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Objects Of My Disaffection: WWE Waters Down the Appeal of the Weapon

December 15, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Close to a decade ago on Monday Night Raw, WWE was in the process of hyping the groundbreaking (as in, breaking old ground at a time where doing so permeated the room with daisy-freshness) ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view. On the Raw in question, Chris Benoit raved about his memories in the land of Extreme, and agreed to take on Yoshihiro Tajiri, an ECW icon past Benoit’s seven-month tenure, in an Extreme Rules match.

The problem was plain to an ECW fan: Benoit wasn’t associated with weapons in ECW. His time was measured by breaking Sabu’s neck on a lifter-gone-bad, ragdolling a waifish Al Snow with a Brock Lesnar-like barrage of throwing suplexes, and teaming with Dean Malenko for a six-week reign as Tag Team Champions, overthrowing Sabu and Taz. Very rarely did Benoit alter his character from emotionless mat machine to fit the stereotypical view of the ECW wrestler.

Taz said it best in one of his many identifiers: “I don’t need a weapon; my hands are my weapon.” Taz was more prone to suplexing some poor soul onto his neck than diving off of a ladder.

ECW was about embracing your inner animal to the nth degree, and if it just so happened to involve sadistic use of weapons (Sabu, New Jack, The Sandman), then great. If you were a technician or daredevil that didn’t seek constraint by those fancy-pants sanitized promotions (Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Jerry Lynn), then steal the show with your literal body of work.

Weapons have a place, no doubt, but when they’re applied incorrectly, it cheapens their aura of danger. Weapons for the sake of weapons kills off the appeal quicker than you’d think.

In 2014, ‘extreme’ is passe without innovation or a story to tell. That wasn’t any more evident than during TLC on Sunday night, with no less than five (!) gimmick matches promising carnage and the eradication of a fighter’s will to carry on.

Problem: none of the stories were particularly potent. The lack of a meaningful World Title bout (or *any* World Title match) was bad enough, but TLC was an incredible misfire. Making matters worse, there was the report that the WWE locker room didn’t want to be upstaged by the fantastic NXT Takeover: R Evolution event this past Thursday. It was going to take a major effort to outdo Finn Balor’s transformation, Charlotte and Sasha Banks’ enjoyable bout, the rise of Kevin Owens, and the culmination of Sami Zayn as he finally took down Adrian Neville.

Sadly, what we got out of TLC, I believe, was WWE’s idea of ‘topping’ NXT: weapons for the sake of weapons. Somebody should bring up at the next closed-door meeting the idea that maybe, just maybe, a broken table might be about as fresh as VHS.

The opener was as good as it would get, a high quality ladder match for the Intercontinental Title with Dolph Ziggler capturing the belt before his hometown Cleveland fans, besting Luke Harper. Ziggler is a viable hero, and Harper a capable monster heel. The two lost plenty of unintentional blood and gave it their all. Ziggler’s hot as a performer at the moment, so that buoyed the weightless story (no fault of the performers). Ziggler and Harper’s willingness to sacrifice their bodies held the bout together, and Ziggler’s win felt special.

The next gimmick bout had to follow a screwjob finish, and it was sent out there to die: Big Show vs. Erick Rowan in a “stairs” match, where the metal ring steps are the only legal weapon. Begs the question, if Show bashes Rowan with the steps, but then doesn’t break an armbar on five when Rowan has the ropes, is it really sensible to disqualify him?

Quirks of the rules aside, the match was plenty dreadful. Faint “NXT” chants were heard in the distance, which said it all. The match came to be when he, brace yourself, hit Rowan with the steps on Raw a couple weeks back. They even modified the event name, tacking on “and Stairs” with a soldering iron, for eleven minutes of tedium. It’s hard to fathom anyone purchasing WWE Network solely to see a match with this background.

At the 9 PM hour, John Cena went over on Seth Rollins in a table match to preserve his shot at Brock Lesnar for the Royal Rumble. Admirably, they got the crowd back after Show and Rowan’s debacle, which was trumped only by Johnny Manziel for worst outing in Cleveland on the day. The match, by the standards of the men involved, did drag, and became extra convoluted with a false finish (Rollins went through a table with the referee down), a double-finish (the match resumed after both men went through another table), and the interference of Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, and Show. Roman Reigns evened the odds and Cena managed to put Rollins through, seen by the referee, to win.

By this point, we’ve seen tables breaking, dives off of ladders, blood, and copious use of metal ring steps. It’s four matches into the show, bear in mind.

The fourth ‘special’ bout was almost as dull as the stairs one, featuring Ryback and Kane in a match where chairs are legal. While it’s somewhat silly (but wholly understandable) that two hulking brutes don’t swing the chairs at the other man’s skull like Miguel Cabrera in the Home Run Derby, there was nothing exciting about the match. Kane is dead as a performer, and Ryback simply isn’t catching on, no matter how much metal he wielded. The smattering of boos he received for six minutes off and on was suddenly drowned by a “FEED ME MORE” chant that started at the highest decibel. Well, comparing him to Goldberg is a bit wrong, but at least they have the heat machine in common.

Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were tasked with heading off the downward slide with a TLC match, combining chairs, tables, and ladders from the prior bouts (but no stairs, the athletic commission put their foot down). Nevermind that WWE found a way to put two compelling performers, with endless personality, into a feud with as much depth as a steam tray, now they’re tasked with blowing off the PPV with something memorable, using implements that had already been, pun intended, beaten into the ground.

The match wasn’t bad, but there was no impact. Ambrose swings a chair? Ryback did it. Wyatt goes through some tables? So did Rollins. Ambrose off a ladder? Ziggler was there.

Ambrose’s manic antics woke the crowd up in the latter stages, but that was merely the prelude to quite the corny finish: Ambrose blinding himself with a TV monitor that was still plugged in, so that when he tried to yank it in for weapon usage, the sparks from the disconnection temporarily blinded him. Wyatt pinned him with Sister Abigail seconds later.

The lure of the event was destruction through specific weapons. WWE delivered on its promise, but yet it feels as though nothing was accomplished.

For a company that brags that it ‘tells stories’, it sure does lean on props to fill the dead spots. Compared to smaller-fries NXT, those dead spots are becoming more and more frequent.

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Surviving the CZW Cage of Death, From those Risking Life

December 11, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

There are at least two concerns with working in the confines of a match calling itself, “The Cage of Death.” One, obviously, is the physical toll. When the match’s moniker sounds like something out of a Mad Max movie, real pain is to be expected. Previous incarnations of the match, dating back to 1999, have been tests of the human threshold for pain. Can you rip your body to pieces in a ‘best-case scenario’ and still put on a satisfying finish?

That first concern flows into the second: the unwritten notion that each Cage of Death must somehow top the previous. There’s enough of a following for Combat Zone Wrestling that its awed acolytes remember the dizzying heights (or carnaged depths) of those bloodstained benchmarks. Can-you-top-this gone berserk.

“We know that we have to step up and we know we have to deliver, because we don’t want this to be that Cage of Death that sucked,” says Sozio, once known as Niles Young. “We also don’t want to get all beat up and cut up and hurt, and people *still* say that it sucked.”

Sozio took shelter in CZW as a fresh-faced rookie in March 2003. Today, the mellow-voiced, weary-eyed veteran reigns as CZW World Heavyweight Champion after a double-cross of his protege, hard-nosed brawler Biff Busick, on October 18. In his role as a cut-throat capo dei capi, Sozio is shaded in with ruthless resolve. That doesn’t stop the man in the pressed wifebeater-tank top and ‘fuhgeddaboutit’ pompadour from being apprehensive about the danger he faces Saturday night in Voorhees, NJ. His memories of the Cage of Death are all too vivid.

“Ian Knoxx going off the tippy-top of the cage (COD V, 2003) to the floor through just one table. That was scary, having trained and being friends with him. You get close to these people and you see them do this crazy stuff, it’s like watching your brothers basically kill themselves. It’s hard to watch.”

One year later, the Cage of Death almost lived up to its name, as a young Jack Evans demonstrated the hazards of upping the ante for the sake of the show. Sozio recalls it with chilling accuracy.

“Jack Evans’ elimination from the cage came when Chris Ca$h had given him some weird belly-to-back suplex, threw him off the top of the cage, and at the last second Jack kind of grasped the bottom of the cage and I guess broke his fall, because, well, he was somehow alive.”

The video of the incident plays out in its Zapruder-ish, almost underground fight club-like, glory: Ca$h tightropes the apex of the cage with Evans in his grasp. Fans begin buzzing with gasps that turn to screams. Eddie Kingston, teaming with Evans, can be seen steadying the cage wall under the guise of climbing it in order to save his teammate. Ca$h flips Evans, who subtly hooks his fingers into the mesh to take what is a ‘safer’ bump, allowing him to over-rotate for a more controlled landing. Evans’ feet push into the side of the cage, and the daredevil wrestler jackknifes, landing on the floor of the ECW Arena, instead of a conveniently-placed table nearby, lumbar-first. This site’s very webmaster Eric Gargiulo was on headset, along with longtime partner John House, shrieking like banshees as Evans went limp.

“He hit hard, John! He missed the table!,” Gargiulo breathlessly exclaims, while ringside personnel surround Evans. Always one for booming hyperbole, the thudding drop in Gargiulo’s octave underscores the real horror at hand. Fortunately, Evans would turn out to be alright long-term, and took part in all three nights of Ring of Honor’s Anniversary event the following February.

Bumps off the top of the cage, as well as scaffolds. Landings on thumbtacks, broken glass, and barbed wire, or simply the naked irresistance of the bare concrete floor. Each year is a chapter in the CZW Anthology, with Cage of Death its blazing climax. By all accounts, Evans even being able to walk, let alone wrestle again, following his breathtaking fall ten years ago is nothing short of a miracle.

Current NXT hopeful Solomon Crowe (Sami Callihan) crashed through panes of glass with Danny Havoc, blood spilling from multiple wounds in 2009’s spectacle. Havoc was contorted like a rollaway bed in a scaffold drop a year ago, with broken glass again playing a disturbing part.

“As for myself, I know that this is bad for me,” Sozio admits. “I know being 32 years old and doing this for many weekends, month in and month out, it’s not a good idea if I’m looking to live a long and healthy life. Taking that into account while approaching the Cage of Death, it’s difficult. It’s really scary.”

