WWE.com has just dabbled in high art with a photo series depicting current wrestlers as ECW performers. This includes Shinsuke Nakamura as Sabu, Lana as The Sandman, Rusev as Cactus Jack, New Day as the Dudley Boyz, and even Asuka as Stevie Richards, among others. You can view the full slideshow here.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
July 8, 1994
It's a status that in many ways he still holds today. Jushin Liger is simply The Man. He's been The Man for the better part of thirty years in New Japan Pro Wrestling, setting up worthwhile opponents to knock them down. In terms of longevity and match quality, Liger has as strong a case as any wrestler for being the greatest of all time.
That reputation was already well established on April 16, 1994, when New Japan Pro Wrestling ran the first Super J Cup. It wasn't the very first tournament of its kind, but it was the most high-profile one, and it was certainly a groundbreaking event. More than even the final match of the evening, a match rated ***** in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and an all-time classic in its own right, the most memorable match on the card was probably the Jushin Liger vs Great Sasuke semi-final. In an iconic moment near the end of the match, Sasuke springboarded to the top rope, only to fall off on his own and collapse at Liger's feet. It was a sequence intended to set up the finish. Thinking on his feet, Liger casually applauded and worked toward an improvised finish a few moments later, and Sasuke won, which advanced him to the finals where he faced "Wild Pegasus" Chris Benoit.
If Sasuke won the first match, why would he wrestle as the underdog and aggressor the second time around? Funny you ask.
Because of the fluke nature of Sasuke's win, Liger's sterling reputation, and Sasuke's impressive but limited standing as the ace of a small independent group based in Northeastern Japan, it was Sasuke who came into this match with more to prove. That was evident in how the match was worked, with Sasuke charging at Liger immediately. The match, despite its end result with Liger reigning victorious, was also clearly a project designed to get Sasuke over. He wrestled the match on even footing with the top junior heavyweight in the country. They also wrestled this more like a Sasuke match than a Liger match. Contrary to popular belief, high flying was never really a critical part of what made Liger great. Sure, he was great at it, but he didn't need to fly to be great. 1994 might have been the last year Liger did a notable amount of flying anyway, as he retooled his game after his brain tumor removal in 1996 to move even more toward a mat-based style. This match had more high flying than Liger matches typically did at this point, which got over the idea that Sasuke was forcing him to wrestle his own type of match.
This match acted as the inverse of the J-Cup. In that outing, Liger dominated most of the match, only for Sasuke to hit a few key big moves at just the right time and bring it all home. This time around, it was Sasuke controlled most of the match and Liger who got lucky by hitting one big move -- a super fisherman's buster -- at the end. The end result is that despite trading wins, Sasuke was put over strong in both matches by an opponent who was always hungry for new rivals who could go on his level. It's debatable whether Sasuke ever truly became that opponent in the way Shinjiro Otani did, for example, but they did produce matches that were not only the best of Sasuke's career, but were near the top of Liger's extensive highlight list too.
Great American Bash 1988: The Price For Freedom
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
July 10, 1988
In Japan, multi-year chases are fairly common, but that has never really translated to American audiences for whatever reason. Chalk it up to the reactionary tendencies of promoters when gates aren't at a certain level. Maybe it's a lack of conviction. Maybe it's even that pro wrestling has always been more of a fad-based interest than a long-term hobby for most casual viewers. Maybe it's even differences in culture, as it's much easier to plan that type of story in a company where it's almost unthinkable that a homegrown talent would leave and go to the competition (even if it did occasionally happen). Regardless, the idea of fans, promoters, and wrestlers sticking with a six-year chase to an undercard title win the way AJPW handled the Masa Fuchi vs Tsuyoshi Kikuchi feud from 1990-1996 are pretty unlikely on this side of the Pacific.
The Ric Flair-Lex Luger rivalry is interesting to think about in that context. Between 1988 and 1991, through changes in ownership, executive leadership, and even the name of the very company where the rivalry played out, the two wrestled each other five times on pay-per-view and once on a Clash of the Champions TV special. Flair turned twice during this time, Luger three times going on four -- they were even set to do a sixth pay-per-view match, the one that would finally pay off Luger's perpetual chase, before contract negotiations broke down and Flair bolted for the WWF. The rivalry sustained through all of that, and defiantly, it seemed to be a feud that just kept falling up. Despite the chaos that surrounded it, Flair-Luger always worked, even if it did play to diminishing returns.
It worked so well in the summer and fall of 1988 that it gave David Crockett temporary hope that they would not have to sell the company to Turner Broadcasting. Flair and Luger did massive house show business during a time that Crockett was dying, and even in 1990, when Luger stepped in to hastily turn babyface to substitute for an injured Sting, Wrestle War '90 did a surprisingly good buyrate and house show attendance had a short-lived mini-spike. It was a rivalry people were interested in following and the prevalent belief, years before wrestling conditioned its fans to never expect anything to pay off, was that this had to pay off somewhere and that they wanted to see it happen.
That continued investment can be attributed to how well these matches were worked. Flair saw his role as not to have a great match with Luger, although they would eventually have some classics. Instead, he saw his role as to make him look invincible. Flair has told a story many times about how he drew the ire of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard because of how he worked with Luger; Arn and Tully thought Ric's pinball bumping and obsessive begging off was a little too much self sacrifice. Flair explained to them that he saw his role as to both carry Luger and teach him how to draw money at the same time, so he had to work in overdrive to pull it off.
They weren't quite there yet at this early stage of the feud, but it was clear that once they settled into their formula, Ric Flair and Lex Luger would have a sure thing.
Flair has always defended Luger as someone who never had the opportunity to really learn how to work because he was pushed to the top right away. While Flair's graciousness is appreciated, he was selling Luger short. This match had some rough spots because it was Luger's first time to be in such a pressure-packed main event position, to the point that Dave Meltzer commented in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that the match looked like two independent wrestlers trying to copy a Flair match than it did an actual Flair match. However, Luger reminded us all that he was an excellent athlete in spite of any other critiques leveled his way -- his surprise leapfrog and dropkick were legitimately great moments. Over time, Luger did exactly what Flair hoped he would do -- he learned on the job and adapted. By the time they met again on pay-per-view four months later at Starrcade, Luger had dropped about 15 pounds in muscle and improved his cardio so he could do long matches without getting winded. By the time they wrestled a year after that, Luger was strong enough to carry a match between the two of them offensively while working heel. While Luger never really learned how to do a proper figure-four leglock, he did have one of the best heel runs of his era in 1989 as U.S. champion and had a clear hot streak on pay-per-view that lasted a good two or three years. He gelled wonderfully with Flair, who would take his own trademark bumps in exaggerated fashion during their matches -- usually two or three high-elevation press slams, big back body drops, the slam from the top rope, and the Flair flip into the clothesline off the apron. The "Flair Formula" as we know it didn't originate in the Luger series, but that's where it was tweaked and cultivated.
None of this addresses what this match is most notorious for, and that's the finish. Luger was barely cut at all, the match was stopped by the Maryland State Athletic Commission for Lex's "excessive lacerations", and Flair retained on a technicality. It did lead to a massive house show run of Flair-Luger matches, sold on the idea that they don't stop matches for blood loss in YOUR town, so YOU might just see a title change. However, I'll reprint a fan letter from the October 3, 1988, issue of the Observer explaining the problem with this booking, even though it worked in the short-term, and which Meltzer defended for that reason.
"Your comment that, ipso fact, the ridiculous Flair-Luger blood angle on the PPV Bash was a success because live gates were up immediately was the most naive thing I've ever read by you. Don't you think infuriating the PPV audience was more significant than live audience, a totally different and relatively microscopic portion of the potentially vast PPV audience? The NWA's biggest problem is they never take the long view. Like children, they live in the eternal here and now. People are turned out of the blue (Windham, Luger, Murdoch, Garvin) with no build up because they need heat at some shows. They get good notices on Clash and think they've won the wrestling war. They draw a few good live gates and suddenly Dusty and Jimbo are convinced they've been right all along and should continue to run the organization even after Turner spends good money on it. " -- Bill Kunkel, Woodhaven, NY
This match being the catalyst, the Flair-Luger feud acted as a platform for a lot of people to project their own biases, ideas, and truths, including promoters, wrestlers, reporters, and even fans like Mr. Kunkel of Woodhaven. It was hard to cut through the noise and appreciate the matches for what they were, but it's something that became easier with time as Luger gained confidence and Flair found in-ring sanctuary from the constant politics of the new TBS environment. While it was a long-running program that left behind so much collateral damage and Luger developed a "choker" label that followed him for the rest of his career as a result of this very match, it did eventually become a really rewarding series. This isn't the match to watch to see the absolute best version of these two against each other, but it's a primitive look at where they'd go through the turmoil, growth, and fallout of the next few years, accidentally crafting a compelling long-term story in spite of itself.
