By Heather Hickey
Given the ongoing service upgrades on the Fan vs. Fan network, the articles here on TJR Wrestling have been delayed/dismembered/reincarnated. Even though we've been reassured that all will be restored, and bit by bit things are looking better, I was a bit gun-shy about pouring a lot of hours and emotion into a column this week.
I thought it would be the perfect time to run Part 3 of the Fan Favorites and Hidden Gems series. It's a bit of fun for all of us, and I won't feel like I've been punched in the crotch if I wake up tomorrow and the column is gone. It's also a neat way to give a shout-out to the TJR community, so many of whom had submitted match suggestions using Disqus, our comment system that has just been re-enabled as I type. Hallelujah! So it’s a timely celebration on a few fronts.
I tried to select a variety of matches in terms of era, participants, and style. If I haven't reviewed "your" match yet, stay tuned. Let’s watch wrestling!
Eddie Guerrero vs. Edge - No DQ, Smackdown September 26, 2002
The story going into this match was that these two had wrestled at Unforgiven, and Edge had sustained a slight concussion after Eddie had exposed the turnbuckle. This was a re-match with no disqualifications, in order to have a definitive and "fair" outcome.
Eddie Guerrero is SO hated here. An impressive chorus of jeers rains down on him as he enters, and a lot of "Eddie Sucks" chants during the match. We don't have heels like that right now. Fans have been booing because they're pissed off, not mad at that particular wrestler. Think about it, who today has genuine heel heat? I guess I talked about this already with the How Bad Are Our Bad Guys and the Razor Ramon rating system, but today’s void is made more obvious by yesterday’s heels.
I was curious about how this match would be, as I liked Edge but found his wrestling generally unremarkable (aside from the hardcore elements, which completely disappeared in the last PG years of his career). It turns out that Edge is a better opponent for Eddie than I expected. He's upped his game against Latino Heat, and is quick and nimble enough to work with someone so agile. Also, he's fantastic at selling Eddie's offense.
Michael Cole starts bickering about some unrelated storyline garbage, which makes me realize yet another weakness in the WWE "anti-play-by-play, pro-propaganda" style of commentary: not only does it distract you from the match on screen, but it can also DATE a match in an unsavoury fashion. If they are trying to put over something that happened in another segment, but you are currently watching "not that segment” years later, you'll likely not know or care about it. Something to keep in mind going forward, especially in terms of the Network. When viewers are getting mass access to your archives, you want enough of a timeless quality to carry across the years. They seem to either be less mindful of building/protecting their brand (Stephanie!) or they simply envision a brand that's not to my taste.
There is a lot of classic pro wrestling here, and I was liking it well enough, thinking maybe the reader who suggested it had an understandable soft spot for Eddie and that's why all of a sudden HOLY CRAP!!! Imagine sitting down to watch a bit of Smackdown on a Friday night, and the "classic pro wrestling" turns into an insane ladder match. Yeah, it is good. The announce team comes around to really hyping what we're seeing in the ring, and it's worth every bit of hype. YIKES.
Thank you TJR commenter Joe Sondag for recommending this match.
Bret Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid - Raw July 11, 1994
I was pretty amused to discover that this match took place on my birthday, and the commentary team is Jim Ross and Randy Savage. A better gift could not be given. Twenty years ago, the 1-2-3 Kid (X-Pac/Sean Waltman) looks like a diminutive puppy dog, and Bret is arguably in his prime. Watch his facial expressions throughout the match. They are unique (I've watched a lot of Bret Hart matches, and he was excellent with the emotion because he didn't always react the same way to stuff) and more importantly, his expressions are subtle.
They're fighting for the WWF Championship, a rare opportunity for someone as unseasoned as the Kid, and in the early days of Raw no less (when it was more squash matches than anything). Bret learns that he shouldn't underestimate this rookie, but the Kid in turn learns about Bret's strength of character. About halfway through this surprisingly long match, Bret pins the Kid. He realizes that the Kid's foot was on the ropes, even though the ref didn't notice. Being the noble champion that he is, Bret insists that they make the right call, and the match is re-started.
