any time and you’ll have to build yourself a new one on the spot.
Fans don’t expect that target to get hit square on at every event. We go to house shows for fun, because generally–with exceptions that people remember, like Samoa Joe winning the NXT title or Sami and Kevin teaming up in Montreal–the stakes are low, the pressure to achieve perfect timing is less. But we try to get to the big shows with the high stakes on the off chance–the rare, fleeting chance–that somehow we’ll see the target hit perfectly, that we’ll be there when things come together flawlessly. You could go to shows for years and never catch a moment like that, but it’s worth it to keep trying, because when it happens it’s incredible, it can lift you out of yourself into something else, something bigger and more real than reality.
Kevin and El Generico have two title runs in PWG before they win the championship in Ring of Honor, and become more and more popular in both promotions. By the time they lose their second PWG titles in May 2008, Ring of Honor fans are more than ready to see them hold the championship there as well. The Briscoes have just won the titles for the fifth time that April, so it seems perfect karma that Steen and Generico will win their first title belts off their longtime adversaries.
Unfortunately, Mark Briscoe gets injured and the brothers are forced to vacate their title, which feels kind of like setting off to conquer Everest at last and being told that no, the weather is too bad, and who knows when conditions will be right again? Steen and Generico finally winning their titles off the veterans who gave them their first feud and some of their greatest matches would have been a great story, but they can’t wait for the weather to clear. Things have got to move on without them.
This leads to a one-day tournament to determine who the next Ring of Honor tag team champions will be: three matches to win to become the tag champions. There are a lot of different tag teams in the tournament, but the crowd that gathers in Hartford doesn’t really want to see anyone but Steen and Generico win those titles. The two of them are slightly banged-up already, with Kevin moving gingerly around his old knee injury and Generico favoring his left shoulder. Unfortunately, their first match is against current Ring of Honor world champion and very bad person Nigel McGuinness and Japanese wrestler Go Shiozaki, and they go after Generico’s bad shoulder for eight agonizing minutes, just eight solid minutes of the audience and Kevin watching Generico suffer and try to reach his partner:
When Kevin is finally tagged in he gets the world champion in a submission and–amazingly–forces him to tap out, a huge achievement for Kevin and big humiliation for McGuinness. Kevin’s delight is short-lived, however, as an infuriated McGuinness takes a chair to his bad knee, leaving him barely able to stand.
The two battered victors finally limp slowly to the back, and the audience is all-in: worried and supportive. “How are you guys gonna win the titles now? That’s the question!” someone calls as they hobble past. “Good job,” say others. “Good luck in the next round. You can do it! You can do it!” Hands reach out to touch them, to pat reassuringly at them as they go by.
After the match, the two of them cut a promo backstage that’s equal parts dramatic and funny, as Kevin keeps yelling about tonight being their night and forgetting about Generico’s injured shoulder, whacking at it in his attempt to fire up his partner. “I’m… I’m trying to put it back into place,” he explains weakly at one point as Generico winces in pain.
The second match is against Adam Pearce and Chris Hero, who exacerbate both injures with cool malice:
Steen and Generico only win when there’s a lucky distraction and Generico manages to get a quick rollup for the win. The two of them are hardly able to move by the end of the match, as they stagger out together, surrounded by people calling out “Just one more win! You can do it! Just one more!”
Backstage, they cut their second promo of the night, and this time all the humor is gone: Kevin reminds Generico of how far they’ve come and how much they’ve suffered and endured to get here.
“Tonight’s our night!” he announces, and they head out to the ring to face the Age of the Fall for the Ring of Honor tag team titles.
This is the first time Age of the Fall has ever met Steen & Generico one-on-one in the ring (they were both part of a four-team match that lasted seven minutes in 2007–fewer minutes than wrestlers in the match), so the two teams have no real history together. Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black (now a writer for the WWE and Seth Rollins, respectively) are two young and cocky former champions with a… vaguely Goth/emo aesthetic that seems designed to infuriate the Ring of Honor crowd. They’ve gotten obscenely lucky in their previous tournament matches (in one, the other team got disqualified before the match even began) and have wrestled only nine minutes tonight to the thirty minutes of brutal beatdown Steen and Generico have been through. They’re well-rested, uninjured, and arrogant, and the audience yearns to see them humiliated by their scrappy favorites.
Nine minutes into the match, Black throws Generico against a guardrail shoulder-first:
It quickly becomes clear that Generico can’t continue the match, as trainers and concerned wrestlers surround him. Worried, Kevin checks on his partner, but Black and Jacobs jump him from behind and keep pummeling him as Generico is taken to the back.
For ten solid minutes, the well-rested members of Age of the Fall do their level best to beat Kevin into submission. They target his knee relentlessly:
As Black gets him in a submission and twists at the hurt knee, Jacobs grabs a mic and taunts him as Kevin flails around, trying to get to the ropes:
Two against one, fresh, uninjured–and they still cheat as they try to wear Kevin down, for example when Jacobs tries to provide extra leverage so Black can get a better pin. Kevin, for his part, is suffering too much to cheat (okay, he does try to chew Jimmy’s face off at one point, but really, can you blame him?) He’s just enduring and refusing to give up. The crowd is seething with fury but also with anticipation, because they know this story, they know perfectly well that if one member of a tag team is sent off due to injury, the stage is surely set for a miraculous last-minute return in triumph. They wait, and they wait, and finally the moment they’re waiting for happens, and Generico comes charging back into the ring for righteous kicks and a bonus Asai moonsault.