Proving Ground Pro has published some of their No Broken Promises show from May 18 in Washington, Illinois, on their YouTube channel. In two first-round matches of the one-night tournament to crown a PGP Cutting Edge Champion, Jake Lander faced Jah C and Tyler Matrix faced Paco Gonzalez. You can watch the matches below.
Let us know what you think of these matches by starting threads to discuss them at the Pro Wrestling Only forums!
Are you one of the wrestlers or promoters involved with this card? Contact us and we'll help put a spotlight on your matches and promote your merchandise to our readers.
Doug Buckner has added a new free match from Platinum Championship Wrestling out of Porterdale, Georgia. This match is from their July 4 This Is A Day For Americans! show, when Jon Williams faced Rob Killjoy. You can watch the match below.
Maine independent Limitless Wrestling has posted a new free match to their YouTube channel from their Feed The Need show on May 11. This is a six-man scramble that includes Ace Austin, Kevin Ku, AJ Gray, Jake Parnell, Tony Deppen, and Bolt Brady. Watch it below.
This card is not yet available on DVD, but Limitless Wrestling indicates that it will be.
Also on the show:
Brody King vs Eli Everfly
Ace Romero vs AR Fox
Dream Team vs The Rascals vs Anthony Henry & James Drake
Rachael Ellering vs Ashley Fox
JT Dunn vs Anthony Greene
Darby Allin vs Zachary Wentz (clip)
Kimber Lee vs Skylar (clip)
Jeff Cannonball & Brandon Kirk vs Jay Freddie & John Silver
Teddy Hart vs Josh Briggs
ArticularSK has uploaded a new free match to YouTube on his channel from Global Professional Wrestling, an Illinois-based independent. In this match, The Lunatic takes on Punisher 747. You can watch it below.
A match from a July 9 house show in Augusta, Maine, has been posted to YouTube after being filmed on a fan's smartphone. In the match, SAnitY faced the New Day in a 6-man tag. You can watch the match below.
In partnership with Ring of Honor, Dojo Pro Wrestling has launched a new TV show that's available on Amazon Prime. The concept show includes a gauntlet where independent wrestlers receive a belt to signify completion of that particular level, only to go to their next match and aim to receive a higher belt, like martial arts starting with a white belt. When a wrestler receives the Dojo Pro Black Belt, he earns a shot at the ROH World Championship.
Eleven of the wrestlers are:
Kerry Awful and Kevin Ku are in competition for the twelfth spot and face each other in the sole match on the first show. Cobb, the #1 seed, had an altercation with a ringside fan to establish him as the top heel.
Amazon Prime members can watch the show by clicking here.
In the quarter century that has passed since this match took place, it has become rightfully immortalized, although the environment in which this match was created remains frozen in time.
WWF Monday Night RAW 07/11/94
WWF World Championship
In 1994, Bret Hart clearly had a vision for the type of World Champion he wanted to be. He wasn't your older brother's WWF champion. Instead, whether intentionally or not, he was your father's NWA champion, a modern-day Jack Brisco. Brisco, who held the NWA title for most of the period between 1973 and 1975, was a highly-skilled athlete and an excellent wrestler, but more than that, he was a clean-cut, guy-next-door type who treated wrestling, and his opponents, with a certain respect. As with most NWA champions, when he faced a local babyface, he took on the heel role, but played it in a much more subtle way so that it wasn't a dramatic departure from his usual persona. This usually meant little to no outright cheating and instead meant wrestling from a position of dominance to set up the babyface's comeback, all while showing moments of mild frustration that he can't put the challenger away.
As his successors Ric Flair and Harley Race became the dominant NWA champs and mostly wrestled as heels, the Brisco doctrine became more of a distant memory. Understandably, Hulk Hogan was something far closer to Bruno Sammartino than any long-term NWA champion. He faced his challenger of the moment in a series that usually lasted three matches, then moved on to the next monster to repeat the cycle. The Bret Hart feud formula wasn't the Hulk Hogan feud formula, nor should it have been. When Bret became champion for the first time in 1992, wrestling was in the doldrums. Domestic business had collapsed drastically in a fairly short period of time under the weight of company scandals. Ultimate Warrior and Davey Boy Smith, two wrestlers who were being positioned as the top babyfaces in the company, were fired for using HGH as Vince McMahon was facing indictment for steroid distribution. Bret, who always had a dedicated WWF following -- at one point, he received more fan mail than any wrestler in the company -- was also someone more established at the Intercontinental title level, and he wasn't the level of star just yet that could immediately reverse the WWF's fortunes. He could, however, either slow the sinking or prevent things from getting worse.
In Bret's first run with the title, he was presented as an unusually active champion, an easy label to apply because it was true. The WWF put him in title defenses four to five nights per week and played this up heavily on television to get him over as a Fighting Champion. He was often vanquishing low-level foes, but so many of the stars were gone first of all, and second, he was doing it decisively, and beating other midcarders made clear that Bret Hart was now a cut above the guys that were previously presented as at about the same level that he was.
With plans of Bret beating the Ultimate Warrior at the 1993 Royal Rumble and Hulk Hogan at the subsequent Summerslam not working out as originally planned, Bret wasn't really put in a position to be a real champion until his second run, which started just three months before this when he beat Yokozuna at Wrestlemania X. For the foreseeable future, the company would be built in the image of Bret "The Hitman" Hart, who fans clearly preferred to Lex Luger when they were asked to choose between them. Bret could finally take main events somewhere more consistent with who he was. This was how he crossed paths with the 1-2-3 Kid.
Kid was a supremely talented independent wrestler, working a highly-regarded series against Jerry Lynn in the Minnesota indies that continued to the Global Wrestling Federation, which was a more high-profile setting. The Razor Ramon upset on the May 17, 1993, episode of Monday Night RAW is widely considered one of the most memorable moments of the era and it made Kid a bonafide star. Bret spoke highly of Kid at the 1994 WWF Hall of Fame ceremony, clips of which were included in the pre-match video. It speaks to what made Bret an effective champion. He wanted to test himself against someone he saw as a great wrestler, and it was a breath of fresh air because they didn't have to presume that they hated each other or manufacture an issue to get there. This is a big part of why Bret Hart was a star -- he was a real person in a sea of cartoon characters. He was facing a challenger who also resembled that remark and earned the opportunity by simply being talented and getting some big wins.
This match aired on television only six days before Hulk Hogan would have his first match in WCW, a title match against Ric Flair at Bash at the Beach. It reprsented quite the reversal in stature for the two companies -- the WWF running a title match between two great workers in a dingy building in a small market while WCW headlined with a dream match featuring the two biggest stars of their era, taking place in a major, full-sized arena in a city that hosts Walt Disney World and is notorious for being a tourist trap.
Bret went out of his way to make Kid look credible here. When Kid snuck in the armdrag off of their first lockup, Bret's face said it all -- he was both surprised and impressed. Bret attempted to use his size to his advantage, something he didn't get to do very often, by bodyslamming Kid out of his second armbar attempt, an example of the aforementioned Jack Brisco subtle heeling. This continued when Bret applied a chinlock, which was the first step in turning the crowd. The match started with the crowd firmly behind Bret, booing Kid and acting dismissive of his chances, and the chinlock started the ball rolling in their preferred direction, putting sympathy on Kid. These holds are sometimes written off as restholds, and that's often deserved, but here, it played a key role in turning the audience.
The first image after a commercial break was Kid once again in control, with Bret only able to turn the tide with a knee to the gut, another subtle heel move. Bret slowed the pace, which was another example of great psychology because it built anticipation for Kid's eventual faster-paced comeback. Bret hit Kid with a series of awesome European uppercuts in the corner, which only further endeared him to the audience. At this point, the crowd was slowly moving to Kid's side, and more great offense like the swinging neckbreaker from Bret only helped build sympathy. When Kid blocked Bret's crucifix attempt and covered him for a three count, Kid was in the ropes and Bret was declared the winner anyway because the referee was out of position. Bret insisted on a restart, hammering the point home that this is a champion who finds it important for his title defenses not to end in controversy. Catching Bret off his guard just after pleading his case to continue the match, Kid snuck in a quick nearfall and almost got the victory. The crowd bit hard. In Bret Hart's WWF, the great wrestlers could become the new champions at any time.
