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  1. World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs Shawn Michaels - RAW 12/29/03 Terrific match! I have a lot I want to say about this, but it is getting pretty late. Probably the greatest American 80s match not to happen in the 80s. HHH does one of the best Flair impersonations ever and I mean that with respect and admiration. He was a consummate heel champion in this match. Michaels was an awesome, awesome fired up underdog hometown babyface. Both of them were constantly fighting back at each other. HHH was was getting outwrestled early in a great shine, but Shawn earned it. Awesome transition to the heat. HHH worked a great heat segment. Great transition to Shawn's figure-4. Not the best strike exchanges ever in terms of execution, but I liked the frequency of them and I liked the sense of the effort and struggle. Loved the lighthearted moments with Shawn abusing HHH's testicles. That's what made the 80s so great is having dramatic struggles but incorporating bits of fun to keep you entertained in a totally comprehensive way. Loved the drama with the ref bumps and Bischoff coming in. All this 80s goodness culminates in a Dusty Finish in the babyface's hometown. HUGE BABYFACE POP FOR MICHAELS! That's just cruel. They aren't coming back to San Antonio the next week so they have to blow it off right them and there. Loved this! I really want to analyze this in full because both guys gave awesome performances. ****1/2, easy.
  2. The king of the spectacle strikes again. Brock Lesnar is a fantastic babyface, but you wouldn’t know it with how rarely he gets to show off that side of himself. Lashley comes out of the gates hot, attacking Lesnar before the bell rings and driving him leg-first into the ring steps. Lesnar’s selling was phenomenal as he hobbled around the ring to avoid further damage to the bad wheel. Take for example, the moment after Lashley speared Brock through the barricade, where he could barely stand as he tried to get back into the ring. Lesnar’s German suplexes and F5 didn’t have as much snap as usual. Lesnar also fell victim to a few nasty bumps, spilling to the outside and being hoisted onto Lashley’s shoulders and getting thrown into the post. Lesnar bumped around the ring with the grace of someone much smaller, and it was refreshing to see him fight from the backfoot for once. Lesnar got in one last gasp of hope, getting Lashley up for another F5, but his leg gave out. Fate is cruel and inevitable, as is the Hurt Lock, which nearly put Lesnar out for good. Lesnar’s arm dropped twice, but he summoned the strength to kick himself off the ropes and keep Lashley down for the three-count. The execution of the finish could’ve been a little better, as Lesnar didn’t get enough momentum to carry him all the way over for the pin. The match was magnificent and a change of pace despite having the familiar beats of many other Lesnar matches. Most of that can be attributed to his selling and establishing Lashley as a credible threat that Brock merely survived. A certified hoot and a half.
  3. Classic big man/little man dynamic. You know exactly what you’re getting with this match-up, and they more than deliver on that promise. Mysterio’s strategy early on was to stick and move, using evasiveness to his advantage. Gunther’s power proved too much, and he took control with a series of chops. Mysterio took a few gnarly-looking bumps, getting thrown head-first to the floor and powerbombed onto the apron. Gunther was dismissive and brutal in his control segment, raking the boots across Mysterio’s face and delivering bodyslams and clotheslines with ferocity. Mysterio using his arms to block the former was a neat touch and something I can’t recall seeing before. Rey realizing his strategy wasn’t working out as well as he’d hoped, decided to switch to a sleeper hold to wear down his larger opponent. Gunther, desperate to hang on the title, climbed the ropes with Mysterio on his back and dropped him. Gunther continued the attack by delivering a wicked neck crank. He even employed the one of the oldest heel tricks in the book: mask ripping. That only fired up Mysterio, who delivered consecutive slaps. With Gunther now weary, Mysterio returned to the air, connecting with a senton and a moonsault. I like how you could see Mysterio’s strategy shift throughout the match. It wasn’t as if he was doing the same old routine but actively adapting to his opponent. That’s one of the signs of an all-time great wrestler. Mysterio hit a 619 and went for a Frog Splash but was quickly thwarted by Gunther. Gunther attempted a top-rope powerbomb, which Mysterio countered by hitting a hurricanrana in mid-air. The suddenness of the finish was excellent. Mysterio got booted out of the air, and Gunther pulled him up from the mat and hit a clothesline for the victory. A harsh reminder that sometimes, the underdog doesn’t win. Great, simple television match that made good use of a time-tested formula. The classics are the classics for a reason.