Sozio shares the concerns and the confines with the aforementioned Busick, not to mention the fearless BLK Jeez and decorated technician Drew Gulak this Saturday night, with the championship at stake. Although CZW has its share of gutsy grapplers that shine most in these sorts of bouts, from Devon Moore to “Bulldozer” Matt Tremont to hard-nosed boss DJ Hyde, the four competitors on Saturday are more accustomed to standard wrestling, as opposed to this sort of unforgiving melee.

“Death matches are so unpredictable,” realizes Gulak, one of more promising young stars of the modern independent scene. “It’s one thing to have the danger of taking a bad fall or hurting a joint while wrestling, but adding on top of that elements like the Cage brings a whole new level of danger. I’ve been preparing myself rigorously for the match.”

“Of course I keep the element of danger in perspective, but my goal is always to be entertaining and to give the people their money’s worth, regardless of the circumstances,” says Jeez. “It’s pretty much the same mindset that I always have.”

Despite a decidedly showman’s point of view, Jeez knows the peril firsthand.

“I’ve been in the Cage Of Death before and the other three guys haven’t. I ended up with a concussion and was in lots of pain. I’m expecting the same thing this time.”

Jeez highlights the stark reality of the match in question. Ten years ago, yes, he was concussed during the course of the War Games-style encounter, in the very same bout in which Evans took the scary fall of the cage relayed earlier. Even with multiple wrestlers in the Cage of Death, that doesn’t mean a few are leaving unscathed.

“Injuries will happen regardless, but without trust and safety, things can go really bad, really quickly,” notes Jeez. “Trust is of the utmost importance in a match like this.”

Gulak credits having experienced deathmatch performers at hand to seek advice from, adding, “I am very fortunate to have shared a locker room with people like Danny Havoc, The Wifebeater, Jun Kasai, Nick Mondo, Necro Butcher, New Jack, Zandig; the list goes on. I am always seeking out the console of my peers.”

Busick concurs with Gulak, adding, “I am always interested in learning from those with more experience than me, especially in matches such as this. You can’t know too much.”

Sozio and Busick took part in what could be termed a ‘prelude’ to the Cage of Death on November 1, tangling literally in a barbed wire match in Deer Park, NY. Both individuals lost their share of blood through the course of the bout, before Sozio went over following interference from his fedora’d henchmen, collectively known as “The Front”.

“Barbed wire or a cage filled with hazards, whatever the case it, I approach it like I do any match,” says Busick. “Wrestling is very dangerous whether surrounded by barbed wire or not; it’s all in how you protect each other.”

Despite this grisly tune-up for December 13, Busick declares that he’ll approach it as if it were any other match. Sozio admits that it’s not an easy match to piece together.

“It’s going to be difficult, absolutely. Going into the no-rope barbed-wire match with Biff, we hadn’t wrestled each other before, anywhere. To get in there with someone you’ve been helping groom for two years, and you’ve been rooting for him, and now you’re standing across the ring from him and it’s intense. Now we have to cut each other up, and it’s going to be f–king nuts. It’s absolutely insane.”

“(Sozio and I) fought hard in that barbed-wire match,” intones Busick. “The Cage of Death is an even bigger match for all of us, and I hope the fans appreciate our efforts.”

The performers have been quick to note their most serious injuries. Gulak claims his worst was a displaced sacrum, the vertebrae at the base of spine that wedges into the base of the pelvis, creating walking difficulties for him. Jeez admits to unbearably working through a broken ankle and a broken jaw sustained in different matches. This past July in a match with Gulak, Sozio took a backdrop off the top turnbuckle onto six unfolded chairs in the form of a makeshift table, just days after seriously hurting his neck during a routine workout.

The show goes on for all of them, in front of what is expected to be a packed house at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. With no delusions about the hell they’re in for, the performers are hoping for that best-case scenario.

“As far as best-case scenario, we’ll all still be alive,” says Jeez plainly.

“Best case scenario, we’ll be cut up but nothing serious that needs stitches or serious medical attention,” hopes Sozio. “We’ll be able to walk; we won’t have concussions. Hopefully, everything will pretty much be in tact. When the time comes and we get out there, there’s going to be s–t everywhere, we’re going to get cut up, it’s going to suck, and everyone’s taking a lot of heat.”

“Hopefully, we’ll all be able to hug when we get to the back.”

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Top 25 WWE Ladder/TLC/Money in the Bank Matches In History

December 10, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

These Top-25 lists are picking up steam, so I’ll take the WWE approach of beating a good thing into the ground. With Money in the Bank coming up, it’s a good idea to look back at two decades-plus of WWE’s greatest ladder matches, and figure out what the best of the bunch truly are. There’s no bad matches to be found here; every entry is rewatchable time and time again. With TLC and Money in the Bank upping the ante of the classic ladder match, this list will cover a lot of ground, and no doubt provide a little argument fodder. Enjoy!

(Note: this list only includes matches which ended with the retrieval of a belt, briefcase, etc. As such, the TLC 2012 match with The Shield vs. Ryback and Team Hell No is excluded. Otherwise, it’d have likely been top ten).

25. Kane vs. Big Show vs. Matt Hardy vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Christian vs. Dolph Ziggler – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 18, 2010)

Firmly in the ‘let’s shoehorn gimmick matches into the secondary PPVs so that gimmick matches have less meaning’ era, Money in the Bank’s come away unscathed, thanks to the car-wreck spectacles that never get old. In this case, the maiden match of Money in the Bank’s spin-off event hit its mark, with a dose of big man psychology. Show and Kane were natural targets by the smaller competitors, while Show used a custom mecha-ladder for climbing.

24. Dolph Ziggler vs. John Cena – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (TLC, December 16, 2012)

Ziggler put his previously-earned briefcase on the line (stay tuned for that), and, as is modern custom, lost to Cena in several matches on Raw prior to the PPV contest. Just as naturally, Ziggler took his usual laundry list of wild bumps through the course of the match, before winning as a result of AJ Lee shoving Cena off the ladder. That’d be Ziggler’s lone win of relevance over Cena, but Dolph memorably cashed in four months later on Alberto Del Rio.

23. John Morrison vs. Sheamus – Ladder Match (TLC, December 19, 2010)

Forgotten in the dogpile beneath main event-and-celebrity over-focus, Morrison and Sheamus had themselves a nifty little feud late that year, and a title shot at The Miz was at stake. Akin to the Razor/Michaels matches of yore with the larger adversary throwing around the nimble stud, Morrison gradually overcame the odds and won in dramatic fashion after Sheamus attempted to tip the ladder. Sadly, the Morrison/Miz bout is just as forgotten as this great match.

22. Mr. Kennedy vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. CM Punk vs. King Booker vs. Finlay – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania XXIII, April 1, 2007)

Before Damien Sandow came along to look unceremoniously weak in failing in his cash-in against John Cena, there was Mr. Kennedy to lose his briefcase to Edge in a Raw quickie, following a Kennedy injury. The WrestleMania opener had plenty of intrigue, with a host of realistic winners. Jeff’s seated dive through Edge and a bridged ladder is cringeworthy, yet hilarious for the sight of brother Matt encouraging him to do it, then reacting as horror as Jeff lay hurt.

21. Dolph Ziggler vs. Damien Sandow vs. Tyson Kidd vs. Christian vs. Tensai vs. Santino Marella vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Sin Cara – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 15, 2012)

Another case of a heel being so much fun to watch that the crowd can’t help but cheer for them, the fans in attendance went berserk over Ziggler bumping Christian off a ladder in the end so that “The Show Off” could claim the briefcase. The match also seemed to be a coming-out party for Kidd, whose acrobatics finally had the forum for which to shine. Unfortunately, a torn meniscus sustained early in 2013 would sideline Kidd for almost a year, halting any push.

20. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, Triple Ladder Match (WrestleMania 2000, April 2, 2000)

The ‘unofficial’ TLC match (the official moniker for such matches wasn’t coined until SummerSlam that year) was the brightest bulb of a shockingly-dim WrestleMania. A quiet crowd most of the night, the fans memorably buzzed for the Dudleyz setting up the table bridge across two ladders inside the ring. Some of the slower spots haven’t aged well, thanks to innovation and improvement, but there’s still plenty of sick spots to marvel at.

19. Edge vs. John Cena – WWE Heavyweight Title, TLC Match (Unforgiven, September 17, 2006)

A bit of a shocker when Edge went over Cena in Cena’s Boston backyard at SummerSlam, but that only meant Edge would return the favor in his native Toronto. The visual of Edge being AA’d off of a ladder through a double stack of tables would remain a fixture in WWE’s “don’t try this at home” PSAs for quite some time afterward. Seems as though out of all of Cena’s frequent opponents, only Edge matches CM Punk in creating consistent greatness with Cena.

18. Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk – World Heavyweight Title, TLC Match (SummerSlam, August 23, 2009)

Given what a merchandise vessel Hardy had become for a company that loves its multiple revenue streams, it’s hard to believe Hardy would be gone by week’s end, with no return five years later. Punk’s victory transitioned into his tepid feud with The Undertaker, beginning immediately after the match as “The Dead Man” performed a supernatural body switch with a downed Hardy. In 2009, it was astonishing that Punk could win any PPV main event.

17. Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio – Vacant World Heavyweight Title, Ladder Match (Extreme Rules, May 1, 2011)

What a weird time period for WWE. Edge vacates the championship three weeks earlier upon his hasty, very real retirement, and a top contender’s match is made for the PPV. The crowd heavily bought into Christian, and a dramatic finish saw Edge providing timely interference to offset that of Ricardo Rodriguez and Brodus Clay. Christian winning the gold was possibly the biggest pop of his career, so naturally he lost the title to Randy Orton two nights later.

16. Paul London/Brian Kendrick vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. MNM vs. William Regal/Dave Taylor – WWE Tag Team Titles, Ladder Match (Armageddon, December 17, 2006)

Teddy Long punched up this one by adding the Hardyz and MNM, as well as the ladder modifier, seconds before the bell rang, I suppose in an effort to get non-buyers to purchase the show at about 8:23 EST. The match is most notable for Joey Mercury damn near getting his face grafted off in a see-saw spot gone awry, forcing him to wear facial contraptions for a time afterward. London and Kendrick retained in the midst of an 11-month reign the company barely promoted.

15. Daniel Bryan vs. Kane vs. Sheamus vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Justin Gabriel vs. Heath Slater vs. Sin Cara vs. Wade Barrett – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 17, 2011)

Takes a back-seat to CM Punk and John Cena’s all-timer to close the show, but it holds weight as the match that boosted Bryan into the main event tier where he’d more or less reside ever since. A wellness policy exodus played out as Sheamus powerbombed Sin Cara through a ladder, leading to a stretcher job into thirty days of oblivion for the luchador. Bryan’s victory was fairly unexpected, and the Chicago fans gave him a pop nearly comparable to Punk’s.

14. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (WWE Challenge Taping, July 21, 1992)

The WWE’s first ever ladder match seems very tame compared to the anarchic stunt shows of later years, but two masterful workers in their relative youth put together a dramatic series of ‘near-falls’, with the match more about the drama of the climb instead of insanity. Hart purportedly suggested the match to Vince McMahon, who asked for a demonstration at this TV taping. The match made it onto several video releases, and became a tape-trader’s bounty.

13. Randy Orton vs. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Christian – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 14, 2013)

In a roundabout way, this match made it possible for Daniel Bryan to stand tall at the end of WrestleMania XXX, holding two World Titles aloft (although the Rumble was definitely the fuse). The best ladder match in the spinoff PPV’s history began with a hero’s welcome for the returning RVD, and culminated with Paul Heyman turning on Punk, just prior to Orton’s victory, which was confusing at the time, but became much clearer following SummerSlam.

12. The Rock vs. Triple H – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (SummerSlam, August 30, 1998)

A year later, Rock was a mega-babyface that transcended the business, while Triple H would be the slimy villain he was born to play. Here, however, was the match that virtually shot both men into the main event for good. In front of a nuclear Madison Square Garden crowd, Rock about blew the domed roof off with a People’s Elbow while Helmsley lay prone on the oddly-yellow ladder. HHH’s win only freed up Rock for the World Title run we all saw coming.

11. Chris Jericho/Chris Benoit vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge/Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (SmackDown, May 22, 2001)

A worthy sequel to Benoit and Jericho’s heart-stopping title win over Steve Austin and Triple H one night earlier, an irate Vince McMahon booked the new champs against the TLC Six on free television. WWE Network, assuming it survives the long haul, will eventually have this episode up, as the match is otherwise lost to history thanks to Benoit’s involvement. A shade below the original TLC battles in terms of overall quality, it’s still one of the best ladder matches ever.

10. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Jack Swagger vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Rob Van Dam (Money in the Bank, June 29, 2014)

The best of both worlds for WWE: a spotfest with some truly innovative moments (Rollins getting back-dropped onto a ladder bridge/puzzle structure) and a great storyline threaded through (Ambrose attempting to kill Rollins for breaking up the Shield). Kingston and company took turns keeping the pulse going while Ambrose, selling a dislocated shoulder, refused to let Rollins win. Kane tombstoned Ambrose to end the Ahab-like endless chase, and Rollins won to build on a genius heel turn.

9. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – Ladder Match (No Mercy, October 17, 1999)

Hanging above the ring was a bank robber’s sack of cash, and the winner would win Terri Runnels’ managerial rights. If it was believed that the winners would be elevated by association with Terri, the four just elevated themselves with a performance for the ages, becoming made men to varying degrees. Interesting note: Edge came dangerously close to missing the match, as he was almost unable to fly to the show due to a hurricane (he lived in the Bahamas at the time).

8. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rob Van Dam – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Monday Night Raw, May 27, 2002)

Easily the best ladder match in Raw’s history, even if Undertaker and Jeff Hardy’s clash a month later received more company hype, despite it being a dramatic finish to an average match. This match was so good, even a moronic fan running interference couldn’t ruin it. RVD regained the gold, leading into the post-match involvement of Steve Austin, who went after Guerrero, only to be thwarted by a returning, suddenly-heel Chris Benoit; an angle that ended up fizzling.

7. Edge vs. Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. Kane vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin – Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania XXI, April 3, 2005)

The first of its kind remains the best of its kind. From Benjamin’s hands-free ladder ascension to Benoit German-suplexing Jericho, who was holding a ladder, it’s possibly the most uncluttered Money in the Bank match ever, and one that didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s also arguable that Edge’s eventual cash-in on John Cena was the most relevant of its kind, since nobody had ever seen a cash-in until he did it nine months later. Anything since dilutes the fun to a degree.

6. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Royal Rumble, January 21, 2001)

There’s a moment of retroactive horror in the body of the match, wherein Benoit goes for his patented headfirst dive to the floor, only for Jericho to wallop him upside the head with a jarring chair shot. If seeing that moment overrides any possible enjoyment you can derive from the art of the match, it’s understood. For the more unmoved, it was a viable candidate for 2001’s match of the year, rivaled by a litany of classics, one of which is to come.

5. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (SummerSlam, August 27, 1995)

Gorilla Monsoon’s first act as figurehead President was to remove Psycho Sid from SummerSlam, and give Razor the shot at Michaels’ gold, in the match they put on the map. Wise choice; it boosted the show into pretty good territory, rare air in 1995. Ramon played de facto villain, smashing Michaels’ knee to pieces with the ladder, before Michaels superkicked him off a second ladder. The botched ending, and Michaels’ tantrum, somehow adds to the charm.

4. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (WrestleMania X7, April 1, 2001)

From the greatest WrestleMania ever comes the ideal spotfest: accelerated, minimal set-up for the convoluted spots, and the type of chaos that comes from involving a few intruders. Nominee for the best bump visual in ladder match history: Bubba Ray Dudley and Matt Hardy smashing four tables into dust after an interfering Rhyno tipped a painter’s ladder over. Edge and Christian’s win was a bit anti-climactic, but you can’t discount the efforts before then.

3. Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz – WWE World Tag Team Titles, TLC Match (SummerSlam, August 27, 2000)

Gets the slight nod over its WrestleMania kid-brother for the sole reason of a less rushed ending. Conventional wisdom had the Hardyz going over here in their home state of North Carolina. In defeat, Jeff busted out a frightening Swanton Bomb off a ladder on the floor through Bubba Ray Dudley. The match is also known for an unfortunate double-entendre that Jim Ross made about Edge and Lita that gained new perspective about five years later.

2. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels – World Heavyweight Title, Ladder Match (No Mercy, October 5, 2008)

Doesn’t stand out, but it should. In fact, a lukewarm crowd is possibly all that kept this from the number one spot. Jericho and Michaels’ hate-filled feud in 2008 came to a head with this match, which was less about cutesy spots, and more heavy on the “I’m gonna kill you” brutality. Indeed, most of the ‘spots’ were Jericho and Michaels trying to make the other suffer, without the need for Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions. An inexplicably undervalued masterpiece.

1. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (WrestleMania X, March 20, 1994)

Like Savage and Steamboat, a newer fan may wonder what’s so special about this match, after seeing many a stuntshow since. For 1994, Ramon and Michaels put together a match just unheard of for the time, and wouldn’t become standard for a few years yet. Michaels took at least five or six crazy bumps off of Ramon’s power-based offense, and the dramatic near-finishes had the MSG crowd buying into every second. It’s still the gold standard.

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CM Punk and the UFC: The Internet Breaks

December 07, 2014 By: Category: Sports, UFC | Mixed Martial Arts, WWE | Pro Wrestling

One thing’s for sure: it shouldn’t be too difficult for Dana White to license the rights to “Cult of Personality.”

Oh, and Phil Brooks, whatever moniker he uses when entering the Octagon, won’t be denied sponsors for his trunks this time. He may not get Pepsi’s sphere emblazoned across his crotch, but it’s more than what Vince McMahon reportedly was willing to allow.

But a bigger loser, from an ego standpoint, has to be Triple H. Not only was CM Punk unwilling to work with McMahon’s son-in-law at WrestleMania XXX, but Punk will instead be sharing the stage with some 1-0 or 2-1 no-name, lunch-bucket rookie. There’s a chance Punk could get his teeth kicked in by this likely-undistinguished competitor, and it’s still preferable in Punk’s eyes than that WrestleMania ‘reward’.

The idea of 36-year-old Phil Brooks trading star-print tights for sponsor-plastered trunks sent aftershocks throughout the social circuit, as Brooks announced Saturday night at UFC 181 in Las Vegas that he’d signed a multi-fight deal with the organization. Brooks is expected to have his first fight at some indeterminate point in 2015.

From a fighting standpoint, it’s a headscratcher; despite incorporating mixed martial arts into his training regimen, Brooks has never competed in an actual MMA match, nor does he have an amateur background in competitive grappling or fighting. Brock Lesnar was a Division I wrestling champion who also competed in one MMA fight prior to his UFC debut. Brooks has no such experience.

From a business prospective, using Brooks’ name, and accumulated notoriety throughout 2014, makes sense. In this year alone, there have been some ghastly UFC buyrates. UFC 174 on June 14 drew only 115,000 buys, headlined by Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov for the Flyweight Championship. A Jon Jones defense of the Lightheavyweight Championship on April 26 at UFC 172 drew just 350,000 buys, paltry considering Jones’ name value.

While WWE buyrates largely sunk into the hopper from a combination of waning fan interest and the proliferation of streaming sites (not that UFC doesn’t face the second problem), it’s fair to say that Brooks probably wasn’t the cause. Repetitive booking, homogenized direction, and too much John Cena took their toll on the brand, and Brooks never was really allowed to ascend as undisputed number one. Would the numbers have rebounded with CM Punk as full-blown headliner? Can’t say for certain, but nobody else gets their name chanted for months after telling the company to go screw.

Only eight UFC events have drawn more than one million buys and Lesnar was in four of them, all of which were World Heavyweight Title bouts. Tops is his avenging win over Frank Mir at UFC 100 in July 2009, drawing 1.6M buys. That’s almost 500,000 more than the second-place event, his dramatic comeback win over Shane Carwin at UFC 116, sitting at 1.16M buys.

Since Lesnar returned to WWE, only one UFC event has cleared the million mark: Chris Weidman’s gruesome rematch with Anderson Silva a year ago at UFC 168, where Silva’s leg infamously snapped like balsa wood. That sits in third place with 1.1M buys.

Only four events have even topped 700,000 buys since Lesnar’s departure, and all had either Silva, Georges St-Pierre, or Jon Jones in the main event.

In other words, a little wattage wouldn’t hurt.

That’s not to say that Brooks is going to work his way up the caste and challenge Weidman for the Middleweight crown, or even Robbie Lawler for the Welterweight title. Dana White has already stated that Brooks’ first opponent will be some relatively inexperienced fighter (read: tomato can who may or may not have seen Eight Men Out). It’s hard to imagine a 36-year-old taking up the game becoming a virtuoso, especially without a competitive background in some form of martial art. Dave Bautista was relatively lucky to win his only MMA bout (and not even UFC) at age 43; despite his occasional big talk, he never competed again.

