Kevin Steen: Descent Into Madness

Brett Whitehead
February 10, 2013

Many months ago, Neal Gee and I went to a swanky Italian restaurant and hung out with swanky local professionals during happy hour. Well-dressed adults sat in dim corners and drank wine, while we enjoyed half-priced cheese plates and calamari and chatted up an attorney and her dentist husband. We and our new friends enjoyed our time together and decided to continue hanging out for the rest of the evening. In approximately three hours, they would both leave my house and I would never hear from either of them again. The reason for our discontinued friendship was because I love playing professional wrestling DVDs for strangers after long nights of drinking. Thereís a possibility that the attorney and the dentist were previously disinclined to further our friendship, but after subjecting them to the main event of ECWís _Barely Legal_—featuring a 53 year old Terry Funk being whipped on his flabby bare back with barbed wire—any other conclusion is probably pretext.

So when I say that Kevin Steen: Descent Into Madness is the best wrestling DVD I own right now, a bit of context is probably warranted. The Steen DVD qualifies as an amazing wrestling DVD that tells a compelling, nuanced wrestling narrative through a series of brutal matches. For those same reasons, itís a tough sell for non-believers. Not that this should stop you if youíre inclined to enjoy pear-shaped white guys hitting each other flush in the forehead with foreign objects, just maybe donít expect friends, family, and strangers to share in your excitement. I also donít own a lot of DVDs…

Kevin Steen features one year of the Ring of Honor feud between Kevin Steen and El Generico, two wrestlers who executed the tag-team-partners-who-no-longer-like-each-other clichť with precision and nuance. Broken tag team feuds are nothing new to professional wrestling because the story is a natural progression of most popular tag teams. With limited exception, a team of wrestlers can only fight two other wrestlers for so long before the team gets boring. When one wrestler gets stale, he can easily be reinvented; but adapting two wrestlers is increasingly more difficult. Breaking up the team and having them fight each other gives both wrestlers polarizing character paths to take, for better or worse. Unfortunately, one wrestler often succeeds, while the other languishes as the martyr to the otherís success. If Shawn Michaels is an example of the former, Marty Jannety is the best example of the latter.

As a tag team, El Generico, a white luchador who speaks no English, and Kevin Steen, a pot-bellied wrestler who speaks primarily in obscenities, would not be the archetype tag team you would expect to turn that tale on its head, but amidst the violence and shouting there is a pretty damn good wrestling story. The DVD and the feud itself succeed because the narrative is elevated over each individual character. The DVD features disgusting bloody portraits of Kevin Steen at every opportunity, but the path both wrestlers take to the final match is what makes the DVD worth watching. By doing so, the matches harken back to simpler time of professional wrestling, where the matches did the talking instead of contrived storylines. As it turns out, you donít need to add a lot of parsley to two Canadians trying to kill each other.

Similar to how the narrative is defined by an old-school approach, the matches are also retrospective in regard to the complete disregard for each otherís safety. When professional wrestling, and sports in general, become neutered by concussion safety, this DVD will look like a brontosaurus using a VCR. The feud itself is both book-ended and defined by two unprotected chair-shots to the head, meaning a direct shot to the head without using oneís hand to block the chair. In between these moments are more guys getting dropped on their head and neck worth counting. Not that these spots arenít amazing, because they most certainly are. One match ends with one wrestler being smashed in the back of the head with a steel chair while a barbed wire baseball bat rests under his forehead. What makes these spots worth it, however, is once again their use in developing the feud over the characters. Each dangerous spot builds on top of each other, so even though the wrestlers at times seem impervious to finishing moves, the serious moments still have the value they are supposed to.

What makes each of those moments so unique is that while there is nothing radically innovative about these matches, every tried and true wrestling moment is executed perfectly. In addition to the broken tag-team story, Generico and Steen executed no-disqualification matches, stolen luchador masks, bloody foreheads, and finally a career-ending stipulation. None of this is new, and it doesnít feel new. It mostly just feels believable, which is essentially all you are looking for in a wrestling match. All of this builds to the final match in which Kevin Steen puts his career on the line against El Genericoís mask. Youíd have to be either a rube or a moron not to see where the match is going, but after 8 matches against each other, both guys save a little extra for the final confrontation which puts a fitting conclusion on a classic story.

Lessons learned from Kevin Steen: Descent into Madness are few and far between, but are worth repeating. You donít need bells and whistles to tell a good story and some stories are classic for a reason. And although violent wrestling has reached diminishing returns, well-placed danger can still have impact it used to when used correctly. Also, if your friends cut you off because you make them watch violent altercations between hairy old men, they were not your friends to begin with. Ole!
ink splash

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