Frustrated, Bret grounded Kid and went back to the chinlock, which at this point made for a fully-divided crowd that just minutes earlier was solidly on Bret's side. When Kid blocked Bret's hiptoss attempt with a backslide, only to be cut off again, they finally had the people where they wanted them, chanting "1-2-3!" and fully supporting Kid's title bid. When Bret attempted the middle-rope elbow, Kid kicked him squarely in the face. It was a common transition in Bret Hart matches, but it had more impact here because it reinforced that high flying was Kid's domain. To hammer this point home, Kid hit a flying crossbody for a hot nearfall, and after Bret barely kicked out, Kid clotheslined the much larger champion over the top rope. The message was clear -- we were watching a WWF now where the best wrestles were as big as anyone in the company. After the best nearfall of the match, one where Kid reversed a superplex mid-air to land in a pinning position on top of Bret, Bret finally secured the sharpshooter, and with it victory, after Kid got a little overzealous going up top. As the two congratulated each other on a great match when it was over, Jim Ross had the wherewithal to stay quiet since the wrestlers were conveying the points just fine on their own, a sixth sense he wouldn't always have in future years.
If the NWA champion working style died another death when Bret Hart was no longer the top guy, it wasn't because the groundwork was never laid by matches like this, nor was it because wrestlers like Kid didn't know how to sell themselves as challengers at just the right pitch -- strong enough to be taken seriously, but not so strong that he would lose his underdog appeal. It's more that the American wrestling scene became increasingly impatient, aimless, and focused on outside shenanigans as the years waned on, a continued trend that helped Sean Waltman make big money at the end of the decade as much as it deprived us of some chances to see a great wrestler in long title matches. It was also a trend that, sadly, would eventually leave Bret Hart as a casualty. The small building and small market suggest otherwise, but these were happier times, not because the present was great as much as it was that the future hadn't yet been bargained away. Even if the elevator never hit the top floor, Bret Hart and the 1-2-3 Kid were hard at work building the ground level.
MasterofMuppets on YouTube has posted a No DQ match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura from a house show on July 9 in Augusta, Maine. It was not professionally filmed but was captured by a fan in the audience. Watch while you can!
Matches from the Next Evolution Wrestling (NEW) show in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on June 30, have been posted for free on YouTube.
Austin Shadowz vs Dontay Bishop
DA Assassin vs Livid the Clown
Joe King vs Preston Quinn
Wes Rogers vs Jake Hollister
Handicap Match: Blunt Force Trauma (Benjamin Money Banks & The Demented Bradley) vs Victor Griff
Evolution Championship: Beau Crockett vs Franco Varga
Let us know what you think of these matches by starting threads to discuss them at the Pro Wrestling Only forums!
Are you one of the wrestlers or promoters involved with this card? Contact us and we'll help put a spotlight on your matches and promote your merchandise to our readers.
The HECTOR GODFREY TV Youtube channel has just uploaded a free match from the Wrestling Martin Calderon show on July 8 at Azteca Arena Budokan. In the opener of the card, Barba Roja, Chris Stone Jr. & Syrus teamed against Alfa, Angel & Secreto Negro.
Also on the card:
Emperador Azteca Jr. & Impossible vs Corazon Negro Jr. & Drako
Super Comando, Terremoto & Toxico vs Danger, Guerrero Mixtico & Sadico
Fly Star & Muneca de Plata vs Baronessa & Toxin
Miss Janeth, Rossy Moreno & Tiffany vs Keyra, Lady Maravilla & Star Fire
El Sagrada vs Fly Warrior vs Ultimo Gladiador
Are you one of the wrestlers or promoters involved with this card? Contact us and we'll help put a spotlight on your matches and promote your merchandise to our readers.
UPDATE: This channel later posted two other matches from this show. Those matches have been linked above.
Rockstar Pro has just posted a new free match on their YouTube channel from their Amped show on June 27 in Dayton, Ohio. Watch "Bad Bones" John Klinger take on Aaron Williams and let us know what you think!
This is an absolutely amazing find. Steven Regal and Robbie Brookside, two masters of their craft to say the least, work a 60-minute exhibition match from 1993 at WCW's Power Plant training facility. Fans of mat wrestling and the classic British style should probably go out of their way to watch this. We'll have a full review up soon!
Why we rate matches
The mantra we try to live by here at Pro Wrestling Only is that there are only two types of professional wrestling -- good wrestling and bad wrestling. We profess this because as a medium, pro wrestling has proven that it can connect to people in a way that transcends time, place, and culture. We also believe passionately that no matter when or where new fans reach their point of entry, the most open-minded ones can discover and enjoy great wrestling in all corners of the world and moments in history, provided that the footage exists. We find it fun at PWO to make comparisons between matches in different time periods that involve a diverse array of wrestlers. Rating matches provides a quantitative way to do that, which makes it possible to do direct, match-to-match comparisons. On a larger scale, it also facilitates list-based projects and countdowns.
Why we think about wrestling critically
There are some who argue that watching wrestling should be lighthearted or mindless entertainment and that we shouldn't overthink it, to which we respond that this is fun or we wouldn't do it. We consider pro wrestling a form of performance art and consider rating it a way to show our appreciation for just how powerful pro wrestling can be at its best. Consider this critical thinking respect for the form, not an attempt to tear anything down. We believe pro wrestlers can achieve greatness in any environment, with any wrestlers, in any style, in any era, and with or without any limitations. We believe this, in fact, because we've seen it happen.
Why we don't use the classic five-star rating system
At PWO, we find challenges with the more conventional and established five-star rating system. It has certainly been useful in determining what matches are worth watching, and in the past, we've championed it ourselves, but it's not an infallible way to view wrestling (nor is our approach, to be clear, but it does work well for us). There are specific ideals that usually accompany the star rating system about what makes a match good or bad. We find those ideals to be narrower in scope than the way that we enjoy watching and talking about wrestling, even if they are admittedly useful as a short-hand reference point. We have also learned that not all four-star matches are created equal and that greatness resides on a spectrum.
What matters to us when rating matches
We believe that matches should be rated on their own terms. A 9.0 squash is possible, even if we have yet to see it. It may not be as good as a more competitive 8.0 match the way that we would traditionally think about it, but we also believe this distinction to be an unnecessary fan construct in the first place. Matches are something more than the sum of their parts -- crowd reaction can elevate or devalue wrestling, as can historical significance, buildup, match follow-up, later increase or decrease in importance of a move or hold, or an angle or interview that precedes or follows the match.
What we care about most is how successful a wrestling match is in either creating or maximizing its surroundings. Show us a match where fans are cold early on and end up fully engrossed by the end of it and you're likely showing us a match that we'll go to bat for. Show us a match that started with a super hot crowd that stayed that way and we'll give credit where it's due, but we're less likely to be impressed because the specific actions taken in the ring are not what generated that reaction. Show us a match that had a strong storyline with over performers going in and then went on a thrill ride, taking the crowd up and down as they saw fit and getting their desired reaction most of the way, and you're likely showing us an all-time classic.
We believe that there is no such thing as a bad crowd, just as we believe that everything is possible -- the five-minute opener at a TV taping that was just decided upon by the bookers that afternoon has every bit the potential to be a 10.0 as the main event of a card at Budokan Hall that has 18 months of build and will be given 30 minutes of ring time. That doesn't mean that the latter isn't more likely to be great than the former, but we have seen wrestlers overcome obstacles to produce something great so many times that we see preemptive dismissal as disrespectful to the pro wrestling craft. That's not to say that matches that have uninterested crowds don't have other merits and can't be great in their own way, but it does make clear that they failed to achieve their most basic goal, and they likely aren't something we'll view at the all-time classic level. Likewise, two wrestlers in a pie-eating contest or game of cards that the fans go crazy for isn't enough to make it great by itself -- the bell-to-bell actions and technique do matter and are significant, but we care more about the dish than the recipe.
