Bruiseday is Ian Williams' weekly column discussing the biggest cultural stories in pro wrestling.
The first time I watched Jimmy Jacobs wrestle was in 2005 on an IWA-MS tape which, by that time, was already a couple of years old. IWA was an incubator, along with Ring of Honor and Combat Zone Wrestling, for late Gen X/early Millennial wrestlers, a significant number of whom would go on to do great things. CM Punk was a regular at their shows, as was Chris Hero and a host of others.
In the middle of the show, out came Jacobs in fuzzy boots and staring at his open palm, yelling "HUSS" over and over—a play on John Nord's Viking/Berzerker gimmick in the early 1990s WWF. The catch was that Nord is 6'8", while Jacobs is 5'7". It was a gag, with Jacobs alternating between moves befitting his physical stature and power moves he had no hope of pulling off successfully.
It was enthralling. Any number of people would've blown it, but in the hands of Jacobs the gimmick never became stupid (I'm not positive he'd agree with that assessment, given how briefly he used it). I was an immediate fan, a fact which ended up being extremely important because my pro wrestling interest at the time was at an extremely low ebb: WCW was always my thing and it was dead, ECW was dead, and WWE felt actively alienating outside a few specific storylines and wrestlers. The IWA-MS crew, especially Jacobs, felt relatable and fun.
It wasn't obvious at the time, but Jacobs would become one of the greatest pro wrestling minds of his generation and, in the process, become one of its biggest what ifs.
The small berzerker thing was never going to last as a gimmick, and his kayfabe manager Lacey urged him to get more serious as part of a tag team with BJ Whitmer. The end storyline result was that Jacobs fell desperately in love/obsession with Lacey. What unfolded was (and I understand hyperbole is the coinage of pro wrestling but I mean it) the greatest angle of the post-Monday Night Wars era, one which took place on the smaller stage of Ring of Honor instead of the gaudy fireworks and strobelights of WWE.
It's impossible to do justice in this article to what unfolded between Jacobs and Lacey over the course of nearly ten years. Luckily I don't have to—a Cage Side Seats user named Vidence does a remarkable job of recapping the extremely sophisticated and long-running angle, while Aaron Taube offers a view of Lacey as the ultimate babyface misandrist. The truncated version is that a Shakespearian story of Jacobs moving from unrequited love to obsession to disinterest and finally consummation, all paired with violence, betrayal, and manipulation became one of the pillars of ROH in the 00s..And all with Lacey as a cunningly, fully portrayed actor in the proceedings.
The multi-year angle would rope in many wrestlers who are currently household names, from CM Punk to Colt Cabana to Austin Aries to Daniel Bryan, and would culminate in the Age of the Fall, a hyperviolent stable founded when Lacey fell in love with Jacobs only to face the realization that he was still miserable, a petty, violent man who might never be happy. Jacobs strung Jay Briscoe up by his feet, stood underneath him, and delivered a promo while Briscoe's blood rained down on him. It was so gruesome that rumors spread saying that ROH wanted to scrub it from the internet. (But after all, those were rumors and this is the internet, so you can watch it here.)
The entire thing was stunning. Stories like this don't get told in pro wrestling anymore. But pay attention to who the other primary members of the Age of the Fall were: Necrobutcher (had a role in The Wrestler), Brodie Lee (now WWE's Luke Harper), and Tyler Black (WWE's Seth Rollins). Jacobs never got the shot the others did, not even Necrobutcher, a notoriously violent death match wrestler who was never going to go to WWE but managed to get a small but prominent movie role out of his notoriety.
It remains inexplicable. Jacobs was in the top tier of independent wrestlers during indie wrestling's 00s reinvention. He was peers with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and a host of men and women who "made it." He wasn't the best in-ring worker, but he was good enough and there are certainly worse wrestlers who feasted on good gimmicks and promos to make it. He had the tools, he had the resume in the Jacobs/Lacey epic, and he never made it on the NJPW/WWE circuit, outside a couple jobber matches in WWE.
