Triple H holds everybody down.
Undertaker won’t sell to anybody.
TNA’s just a bunch of acrobats and brawlers.
Jarrett won’t step out of the NWA Title picture like he should.
The WWE doesn’t have a strong tag division/women’s division/midcard/cruiserweight division anymore; all they care about are muscleheads.
The industry is in a slump and it’s getting worse.
Day after day, these sentiments and more are echoed across columns, message boards and chatrooms regarding the wrestling industry. It’s enough to bother a person, especially if that said someone is someone who is looking to regain their inner mark … to find the fanboy inside who enjoys wrestling and doesn’t stop to examine every single move for psychology, who doesn’t care the right person for the business went over. It really is enough to crush the spirit of appreciating wrestling. Because, that’s why we’re all here, right? You’re reading my column, and in the larger sense, Inside Pulse (and possibly any other websites in the myriad options you have for wrestling-related writing) because you want to come together over this common bond of the appreciation of wrestling. It’s awful hard to do that, though, when the commonality is complaining.
A few of us have taken different attempts at rectifying such a thing. Brashear examines bad gimmicks of the past (a sort of miniaturized WrestleCrap-in-a-column, although with more of a career retrospective angle to it then just showcasing the crap), and it makes people laugh … I did a neat little thing called Re-Writing The Book for about a year (I hope to come back to it one more time before my kids are born … no promises) where I did “what if?” fiction. And Gordi runs a nice little ship here called The Art Of Wrestling, where he examines … well, whatever the hell he wants to, but he always does it with positivity. Gordi ain’t here to bitch; he’s here to write, and to entertain. Why? Because he, like me, like Bufton, and like damn near everyone else here at IP Wrestling, whoever or whatever we watch or don’t, all still like wrestling at the end of the day. We just don’t often sound like we do.
And with Gordi soaking up some Japanese hospitality (and, no doubt, many a live puro event), someone has to fill his shoes … and it’s only fitting that the person doing it maintain the integrity and standards set forth by Mr. Whitelaw.
But what could I, someone who’s been known to be a bitter crank about the current WWE product, write that can even be remotely traced back to positivity? Well, I’d have to go back in time, I guess, to a time when I wasn’t so stricken with ennui. But we’re not just gonna talk about the good ol’ days, oh no sir. I got something for you … something that may help you find the lost mark within yourself … the one cowering behind the “BENOIT MUST BE WORLD CHAMPION AT ALL TIMES” commandment so deeply chiseled into your brain.
I’m talking about guilty pleasures. Those matches that aren’t Benoit/Angle or Styles/Daniels wrestling clinics. Those matches that might not have perfect psychology, might not have a Faulkner-crafted storyline, but the total far outweights the sum of their parts. The matches I picked aren’t in any particular order; I just picked matches that are near and dear to my heart, things I can watch over and over again and feel like a fan, even if they might run counter to the smark in me. I’ll even tell you where you can find em, in the case that it’s readily available, if they happen to be readily available.
#1: Diesel vs. The Undertaker, WrestleMania 12
I reviewed this as part of my review of The Undertaker DVD, so I don’t need to repeat myself. Click over and read what I said. But trust me, this thing is a classic, despite the alarms that are going off in your head from a meeting between these two. Obviously, it can be found either through the WrestleMania box sets, or the Undertaker set.
#2: Dusty Rhodes vs. Steve Corino, any match (ECW, circa January-March 2000)
A lot of people give Corino shit about being a fairly basic wrestler with no flash. And, by this time, Dusty wasn’t exactly putting on clinics (like he was ever). But you know what I say to both of those camps? Piss off; their series of matches was perversely entertaining. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge Corino mark. Maybe it’s because, during a promo, Corino accused Dusty of cutting the break-lines on Magnum TA’s car. I don’t know … but the war was great, and it helped turn Corino from a whiny, chicken-shit dork into a serious contender in only a couple months. Bless Dusty for doing that. If you can find this match, you’re a lucky bastard; tape traders and torrents are your only bet. Unless we get REALLY LUCKY and Dusty includes it on his inevitable DVD set.
