So much of my life has been spent misreading and complicating what were tremendously simple situations. There is nothing profound in that, but I can look back to many nights, lying awake, staring at my ceiling and searching conversations for nuance were there was none, thinking about the perfect response to a conversation I had politely smiled through, sitting awkwardly silent. The words would hit me then and I would play out the fantasy in my head and I would dazzle people with my cleverness and I would laugh to myself and think about how much easier life would be if it all played out exactly as it did in my head.
In February of 2006 I met a girl. I can’t remember her name. She had her bangs cut like the girl from the Fiery Furnaces and wore fingerless gloves in the Cleveland winter. We were at a bar one night and we ended up smoking cigarettes at roughly the same pace, two strangers meeting outside and having brief, lively conversations before going back to our separate groups. I wanted so desperately to say, hey let’s go out, let’s leave right now, but I could never find the segue until I was sitting back down at a table, watching her laugh and smile with people I had never spoken to but inevitably seemed clever and cool and perfect. Before she left she wrote her number down on a bar napkin and over the next couple weeks we spoke on the phone and learned the vagaries and intricacies of our behavior. The conversation stayed light and we planned a night for Valentine’s Day, and through our conversations I imagined that she would appreciate an evening spent pointing out the gentle ironies of planned and staged romance.
We went to White Castle and ate chicken rings and sliders in a booth with a paper table cloth, a plastic flower and a tea candle.
You may be shocked to learn this did not go over well.
After I dropped her off and hugged her at the door and stood there awkwardly as she opened her door and went inside without turning back around I drove back to the bar where we met and I drank by myself and I thought of her silent chewing and her polite and stiff laughter. I thought about how I did most of the talking, the inevitably bizarre tangents I went on in my desperate search for a thread that might be fruitful. I told my friends about the evening and made sure it was clear to them I didn’t care about any of it. Inside I wished and I screamed, if I could only be just a little bit smarter, if I was only capable of taking things just a little more seriously. I pledged to myself, as I did a shot of whisky with the bartenders, that I would chase the things I wanted.
Two weeks later I drove to Edison, New Jersey to go to a wrestling show. I viewed it as a baby step.
As I crossed in to Pennsylvania and drove through tunnels that went through mountains and pulled over at rest stops to smoke menthol cigarettes, I thought about how I was going to a wrestling show where I was excited about the experience and the show without being excited by any of the individual matches. At that point, ROH was in the midst of two separate high points creatively: the CZW feud and Bryan Danielson’s championship run. While nothing was announced to advance the CZW feud, we all knew something would happen. Bryan Danielson was tasked with facing Jimmy Rave.
In some ways, Jimmy Rave and his relationship with the ROH fans was always going to be inevitably and needless complicated in the same manner as the social relationships of the average twenty something. Jimmy Rave was almost too simple: in a company in which all the heels were either devilishly likable or in on the joke, Rave made sure he was an unlikable prick and not one thing more. He was sneering, arrogant and repugnant. His move set was intentionally rudimentary. For ROH fans, fully invested in the idea that they were supporting the rightful future of professional wrestling, Rave was a dogged reminder of the past. Subsequently, despite doing his job with almost unprecedented success (actually getting boos in a company in which almost everyone was supported) the fans grew to view him with disdain, not viewing him as someone successfully garnering a reaction but instead as someone a step behind the wrestlers he was so often matched up against. Perhaps that is to Rave’s credit, that most fans did not stop to wonder why he was continually placed in matches with AJ Styles and CM Punk and Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness, but instead just yelled about how much he sucked and threw toilet paper during his entrance. Rave’s entrance was always a reminder of the distance between the fans and the wrestlers; I would sit, four or five rows back, and watch people struggle to lob rolls of paper and streamers in to the ring, and Rave would effortlessly pluck them from the air and throw them back with such unbridled force. It was always such a stark contrast, an afterthought of a display of the necessary athleticism to be a professional wrestler.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but from perseverance grows begrudging respect. Rave was long tenured by ROH’s Fourth Anniversary, an elder statesman like Cabana or Strong, and yet still was as unsympathetic here as he was when he first arrived. It’s truly astonishing, and something to be commended. Everything he does, from cursing at the crowd at ringside (“Are you fucking done yet?”) to wiping his hand on his pants after adhering to the code of honor, makes him seem like that asshole you knew in high school, the one who wasn’t clever or popular or good at sports, he was just an asshole who picked on you because he was bored and doing so passed the time.
