RBTR – The Rival, The Ally

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. Andre Agassi retired from the world of professional tennis recently to standing ovations, numerous accolades, countless superlatives, and the highest of high praise. Aside from echoing all of the sentiments shared by those that spoke so fondly of Agassiâ<80><99>s glittering career, I couldnâ<80><99>t help but take notice of the comments of one man, in particular. They were the comments of Agassiâ<80><99>s long-time rival, Pete Sampras. In case you missed them, here they are:

â<80><9c>Andre made me a better player Borg and McEnroe needed each other. I needed Andre. He was the only guy who forced me to add things to my game.â<80>

Agassi was similar in his appraisal of matches with Sampras.

â<80><9c>We’re opposite in everything we do. We’re two styles going against each other. Every point, something special seems like it can happen. There’s been nothing in my career that compares to playing against Pete.â<80>

Sampras acknowledges that whenever he played Agassi he knew that he would have to up his game several notches in order to get the victory. He realises that without Agassi, he would never have reached the levels of tennis he did, because his best would never have been demanded of him.

This got me thinking.

What if this was the case in wrestling? We all know that working a great match usually takes two wrestlers working together, rather than against each other, as it would seem if casually watching. However, there is a difference between having a great match with somebody and producing your very best performance; particularly if it is a certain, specific opponent that tends to bring out that very best in you each and every time.

We hear the phrase â<80>~chemistryâ<80><99> in wrestling a lot. Maybe Agassi and Sampras have great chemistry? However, tennis isnâ<80><99>t a predetermined sport, and both Agassi and Sampras would be more concerned with winning the match against their rival before even considering putting on a great match for the fans. Thatâ<80><99>s where the two sports differ as examples. In Agassi and Samprasâ<80><99>s case, it was simply the heated rivalry and competition that drove them to produce their best against one another, which then perpetuated several classic tennis matches.

But who are wrestlingâ<80><99>s Agassis and Samprases?

Well, the most obvious choice would be Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. You could put those two in a phone booth and theyâ<80><99>d probably have a great match. However, do they raise their game against one another? Itâ<80><99>s arguable that they do, though they have put on great matches with many a wrestler over the years, so to what extent they drive each other to go that step further is difficult to prove.

I guess, as with most cases in the wrestling business, itâ<80><99>s about interpretation and personal opinion. Bret Hart always claimed that Mr. Perfect was a wrestler who would constantly bring the best out of him, and things just seemed to click between the two of them in the ring. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat thrived on excelling against one another, and taking each other to places that neither had been. A more recent example, once again involving Mr. Angle, is Kurt Angle and the Undertaker. Many believe they have a certain chemistry between the two of them that is always guaranteed to produce an exhilarating match-up.

Yet itâ<80><99>s dangerous to descent this debate in to talk of chemistry and clicking. Thereâ<80><99>s more to this than simply what styles mesh well together. Agassi and Sampras were driven by the competition; but can we attribute that factor to wrestling? Surely we can.

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels are two rivals that went nose-to-nose inside and outside of the ring. Their Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania 12 sparked rumours that it was a game of one-ups-man-ship â<80>” just who could out-shine the other on the day. Who was better conditioned? Who had the greater depth to their arsenal? Sure, in wrestling itâ<80><99>s about working together, but that doesnâ<80><99>t mean you donâ<80><99>t have a point to prove every time you go out to the ring. And I donâ<80><99>t mean just to the fans either. You have a point to prove to your peers.

Michaels and Hart had a point to prove to one another. There was a respect for each otherâ<80><99>s athletic abilities, but a lack thereof for each other as human beings. This drove them on from performing very well, to performing great. This pushed them the extra mile from a brilliant performance, to an unforgettable one. It was a match, in my eyes, that was an utter success, and was a result of two guys who were full of pride, and respect for each other as athletes, but, equally, still with a point to prove.

Boxing also had its Michaels and Hart. Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank were great rivals in and out of the ring. Sure, there was a respect for each other in the ring, but they never pretended to like one another (though, since retiring, both seem to have put the past behind them). In a recent documentary, both were quoted as saying that they would have been half the fighter without the other. Without a rival to drive them on, and spur them on to be better, they would never have reached the heights they did.

