A Modest Response: Analyzing Michaels vs. Flair and Joe vs. Angle

Sorry this is a week late, but this week we’ll take a look at the biggest match of the year, Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels. Within isn’t play-by-play, but the reasons behind the actions two of wrestling’s greatest in the ring. Below will be an analysis of the match, followed by a discussion of Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle from TNA Lockdown in a similar format.

Wrestlemania XXIV: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels

Early establishment has Michaels ahead on speed and strength. Flair shows he can counter/think a step ahead. Flair manages control off of this, as everytime Michaels gets any momentum he attempts a huge move, which the wily Flair remains ahead of. This, of course, leads to Michaels busted ribs on the dive. Flair goes right after the ribs for the next several minutes, with Michaels selling superbly. Michaels gets some offense, but shows that he’s learned nothing, immediately barely glancing on another huge dive. The physical advantage Michaels had early is all but negated due to these huge risks,while Flairs wiles pay off in his avoiding all of these huge moves.

Back in and Michaels shows he’s still physically superior, taking out Flair in a slugfest, then using atomic drops and slams to keep him down before going for the big elbow, which connects. Michaels readies for Sweet Chin Music, but second thoughts allow the leg work to begin.

Both men, exhausted, wrestle on the mat, but the hurt ribs hamper HBK to where he can’t bridge and thus Flair controls, using both the weakened ribs and leg to damage Michaels. Shawn, hurt and selling like mad, has next to nothing left after another Figure Four, so it’s pure luck when he hits the desperation Sweet Chin Music, saving his shot at winning.

Flair again shows his wiles, refusing to get up at the tuning of the band and going with cheating, retakes control. Flair’s cheating to get ahead emphasizes how much better Michaels is and how he has lasted well longer into this match. Michaels controls at every moment of breath, while Flair has to cheat to keep a chance. This plays out with Michaels being too strong, nailing back to back Super Kicks, before the second of which mouthing the now famous “I’m sorry; I love you.”

Shawn Michaels defeats Ric Flair

Attempting objectivity- Flair vs. Michaels was **** – **** 1/4. This is if we apply the same criteria to any match and ignore the situation, judging just on what most will agree are the makings of a great, great match.

Michaels and Flair built an awesome story. Michaels was a clearly superior talent at this point, but Flair hurt the ribs and legs showed that he still had a lot to offer by using his veteran wiles. The hurt ribs were meant to even the playing field and Flair worked them over fairly well, with chops, suplexes and more. Why was Michaels still so dominant that he could win any time then? It works for awhile, but even a wounded Michaels has more stamina than Flair at this point, so once the ribs won’t put HBK away, Flair isn’t focused enough on that part to keep his physical advantage as he visibly tires.

Next, the leg work. Flair is a huge vet. He knows which leg Michaels uses for Sweet Chin Music and that it’s a killer finisher. How about working that leg? Or, even if not, shouldn’t the other leg and broken ribs impede at least some of those Sweet Chin Musics and prevent shit like a kip up. Now, that can be blown off as minor, if you see Flair’s attempts to win and strategy as minor… Michaels selling was great, but it failing to consistently affect his offense was a major problem.

None of the work Flair does plays into the finish. It’s as if Michaels can finish at any time, which undermines all the work put in earlier to make it seem like Flair could legitimately win. The finish should build to a logical conclusion while incorporating all the elements earlier in the match. What they did flowed so well that the rating is still great, but

Like I’ve said elsewhere- invent a separate category for matches like this and the Kobashi-return match. They’re fantastic and don’t need the star ratings to be as special as they are. If ratings are to be applied, objectivity can be maintained, while analysis can explain both this and what makes this such a memorable and special encounter between two legends.

In a far different match from one which said “Goodbye” to a legend, we have a match that attempts to be a major stepping stone to a rising star’s career. This match is from TNA Lockdown and features Samoa Joe’s first TNA Championship win. Since the very first A Modest Response was a review of Joe vs. Angle 1, I thought I had to review this.

TNA Lockdown: Steel Cage Match for the TNA Championship: Kurt Angle © vs. Samoa Joe

They begin with some faux MMA, where Angle tries to take it to the mat and Joe attempts at striking. This continues with Joe showing greater skill at both throws and strikes, but Angle’s constant leg attacks, including the figure four of all the non-MMA moves, seem more likely to pay off later when Angle attempts the Ankle Lock.

Angles control off the figure off alternates wear downs and leg attacks. The weardown attempts don’t work and Joe gets in strikes, leading to control. As the control builds, Joe begins using moves in combination, showing an increased skill in wearing Angle down. That most of these are big moves which focus on the back, like the Muscle Buster, only adds to Angle’s problems.

As Joe goes with submissions, Angle remains in trouble until he locks in an Ankle Lock out of nowhere. Joe turned that around with a crossface and continues his domination. That’s rolled through to an Olympic Slam and Angle is now in pure desperation, looking for a big move and win, since nothing he’s trying to slow Joe down is working.

Angle is tenacious with his Ankle Lock, but again Joe has a counter and locks in the choke. Kurt uses the ref to reach the ropes. Joe gets up, kicks Angle in the face, and hits the Muscle Buster for the win… that was casual.

Samoa Joe defeats Kurt Angle

Rating: *** ½

So, not so hot. They built the MMA (which was really more badly done Inoki strong style, but whatever), then utterly abandoned it. Why go so far to get the feel, only to switch styles mid-way and go with a regular TNA match? This could have been somewhat salvaged by finishing with the choke, which would allow us to use that as an establishment period early on, but really, a Muscle Buster? In a MMA-style match?

They did some decent MMA stuff, which was slow, but all it and the rest of the match established is that “Joe has Angle’s number.” Joe won every exchange that didn’t include leg work or the Angle Slam. That’s all well and good as a payoff, but it doesn’t go a long way towards building drama.

So, if the face controlling everything didn’t build drama, what did they do to try further? Joe at least had the sense to build to the finish by using a lot of back work, while Angle built some good leg work. Unfortunately, neither man so much as grabbed at the injured parts, let alone actually having it affect their offense, so while it is there for those who look, it’s not highlighted in the least.

There was good here. Both men worked their holds in quite well, while Angle avoiding over-use of the Ankle Lock until late. The back and forth early on was slow, but meant to be.

As an angle, this was a home run. Kurt, acting like he was an MMA God then Joe having his number at both MMA and wrestling was satisfying since Angle has killed Joe so thoroughly in the past and because of all of those interviews Kurt gave. The story in ring leaned far too much on that. What they did was jarring and, artistically, as a match, sub par. For a match rating to be high, it needs to be more than, as wrestlingforum.com member UnholyDragon says, “most cleverly disguised squash in the last few years.”

The MMA was, still, fairly rare and well done for America. Unfortunately, Angle did not look comfortable in the style, while Joe, who has trained at New Japan’s LA Dojo, was far more comfortable. Angle’s discomfort and Joe’s smoothness only added to the feeling that this was Joe’s night. Should Angle have gone to the mat hard with leg work after that, we might have gotten somewhere. As is, a lack of selling, switch of styles (which made sense in context, but, again was jarring), and too much control for Joe caused this to be far more good than great.

That’s it for A Modest Response this week. Join me Friday for Ring of Honor Weekly and next Monday for another AMR where I’ll review classic matches of the four men above!

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