Here, in the opening exchanges, Rave works in a way that is clearly meant to frustrate and play on audience expectation. In 2006, ROH fans truly felt as though the champion, whomever it might be, could claim to be the best wrestler in the world. Conversely, they truly felt that Jimmy Rave was not on that level, and yet! Time and time again, he escapes and gets the better of Bryan Danielson, the poster child for the unfettered, underground artists of wrestling. With each escape, he shoves Danielson, hard across the face. How unbearable! The announcers even question the wisdom of his strategy, saying it will only serve to make Danielson more aggressive, but in some way they miss the point. Rave has everyone fooled. His greatest strength is in fact his lack of vanity: when he wrestles, he does so with no interest in showing how good he really is. When he finally does go hold for hold with the best, it is not a moment of revelation for the audience, but instead one of annoyance and frustration at his sudden show of skill.
Rave does an amazing job, as he uses stiff strikes and holds between escaping from submissions and slowly wandering the outside, of showing how prepared he is for this match. In these early moments, while not necessarily in control, he looks collected and a step ahead. He has studied Danielson, he has scouted his opponent, and much like he did when he started using maneuvers like the “Rave” Clash and the pedigree, Rave liked what he saw in those DVDs and VHS tapes and figured: why not? If it works for them it will work for anyone, arrogance on top of superior talent. It’s a strategy so simple that it almost seems like cheating. It feels unfair that Rave can watch tape and succeed at moves that are so perfected and practiced by others. In a company built upon wrestling as craft, Rave’s corner cutting is the ultimate disrespect.
The irony, and perhaps this is the beauty of hindsight, is that Rave so clearly is a breathtakingly talented in ring performer. His timing on cut offs is perfect, the fluidity of his movement as he hits his neck breaker is astounding. Despite all that, in the moment, as Rave escapes yet again, the audience disdainfully chants “you still suck”. Despite his momentary successes, he manages to look lost and outclassed and desperate when Danielson finally gains the upper hand. When Rave takes over, as he does when he counters a superplex attempt, it always looks like luck and happenstance, yet another source of consternation for an audience that vocally wants him to lose and/or die.
It is midway through the match when Rave cheats for the first time, holding the ropes during a flash pin attempt. It draws a new level of ire from the crowd, and is a reminder of who Rave truly is. He always makes sure you never forget, even in the face of technical brilliance. His performance had been impressive, and perhaps finally showed some people that he was deserved of his stature, and to so blatantly cheat was a slap in the face of the spirit of competition that was so highly valued. Really, after that moment, all of Rave’s offense is only generated via interference or cheating of some sort. While in the moment it is dastardly, it is also clear that Rave understands his role and what he needs to do. When people leave at the end of the night, their memory should not be “Rave went toe to toe with Danielson”, it should be “Rave is a cheating and opportunistic bastard”. In a company and time period when many performers went overboard to make sure they stood out, Rave’s tactics are almost selfless.
As Rave finally gives up, bleeding from the mouth, elbowed repeatedly in the head, the crowd erupts, finally assured that the company will continue to represent everything they think is good and pure about wrestling. It is to Rave’s credit that most leave unaware of the weight of his contributions.
In the decade since that match against Bryan Danielson, Jimmy Rave has seen his career wax and wane. He has fought hard to find peace in his personal life as he battled with addiction, and has spent time counseling and helping other get the treatment they deserve and need. Now once again a sought after indie talent, fans have finally started to appreciate Rave for what he brings, with many vocal supporters of his work all around the South and Midwest. Perhaps this career resurgence can be viewed not only as a performer finally getting his just due, but also as a fandom finally ready to view someone or something at face value. Perhaps, in some small way, Jimmy Rave’s triumphant return is a sign that the audience has grown and changed almost as much as him.
(Author’s note: I wrote this article on a performer I admire because Jimmy Rave needs a bit of our help. Due to an infection, Rave needs our help to raise money to pay for antibiotics. You can purchase shirts at prowrestlingtees.com/jimmyrave or you can donate directly to his paypal: [email protected]. Rave has always been forthright about his personal battles and his path both within wrestling and outside of it. I would love if we could help a performer who has given us such joy over the years in his time of need. If you do donate, feel free to tell me on twitter and I will gladly give you a shout out, a follow, will write about a match or wrestler of your choice on VoW or have you as a guest on the lucha podcast. Thank you in advance! I appreciate your time, and I’m sure Jimmy Rave appreciates your well wishes and donations.)