#JeffJarrettWeek: Essential Viewing

Slapnuts

It’s Day Two of #JeffJarrettWeek, a celebration of all things J-E-Double F J-A-Double R-E-Double T and the seventh installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. Yesterday, we started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, today we give you the finer points of the Double J oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. We march through Wednesday with a GIF parade, and then after Hump Day, we’ll fulfill our destiny as Amazon.com on steroids with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Exploding Guitar-fueled civil war.) 

As Nick addressed in yesterday’s A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better , Jeff Jarrett was introduced to the WWF crowd in the early 90’s as absolutely hateable. In this vignette from the golden age of WWF vignettes, Jarrett heels on both country music hating Northerners and the country music establishment for ignoring his considerable musical talents. This video is a perfect example of how Jarrett can take utter cartoon foolishness and somehow make it work – the man heels on a historic building, for Chrissakes. A fun (and highly intoxicating) drinking game would be to take a shot every time Jarrett gestures using one of his signature two-fingered points.

As stupid and outrageous as WWF-era Jeff Jarrett’s antics were, they perfectly complimented the character he played in the ring. He was the kind of heel who used every dirty trick in the book to win, and then celebrated his victories as if he had overcome incredible odds through clean living and the grace of God. Because of his decidedly dishonorable tactics and his inability to “be a man,” he became the natural opponent for Razor Ramon, a former tough-guy heel who WWF was transitioning into a kickass, man’s man babyface.

Jarrett and Razor had a fantastic feud, which worked because of their naturally-clashing characters and because, well, they could both really go in the ring. Their most famous match occurred at the 1995 Royal Rumble. The match is well-worked and features a tenacious babyface trying his best to overcome steep odds against a heel cheap and conniving enough to figure out exactly how to stack those odds. Of course, the famous aspect of this match is the classic heel finish, which shows the irritating Jarrett outsmart the overly-competitive Ramon to capture the Intercontinental Championship.

Jarrett’s heelish anti-charisma made him a spectacular Intercontinental Champion. He played the role full Honky Tonk Man, standing at the top of the midcard as the cheating gatekeeper. Jarrett’s ability to talk a big game and sell like crazy made him a perfect jobber to the stars. He could take a big beating from a main eventer, then slide back down into the midcard no worse for wear.

This rare — especially for the time — champion vs. champion from an early MSG Raw sees Jarrett take on New Generation World Heavyweight Champion Big Daddy Cool Diesel (count the capitals). Kevin Nash is, in some twisted way, the ultimate Jeff Jarrett main event opponent: a guy who needs a lot of help to have a special match. Jarrett effectively bumps and flies for Nash and, along with the Roadie, creates some really creative spots to showcase the World Champion’s immense size and strength. Around the six minute mark, Jarrett enlists the Roadie’s help to try and escape an arm-wringer, which leads sets up a super “Hebner kicks the heel’s hands off the ropes” spot.

Jeff Jarrett will always be the perfect wrestler to have that match: top-of-the-midcard “mechanic”. The fundamental job of whom is to “enhance” the hell out of main-event babyfaces that can’t really work. To his general detriment, however, Double J has always hungered for that tippy-top spot, even if that would be the wrestling equivalent of a great lineman wanted to play quarterback in the WWF – in Vince’s eyes, being able to protect the stars from the riff-raff until you know they can draw money was different than being able to draw money somehow — the traits that make you good at one position don’t necessarily translate to the other.

Jarrett’s pursuit of main event stardom led him to late-90s WCW, where everybody was a main eventer, which meant nobody was a main eventer. The degree to which WCW made Double J into a World’s Champion-caliber main event star is highly debatable and speaks to how and why WCW failed… but that’s a conversation for another day. The positive of going to WCW was that it offered Jarrett a fresh crop of stars with which to have good matches.

This match from Starrcade 1999 features Double J taking on [HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED], the premier worker of the day. Ladder matches were highly en vogue at the time, but generally presented as multi-man affairs (see: TLC) focused on crazy highspots and taking as many bumps per minute as possible. Here, Jarrett and [Tom Riddle] work an intensely physical ladder match that still maintains the storytelling structure of a typical one-on-one wrestling match. While Jarrett is sometimes characterized as a performer who needs bells and whistles to tell a story in the ring, this match with the displays him employing the ladder to enhance a solid story, not using it in place of one.

