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Petey Williams Speaks On TNA, Injuries, Retirement, and His Career

August 14, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

Petey Williams was perhaps the most understated member of Team Canada in TNA. Williams wasn’t as profoundly obnoxious as Scott D’Amore, as comically demented as Eric Young, or as imposing as Alastair Ralphs. Williams is shorter than the chiseled, camera-friendly Bobby Roode, and he doesn’t have the natural, arrogant smirk of Johnny Devine.

Despite that, the two-time former TNA X-Division Champion gets his name chanted at wrestling cards he doesn’t even appear at, thanks to a spectacular invention.

One week after Williams, 32, performed in his retirement match against X-Division doppelganger Chris Sabin, independent wrestler Alex Reynolds executed the Canadian Destroyer, the prodigious flipping piledriver, during a CZW tag team bout. After a roaring beat, over 500 fans in Voorhees, NJ chorused with “PE-TEY WILL-IAMS”, an homage to the hold’s master.

The Destroyer is synonymous with Williams in the same manner that bringing a python to the ring is the calling card of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. This past May, Buff Bagwell, of all people, performed the move at an AIW event in Cleveland. As video surfaced, and Bagwell became a trending name, Williams’ name also escaped viewers’ lips in conjunction with the sight.

“Everybody thinks I get upset (to have others do the move), but you know what they say, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Williams jokes. “I’ve done something in pro wrestling that a lot of people can’t say that they’ve done. I’ve created something that’ll live past when I’m dead and gone. When I’m 70 years old, I’ll be sitting on the couch with my grandkids, and there’ll be some wrestler doing the Canadian Destroyer, and I’ll say hey, that was me.”

On May 5, 2004, Williams stood out from a new-plastic-scented, identity-seeking Team Canada stable by performing the Destroyer before a PPV audience. In an eight-man tag, Williams spotted up Sabin in the hijacker-clasp, and sunset-flipped Sabin into a perfect, Memphis-outlawed piledriver that astonished the TNA Asylum upstate in Nashville.

“The first person I did it to on television was Chris Sabin, but the first person that had ever taken it was Evan Bourne, back when he was Matt Sydal,” recalls Williams. “I explained the move to him, having no idea how it was going to turn out. He just goes ‘Okay!’ So I set it up, we did it, the place went nuts, and the rest is history.”

“Ten years ago, wrestlers were afraid of it, but now they’ve seen me perform it so much, and they trust me. It’s not that I was trying to talk anyone into it, but I just had to assure them that I wasn’t going to break their neck. I think now, people are lining up, like, ‘I wanna take the Destroyer tonight!’ Sonjay Dutt didn’t even want to do it, and I finally managed to assure him. After we did it, he was like, ‘Petey, that was so easy!’ For that reaction that we got, he said he’d rather take the Destroyer than a bodyslam.”

Safety first for wrestlers whose acrobatic, smack-echo’ed styles induce as many winces and cringes as they do cheers. Williams’ recent decision to walk away from wrestling is, in part, due to the accumulation of such aches and pain over his twelve-year career.

“I hear about all of these guys getting concussions and neck injuries, and I watch their wrestling style, and I realize my wrestling style’s a little bit harder than that, because I’m taking German suplexes on the neck, and piledrivers and whatever. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m gonna be 33 years old; maybe I’d better get out now, and not have to be in a wheelchair when I’m older.”

My wife’s due with my next daughter in a couple of weeks or so, and I just didn’t book any shows in or around this time. Then I just said, ‘You know what? I just gotta start doing different things in life.’ You kinda have to look at your future, and ask what’s really more important: providing for my family, being there for them, or pro wrestling?”

Health concerns aside, Williams recognizes TNA as among the most secure places he’s worked, knowing that he could put his body in the hands of the experienced professionals there, and come out as fresh as possible in such a physical vocation. In the indies, however, that luxury isn’t always available.

“You lay faith in the promoter to pair you up with somebody trustworthy, because you may have never met this person before. In a match last October, I was doing my basic opening moves, and one of them was a second-rope hurrachanrana. My opponent’s like, ‘Oh, that’s easy; I can do that okay.’ And when I went for that, he for some reason ducked his head, and I totally landed on my own head. I pop up, and my shoulder felt really weird.”

“I had an MRI, and the doctor told me I had a torn supraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle in the upper back). He tells me the only way I can really fix this is through surgery; there’s no amount of rehab that’s really going to make this better, nothing you can take, no injections, etc. He tells me I can’t wrestle for the next couple of months. I look at him like, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen,’ because I’ve got shows booked.”

“Right now, it’s feeling better, but it’s been probably about ten months, and I still feel it every morning.”

Several months before the October 2013 injury, Williams had another scary moment, this time in a special appearance at TNA’s Destination X in Louisville. Williams was booked in a triple threat match with fellow X-Division pioneers Sonjay Dutt and Homicide.

“Homicide suggests to me he’ll do the Gringo Killer (vertebreaker), and from there, Sonjay will give him the moonsault double stomp. I’ve never taken it from Homicide before, as many times as I’ve worked him. He assured me, ‘I’m really safe with it now. Before, I used to kinda kill guys,’ and I told him I was fine with it, that I wasn’t even questioning it.”

“Then the way we did it wasn’t the way we practiced it – he was supposed to kick me, set me, turn me up, then down. Instead, he just grabs me from behind and says, ‘Oh, let’s just go with it this way.’ When he flung my legs up, he had my upper body trapped, and it kinda compressed by body, and I really couldn’t move. It felt like a lightning bolt went through my upper back and chest area. I rolled out of the ring, so I was at least able to move.”

“The ref came over to check on me, and he made the “X” gesture. I literally couldn’t even sit myself up; I couldn’t use my core muscles to pull myself up, it was too much pain in my neck. I asked him to just lift my body up, to get me into a sitting position, and then I managed to get up, so I was able to walk to the back. The doctor told me he thought it was just a bruised spinal cord, and I thought, ‘A bruised spinal cord? That’s it?’ I iced it, took some anti-inflammatories, and it didn’t get any worse, which I’m happy about, but I couldn’t do certain things in the gym for a while.”

Constant pain has been a motivating factor for a number of wrestlers to leave the industry. With a family at home, and the opportunity to get out with what are now just nagging pains, Williams is, so far, handling the adjustment to ‘civilian life’ well enough. It appears, though, the man once known as “Maple Leaf Muscle” won’t be a civilian for long.

“I’m going to become a US citizen, probably within a month. I’m probably going to work in law enforcement now. That’s what I went to school for while training to be a pro wrestler, so that’s been my other area of passion. It’s a career where I don’t have to travel, don’t have to leave my family, and I can earn a pension. My wife’s a police officer, and that’s how we kind of came together.”

Jesse Ventura once opined, “You get into wrestling to get out of wrestling”, and “The Body” accordingly found his calling in politics and movies. Williams’ escape route allows him to keep it far more local, where family, both biological and acquired, will be his constant.

“It’s about being a Dad, and also stopping by some local shows to say hi to the guys. I still wanna keep up with wrestling, and I’m actually enjoying it a little more, following it casually as a fan. It reminds me of back when I was younger, and I love being a fan of the sport.”

“I went to the Ring of Honor show in Dearborn (July 19), near where I live, and I got to say goodbye to a few guys I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to, like Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Jay Lethal, Tyson Dux, and it was Kevin Steen’s last match, and it was good getting see all of that. I really, really enjoyed it for the first time since becoming a pro wrestler, sitting in the back of the crowd, watching the show. I didn’t have to stress out about most the stuff you’d usually stress out about when you wrestle.”

“It would have been nice to be on that show, but I didn’t bring any of my wrestling gear, so even if they’d asked me, I would have said no,” Williams laughs. “But I do miss it, of course.”

Somewhere down the line, Williams isn’t against the idea of donning the tights and doling out another Destroyer. In his words, the time would have to be right, because in wrestling, never ever means never.

“You know, I never really said I’m ‘retiring’, because who ever really retires? How many times has Terry Funk ‘retired’? I think he may still be wrestling!” Williams jokes. “I just like to call it my ‘last match’, because I may never, ever wrestle again, but I could have another match in a year, five years, ten years. Who knows, right? I think every wrestler I’ve seen retire come back, so I don’t want to say that.”

Williams at least offers a bizarre scenario, declaring with a chuckle, “I would break my retirement if I could wrestle Buff Bagwell with Scott Steiner as the referee.”

Dueling Canadian Destroyers? It’s more enticing than even a WWE contract to Williams now, who said regarding the company, “Even if WWE called me and said “We’d like you to move to Florida for NXT,” I wouldn’t because I have a family, I have a daughter with one on the way. I’m married, I have a mortgage. I’m set to where I am in life right now; I’m totally content with it.”

As it stands, Williams’ last match (not ‘retirement match’) was with Sabin in Clinton Township, Michigan for XICW on July 5. Williams put over the man whom he’s shared his personal and professional lives for over ten years in an emotional walk-off.

“I’ve had two people I’ve wanted to have my last match with. One of them was this guy named Gutter (Caleb Stills), a local independent wrestler in Michigan, who was actually my first match over 12 years ago. I’d talked with him about it for years, having my last match with him as well.”

“He was actually on the show that day, and I asked the promoter if he’d put me against Gutter, or Chris Sabin. He said he wanted me against Sabin, which is fitting, because Sabin’s my best friend in the professional wrestling world. We’d always travel together, trained together, and we’re both from (Scott) D’Amore’s school. It was the right way to go.”

Sabin is just one X-Division icon that Williams will miss taking to the mat with. His list of favorite opponents reads as a Who’s Who of the division’s finest.

“I loved working with Alex Shelley, of course. At the end of his TNA run, I liked working with Low Ki. At the beginning of his run, I didn’t, because he was not easy to work with. Maybe he felt uneasy, that he had to prove himself, but when we started hanging around with him, he really eased up, joked around with us, which he didn’t usually do. But after that, I was having really good matches with him and everything, and I was really sad to see him go!”

“I really liked when I had my run with Frankie Kazarian, with a really good Slammiversary match. We had a bunch of house show matches as well, including one where I was ‘married’ to him for about a week straight. I just had good chemistry with him. All of the X-Division guys pretty much. I don’t think there was any that I didn’t like working with. I liked Sonjay, Lethal, AJ Styles, Daniels, Kazarian. I never really got to work with Samoa Joe, never had a singles match with him, which is kinda weird. But yeah, I could work those guys every single day for the rest of my life.”

The world will have to deal without the authentic Canadian Destroyer, but imitations are welcome. The cover-versions conjure up the image of Petey Williams in all his glory, and that’s the fitting legacy for Williams: an understated man paid tribute with an enthralling act.

“Any time I’ve been at shows, I hear, “Petey, you’ve got the best finishing move ever,” and person after person says it to me. People might think it gets old, but it really doesn’t. I appreciate everybody saying that, and I thank everyone for all of the support.”

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50 Greatest WWE SummerSlam Matches Ever

August 05, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

So here it is! The ultimate compilation of great and historic SummerSlam WWE matches. Here are the 50 greatest matches ever from the biggest party from the WWE summer extravaganza.

50. MILLION DOLLAR CHAMPIONSHIP: TED DIBIASE VS. VIRGIL (August 26, 1991 – New York, NY)
One of the most underrated matches in WWE history, and Virgil’s greatest match ever, sees Virgil pay off years of indifferent abuse from Dibiase, knocking him out on an exposed turnbuckle, all while Rowdy Roddy Piper, Virgil’s motivator, did one hell of an acting job at the commentary table.

49. ROCKERS/TITO SANTANA VS. FABULOUS ROUGEAU BROTHERS/RICK MARTEL (August 28, 1989 – East Rutherford, NJ)
Go ahead, find the weakest worker in the match, I dare you. Just a tremendous back and forth contest with three skilled faces, and three heels who knew the formula. Just think, if Strike Force never broke up, this would have been an amazing TLC match.

48. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: DIESEL VS. RAZOR RAMON (August 29, 1994 – Chicago, IL)
Four months after dropping the title to Big Daddy Cool, Razor got a measure of revenge with Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton as his back-up. Shawn Michaels’ miscue in accidentally hitting Diesel with Sweet Chin Music set up the eventual split between the two men.

47. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: REY MYSTERIO VS. DOLPH ZIGGLER (August 23, 2009 – Los Angeles, CA)
Before this match, Ziggler was considered by many to be an overrated product of the developmental system. After a furiously paced battle that opened the 2009 show, Ziggler proved he belonged with a flawless heel effort in defeat, and more than earned his forthcoming push.

46. WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: CM PUNK VS. JBL (August 17, 2008 – Indianapolis, IN)
This one’s a bit forgotten, but it’s historical in that it was Punk’s first successful defense of a World Title on PPV. There was a sick moment in which both men landed in a fashion where JBL’s head landed on the back of Punk’s, legit knocking Punk silly, but he had enough bearing to finish the match, and win.

45. BRET HART VS. DOINK THE CLOWN/JERRY LAWLER (August 30, 1993 – Auburn Hills, MI)
It was a better angle than it was a match. Lawler faked an injury to get out of facing Hart, whose family had been tormented by Lawler for months. Bret won by DQ after Lawler, not injured, interfered. Then Lawler was forced to face Bret, where he was then mauled. Lawler won by DQ on a technicality.

44. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: JOHN CENA VS. CHRIS JERICHO (August 21, 2005 – Washington, DC)
The anti-Cena backlash was just beginning to pick up steam at this point, as Jericho proved to be the crowd favorite in the nation’s capital. Cena would win with the then-called FU, and would drive Jericho out of the company for two years one night later on Raw.

43. WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: KURT ANGLE VS. BROCK LESNAR (August 24, 2003 – Phoenix, AZ)
Sadly, this might be the worst of the Angle/Lesnar matches, due to the overbooking and involvement of Vince McMahon (wearing an uncharacteristic Hawaiian shirt), but it was still good enough for the most part. Lesnar tapped out for the first time, proving that Angle is as good as Frank Mir. *cough*

42. WORLD TAG TEAM: STEINER BROTHERS VS. HEAVENLY BODIES (August 30, 1993 – Auburn Hills, MI)
With family in the crowd, and their home state behind them en masse, the Steiners put on a variant of their classic NWA/WCW ‘technical spotfests’ with Jimmy Del Ray and Tom Pritchard, both quite game to play at the Steiners’ level. One Frankensteiner later, and the Steiners prevailed in their backyard.

41. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: CHRIS BENOIT VS. ROB VAN DAM (August 25, 2002 – Uniondale, NY)
The story was Benoit (Smackdown) was attempting to bring the belt to the blue brand, whereas RVD (Raw) was fighting to keep it on Eric Bischoff’s show. It was the usual tooth-and-nail show of aggression, and Van Dam recaptured the gold from the “Canadian Crippler”.

40. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN VS. MANKIND VS. TRIPLE H (August 22, 1999 – Minneapolis, MN)
This match was heavily hyped with then-Governor Jesse Ventura donning the referee stripes, and the media blitz was quite a coup for WWE. Mankind scored an upset by pinning an injured Austin, but Mick Foley would drop the gold to Triple H the following night to give The Game his first reign.

39. WORLD TAG TEAM/2 OUT OF 3 FALLS: DEMOLITION VS. HART FOUNDATION (August 27, 1990 – Philadelphia, PA)
I was there! Demolition scored the first fall, but their final reign ended in a DQ in the second stanza, followed by their three man hoodwinking (Ax was not supposed to be at ringside) being foiled by the Legion of Doom, allowing for The Hitman and The Anvil to double team Crush to win.

38. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: EDGE VS. JOHN CENA (August 20, 2006 – Boston, MA)
Cena got booed out of his hometown arena, and the Bostonians couldn’t have been happier to see Edge retain. It was the typical “main event style” match that the two do so well, and Edge’s brass knuckle shot sealed the victory, prompting Jim Ross to curse up a storm at ringside.

37. WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: CHRIS BENOIT VS. RANDY ORTON (August 15, 2004 – Toronto, ON)
Even Benoit’s countrymen seemed enthralled by the notion of Orton becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE history, and it happened after one of Orton’s more stellar efforts to date. Say what you will about Orton, but seeing him bawl his eyes out in victory was a nice, real moment.

36. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN VS. UNDERTAKER (August 30, 1998 – New York, NY)
As great a match as this was, it would have been even more epic had Austin not been knocked silly on a backdrop counter spot earlier in the match. As it was, it was the culmination of a summer’s worth of storylines, and had the satisfying ending of Austin beating the Dead Man cleanly.

35. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: RICK RUDE VS. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (August 28, 1989 – East Rutherford, NJ)
If not for Randy Savage, I’d say nobody got better matches out of the Warrior than Rude, who added both a musclebound-rival perspective, as well as a ragdoll for the Warrior to throw around. After Roddy Piper distacted Rude, Warrior got his gold back in convincing fashion.

34. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: THE UNDERTAKER VS. BRET HART (August 3, 1997 – East Rutherford, NJ)
Bret Hart would never be allowed to wrestle in America again if he lost, and having Shawn Michaels as the referee stacked the deck against him. However, an errant Michaels chair shot felled the Dead Man, and Hart was able to salvage his US career with a reluctant count from Michaels.

33. CHRIS JERICHO VS. DOLPH ZIGGLER (August 19, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA) WWE planted a red herring, making fans believe Jericho was losing prior to his leaving the company. Instead, Y2J won a highly-intense opening match with the Walls of Jericho. Jericho would leave the following night, when Ziggler beat him in a ‘briefcase vs. career’ match, but came back at the Rumble

32. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: LANCE STORM VS. EDGE (August 19, 2001 – San Jose, CA)
Take a technically proficient bad guy, a formula-driven, yet energetic good guy, and give them the opening match in which to set a killer pace for the show. Done and done! Edge, despite Christian’s questionable failed interference, put away his Canadian counterpart to capture the gold.

31. ELIMINATION MATCH: TEAM WWE VS. THE NEXUS (August 15, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA)
Considering the lack of experience on the opposing team, this match turned out pretty damn good. Bret Hart’s Summerslam return was also a welcome addition to the match. So what if John Cena managed to win using his Superman formula? It was still a good forty minutes, wasn’t it?

30. I QUIT MATCH: RIC FLAIR VS. MICK FOLEY (August 20, 2006 – Boston, MA)
For a feud that began over petty comments made in an autobiography, this bloodbath stole the show for a lackluster Summerslam. Melina, as Foley’s ally, was great in her role of concerned friend, and Flair drawing a submission from Foley by threatening to main her was great theater.

29. STREET FIGHT: TEST VS. SHANE MCMAHON (August 22, 1999 – Minneapolis, MN)
Test’s greatest match ever, and it may have been Shane’s as well. Test was fighting for the right to date Shane’s sister, Stephanie, and the two beat the hell out of each other in an overbooked, but fun, skirmish. Test won, but Shane stunned everyone with his diving elbow through the table.

28. DEGENERATION X VS. LEGACY (August 23, 2009 – Los Angeles, CA)
This was quite a coming out party for Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase, and they were made to hold their own against a reunited DX, who tend to dominate anyone that’s not a main eventer. Although Legacy lost, they looked pretty damn good, but it’s a shame the momentum didn’t last.

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27. KURT ANGLE VS. REY MYSTERIO (August 25, 2002 – Uniondale, NY)
It may have been under ten minutes long, but it was still an exciting way to open possibly the greatest Summerslam ever. Mysterio’s WWE PPV debut saw no wasted motion, as he and Angle found instant chemistry. Angle prevailed with the ankle lock, and the fans needed to catch their breath.

26. WWE HARDCORE/LADDER MATCH: ROB VAN DAM VS. JEFF HARDY (August 19, 2001 – San Jose, CA)
WWE fans were warming up fast to the Alliance’s resident daredevil, as he and WWE’s enigmatic freak tore down the house, setting new standards for ladder match insanity. Van Dam would retrieve the title, and his rise into an eventual babyface star was coming to fruition.

25. LION’S DEN MATCH: OWEN HART VS. KEN SHAMROCK (August 30, 1998 – New York, NY)
It was WWE’s attempt at UFC, before UFC was the rage with every tatted-up blowhard in your neighborhood. Held in the confines of the theater inside MSG, Shamrock and Hart stretched and slugged each other until Owen could prove no match for Shamrock’s anklelock.

24. WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT/TLC: JEFF HARDY VS. CM PUNK (August 23, 2009 – Los Angeles, CA)
One of Hardy’s final contributions to WWE, before his life began its free fall, was this exciting, innovative, and spotastic TLC match that closed the 2009 event. Punk won by a hair after taking his lumps, but Undertaker was there at the end to ruin the moment with a chokeslam.

23. WCW HEAVYWEIGHT: BOOKER T VS. THE ROCK (August 19, 2001 – San Jose, CA)
It’s a shame the feud was so one-sided toward The Great One, because he and Booker would rank in the top ten of all time most charismatic performers. The match was a great main event showcase, but Booker T spinarooni-ed his way right into a Rock Bottom, wounding the Alliance’s windfall.

22. DANIEL BRYAN VS. WADE BARRETT (August 14, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA)
A sleeper classic between the best technical wrestler in the world, and his former NXT alum, no wrestling slouch in his own right. Bryan and Barrett exchanged science and stiff shots for the duration of this forgotten battle, with Barrett narrowly winning.

21. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: MACHO MAN RANDY SAVAGE VS. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (August 29, 1992 – London, England)
The confusing storyline of Mr. Perfect attempting to manage whoever won did little damage to the body of the match. It lacked the intensity of their WrestleMania VII epic, but Savage and Warrior told their typical icon vs. icon story very well up until the disappointing countout finish.

20. JOHN CENA VS. BATISTA (August 17, 2008 – Indianapolis, IN)
Two of the prized prodigies of WWE’s early developmental days were engineered to tell main event stories with a larger-than-life feel. Both men have spent their careers doing just that, and the result was this great match, wherein Batista put Cena out for months with a riveting Batista Bomb.

19. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: THE ROCK VS. TRIPLE H VS. KURT ANGLE (August 27, 2000 – Raleigh, NC)
One of the more intense matches in Summerslam history saw Kurt Angle get his brains scrambled on a table Pedigree gone wrong. In the midst of the Angle-HHH-Stephanie love triangle, there was enough heat, plus The Rock’s “it factor” to give Summerslam 2000’s finale a sound ending.

18. NON TITLE MATCH: BRAIN BUSTERS VS. HART FOUNDATION (August 28, 1989 – East Rutherford, NJ)
The booking may have been suspect (Busters leaving in the fall, titles not on the line), but the match was just old school tag team wrestling from four experts on the matter. Bret Hart nearly left WWE after this show, and if he had, he’d have gone out with a tremendous opening match.

17. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. VADER (August 18, 1996 – Cleveland, OH)
There was some interesting discooperation in the middle, where Michaels legitimately chewed out Vader for messing up a spot. That flaw aside, what you get is a great “killer monster vs. hearty underdog champion” dynamic, with Michaels winning to continue his first World title reign.

16. UNDISPUTED HEAVYWEIGHT: THE ROCK VS. BROCK LESNAR (August 25, 2002 – Uniondale, NY)
Who could forget those awesome training vignettes in the weeks before the match? Those well-done videos were paid off with a heavyweight clash for the ages, where Lesnar shook off Rock’s offensive toolbox, and sent him back to Hollywood with a roaring F5 to the cheers of the crowd.

15. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: OWEN HART VS. STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN (August 3, 1997 – East Rutherford, NJ)
Up until the final two or three minutes, Hart and Austin were engaged in an absolute classic, but it was the final moments that made it legendary. Austin was temporarily paralyzed after a botched piledriver, and still found the willpower to ease Owen into a roll-up to score the win. Simply chill inducing.

14. HELL IN A CELL: THE UNDERTAKER VS. EDGE (August 17, 2008 – Indianapolis, IN)
After screwing over The Dead Man for over a year, Edge finally got his when he was locked inside “Satan’s Structure” with Undertaker himself. One of the first “violent” matches in the PG era, Undertaker won, and then vanquished Edge into a smoldering pit to settle the score.

13. 2 OUT OF 3 FALLS: CHRIS JERICHO VS. CHRIS BENOIT (August 27, 2000 – Raleigh, NC)
The match was somewhat abbreviated, perhaps due to time constraints, but leave it to the “Calgary Kids” to pack a lot of action into a short frame of space. Benoit would take the contest two falls to one after cheating in the final frame, but anyone who watched it was satisfied enough.

12. WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT/STREET FIGHT: CHRISTIAN VS. RANDY ORTON (August 14, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA)
This may well be Randy Orton’s greatest match ever; an all-out war where his demented “Viper” persona got revenge on Christian’s underhanded title win one month earlier. Both men pummeled each other with chairs and canes until an RKO on the stairs ended it.

11. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: MR. PERFECT VS. BRET HART (August 26, 1991 – New York, NY)
And with that, The Hitman was a made man. Perfect was on his way out with back injuries, and in defeat, he made his real life friend look like the world-beater Vince McMahon needed. After kicking out of the Perfect Plex, Hart would snare Perfect in the Sharpshooter and force the submission.

10. WWE UNIFICATION: CM PUNK VS. JOHN CENA (August 14, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA)
It was going to be hard to top their five star effort at Money in the Bank, but damned if they didn’t come close. Punk’s relatively clean win (with Cena’s foot on the ropes) was only undone by Alberto Del Rio’s cash-in of his Money in the Bank privilege afterward.

9. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN VS. KURT ANGLE (August 19, 2001 – San Jose, CA)
Angle kicked out of three Stunners and was suddenly no longer the goofy, milk-loving Americana nerd that Austin remembered. If not for a BS ending wherein Nick Patrick disqualified Stone Cold, his boss, and saved his title, this match might be number one. Alas.

8. NO DISQUALIFICATION: CM PUNK VS. BROCK LESNAR (August 18, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA)
Could’ve been the match of the year for 2013, if not for one entry still to come. In many ways, this clash follows the template of a Vader/Sting battle, but with weapons and WWE Main Event-style pacing. It’s maybe Brock’s best WWE match, and Punk’s last classic.

7. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL/LADDER MATCH: THE ROCK VS. TRIPLE H (August 30, 1998 – New York, NY)
By the end of the match, two main eventers were born. Rock’s People’s Elbow, done while Triple H was lying on a ladder, brought Madison Square Garden down. In the end, Hunter ended Rock’s nine month reign as IC Champ, but bigger things were ahead for both.

6. WWE HEAVYWEIGHT: JOHN CENA VS. DANIEL BRYAN (August 18, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA)
It’d take eight winding, agonizing months for the true conclusion of Bryan’s ascension, and even then, the broken neck sadly deflated it. Still, this is an incredible match, lauded as the best of 2013, and Cena laid down cleanly, without his typical out.