  4. Kurt Angle vs John Cena - No Mercy 2003 Some things never change like people kicking out of the FU. I forgot how foul-mouthed Cena's promos were at this time. He is like the reverse Bob Saget. Total random note, but I watched the opening video package to this PPV and the Vinny Mac & Steph storyline was some fucking dark shit. Really strong fundamentals-based match for the vast majority of this match. It is nothing that really pops, but it is just solid, entertaining. Some Kurt-isms pop up late in the match where he just starts suplexing Cena as his hope spots, but there are no real transitions to the Germans or out of the Germans to get back to Cena on offense. I forgot how crucial the kick to the midsection was in every match from like 1997-2005 in setting up your most lethal move. I think they could have done more with the street fighter vs Olympic wrestler if they wanted to have a classic, but as a meat and potatoes match this was fine. Angle outwrestled Cena early and then got pissed, flipped him off and took fight to him, which I thought would lead to more of a battle of fisticuffs. Angle eats the post (not my favorite transition as it does not put heat on the heel). Cena wrestled a fine heat segment. His clothesline has not changed nor how he sells punches. He was moving around great. It was weird there were no shoulder tackles. Cena went for his leg drop and Angle dropkicked the knee, which seemed like a sound strategy. He did get the ankellock, but they ended up on the apron and Angle took his DDT/apron bump that is needlessly nasty. Spot of the match was Cena finally hitting that legdrop in a way that does not make me roll my eyes. Angle was trying to get back in the ring, head-first and BANG! nailed the leg drop. Perfectly organic. Angle of course snapped off a suplex right after this. It was a fun finish stretch. They kicked out of each other's finishes. I loved Cena going for the chain, the ref takes it away, but he has stolen the gold medals! I did not even see that. Cena, you sly fox! He nails him and that should have been the finish, except Cena was turning face I believe. Angle kicks out nice pop and victory roll into AngleLock gets the win. It was just a very good match. Cena looked fine and had all his mannerisms down. He definitely worked big. Since Cena was not a workrate guy, I think that helped reign Angle in, which was a boon for this match. ***1/2
  5. Johnny Gargano has put on two five star matches in a four month span. Unless Daniel Bryan gets booked in a high profile singles feud, I don't see anyone topping the emotional investment and sympathy that Johnny Gargano draws out from a crowd. Pairing him with Tomasso Ciampa, who transformed from fun indie superstar into one of the best most vicious heels in the world today, is just absolute magic. The feud has been built up to simmer and simmer until it came to its insane boiling point here. The match was worked with an immediate sense of hatred and brutality. Big punches, heated brawling, all of them building up to big spots. The incorporation of weapons was ridiculously good and organic all throughout. I mean, Ciampa stealing crutches from a fan?! That's some 80's heel heat right there and it was perfection. The addition of the knee brace to create some truly magical storytelling moments towards the finish. I mean, I don't know how much I can gush about this match. It was just so good on every level and by far the match of the year. It's crazy what a long term build and two incredibly talented workers dedicated to their story can pull off. Absolutely everything right with pro wrestling. *****
  6. WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs The Undertaker - Smackdown! 9/4/03 Another Kurt Angle match, I thought could have been a classic, but just veered off the tracks. I thought this was an absolutely fantastic Undertaker performance. He is clearly an MMA mark and loves wrestling Brock and Angle. I saw the pre-match promo to this and loved it. Taker says he will let Angle break his ankle and that he will combat Angle with his fists and then tap him out beating him at his own game. I loved how focused this was on strategies. I am such a mark for strategy-based pro wrestling and I think Undertaker was committed to the striker vs the wrestler in this. Angle was fine in the early going. I thought they did a great job putting over Taker's raw power early, but Angle was able to take him down at will. Then that huge soupbone that floored Angle. I loved Angle's selling of this and it really felt like a game changer. Taker goes to work using that power. Angle desperately grabs a sleeper, but Takers uses power again to counter with a slam. Taker runs through a hot series of moves only for the dreaded AngleLock to rear its ugly head. They trade minor finishers (Chokeslam, Olympic Slam) for a while and pepper in the AngleLock. i did like Taker's counters into an armbar and Triangle Choke at least they were unique and paid off that Taker wanted to make Angle submit. Lots of AngleLock reversals eventually Taker does get Last Ride, but Brock runs in. Really dug the opening wrestler vs striker and loved the commitment from the Taker promo, to commentary (Cole actually opened with asking Tazz about strategies) and Undertaker. Angle seemed content with just throwing shit out there and let his AngleLock reversals get cheap pops. Could have been great, but finish run and Brock run-in hurt this. Still a really entertaining TV match and great Undertaker performance. ***1/2
