The Wrestling Guy on First Time Matches

The internet, as usual, has found an issue to be divided upon. On one side, we have those who believe giving away a first time match-up on free television is a bad idea. The other side believes that match-ups don’t draw in and of themselves, it’s all about the feud and its build- whether they’ve never faced off, or faced off a million times. The two match-ups in the center of this debate are Chris Jericho vs. Undertaker, a first time match given away on this week’s Smackdown, and D-X vs. Jericho and Big Show. Let’s begin, however, with the history of first time matches.

One of the biggest drawing matches in history was Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan. Billed as a first time match, this had actually happened less than a decade before at Madison Square Garden (hardly in some Podunk town). That didn’t stop it from being a monster draw during an admittedly different era. The point, however, is that when done properly, the big match needn’t be the first. It can merely be the first for the title, or the first with a different dynamic (Andre the heel, Hogan the face). Would the IWC’s anal retentive nature ruin this for the marks and as a draw? Depends how highly you consider their influence. Let’s look at two more modern examples from WCW.

WCW had a giant first time match, a decade in the making with Sting vs. Hulk Hogan. The match was saved for the biggest PPV at the biggest time, but instead of just delivering, WCW got cute and messed with the finish. WCW would never fully recover. A great, first time match can be huge, but if not on the company’s terms, can really hurt the over-all product as well, so there’s a danger here.

Of course, we all assume the WWE wouldn’t be so stupid as to repeat that one, but here’s what a lot of this is being treated as- Hulk Hogan vs. Goldberg. The two biggest stars in WCW were on a collision course and instead of a PPV, WCW gave their big match away on Nitro, losing their one chance to recoup that lost revenue from the Sting vs. Hogan debacle. Are either of the two matches the WWE is giving away on par with this? No, the company will survive, but if they’d have made the company enough money, it’s still a mistake to do them for free.

Can first-time, dream matches still draw in this climate? Well, they did in TNA for one of the company’s top two buy-rates ever. Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle the first time drew the biggest buy-rate in TNA history. That was recent enough that we can accept that a top match that fans want to see will draw. Of course, the second highest drawing match was Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle, the fifth time, showing that a proper build can equal an epic dream match.

Someone will surely correct me if I’m wrong (on either the facts or this next assertion), but the closest the WWE has come to giving away a true dream match recently is Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle – two dominant athletes, both notable amateur wrestlers and main event guys. Their first match? 3/13/03 on Smackdown, a match that lasted mere minutes. The re-match, the notable real first encounter, a Wrestlemania Main Event. What does all this mean to our present situation? Join me at Examiner to apply these examples.

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