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Gimmick matches in wrestling

Yo-Yo's Roomie

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I was watching Hell in a Cell 2016 last night, and it got me thinking about the development of the gimmick match in wrestling. What struck me first of all as I was watching the Reigns/Rusev cell match from that show is that, not only was that match not as good as their straight match from the previous ppv (although I enjoyed it), but I also went in with the expectation that it wouldn't be. Which is kind of strange since you would think the feud-ending gimmick match could be reasonably expected to top a straight match. Part of it is that I just think WWE is poor at booking gimmick matches (I should also mention here that I think Sasha and Charlotte had an all-time great cell match later on this same show, but I could also make a larger point here about the way women's matches are laid out vs how men's matches are laid out in modern WWE). Part of it also is WWE not tailoring their gimmick matches to feuds or wrestlers, but rather booking feuds and wrestlers into gimmick matches just because it's that particular time of month. A gimmick match in WWE isn't inherently a feud-ender anymore. They use gimmick matches to extend feuds, and sometimes to even start feuds. And that hurts the quality and perception, in my view.

Another thing I thought about was just the sheer quantity of gimmick matches you get these days. Obviously as the company produces more content, and feuds last longer, they need to have more ways to keep things interesting. So you can see why they go to the gimmick match well so often. But when did that start? Probably around 1998/99 I'm thinking. 

I'm trying to think of examples from earlier WWF (or other promotions) of big feud-ending gimmick matches, and they seem hard to come by. I know they would often do cage matches on the house shows or big MSG shows or whatever. That was a Bruno staple. Moving into the time when house shows became less important, I can think of Bret and Owen in the cage at Summerslam, Hogan/Bundy of course. I'm struggling to think of any street fights or anything like that on big shows. Crockett had War Games of course, and it seemed more likely you'd get a streetfight in WCW. Maybe that was considered too 'rassling' for Vince.

So, I'd like any general thoughts about the way gimmick matches have been used in wrestling history, and the way they're used now. Share favourite memories or personal experiences. I'd also like to know of specific recent examples where the announcement of a gimmick match actually got you excited. The only ones I can think of is where the gimmick match itself isn't the main attraction. I'm thinking of like the first ever women's Hell in a Cell or the first ever women's Elimination Chamber (by the way, I think ECs have historically been WWE's most consistent gimmick matches). Or something like New and Usos getting a cell match, just because it was guys you wouldn't normally see in that setting, and they totally deserved to get that spot(light)- I was at that show, and that match was awesome.

I'll also add some thoughts later about why I think WWE gimmick matches are generally awful these days.

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Are you solely looking for how gimmick matches evolved in WWE or elsewhere, too?

In the 80's the Starrcade cards would usually feature a ton of feud ending gimmick matches.

Also, in the 90's, gimmick matches were a staple in smaller Japanese indy organizations as they gave their cards a unique feel opposite to the straight up matches you would normally get in the bigger organizations.

ECW followed that aforementioned model.

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That's a good point, in regards to character vs. gimmick matches. Clearly, Vince was right in thinking characters drew better than gimmick matches.

To me, the perfect gimmick match is entirely situational, which is the opposite of how WWE (and, for a long time, TNA/Impact) uses them. Every fan of the era remembers the first Inferno match between Taker and Kane not because of its quality but because of 1) how it fit the characters and 2) the novelty aspect of it.

Novelty is key here. If your gimmick match is just another name for another match (No DQ/Extreme Rules/Hardcore/Street Fight/etc.) then it's a little harder to get interested than if it's a unique concept (War Games, Elimination Chamber, Ladder, etc.).

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"A Lights Out Match. Just what do we mean by that designation? How did it all get started? In the late 60s and early 70s, probably the most innovative and aggressive promoter in wrestling was Eddie Graham of Florida. He was one of the staunch supporters of the National Wrestling Alliance and a member of its Board of Directors. As the oldest and most prestigious organization, its members were very conservative in that era, and their events were considered as sanctioned by the NWA. As with every type of event that competed for the entertainment dollar, participants were always pushing the parameters to accelerate the excitement level. Athletic creativity and intense personal rivalries sought newer and more potentially dangerous concepts to culminate their showdowns. From cage matches, then in Texas was born the Texas Death Match, then Boris Malenko created the Russian Chain Match, then Dusty Rhodes invented the Bullrope Match. In Tennessee, someone invented the Coal Miners Glove Match, the Scaffold Match, and somewhere else, the First Blood Match -- each of these new events more exciting and more dangerous. The NWA as a body did not want to officially be a party to or to sanction these type of matches. Thus Eddie Graham devised the Lights Out Match, which very simply is this: No, the match is not wrestled in the dark. It was just a symbolic turning off -- momentarily -- of the arena lights at the end of the officially sanctioned card to signify the end of that card, and to immediately turn the lights back on and have the unofficial or unsanctioned bout. Thus the term, Lights Out Match. Now with Jake the Snake versus Sting, again we have new parameters -- all of the most dangerous of these types of bouts, plus one not even revealed called the Spinner's Choice, have been placed upon a wheel of chance and called Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal. Because of this, WCW has designated it a Lights Out Match, a match not sanctioned by WCW. Because of the Spinner's Choice possibility, we're going one step further. We're having Jake the Snake and Sting sign a waiver absolving WCW of any liability. They assume all responsibility. They spin the wheel and make the deal." -- Bill Watts, WCW Saturday Night, October 10, 1992

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I personally love Battle Royals... 20 guys... I even like the tag team variable with 10 teams. Those 1980's WWF shows that had these were awesome in my book. I would love to see us make a good list of battle royals and where to find them. The Andre the Giant 1985 Coliseum video that is on the Network has a pretty darn good one on there from 85 I believe. 


I am also big on lumberjack matches... again from the 80s. WCW tried to do a couple of them in 95 but I just never bought it. It seemed like seeing all of these people together in the 80s meant something was going to happen and it would be unpredictable. 


I am a huge fan of the War Games of course but also cage match variants with tag teams (Road Warriors vs Freebirds) and the six-man rage in the cage from ECW Heatwave 1996 with Raven, Stevie, and Brian Lee vs Sandman, Tommy, and Gordy. 

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On 8/5/2018 at 4:32 PM, SirEdger said:

War Games were so awesome to watch. Very few  of them have been disappointing historically. Probably only the last ones in WCW sucked.

I remember the final WCW version of the match on a Nitro. Kevin Nash did absolutely nothing and somehow ended up winning it. It was one of the laziest performances I've ever seen. Then again, maybe Nash was right not to sacrifice his body in a dangerous stipulation match that was meaningless and would be forgotten within a week. But Booker T should have won it instead.

You can see it in all its "glory" here: https://www.wwe.com/videos/booker-t-sting-goldberg-kronik-vs-kevin-nash-scott-steiner-jeff-jarrett-vince-russo-war-games-nitro-september-4-2000

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