The crowd is going crazy with joy, they stand up and cheer as Steen and Generico start to do their finisher, and just as Generico does his brainbuster:
Tyler Black slips in and wins the match with a cheap rollup pin, and Steen and Generico lose.
They fucking lose.
If you’re disappointed by this, your disappointment is nothing compared to that of the good folk of Hartford, who are incandescently pissed off. As Black and Jacobs start to deliver their victory speech, the audience chants “SHUT THE FUCK UP” at the top of their lungs, and their rage starts to find expression in a hail of trash hurled into the ring. At first it’s just paper:
But eventually they start throwing popcorn and beverages as well, until the air is filled with flying ice and beer and any random debris they can get their infuriated hands on:
This goes on for almost three chaotic minutes (how did they not run out of things to throw? Did they run to concessions and demand more beer to try and smash Jimmy Jacobs’ smug face with?) They’re so mad. So mad! The narrative promised triumph and has given them only bitter defeat, and they are by God going to take it out on Age of the Fall.
(Years later, I’ll be in the front row in Brooklyn when #DIY loses to the Revival, and I will cover my face and burst into tears. “They’ll win the titles eventually,” my husband reassures me, but I am inconsolable: I wanted to be there, I wanted them to hear my voice in their moment of triumph, and now that will never, ever happen. I’m not a throwing-things kind of person, and even if I tried it probably wouldn’t reach the ring (reminder: I’m in the front row. I have tiny feeble T-Rex arms), but think I do understand a little how those people in Hartford feel).
Eventually the beer-soaked, popcorn-pelted new champions swagger out, and Generico emerges from beneath the tablecloth he used for shelter to rejoin Kevin and limp slowly, painfully out together as people gather around to thank them.
“This ain’t over,” Kevin vows as they pass through the curtain, a statement not meant for the audience, but for Generico and himself, that the camera seems to only happen to pick up. “This ain’t over! This ain’t–” His voice cracks and he leans heavily on Generico, “–it’s not over.” And it’s not, in the long run, but it is for now.
So why exactly is eighty percent of this essay detailing a tournament where the heroes didn’t even win, rather than the match where they finally do win the titles? Because the joy of that title win flows naturally from the disappointment of the loss: now, when they meet up again three months later in Boston (which is pretty close to Hartford; I hope some of those miserable Hartford fans were able to be there), the fans don’t generally dislike Age of the Fall for being pretentious twits, they loathe them specifically for costing Steen and Generico their victory before and they seethe not just to see their favorites win, but to see them defeat these two particular annoying people. Steen and Generico couldn’t conquer Everest, so they went out and constructed a whole new mountain to climb–it’s a different story, not the one where they finally earn the respect of the veterans, but the one where they prevail against the cheating punks who denied them. The joy of that moment is strengthened by the crushing disappointment of Hartford to create nearly-perfect kairos, and you can feel it in the air in Boston when Generico gets the pin and hundreds of hands skyrocket in the air simultaneously.
When Kevin remembers that moment, he becomes uncharacteristically incoherent in attempting to explain how it felt, stumbling awkwardly around his reluctance to say that the audience forgot the ending was–you know–maybe not–entirely–unplanned:
“Even for us,” he says, and you can feel that too, that giddy burst of spontaneous delight, like they’re completely immersed in the story in that moment of triumph, in a way that (I assume) a wrestler usually can’t be while within the match proper:
The timing is perfect, the setbacks and disappointments that came before just enough to whet the appetite for triumph without putting it off so long that it feels overdue. Kevin notes with regret, looking back, that when he finally wins the Ring of Honor world title, the timing feels off, like it was inevitable and thus not as joyous for the crowd or for himself:
The ideal timing–incredibly hard to achieve–is to hit the target at the exact moment when the audience cannot bear it any longer if the titles aren’t won, but before it becomes so overdue that it’s obvious. The audience should react with joy and surprise, not with relief and “it’s about fucking time.” So often in wrestling the original target slips away and everything has to be re-calibrated, re-assembled for another try. The trick is in building something with the same amount of tension and satisfaction to it.
And hard as it is, you need the suffering that goes before–you need Daniel Bryan losing to HHH to make WrestleMania 30 the perfect moment it is; you need Bayley to suffer betrayal and loss before her win at Brooklyn against Sasha Banks to win the NXT title can move you to tears. Crafting the perfect moment to end the suffering and give the audience catharsis is brutally hard to make happen, and that’s why wrestlers seem to treasure those moments more than anything else.
Looking back, Sami remembers the crowd’s roar of reaction as they rise up, exalted:
That’s the pinnacle, that’s the apex and the aim, the target struck true: All those hands, those hands, those hands, lifting upward as one in that moment, as if they could touch heaven.
Up next: Kevin and El Generico put the finishing touches on their characters.
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