  7. Hot TV match with a raucous Toronto crowd. Gable brought the aggression early on, leading to a German Suplex on the apron. You could argue that an apron move wasn't needed since this only went 11 minutes, and that they went to the well too early, but all-action matches are scarce in WWE. I appreciated them going for something a little different than your typical television match structure filled with a bunch of rest holds. I also thought Owens' long-term selling of the effects of the apron suplex was solid, as he hobbled around the ring out of exhaustion for the remainder of the match. The highlight was a twisting Superplex from Owens to Gable. My biggest gripe is how quickly Owens recovered from a missed Swanton, following up with a Superkick and a Pop-Up Powerbomb to finish Gable off. But otherwise, this was good stuff. ***1/4
  8. I saw a few Steven Regal matches pop up as I was doing my Eddie Guerrero post. A 1996 Nitro match. I wanted to watch it but I'd wisely limited my little project to 1997. Here I found another cache of bouts all featuring Lord Steven Regal from WCW. Most if not all are from Nitro and all are on the 'tube. Let's see what we've: vs Chris Benoit (01/01/96) - Very good aggressive match. Looked like more potatoes than Idaho. Regal got dumped on the German suplex, it was great! Unique finish too. vs Eddie Guerrero (01/08/96) - Technical but very punishing match. That is to say Regal punished Eddie - European uppercuts, knee lifts, palm strikes and an arm trap dragon sleeper to name few. Eddie doesn't quit. Despite Regal's size he took the head scissor moves and the like very well. This was a really good bout. vs Dean Malenko (08/19/96) - Great under 10 minute technical wizard duel. I think this match was the best of the 3 Cruiserweight musketeer matches because they wrestled a faster pace. But speed isn't everything so perhaps it was the story of them both being evenly matched. Regal had size and strikes but Malenko was had a slight advantage from a technical standpoint. vs Chris Benoit (12/02/96) - Even stiffer and more violent than their January match. Hard way blood from shoot headbutts a couple minutes in forces the TV cameras to no longer show close-ups and even the fixed camera has to pull way back. It's a little too far back in my opinion but we can still see everything. like a clear version of a handheld match. They do not let up. It's only 6+ minutes but its pretty awesome. vs Dean Malenko (12/23/96) - Another technical battle. Regal seems to have an advantage most of the match but Dean uses his quickness to exploit openings. Then goes apeshit with elbows in the corner. We get a time limit draw (bull shit) in the end because they need plenty time for some NWO crap no doubt...however what they did was sweet. Psychosis vs. Lord Steven Regal (01/18/97 WCW Saturday Night) - Pretty much all Psychosis on offense and Regal does the reverse vertical suplex/brain buster and finishes the man off with the Regal Stretch. vs Rey Mysterio Jr. (02/10/97) - Good match but a little distracted by Regal taunting the group of fans the whole match. It did make Rey's hope spots seem more plausible as you could say Regal was not paying attention like he should.. perhaps taking Mysterio lightly. Actually I choose to believe that it was all intentional and we get a neat story out of this. Time limit draw for an under 10 minute match again. Maybe its to keep Regal's heat but he seems to be doing just fine on his own. vs Chris Jericho (03/31/97): Fucking idiots chanting U-S-A gets old watching these matches. I usually mute WCW matches since I hate 3 man commentary and WCW's especially. But I've been tempted to listen here & there especially for Tenay or Zbyszko's remarks. I guess Regal was getting heat though. Anyhow Jericho steam rolls Regal and gets the upset win. Regal then goes to town on Chris. vs Rey Mysterio (04/07/97): Competitive match but Regal refused to break the hold and gets DQ'd. Prince Iaukea (remember him?) comes out to make the save (he just beat Regal for the TV title) but gets stretched too. We're at the point in WCW where