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MATCH REVIEW: Steve Corino vs Doug Williams (07-01-06)


Loss

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Steve Corino was only a World Champion on a national scale in America one time, and in a company that had a booking style pretty far from the NWA tradition. Armed with a credible and capable challenger, Corino shows what might have been with different career timing.

July 1, 2006
1 Pro Wrestling 
Fight Club II
Barnsley, England
1PW World Heavyweight Championship

7.8

Steve Corino, while a great wrestler, has always seemed to me like a kid living the dream. He lucked into opportunities any aspiring wrestler who grew up on 1980s Jim Crockett Promotions would die for, whether he was getting smacked with a cowbell by Dusty Rhodes in ECW or wrestling a resurgent Barry Windham on the indie scene. He became Shinya Hashimoto’s favorite American through his work in Zero One. He also got to tour Europe as the world champion, in this particular case working his version of the Ric Flair title match.

When the territories collapsed for good in the late 1980s, NWA title defenses went out of style. Main events were much shorter for the most part, with slow build and matwork often replaced by more brawling and big spots. That change wasn’t entirely for the bad, as the worst 60-minute draws could be painful and some great matches were born from the new approach. Still, when WCW and ECW died in 2001 and the wrestling world was looking for a new path forward outside of the American monopoly, independent wrestling brought about a return to pro wrestling’s roots. Wrestlers sometimes missed the mark and occasionally had ambition above their skill level, but the focus on in-ring competition was welcomed and served as a nice contrast to the excesses of the Attitude Era and latter-day WCW. Young wrestlers displayed an experimental streak and were willing to take chances, which resulted in longer matches once again returning to favor.

It was in this setting that Steve Corino wrestled Doug Williams. Both were on the ground level for the indie boom that put Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, and numerous others on the path to stardom. Circumstance led Corino and Williams to 1PW, a UK-based promotion that opened its doors the previous year, and a two-out-of-three-falls -- air quotes -- “world” title match.

The fascinating thing about this and other matches like this during the time period is that it wasn’t worked all that different from the wrestling of previous generations, but it seemed fresh and even in some ways innovative because it lied dormant so long. There was modernization (or regression, depending on your point of view) to an extent -- chances are that the Chaos Theory and Northern Lights Bomb on the floor wouldn’t be the two most important highspots in a match thirty years earlier -- but the match layout still nods to the corpse of the old NWA.

Even though the first fall was worthy of being called a great match on its own, the match didn’t truly pick up steam until Doug Williams took liberties with the rules in the second fall. Williams might as well have been the uncrowned lead heel in the biggest company in the world. He mercilessly targeted Corino’s arm and used the armdrag to return the match to his control anytime Corino teased a comeback, an interesting choice because the armdrag is not typically a move that is used as a neutralizer during the body of a match. Here, it functions like a dragon screw leg whip -- a sudden, high-impact move that halts momentum.

The finish was in some ways too clever for its own good, even while creating some nice theater in the moment. Restarts have always seemed risky to me, especially in longer matches, and they pushed this one far; Williams was escorted nearly out of sight and the referee had already handed Corino the belt. The other issue was the apparent time shaving. It’s certainly possible that there was a masterful editing job involved when this was released commercially, but if not, this was much closer to fifty minutes than sixty. It was here that I was reminded of the best NWA title matches of years past, although probably not for the reasons the wrestlers intended. The time call from the ring announcer was not a staple in every territory, but those who used it knew they had a gimme for creating drama down the final stretch. When there is no sense that the wrestlers are racing the clock, expiration of time, neither the possibility of it nor it actually happening, means as much as it should.

The big takeaway from this match is not the little things that might have been done better, but the multitude of things that were done well. 2000s indie wrestling -- and wrestling in general, I suppose -- often seeks judgment not on execution of an idea, but in the quality of the idea itself, (“Well I could see what they were going for”) and this match exemplifies that as well as any other. When viewed without that lens, this was a four-star match that had potential to be a classic and didn’t quite hit the mark. However, when judged with the ideas themselves as the reason to get excited, Steve Corino and Doug Williams overachieved.

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