We also realize that what a hot crowd is differs according to time and place. It's not about volume or frequency as much as it is about generating a favorable reaction through specific actions in the ring. Crowds in RINGS are a bit more attentive to detail than crowds in 1980s WWF, so they might not make as much noise, but that also doesn't mean that they aren't interested. We believe that context matters, just as we believe that understanding the norms in a given wrestling company or era is highly important.
What we think matters most in pro wrestling
In the end, we see professional wrestling as something where presentation matters as much as or more than content. This means that the whole of a presentation can often render the content of the match less important or even irrelevant. For example, the main event of Bash at the Beach '96 is iconic in that it concluded with a classic angle that jumpstarted an era and cemented WCW as the number-one wrestling company in the United States, at least for a couple of years. From a business perspective, it accomplished everything one could hope for in spades. When watching it decades later in an attempt to discern the match's quality, that alone won't make it a great match, although those positives do work in the match's favor. We believe that current watchability is important, and ultimately, any rating that we provide for a match is our way of saying, "This quantifies just how much we think this match is worth your time."
How we think great output reflects on a wrestler
We all have favorite wrestlers, but we don't put as much stock in quantifying our thoughts on them. The reason is that most wrestling careers have peaks and valleys. 2010's great wrestler can be 2011's disappointment, and forming an overall takeaway from that is something a bit more nuanced than it is something that can be explained in numeric form. While we appreciate projects that rank wrestlers and see immense value in it, it's not our priority because there are too many ups and downs in the average wrestling career to distill it all down to a "bottom line" much of time. And possibly to our detriment at times, PWO loves the bottom line (and not just 'cause Stone Cold said so).
We also think we are far less qualified to rank chefs than we are meals. When eating a meal at a nice restaurant, we might not know who developed the recipe, who thought it needed more seasoning and called an audible, or who boiled the potatoes. It's not that we see those issues as unimportant as much as we see them as mostly beyond our knowledge -- we just don't know enough to say. Even when wrestlers are on the record with their account of how a match is put together, wrestling's carny history means that we (lovingly) treat it with skepticism. All we can do as fans is observe patterns over time.
We do believe we're fully capable of explaining what worked for us or didn't work for us about a match, and why. We see ourselves as insufficient when we delve into The Politics of Who.
Who we think owns it all -- work and perception of work
The wrestlers own their actions in the ring, but we do not believe they have any ownership of the interpretation of their work. The best intentions sometimes result in the best matches, but they sometimes don't. A match is more than a collection of ideas -- it is something executed. If that wasn't true, the staff of Pro Wrestling Only could probably have great matches against each other now, and you aren't likely to see us pop up on any year-end lists.
How we view the lifespan of a match rating
There are two leading views on this. One is the strict originalist point of view championed by Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which is that all that matters is how good a match is in its place and time because it can't be known at the time how well it will hold up, and that wrestlers have no ability of working for a future audience.. While we agree that wrestlers can't see the future, we disagree with the notion that durability is meaningless. We would suggest one reason that we can clearly make that distinction is that we are able to separate the number of high-end matches from the perception of the wrestler. Another is that if we review a match that took place forty years ago, we aren't expecting the wrestlers to perform like today's wrestlers, and we likely have a good understanding of what wrestling was like at the time. To disagree that only the views of the moment matter is not to argue that they don't matter at all.
How a match holds up long term matters to fans who come along in future generations and want to see what all the fuss was about. Sometimes, because norms have shifted, what was a great match in its time (or even five years after its time) is no longer anything special, or vice versa. We see this as a normal and healthy process, just as we believe that new knowledge or attitudes can change past opinions. No opinion on a wrestling match should be seen as permanent. Wrestling fandom is always a work in progress, and when you see a match rating, it just means that's where we were on our journey at the time the match was reviewed. We see this as a great thing because old wrestling can always become new wrestling, whether that's because we're seeing something old for the first time or because we're approaching it from a new point of view.
How authoritative we think our opinions are
We don't. Seriously, we don't. We put this out there because our desire is to provide what we see as a great roadmap for the curious pro wrestling fan. In the same way numerous publishers print their own maps (and in the same way that new construction changes old routes, to add to the previous point), others may see it differently.
Our goal is not so much that you'll read and agree with everything that we write, although if you do, that's really amazing and we'd love you to let us know so you can be our new sidekick. It's more that you can compare your own thoughts on something you've seen to those that we've put forward and see how much of a gap exists between your take and our take. We think that if you get to a point where you can do this and generally predict how much you'll like or dislike a match, we've provided a valuable service.
How we rate current year wrestling compared to classic wrestling
We believe that hindsight provides a much clearer view than real time and typically wait one year to assign a match rating to ensure that we aren't just caught up in the moment. If we do feel that the match warrants a rating, we'll usually just give it a star rating so that our readers have a general idea of where we fell. Some argue that losing that moment goes against the entire purpose of watching wrestling, but we disagree in such a roundabout way that we actually agree and end up back on your side -- one could argue that matches aren't meant to be rated or watched outside of real time at all, which means that we're respecting the intent of the moment by not rating it at that time. If it sounds like we're teenagers trying to twist our way out of trouble with our parents, maybe we are. We'll get back to you on that. In a year, when we give the match a rating.
The rating scale we use
As we've mentioned above, we use a 1-10 scale -- or more accurately, a 0-10 scale, to rate matches. A 0.0 would be the worst match and a 10.0 would be the best match. Don't worry about our deep affection for both Dave Meltzer and Spinal Tap affecting the site too much -- if we saw a 10.0 match that we truly believed set a new standard in pro wrestling, it would still top off at 10.0. It might mean that next time we watch some other perfect tens that we see them as something more at the 9.9 level. Again, this is a journey. We'll never make it to the destination. We see that very fact as something worth celebrating.
Match currency conversions
9.8 - 10
* * * * * match
This is a match that can be reasonably compared to any match in wrestling history in terms of quality. As good as any match in wrestling history, or at least in that level of discussion.
9.3 - 9.7
* * * * 3/4 match
This isn't something quite as good as the very best matches in history, but it's at a minimum one of the best matches of the decade. Maybe the work itself is every bit as good as in some better matches, but the match doesn't quite have the same universal appeal.
8.8 - 9.2
* * * * 1/2 match
This is one of the best matches of the year or of its era. It's not quite one of the best matches of all time, but it's near the top in its own era. This is the type of match that represents its style, performers, company, or weight class exceptionally well. The best match of its kind, or among the best of its kind, even if it might not click with those who aren't fans of the style.
8.3 - 8.7
* * * * 1/4 match
This is a fantastic match. In some years, it could be a low-end match-of-the-year candidate. This is often a match that has something hold it back like a weak finish, questionable booking, bland atmosphere, or one moment that works against what the match was aiming to achieve otherwise, although that isn't etched in stone.
7.8 - 8.2
* * * * match
This is an excellent match worth seeing. It's not a match-of-the-year candidate, but it's an exceptional match by either global standards or the standards of the company, performers, style, or weight class. This match usually hits every note that that can be reasonably expected.
7.3 - 7.7
* * * 3/4 match
This is a borderline great match that usually isn't quite at that level because of either something like a weak finish or a few off moments that bring the match down. If we'd say "This would be a great match if not for ", this range is about right.
6.8 - 7.2
* * * 1/2 match
This is a very good match well worth seeing. We tend to rate a lot of matches in this range that tug at our heartstrings. What usually keeps them from going higher is that either they weren't given enough time, there were extenuating circumstances beyond their control or that we admired what they were going for so much and they came close to pulling it off, but they didn't quite get there. The prototypical match in this range would be the really hot, well-worked 10-minute TV match that is forgotten about quickly.
6.3 - 6.7
* * * 1/4 match
This is the B-plus player of wrestling matches. A step above the average good match for sure, but only a step above. Maybe a solid match that has an outstanding finish or a really great singular moment in it would qualify.
5.8 - 6.2
* * * match
This is a good, solid match that we're glad we saw. Everything was done very well. Nothing world changing, but so what -- it was good while it lasted. We believe that every wrestling card should have at least one of these to justify its very existence.
If we rate something below 5.8, we are usually saying that the match is not worth your time. In some cases, we still think the match is interesting and worth your time, but more as a snapshot in time of the wrestlers involved, the era, or the company. That's why we write reviews to go with the ratings.
