An Intricate Look At: The Ladder Match
By: Matt "The Stat Man" Davis
"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying the stairway to heaven."
There's something about music and wrestling that go together so elegantly, and make each other better. After all, a lyric in a song is like each move in a match, each trying to tell a story. Music and wrestling are theatrical arts, entertainment to each their own. "Stairway To Heaven" connects to me in a special way, and makes me think of my favorite type of wrestling match of all time: the Ladder match. When the song begins, there are 53 seconds of instrumental beauty, before a word is spoken. Like the opening minutes of a ladder match, those seconds are open for interpretation of what is about to come. Then there is a crescendo, where we learn about the characters in the story. During the song, the singer claims "Ooh, it really makes me wonder", just like a ladder match makes me wonder, before giving us the apex and coup de grace, where everyone gets to experience what the build set the tone for. At the conclusion, we are left with a feeling of satisfaction.
Wrestling has been filled with innovation over the years, with promoters trying to create new environments and scenarios for the wrestlers to captivate the audience. Perhaps nothing has been more captivating than the Ladder match. A death-defying, high risk spectacle which involves having to climb a ladder to retrieve a item of value, while thwarting your opponent from achieving the same thing. Have you ever needed to climb a mountain, while racing someone else? Not many of us have, but it takes more than sheer force. More often than not, you are required to use ingenuity to become victorious. The same mechanic is used in a Ladder match. You don't only need to fight an opponent, but out think them as well. As the years passed and the product evolved, so did the Ladder match. A rule change not only allowed you to climb the ladder, but use it against your opponent! With the growing lust for barbarism, more wrinkles were added. Tables, and chairs were included, and the matches unfolded into multiple man melee matches! But as we know, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Ladder match is still one of wrestling's most enjoyable matches, which brings out the very best in everyone involved. I am going to discuss some facts and statistics about the match, and then list my five favorite Ladder matches the only way I know how: statistically speaking!
Some Fun Stats about Ladder Matches:
- Since 1994 , there have been 48 "Ladder" matches, 15 "Tables, Ladders, & Chairs", and 2 "Two out of Three Falls" matches which concluded with a Ladder match stipulation, on televised broadcasts.
- 12 different championships (ECW Heavyweight, European, Hardcore, Intercontinental, Unified Tag Team, Undisputed Heavyweight, World Heavyweight, World Tag, WWE Heavyweight, WWE Tag Team, WWF Heavyweight, and WWF Tag Team) and the Money in the Bank briefcase have been defended in a Ladder match.
- 26 of the matches involved more than two wrestlers. Twelve of them were tag team matches, one was a handicap match.
- WWE/World Heavyweight Title holders have accounted for 52 of the 65 winners.
- Edge has won the most Ladder matches, with 9 victories from 1999-2011
- Rob Van Dam is second with 7 victories from 2001-2006 (78.0% winning percentage, best of all time with more than 5 appearances)
- Jeff Hardy is third with 6 victories from 1999-2009
- CM Punk is fourth with 5 victories from 2008-2013
(Note: Used the year of their first ladder match, not beginning of WWE career)
- Jeff Hardy has been involved in the most Ladder matches with 18
- Christian is second with 17
- Edge is third with 16
- Chris Jericho is fourth with 10
- Shelton Benjamin has the most appearances (8) without a win.
- Out of 42 championship or briefcase defenses, titles have changed hands 20 times, or 47.6%
- 45 Ladder matches have taken place on pay-per-view, while 15 have taken place on RAW, 3 on Smackdown, and 2 on ECW.
- Wrestlemania and "Tables, Ladders, & Chairs" have featured the most Ladder matches with 9 each.
- King of the Ring and Royal Rumble have both featured the least with 1 each.
- Houston and Chicago hold the recognition of being the city that have seen the most Ladder matches with 5 each.
- Baltimore is second with 4
- Phoenix is third with 3
- The state of Texas (8) has seen the most Ladder matches
- California is second with 7
- Maryland is third with 6
- The longest Ladder match (bell to bell) was the 2010 Smackdown Money in the Bank match at 26 minutes and 19 seconds.