5. WWE INTERCONTINENTAL/LADDER MATCH: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. RAZOR RAMON (August 27, 1995 – Pittsburgh, PA)
It was a tough task to try and outdo WrestleMania X’s standard-defining match, but the Kliq running buddies were game to try. The story of this one centered around Michaels having his leg hammered, but Razor ate some Chin Music off the ladder, and Michaels wound up retaining the gold.

4. WORLD TAG TEAM/TLC: EDGE/CHRISTIAN VS. HARDY BOYZ VS. DUDLEY BOYZ (August 27, 2000 – Raleigh, NC)
Conventional wisdom had the Hardyz winning, since they were the “home team”. But there was nothing conventional about this stunt show, in which Jeff Hardy swantoned off a ladder, nearly killing him and Bubba Ray Dudley. Edge and Christian ended up retaining, and celebrated with a 37 second pose.

3. NON-SANCTIONED STREET FIGHT: SHAWN MICHAELS VS. TRIPLE H (August 25, 2002 – Uniondale, NY)
Michaels’ first match in over four years opened a lot of eyes. The eyes opened realized that, after such a layoff, Michaels was capable of outworking just about anyone with no rust evident. The Heartbreak Kid scored the win, and provided closure to his career over the next eight years.

2.WWE HEAVYWEIGHT/STEEL CAGE MATCH: BRET HART VS. OWEN HART (August 29, 1994 – Chicago, IL)The greatest sibling rivalry in wrestling history hit its apex with a bloodless, but quite exciting, steel cage challenge with the entire Hart family at ringside. After dozens of near escapes and dramatic moments, Bret left brother Owen hanging and dropped to the floor to keep his championship.

1.WWE INTERCONTINENTAL: BRET HART VS. THE BRITISH BULLDOG (August 29, 1992 – London, England)
Bulldog was the native son with 80,000 fans behind him, but he should be grateful that Bret had his back. In this babyface can-you-top-this war, Hart led Bulldog, who spent the summer drugged up and burnt out, to the best match of his life, putting his brother-in-law over before a raucous crowd.

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WWE Should Recognize Ted DiBiase As A Former WWE World Champion

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

If you’re like me, first of all, I’m so, so sorry. Secondly, it means you’re getting lots of mileage out of the recent Saturday Night’s Main Event uploads to the WWE Network. I’ve already rhapsodized at length about the greatest moments in the history of the show, and seeing them again only affirms my love for the greatest 90 minutes you could ask for in professional wrestling.

In a previous column, I didn’t include anything from SNME’s sister-spinoff The Main Event, a Friday night annual designed to steer the march toward WrestleMania. Though I stuck with the Saturday motif, the Friday special produced quite a few historical moments, namely its original incarnation.

On Friday night, February 5, 1988, WWE Champion Hulk Hogan battled Andre the Giant in a colossal WrestleMania III rematch on free television, drawing a 15.0 rating and over 33 million viewers that champed at the bit to see the much-hyped showdown. No wrestling program before or since can sniff that audience number.

If you don’t know the further significance of the match, it was the end of Hogan’s four-year (yes, year) reign as champion, via an incredibly convoluted plot twist where Ted Dibiase, employing Andre as a mercenary, had a complete stranger undergo plastic surgery to make himself look like referee Dave Hebner (in reality, it was Dave’s twin brother Earl, fresh off jumping from Jim Crockett Promotions), and this evil ‘impostor’ counted Hogan down, even though his shoulder was up.

The moment was a shock to everyone that had witnessed it; Hogan had been champion since before WWE even aired on NBC, and the superhero had been screwed over by a treacherous faction. Making matters worse to a largely still-real-to-me audience in 1988 was that Andre, adhering to the villainous plan, immediately surrendered the title to Dibiase, who had bought Andre’s contract from Bobby “The Brain” Heenan for a million dollars, solely to get the belt off of Hogan.

The stunning sight of Andre and the ‘evil’ Hebner raising a cackling Dibiase’s arms, after Virgil applied the gold around his waist, is an indelible image in WWE lore.

Soon after, the tournament for WrestleMania IV would be booked, after President Jack “On the Take” Tunney (credit Heenan for that gem) declared the Andre handoff to Dibiase invalid. As such, WWE’s own title histories and all others don’t recognize Dibiase as a champion.

Now, for the sake of indulging in the wrestling I love on something other than a hyper-critical, hard-to-please level, I’m going to let my own inner mark out, for an exercise in playful advocation. Something tells me a number of you will be agreeing with me, even if you worry about my sanity in providing an argument for a ‘fake sport’.

Indulge me, will you?

I think, for the sake of making wrestling history better than it already is, WWE should recognize Dibiase’s reign as WWE Champion.

FACT: Dibiase was officially recognized in arenas as champion. The following day, WWE ran two shows, both televised: a matinee in Boston on NESN, and a nightcap in Philadelphia on PRISM (Motto: we’re CSN without Ben Davis’ turgid hair). At both events, Dibiase teamed with Andre against Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow. In both cases, Dibiase was recognized as WWE Champion, and brought the belt with him to the ring. In fact, at the Philadelphia event, it was announced that Dibiase would defend the strap against Hogan when WWE returned to the venue on March 12.

FACT: Dibiase actually defended the belt. On February 8, three days after The Main Event, Dibiase is known to have put the championship on the line against Bigelow in Los Angeles, winning via pinfall after Virgil knocked out Bammer with the belt. While doubtful that the match was recorded by any video means, the match is on record as having happened.

SIDE-FACT: Although the Rockers’ WWE World Tag Team Title reign in October 1990 is whitewashed by the top-rope debacle, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty did indeed defend the belts at subsequent house shows against Power and Glory. But that’s a column for another day, if I feel like writing it. Michaels and Jannetty had bigger title reigns ahead, but Dibiase’s being robbed of true glory in this instance. I intend to right this wrong, damn it.

FACT: The following men are recognized World Champions under the WWE banner: The Miz, Jack Swagger, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and The Great Khali. The fact that any of these men were entrusted with a major belt is more far-fetched than Dibiase’s evil referee plastic-surgery scheme. Granted, title changes were less frequent in the 1980s as opposed to the oversaturated present day, but given the above evidence, wouldn’t further validating a consummate and important wrestler like Dibiase be worth it, especially in the face of the ones listed here? I mean, the Charlotte Bobcats couldn’t come up with a worse starting five than that.

FACT: WWE is not adverse to ret-conning history, especially in the name of a work. Just watch the 2009 Saturday Night’s Main Event DVD, where Mean Gene Okerlund tells the viewers that WWE jumped from NBC to FOX in 1992 as part of a bidding war, instead of being honest and admitting that NBC dumped WWE like John Mayer would after three or four dates. Lying to the audience is nothing new for this company; what would it hurt to call Dibiase a former World Champion?

This whole article is merely just a half-baked, silly argument anyway. Maybe it’ll spur some sort of underground movement that WWE will recognize in order to garner some good press. Maybe it’ll be flushed into the commode of history like Dibiase’s phantom reign, the Rockers’ phantom reign, and the reigns of every women’s wrestler that beat Fabulous Moolah between 1956 and 1984 (whoops, not supposed to bring that up…).

Maybe I’m just worked up because that episode of The Main Event was the best wrestling I saw this past Monday.

WWE Network: defibrilating our Mondays, and our memories.

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WWE’s Ten Best Matches Of The First Half Of 2014

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

Through questionable booking, a stock market crash, fan discontent, and the unfortunate loss of JTG, WWE has provided audiences with, if nothing else, a lot of great in-ring action. Here are my personal picks for the ten best bouts so far in 2014.

10. Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena vs. Cesaro vs. Christian vs. Sheamus (WWE Elimination Chamber, February 23)

As long as the performers cut a watchable pace in the epic-length Chamber matches, and there’s some creative mayhem taking place between the chain-link walls, it generally adds up to a great match. This was no exception, and it even came with some added drama: would Bryan avenge his exclusion from the Royal Rumble match and become WWE Champion? A spurned Twitterverse, led by a bat-wielding Mick Foley, glued their eyes to the action.

Bryan, of course, didn’t win here, succumbing to Corporate Kane (RepubliKane?) in a screwy finish. Cena also didn’t win, as a Wyatt Family teleportation cost him Orton’s gold as well. It was Bryan’s portion of the story that received the most focus, with him taking a beating (being whipped through an empty pod by Cesaro), and valiantly clawing his way back before the heart-ripping finish. That only made the WrestleMania payoff more enjoyable.

9. Charlotte vs. Natalya (NXT Takeover, May 29)

This was certainly surprising. You’d expect a good match from Natalya under required circumstances (read: a match of reasonable length where she’s not selling for the trade show model du jour). But Charlotte? She never really impressed me in NXT, and it seemed her push was based on that she was tall, blonde, and the offspring of wrestling royalty. To say this match was incredible might be the understatement of all of 2014.

In a match to determine the new NXT Women’s Champion, Charlotte held her own in what ended up a highly intense match-up, most notable for the Sharpshooter/figure-four spot with determined reversals and realistic selling. Perhaps having Ric Flair and Bret Hart at ringside was a heaven-sent dual muse? Charlotte capped off the match with the win, which many predicted, but the story in getting to that point was something no one saw coming.

8. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt (WWE Royal Rumble, January 26)

Forget the aftermath of the night, which consisted of two hours of fan anger the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 1991 Great American Bash. Contained within its frame of time, Bryan and Wyatt held their own in a match that essentially saved the Rumble from being one of the absolute worst PPVs of all time. Even with the match, the night retains its unfathomable infamy, but at least you can say, “Well, one match was awesome.”

Bryan and Wyatt’s match opened the Rumble, and was pretty oddly structured for an era bent on mechanical pacing. Bryan worked Wyatt’s legs early with a series of kicks, and the match didn’t really hit the WWE Main Event Style until well into the proceedings. That was for the better, because different can be highly enjoyable. The finish was memorable, with Wyatt catching a Bryan dive into Sister Abigail against the crowd barrier, very suitably slick.

7. Tyler Breeze vs. Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover, May 29)

Takeover’s a serious contender for the best WWE show of 2014. The women’s match makes this list, and the NXT Championship bout between Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd was a viable list candidate that just fell short. Breeze and Zayn’s number one contender match was the best of a well-executed card, hardly surprising given Zayn’s general Midas touch. However, the match served as Breeze’s coming-out party, making him one to watch.

Making anyone this generation’s Shawn Michaels is a risky proposition, equal to calling any NBA player “the next Jordan”, but WWE’s all in with making Breeze the risk-taking pretty boy incarnate of today. He was game on exchanging crazy moves with the experienced Zayn, including a weird reversal sequence that ended in an improvised powerbomb. The ending was also a creative bit of screwiness, involving a questionably-blatant low blow.

6. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn (NXT Arrival, February 27)

Nothing better than a feud over who is simply “the better man.” Strange concept to some in power, but for my simple eyes, the Zayn/Cesaro rivalry was some of the most enjoyable wrestling over the past several years. After a two-out-of-three falls match that Cesaro won in August (hailed by many as the 2013’s best match), the story was Zayn was bent on avenging the loss, and challenged Cesaro to a final battle at WWE Network’s first major special.

The cat-and-mouse nature of the match, with Zayn’s eager risk-taking and Cesaro’s defiant power response, built feverishly to Cesaro gaining the definitive upper hand, and Zayn looking the beaten man. Cesaro even begged Zayn to stop kicking out, but Zayn countered the Neutralize. That led to Cesaro brutalizing him with Swiss Death, a discus uppercut, and the punctuating Neutralizer. Afterward, Cesaro gave Zayn the gesture of respect he’d wanted.

5. Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan (WWE WrestleMania XXX, April 6)

Nostalgia always feels best when its employment seems natural. There was no shoehorning of classic Attitude Era elements into the WrestleMania main event, which saw the use of a crooked ref, even more crooked authority figures, and a teased stretcher job for Bryan that turned into a Willis Reed comeback special. Add to it the legitimate want of the audience to see Bryan prevail, and the elements were there for a tremendous ‘Mania finale.

It took a lot to get the crowd back into it after The Undertaker’s streak was startlingly ended less than an hour earlier by Brock Lesnar, but all three performers held their own, even the maligned Batista. The bomb/neckbreaker combo on Bryan through the table was memorably sick, and Bryan’s forcing of Batista to submit erupted the Superdome appropriately. If this were the Newlywed Game, WWE held up cards that had every fan answer correct in this one.

4. The Shield vs. Evolution (WWE Extreme Rules, May 4)

The Shield coming to Bryan’s rescue the night after WrestleMania kicked off a highly enjoyable run against the reformed Evolution (until Rollins was swiftly turned, apparently in response to low Memorial Day ratings if you believe the sheets). A rematch at the June 1 Payback event, under elimination and ‘no DQ’ rules, was pretty great in its own right, but the original from Extreme Rules remains the superior exhibition, with its faster pace and livelier crowd.

Rollins continued his campaign to become the modern WWE generation’s Jeff Hardy, doing so by leaping off of the upper deck at the IZOD Center onto Triple H, Randy Orton, and a sacrificial Dean Ambrose. Say what you will about Batista, but he’s been a good sport since the poorly-received comeback, putting over Roman Reigns clean as a sheet by eating the Superman punch, and the emphatic spear. WWE has issues creating stars, but got the Shield 100% correct.

3. John Cena vs. Cesaro (WWE Monday Night Raw, February 17)

If you’re given twenty minutes on free television to work with John Cena, and you’re still kicking around the midcard or upper midcard with little in the way of promising direction, chances are this is your litmus test. WWE seemed to be flirting with a true push of Cesaro in the preceding weeks, sticking him into the Elimination Chamber match, and even put him over champion Randy Orton in a non-title bout. So far so good, but the real test was at hand.