This is the first Wrestling In Sevens, a new feature at Pro Wrestling Only where I'll talk to some of the most fascinating fans that I know. The first is with Victor Rodgers, who posts at Victator on the PWO forums and is the author of Chairshot: A Savage Sports Story, available on Amazon.
When did you become a wrestling fan?
It's difficult to remember a time pro wrestling was not in my life. I can't remember much before I was six. A lot of it feels like a camcorder on low battery. Things come in and out.
What are your earliest memories of pro wrestling?
My earliest wrestling memory is drawing a picture of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. My first live show was a Continental Wrestling Federation card in Hartselle, Alabama, in 1988. The main event was Lord Humongous vs Detroit Demolition. In hindsight, this was an Eddie Gilbert-booked card, as I can also remember a Nightmare vs Nightmare match. [Editor's note: Continental results from 1988 are scarce, so we could not locate a date or results for this card.] In my kid logic, I thought Danny Davis was connected to Sting.
I am way off course. My first real memory is seeing Hogan lose the WWF title to Andre on The Main Event. I really wanted to see WrestleMania IV, but that did not happen. I doubt we even had pay-per-view capability. Pay-per-view was the scourge of my young life.
But I did get to see Clash of the Champions. Ric Flair versus Sting is what really made me fall in love with wrestling -- this epic match between two larger than life gladiators.
What did you like most about pro wrestling?
Hulk Hogan represented to me all that was good in the world. As bad as my young life was, I slept easy knowing Hulk Hogan would vanquish the monsters. When a good guy (or "clean" wrestler as I called them) would punch the dirty manager, all was right with the world. Wrestling was a world where a big fat kid fit in. Where the things that made me an outcast, was an asset. I was a full true believer as a kid. Even when I started seeing the cracks, I still played along. It was important for me to defend wrestling. Or what I later learned was protecting the business.
You've mentioned seeing a Continental show live, but you've also mentioned your affinity for Hulk Hogan and Sting. Did you see any WWF or NWA shows during this time?
My first WWF show was a TV taping in January 1989. I was watching the WWF Superstars of Wrestling where Bad News Brown accused Elizabeth of doing "favors" for Jack Tunney. As a naive eight year old, I wasn't sure what favors he meant. Maybe she was doing his laundry, I just know it made the "Macho Man" mad. Suddenly [WWF ring announcer] Howard Finkel piped in announcing they were taping Superstars of Wrestling in Huntsville at the Von Braun Civic Center. They announced two matches: Hulk Hogan vs Big Bossman and Randy Savage vs Bad News Brown.
I remember the NWA running a house show in my hometown and really wanting to go, but not being allowed to go because I broke something and tried to lie to cover it up. I was about the same age as you at the time. Did you face any parental resistance?
I told my mother how bad I wanted to go and she said she would try to get tickets. But as kid life goes, I forgot and months passed by. Christmas 1988 comes along and we were visited by Santa. Despite being very poor, Mama always found a way. That morning, I am very happy with my Tiger Force GI Joe toys when Mama says she hears it and we should see what it is. We all go to the back and on the dresser I see two ringside tickets to the WWF TV taping. I have probably never been happier. I was so excited about the show. We get there and Mama buys me a program. She felt bad she could not buy me a shirt, but I understood.
Was there anything that surprised you about seeing wrestling live?
Now one thing I did not is these tapings are long. So we left after three hours and I did not get to see Hogan vs Bossman and they did not even do Savage vs Bad News. But I did get to see Hulk Hogan. It was the Savage vs Akeem match and Bossman attacked Savage. Hulk runs out to save Macho Man and this was the first religious experience I ever had. There was an incredible energy running thru everyone watching. My mother was screaming "Its The Hulk!!! Its The Hulk!!!" Right after this my uncle tapped me on the shoulder. He and my aunt bought me a Hulk Rules shirt. It meant the world to me.
How did wrestling fit into your own routine as a kid?
Saturday morning cartoons was what I lived for as a kid. I would get up at six and binge on various cartoons from Captain N to Muppet Babies to Real Ghostbusters to Saved By The Bell. WWF Superstars was the main event of the day. The longest five hours of the week was the time between Superstars and WCW at 5:05 [Central Time].
You're speaking my language! I would get so angry when Atlanta Braves games pre-empted wrestling, and killing time meant that I saw far to many episodes of Andy Griffith. Now being in the Southeastern United States, we always hear about how this area was more of a WCW stronghold. How much WCW did you watch?
As I said earlier, Sting vs Ric Flair made me fall in love with wrestling. But it was hard to watch it as regularly as the WWF because I would need to wrangle the TV from adults, even though my parents did like wrestling. But not as much as I did. The most terrifying memory of my wrestling childhood was the Road Warriors turning heel. I treated wrestling as a holy war. Under no circumstances did I cheer a bad guy. At most I could hope a bad guy would turn good.
I remember the Road Warriors turn well. What was terrifying about it from your perspective?
Who could stop them? I was watching TV when they stabbed Dusty in the eye with a spike. I can't express how upset this made me. When I later learned Dusty got fired for booking it, while I disagree, I get it.
Are there any other turns during this time that stand out, either to the light or the darkness?
The main comfort I got was Demolition became good guys. It was like the wrestling gods evened things out.
Was there any other wrestling you'd watch at this time?
I would get to watch Prime Time Wrestling as a treat. My mother would let me stay up until 10:00 [when it ended in the Central time zone], since I would wake up for school with no issues.
Let's jump ahead seven years to your teens. When you were 14 years old, were you still a fan?
I still loved wrestling, but some of the magic was gone. The real world problems that made it an escape started leaking in. When I was a little kid in third grade all the kids loved wrestling. Even in fifth grade there were other kids who enjoyed it. But in sixth grade things changed. A lot of them became social climbing little shits and suddenly I was also picked on for liking wrestling. Of course a lot of these shitheads would be wearing Austin 3:16 shirts, just as I was growing disenchanted with wrestling.
In 1992, wrestling became really important to me. My grandmother died in March 1992. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. She ended up being buried on my birthday. I remember a lady walked up to me as I was sobbing. She asked what was wrong and I told her. She gave me five dollars and I knew one thing I wanted. The Galoob Barry Windham wrestling figure. It was at a discount store called "Bill's". The figure was five dollars and I had been eyeing it for weeks.
Did you have any other wrestling figures?
I loved wrestling figures as long as I can remember. The first one I ever got was an LJN Terry Funk for my birthday in 1988. Actually I had the Hulk Hogan one, but I the memory is vague. I can remember a really happy feeling, that only a toy aisle could provide. I collected any I could find. I got a Marty Jannetty Remco figure, but those had the He-Man builds so I had no idea. I thought Buddy Roberts was Sid for years. The Hasbro figures were my favorites and Mama kept me in them. Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior were my favorites.
Any thoughts on the Ultimate Challenge at Wrestlemania VI?
I hated when Warrior challenged Hogan. I thought he would be too weak to fight off the bad guys who wanted the belt. But I still supported him because he was a good guy.
We talked about action figures? Did you read wrestling magazines?
So figures were the biggest part of my fandom and the magazines. I discovered Pro Wrestling Illustrated and they were far different from the WWF magazines. Which even as a kid I knew were propaganda. So every month I would hunt down the magazines. Pro Wrestling Illustrated was my favorite, if I was lucky I could get The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling. They showed me wrestling beyond the WWF and WCW. It was as much an escape as the comics I read. But the real world was leaking in. Fracturing my escape, backing me into a corner and shoving a hot poker into my side.
Wrestling was changing a lot during your teen years. What do you remember about those changes?
I discovered ECW in February 1996 after reading about it in the magazines. There was an anger and atmosphere that really resonated with 15-year-old Victor. But I was still loyal to the WWF and to a lesser extent WCW. My WCW had really died in 1994 when Hulk Hogan arrived. My favorites were slowly disappearing or being downgraded. Dustin Rhodes, Cactus Jack, and Ric Flair were neutered and Sting was Hogan's sidekick. The last to go was Vader. So I ended up cheering the bad guys. Big Van Vader had been a figure of terror for me in 1993, to the degree I did not even want the good guys to go after him. When he defeated Sting, I struggled to rationalize how he cheated. But I was growing to admire him. I think the way Bossman cheated him out of the title [at SuperBrawl IV] and the magazines praise pushed me toward being a fan. So Vader was my favorite and I was psyched to see him kill Hogan. Then Hulk Hogan no sold the Power Bomb [at Clash of the Champions XXX] and I mentally checked out of WCW in 1995. With the WWF I had favorites, but no one spoke to me like Vader.