Hulk Hogan won World Title after World Title, but where would he be without his competition? If he didnâ<80><99>t have the Earthquakes, Sgt. Slaughters and Andre the Giants of this world to defeat, then many of his victories would have been empty ones. Fans invested in match ups between Hogan and his aforementioned rivals because they genuinely believed it was worth their hard-earned cash to witness Hogan defeat, or attempt to defeat, these heinous villains. Itâ<80><99>s competition, my friends, and without it, another Hulk Hogan title reign would probably induce another shrug of the shoulders.

Thereâ<80><99>s an old adage that youâ<80><99>re only as good as the guy you beat, and guys like Agassi and Smapras realise that. Without each other, their victories would be far less substantial. They needed each other, just like Hogan needed Andre, Hart needed Perfect, and Angle needed Benoit.

Wrestling may be predetermined, but that doesnâ<80><99>t mean there arenâ<80><99>t a lot of egos in the locker room. Vince Russo famously once said that if you worry about wins and losses in wrestling, then youâ<80><99>re in the wrong business (something I devoted a whole column to in â<80>~Another One in the Win Column?â<80><99>) but that doesnâ<80><99>t mean that a guy lying down for someone else doesnâ<80><99>t have an ego. In fact, thereâ<80><99>s probably just as many, if not more, egos in wrestling than in sports like tennis, where a loss truly reflects your performance, rather than the decision of a booker.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that these athletes love to upstage each other. They love to steal the show and capture the spotlight ahead of the next guy. If a guy comes along who is better than they are, they do their utmost to take their game up a level. Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of football side Manchester United, once said, in light of Chelseaâ<80><99>s recent emergence as English footballâ<80><99>s new superpower, that Chelsea had raised the bar, and it was the job of he and his team to respond to this and match Chelsea stride for stride. Currently, they are doing that, sitting on equal points with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.

Itâ<80><99>s about those who drive you to be better, not just those who you have great chemistry with. Kurt Angle has often been quoted as saying that he wants to go down as being THE greatest wrestler of all time, and his personal quest to do that has seen him risk life and limb. I have no doubt in my mind that every time someone emerges as possibly being the greatest of this era, if not all time, then Angle makes a concerted effort to take his game up another level again.

Nobody wants to be seen as someone who is carried by their opponent. It would be of particular concern to a wrestler if there were wrestling someone renowned for having good matches with just about anybody. Theyâ<80><99>ll want to be seen as pulling their weight, and theyâ<80><99>ll do their utmost to make sure they are not left behind and being dragged along by their opponent. This is true for any level wrestler, whether it be a top star, or a lower card guy. There are those that say Chris Benoit is great, but Kurt Angle is just that bit better, or vice versa. So, every time Angle and Benoit head to the ring, you can bet your bottom dollar that both of them are going in with the mindset that they are going to show the fans they are the MVP right now.

If there isnâ<80><99>t competition around for the titles and the accolades, then people will get complacent. You need guys who are creeping up on you and ever improving, eager and able to take your spot. It keeps you on your toes. Sports managers say they love a selection headache, and they love competition for places, as it makes those in possession of their spots all the more determined to keep them. Wrestling is the same. You need the competition. Sampras knew that if he didnâ<80><99>t keep playing his best, he would lose his championships. Guys like Cena, Edge, Batista etc. should all feel the same pressure to consistently keep improving and giving their best, or someone else will take their spot.

Wrestlers should relish a rival. They should relish him and thank him, for he will take them to places they have never been before. Without a rival – someone who is willing to capitalise on any mistakes and complacency you may have to take your spot â<80>” it is easy to sit back and admire what you have done, rather than strive for something better. We should celebrate rivalries in wrestling, because without them, we may never see the best come from superstars that have the ability to be legends.

So, in any walk of life, whether it be sport, academics, or business, think about your rivalâ<80>¦the guy you hate â<80>” the guy whoâ<80><99>s desperate to beat you at whatever you do â<80>” and then think about how without him, you wouldnâ<80><99>t be half as good as you are.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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