The win over Orton raised the possibility that he *could* beat Cena, instead of having it be the obvious “LOL CENA WINS” trope, and Cesaro held up his end. The most notable spot was the deadlift superplex, now a Cesaro staple, which was used on the B-shows before its unleashing on Raw. Cesaro did end up losing clean to Cena, but everyone had to be encouraged by what they saw, especially when the crowd went crazy for the Cesaro Swing attempts.

2. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (WWE Elimination Chamber, February 23)

Pretty good sign when the fans are chanting “THIS IS AWESOME” before any of the six have even made contact with one another. Then again, it raises the bar pretty high for a group of men, none of whom have been truly juiced-in main eventers yet, that are being counted on to deliver in a prime spot. It was hailed as a match-of-the-year candidate before it even ended (and indeed while it was still going), and remains in the running four months later.

The Shield weren’t particularly babyfaces in the run-up to the match, aside from not backing down in face-to-face confrontations, but the trio took to the good guys formula with the sort of timing and pacing that made it seem like they’d been faces for years. The chaotic end-run of the match, which was a star-maker for the kamikaze Rollins, puts it above most other spotfests by having logic and organization behind each stunt. The Wyatts won, but really, so did the Shield.

1. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WWE WrestleMania XXX, April 6)

After “The Game” made Brock Lesnar slow down to his pace for a trio of matches, and needed Shawn Michaels to play rodeo clown in the overrated “End of an Era” match, I went into his match with Bryan with lowered expectations. I’d figured Bryan would have to slow down to allow his 44-year-old boss with two bum legs to keep up. Lo and behold, the Fountain of Youth resides in New Orleans, as Triple H had his greatest match in probably a good decade or so.

As if he was determined to prove he could still go with the best, and maybe feeling slighted that CM Punk brushed off a match with him, Helmsley wrestled a beaut with the best technician in the company, mixing pure wrestling with the sports-entertainment transition spots you’d expect out of his matches. In the end, Triple H put Bryan over 100% cleanly, and allowed him to kick out of the Pedigree in the process. And we all though Hunter didn’t know how to elevate.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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The 25 Greatest Moments From WWE Saturday Night’s Main Event History – The Classic Years

July 07, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

With WWE adding Saturday Night’s Main Event to its Network archives this week, fans of that age are no doubt thrilled. I speak for myself as well when I think of the joys as a kid of staying up late on the weekends to catch headline wrestlers in marquee matches on free television.

Sure, Monday Night Raw’s diluted the allure of that by running through matches with name wrestlers week after week until there’s nothing special about anyone, but things were different in 1980s. The weekends were filled with jobber matches, while the top guys were held apart from each other. Pay-per-view encounters were one thing, but the five or six times you got Saturday Night’s Main Event, you were provided with 90 minutes of must-see television, with Vince McMahon’s carnie drawl, Jesse Ventura’s cartoonish gravitas, Mean Gene’s hype-filled inquisitions, and the best of the 1980s WWE roster playing it all out.

Paring down a list to just 25 awesome moments excises much of the good-natured, smile-lame bits, like the 1985 Halloween party, 1990’s Oktoberfest episode, and McMahon and Ventura riding horseback. It also excluded my favorite bit of silliness that was Mr. Fuji singing a country song to prove that he was more of a redneck than Dick Slater. Really, you have to see it.

Listed below are 25 of the moments that made the show the spectacle that is still fondly remembered today, and provides a bit of an itinerary for the younger fans to see what’s worth scoping out from the bountiful archive.

NOTE 1: This list does not include anything from The Main Event, the five Friday night specials that aired between 1988 and 1991. Otherwise, “twin referees” and Savage walloping Hogan would clog the top of the list (in a good way). This is all Saturday, all the time.

NOTE 2: By ‘classic years’, that means only the SNMEs from 1985-92. Nothing from the forgettable 2006-08  run makes it – not that anything outside of Mickie “Single White Female” James betraying Trish Stratus merits consideration.

NOTE 3: I’ve chosen to list the airdates of each show, rather than the day they were taped. Since there’s OCD-historian types out there reading this (my favorite demographic), and those folks may ask why I chose airdates, it’s strictly for the magic of the Saturday connotation. For the rest of you with little time to worry about this sort of silly thing, please disregard.

25. DEATH OF THE SUPER NINJA (November 26, 1988)

Rip Oliver looked like your typical 1980s territory heel: bleach-blonde hair, non-ironic beard, and sleepy eyes that complimented a slop-eating grin. In many ways, Oliver looked like fellow Portland fixture Matt Borne, and appearance wasn’t all they had in common. Turns out, both men’s most famous runs in WWE came as mysteriously cloaked villains.

While Borne gained notoriety as the heinous Doink the Clown, Oliver’s stake was a one-night run as The Super Ninja, a masked fiend imported by Mr Fuji to try and thwart The Ultimate Warrior, and win the Intercontinental Championship. Like most generic masked baddies of the time, Ninja was dispatched in about two minutes, quick work for a rampaging Warrior.

24. THE MOVIE COMES TO LIFE (July 29, 1989)

In the Oscar-winning masterpiece that is No Holds Barred, Hulk Hogan (er, “Rip”) finally fights the menacing Zeus after “The Human Wrecking Machine” nearly kills Hogan’s brother, played by Jacob from LOST. Sadly, Jacob wasn’t imported into the WWE-world storyline along with Zeus, but another actor of similar renown would fill his shoes: Brutus Beefcake.

During a forgotten classic of a match between “The Barber” and Randy Savage, Sensational Sherri fetched Zeus on The Macho Man’s behalf, and Zeus helped Savage beat down Beefcake. Naturally, Hogan made the save, most notably whacking Zeus with a chair, only for the eventual Dark Knight actor to no-sell it. Hogan selling bug-eyed fear is always a hoot.

23. SNAKE HANDLED (May 2, 1987)

WrestleMania III remains memorable, largely for four reasons: Hogan vs. Andre, Savage vs. Steamboat, the crowd, and Piper’s farewell before leaving for Hollywood. The Honky Tonk Man and Jake Roberts had a decent match a ways down the card, which was amazing, given that it had to follow the Savage-Steamboat all-timer. Honky won, but the feud didn’t end there.

Roberts was squaring off with Kamala, who had Mr. Fuji and the masked Kim Chee (Kamala’s “handler”) in his corner. Late in the abbreviated bout, Kim Chee struck “The Snake” behind the referee’s back, and enabled Kamala to win with his patented splash. Kim Chee revealed himself to be Honky in disguise right after, but the feud fizzled, due to a Roberts injury.

22. SID WALKS OUT (February 8, 1992)

WWE’s sound-doctoring of 1992 Royal Rumble footage has always been laughable, even when I was 8 years old. The crowd clearly cheered when Sid Justice dumped an unsuspecting Hulk Hogan, although WWE added heat-machine effects (and re-did Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan’s commentary to call Sid a cheater, for some reason) to repaint history.

Hogan and Justice were slated to face The Undertaker and new champion Ric Flair on the first FOX edition of SNME, and it resulted in a decent formula match, with Hogan being imperiled instead of his partner. There’d be no heroic comeback, as Justice walked out on an ailing Hogan, and threatened to strike an injured Brutus Beefcake, which Heenan delighted in.

21. ANDRE’S LAST GOOD MATCH (November 25, 1989)

Through rose-colored lens, the Hulk-Andre WrestleMania III epic comes closer and closer to a five star rating with each passing year. His matches since don’t get the same consideration, as an aging, creaking Andre the Giant was sad to watch, with all due respect. It’s rare to find a truly enjoyable match in his WWE homestretch, with this bout as the rare exception.

Andre clashed with Heenan Family nemesis Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental gold, and what ensued was a shockingly quick-paced eight minute match, ending with a DQ win for the Warrior. Warrior’s 2014 DVD collection includes this match, and hindsight has been much kinder to not just Warrior’s workrate in general, but especially this gem among the dust.

20. FIRST STRIKE (March 14, 1987)

The road to WrestleMania III was paved by the lure of Hulk/Andre, and this Saturday edition was recorded from Detroit five weeks before the PPV (airing just two weeks before the big money showdown). To sweeten the pot, Hogan and Andre were entered in a 20 man battle royal, all but guaranteeing that the icons would lock horns before the championship bout.

Earlier in the battle, Andre bloodied “Leaping” Lanny Poffo to the point where the eventual Genius was gurney’d out of ringside. After Hogan eliminated turncoat Paul Orndorff, Andre landed his mammoth headbutt on the champion, and astonished fearful children nationwide by easily dumping their hero over the top rope. A simple twist to fuel the big match.

19. MACHO MAN AND THE HITMAN GUT IT OUT (November 28, 1987)

Bret Hart was merely a tag team wrestler, and Honky Tonk Man-flunkie, when “The Hitman” was programmed against the penthouse-level Macho Man Randy Savage. The two were given an impressive duration of time for 1987 (12 minutes) to work a story centered on Hart attacking Macho’s leg. This would be Hart’s biggest litmus test in WWE to that point.

The match was tremendously executed, but with a caveat: both men were injured during the bout. Hart cracked his heel on a bump to the outside, and in return (though obviously not intentionally), Hart slammed Savage’s bare foot/ankle into the ringpost as the story called for, and badly hurt Savage as well. Both consummate pros carried on to a great showing.

18. HARDCORE HARLEY (March 12, 1988)

Perhaps it’s a bit inappropriate to list an eventual career-ending injury among great moments, but the spectacle deserves mention. Harley Race’s status of one of the toughest individuals in wrestling history often goes unquestioned, and is playfully referenced, often to Chuck Norris and Bill Brasky levels. Race proved said toughness against Hulk Hogan.

The story was that Hogan was beyond irate after the screwjob that cost him the WWE Title, and engaged in a frenzied brawl with Race. As the battle wore on, Hogan lay prone on a table, and Race leapt at him, but the Hulkster moved, and “The King” took the bump with his abdomen, sustaining a severe hernia. Still, Race finished the match, with none the wiser.

17. HOBBLED HOT ROD (October 4, 1986)

By 1986, Rowdy Roddy Piper had shed his image as the most reviled bad guy of WWE’s mainstream rise, and was now a revered icon, about on the level of old rival Hogan. Even with the change of alignment, it was still a weird image to see Piper make the save for Hogan, when The Hulkster was being assaulted by Paul Orndorff and “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.

Adonis was Piper’s new target, following an assault by Adonis, Cowboy Bob Orton, and Don Muraco on the set of Adonis’ “Flower Shop” talk segment, and Piper sustained a leg injury. Despite being hobbled with the injury, a now-galvanized Piper was made to not only save Hogan, but also defeat Iron Sheik in under a minute the same night, all on just one good leg.

16. NINE WILD MINUTES (March 11, 1989)

Talk about a match made in heaven. Take The Rockers, wrestling’s most spectacular aerial combo of the day, and pit them with Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the epitome of brawn, science, and ring psychology in one nifty package. Tell them to pack their best material in about nine minutes of time, and watch as they blow everyone away.

It’s possibly the greatest match from a star-rating standpoint in the show’s history, with false-finishes, relentless action, and the expected creativity (a pinfall reversal sequence that would become standard in eras future). The bout ended with a double count-out, and the feud wouldn’t be blown off until November when the Busters left, but this was its pinnacle.

15. MURDEROUS ANDRE (January 2, 1988)

When booking someone to be a giant, it’s imperative to make him look as infallible as possible. Building to the Hogan-Andre rematch on The Main Event, Andre stood ringside for fellow Bobby Heenan-heavy King Kong Bundy in a match with the champ. Hogan won with the ‘Atomic Leg’ after sustaining two Avalanches, a mere prelude to the real fun.

With “Real American” blaring, Andre stormed the ring and began assaulting Hogan, applying his vicious chokehold. The British Bulldogs, Strike Force, Jake Roberts, and Junkyard Dog attempted to rescue Hogan, all unable to free Hulk. Jim Duggan struck Andre with a 2X4, allowing the faces to pull Hogan to safety, but it made Andre look like a true killer.

14. THE DRAGON LIVES (January 3, 1987)

The fuse of the Randy Savage-Ricky Steamboat Intercontinental Title feud was lit when Savage wounded Steamboat’s larynx, via usage of the metal guardrail, as well as the ring bell. Steamboat was put out of commission, and the caustic Savage whooped it up that he’d apparently ended the career of the biggest threat to his title. Or so he thought!

During a title defense against George “The Animal” Steele, Savage was as astonished as anyone when Steamboat made an unannounced appearance, making clear his intent to exact revenge. Steamboat also prevented Savage from injuring Steele with the bell, and the confrontation set the stage for WWE’s match of the decade at WrestleMania III.

13. BEGINNING OF A SHORT-LIVED FRIENDSHIP (May 11, 1985)

And you thought Kane and The Undertaker had a complex relationship. Take away the ghoulish and macabre elements of their on-again/off-again bond, and it’s fairly similar to Hulk Hogan’s connection to “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the 1980s. After Orndorff was blamed for losing the WrestleMania main event, Hogan reached out sympathetically.

On SNME’s maiden episode, Hogan retained the WWE Championship by DQ over Bob Orton when Roddy Piper interfered. Mr. T tried for the save, but the heels beat him down as well. That left Orndorff to hit the ring, clearing it of his former friends. The sight of “Mr. Wonderful” posing with Hogan and Mr. T remains an unusual image thirty years later.