Best case scenario for UFC, it’s a novelty hire, which sounds like something a minor league baseball team would do as a promotion (“It’s Canseco Flip Off Night! Give us your ‘finger’ at the ticket office and get a free bobblehead!”). Chances are, that first fight against John Q. Gumshield will do a better buyrate than most seasoned, and recognizable, fighters would do. Brooks losing would taint his drawing power, so as implied, it’s important that Brooks win. A tease of him being in contention would probably win over an audience that likes the lure of the chase.

Best case, Brooks stays strong long enough to co-headline an event with Brock Lesnar, rumored to be flying the McMahon coop after WrestleMania. Think late 2015, maybe even the annual year-end spectacular that UFC favors, Lesnar headlining against someone like Cain Velasquez or Fabricio Werdum, while Brooks goes on semi-last against perhaps a more noteworthy middleweight, perhaps CB Dolloway or Gegard Mousasi. On paper, that sounds like Brooks would get torn to pieces, but it’s merely an idea. I’m not the promoter here, although I’m sure White’s already stained his rug with this thought.

And what if Brooks clearly enjoys the UFC lifestyle? Maybe he fights three or four times and then migrates into a talking-head position with Curt Menefee or Ariel Helwani, but an endorsement of the UFC life is an open door for others in WWE, those who call BS on the whole ‘brass ring’ speech McMahon gave last Monday, to give MMA a go.

There are names that would have a chance; Jack Swagger is a proven amateur wrestler with an irregular body type that could create mismatches through leverage. Rusev maintains a background in muay thai, and is young enough to have a realistic chance of making a dent in the sport. El Patron Alberto is no longer a WWE star, but as a household name in Mexico (not to mention suddenly relevant in America from his WWE horror stories), he could potentially resume his fighting career in some capacity, even as a two-fight novelty. It’s been five years since Alberto’s last fight, nearly the same time gap Ken Shamrock had in his MMA career (which doesn’t sound promising for Alberto).

The WWE connection to UFC worked once before with Lesnar drawing disenchanted, or just suddenly ‘grown up’, wrestling fans to the sport. Brooks’ name holds immeasurable sway in 2014, and his hiring is White’s savviest business move in quite some time.

It is indeed ‘clobbering time’, but for whom?

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Steve Austin and Vince McMahon Podcast: Art Imitates Life

December 03, 2014 By: Category: Videos, WWE | Pro Wrestling

There is a delicious irony in the midst of Steve Austin hosting Vince McMahon on a special WWE Network edition of his no-holds-barred podcast. Austin, for whom tiptoeing is a sin both in character and out, objectively grills his old boss on a number of topics, one of which being the interminable yammering sessions that open Raw. Austin professes to being a wrestling guy, and he wants to see wrestling. The irony, of course, is that Raw began its ascent to its greatest heights when Raw set aside 15 to 20 minutes at Raw’s entrance to allow for interminable yammering (although with more salable talking points), with Austin himself as master blue collar orator.

For one hour and nine minutes following Raw, Austin pressed McMahon on common criticisms, such as Raw’s length and the lack of a Network in the United Kingdom, before getting into meatier topics, such as a Hall of Fame induction for the legendary Randy Savage, and of course, life without CM Punk and the most recent fallout.

Most of the internet turned their ears to McMahon’s apology to Punk for firing him on his wedding day, and here’s where we get diplomatic Vince. His remarks about Punk being a loner that may have some regrets about the way he did things were far from backhanded. It’s here that we see the McMahon as I understand him: a businessman who will employ ruthless tactics, yes, but feels a nagging sense later on, and wants everyone to be happy.

McMahon most often puts his happiness first, absolutely, but you get the sense that he hates loose ends in spite of his F-You fortune. When you see the likes of Bret Hart, The Ultimate Warrior, and Bruno Sammartino participate with the company after mending fences, I get the feeling that, from afar, McMahon is not so much thinking, “Suckers; I can buy anyone back,” but rather genuine happiness that he was able to reach these disgruntled’s, human to human.

The biggest takeaway I got from the podcast wasn’t even anything Vince said, but rather his early demeanor. Going in, McMahon seemed sober to the fact that Austin wasn’t going to dull his blade any, and was bracing himself for anything and everything. To watch the first ten minutes of their back-and-forth, McMahon’s eyes are deer-like, and the light of the Buick hasn’t even been flashed at him. It’s the look of a man who finds himself in a real situation, no plastic-coating. It’s not a seat McMahon likes to sit in.

He’s seated across from a man whom brought him to new, uncharted heights, and vice versa. Much of Austin and McMahon’s current fortunes were stacked by the other, and this is an ally who’s preparing to ask the tough questions. This isn’t Bob Costas or Armen Keteyan or even Sean O’Shea, the prosecutor from the 1994 steroid trial, holding the gun. It’s Steve Austin with a paintball projectile. Those things can sting.

And yet, there’s McMahon, apprehensive, sober as a Quaker. A few nervous chuckles early on, that patented yuk-yuk laugh, only momentarily distract from the tension. The McMahon who purportedly gets angry when he sneezes because he couldn’t control his own body (Chris Jericho’s book is the most credible authority that reports this urban legend as legit) is in a place where he has no control. Short of lurching forth and slitting Austin’s throat, the boss can’t control the words that emanate from Austn’s lips. With a three-camera set-up trained on them, and millions of eyes dying to see and hear the boss in this environment, McMahon was in quite a spot. That debonair Vince that charms with a defiant stride was checked at the door.

McMahon clearly trusts Austin just as he did in 1998, when he put his body into Stone Cold’s hands for a number of rating-spiking thrashings. Even then, McMahon looked a bit ill at ease when chaos reigned all around. When Austin or Undertaker or Foley or whomever was instituting some malevolent act, McMahon’s bug-eyed grimace was only half-worked. The control freak can’t control the outcome of the stunt that he’s a bystander to or, better yet, the victim of. That’s why McMahon remains a hands-on despot; ceding control makes him fidgety.

It’s through this discomfort that we get McMahon at his best. The boss becomes an open book on a number of topics, the most reported of which was the apology to CM Punk. He also asserted, his own words, that Savage needs to be in the Hall of Fame, that the UK fans have been done dirty by the Network delays, that Cesaro isn’t connecting with crowds (that one may be a bit off base). Most fascinating was McMahon’s plain-speak statement that today’s locker room is full of ‘millenials’ that don’t aggressively reach for the brass ring, aside from Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Bray Wyatt, all of whom he referred to by name.

Austin dropped McMahon into a raging river to see if he would swim, and McMahon absolutely did. Vince was kicking and flailing his feet before Austin relinquished him into the choppy waters, but once in there, McMahon was doing the backstroke against the current, gaining strides a placid look painted on that jowly kisser.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s more than just the locker room that doesn’t push themselves at Vince; it’s the company at large. When Raw, SmackDown, and PPVs feel like the same thing over and over and over again, and each day in the wrestling sphere is Bill Murray passively sitting up in Groundhog Day, that sort of stagnancy either drives zealous fans to watching other TV shows, sticking to old school wrestling or, worse, rooting for WWE’s demise, even if they don’t mean it.

To win the Monday Night Wars, McMahon needed to step out of his comfort zone and put his faith in a man he silenced under the name The Ringmaster just two years earlier. It was plenty of risk with a lifetime’s worth of reward, and it only came about when the establishment was challenged by, well, the establishment.

Leave it to Austin to once again be the one to get McMahon out of that insulated box and make him swim. It may only be a one-off bit, McMahon’s participation in this podcast, but it did more to engage the weary viewer than almost anything McMahon’s cookie-cutter presentation has offered in these paint-by-number times.

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Rusev – The Accidental Hero

December 01, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The older you get, the more implausible the notion of the ‘foreign heel’ becomes. There’s not a chance the trope will be truly buried in some roadside ditch on the road forward (whatever the hell that means in wrestling philosophy). There will always be children, and simplistic adults, sure, who buy into Middle-Eastern madmen, snotty Brits, cowardly Frenchmen, and grunting islanders from the South Pacific as accurate portrayals rather than crude caricatures. Selling these one-note brutes to the gallery is dependent on the audience remaining a few shades ignorant. You may wonder why WWE feels weird dipping their toes in the ‘smart mark’ end of the pool; it’s because there’s an easier sell elsewhere.

It’s 2014 and we’re into a third generation of evil Russians for the TV generations. Ivan Koloff, the rabbit ears Russian, menaced his way into a three-week reign as WWWF Champion shortly after America beat the USSR to the moon. That Koloff was actually Oreal Perras from Montreal, didn’t diminish the act back then. UHF didn’t have a show dedicated to breaking kayfabe.

Nikolai Volkoff and Nikita Koloff, polar opposites in their ability to acutely menace, were the cable-era Russians. Volkoff slow-kicked his way into title bouts with patriotic Hulk Hogan, while audiences didn’t know (or would particularly care) that the man beneath the red trunks was an anti-Socialist expatriate from Yugoslavia. Koloff didn’t even have a natural accent to mask reality, his frightening musculature had to ward off anyone who may question whether or not he was actually Nelson Simpson from Minneapolis.

Like fictional Uncle Ivan, Nikita and the unrelated Volkoff were playing off Cold War fervor. Early in Ivan’s reign of terror, children in school practiced hiding under wooden desks in case the Soviets fired a nuclear missile in the vicinity of the schoolhouse (because wood and metal will save you from the fall-out, thank you Lewis Black for pointing that out).

Point being, the most effective foreign villains had the news to play off of. As time passed, and America tagged on more layers of sensitivity, the roles dried up. WWE dare not exploit 9/11 with a true terrorist character, although Muhammad Hassan three years later went from angry Arab-American who was tired of prejudice (a remarkable direction with new possibilities) to Iron Sheik-knockoff within five months. His associate, Shawn Daivari, took the act to TNA as Sheik Abdul Bashir, complete with the sounds of planes crashing in his theme music.

The deluge of baddies that challenge the ‘Murican way slowed to a crawl by the time Rusev, the digital-age Russian, emerged in 2014, six years after Vladimir Kozlov barely dented perceived American avarice and decadence. At the time of this year’s Royal Rumble, Rusev, making a cameo through an NXT ‘weekend furlough’ we’ll say, was Bulgarian (Miroslav Barnyashev’s legitimate nationality). In Rusev’s re-debut following WrestleMania XXX, he would soon move to Russia, a distance of over 1100 miles from his homeland. Maybe he wanted to move his kids to a safer neighborhood, who knows?