#3: Diamond Dallas Page vs. Raven, Bowery Deathmatch (WCW Slamboree 1998)
A lot of people shit on this match, and I have no idea why. When DDP concentrated, he could string together a very watchable match … and with Raven, a certified master at telling a story in the ring, leading the dance … not to mention the stips (think a steel cage with a roof … not a Hell In A Cell, but a regular cage, with a roof, and all the weapons you can think of supplied by WCW, with knockout rules) … the thing just screams good fun. If I remember correctly, a VCR was involved … or a Nintendo, one of the two. When high-end electronics are used as weapons, you know it’s fun. Like with the Corino/Rhodes matches, finding this will be a bitch: tape traders and torrents, cause with neither guy a WWE employee, the odds of seeing this on DVD are slim to none.
#4: The Rock vs. Chris Benoit, Fully Loaded 2000
This was the main event of an interesting triple-main-event PPV where a lot of “up-and-comers” (read: people not named Triple H, Undertaker or Rock) got top-card matches, including a horrible UT/Kurt Angle match and a breathtaking H’s/Chris Jericho Last Man Standing match. Benoit taunted and screwed with Rock in the build-up, driving Rock to show a vicious side of himself not seen since the infamous chair-to-Ken-Shamrock’s-face incident. The result was a rage-filled Rock coming with guns a’blazin’ against Benoit, who was wearing a chip on his shoulder the size of Alaska and was daring someone to “prove him wrong” (his lame catchphrase at the time). Somehow, the two styles of wrestling meshed perfectly, and both men looked like world-beaters coming out of it, even if Benoit got shunted back down the card at lightspeed. Finding this match won’t be easy, as the WWE made the criminal mistake of excluding it from the Benoit DVD, and haven’t bothered to put out a good Rock DVD yet … so, happy torrent hunting.
#5: Tommy Dreamer vs. Rob Van Dam, Flag match, November 2 Remember 1996
Flag matches, as a rule, suck. Any match with winning conditions that involve a pole, generally, suck. Thank goodness this isn’t a Flag match by normal standards; instead of capturing your opponent’s flag, “Flag” portion of the match is a reward, the right to fly their flag in triumph. See, RVD had sided with the invading Jerry Lawler, so he was “representing” WWF, while Tommy stood up for ECW. On paper, the match sounds ugly as sin, with Tommy’s brawling and RVD’s acrobatics, but bless Paul Heyman and his ability to hide the negatives and bring out the positives, cause all this match is positives. Maybe I’m biased by my fandom of both, who knows? Who cares? It’s a damn great match, with some great drama and classic ECW chaos-booking. It can be had on the RVD DVD (a review of which is available here).
#6: Steve Austin vs. Undertaker, First Blood End Of An Era match, Fully Loaded 1999
The build-up is unforgettable, even if a little Russo-esque. Both combatants would be out due to long-standing, nagging injuries by November, so the match is little more then a brawl. But with the drama coming in, it’s magic: both guys get busted open and bandaged at the start of the event. Vince McMahon’s career is on the line, as are Austin’s hopes of future WWF Title shots. Blood has flowed many times between the three in the prior weeks, including sick segments where the competitors used blood to sign the contract. Sure, it’s a WWE Main Event Style main event, but that’s okay, as long as it’s done right … and here, it’s done flawlessly, all building up to the ending, which gives a nod to the prior First Blood match taken part in by Austin. This can be found on the Undertaker DVD.
#7: Ahmed Johnson & The Road Warriors vs. Nation Of Domination, Chicago Street Fight, WrestleMania 13
Yes, I’m daring to pick a match with such classic no-selling maniacs (not to mention technical wizards) as the Road Warriors, Ahmed Johnson, Faarooq and Crush. Naturally, having it be a street fight helped tremendously, but still … the chaos in this match just rocked for some reason. WrestleMania 13 usually gets nailed as one of the worst, aside from the **** classic of Austin/Bret (although their better match was at Survivor Series 1996), but this is a true forgotten gem. The only fault is that it didn’t blow off the long-running Ahmed/Faarooq feud, but … meh. Who cares? A good match is a good match. This can only be had, to the best of my knowledge, by getting the WrestleMania set.