12. ACCIDENTAL CLOTHESLINE (January 27, 1990)

Days after Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, the company’s singles champions, had a time-stopping confrontation in the Royal Rumble match, the two were teamed against Mr. Perfect and The Genius. Hogan scored the pin on Genius, and that seemed to be that, but the post-match activity would set the stage for what was termed “The Ultimate Challenge”.

While the good guys celebrated before their fans, Perfect and Genius attacked them. Hogan went down, but Warrior went on a rampage, clotheslining everyone in sight, including Hogan by accident as Hulk stood back up. The miscue led to a confrontation between heroes 1A and 1B, with WrestleMania VI in Toronto tabbed as the site of their winner-take-all match.

11. REIGN-BUSTERS (July 29, 1989)

On the NBC version of the show, spanning 34 episodes, this was the only title change. Demolition had reigned as World Tag Team Champions for nearly 16 months, a record that remains unsurpassed. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the Brain Busters, were granted a shot in a two-out-of-three falls match, after a DQ win on the May 27 edition of the show.

The Demos won the first fall after Ax pinned Anderson, but they were then disqualified in the second fall for excessive double teaming (the DQ ruling didn’t nullify the title change). With fellow Heenan Family charge Andre the Giant now looming at ringside, the Busters took the third fall after Blanchard struck Smash with a chair thrown in by the Giant.

10. SAVAGE LETS HOGAN TWIST (January 7, 1989)

As the Hogan/Savage “WrestleMania Rewind” episode on WWE Network demonstrates, Savage’s subtle facial tics and manic gestures on the road to turning on Hogan were a thing of beauty. All of the hints of paranoid reaction were there, and a viewer could sense that the WWE Champion didn’t really like Hogan, or his proximity to the lovely Miss Elizabeth.

Hogan was wrestling Akeem with Elizabeth ringside, when Big Bossman intervened after a ref bump, and the Twin Towers pummeled Hulk. Mean Gene Okerlund implored Savage to save his friend, but an oddly-calm Savage insisted Hulk would be alright. When Bossman grabbed Liz, only then did Savage spring into action, saving her, and not so much The Hulkster.

9. WHO HIT FIRST? (January 3, 1987)

Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff finally settled their acrimony inside the Blue Bar Cage, with the WWE Championship contested. Standard for WWE fare, the winner would be the one who escaped the structure, as opposed to pinfall or submission. While the NWA-nostalgiaphiles would call this the sissy way of winning, here it produced a pretty creative moment.

Hogan began an ascent early in the match, but a refreshed Orndorff took to climbing the other side of the cage. It turned into a foot-race, with both men jumping off the cage wall simultaneously. One official declared Hogan the winner, while the other claimed Orndorff was the new champion. The match restarted and, yeah, Hogan ended up retaining.

8. THE ULTIMATE DUO (November 2, 1985)

One month earlier, Andre the Giant teamed with the incomprehensibly-fascinating Tony Atlas in a DQ victory over King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. The massive duo double-teamed Andre after the bell, prompting Hulk Hogan to make the save. Teddy Long wasn’t there to institute a tag team match, but the dots connected themselves, and a match was made.

Hogan and Andre are arguably (nearly inarguably) the most imposing tag team in wrestling history, and it was a treat to see two stars of their magnitude take on Bundy and Studd in a Halloween-themed edition of SNME. The match ended in another disqualification via double-teaming, but Hogan and Andre would clear the ring in standard babyface fashion.

7. THE HARDCORE TITLE IS BORN (November 25, 1989)

Hulk Hogan was in the midst of an oddly-entertaining title defense against perma-midcarder The Genius. The bout consisted of Hogan mock-prancing around the ring in a manner that would draw angry diatribes from those clean-conscience souls at Gawker today. While it seemed that another Hogan victory was in order, a swerve finish came to pass.

Mr. Perfect struck Hogan with the championship belt outside the ring, and the Genius would win via countout. Perfect then absconded with the title and was filmed destroying the center plate with a hammer, his message to Hogan to give him a shot, or else. That fractured strap would be taped together, and fashioned as the Hardcore Championship in 1998.

6. HBK GETS THE GOLD (November 14, 1992)

SNME only ran on the FOX Network twice, but it featured one very significant title change. Mirroring the push of Bret Hart as a tag wrestler-turned-singles stud, Shawn Michaels took to his preening pretty boy role with ease, fusing much of heel-Ric Flair into his own unmatched athletic style. It was Michaels’ destiny to be pushed up the card, and it wouldn’t take long.

Already slated to wrestle Hart for the WWE Title at Survivor Series, Michaels was booked against soon-to-be-axed Intercontinental Champion Davey Boy Smith. The angle was that Michaels spent the match working on the British Bulldog’s back, and got him to strike an exposed turnbuckle. Michaels countered a superplex into a crossbody to get the title.

5. DRAGON FEELS THE BITE (May 3, 1986)

The injury angle that Ricky Steamboat worked with Randy Savage wasn’t even the most devastating-looking incident involving “The Dragon” in 1986. Jake “The Snake” Roberts jumped Steamboat before their scheduled bout on the show’s near-anniversary edition, and doled out one of the more devastating blows yet seen on WWE television.

Roberts jumped Steamboat at ringside, and proceeded to plant him with a DDT onto the bare concrete floor, which purportedly cracked the skull of the Dragon legitimately. Either way, Steamboat was definitely dead weight when Roberts threw his limp carcass into the ring, and allowed a freed Damian to writhe all over him, while Bonnie Steamboat watched in horror.

4. BUNDY MAKES HIS MARK (March 1, 1986)

King Kong Bundy dispatched of lower-level opponent Steve Gatorwolf (nice name, though) in under one minute, and then declared that he wanted Hogan’s championship. Immediately after the squash, Hogan defended the title against Don Muraco, managed by Bobby Heenan instead of a purportedly-ill Mr. Fuji. Heenan, of course, was primarily Bundy’s manager.

Heenan caused the disqualification, and then Bundy ran in, unleashing an assault on Hogan that consisted of three Avalanches, and two splashes on the prone champion. To build the lure of WrestleMania II, Hogan sold injured ribs as a result of the incident, and for the first time in his two-plus year World Title reign, it seemed as though Hulk was vulnerable.

3. HEEL VS. HEEL (November 29, 1986)

Macho Man Randy Savage was the company’s most interesting villain, and his Intercontinental Title reign reflected his higher card status. Jake “The Snake” Roberts just concluded a violent feud with Ricky Steamboat, and established himself among a swelling WWE pack. The two were pitted against each other for the title, with a surprising result.

Vince McMahon declared that fans would probably cheer the flamboyant Savage over the icy Roberts, but he and Jesse Ventura expressed surprise as the Los Angeles crowd cheered loudly for Jake. The two worked to out-heel and out-cheat one another before this slice of something different ended in a double-DQ, and a face turn for Roberts was drawing close.

2. HULKA-PLEX (May 27, 1989)

And they say Hogan didn’t bump. While your favorite springboardin’, rope-clearing daredevils put it all on the line with without any regard, there’s Hogan mechanically running through his safe moveset, while making the big bucks. Not such a bad thing, is it? In fact, when Hogan *did* take a risk, I’d argue it meant that much more. Like this particular cage match stunt.

Hogan was defending his regained WWE Championship against the Big Bossman within that Blue Bar Cage, and it seemed the hefty prison guard was safely on his way to escaping. Hulk climbed the cage, dragged Bossman to the apex and then (off the top rope, not the cage itself) superplexed Bossman back into the ring in a visual that’s still impressive today.

1. THE MANIA MEETS THE MADNESS (October 3, 1987)

Macho Man Randy Savage was centimeters away from regaining his Intercontinental Title from the Honky Tonk Man when the Hart Foundaton broke up the pin for the DQ. Afterward, the trio engaged a beatdown of Savage, but Miss Elizabeth intervened as Honky went for a crowning guitar shot. Honky then threw her down, drawing shocked gasps from everyone.

Elizabeth fled to the back as Honky landed the six-stringed smash, but wrestling’s first lady returned with a somewhat perplexed Hulk Hogan. Hogan saw the three-on-one, and then hit the ring, helping clear Jimmy Hart’s clients from the fray. Savage was reluctant to express gratitude, but finally did to Hulk, kicking off the Mega Powers with the famous handshake.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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The Vaudevillains Reveal the Relationship Between WWE and Its Fans

June 26, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

The Vaudevillains; what more can be said about Aiden English and Simon Gotch’s dual moniker? If you don’t watch NXT, you’re missing something else: English parlays his operatic Broadway gimmick into a tandem with Gotch, a turn-of-the-century strongman with an exaggerated boxing stance and Snidely Whiplash-mustache.

Making their entrance to lively piano music through a black-and-white lens, configured with old-timey film quality, the Vaudevillains are an instant sensation. Already, the hip-to-the-room NXT crowd at Full Sail has taken to chanting “PUT YOUR DUKES UP” at the manic Gotch, who looks like he should be conspiring to fix matches with Ad Santel and Joe Stecher.

In 2014, a wrestling crowd that increasingly appreciates in-jokes, outlandish unreality, and full-blown absurdity takes to the Vaudevillains like Deadheads to a Jerry Garcia resurrection. Admittedly, it’s hard not to be charmed by the duo: any wrestlers who perform unrealistically with the gusto and enthusiasm that English and Gotch display are going to be appreciated.

It doesn’t seem that it was always this way. Transplant the Vaudevillains to 1991 or 1997 or 2003, and it’s a little harder imagining them getting over. Seems though appreciating blatant absurdity in wrestling is a modern notion.

In 1991 alone, future WrestleCrap inductions Repo Man, Skinner, Arachnaman, and Big Josh ambled onto the scene, with none making any real impact outside of Repo Man as a consistent mid-card act. Nowadays, Repo Man would be an ironic hero, getting cheers from the CHIKARA-loving portion of the audience for stealing possessions from other midcarders. His Coliseum Video vignette from over twenty years ago, which entailed stealing Bill Alfonso’s car, is over-the-top hilarious in hindsight, but it didn’t resonate with viewers of the time. Same with Big Josh: nobody cared in 1991, but you could picture fans, especially the NXT diehards, chanting “DAN-CING BEARS” at him today.

In other words, for as much as my WrestleCrap compadre RD Reynolds shares my merriment of the Vaudevillains, in another time, they may have been written off as ‘Crap’, just like Repo Man was.

To use another example, it’s also hard to imagine (at least for me, anyway) Jay Lethal’s “Black Machismo” character getting over in the pre-internet-saturation age, no matter how well Lethal nailed every facet of the Randy Savage character. In the Attitude Era, I would wager he’d be used as a colorful novelty act, much in the same way The Hurricane was employed in 2002-03; a few wins here and there and plenty of airtime, but no rocket push.

What changed?

For one thing, I think there’s far more backlash against the modern main event than there was in previous eras. It’s not even that John Cena and Randy Orton are a decade into their relentless run at the top, while fellow lifer Triple H is involved heavily. It’s that the storylines follow the same patterns, the characters virtually recite the same promos, regular viewers watch as the characters they follow week to week sometimes contradict themselves verbally, and all in all, nothing feels fresh. Compared to the wrestling of our more formative years, WWE feels like it’s stuck on loop more than ever.

When this happens, something totally zany and off-the-wall, like two 1920s throwbacks, becomes a major talking point. It’s an oasis on WWE’s tedious plane of existence. That’s why bored fans created the Fandango’ing craze; different without the guarantee of payoff becomes preferable to year whatever of the status quo.

Making matters worse is that the main event, and every ‘top story’ the company peddles, are magnified beyond comprehension. A three-hour Raw (a show that really has no business being three hours from a quality standpoint) barely features half the roster, if they even showcase half at all. Longer matches have a hand in it (I’d argue that no match on Raw needs to be longer than ten minutes, save for the main event), while the mid-card gasps for air like they’ve just been shipwrecked.

That’s why when 3MB comes along in 2012, there was a tinge of ironic excitement from the more immersed fans. Heath Slater, Drew McIntyre, and Jinder Mahal had been shuffling along, doing little of note, until they became the world’s lamest air-guitar band. Hey, it was *something*, right? And yeah, they lost 97% of their matches since, and the joke dragged on long enough that 3MB might be a WrestleCrap induction unto itself, but for a brief moment, it felt like three men among the creatively-unfulfilled had a purpose. Purpose is exciting.

Turning it around for a moment, I realize that my generation of fans is the one still watching with great regularity into our late 20s, clear into our 30s and even 40s, and we’ve exposed ourselves to a lot of wrestling. Like, a LOT of wrestling. Inevitably, we compare the modern product to what we remember and like best, and if it doesn’t match up, we thumb our noses at it immediately. A rose-colored past will always trump the uncertain present. It’s because met high-expectations from the past become the standard benchmark going forward.

With so many hours of wrestling on TV each week, plus YouTube, plus The WWE Network, plus a deluge of websites and social media with breaking ‘newz’ and meaningless speculation (yes, I realize I’m part of the ‘problem’), we oversaturate our own enthusiasm while WWE oversaturates its own product.

And yes, we all still watch, despite our constant claims of how bad wrestling has gotten. Gluttons, we are.

Between the company playing slow-pitch softball with their upper-card booking, and the jaded fan with a discriminating palette and too much sense of history, it’s almost no wonder that we praise the Vaudevillains instead of making quizzical eyes. That’s not to take anything away from English or Gotch; they’re playing the hell out of a silly idea to the point where you want to believe in it.

