Wednesday 21 November 2012

Remembering Art Barr By Rock Rims

Over 2300 year ago, Alexander the Great, not yet 33 years old, died after a night of heavy drinking. Even at that young age, he had conquered a great part of the then-known world, and had already devised plans for further military campaigns, looking to conquer new territories.

It’s always tragic when anyone dies that young, but it always seems more so when the person is someone with immense talent and abilities. Someone who may have already displayed some of that potential, but still had much more he could fulfill. Alexander, James Dean, Tupac Shakur, these are just a few of the people who fit into that category, and in the world of Professional Wrestling, we’d certainly have to include Art Barr. All of these individuals, gained many admirers and much respect in their respective fields, and rightly so. Because regardless if whether or not we enjoyed what they created or agreed with some of their lifestyle decisions, habits, or personality traits, they possessed undeniable great ability and potential untapped.

On November 23, 1994, Art Barr passed away in his sleep, while lying next to his young son at his home in Eugene, Oregon. He had just turned 28 years old only 6 weeks before. And just two weeks before, he had wrestled his greatest match, having established himself as a highly in-demand wrestler in Mexico, and on the verge of exploring new territories to conquer.

Barr began his career in the Pacific Northwest Wrestling territory and in 1989, during a television taping, family friend Roddy Piper decided to transform the up until then bland Art Barr, into “Beetlejuice.” Even before the comedic segment was over, you could see positive results. Although it was a goofy gimmick, it would give Barr the opportunity for more attention, and even more importantly, the opportunity to cut loose and display his natural charisma, which up until then had remained relatively buried.

Barr would work his “Beetlejuice” character, and subsequently his “Juicer” character, both in Portland and then WCW. While growing in popularity in WCW, and showing good athletic ability in televised matches, his lack of size was an issue and he failed to impress the powers that be in WCW.

Art was released by WCW, but with the help of wrestler Konan, he would soon find himself south of the border, working in EMLL. He would don a mask and begin wrestling under the name “Love Machine”. After a year or so, he would then embark on a feud with the famed luchador Blue Panther, which feud would gain him more attention, is still talked about today, and was a critical factor in Barr’s becoming a star in Mexico.

Up until that point in his career and in EMLL, Barr was a face, but some fans were lukewarm towards him, as was evidenced during a mask vs. mask match between Barr and Panther, which took place in April of 1992 at the Arena Mexico. Mexican wrestling fans are very passionate, and are not hesitant to express how they really feel about a match or a wrestler. During the match, more and more fans were beginning to cheer the rudo (heel) Blue Panther, and were giving Barr a mixed reaction to his moves. Mexican fans were ahead of most of the world when it came to sometimes rooting for the heels in wrestling, and this time was no exception.

In the closing moments of the intense match, with more and more fans beginning to rally behind Blue Panther, the 2 out of 3 fall match was even at one fall a piece, and Barr was unloading an offensive barrage on Blue Panther. Then in a costly mistake, and in the heat of the moment, Barr delivered a piledriver to Panther, taking him out of commission. Unfortunately, the move, while perfectly legal in most of the U.S., is an illegal maneuver in Mexico. Barr screamed out in both anguish and protest, at the mistake which would cost him his mask, something masked wrestlers in Mexico seek to avoid at all costs.

Barr would then attack Blue Panther with extreme intensity, as attendants were trying to carry Panther out on a stretcher. The fans reacted as expected, and while Barr would remain a Face for some time, as Panther would also remain a heel, the stage was set for an eventual switch.

The feud was resumed the following year when both had jumped to the new AAA promotion, and on July 23, 1993, their singles feud culminated in a “mask vs. hair” match. During the third and deciding fall, and with the referee’s back turned to them, Love Machine placed Blue Panther in position to give him the piledriver, the same move that had laid him out on the stretcher the year before. However Perro Aguayo, Love Machine’s second in the match, ran in and prevented Barr from delivering the piledriver, knowing it could cost Barr both the match and his hair. Barr hesitated, dropping Panther to the floor, just as the referee returned his attention to them. Thinking that Barr had delivered the illegal piledriver, the referee disqualified Love Machine; giving Panther both the victory and the satisfaction of seeing Barr’s hair get cut.

Furious at what he considered an injustice, being disqualified for an act he didn’t even commit, and possibly for the fan’s increased support of the rudo Blue Panther, Barr vented his frustrations by attacking Aguayo.

Barr’s turn to the dark side would soon be complete, as the following month, while in a 6 man tag match with Eddie Guerrero and El Hijo Del Santo as his partners, Love Machine donned a “Santo” mask that he took from a boy from ringside, and began giving Guerrero a fierce beating, leading the dazed Guerrero to believe that Santo had attacked him. Guerrero, who had himself displayed heel-like behaviors on some recent occasions, attacked Santo, soon being joined in by Barr and opposing team member Fuerza Guerrera.