#8: Royal Rumble 1994
I mean the match, not the whole event. Almost unanimously, the IWC loathes this match. My guess is either A) Luger being one of the co-winners, or B) The whole co-winner angle. To them, I say f*ck you; the co-winner angle was brilliant. Tell me, any of you, after you saw your first Royal Rumble as a kid, that you weren’t curious what would happen if two people went out together. This solved it, and it added some cool drama to WrestleMania X, and it teased what would’ve been a HUGE money feud with Luger vs. Bret, had they pulled the trigger (why they didn’t, I’ll never understand). This might be tainted, in retrospect, if you’ve never seen it but you saw this year’s, since the 2005 Royal Rumble had a double-elimination ending as well, but since they Dusty-finished their way out of it, I piss on it and back ’94. Finding this will be a chore; back to the internet or tape traders with ya.
#9: WarGames 1996
Oh, the drama in this one alone sells it. Yeah, everyone except real marks, the amazingly near-sighted and Tony Schiavone couldn’t tell it was a fake Sting, but the way the WCW (as a company) sold it was nothing short of brilliant, harkening a storyline that would take 15 months to unfold. Plus, the way WCW acted, as if the loss of Sting would surely drive the company into the abyss, was nothing short of awesome … and when Sting came out, took out the nWo by himself, then turned his back on those who distrusted him (Luger, Flair and Double-A) … a priceless moment. And then, the ending … well, let’s just say instant karma’s gonna getcha. Now, as for finding this … rumors abound of a WarGames or Horsemen DVD from the E … but with none in sight, your only options are the ever-so-popular internet/traders one-two punch. Don’t you hate me right now?
#10: New Age Outlaws vs. Cactus Jack & Terry Funk, Dumpster match, WrestleMania 14
Despite the bad taste of the initial dumpster incident with the Styrofoam packing peanuts, and the horrible taste of Chainsaw Charlie, this match still kinda kicked ass. The NAO had been running roughshod over the tag division, and it was gonna take someone big to knock them off … enter two hardcore legends, in a match with no rules. Crazy brawling, silly spots a-plenty, and a forklift … yes, a forklift. Trust me, it makes sense. This can be had through, of course, the WrestleMania sets.
And by no means is this list conclusive. Other matches that might not live up to the IWC’s lofty standards, but I find to be must-see TV, include:
Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon, Street Fight, WrestleMania 17
Bill Alfonso vs. Beulah McGillicuty (I forget when … sue me, I’m not perfect)
Raven vs. Sandman, Barbed Wire match (Don’t remember when this is either)
Raven vs. Rhino, Hardcore Title, Backlash 2001
Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam, Hardcore Title, Invasion 2001
Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, Hollywood Backlot Brawl, WrestleMania 12
Taz vs. Shane Douglas, Wrestlepalooza 1997
Bret Hart vs. Vader vs. Undertaker vs. Steve Austin, Final Four 1997
20-man X-Division battle royal, Victory Road 2004
Megumi Kudo Vs. Combat Toyoda, Electrified Barbed Wire match (I got no f*cking clue when this happened, but it’s from FMW)
And the list goes on and on. I could be here all day giving you out-of-the-way matches that rule the roost, but are lost to the ravages of time and the specters of matches with Benoit or Angle or Guerrero or the like in them. All I’m doing here is trying to broaden your horizons … workrate isn’t just in chain wrestling; it’s in storytelling. Entertainment isn’t all psychology … it’s about getting swept up in the drama. Don’t let your smark bias blind you to the fact that, when it comes down to it, wrestling should be entertaining above all … there’s no score for the best match, there’s no award for the most NCAA-like match. Open your mind, stop being a smart, and see if you can’t find that fanboy you quelled awhile back … I’m doing my damndest to.