This week, Canadian actress Ellen Page started re-naming people’s dogs for them on twitter (submit a photo of your dog, and she’ll re-name it for you, just for fun). It became so popular that she couldn’t keep up, but clearly enjoyed the exercise. Well that’s how I feel about these Fan Faves and Hidden Gems! I can ultimately control how many matches I decide to cover, but the wealth of options submitted to me by TJR readers has made it impossible to abbreviate the exercise. It’s addictive! At the end of this column, I will provide links to the rest of the series, which started in January. Let’s watch wrestling.
AJ Styles vs. Amazing Red – October 2002, NWA/TNA X-Division Championship
I know that I should put myself into “2002 mode” when I look at these guys – Amazing Red with his low-rent spandex suit and AJ Styles with his smirky bling – but I’m so won over by them that neither looks dated to me. Having watched very little TNA from any era, I mostly knew these guys by name only, one of the reasons why I was happy to receive this recommendation. But I also felt a bit ill-equipped to comment on them in terms of expectation. AJ built himself a solid reputation as one of the original members of the TNA roster who stayed on until recently. And I remember seeing Amazing Red once before, when I’d ordered a PPV and he was part of a match that took place on a large children’s climber.
When I see them here, I immediately like them. Red has that plucky indie aura about him, and AJ looks like someone you’d love to punch in the face. Very HBK during the original glory days of D/X. I would love to see John Cena go back to that; we saw shades of it when he feuded with Lesnar (which resulted in Lesnar punching him in the face, see it has that effect on people).
Watch this for the go-go dancers half-heartedly swooping around in their cages, or for the shirtless fans with “A” and “J” painted on their chests. If that’s not your flavor, there are also sweet arm drags and moves I’ve never seen before. Whenever I watch cruiserweight wrestling, I can sometimes get bogged down with how staged some of it appears. It sounds like a complaint: “Oh, it’s so perfectly choreographed, oh they’re not hitting hard enough,” but I think it just takes getting used to. It’s not the wrestling put on in present-day WWE, but that doesn’t make it any less of an impressive tango.
AJ Styles is great because he can dip, duck, and dive, but he’s also got the strength to toss and catch Amazing Red. And Red might be the most beautifully poised high flyer I’ve ever seen! You’ve got to watch him soar over the ropes onto Styles. His execution is so precise and graceful. And once they’re warmed up a bit – and it doesn’t take long – these guys are dazzling. Another qualm that I sometimes have with cruiserweights (and women wrestlers) is that I can’t tell who’s on offense. Who’s hurting whom? Who’s swinging whom around? You can’t tell until someone sells what just happened, and that doesn’t happen here.
Then they get into the tumultuous part of the match, with unique counters and near-falls. I even got suckered into a near fall at less than half-way through the video. I’m either a total idiot, or they’re just that good!
Thank you, Ryan Sommerer, for submitting this match.
I was going to go in chronological order, but the next four people gave me Chris Benoit matches. I love to watch him wrestle, and I’m able to separate the matches from his deeds, which I know sounds crazy or cold but it’s true. I could easily write a whole column about how I feel about the Benoit family tragedy, but it is such a delicate topic and I don’t want to sound like my opinion is any more valid than anyone else’s. It is such a sad and sickening event, and I hope that it continues to bring change to the industry in terms of head injuries, and I also hope that mental illness will continue to be de-stigmatized, so that those who are suffering can get the help they need.
I will randomly choose one of the Benoit matches, this one submitted by “dazwilmingtonindiesuperstar”. Thank you for doing so!
Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit – Unforgiven Judgement Day 2002
I didn’t purposely choose another match from 2002, but here we are. All you need to know is that Benoit stole Angle’s Olympic gold medals and hid them in his pants. What a convoluted match to get them back: it’s 2/3 falls, in which the first fall must be a pinfall, the second must be a submission, and if a third fall is required, it will be a ladder match. If they somehow both grab the gold medals at the same time, they will have a bake-off.
Wait a second! My apologies to “dazwilmingtonindiesuperstar”, but as Angle comes down the aisle, I notice that it says “Judgement Day” over the tron. I could not find more than just the highlights of their Unforgiven match, and since I live in Canada, I don’t have the WWE Network yet. I’m going to watch this and see how it plays out.
What can I say? It’s got a goofy premise, but it’s Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. They broke the mold for intensity when they made these two, and I love how they ended up structuring this 2/3 falls match. I don’t want to give anything away, but I don’t think I’m spoiling it when I tell you that the guy doing 4-Horsemen fingers and WOOO-ing in the front row did not get laid that night. That’s not a stereotype. It’s a hunch. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit are brawling just inches in front of you, and you’re mugging like Ric Flair for the camera??!! I can’t let it go.
Lucky for us, Angle and Benoit do not share my propensity for easy distraction, and they fight for that second fall like wild animals (having a submission match). Does it end with a ladder match? Of course it does, silly willy. I feared that not even Angle and Benoit could keep things fresh in this scenario, but it turned out to be the perfect showcase for their talents. You have the pro wrestling pin fall, which is Benoit’s strength and an easy stretch for Angle. You have the submission second fall, which both men excelled at in terms of physicality. And the ladder match went off as if the first two falls had never happened. Brutal, well-paced, and with total disregard for match integrity. See what you think.
Shawn Michaels vs. Edge – Street Fight on Raw, February 28, 2005
Good God Almighty is right, Jim Ross. This match takes mere seconds to ignite the crowd. Everyone is hot for these two to inflict punishment on each other, and I wondered if this would be a very different match from the first two. Wonder no more! Thank you to mikeL1987 for the recommendation; this has certainly provided a change of pace from the cruiserweights and submissions.
There is Stephen King-calibre blood early on, and it’s hard to believe that we’re watching a match from Raw. One of my favourite parts is probably Michaels throwing a ladder at Edge, which seems simple but rare in my books. Sometimes you don’t have to get super inventive; sometimes the super-inventive ladder moves end up looking too contrived, especially for the live crowd. You need to have that raw reaction in order to enhance the television experience. But oh, the blood! Michaels really harvested himself a gusher, and here we have an example of blood being too much, too soon, and it’s a distraction.
You will hear, though, that no one in attendance went home disappointed. The fans are SO invested in this match, it’s like Lord of the Flies crossed with a Greek tragedy. Edge was always great at looking dazed, almost having an out-of-body experience at his lowest moments. And then he was brilliant at believably turning it around into madness or rage. I'm not sure that it matters who wins, but it mattered a LOT in that moment.
Thank you for reading! If you’d like to see which other matches people have submitted for review:
Part 1 – Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels, Billy Kidman vs. Juventud Guerrera, Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit, Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
Part 2 – The Rockers vs. The Orient Express, John Cena vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Edge, The Undertaker vs. Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker
Part 3 – Eddie Guerrero vs. Edge, Bret Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid, Chris Jericho vs. Goldust, Shawn Michaels vs. Shelton Benjamin
And we have an exciting announcement to share: Next week will be TJR Reality Week! The idea sprung from a twitter chat between some of the TJR writers, who decided that it would be fun to write about our ideal WWE reality show. It’s a timely topic, given the reliance on Total Divas and the debut of Legends House. All of the TJR writers are invited to post their idea for the best WWE reality show (or even just wrestling reality show!) and we will come up with a way for readers to vote on the best idea!