Perhaps it’s because the fans are increasingly feeling they have nothing to believe in.

At WWE events, fans still chant for a man that happily walked into the retirement sector five months ago. At indy events featuring men all-too-recently TNA talents, the crowd voices obscene remarks about their ex-employer (see: House of Hardcore’s recent tour). Events meant to be enjoyed for the product at hand become sounding boards to have a go at the executives and suits believed responsible for mutilating the show that diehard fans grew up with.

As an act of resistance, the unreality of two century-old showmen existing in 2014 becomes the accepted reality, as the receptors reject the centerpiece that’s collected dust in perpetuity, the unwanted eyesore.

Never before has the phrase ‘only in wrestling’ been so perfect in its application.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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

June 19, 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. Chris Jericho vs. Christian – Vacant Intercontinental Title, Ladder Match (Unforgiven, September 12, 2004)

Edge was forced to abdicate the gold after one of too many injuries in his career, so brother/’best friend’ Christian was called in for the match to fill the vacancy. Jericho suffered a bizarre injury of his own during the match, in which the ladder slammed into his anal orifice (hey, he makes it sound worse in his second book), but ended up winning a fairly lengthy match. In the end, Jericho was merely used to transition to gold onto a flourishing Shelton Benjamin.

24. 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.

23. 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.

22. 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.

21. 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.

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. 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.

17. 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.

16. 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.

15. 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.

14. 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.

13. 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.

12. 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.

11. 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.

10. 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.

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.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Top 25 Best WWE B-Show PPV Events In History

June 12, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

When you look past WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and even King of the Ring, what have been the best PPV events in WWE history? I pored through the last two decades of the promotion, and came up with this list of secondary-PPV excellence. All are recommended viewing on WWE Network.

25. Backlash 2009 (April 26, 2009 – Providence, RI)

After a largely-unfulfilling WrestleMania outside of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels’ timeless epic, WWE rebounded with a better show, surrounded by Chris Jericho’s battle with an ageless Ricky Steamboat, a tremendous Last Man Standing match with John Cena and Edge for the World Heavyweight belt, and Christian felling Jack Swagger to become ECW Champion. Tack Taker/Shawn onto this, make it four hours, and boom: a great WrestleMania.

24. No Mercy 1999 (October 17, 1999 – Cleveland, OH)

One of the few PPVs from 1999 that actually holds up years later, No Mercy took place two weeks after Vince Russo jumped to WCW. Perhaps his exodus was the good omen this show needed? Everyone remembers the Hardy Boyz, Edge, and Christian making literal and figurative leaps in their ladder match/coming-out party, but Triple H and Stone Cold held their own in a violent brawl of a main event for the WWE Championship.

23. Unforgiven 2006 (September 17, 2006 – Toronto, ON)

Blowing off a number of feuds in one satisfying event generally makes for a really good show, and three pressing issues were finished here: Trish Stratus retired after winning the Women’s Title from Lita to end their on-again/off-again rivalry, DX won a bloody Hell in a Cell match over The McMahons and The Big Show, and John Cena began a year-long WWE Title reign, toppling Edge in an excellent TLC match. Rare in this day, the conclusions felt definite.

22. In Your House: Beware of Dog (May 26-28, 1996 – Florence/Charleston, SC)

Stretched across two nights because of a powerful storm that knocked out satellite transmission during the PPV (Part II took place before Tuesday’s taping of Superstars), the composite event yields some forgotten classics, including Marc Mero and a still-green Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Steve Austin and Savio Vega’s brutal Caribbean Strap Match, where Austin began his ascent. It was quite rare for an In Your House to have two great matches.

21. Elimination Chamber 2014 (February 23, 2014 – Minneapolis, MN)

With the notion that Daniel Bryan probably wasn’t winning the WWE Championship here, more focus was on the WWE Network launching twelve hours later than the event itself. The final traditional “pay-per-view” boasts the anticipated Wyatt Family-Shield dream battle (before it was done in by free TV rematches) and a great Chamber match itself, which teased fans with a possible Bryan win before Randy Orton retained in the end.

20. Judgment Day 2005 (May 22, 2005 – Minneapolis, MN)

Twin Cities with another gem. SmackDown in 2005-06 produced a handful of quality PPVs when apparently Vinnie Mac focused solely on Raw (i.e. less micromanagement on the blue brand). The result: John Cena and JBL’s barbaric I Quit match for the WWE Title (surpassing their Mania match four times over), Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s throwback to simpler times, and a rare Paul London Cruiserweight title showcase, against Chavo Guerrero.

19. TLC 2012 (December 16, 2012 – Brooklyn, NY)

The brand-new Barclays Center was christened with one of WWE’s more inspired efforts in recent years. The first match everyone thinks of is the in-ring debut of The Shield, as they stole the show with a Match-of-the-Year nominee with Kane, Daniel Bryan, and Ryback under modified TLC rules. Forgotten in its shadow: Dolph Ziggler scoring his only high-profile win, and a damn good one, over John Cena, via a ladder match where AJ Lee would turn heel.

18. Money in the Bank 2013 (July 14, 2013 – Philadelphia, PA)

The ladder matches are pretty much never a bust, and were divided into two concepts for 2013: an “all-stars” match with former World Champions that was won by Randy Orton, and a “rising stars” one in the opener, taken by Damien Sandow. Both matches were great, even if the cash-ins made many fans miserable. Mark Henry’s startling heel turn on John Cena was paid off here with a quality World Title match, though the feud was abruptly cut short.

17. Fully Loaded 2000 (July 23, 2000 – Dallas, TX)

These days, the match results would lead to the armchair bookers to cry over the juiced-in main eventers going over on the new class, but there was more optimism in the Attitude Era. Triple H and Chris Jericho’s Last Man Standing match is hellacious, and Chris Benoit’s World Title battle with The Rock is a close second place. The best visual of the night goes to Rikishi, who pancaked Val Venis with a Superfly Splash off of a steel cage. Yes, really.

16. Backlash 2007 (April 29, 2007 – Atlanta, GA)

Take away the ridiculous handicap match where Vince McMahon became ECW Champion, and it’s top-to-bottom great. Both World Title matches (Undertaker and Batista’s Last Man Standing match, and John Cena retaining in a four way) are both WrestleMania quality. On the undercard, Chris Benoit’s US Title match with MVP, Hardy Boyz’ formula-tag with Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, and Melina and Mickie James’ Women’s Title match all held their own.

15. No Mercy 2002 (October 20, 2002 – Little Rock, AR)

With creative in freefall thanks to necrophilia, a stunt gay wedding, and a lack of Steve Austin and The Rock, WWE was in a bad place, though the SmackDown half of No Mercy thrived, while Raw withered. Two matches fought for the right to steal the show: a tag team tournament final between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, and Edge and Rey Mysterio, was perfection, while Undertaker and Brock Lesnar’s Hell in a Cell match artfully pinned the gruesome meter.

14. Payback 2013 (June 16, 2013 – Chicago, IL)

Something about the city of Chicago that brings out the best in WWE; they’ve had a PPV every year there since 2006, save for 2008 (though TNA had Bound For Glory there that year). CM Punk returned after a sabbatical to win match of the night honors against Chris Jericho, while The Shield’s Tag Team title defense against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton got an honorable mention. The worst match of the show, Dean Ambrose vs. Kane, was actually pretty good.

13. One Night Stand 2005 (June 12, 2005 – New York, NY)

The spirit of ECW soared with the ultimate in reunion shows, hitting on every era in the company’s truncated history. One Night Stand was an all-star spectacle which thrived, in spite of the matches being relatively shortened. Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka waged their usual war, Chris Jericho and Lance Storm didn’t miss a beat in commemorating their first ever match, and the ECW brigade turning back WWE’s ‘invasion’ was a feel-good moment.

12. No Way Out 2000 (February 27, 2000 – Hartford, CT)

Ended on a major downer with what was thought to be Mick Foley’s retirement, but at least he went out in ultraviolent style via a Hell in a Cell match for Triple H’s WWE Title. The WCW defections enhanced the undercard, with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle’s Intercontinental Title match, and a Radicalz six-man against Rikishi and Too Cool. That’s not even mentioning the usual quality tag team match pitting Edge and Christian against The Hardy Boyz.

11. No Mercy 2008 (October 5, 2008 – Portland, OR)

Not as well-regarded as many of the events on this list, but maybe that’s just because the IWC consensus had grown more cynical by this time? The main event, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels in a World Title ladder match to conclude their hate-filled war, is, as such, a ‘lost’ five star match. The World Title match between Triple H and Jeff Hardy is an awesome face-vs-face match-up, and Big Show and Undertaker have their best match together.

10. One Night Stand 2006 (June 11, 2006 – New York, NY)

Gets the slight nod over its predecessor by having a better story element, and some appropriately lengthier matches. The WWE/ECW equivalent of nWo Souled Out, there are two very good World Title matches: Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena, and Rey Mysterio vs. Sabu (which the internet would have gushed buckets for in 1995). The show-stealer: a six-person bloodbath with Edge, Mick Foley, and Lita against Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah.

9. Extreme Rules 2012 (April 29, 2012 – Chicago, IL)

Hopefully in the past two years, the IWC has forgiven the ending to John Cena and Brock Lesnar’s “is this really the PG era?” car wreck, which displayed a level of intensity and pacing rarely seen in today’s WWE. Daniel Bryan and Sheamus finally got their proper match after the 18-second punch-in-the-sack that WrestleMania was, and it was a great two out of three falls match. Plus, CM Punk got to kick Chris Jericho’s ass in front of his family. Good times.

8. Vengeance 2003 (July 27, 2003 – Denver, CO)

Next to WrestleMania XIX, it’s the only other PPV from a dismal 2003 worth going out of your way to see. Three great matches dot the card: Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero for the US Title, The World’s Greatest Tag Team vs. Rey Mysterio/Billy Kidman for the Tag Team straps, and Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Big Show’s triple threat for the WWE Title. Also notable for John Cena’s true breakthrough match in defeat to locker room measuring stick, The Undertaker.

7. Backlash 2000 (April 30, 2000 – Washington, DC)

One of the earliest examples of the PPV following WrestleMania being way better than WrestleMania itself, Backlash was almost an apology for their grandest event being more bland than grand. Putting the Radicalz in four different matches only stretched the greatness evenly, with Dean Malenko/Scotty 2 Hotty and Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho as standouts. Steve Austin’s return to help Rock win the WWE Title was one of those great markout moments.

6. Backlash 2004 (April 18, 2004 – Edmonton, AB)

Much harder to watch with Nancy and Daniel Benoit at ringside (along with now-aspiring wrestler David Benoit), Chris Benoit wins his WrestleMania rematch over Shawn Michaels and Triple H, nearly matching the quality in the process. The real story of the show was Randy Orton’s gutsy performance against Mick Foley in a hardcore war. The undercard produced some solid matches, namely Chris Jericho’s handicap win over Christian and Trish Stratus.

5. Vengeance 2005 (June 26, 2005 – Las Vegas, NV)

After Judgment Day and One Night Stand (which followed a great WrestleMania 21 and decent Backlash), Vengeance was the apex of an underrated 2005. The event began modestly enough, complete with awful Victoria/Christy Hemme ‘match’, but the last three matches bail it out big: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle II, John Cena defending the WWE Title against Chris Jericho and Christian, and Batista and Triple H’s brutal Hell in a Cell World Title bout.

4. Judgment Day 2000 (May 21, 2000 – Louisville, KY)

With WWE’s spotless roster in the year 2000, and a desire to keep trouncing WCW every whichway, shows like this came to be. Count the classics: The Rock vs. Triple H in a WWE Championship Iron Man match. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho’s submission match for the Intercontinental Title. Eddie Guerrero vs. Radical-mates Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn for the European Title. Can’t leave out Kurt Angle, Edge, and Christian as ‘The Jug Band’.

3. No Way Out 2001 (February 25, 2001 – Las Vegas, NV)

What can you say about a show that would have been the best PPV of the year in most other years, but is only nipped by the awesomeness of WrestleMania X7? Triple H and Steve Austin’s Three Stages of Hell match is an all-timer, as is Kurt Angle’s World Title loss to The Rock. Chris Jericho’s Intercontinental Title defense against Chris Benoit, X-Pac, and Eddie Guerrero understandably brightens the undercard. Even Stephanie and Trish had a great match!

2. In Your House: Canadian Stampede (July 6, 1997 – Calgary, AB)

At the height of The Hart Foundation’s mutual beef with Steve Austin and The United States, WWE put together it’s best two-hours of wrestling imaginable. The Harts’ ten-man tag with Austin’s American contingent nearly blows the roof off of the Saddledome, and there’s no lull in action. As for the rest of the card, you have Mankind vs. Triple H, Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke, and The Undertaker’s WWE Title defense vs. Vader, each of them a winner.

1. Money in the Bank 2011 (July 17, 2011 – Chicago, IL)

Barely ekes it out over Stampede, as Money in the Bank was three mostly great hours instead of two. CM Punk winning the WWE Title in one for the ages over John Cena, in front of his neighbors and friends, is an indelible memory. Christian and Randy Orton continued their engrossing World Title feud with a heated rematch. Both ladder matches are tremendous, namely the SmackDown one that Daniel Bryan took the briefcase in.

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Top 25 Greatest Heel Turns in Pro Wrestling History

June 05, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

Seth Rollins’ betrayal of his Shield teammates in favor of Evolution has drawn both shocked reactions and lukewarm reception from viewers. While it’s too early to stamp Rollins’ turn as a success or a failure, here’s a look at some of the wrestling history he’s up against, the twenty-five best shifts to the dark side ever.