Chris Benoit vs Jeff Jarrett – Starrcade 1999 by RatedREdgeHead316

Jarrett is somewhat unfairly remembered as the avatar of the dying days of WCW. He ate up a lot of TV time in the last year of WCW’s existence, partially because he was one of the last men standing who actually knew how to play a top heel. His brash, loud-mouthed style eventually became too Attitude Era for even the height of the Attitude Era, though, and his promos, while capably heelish, ultimately became so over-the-top as to lose their focus on wrestling (The Russo Effect).

This promo on Sid Vicious (I promised you the dying days of WCW, didn’t I?) shows Jarrett at the height of Attitude Era indulgence. His promo in the ring is muddied by the presence of The Harris Brothers, anonymous good-looking women, and some very ill-fitting sunglasses. However, Jarrett still manages to deliver in a heelish, though convolutedly heelish, way.

Jarrett was also a key player in the signature moment of the death of WCW: Bash at the Beach 2000. Through a laundry list of political machinations that can best be explained by Vince Russo himself:

Jeff Jarrett “lost” the title to Hulk Hogan, who was immediately stripped, followed by Jarrett vs. Booker T for the now-completely-illegitimate WCW World Heavyweight Title.

While Bash at the Beach was perhaps the nadir for WCW, it was actually an incredible moment for Jeff Jarrett. He, along with Booker T, needed to have a match that would kept the title strong and do what Hulk Hogan was utterly incapable of doing: exciting the crowd with a good match. The match that followed followed through, and ultimately led to Booker T becoming a huge star in WWE.

After the fall of WCW, Jeff Jarrett famously assisted in the founding of the next opposition company: Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (see my Wrestler You Should Prob… AJ Styles from last week for more on this). If you want to see the Essential Viewing of the NWA-TNA era, check out the three disc “Jeff Jarrett: King of the Mountain” collection. It does an admirable job showcasing both Jarrett’s biggest matches and some otherwise forgotten gems (who thought Monty Brown would ever be involved in the “best of” anything?) from the early years of TNA. Since that collection is out there, I won’t dwell on the early years of TNA here, aside from this one match with Jeff Hardy from Victory Road 2004.

This match, along with the BFG Monster’s Ball is one of the reasons Jeff Hardy eventually became a multi-time World’s Champion in the WWE. Much like a young Jeff Jarrett was capable of bringing a great match out of the immobile Diesel, an experienced Jeff Jarrett is capable of showing an excitable, highspot-oriented star how to have a dramatic main event style match. Jarrett and Hardy do just enough ladder spots to thrill the crowd, but much like the earlier match with Benoit [we’re over it], Jarrett knows how to make the ladders an integral part of the story being told, not just tall objects from which to jump.

Before Jeff Jarrett’s disappearance from TNA television, he engaged in perhaps the greatest feud of his entire career against Kurt Angle. Double J and Angle had a natural rivalry, as Jarrett legitimately wooed away Angle’s wife, which quickly became wrestling’s worst-kept secret. Real-life issues aside, Jarrett and Angle were perfect opponents, as Jarrett was the perfect cheap victory-loving braggadocious heel to oppose Angle’s righteous and confident-because-he-deserves-to-be top-wrestler babyface.

Jarrett vs. Angle brought TNA fans a number of extremely good matches before Kurt forced Double J to “say adios,” writing him off TNA television for an indeterminate length of time. The most spectacular match between the two was their cage match at TNA’s 2011 Lockdown event. The cage gimmick was invented to give the honest babyface an even playing field to go toe-to-toe against the slippery, cheating heel, and this match used that formula to the tee.

Looking at two decades of Jeff Jarrett all at once is perhaps unfair, as he has had a long, varied, and always-interesting career. Double J has been a great midcarder, a self-indulgent main eventer, and a great main eventer at various times in his run. With that said, he’s always been a tremendous in-ring performer and a strong heel promo. Jeff Jarrett has taken almost as much heat over the booking style of Vince Russo as Russo himself, but when you divorce Double J from the way he has been booked, it’s clear to see that he is truly one of the top workers of his generation.