Getting fans to boo Rusev was contingent on certain factors, namely long-time fans in their thirties either remembering the decaying days of the USSR before the late 1980’s fall, or even Rocky Balboa spurring the fall by knocking out wrought-iron-strong Ivan Drago on Christmas Day for no money. That, or they were hoping today’s fan could get off Instagram and SnapChat long enough to pay attention to the Crimea/Ukraine conflicts that came to a head in February and March of this year.

Cutting to the chase, fans don’t hate Rusev the way they hated Volkoff’s defiant anthem singing 30 years ago. Sometimes there’s scattered boos when the big Russian flag drops from the rafters after a Rusev victory. More often, the image of Vladimir Putin is booed when the comely Lana prompts it. In other words, the nationalist schtick’s potency is contingent on a picture of a foreign leader. Chances are, most fans probably don’t even know who Putin is. There’s a reason the photo is of him scowling, and not eating an ice cream cone.

Without a concrete basis to hate Rusev aside from “Grrr, arghh, America, grrrr!”, WWE has inadvertently left the door open to make the country-hopper into a sympathetic figure.

It all began Monday when temporary-GM Daniel Bryan ordered Rusev into an ultimatum, as penance for loyalty to the Authority: either recite our Pledge of Allegiance, or defend the United States title against the odds in a battle royal. Good thing Rusev isn’t Canadian, otherwise Bryan may have coerced him into denouncing Gordie Howe and the metric system.

The angle isn’t patently offensive so much as it’s just dumb. How would Bryan or Sgt. Slaughter (sent out in his elderly age to intimidate Rusev into reciting the Pledge) be a hero in this instance? If anything, Rusev’s more heroic for standing up for what he believes in. WWE took a character with no depth outside the Volkoff 1980’s template and imbued him with a sense of ironic heroism.

The battle royal ended up taking place on Smackdown, the worn-out shoebox full of unused ideas that occupies your Friday night. Faced with long odds, Rusev managed to retain his title, eliminating Jack Swagger (who also insinuated himself into the Pledge coercion).

Refusing to swallow his pride in the name of cutesy comeuppance? Running through a gauntlet designed to undercut and humble him? Sounds like the actions of Stone Cold Steve Austin rather than some overseas cad that shrinks with the patriotic spotlight pointed toward them. If WWE is trying to build up Rusev as a loathsome brute just so someone like John Cena, Randy Orton, or Roman Reigns can vanquish them, it’s probably going to backfire badly. At the very least, it won’t have the same effect they’d expect it to have.

Reveling when the foreign monster is finally conquered is dependent on us hating the foreign monster in the first place. Not only has WWE not provided a good reason to hate Rusev, they’re giving us reasons to respect him.

Maybe he needs to sing more?

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CM Punk’s Revelation Hints At Possible WWE Crisis

November 28, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

For ten months, a man who once sparked World Wrestling Entertainment with his against-the-grain attitude had ceased to be, appearing only in other media as a mild-mannered civilian. The only character assassination this man was willing to discuss in that lurch was Lizzie’s ‘look at the flowers’ execution on The Walking Dead. That changed on Thanksgiving Eve.

Taking Phil Brooks at his word, the former CM Punk said quite a mouthful on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast. Much of it spoke in the matter-of-fact staccato of a filmed shoot interview. If you don’t like Punk, much of it sounded like bla bla Vince is a hypocrite, bla bla Triple H is selfish, bla bla WWE is as creatively sterile as a huckster’s sack. Not exactly shedding new light, but merely confirming suspicions of jaded skeptics. That Brooks broke long-standing silence to make these assertions, in great detail, was the lure of the shoot.

The most damning statements of Punk’s lengthy diatribe came against WWE doctor Chris Amann. In the past, the name George Zahorian spun off into a punchline from in-the-know fans; the Allentown-based Zahorian, under the guise of acting doctor on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, was convicted in 1991 of distributing steroids at television tapings to WWE talent throughout the 1980s. Zahorian also testified at Vince McMahon’s 1994 trial.

Bret Hart asserted in his book that steroids weren’t the problem; pain-killers were the true ruination of the lives of wrestlers. Regardless, what Zahorian did earned him several years behind bars, whether he felt he was ‘helping’ the boys or not.

If you’re the type that feels steroids improved baseball because more home runs equates to more excitement, you can carry a torch for Zahorian. Taking up for Amann based on Brooks’ claims will prove much more difficult.

According to Brooks, several months before the Royal Rumble, he went to Amann with concerns over a lump on his back, which the company doctor diagnosed as a fat deposit. Brooks also claims Amann refused several requests to have it excised from his body. Gradually, the lump hardened and swelled, becoming painful. At the Rumble, Brooks asked once more for it to be removed and Amann wouldn’t budge, claiming he had a match to work.

Once Brooks walked out on the company, he claims that eventual spouse AJ Lee recommended a doctor from Tampa, who diagnosed the lump as MRSA, a bacterial infection that resists certain antibiotics. According to Brooks, the infection was cut out in a horrifically painful procedure. The doctor who treated Brooks apparently told him that performing his physical slate for three months, while going untreated, could have certainly killed him.

The Center for Disease Control attributes 10,800 deaths a year in the United States from MRSA staph infections. That number is touted as being higher than the annual number of AIDS deaths in the country.

If the claims are true, then that’s some staggering incompetence from Amann, who shoulders the burden of caring and treating performers who, as an expectation, put their bodies on the line. Curiously, if Brooks is right and Amann refused to remove the infection because the Royal Rumble match was centered around CM Punk lasting close to one hour, I’d ask if Amann’s treatment of wrestlers is in any way influenced by his superiors. I doubt very much that Amann sits in on booking meetings and gains a bias from them. (“Look, Bray, we could treat that fracture in a week; you have to finish this program with Cena. But I could try taping it….”)

Silly as that sounds, there’s no viable excuse for why Amann didn’t probe deeper (literally) into Brooks’ back lump, unless he’s grossly underqualified for his job, in which case WWE should consider who they have treating their performers. If Brooks had died from the infection, that’d be a bigger PR disaster for the company than a concussed veteran offing his family outside McMahon’s jurisdiction.

It begs the question if this has ever happened before. Brooks’ personal ethics involve straight-shooting without fear of reprisal; he doesn’t have it in him to wave the company flag with a false smile at the expense of personal joy. Are there cases where a more shy wrestler grinned and bore it while the company didn’t put his best interests in mind?

Ex-wrestlers will cry, “The wellness policy is a joke!” but nothing seems to change on the surface, outside of chair shots to skull. And there, Brooks claims the concussion baseline test is garbage, saying that he sustained a concussion in the Rumble match and inexplicably passed an exam the following day, hours before leaving the company.

Hannibal Buress viciously went after Bill Cosby during a comedy set, and his remarks opened up some ugly wounds from women claiming the comedic pillar sexually assaulted them. Buress’ credibility has never been questioned; he was simply reiterating grievances that were already a matter of record, but momentum against Cosby rolled downhill, gathering moss.

As the name CM Punk resonates more with wrestling fans than your typically timid grappler, this has potential to be ugly. If WWE is, in any way, influencing a doctor’s judgment for selfish reasons, or if they’re employing a doctor that is putting the patients’ lives at risk, irreparable damage could be done to the brand. The NFL, an entity far more powerful than wrestling, is at least dented not only by the violent conduct of certain players, but their attempt to cover up the issue of concussions and CTE sustained over the years. People still watch football, sure, but the league can’t really afford much more ill press.

Brooks could probably close the door on his negative remarks, and live out his days watching hockey and penning comic books without another care. World Wrestling Entertainment, with its attractive sponsors and white-knuckle grip on celebrity association, is probably hoping that Brooks seals those lips for good.

If the claims inspire others to share possible horror stories of medical mistreatment, that’s a Pandora’s Box that would take a long time to lock down.

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10 WCW Imports in WWE That Fizzled

November 26, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

Sting’s debut at WWE Survivor Series has understandably created a ton of buzz. It’s the icon’s WWE debut after over 25 years of being a big name away from the Stamford giant. Once ‘the one that got away’, Sting’s save of Dolph Ziggler, and attack of Triple H, capped off one hell of a main event. It was the perfect introduction to the WWE world.

But what happens next? Numerous other WCW icons tripped up in WWE, either having a benign tenure or petering out after a promising start. WWE hasn’t always been kind to the Atlanta legends, and here are ten examples of something getting lost in translation.

10. Barry Windham (1989)

You could argue that Windham had everything a wrestler needed: the look of a taller Jax Teller, the subtle mean-streak a heel needs, the sympathetic eyes a babyface needs, and ability to wrestle lengthy, credible matches, whether they were scientific or a wild brawl. His sixty-minute battles with Ric Flair remain legendary. WWE scooped up Windham in June 1989, shortly after he departed NWA.

Windham’s four month tenure was mostly uneventful, save for the gain of a new nickname (“The Widowmaker”), and a collection of wins over preliminary bums. Windham would depart suddenly in the fall, and was replaced at the Survivor Series by a debuting Earthquake. Windham unfortunately had barely made a dent in 1989, the prime of his career, although good days back in WCW were ahead.

9. Dusty Rhodes (1989)

Rhodes was already 43 years old when the former Crockett-era main eventer and booker was brought into the WWE fold, after being fired shortly into Ted Turner’s ownership. The signing seemed to make sense for WWE; without booking power (read: the capacity to put himself over at the expense of others), Rhodes would play ball, and still probably make an impact with the young WWE crowd.

Truth is, Rhodes did remain a crowd favorite for Vince McMahon, but with a caveat: he entertained in polka dots (or in Dusty’s lisp, ‘doth’). While Rhodes could still engage crowds with his exuberance and cult-like connectability, in spite of increasing age and girth alike, “The Dream” was ‘humbled’ as some dot-wearing fool who never sniffed the main event before vanishing in early 1991.

8. Diamond Dallas Page (2001)

Page is more lauded today for his life-altering yoga program than he is for his remarkable wrestling career. That’s kind of a shame; Page whipped himself into shape as a world-class performer by 1997, already in his forties, through hard-work and meticulous pre-match planning. That was in WCW. In WWE, Page sadly stumbled out of the gate, thanks to a particularly stupid idea.

Despite being married to Kimberly Page, the former Nitro Girl with the taut figure and virtuous smile, Page entered WWE under the guise of a creepy stalker, filming Undertaker’s then-wife Sara in vulnerable moments. Though Page would explain after his reveal that he did so to rile up Undertaker, nobody bought DDP as some perverted voyeur. Undertaker basically mauled him into midcard oblivion.