What were your thoughts on Vader leaving WCW?
I was excited when Vader joined the WWF [in 1996]. The [Royal] Rumble debut was awesome, watching him crush the Headhunters alone then fighting Yokozuna. The next night he attacked Gorilla Monsoon. I did find it off he had to sneak attack Gorilla.
Vader's WWF run wasn't really everything it should have been, was it?
The run was all frustration. Him stooging for people like he was any other heel. Losing to Shawn Michaels, Ultimate Warrior and Ahmed Johnson all over the country. But Summerslam 1996 was going to be our night. Now I did not read newsletters or anything. My only inside news was this free phone service the [Pro Wrestling] Torch had through my local paper. But I had been a fan long enough I could make educated guesses on how things would go. It made sense for Vader to win the belt and build to someone getting the belt from him.
So the match starts with Michaels dominating which really did not work. HBK was not Sting when it came to offense. So the count out win happens and I am happy enough. Would like the title, but a W is a W. Then [Jim] Cornette started yelling for a restart. So this one is a DQ and Vader got a visual pin fall. Then Cornette starts again and I am wishing he would shut up. Vader kicks out of the Superkick and takes a questionable moonsault. When I heard the story behind that night, I get it. It does make me wonder why they screwed Bret over when he was way more reasonable. But as a 15 year old kid with no friends and a bad life. This was all I had and I was pissed. I spent my allowance for August and September on this.
It was all downhill from there for Vader in the WWF, in my opinion.
Well as a Vader fan, this was the peak. Beating Undertaker and Bret Hart on TV, I had hope he would be champion. You have to understand, if Vader was doing well, I was doing well. In hindsight, a lot of his work was good. But I watch wrestling for more than matches. By the time of the "fat piece of shit" promo, I was pretty numb to it and invested in little, but I was getting to watch ECW again. But in '99, he kept losing and losing and losing. Then he disappeared in 2000 and my interest in ECW slowly waned.
Actually, I was invested in two wrestlers, Vader and Sabu.
What drew you to Sabu?
Sabu was amazing. It went beyond the flying. He was like this savage animal, truly larger than life. Any match he was in felt like an event. Of course the magazines had hyped him for years. I got to see him in WCW first and he lived up to the hype. Even if he felt out of place in WCW. I can't explain why. He seemed like he was from another world. In ECW, he was like an elder God. But by '98, my ECW came and went as my cable package dropped America One. They also stopped carrying pay-per-view as wrestling became hot. You can afford to be stupid if you are a cable monopoly.
Let's shift gears to the wrestling boom. Did you have a "team" you rooted for during the Monday night ratings war?
WCW I watched for the great undercard, but I was sick of the nWo even in 1997. I figured out they were not going anywhere, as guys would get ganged up on and none of the WCW guys would help. So I was really invested in the WWF up until Montreal. Vince [McMahon] made that stupid speech and I felt betrayed. As a fan I always played along. Now he was fracturing the last layer of the fantasy.
As positively as it's remembered, rightfully so in many cases, there were some awful moments during those years for sure.
The WWF did things thru out 1998 and '99 that I could not explain. In particular times when they would say things on the show were real. Or Kane chokeslamming Undertaker into his mom's corpse.
I would watch every Monday and enjoyed the undercard and the main event matches. By mid-'99 I grew to suspect Vince was never going away. But I had my comics and games.
Were you still as dedicated a fan of pro wrestling during this time?
I would order ECW tapes, but that was it. I do not want to go too deep into 2000 WCW. Vince Russo made me hate wrestling. Just an utter piece of garbage who did not understand the escape wrestling was suppose to represent. So WCW rightfully died and the WWF bought the scraps. Which was a pretty exciting time as a fan.
What are your memories of this time period? For me, there was so much uncertainty.
There is a weird energy in the wake of a death. I don't know, maybe its change.
So the night of the ECW Invasion on Raw[, July 9, 2001], I was so excited. Then at the end of the night, Stephanie McMahon was added as the ECW owner. Now on a logical level I can tell you why this was stupid. But as a fan it felt like I was spit on. I did not watch for two months and when I returned, I had no enthusiasm.
What were you into when you returned?
I did really get into Rob Van Dam as I had been a fan since he was in WCW in 1993 [as Robbie V]. But as the year closed, I figured out RVD had his spot and that was it. In hindsight, he should have kept the Hardcore belt as a special attraction.
Did you ever leave again?
I might have went away completely for a few years after the first Kiss My Ass segment. Outside of finding NWA Wildside on a weak signal station, I felt like I was done as a fan. But I ended up getting access to the Internet and a new aspect of fandom was opened up, seeing the inner workings of wrestling and finding people to discuss old wrestling with. I also started tape trading. So I got to see old wrestling I never got to see. My Vader fandom gave me my first taste of Japanese wrestling. I got to see All Japan [Pro Wrestling] and New Japan [Pro Wrestling], which was Vader unfiltered and it was awesome. Vader could be Vader and even got to win titles. So I would buy tapes and more or less enjoyed it, but in ways it felt hollow. The magic was gone and it was no escape. My real life was getting worse, I lost my father and my mother's mind was deteriorating. Wrestling was not an escape, it was a distraction. There is a significant difference. But I met some of my best friends thanks to forums. Which did make life easier.
Did you explore lots of old footage?
I got WWE 24/7 and started watching Prime Time Wrestling again and I remembered those old feelings. So I started watching wrestling like it was real. Like I did as a kid, thinking of how I would act in these situations. Wrestling became way more fun and older TV became available. What was old was new to me.
What else do you remember about wrestling fandom in your 20s?
I had stopped collecting figures in 2003 in a misguided attempt at being an adult. I sat in a room with bare walls on a computer. The only thing I allowed myself was editing videos and I became pretty good. I would go down the wrestling toy aisle and loved all the options, but I could not buy them.
Let's talk about being a wrestling fan in your 30s.
Mama is dead and I went thru an awful experience. But one bright spot was my nephews, who were very young enjoyed wrestling and watched it like I did. Getting angry at cheating and euphoric when heroes win. They found my wrestling figures and just loved them. I ended up giving them to the kids. The only ones I would not part with were my WCW Galoob figures. I still have that Barry Windham figure near by. It comforted me.
During the [Super Outbreak] Tornado of 2011, I dug out my figures to find the kids. But like a recovering alcoholic, I was hooked. I started buying the WWE Mattel figures and looking for the old Jakks figures. Its probably the biggest connection I have to the mainstream. I watch TV and mess around with the figures, thinking of angles and matches. At times I feel like a creep doing it. But my therapist said its not different than fantasy football.
In 2010 I wrote a wrestling novel. I wrote it from the perspective of wrestling being real. I used a combination of my old magazines and [Dave] Meltzer's [Wrestling Observer] Newsletters as sources.
Have you ever wanted to be a wrestler or work in pro wrestling?
My biggest regret in life and this is hard to admit, but it is I was never in the wrestling business. I think if I had gave it my all, I would have made it. I am a big guy and was really agile as a 19 year old. I was also pretty good at talking. But you know things don't happen like you dream. The wrestling world I grew up in was gone by 2001. Fat guys were going extinct. I felt responsible for my parents, who had issues. Or in the harsh light of day, I did not have the guts to try. I'm 37 now and have a lot of health issues. I go to live shows but it is fun and heart breaking at the same time. Seeing people younger than I am, doing better than my dream than me hurts.
What do you enjoy about being a wrestling fan now?
The best thing about being a wrestling fan in 2018 is the choices. Almost everything is available and requires very little effort to watch. Even compared to ten years ago, things are so much easier. What before required a computer, Internet connection, account on a torrent tracker, a torrent client, and a DVD player. Now I need an Internet connection and a PS3 or Roku and I have a huge selection of wrestling at my finger tips. You can find scans of newsletters or magazines easily. Or if you want a physical media, you can find most things you want fairly easy if you are willing to pay. Downside with current wrestling is that the stories suck with a few exceptions and you don't see enough character work.
If you think your own wrestling fan journey is interesting and would like to share it, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact us and explain your background.
What a difference a week makes!