Barr’s heel turn was complete, and he now had a partner in crime, and they would become known as “La Pareja Del Terror” (The Terror Team), and then “Los Gringos Locos,” forming the nucleus of what would become a heel faction in AAA. They set AAA on fire, and ignited feuds (most notably with Santo and Octagon) during what was undoubtedly the hottest time period for the company.

Over the next 15 months, Barr and Guerrero blossomed both as performers and heels, lighting up the ring with both their chemistry and ring work, and working up Mexican and U.S. crowds into frenzy. Of the two, Eddie was undoubtedly the better technician and in-ring performer, but definitely learned a thing or two from Barr when it came to ring psychology, increasing the fan’s emotional involvement in the match, inciting them to hatred and near-riots. And isn’t that partly why we watch a match, whether it be on TV or at the arena? To cheer who we love, and boo who we don’t? And the more passionate we are about that, the more we enjoy ourselves and what we see and feel. Barr recognized the importance of getting the fans to care about what was going on in the ring, to have an emotional stake in what was taking place in the match. Whether you booed him and cheered for his opponent was irrelevant. It was that he got a reaction out of you was the thing that was critical. And like his mentor Roddy Piper before him, Barr was quickly becoming a genius in that regard.

Barr’s and Guerrero’s feud with Santo and Octagon over the AAA tag team titles would increase in its intensity, culminating in double hair vs. mask match during AAA’s first pay per view, “When World’s Collide”.

The date was Nov. 6, 1994, and WCW had taken notice of both AAA’s and “Los Gringos Locos”, and as a result helped co-promote and make possible the pay-per-view event. Other’s had taken notice of Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero in particular. Among them were New Japan and ECW, who was running hot at the time. These were places that unlike WCW at the time didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the size of a wrestler’s body, as they did to the size of his heart, his in-ring ability, and his ability to increase the fan’s emotional involvement. Eddie had already done tours of Japan, and Art was scheduled for one soon.

The venue for the PPV was The Sports Arena in Los Angeles, one of the world’s major cities, and the capital of the media world. There was lots riding on this event, with it being AAA’s first ppv and millions, including important wrestling promoters, set to watch the event. And although it wasn’t the main event, the double hair vs. mask match was the highlight of the event and the match that stole the show.

Within Lucha Libre, a Hair vs. Mask match is typically the climax of a feud. It is the culmination of months of exchanged blows and insults, bad blood & shed blood, when there is no other alternative left to settle things once and for all between the participants.

This was the opportunity for Barr to shine his brightest, and he didn’t disappoint. He turned in what may have been his best in-ring performance ever, displaying great timing and precision. And with his facial expressions, gestures, and his derogatory comments that specifically targeted L.A.’s Hispanic population, he along with Guerrero, had the fans screaming for their blood as well as their hair. All of the match participants contributed to what would be considered by some the match of the year, and would be given a 5 star rating by The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It, without a doubt, is a must-see match for every wrestling fan.

In the end, after an emotional, intense battle, it would be Santo and Octagon who would have the victory. But in the end, everyone was a winner, including the fans and Guerrero and Barr as well.

Sadly, it would be Barr’s last match, as two weeks later he died. And one can’t wonder what might’ve been. ECW and New Japan both came knocking, and the surviving Guerrero would make the most of his opportunities, as would other Cruiserweight wrestlers who had spent time in Mexico, such as Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. It might’ve taken several more years, but all of those wrestlers and Dean Malenko as well, would travel that path to eventual stardom on the big time wrestling platforms. Isn’t it possible that Art Barr might’ve joined that elite group in such success?

It’s quite possible. While he wasn’t as technically proficient as some of the others just mentioned, really, how many people have ever been able to say that they were? And without a doubt, he had more charisma than any of those individuals, Guerrero included. And hadn’t Piper shown years before, that charisma can greatly enhance the performance, appeal, and marketability of a wrestler? And that’s something that you can’t learn in a gym.

While it can be argued that Art’s lifestyle decisions, lack of size, or any thing else about him could sabotage any potential opportunity for big time success, what can’t be argued is that he left everything he had in the ring. And it can’t be argued as to whether or not he made a big time impact in Lucha Libre during the 90’s. And it definitely can’t be argued as to whether he left us with one of the more memorable matches in the last several decades of Wrestling History. Art left us with a tremendous parting gift, as his last match was his best.

Thank you Art, and rest in peace.

I can be found on twitter @RockRims

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