- The shortest Ladder match was on 11/30/1998 RAW when Big Bossman defeated Mick Foley for the Hardcore Championship at 6 minutes and 11 seconds
- The average length of match is 17 minutes and 5 seconds
My Top Five Favorite Ladder Matches
#5 Triple H vs The Rock (c) - Intercontinental Championship
Degeneration X against The Nation. One of my best memories as a kid, because I hated The Rock. Triple H was cool and funny. The factions had been feuding all year and this was the culmination of the crowned jewels going to war over the Intercontinental Championship. Plus, it was at Madison Square Garden so it had that "special" feel. It was also the first of many times that Triple H would come out to a live band. That set the pace for an exciting match that went back and forth for over 25 minutes until Helmsley was able to defeat his long time rival to win the Intercontinental Title. (****1/4)
#4 Shawn Michaels (c) vs Razor Ramon - Intercontinental Championship
"The Rematch". This is a match forgotten by history; overshadowed by Wrestlemania X the year before when made history in a Ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. This match was much better though. They used the ladder more here, there was more drama, and it was an overall better match. It was a gem before it's time, and should be respected for that. Matches like this didn't happen in 1995. This one stood out. Shawn Michaels won the match, retained the title, and became a main eventer with this star making performance. (****1/4)
#3 Chris Jericho (c) vs Shawn Michaels - World Heavyweight Championship
10/5/2008 No Mercy
Thirteen years after Shawn Michaels' last Ladder match, he found himself challenging an old rival to conclude what many regard as the feud of year in 2008. The feud saw Jericho throw Michaels through a television earlier in the year, injuring Michaels eye. At a match at Great American Bash, Jericho bloodied Michaels into submission, with many questioning if Michaels would be forced to retire. Chris Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship afterwards but was forced to defend it "in the match his opponent made famous". His opponent? A returning Shawn Michaels. The match? A Ladder match. The match was brutal, with both men taking big spills and harder shots. I still question how Shawn Michaels didn't truly injure his back again after watching this. Chris Jericho survived the war and retained his championship but was neverrrr.. eh-eh-eh-evvver..the same again. (****1/2)
#2 Undertaker (c) vs Jeff Hardy - WWE Undisputed Heavyweight Championship
7/1/2002 Monday Night RAW
The company was desperately in need of new stars in the summer of 2002, and they were throwing anyone they could in the main event hoping they could catch lightning in a bottle. Jeff Hardy was already a star in his own right after career defining moments throughout the previous three years (more on that later), but the company questioned if the young star was main event material. They got their answer on an eventful night in July 2002 when Jeff Hardy challenged WWE Undisputed Champion the Undertaker, who had destroyed everyone in his path leading to this match. Jeff Hardy used several innovative spots throughout the match, including using the ladder to springboard onto Undertaker. I remember watching this live, sitting on the edge of my seat, gasping, ooh'ing, and being in shock throughout the entire match, not knowing who was going to win. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands. With Jeff fingertips away from winning the WWE Championship, he was met with a devastating Last Ride powerbomb from the top of the ladder. While the Undertaker retained in the end, Jeff Hardy earned his respect after the match, and Jeff was ready to take the leap. (***3/4)
(Note: Even though this received a lower grade from me, does not change the fact it is my second favorite.)
#1 Edge and Christian vs The Hardy Boyz vs The Dudley Boyz (c) - WWF Tag Team Championships
"Tables, Ladders, & Chairs"
4/1/2001 Wrestlemania 17
Absolutely my favorite Ladder match of all time. These three teams had been feuding throughout the previous year, with each tag team having a gimmick weapon of choice. With the Dudleyz punishing everyone with tables, the Hardyz famous for their Ladder stunts, and Edge and Christian innovating double team maneuvers using skull crushing chair shots, Commissioner Foley combined the three weapons and three teams and gave us the first ever "Tables, Ladders, & Chairs" match the year before at Summerslam 2000. In the rematch here at Wrestlemania, they delivered again on the grandest stage of them all. One of the greatest highlights in Ladder match history occurred when Jeff Hardy found himself hanging helplessly from the titles in mid-air. Edge speared him from the top of a ladder and both men crashed to the mat below. Jim Ross's voice will forever haunt me as he proclaimed that "By gawd, both men have been broken in half!" It was one of many spectacular moments in this match, which cemented all three teams as the greatest tag teams ever and helped make Wrestlemania 17 arguably the greatest event of all time. Edge, Christian, and Jeff Hardy would all go to win heavyweight championships in multiple companies all over the world, with Edge being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. The other five are sure to follow thanks to this match which created stars and defined careers. (*****)
In conclusion, we have learned that Ladder matches change careers for better and for worse. These are very dangerous, career-shortening matches. Wrestling may be scripted and moves may be protected, but the events in a ladder match are difficult to prepare for. Edge and Shawn Michaels have suffered severe neck and back injuries that required early retirement after taking part in multiple Ladder matches. Concussions, broken bones, torn muscles, lost teeth, deep tissue bruises are all common place in the Ladder match. In only 17 minutes, victors can become legends, but at what risk? Is the pain worth the glory? I'm sure few who have taken part would argue: the answer is yes.
Statistically speaking, 5/6 winners of a Ladder match have gone on to win heavyweight championships. Whenever you hear that a Ladder match is advertised, make sure you watch it because you will get your moneys worth. At the end, please support and thank everyone involved regardless of the result, because the Ladder match is both a stairway to heaven and a highway to hell.