25. Shawn Michaels Superkicks Hulk Hogan (July 4, 2005)

Would’ve meant more if WWE had stuck to Michaels’ heel run, but Hogan’s alleged refusal to lay down (ironic if you’re Michaels) killed the impact. Independence Day Raw ends with Hogan and Michaels passively celebrating a win, and Michaels landing Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere.

24. Terry Taylor Gradually Betrays Chris Adams (May 1987)

With UWF’s excitable Jim Ross calling each turn of the key, Taylor was conveniently absent for Hot Stuff International’s assaults on Adams, culminating with Taylor subtly allowing Adams to be pinned in a Tag Team Title defense. In a later singles match, Taylor piledrove an injured Adams on the floor, solidifying the turn.

23. Scott Steiner Lays Out Brother Rick (February 22, 1998)

It seemed as though by 1998, everyone on the planet save for Steve Lombardi had joined the nWo. That the eventual “Big Poppa Pump” did so by mauling brother Rick during a Tag Team Title defense against The Outsiders is only diluted by the notion that everyone seemed to turn in this era.

22. Sgt. Slaughter Spits on America, Sides with Iraq (August 1990)

A rather silly grab at kick-starting jingoism and Hulkamania in one swipe, Slaughter (now departed from the dying AWA) returned to WWE as a Saddam Hussein-sympathizer in the midst of the Gulf conflict, as Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bad taste, but it drew its share of heat.

21. Triple H Joins the Corporation (March 28, 1999)

Chyna’s two turns in one night was dizzying enough against the backdrop of a time-period where somebody turned every week. Still, Triple H Pedigree’ing X-Pac at WrestleMania XV was the launching pad of Paul Levesque’s rise to the highest office in WWE, via a relentless main event push for the next decade.

20. Bret Hart Condemns America (March 24, 1997)

With crowds divided between heroic Hart and anti-hero Steve Austin, ‘The Hitman’ goes on a post-WrestleMania tirade against American values, and what he felt was a decline in decency and morals. Shortly thereafter, Hart assaulted rival Shawn Michaels, solidifying a heel turn in America, while remaining a hero around the world.

19. Chris Jericho Wounds Shawn Michaels’ Eye (June 9, 2008)

After pointing out Michaels’ bouts of unfair play, and insinuating that Michaels enjoyed retiring Ric Flair at WrestleMania, Jericho attacks his long-time rival on the set of The Highlight Reel, and sends him face-first into his Jeri-Tron 6000 set piece, igniting the last WWE feud to intentionally feature blood.

18. Ted Dibiase Chooses Skandor Akbar Over Jim Duggan (May 1983)

Although more of a face turn for Duggan than anything, Dibiase gets heel-turn credit for sinking lower than the rule-breaking Rat Pack. Akbar’s “Devastation Inc” was anti-American and inherently more nefarious than anything Duggan and Dibiase had done with Matt Borne, so when Dibiase accepted Akbar’s offer, it kicked off a heated feud between sell-out Dibiase and proud patriot Duggan, foreshadowing their WWE personas.

17. Stone Cold Sells His Soul (April 1, 2001)

Would’ve ranked higher had Austin’s 2001 not been so creatively bankrupt and ill-received (to be fair, a lot of that’s on Austin for still wrestling like an outlaw ass-kicker). But the story is memorable: Austin enlists sworn enemy Vince McMahon to help him beat The Rock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X7, a match that Austin claimed he ‘had to win’.

16. Paul Bearer Betrays The Undertaker (August 18, 1996)

For nearly six years, Undertaker did not exist without Paul Bearer. Not a manager who needed a stable, Bearer happily co-existed with Undertaker as a package deal. That’s why during Undertaker’s Boiler Room Brawl with Mankind at SummerSlam, Bearer’s sudden turn, punctuated with an urn to Taker’s skull, was so shocking.

15. The Horsemen Leave Sting for Dead (February 6, 1990)

Sting found himself part of a babyface version of The Horsemen with Ric Flair and The Andersons, set to combat Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation. Sting, naive as he always was, made the mistake of challenging Flair for a World Title match, and was promptly beaten by his so-called friends. Sting injured his knee that night attempting to get revenge, but would go over on Flair for the gold at that year’s Great American Bash.

14. The Authority Excommunicates Daniel Bryan (August 18, 2013)

After cleanly going over on John Cena to become WWE Champion at SummerSlam, Bryan was faced with an eager Randy Orton, who was set to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Then referee Triple H (a babyface at this point) Pedigreed Bryan, enabling Orton (also a babyface before these actions) to score the title. Thus, The Authority was born.

13. Owen Hart Kicks Bret’s Leg (Out of His Leg) (January 22, 1994)

Simmering since Survivor Series, Owen Hart stewed in brother Bret’s shadow, claiming to have been held back out of jealousy. Cooler heads seemed to prevail, and the brothers faced the Quebecers for the Tag Team Titles at the Royal Rumble. When the Harts lost by stoppage due to Bret’s injured knee, Owen engaged in the ultimate meltdown, concluding by kicking Bret’s bad knee and leaving in a huff.

12. Austin Idol Bloodies Jerry Lawler (January 4, 1987)

Moments before Lawler was set to challenge AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel for the gold, friend Idol entered the ring and demanded that “The King” step aside. Lawler refused, and Idol busted him open. A week later, Idol and new friend Tommy Rich continued the onslaught, ending with Idol cradling Lawler’s head and passively bitch-slapping him. The payoff was a cage match in April 1987 where the loser got their head shaved, and a near-riot ensued.

11. The Rock and Shane McMahon Go Corporate (November 15, 1998)

Shane’s heel turn ranks as one of the most unexpected in the jaded internet era, as he refused to impartially count Steve Austin’s pin of Mankind in the World Title Tournament. Less than an hour later, Shane and father Vince screwed simpleton lackey Mankind in the finals in favor of their new corporate champion, The Rock.

10. Ric Flair Crosses Dusty Rhodes (September 29, 1985)

A different sort of ‘heel turn’, as Flair would hardly qualify as a babyface in this instance. As a tweener, NWA Champion Flair retained the gold over Nikita Koloff inside a cage, and Koloff’s comrades laid a beatdown afterward. Rhodes made the save on his enemy’s behalf as an act of conciliation. Rather than accept the gesture, Flair allowed Ole and Arn Anderson to jump Dusty, and the three broke his ankle inside the locked cage. If Flair’s allegiance was on the fence before the day, he ended it as the top heel once more.

9. Marty Jannetty Eats Glass (December 3, 1991)

Legendary for the unique moment of Shawn Michaels propelling Jannetty through the window of The Barber Shop, and Jannetty blading on what was generally family programming. Had Jannetty not been temporarily let go after a police altercation in early 1992, the planned blowoff at WrestleMania VIII could’ve been epic. Still, it set Michaels in motion to become one of wrestling’s greatest stars.

8. Vince McMahon Embraces the Hate (April 13, 1998)

Hard to pin down the exact moment Vince became classified as ‘heel’, but post-Montreal, McMahon started to dance around the fire with simple remarks toward Steve Austin, including his wish that Austin not become the WWE Champion. After a pair of run-ins with Austin post-WrestleMania, McMahon accepted Austin’s challenge for a match on the Raw that turned the ratings tide against WCW, and “Mr. McMahon” became one of wrestling’s greatest villains.

7. Larry Zbyszko Betrays Bruno Sammartino (January 22, 1980)

Sammartino was wrestling royalty in WWE, and protege Zbyszko couldn’t get out of his shadow. During an exhibition match between teacher and student, Sammartino gamely outwrestled his younger opponent, much to Zbyszko’s frustration. Once thrown to the floor, Zbyszko returned with a chair, and bashed it over Bruno’s head, leaving him laying in his own blood. In real life, Zbyszko had his life threatened by numerous fans in the Northeast, before paying off the feud with a cage match at Shea Stadium.

6. The Freebirds Annihilate Kerry Von Erich (December 25, 1982)

Michael Hayes was chosen to be guest enforcer for Ric Flair’s NWA World Title defense against Von Erich, held inside a steel cage in Dallas, TX; true Von Erich territory. Late in the match, Hayes laid out Flair for Von Erich’s benefit, but Kerry wouldn’t accept the cheap win. Von Erich went for the door, only for Hayes’ cohort Terry Gordy to slam the door on his head. Von Erich failed to win the gold, and the Freebirds-Von Erichs long rivalry was ignited.

5. Paul Orndorff Clotheslines Hulk Hogan (June 24, 1986)

Friends ever since Orndorff turned face in the spring of 1985, Hogan and Orndorff would team a number of times in rivalry with Roddy Piper, Bob Orton, and others. When Orndorff began to show signs of jealousy, and a missed phone call to Hulk made Orndorff look bad, the two put aside differences for a match with King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. Post-match, Orndorff clotheslined Hogan, and then piledrove him, kicking off a mega-feud for the WWE Championship.

4. Terry Funk Murders Ric Flair (May 7, 1989)

Flair was just minutes removed from regaining the NWA Title, concluding his iconic trilogy with Ricky Steamboat, when Funk (serving as a ringside judge in the event of a draw) forcibly asked for a title shot. When Flair dismissed him, albeit with some regard, as not among the next batch of contenders, Funk’s ‘apology’ for the intrusion was to wallop Flair, and piledrive him through the judge’s table at ringside. The two would war through the remainder of 1989.

3. The Mega Powers Explode (February 3, 1989)

In one of the most extensively-subtle performances in wrestling history, Savage would show slight discomfort at Hogan’s kind treatment of Miss Elizabeth, no matter how innocent. Additonally, jealousy of Hogan’s popularity factored into Savage’s deteriorating mental state. Finally, during a match with the Twin Towers, Hogan tended to the injured valet, and Savage finally lost it, exploding with a hate-filled tirade at a stunned Hulk, before nailing him with the WWE belt in front of a pained Liz.

2. Andre the Giant Confronts Hulk Hogan (January 26, 1987)

Upset at playing second fiddle to a ceremony for Hogan’s three-year championship reign, Andre walks off, only to return weeks later on Piper’s Pit with Bobby Heenan as his new manager. Andre calmly told an astonished Hogan that he had only one thing to demand: a World Title match at WrestleMania III. Hogan tried to reason with Andre, who callously ripped Hogan’s shirt and crucifix jewel off in response. The result was one of the most historic and important wrestling matches in history.

1. Hulk Hogan is “The Third Man” (July 7, 1996)

This time, it’s Hogan doing the turning. After Scott Hall and Kevin Nash invaded WCW in the spring of 1996, they promised a hostile takeover, and the addition of a third man. At Bash at the Beach, during the anticipated main event where that man would be revealed, Lex Luger was injured, leaving Sting and Randy Savage alone with The Outsiders. Hulk Hogan appeared to make the save, only to leg drop Savage, and reveal his treachery. Hogan’s post-match speech, denouncing WCW and the fans that turned on him, while announcing the formation of the New World Order, is the greatest promo of his iconic career, and that’s saying something.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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The Shield’s 10 Best Six-Man WWE Tag Team Matches

May 29, 2014 By: Category: lists, WWE | Pro Wrestling

Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns have had as impressive an 18 months in WWE as any three men, let alone most singular performers. Individually, they’ve stood above the fray as characters worth getting behind, unpoisoned by the company’s wont to bungle a good thing. As a group, they’re the company’s most prolific collective since DX’s first incarnation in 1998.

Their six-man tags have buoyed the most lacking of Raws and, even as heels, they’ve captured the crowd’s attention by simply standing out in a sea of half-baked commonality. Listed here are The Shield’s ten best matches in which all three have taken part.

10. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (April 8, 2014, Main Event)

Three disappointments were spawned from a great WrestleMania weekend, of varying emotional sting, obviously: The Undertaker’s streak ending, the death of The Ultimate Warrior (which still doesn’t feel real), and WWE Network not reaching the estimated 1,000,000 subscriber mark, falling about 330,000 purchases short of the stated goal.

With Main Event airing live on Tuesdays via the Network, WWE seemingly responded to that last bit of bad news by instituting a second rematch of the company’s two most reliable supergroups, trying to entice more subscribers. This time, The Shield actually went over in a 20-minute brawl, with Ambrose spiking Erick Rowan with Dirty Deeds.

9. The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Randy Orton (June 3, 2013, Monday Night Raw)

There are far worse ways to eat up the minutes on the overblown three hour Raws than to give The Shield twenty minutes and a few capable opponents. Orton was still a face at this stage, as he and Team Hell No were just another combination of guys that failed to beat The Shield in the past, and were partnered up here for another kick at the heavy can.

Bryan tends to shine in these matches (which should surprise no one), either in the face-in-peril trope, or getting the hot tag and kicking everyone into smithereens. Bryan was the latter here, busting up Ambrose with his arsenal. A face miscommunication between Bryan and Orton undid the faces’ efforts, but keeping the Shield strong has served WWE well.

8. The Shield vs. Damien Sandow, Ryback, Titus O’Neil, Alberto Del Rio, and Bad News Barrett (April 22, 2014, Smackdown)

Technically not a six-man tag, but the Shield were still a three-man unit here, so it’ll be counted. The story was that Evolution had begun running The Shield through eleven-on-three wringers to soften them up and break their spirit before the match at Extreme Rules. Since the Shield has perfected their unbreakable hero act, this Smackdown told a great story.