Not as a wrestler, anyway. Because in 2015, he was hired on as a writer by WWE. On the way out of ROH, Lacey showed up one more time, coming out of retirement to give closure to one of the great pro wrestling stories of all time. People were crying in the audience when they left together, but the best part of it all was that Jacobs was finally able to get a safe, well-paying gig taking his mind for pro wrestling storytelling global. It was a happy ending.
Of course, we now know it didn't turn out that way. Jacobs was fired last week for the pettiest of reasons: taking a selfie with his friends the Young Bucks, non-WWE pro wrestlers who have been making a very good name and living for themselves quite outside of WWE's purview. They have shirts selling out at Hot Topic, a strong social media presence, but worst of all in WWE's mind, they're building careers for themselves making WWE look foolish.
The selfie came when the Young Bucks and the rest of the Bullet Club were filming their own version of D-Generation X's invasion of WCW 20 years earlier. Ever since, WWE has been filling its diaper in a nearly month long freakout over the stunt; they immediately sent a cease and desist order to the Young Bucks to stop the usage of WWE's trademarked "Too Sweet" hand sign on Young Bucks merchandise, despite the fact that the gesture was cooked up by Kevin Nash in the old WCW, which in turn came from the NC State Wolfpack hand gesture. Pro wrestling is about repurposing the past and the broader pop culture, right up until WWE says not to.
There are rumors from Dave Meltzer's paywalled reporting that the selfie that set this off was merely the last in a string of smaller incidents, but what those smaller incidents were wasn't elaborated upon. We know there's always high turnover among the writing team, that Jacobs is obviously out, and that's about it.
Jacobs' firing can't be separated from the conditions which have WWE freaking out. People at WWE are clearly unhappy with Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks making it in the indies and NJPW. The invasion and Jacobs incidents happen nearly in tandem with Austin Aries and (especially) Neville walking out of the company. Those two are seasoned veterans who reportedly left due to their talent being wasted and having their Wrestlemania match last year cut from the DVD release, shutting them out of royalties.
If people are testing WWE hegemony—and I mean really testing it by getting out there and making big bucks with a lighter schedule—then WWE's in trouble over the next decade. There's little doubt that plenty of wrestlers in WWE could make it without the stifling, mercurial McMahons dictating every move. Cesaro and Rusev could be rich and happy tomorrow if they went to New Japan, and don't think there aren't many in WWE watching Cody, a totally fine but not top flight talent, make a mint and redefine his career on his own terms.
And WWE knows all this, which is why the Young Bucks warrant the freak out; it's not what they are now, which is objectively small potatoes compared to the gargantuan WWE, but the possibility they represent to those mired in the inescapable gravity of WWE's beige midcard.
Jacobs didn't really get fired for being Jacobs, any more than the Young Bucks were sued because they're uniquely irritating. The whole apparatus—the disrespect, the shirt sales, Cody's success, the flaunting of solidarity and friendship between wrestlers over being cowed by corporate propriety—is a future which runs counter to WWE's manufactured reality, where their position as global pro wrestling leader is unassailable and wrestlers, no matter how talented, can easily slip into an unending midcard Limbo. They sure as hell aren't bringing in new fans via their turgid storylines. WWE can only go down if the wrestlers bolt.
If Jacobs' post termination behavior is any indication, he realizes he'll be doing okay. He had a t-shirt referencing the firing up for sale within hours, and showed up at Sunday's ROH pay-per-view. During that appearance, the Young Bucks, who were in the ring with Kenny Omega, wanted to take a Bullet Club selfie but couldn't find a phone. Jacobs, who was in the audience, offered his to the Club. It took the crowd a second to recognize him, but once they did the chants of "Jimmy Jacobs" rained down. The Bullet Club went into the crowd to meet him and they did what friends always do.
They took a selfie.
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