7. Scott Steiner (2002)

Although the Steiner Brothers 1992-94 tenure with WWE limped to a finish, you can’t really argue with the content. Like Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard’s year with McMahon, the Steiners were used in a championship capacity, and were given plenty of time to stand out. Things went south, reportedly after the Steiners wanted to work in Japan and McMahon balked at sharing his stars.

By 2002, Scott Steiner had changed. The mullet was gone and impossible muscles were the calling card. With his misogynistic speeches, “The Big Bad Booty Daddy” oozed personality. Upon his 2002 return, the hype was immense, but the fuse was snuffed quick. A pair of disastrous matches with Triple H (notably at the 2003 Royal Rumble) exposed Steiner as easily winded and virtually broken down.

6. Lex Luger (1993)

Forgetting for a moment that Luger was brought in to compete in the WBF just five weeks after losing the WCW Title to Sting, we’ll say Luger’s real debut for McMahon was in 1993. Generally, Luger was only as big as the people he worked with, but an impressive physique and arrogant smirk made him a capable villain. Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect, and Randy Savage were to make natural foils.

Luger would limp through two gimmicks that were, decidedly, not “Total Package”-like. The first, “The Narcissist” was more based in mythology than up Luger’s Gold’s Gym-dwelling alley. With Hulk Hogan fading away, Luger was colored in with red, white, and blue as an All-American hero, a spectacular flop given Luger’s lack of conviction when preaching blue-collar American ideals.

5. Vader (1996)

A loss through Paul Orndorff’s right-cross was McMahon’s gain. After littering his roster with repackaged oldies and haven’t-beens in 1995, WWE needed someone with credibility they could shove up the card (especially since Luger had enough and departed in September). Vader’s WCW exodus led to McMahon signing the Rocky Mountain monster, and set to debut the angry beast at the Royal Rumble.

To McMahon’s credit, Vader’s persona wasn’t tinkered with; he was still the red-mask wearing bully that cut opponents like sugar cane with his unpulled punches. The problem was that Vader receded into the midcard after a lukewarm feud with champion Shawn Michaels and was rarely seen as a threat after that. By 1998, Vader was putting over a young Edge, Kane, and JBL before his exit.

4. Ric Flair (1991)

This one is sure to draw some negative words. Yes, Flair was made to be a big deal when he jumped with the WCW Title in the summer of 1991. Yes, Flair immediately feuded with icons like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. Yes, Flair won the 1992 Royal Rumble, the best match in the event’s annals, to become WWE Champion following an awe-inspiring, unparalleled one-hour performance.

After that? Flair didn’t feel like Flair. Sure, he tormented Randy Savage with promises to show lurid photos of Miss Elizabeth, but once he lost the belt, the magic was gone. Flair became ordinary, unbefitting of his grandeur. Slowly, Flair seemed like he was being phased out, his main event appearances diminishing. And he never did have that mega-showdown with Hogan on PPV.

3. The New World Order (2002)

WWE had parroted for several years the idea that wrestling had become a young man’s game, and those decrepit fools on the other channel aren’t worthy of your time. In hindsight, that’s laughable, given how many 40-50 year olds get main event paydays in WWE these days, but the youth movement was worth pushing. And push it they did until when one promotion remained, and free agents loomed.

With WWE’s ratings stagnating, McMahon brough back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reform the nWo’s holy trinity. Once ground-breaking, all three were blown off by The Rock in 30 seconds at No Way Out. The cool factor was gone, and the threat of a hostile takeover was merely just three guys doing the same run-in that anybody else would do. This nWo died in five months.

2. Goldberg (2003)

Should have been a slam-dunk. Two hours after Eric Bischoff had a physically-distressed Steve Austin removed from the building, Goldberg arrived to fill in as the new hero. Right away, Goldberg speared The Rock, and a new battle of the icons was set for Backlash. Goldberg won, but not before taking part in an irksome backstage bit where Goldust had “The Man” wear his blonde wig.

There lies the problem with Goldberg, V2: he was humanized. The Goldberg in WCW kept his head down and his mouth shut before dispatching victims with cold-blooded brutality. People wanted *that* Goldberg, not a talkative gentleman who stays placid and gregarious until provoked. If WWE writers remade Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees would be given 15 minute soliloquies. No one wants that.

1. The Invasion (2001)

More accurately, the Invasion flopped because of who was excluded, not so much the actual participants. When Shane McMahon bought WCW in the story, the battle lines were drawn between he and his father, the man who did as much to destroy WCW as WCW had done to itself. Fans conjured up dream matches in their heads, the ultimate in fantasy warfare closing in like a category five storm.

All of the names above that would have been reasonable entrants, sans DDP, were absent. No Hogan, no Hall, no Nash, no Goldberg, no Flair, no Steiner. Oh, and no Sting, of course. Booker T and midcarders such as Shane Helms, Lance Storm, and Chuck Palumbo provided no match for WWE while the big names sat home on big-money Time Warner deals. Among other reasons, the Invasion flopped hard.

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Dolph Ziggler Establishes Himself as Go-To Star

November 24, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

As we older wrestling fans bitterly walk into our thirties and forties, we have this tendency to slip on rose-tinted sunglasses. This is done in an attempt to view today’s wrestling world through old lens, as much of a chore it is to try and build parallels to the two.

In particular, we sometimes champion a wrestler in today’s field by dressing them in the repurposed shell of a wrestler we heralded about an era or two back. Daniel Bryan became the bearded, jovial reincarnate of Chris Benoit, one that nobody would feel guilty about enjoying. Bray Wyatt’s manner of speech invoked memories of Jake Roberts and Kevin Sullivan, the calm savage. CM Punk at one time had seanced the spirit of Stone Cold Steve Austin, through profanity, blunt honesty, and defiance. When Punk’s walkout in 2014 too eerily matched Austin’s 2002 vacancy, Dean Ambrose stepped in to be the unconventional, office-scorning rebel.

What about Dolph Ziggler? Before, Ziggler was a more convincing offspring of Curt Hennig than Curtis Axel is, flailing like a fish out of water off the simplest of offensive strikes, curly blonde locks scattering like the frills of a pom-pom. Salesmanship aside, Ziggler’s legitimate athletic background, like Hennig’s, was oh-so-perfectly melded with a willingness to portray the preening-douche-turned-punching-bag for so many. Imbued with these traits, Ziggler is indispensable.

Ziggler also shares similarities with other Hennig fashioner, Shawn Michaels. In the 1990s (hell, up until his 2010 retirement), Michaels could steal the show as either a face (drawing sympathy for the comeback, telling a story equally through emotion and athletics) or a heel (for the same qualities as Hennig and Ziggler). Michaels will forever have tenancy in wrestling’s penthouse suite for his ability to take the most jaded know-it-all, the ‘I wouldn’t have written the story THIS way’ grouch, and reduce him to a bright-eyed believer through sheer will. It’s a skill nobody can duplicate.

This isn’t to say Ziggler is scraping insulation in Michaels’ ceiling at present time, but after Survivor Series, there’s a new inkling of just how sky-high Ziggler’s ceiling may be.

It’s a role Michaels nailed eleven years ago, the hopeless hero. Michaels needed to survive against Chris Jericho, Christian, and a less-inked Randy Orton in order to save Steve Austin’s job. The fact that Michaels had lost enough blood to fill a fish-tank only upped the drama several rungs. Looking like Carrie White, Michaels lucked his way into eliminating Christian and Jericho before Orton ended the miracle run after Batista interfered. Anyone who watched that match will tell you while catching their breath that it’s typical, by-the-book HBK, while exhaling, “And it’s f–king incredible.”

Sunday night, Ziggler was in the same predicament, with some wholly moving twists.

In the match to determine whether The Authority would be vanquished or whether some upper-midcard babyfaces would be fired instead, Ziggler, once canon fodder so far wedged into the sole-grooves of WWE’s shoe, was the last hope for the good guys. This was especially shocking, given that the usual Superman, John Cena, had been disposed of through Big Show’s annual heel turn midway through the bout. Across from a weary (but not bloody, per Mattel’s humble invective) Ziggler were Seth Rollins, Kane, and Luke Harper. Alas, it’s a parallel.

Knowing that only Cena could take out the 82nd Airborne without assistance, the St. Louis crowd began looking for the run-in. Given that Randy Orton was recently spurned by the heels, and that the Gateway City is Orton’s home, the natives earnestly chanted for him while Ziggler was bounced around by the corporate ladder. Not a good sign when you’re so far down the caste, fans believe more in the savior than the worker.

Then it happened: Ziggler won over the crowd. Repeated kickouts, subtle appeals through relaying of agony and exhaustion, and the fans were pulling for Ziggler to complete the comeback. If Daniel Bryan didn’t belong in Ziggler’s generation, I’d say that Dolph usurped the underdog schtick from him.

There weren’t any YES chants, but the fans popped fierce when Ziggler downed Kane cleanly with the Zig Zag. The cheers were louder when Dolph managed to roll up Harper and rid him from the bout. JBL was angrily stunned. Michael Cole, in a rare moment of intense focus, sold Ziggler as a warrior, running on empty for the sake of his job. Ziggler and Rollins engaged in a tremendous series of near falls in the lead-up to the Sports Entertainment Finish, well-executed and welcome for all of its convolution.

‘Holy crap, it’s Sting!’ will trump ‘holy crap, Dolph pulled it off!’ when panning for website clicks, but Ziggler’s story is needed long-term. The match has absolutely made Ziggler, Sting’s deus ex machina help or not. WWE has needed organic heroes more than it’s needed accurate dates on its WWE Network content. Punk said see ya, Bryan’s out long-term, Ambrose is there if they truly want him, and Roman Reigns’ biggest feud may be the one he’s having with the teleprompter.

Ziggler was dead, an afterthought. His outspokenness had cancelled out his world-class athleticism, and if a PPV in 2013 or 2014 passed by without him, nobody blinked. His demotion was accepted; his scripted wins these days more startling than appreciated. Whoever shook their head in the office and said, ‘wait, why aren’t we doing MORE with Dolph?’ may be a one-eyed-prophet in the land of the blind, but that one eye understands the man’s value.

I’d argue that Ziggler’s survival trumps Bryan’s WrestleMania wins. We all knew that Bryan was getting those victories as an apology for a winter’s worth of short-sighted booking, and angry fans weren’t to be denied. Ziggler’s rise from fodder is more notable because in less than 20 minutes, he won over the crowd that wanted Orton, and busted his ass for each ounce of renewed appreciation.