I'd like to thank each of you for being so supportive and active during PWO's first week. In the first seven days the site was up and running, we posted a staggering twenty-two match reviews, two features articles, a podcast, and more! I thought I'd use today's update to talk about lessons learned and where we go from here.
My real-life background is in content management and it's something I've done a decent amount of, but what I'm aiming to do here is much, much bigger in scope and I'm working entirely within a system I'm creating myself, so it's a new world. At a certain point in the week, I realized that I was spending about 90% of my time on website tweaks, which wasn't leaving me with very much time to do what I should be doing with most of my time, which is to develop and deliver great wrestling content. After looking into it a little more, I realized the insanity of my goal to manually build an all-things-wrestling database while juggling 35 articles per week, each 500-750 words or so, and record a daily podcast, which was my initial ambition. It was a lot of work and I was never blind about that, but when I realized just how much I could automate and restructured a lot of old articles to accommodate that, and that working 18-hour days just to work on site design wasn't quite what I had in mind when I launched this, just shifting those gears alone took three days of my time. A lot of the big features I wanted to add to the site won't be here immediately, but most of them will be here relatively soon, and they'll be better than they would have been.
The big takeaways are that unexpected discoveries, challenges, and ideas will happen again and also that I can't work myself to the bone constantly when something can be automated. I've come up with a new core content schedule that is still ambitious, but also realistic and gives me some flexibility:
20 match reviews from this week in history, to be posted throughout the week
Three weekly podcasts
Regular Editor's Notes check-ins
This also gives me the time and flexibility I need to work on some of the exciting developments on their way to fruition, such as:
PWO30, our new monthly digital magazine. Each month, PWO30 will provide a fresh look at everything in wrestling 30 years ago this month. The first issue will be available on Monday, July 23, and will be FREE for download!
Wrestler, year, promotion, title, and media (e.g., podcasts, books and magazines, shoot interviews, etc) profile pages. Find the ultimate one-stop shop for wrestlers (and the other stuff) inclusive of all nationalities, genders, styles, and eras, and of people at all levels of pro wrestling stardom. These pages will also include PWO-specific stores for each wrestling entity with thoughtfully-curated listings to buy wrestling items from PWO's affiliates (Amazon, Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Highspots, eBay, WWEShop, and others).
PWO on Patreon. My goal is for PWO to have a tier system available on Patreon by August 1 with some really cool and unique offerings included. I'll keep you all posted of that progress here. While 8/1 is my goal, I will not launch on Patreon until I am confident that each tier is offering something of real value.
Feature articles. Look for the first installment of Wrestling In Sevens, a regular feature that spotlights individual wrestling fans and their lifelong journeys with pro wrestling, early this week. I'm really excited about this offering and think you'll love it!
A more interactive platform that's more fully integrated with the PWO forums. The forums are still here, but I'm exploring ways to more fully integrate that sense of community with the site itself. This is a long-term work in progress.
Thanks again to those of you who have been here all week. You have truly made this a worthwhile endeavor and I'm endlessly grateful.
Onward we go!
Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi are an all-time great babyface tag team, but because of Kobashi's subsequent singles superstardom, they aren't really talked about much at that level. This match -- and frankly, all of their 1992 matches that have made tape -- show much of an oversight that is.
July 5, 1992
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
All-Asia Tag Team Titles
The most rewarding part of navigating Kenta Kobashi's extensive body of work is the number of "Ohhh yeah, THAT match!" moments that we open ourselves up to when going back to look at his best matches. Kobashi's career was appropriately documented and appreciated, so it's not that he has a career full of hidden gems (even though those exist too) as much as it is that he has produced so many great matches at so many different phases of his career that it's difficult to remember all of them. It would be another decade before he finally had the definitive run as a world champion that his talent and popularity demanded, but in 2003, 1992 was more than ancient history -- Kobashi wasn't even in the same company anymore; nor was Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, whose career had followed a radically different trajectory than his own.
Here, Kobashi and Kikuchi defended the All-Asia Tag Team Titles. The duo was unique because in virtually every other partnership at this time, Kobashi was the subordinate junior wrestler, a status that would follow him until he was paired with Jun Akiyama in 1996. The All-Asia tag titles had their own interesting history in the company because they were usually assigned to smaller and faster-paced tag teams, while the top singles stars paired up and controlled the World Tag Team Title picture. This team might have been the only place where Kobashi exerted any authority at all in relation to his more seasoned teammates. A list of Kikuchi's strengths -- likability, fire, great offense and selling, expert charisma -- would read very similar to those of Kobashi, which made them a natural fit for each other.
The most famous match the duo had (and the one that I considered the best match of the 1990s when I did a nutso ranking at Place To Be Nation a few years ago) was against Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat about six weeks before this one. Like Kobashi and Kikuchi, the Can-Ams were great offensive wrestlers, so pitting the teams against each other made for a stellar matchup, just as it earned one of the best crowd reactions for any match -- especially a midcard one -- in AJPW history. Like the May match, this match was joined in progress when it aired on Nippon TV, but unlike that match, this never came out in full. My initial thoughts when I watched this were that it was better than the May 22 tag, although at that time I had only seen the twelve minutes or so of it that aired back in 1992. I've since reversed that opinion, but only because the tag was finally aired in full on television. If we also had this in full, I think a full comparison would be both interesting and unpredictable, because Masa Fuchi adds so many interesting touches to his performance that it's not out of the realm of possibility that they topped themselves here. This was also the type of match that has more staying power because it's more classically worked -- the May tag was an incredible spectacle of offense while this was more substantive outing focused on limb selling and mat details, joined in progress right as Kobashi was starting to masterfully sell a knee injury. I'm also not sure I'd trust Furnas and Kroffat, whom I love, to pull off the finish the way Kikuchi and Fuchi did here, with Kikuchi reversing Fuchi's rolling reverse cradle, almost like an unlucky game of Wrestling Uno.
All Japan Pro Wrestling T-Shirt - Redbubble
This also spotlights something that AJPW did exceptionally well in the early 90s that they became less expert at doing with time. Kikuchi was embroiled in a six-year chase of Fuchi (a six-year chase to win a junior heavyweight championship!) and pins in tag matches were an effective way to keep hope alive for their next meeting. This shows that the same booking philosophy and respect for the story was applied to the undercards as it was the main events, an idea that seems unimaginable in most companies with weight classes.
Most of all, this match acts as a crusader for the midcard cause, a case study in the value of promoters not treating those who aren't current headliners as afterthoughts. Kobashi and Kikuchi owned the crowd as much as anyone owned their crowd in wrestling at the time, even while taking on a subordinate role when they did participate in All Japan's hierarchy-centered main event tags and six-mans, showing that with a little forethought, wrestling really can have it both ways.
Ric Flair and Ricky Morton -- two of the most symbolic figures in wrestling -- voluntarily toss reputations aside to prove their mettle.
Jim Crockett Promotions
NWA Great American Bash
July 5, 1986
Charlotte, North Carolina
NWA World Heavyweight Title
I don't know if I'd go as far as to say he's taken a beating among hardcore wrestling fans over the last decade, but it's fair to say that a lot of wrestling fans no longer see Ric Flair as infallible. Based on years of debates and discussion at Pro Wrestling Only, I've probably written more and thought more about my own views on Flair than just about anyone alive. I've been pretty convinced that he is the greatest wrestler I've ever seen for a long time, but believe me, I have tripped over the holes in his work as much as anyone. Like anything else, some of the general points used to critique him probably have merit and some are probably off the mark.
For years, Flair was regarded as the Greatest Wrestler Ever. (He was surprisingly voted as such a couple of years ago by PWO members.) It only becomes harder for anyone to maintain that type of reputation over time no matter who they are or what they've done. We saw it in wrestling before Flair, when Lou Thesz presumably transformed from professional wrestler to black-and-white museum painting, even while still alive. For Flair, that process has been slowed by continued relevance -- both in and out of wrestling -- as his best wrestling days became a smaller part of the rearview mirror. However, if you are someone whose prime was three decades ago and most fans started watching when you were already -- at a minimum -- in your 40s, it's a battle that is destined to end in loss.