cruiserweight wrestling gets no time on TV. vs Chris Benoit (04/28/97) - Short match and in their usual style. Lots of work from the Greco Roman knuckle lock. They do the shoot headbutt spot again and no blood this time but the producers had them pull the camera back again just in case. Wimps! We get outside interference and is a DQ. vs Hector Garza (06/30/97) - Fun with Garza getting a ton of offense. I'm not sure if the top rope tornillo to the outside was a botch on Regal's part or it was more of a tope head butt thing. He should have just done a big cross body attack or double ax handle smash instead. Edit: OK sorry for my ignorance! Looks like it IS supposed to be a tornillo plan ha move but guessing Regal had no clue how to prepare for it. I watched a Nitro match with Garza vs Villano IV and it was very similar but watched some other clips and Garza hits it beautifully as a cross body move. vs Ultimo Dragon (07/22/97): Quick but rather fiercely fought match. Dragon was really laying in his kicks. Nice little match... again very short but really enjoyable for what it was. vs Alex Wright (09/15/97): Whoa! They actually had some time to work a match. Good wrist lock stuff, very carnival, and a nice clean finish. Fun stuff! w/ Rey Mysterio vs Eddie Guerrero & Dean Malenko (11/03/97): Odd tag teams but we get the great action you want in a very small dose. Its more of a Rey showcase than anything but good fun. As with most things WCW, it peters out by the end. Still, Regal and his opponents were able to work with the time given. The best stuff is from '96 with the Three Amigos. I highly recommend checking those out. Personally I liked the Malenko matches best. The time limit draw with Rey is very worthwhile too. Thanks for reading and stay safe!
  9. Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho - Wrestlemania XIX I feel like I have to be missing something with this match. It is just so underwhelming given the praise heaped on it. It just does not do much for me. I get the fan trying to prove he had surpassed his idol at his craft story and there were a few nods here and there to that. I never felt like Jericho was proving himself to Michaels. Michaels' main motivation in this match seemed to be have a good time at his first Wrestlemania back and prove he have a great non-gimmick match. Besides me, I think that was everybody's conclusion and this was a significant step in his full-time return. I think it would have been better they had a more light-hearted affair like a Midnight/RnRs match where Michaels gets to have his fun early and Jericho clowns and bumps. Jericho gets vicious and violent during his heat on the back. Then they hit the finish. The match they had just lacked any sort of hook. It was seemingly totally bereft of any story or struggle. The early part of the match was the most blase and lame matwork you will ever see. Lawler sucked a big one on commentary. He basically claimed mat wrestling was passe and an anachronism in 2003 to open an match. Jericho and Michaels were doing their best to prove him right. Jericho takes over with a spin kick and then misses a move so Michaels can get the figure-4, but this all abandoned once they go to the outside where Jericho catches HBK into a Boston Crab. Jericho's heat segment was definitely the best part of the match. He worked the back over well and was pretty cocky. Then they do my least favorite transition, the I stand up and hit you with three strikes. Jericho steals HBK's moves (Flying Burriot/Kip Up), who is then like fuck you with Kip Ups galore. They run through a nearfall sequence. Hilariously, a bridge out spot has been their biggest pop of the night so far. Jericho runs through his finish sequence. Literally no transitions. Just Im going to do my shitty version of a bulldog on you now. Being a heel and having a submission finish in the WWE is so silly. Michaels makes it to the ropes twice in this match, some finish. Jericho punctuates his sequence with his own Sweet Chin Music. Shawn says my turn and hits a reverse crossbody. I did like that Shawn had to earn his top rope elbow, which was a nice moment. Sweet Chin Music outta nowhere (Jericho was bitching and moaning that no one submits to the Boston Crab) and that should have been the finish. They go the cradle route to put it over as an OMG CLASSIC~!, because classics end in cradles! Jericho punting Michaels' in the balls after the match was the best part of this by far. I think this is one of the most overrated matches in the 2000s. No flow. No story. Two just guys doing their moves. Their 2008 series smokes this. I am open to arguments on why this is great because I am genuinely curious why this is so well-regarded. I feel like there is something I am just not getting.
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