Writing out of Hunter and Stephanie aside, this is why we all loved last night’s match. We all believed because Dolph Ziggler made us believe. Shawn Michaels chuckles knowingly.

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Top 25 WWE Survivor Series Elimination Matches

November 19, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

Survivor Series just ain’t what it used to be.

First, it was Thanksgiving night. Then it was Thanksgiving eve. Then it moved indiscriminately to just any old Sunday in November. When it started, it was all about the elimination matches. Now it’s about the typically-rushed storylines that are often back-burnered in favor of whatever Cena or Orton are doing, with maybe an elimination match or two shoehorned in there somewhere.

Well, forget about senile Vince McMahon and lack-of-fun Kevin Dunn for a minute. Let’s journey back to when the event MEANT SOMETHING, and let’s share some fond memories of some of the greatest elimination matches that have ever taken place at the Thanksgiving night/eve/located in proximity to the holiday tradition!

After all, it sure beats “John Cena and The Rock vs. what’re-their-names.”

Enjoy!

25. The Holly Cousins and Too Cool def. Edge, Christian, and The Hardy Boyz (11/14/99, Detroit, MI)
Survivor: Hardcore Holly
Gotta admit; that face team would be pretty cool in any era, despite the real life problems of the brothers Hardy. For what it is, it’s a fast paced match between WWE’s “X Division” of 1999; a match in which the second oldest person (Crash) was only 28 years old. When does that EVER happen? Edge being the first one gone was a surprise, as was the heels going over. Then again, since Edge and company were made men after their spectacular ladder match the previous month, why not give some rub to the then-relevant “Big Shot”? Christian’s near-comeback from a three-on-one was fun to watch.

24. Bertha Faye, Aja Kong, Tomoko Watanabe & Lioness Asuka def. Alundra Blayze, Sakie Hasegawa, Kyoko Inoue & Chapparita Asari (11/19/95, Landover, MD)
Survivor: Kong
This was probably the first time since 1988 that WWE had more than three women involved in the same match, and boy, what a comeback for women’s wrestling. Of course, the entire division was scrapped a month later, when Blayze rechristened herself as Madusa and threw the WWE Women’s Title in the trash on WCW Nitro. Alas. The match was a ten minute infomercial for Aja Kong to show how scary-dominant she could be, dropping her fellow Joshi performers on their heads and necks before waylaying Blayze with a spinning back fist to become the sole survivor. Now we get Kelly Kelly rubbing her bony ass in Natalya’s face. Alas.

23. Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, John Cena, Bradshaw, and Hardcore Holly def. Brock Lesnar, Big Show, A-Train, Matt Morgan, and Nathan Jones (11/16/03, Dallas, TX)
Survivors: Benoit, Cena
Lesnar built a team of brawny monsters to take on GM Paul Heyman’s “most wanted” list. It was notable because, unlike today with Cena and Randy Orton, the two men getting the biggest rub (Angle and Lesnar) were eliminated before the finish, thus making whoever survived look pretty damn special. Indeed, the soon-to-be-megapushed Benoit and the being-molded Cena upended Big Show in the end, after Benoit had made Lesnar tap out. Of course, this is essentially the match that kicked off Cena’s interminable face run, so maybe some of you will want to curse this outing.

22. Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, and The Hardy Boyz def. Edge, Randy Orton, Johnny Nitro, Gregory Helms, and Mike Knox (11/26/06, Philadelphia, PA)
Survivors: the entire team
One sided as it was, this match provided some decent crowd-pleasing action, as well as a number of comedy spots. Mike Knox being eliminated by Shawn Michaels in under a minute, and then Shawn asking his team, “Who was he?” is never not funny. “I think he’s on ECW.” “Oh, so we’re doing GOOD then?” Too hilarious. Also of note was Punk outpopping the entire team during the pre-match DX intro, despite having only been in WWE for three months. It’s stuff like that that drives Vince McMahon even more insane.

21. Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, and Hunico def. Randy Orton, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, Sin Cara, and Mason Ryan (11/20/11, New York, NY)
Survivors: Barrett, Rhodes
It was a pretty good way of putting over Intercontinental Champion Rhodes and soon-to-be pushed heel Barrett (before his arm injury in February). Orton dispatched a drained Ziggler early before Barrett’s team rattled off 4 straight eliminations, leaving Orton alone against 4 men. Swagger went quietly, then Hunico was RKOed out before the Viper was outsmarted, losing to Barrett’s Wasteland.

20. The Miz, Sheamus, Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, and Drew McIntyre def. John Morrison, Matt Hardy, Evan Bourne, Shelton Benjamin, and Finlay (11/22/09, Washington, DC)
Survivors: Miz, Sheamus, McIntyre
Other than McIntyre’s push stalling in 2010, that heel side is like “Team Groom for Greatness”, as the other four men would all go on to hold a World Title. Whereas the face team features three men no longer in WWE, one suspended for ingesting synthetic ganja, and a captain who is a kitty-whipped laughingstock. Regardless, the match was a tremendous showcase of midcarders soon-to-be big deals, which gives Survivor Series (as well as the Royal Rumble) its ochre of flavor. The highlights were McIntyre nearly breaking Bourne in half at the neck with his Future Shock DDT, and Sheamus definitively crushing Finlay in the “Battle of the Brogue.”

19. Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, Doug Furnas, and Phil Lafon (Team Canada) def. Vader, Steve Blackman, Marc Mero, and Goldust (Team USA) (11/9/97, Montreal, PQ)
Survivor: Smith
Team Canada, it should be noted, featured only one actual Canadian in Lafon. On the night where Bret Hart would be excommunicated from WWE canon, it seemed appropriate that a hastily-assembled team of America haters would be on display. The match was merely a backdrop to begin a feud with Vader and the increasingly-erratic Goldust, who walked out without ever tagging in, but the match was an exciting wrestling exhibition when Vader, Mero, Smith, Furnas and Lafon were involved. Having a pro-Canuck team in an enthusiastic Canadian setting provided a hot crowd as well, even if the match was overshadowed at night’s end by…..well, you know.

18. Ted Dibiase, Rhythm & Blues, and a Mystery Partner (The Million Dollar Team) def. Dusty Rhodes, Koko B Ware, and The Hart Foundation (The Dream Team) (11/22/90, Hartford, CT)
Survivor: Dibiase
Assuming that Honky and Neidhart are future Hall of Famers, as well as the mystery partner, you have eight Hall of Famers in one match. Impressive, no? Anyway, you probably know by now that said mystery partner is The Undertaker, making his WWE debut in grand fashion by obliterating Ware and Rhodes before taking a countout loss to save his mystique. Hart lost his brother Dean the day before to kidney failure, and Roddy Piper (on commentary) declared “The Hitman” had dedicated the match to him. Foreshadowing his eventual singles push, Hart came back from three on one to tussle with Dibiase at the end, losing when the Million Dollar Man rolled through his cross body.

17. Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Brutus Beefcake, Ricky Steamboat, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan def. Honky Tonk Man, Ron Bass, Harley Race, Hercules, and Danny Davis (11/26/87, Richfield, OH)
Survivors: Savage, Roberts, Steamboat
The first Survivor Series match ever had one of the more intriguing stories ever seen at the event. Honky, Intercontinental Champion for six months running and an unlikely champion at that, was versed by five challengers, all of whom capable of beating him for the gold, if not for Honky’s perpetual luck and knack for cheating. Honky’s teammates weren’t able to go the distance, as Honky found himself stuck with the three men he had feuded with through 1987, and they all still held a grudge. After trying his best to hang with Savage and his cohorts, Honky took a walk for the countout loss. By the way, wouldn’t YOU have loved to see Savage and Steamboat as a semi-regular team? Me too.

16. Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Koko B Ware, Hercules, and Hillbilly Jim def. Big Bossman, Akeem, Ted Dibiase, Haku, and The Red Rooster (11/24/88, Richfield, OH)
Survivors: Savage, Hogan
Koko and Rooster main evented a WWE PPV not called “Royal Rumble” or “Irony-Mania”. The Towers were positioned as holdover threats to Savage and Hogan before the “Mega Powers Exploding” months later. Hogan being handcuffed late in the match while Savage had to try and fend off Bossman and Akeem provided some tension to a well-worked, albeit predictable, affair. The sad part was Dibiase, the hottest heel when the year started, reduced to working a nothing angle with former “slave” Hercules, and then floating around with nothing to do for months until he was handed the Jake Roberts feud. Other than such quibbles, it was a fine main event to the Series’ second incarnation.

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15. The Ultimate Warrior, Jim Neidhart, and The Rockers (The Ultimate Warriors) def. Andre the Giant, Haku, Arn Anderson, and Bobby Heenan (The Heenan Family) (11/23/89, Chicago, IL)
Survivor: Warrior
I love when you look back at old matches like this and realize that WWE and Vince McMahon were giving experimental runs to those deemed to have “future prospects.” This particular match was the closer for the 1989 Survivor Series, and Warrior was given a chance to shine as the final act, foreshadowing his World Title run the following year. In addition, Shawn Michaels lasted quite a while in the match for a 24-year-old tag team wrestler, getting to pin Haku before succumbing to Anderson’s spinebuster. Surely with Marty Jannetty eliminated, the match became something of a singles audition for the future Heartbreak Kid. For those wondering why Heenan was in the match, check Tully Blanchard’s drug test results for an explanation.

14. Kofi Kingston, Christian, Mark Henry, MVP, and R-Truth def. Randy Orton, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Ted Dibiase, and William Regal (11/22/09, Washington, DC)
Survivor: Kingston
Quite the anachronism in 2011, Orton pinned Henry within the first minute, Orton and Punk worked in tandem, eventual main eventer R-Truth bit the dust early, and Orton Punk were both reviled villains to Christian’s virtuous good guy routine. But rather than expose the fallacies of WWE’s breakneck booking change, let’s look at the upside: Kingston was made with this one, withstanding seven minutes of Punk and Orton breaking him down, to score what should have been a career-boosting victory. Instead, he blew the finish weeks later in a triple threat involving Orton, and Orton had an on-camera freakout that got Kofi punished, but not Randino. Weird.

13. Razor Ramon, 123 Kid, Davey Boy Smith, and The Headshrinkers (The Bad Guys) def. Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Jeff Jarrett (The Teamsters) (11/23/94, San Antonio, TX)
Survivor: Ramon
You can be made in a loss, and Diesel was a made man after this performance. After lots of early action in which everyone but Michaels got involved, Diesel said “enough of this” and went on a rampage. Fatu bit the dust with a Jackknife, followed by Kid, then Sionne, and then the Bulldog took a count out loss. With Razor remaining, against 5 on 1 odds, a loss seemed inevitable when Michaels FINALLY tagged in and accidentally superkicked Diesel. In a silly finish, all five heels were counted out when Diesel angrily stalked Michaels. Razor became the only sole survivor in history to never eliminate anyone and, three days later, Diesel beat Bob Backlund to become WWE Champion.

12. Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude, One Man Gang, and Butch Reed def. Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco, and Ken Patera (11/26/87, Richfield, OH)
Survivor: Andre
Sorry, Jim Crockett Promotions. When cable providers had to choose between airing Starrcade ’87 and the inaugural Survivor Series, with the lure of Hulk and Andre in the main event, facing off eight months after WrestleMania III, WWE won out in spades. After the sides whittled down to a three on two, Hogan and Andre finally locked horns, but the Hulkster was counted out after Bundy and Gang kept him from re-entering the ring. Bigelow managed to eliminate Bundy and Gang and would have defied the odds Cena-style but, well, it was Andre. The Frenchman flattened Bammer for the final fall, giving himself a just cause to petition a rematch against Hogan for the WWE title. And that’s a fascinating story in itself.

11. Doug Furnas, Phil Lafon, and The Godwinns def. Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and The New Rockers (11/17/96, New York, NY)
Survivors: Furnas, Lafon
After a cup of coffee in ECW in the fall of 1996, Furnas and Lafon debuted in the opening match of Survivor Series 1996, and what a debut it was. Once Marty Jannetty busted his ankle prior to being eliminated, and then both Godwinns went, WWE was in store for action that they’d never seen before. Leif Cassidy (known better as Al Snow) took a header with modified reverse superplex from Lafon, and the well-traveled veterans were made to hold off Hart and Smith, then WWE Tag Team Champions. Bulldog was cradled for elimination, and Furnas planted Owen with an absolutely vicious release German suplex to give Furnas and Lafon the win with a crazy standing ovation from the Garden crowd.

10. The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho, and Big Show vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Shane McMahon (11/19/01, Greensboro, NC)
Survivor: Rock
It was an abrupt end to what should have been a money-maker for WWE. The WCW/ECW Invasion had sputtered to a poorly-booked finish, but at least we got a great finale out of it. With the future of the company at stake, and the losing side being forced to disband for good, drama built over the forty-five minute coda. Once down to just Rock and Austin, after Jericho attempted to selfishly maim his own partner, the two icons of the Attitude era put on a dramatic finish, ending with Angle proving to be a mole, as he clocked Austin with a title belt. One Rock Bottom later, and the Alliance was dead, leaving Stephanie to scream like a banshee in tears backstage.

9. The Powers of Pain, Hart Foundation, The Rockers, The British Bulldogs, and The Young Stallions def. Demolition, The Brainbusters, Los Conquistadors, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, and The Bolsheviks (11/24/88, Richfield, OH)
Survivors: Powers of Pain
When was the last time WWE had ten teams, REAL teams, under lock and key like this? This would be the second time a match with ten teams would take place (I do believe this spoils a later entry), and it was full of great action and well-told stories. The climax was an inexplicable story turn in which Mr. Fuji intentionally caused Demolition, the World Tag Team Champions, mind you, to be counted out, just so he could manage the Powers of Pain for some reason. In other fascinating notes, the Conquistadors, perennial jobbers, lasted over forty minutes, and the Rougeaus were eliminated early due to a very tense real-life feud with Dynamite Kid.

8. Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and Maven def. Triple H, Batista, Edge, and Gene Snitsky (11/14/04, Cleveland, OH)
Survivor: Orton
Kicking off one of the greatest five-month story arcs ever seen in WWE history (I’m serious), Orton led his team to victory in a match where the winning side got to run Raw for one month while Eric Bischoff took a long vacation. In the end, it would lead to Batista realizing he could beat Triple H and thus slowly turned on him before brutalizing him for the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania 21. Sadly, though, this match didn’t make Orton the top babyface star that Vince McMahon was hoping for, but lord knows they’d try again year after year. Highlight of the match is Maven busting Snitsky open with a stiff right hand, and Gene getting his revenge with a chair shot that just about killed the Shop-At-Home star.

7. Ric Flair, Ted Dibiase, The Warlord, and The Mountie def. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Virgil (11/27/91, Detroit, MI)
Survivor: Flair
What a great beginning, what a lousy finish. Talk about your impressive lists of talent for one match, with the exception of Warlord, who at least provided a musclehead to throw people around and create “ooooh” moments with. Even Virgil in 1991 had hit a nice stride. Smith and Warlord are both eliminated after a Flair cheapshot causes Bulldog to go, and then Hart duplicates the act on Warlord, allowing Piper to pin the big man. The match then ends in a bizarre multi-man count out, with Flair being the only man to beat the count back inside, thus cheaply becoming the sole survivor. It was a shame, because the match was turning into something AWESOME, aided by a white-hot crowd. What a pity.

6. The Shield and The Real Americans def. Rey Mysterio, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, and The Usos (11/24/13, Boston, MA)
Survivor: Roman Reigns

Easily the best elimination match in nearly a decade, WWE gave a Booking 101 demonstration on how to portray a wrestler as a killer. After Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, and Jack Swagger bit the dust, Reigns went ballistic, thinning the field of Rhodes and Jimmy Uso. Seth Rollins bounced Jey Uso out before getting downed by Rey. Down two-on-one, an undaunted Reigns plowed through Goldust and Mysterio in a 30-second span to stand tall. The action along the way was the fast-paced fare you’d expect, given the entrants, but letting one man, one not named Cena or Orton, obliterate so many opponents gave hope that Reigns would become a power player.

5. Skip, Rad Radford, Tom Pritchard, and 123 Kid (The Bodydonnas) def. Marty Jannetty, Barry Horowitz, Hakushi, and Bob Holly (The Underdogs) (11/19/95, Landover, MD)
Survivor: Kid
Imagine in 2011 if they put the likes of Daniel Bryan and other barely-seen, improperly-used talents in one twenty minute match and told them “go nuts.” In this opening match to the 1995 show, fast-paced athletes like Hakushi, Jannetty, and Kid wowed the crowd in spectacular fashion with action that Vince McMahon wasn’t exactly used to putting on. Let’s just say Vince bellowed “WHATAMANEUVER” a lot. After Jannetty finished Skip off with a top rope powerbomb (unheard of in WWE at the time), Kid used help from new stablemate Psycho Sid to finish Jannetty, continuing his remolding into one of Ted Dibiase’s corporate players.

4. Batista, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Bobby Lashley, and JBL (Team Smackdown) def. Shawn Michaels, Kane, Big Show, Carlito, and Chris Masters (Team Raw) (11/27/05, Detroit, MI)
Survivor: Orton
The in-ring action for this one was superb, as you had wrestlers who didn’t even LIKE each other railing off creative double teams for the greater good of brand supremacy (you know, when the brand extension WASN’T a bastardized concept meant to make people care about a draft from year to year….). But as fun and different as the in-ring action was, the action at the commentary desks was even better, as Michael Cole and Tazz sniped with Joey Styles (remember him?), Jerry Lawler, and Jonathan Coachman for the entire match in between calling moves. For once, it seemed like Vince McMahon stepped away from the headset and just let their barbs come naturally, and it was FUN. In the end, Michaels took out Mysterio and JBL, but the RKO got him moments later. Then The Undertaker returned. Great stuff.

3. Razor Ramon, Macho Man Randy Savage, Marty Jannetty, and 123 Kid def. IRS, Diesel, Rick Martel, and Adam Bomb (11/24/93, Boston, MA)
Survivors: Jannetty, Kid
A major substitution took place before the card, as Savage was called in to pinch hit for Mr. Perfect, who either bowed out due to recurring back problems or alcoholic issues, depending on which source you believe. Regardless, the action was raucous for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, with Diesel, Savage, IRS, and Razor, the four bigger players involved, being eliminated. Once down to the monstrous Bomb and wily Martel against two smaller competitors, it seemed that Kid and Jannetty had little chance. This was especially true after Bomb gave Kid a sickening slam on the concrete after a plancha gone bad. However, after a half hour of action, Kid and Jannetty ended the contest with matching sunset flips on both men to become unlikely survivors.

2. Strike Force, Young Stallions, Killer Bees, British Bulldogs, and the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers def. Hart Foundation, Demolition, The Islanders, The New Dream Team, and The Bolsheviks (11/26/87, Richfield, OH)
Survivors: Stallions, Bees
The original twenty-man elimination contest features WWE talents at their most innovative. In a match with Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith, Tito Santana, and others, this should not be a surprise. Hard to say what was better: Haku nearly decapitating Dynamite with the savate kick, or Paul Roma saving Jim Powers with a top rope sunset flip on Valentine to eliminate him. This match has literally everything: crisp finishing sequences, top-notch wrestling, good swerves (Strike Force, the champs, were eliminated not fifteen minutes into the forty minute match), and a nice underdog finish, as Jim Brunzell pinned Bret Hart, allowing the Bees and Stallions to outsmart the brawnier Islanders en route to victory. If you love tag team wrestling, hunt down a copy of this event, because this match will be your Graceland.

1. Chris Jericho, Christian, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, and Scott Steiner (Team Bischoff) def. Shawn Michaels, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and The Dudley Boyz (Team Austin) (11/16/03, Dallas, TX)
Survivor: Orton
If Austin’s team were to be victorious, he, as co-GM of Raw, would be allowed to use martial law to keep order on the show (i.e. beat people up). However, if Bischoff’s team won, Austin was out as co-GM. The match began innocuously enough, with Henry, Booker, Steiner, and RVD going, and then Michaels hit a gusher outside the ring, with blood spilling everywhere. Seriously, it looked like he was going to die any second. Jericho and Christian finished off the future Team 3D, and Austin’s hopes were now pinned on a crimson-soaked zombie. Oh, the drama! A fluke Sweet Chin Music took Christian out, and a cradled reversal of the Walls doomed Jericho. Michaels heroically hung in there against a fresh Orton, and the ref was soon knocked out. Austin and Bischoff interjected themselves, and Austin chased Bischoff to the entrance set and thrashed him good, but Batista then jumped the rail, pancaked Michaels with the Batista Bomb, and the ref came around to count Orton’s pinfall, leaving a stunned Austin in the aisleway. Had Austin been gone for more than four months after this, and not returned as the “Sheriff”, it’d have meant a lot more. Instead, it was just a great match, one in which the drama and story meant more than any chain-wrestling sequence could ever mean.

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