For at least a generation, Ric Flair was the wrestler nearly everyone in the business talked about both in out of WWE canon as the guy against whom they had their greatest matches. He was the consummate champion; in fact, I think it's arguable that the simple gesture of allies and announcers calling him "champ" regardless of his title status went a long way in preserving his legacy. He became memorialized as the greatest world champion ever -- the model heel, the greatest at portraying greatness in others, and the guy who had unrivaled stamina. Like being champion of two companies at the same, it's difficult to be considered the greatest both in myth and in actual personal discoveries, which hits on the difference between being the greatest and being the best. Still, being the guy who had the greatest body of in-ring work, the best interviews, and the most charisma meant Flair owned every superlative in wrestling folklore. Watch his classics with Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk, we'd both say and hear, to see wrestling at its finest.
Much of what can be said about Flair can also be said about Ricky Morton, although on a smaller scale. Morton has had tenured standing as the greatest tag team wrestler of all time. Poke around long enough and it's unlikely that you won't see Morton called the greatest tag team wrestler of all time, the greatest babyface of all time, the most sympathetic wrestler of all time, and plenty of other labels. When wrestlers are isolated in tag team matches to build to a hot tag, they're "playing Ricky Morton".
Ric Flair fans found Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Jumbo Tsuruta, Kenta Kobashi, Jushin Liger, Toshiaki Kawada, El Hijo del Santo, Negro Casas, and Mitsuharu Misawa (and in more recent years, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi) and Flair wasn't as peerless anymore. It became easier to point to criticisms of how he wrestled. He was overly reliant on a formula. He didn't have the range of offense of Kobashi. He didn't work his signature spots into the match as logically as Bret. He didn't age as gracefully or adapt to new opponents as well as Jumbo. Likewise, Morton fans found Tommy Rogers and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. They sold extremely well too, and they had cooler looking moves to boot. In my mind, those were valid reasons Flair shouldn't be regarded as the best wrestler -- meaning on the merits, the best at the mechanics, actions, and reactions of being a pro wrestler -- than they are that he shouldn't be the greatest wrestler -- meaning, the people who add excellence in skill and style to importance in wrestling and go on to carry the torch -- but those distinctions have only faded with time. This blurred distinction was never more the case than when there was even an argument with brief momentum that the whole idea of Ricky Morton being attacked to build to a hot tag was a facade, based on skewed footage samplings that circulated in the pre-YouTube days where Robert Gibson happened to be playing Ricky Morton for a night. If Flair became a name on a list of other great wrestlers -- ironically, the same way he portrayed his predecessors like Harley Race, Gene Kiniski, and Jack Brisco in interviews -- Morton became something worse: he became someone who didn't actually have the run we thought he did. We just imagined that he did.
One of the biggest problems with high praise is that at a certain point, there's nowhere to go but down. Flair's untouchable matches with Steamboat from their '89 series could suddenly not only be touched, but also be poked and prodded. In some circles, people would watch those matches and be underwhelmed, think based on praise that's out there that the match has to be the best American wrestling has to offer because of how it's been talked about, and start seeking out matches from Japan and Mexico that they hope will prove a little more exciting. Most of the time, they would fulfill the prophecy they set for themselves, and hey, in the days when wrestling bootlegs cost $20 a pop, can you blame them?
The second problem with overwhelming praise comes when people praise the wrong matches. The Flair-Steamboat matches are awesome in my mind and fully deserving of their status, but for someone trying to find wrestling they really enjoy who's still discovering new styles, it's not the most daring recommendation one could make. There's a time for watching epic matches, and I love epic matches myself. I think this is true for most wrestling fans. However, I think we would all get bored if all matches attempted to be epics. It again goes back to that distinction between best matches, the matches that most effectively combine performance elements to create something enjoyable to watch, and the greatest matches, those that do a serviceably great job of this but do it with great storyline development, over performers, and strong card positioning. Imagine the best matches as cars that start at 10mph or 20mph and go to 70mph, while the greatest matches start at 60mph and go to 90mph. Flair and Steamboat probably didn't have the best matches of time, even if they're in the conversation, but it's a more convincing argument that as respected NWA champs working at a really high level, they had the greatest matches of all time.
There's really no reason for anyone to see Flair-Steamboat from Wrestle War '89 if they haven't seen the video set to Europe's "The Final Countdown" that preceded it. There's really no reason for anyone to see a Ric Flair-Terry Funk match if they haven't seen Flair swing a branding iron and put Funk in the hospital, or Funk suffocate Flair with a plastic bag and bring out a jobber dressed like him in a cheap robe with a yellow stripe down his back. If you don't feel it and see it, these matches will be a bit hollow, which should go without saying, but based on the length of time I'm taking just to set up this review, doesn't.
This match and the Barry Windham match from Worldwide that was on the first Flair DVD set back in 2000 are probably the two matches I'm most proud of WWE for putting out there. It shows that there is more than Flair-Steamboat and Flair-Funk and that it is worth digging a little deeper to find them. I'd go as far to say that Flair looks as good as or better than I've ever seen him here. This is a world title match that is about revenge, as opposed to being a stoic encounter between two respected legends. Ric Flair rubbed Ricky Morton's face into a concrete floor until blood was smearing all over the floor, and he broke his nose. Morton was wearing a face guard here. He came in full of piss and vinegar, attempting to give Flair a dose of his own medicine. He tried to break Flair's nose and smear his face on the mat as a form of retribution. He leveled him with some tremendous punches. He had Flair begging off. Yes, Ricky Morton came into the match so angry and possessed that he managed to scare Ric Flair. Flair begs off a lot, because he always tries to bring his opponent to his level. Sadly, sometimes instead of his opponent coming up a notch, he falls down a notch. That didn't happen with Morton. When he begged off, it felt more organic because it was believable. He wasn't working with a Sting or Lex Luger that he had to get over before they could even really take the rivalry anywhere. Morton was already a red hot challenger.
When Flair takes control of the match, we see him at his most brash and violent. He's talking trash constantly, rubbing Morton's face into the cage in front of the Apter mag photographers, screaming "So you wanna be the world champ?" at him. Flair rips off Morton's face gear and throws it out of the cage so Morton can't even put it back on. He then starts punching him Ricky squarely in the nose as hard as he can. The crowd winces, because they feel Morton's pain. He convincingly beats the shit out of poor Ricky for a long time without giving him any openings at all.
Morton finally has enough and tears into Flair yet again. Flair is now scared yet again, and is now getting exactly what he deserves. He's now bleeding just like Morton and he's now on the defensive. With a flying bodypress from the top rope, Morton comes about a half a second away from winning the world title, and the fans appeared to be convinced. The best thing about this nearfall -- and nearfalls of this generation, really -- is that they didn't have to cheapen a finishing move to get the reaction. Nearfalls based on the split-second timing of the kickout are far more compelling than nearfalls based on what move a wrestler has kicked out of. Morton tries covering Flair again, but this time, Morton ends up falling on the ref during Flair's kickout. Sensing that it's now or never and that there's no referee present to tell him he can't, Flair crotches Mortons on the top rope and pins him with his feet on the ropes to escape by the skin of his teeth with the world title. (I'm convinced that he gave him such a strong out with that finish because of the respect he had for him as an opponent.)
Ric Flair was rarely about somber gatherings, clean wrestling matches, and handshakes. His usual routine was to enrage fans who were dying to see someone take him down a notch because he wasn't modest and loved to play on class resentment in his promos, pointing to himself as the guy you'd run into from your past only to find that he had more life success, more money, and a bigger house. Flair had dual-layer heat -- beating him was fine, but lots of guys did that so Flair could get them over as worthy challengers. Put him on TV to gloat in a Hugo Boss sports coat the next day and it was like he won. The real heat was in taking the title from him, which the best moments of this match made clear were the source of real intrigue. That they pulled that off with an undersized tag team wrestler, even a great one, explains why they had the reputations they had in the first place. What makes this particular outing so noteworthy is not that they continued to expand on their reputations as the greatest, even if they did; but rather, that they made a case for being the best.
La Parka and La Parka Classic fight over the rights to the name in a real yawner.
July 4, 2010
AAA Lucha Libre Worldwide
This was a bit hard to follow much of the time, mostly because they were dressed so similarly. I've seen Super Parka wear the yellow skeleton gimmick and Undertaker-Underfaker at least had purple and gray gloves to distinguish the two of them. It's even harder to follow when Konnan shows up and the RUN-INS commence. I don't even know if Konnan was booking, but I've decided to blame him anyway since I groaned when he showed up, knowing this was about to become the Over The Edge '98 main event of lucha libre. Don't waste your time.