It is great wrestling. They get down on the mat, feeling each other out, and I think surprising themselves in the process. Then they amp it up with traditional pro wrestling moves. Both guys are so precise, and relaxed to boot. If you ever need a reminder that too many guys do it "by the numbers" these days instead of just going out there and feeling their way through a match, watch this match to witness the old school. When a running bulldog could look like a big deal when done well. It shows that someone like Bret Hart (not a large guy) can have a commendable match with an even smaller guy - it doesn't have to be "cruiserweight style" to be entertaining. It also shows that Waltman is more than crotch chops and gimmicky kicks. He's got a mind for wrestling that got blurred by drugs and drama, and I hope he's in a better place now.
If you mute the commentary, this is still a great match. But the commentary is also a total hoot on its own. Savage announces that he needs a pencil and paper to jot down some moves for his "repetwah", the pronunciation of which has me hitting rewind several times. His earnest one-liners are extra hilarious because you never know if he's trying to be funny: "I don't know. How's that for a direct answer!" and "Both of these guys belong to the mutual admiration society of respect for each OTHER."
This is a multi-layered gem. Even though I’d seen it several times already on a Raw Anniversary DVD, I still got the butterflies when both Ross and Savage were moved to their feet at the finish. Thank you to TJR commenter ryan for the suggestion.
Chris Jericho vs. Goldust - Superstars March 4, 2010
Chris Jericho is the World Heavyweight Champion here, after Shawn Michaels sneaked into the Elimination Chamber to super-kick The Undertaker and Jericho made the pin (which, coincidentally enough, was my #1 pick for Wildest Moment in the Elimination Chamber). Jericho moved on to a feud with his former tag partner Edge, who had made his comeback to win the Royal Rumble after an Achilles injury. This match is a one-off to entertain the fans on the C-list program.
I am instantly pleased by the refreshing duo at the announce table, Grisham and Striker. Say what you will about either of them (I know Striker in particular ignites rage in people, but I generally liked him a lot), but here they are relaxed, perhaps not so bound by an agenda (the joys of being on the C-list show, calling a one-off match?).
But it's a fun and fairly aggressive little match. Jericho in particular seems to be having a heelish good time. He barks his customary, "ASK HIM!" when he's only got Goldie in a side headlock, and Goldie's not even close to being in peril. I love it. He's all shit-eating grins and raising his hand up in victory throughout the match.
It isn't the quickest match, even the commentators deem it "not panicked", but it's two veterans having fun. Goldust's inverted atomic drop is terrible, even now during his renaissance. Take it out of your repetwah! The two men appear to be labouring a bit, but they pick up the pace near the end, and I'd call this a good match in the context of what it was. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this one, because I wonder if I’m looking at it too much through the lens of Goldust’s more recent matches, rather than what he was doing in 2010. Thanks to "Jimmies" for it!
Shawn Michaels vs. Shelton Benjamin – Raw May 2, 2005
This was a first-round match in Eric Bischoff’s Gold Rush Tournament to determine the number one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship. It must be noted that during ring introductions, it appears that Shelton Benjamin did not know who he’d be facing, and there was a huge reaction for HBK’s entrance. Stellar match as this ends up being, I think the unknown factor elevated it even further. Building to a big match is important, but sometimes the element of surprise can play with your expectations to make an even greater impact. It’s like having a surprise party where your long-lost love shows up. Neither is expected, so the payoff is even bigger.
This match is similar to Bret and the Kid’s, in that it mixes collegiate-style mat wrestling with pro wrestling tricks. Whereas Bret and the Kid were more precise in their execution, Michaels and Benjamin are more hard-hitting and acrobatic. Lots of fun stuff here, things I hadn’t seen before. It is such a tragedy that Benjamin was never really a top guy, but perhaps you can correct me on that, as it’s just my recollection of him. I never really saw him doing his tag team stuff with Haas, more the risky high-flying ladder matches.
I am reminded of how much I dislike Shawn Michaels’ wacky overselling of big moves, like he’s possessed by a drunk puppeteer. But for the most part, he’s giving us a bit of retro cockiness that I really missed in his last few years of wrestling. And as it is with most matches that become our favorites, this one has a sweet finish. Thank you, MikeL1981 for having it on your radar!
Let’s give this refurbished comment system a good workout, shall we? Tell me what you think of these matches, and/or write a wrestling-themed candy heart message for Valentine’s Day (example: You Can Roll Me Up For the Win Anytime). Yeah, I know that would be a gigantic candy heart, or a really small font.