An eleven-on-three match was booked for Dumping Ground Smackdown, but The Shield mercilessly took out the likes of Jack Swagger, 3MB, Brad Maddox, and Curtis Axel beforehand, whittling down the odds. Sandow took the fall via a Reigns spear. Amazing how effective faces can be when they’re not smiling and making corny wisecracks for eight-year-olds.

7. The Shield vs. John Cena, Sheamus, and Ryback (February 17, 2013, Elimination Chamber)

Only the group’s second televised match for the company after three months of vague beck-and-calls on CM Punk’s behalf. The group had been facing combos of the aforementioned opponents and Randy Orton on the house show loop. Conventional wisdom had The Shield going down here, as Cena had a date with Rock in grand fashion at WrestleMania.

It was a bit of a shock that The Shield ended up winning, as their uber-group push wasn’t firmly established, win or no win at TLC. The match was encouraging, both for the amount of offense The Shield got, and the way in which it elevated the game of their opponents, all of whom are known for eliciting mixed reactions. More of an ‘arrival’ moment than TLC.

6. The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Kofi Kingston (May 20, 2013, Monday Night Raw)

Any combination of Bryan and the Shield is worth watching, and you can pretty much go plug-n-play with the last two slots. In this case, the opposition consisted of the three men who lost the United States and Tag Team Championships to Ambrose, Reigns, and Rollins one night earlier at Extreme Rules, and WWE just loves their mix-and-match rehashings.

Minor gripes about WWE’s molasses-speed storytelling aside, this was an excellent 25-minute match, so at least it’s a quality product eating up the three hours of infomercial time. Such was the length that Kingston and Bryan each had runs as face-in-peril. It was the larger Kane who would end up taking the fall over his considerably smaller cohorts, via a Reigns spear.

5. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (March 3, 2014, Monday Night Raw)

Only eight days removed from their unforgettable classic at Elimination Chamber (stay tuned), a rematch between the warring factions was instituted for ‘that’ Chicago Raw. Fans were threatening a protest over WWE’s recent booking, and WWE giving them an encore of their favorite match from the last PPV was a pretty good counterstrike by the office.

Though not quite up to the level of the Chamber match, it was still a high-impact bout of chaos, with an unexpected twist: Rollins would walk out on Ambrose and Reigns. This was done to cast light on the alpha-hubris that Reigns and Ambrose directed toward each other, threatening the team. The Wyatts won, but the Shield would benefit long term.

4. The Shield vs. The Undertaker, Kane, and Daniel Bryan (April 22, 2013, Monday Night Raw)

Pleasant surprise to see The Dead Man actually working a weekly TV show, let alone any PPV not called WrestleMania. In fact, it was his first televised non-WrestleMania match in two and a half years, and first Raw match in three years. The Shield at this point were undefeated, and it was explicitly said by announcers that no trio of all-stars could fell the well-oiled combo.

Well, WWE wouldn’t dust Undertaker off to have him lose on free TV, would they? They certainly did, having Ambrose pin Bryan after a missed diving headbutt, but not before giving Reigns a major moment of glory by having him spear Undertaker into oblivion. WWE’s general lack of character commitment was offset by now-four months of Shield dominance.

3. The Shield vs. Evolution (May 4, 2014, Extreme Rules)

Post-WrestleMania crowds make everything better. For several years running, the pilgrimaging fans make their voices heard on Monday Night Raw, serving as the actual pulse of viewer sensibilities, while also throwing in some irreverence (Fandango’ing, for instance). It was in New Orleans after WrestleMania XXX that fans approved of further Shield elevation.

Evolution reformed earlier in the night, after a brief but tense meeting in which Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista re-realized their collective strength. As the three set out to screw Daniel Bryan out of his newly won championship, The Shield (after finding out that Triple H put a hit on them via a blathering Kane) were the counterbalance for the company hero.

After Reigns speared Triple H, the match for Extreme Rules was inevitable, and the dynamic was perfect. Evolution rarely went down in their heyday, but the surging Shield went over cleanly on their first try, complete with a Rollins balcony dive, and Reigns putting away the maligned Batista with a Superman punch and spear, with all six stealing the show.

2. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (February 23, 2014, Elimination Chamber)

Say what you will about WWE, but their best work these days is being done with powerful trios. Between these two groups, the Evolution revitalization, and even the partnering of John Cena with the Uso Twins, the stable warfare that was enjoyable in the Attitude Era has experienced a revival. Still no cure for the Hell that spirals around 3MB, though.

After the Wyatts were set up to cost The Shield a chance to compete inside the actual Chamber (per Bray’s hellbent overtures toward Cena), this match was signed for WWE’s final traditional PPV, and the interest was immediate. The Shield vs. The Wyatts? That’s like the 1996 nWo vs. the 1988 Horsemen by modern standards, with all six men in their prime.

The fact that the fans were chanting “THIS IS AWESOME” during the prematch Mexican standoff, with a single punch yet to be thrown, proves how good the booking of the six has been. The Wyatts won after Ambrose exited on a vague miscue, which was meant to be the start of a Shield split. That was nixed when WWE realized there was much left for the group.

1. The Shield vs. Ryback, Daniel Bryan, and Kane (December 16, 2012, TLC)

The long-standing RSPW Awards provided a miniature surprise when this match was named 2012’s Match of the Year, over heavy favorites such as John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar, CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, and the clinically-overrated Undertaker vs. Triple H. That’s not to say the match was undeserving, but the fact is it was merely a replacement match at 2012’s final PPV.

Originally to be Ryback vs. CM Punk for the WWE Title, plans changed as Punk sat with a knee injury. For the group on their 29th day in WWE, Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns floored home viewers and soaked in the adulation of notoriously-loud New York fans, as they warred in a TLC rules match, with a seldom-used pinfall and submission modifier.

It speaks to the faith that WWE held in three relatively new guys (no matter what experience Ambrose and Rollins had setting up their own matches in the indies) to go for well over 20 minutes in a marquee spot, and give them an early boost with the clean win, with Reigns pinning Bryan after a double powerbomb through a table. Greatest in-ring debut ever.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Owen Hart Reflections, 15 Years Later

May 22, 2014 By: Category: WWE | Pro Wrestling

There are few people in wrestling that have become unconditional golden calves. You name a personality from the vast world of wrestling, and chances are you can think of a witticism, however overplayed, relating to that person’s Achilles heel. Paul Heyman? Con man. Tammy Sytch? Personal wreck. Hulk Hogan? Bald. Vince Russo? Terrible booker. Triple H? Doesn’t job. Goldberg? Didn’t sell. The Rock? Greedy part-timer. John Cena? Bland and corny. Although many of these knee-jerk assessments are subjective, you and a friend could easily play such a word association game well into the night.

The only joke that one can come up with for the late Owen Hart is of the morbid variety, pertaining to the man’s gruesome 1999 death. While calling Cena corny or Helmsley selfish won’t draw too much resistance, making fun of Owen, whether it’s concerning his ceiling fall or not, tends to draw a forcible response.

The only person in wrestling I know of to be on record as disliking Owen Hart is Konnan. Given that Konnan’s known to be a candid speaker without an urge to sugarcoat, it’s not terribly surprising that ‘K-Dawg’ would have an issue with Hart, even if it does date back a quarter century to Stampede Wrestling.

In death, Hart had become an unquestioned deity in the mind of wrestling fans. Probably in part to the shocking reality that the man all but died before thousands of fans in Kansas City is this status indelible; it’s certainly easier to make even a good-natured crack about a dead wrestler that died ‘off camera’.

Hart’s death actually defines him, and for many fans seems to be among the first things that comes to mind when you think of him. When I think of Big Bossman, I probably think of the cage match with Hogan, or his ridiculous act of stealing the coffin of Big Show’s father before suddenly realizing, oh yeah, he’s dead. And Bossman’s somebody I like. Dying of a heart attack in your home, of course, is different than dropping like a sandbag before a packed crowd in Kemper Arena.

Funny thing is, before Hart died, many of the same people who worked in tandem to construct the man’s legacy altar had forgotten him. Hart was buried in the midcard, working in a go-nowhere team with Jeff Jarrett when he wasn’t hamming it up as The Blue Blazer in feuds with Steve Blackman and The Godfather. Everyone was so distracted by the shock and awe of Attitude Era excess that Hart had been swept under the rug with most other WWE tradition. If you think the nostalgia masturbation is excessive now, you’d love 1999; the diametric opposite.

It no longer mattered that Hart was but five years removed from his legendary encounters with brother Bret, he himself wasting away on the arid dunes of WCW. The breakneck train of blood, swears, breasts, absurdity, and rebellion had no room for “The King of Harts”.

Chances are, had Hart landed safely that night at Over the Edge, or refused the stunt altogether, he would have faded into retirement with his loving family and remained there. When else does Hart come back, to help out buddy Jarrett in 2002 with TNA? A one shot deal with New Japan in some eight-man tag? Against Jericho for a spell in 2009 when Y2J was playing spiteful iconoclast (possibly after Hart’s inducted into the Hall of Fame)?

If Owen Hart lives, he’d be fondly remembered, but not as much as he ended up being in death.

Then again, who knows? Maybe CHIKARA brings in Hart for a weekend for its Trios tournament, and the overgrown children (I mean this solely as a compliment) that go cuckoo for yesterday would watch as he and nephews Teddy and Harry worked as Team Hart Dungeon. Maybe he and Waltman and Tatanka come together as a WWF New Generation reunion. Perhaps a re-emergence with the cult indies starts a wave of genuine, if semi-ironic, Owen Hart fanboyism, cashed in on with Barber Shop Window tees that say “TWO TIME SLAMMY AWARD WINNER” or “I JUST KICKED YOUR LEG OUT OF YOUR LEG”.

Owen Hart working in CHIKARA might mean he slips on the Blue Blazer mask as one of those loving in-jokes that everyone gets, and there’d be nothing ghoulish about it.

Thinking about these possibilities, you realize just how much the wrestling business has changed in the 15 years since Hart’s death. Hart would go from still-young afterthought to probably-revered elder spokesman at age 49 today. Through the Legend’s Deal, we’d get the Owen Hart DVD, one that scorned wife Martha wouldn’t have the power to put a legal kibosh on. Don’t forget the appearances at the Old School Raws, either. You just know he’d pass off one of his Slammys to Natalya for her to brain an opponent with.

For as much as Owen clenched his teeth through “The Ho Train” and Satanic Undertaker rituals and mindless hardcore matches and crotch chops, he’d fit in today with the PG product, as much as we may abhor it at points. If Hart were alive, shame the era wouldn’t have kicked in until after he would most certainly have retired to ‘civilian life’. That’s a medium Hart could’ve certainly made art in.

The bevy of what-if’s take a backseat to the reality that Owen Hart was the subject of wrestling’s most unforgettable death, next to that of fellow Dungeon grad Chris Benoit. Difference is, it’s far easier to slap the angel’s wings on Hart, and the circumstances of death didn’t detract from the man’s life any.

I’ll never forget Jim Ross’ chilling words, plainly spoken, with a bewilderment that underscored his own disbelief in saying them. That to me is the biggest part of why Hart’s image and legacy are coated with teflon: it’s the first time we as wrestling viewers had the curtain pulled back so sharply, and were shown something too real for our viewing eyes.

That solace we can all take in the loss of Owen Hart is that his absence has made everyone realize just how incredible a man and performer he truly was.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Daniel Bryan is Mick Foley Fighting an At-Home WCW

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

To term Daniel Bryan’s reign as undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion ‘disappointing’ is to do a disservice to other disappointments in world history. Though we’re barely five weeks into the reign, it’s made Al Capone’s vault look Fort Knox.

The fans have been wanting to sink their teeth in Bryan as champion. It doesn’t matter that he’s shorter than most NFL running backs, or has a bandier frame than the bloated-bicep bores that populate WWE. When Bryan’s been placed in tense situations, the crowd has backed him accordingly. From the turn on Bray Wyatt in January, to the Occupy RAW showing, to pulling himself from the stretcher at WrestleMania to make the comeback and capture the title, he’s had the backing of the crowd in spades.

Perhaps that’s why Mick Foley was so moved to criticize his long-time employer for excluding Bryan from this year’s Royal Rumble: he too was Daniel Bryan once. Reportedly, Vince McMahon wasn’t too keen on hiring Foley in 1996, but Jim Ross sold the jefe on what Mick brought to the table. Eventually, Foley was a beloved WWE cornerstone, but no thanks to his non-standard make-up.

Like Bryan, what Foley lacks in superhuman physique is made up for with a palpable connection to the ticket-buying customer. Like Bryan, few believed Foley would ever break the ceiling and become a true main eventer, complete with championship gold, instead living as supporting characters to the primary heroes and villains.

Foley got his due at the end of 1998 with a fondly-remembered title win on a taped Raw, while Bryan, after many false starts, was allowed to shower under a hail of confetti at WrestleMania. There was a sense of achievement for not just for the victors in this play, but the supporters, who were justified in backing the underdog.

Then the parallels fork in opposite directions: because of the frenetic pacing of Foley’s era, the Attitude Era, Mick was involved in something interesting every week for the ensuing few months, through WrestleMania. Bryan, meanwhile, is in a secondary feud with Kane (in spite of what going on last at Extreme Rules indicates to you), where he and his reality-show wife run away from the same Kane that was abused by The Shield to no end (well, Kane DID find his monster mojo again, perhaps under a sofa cushion…).

What makes Bryan special, his fierce attitude in dire situations, contrasted with his genuine humility, are nowhere to be found as he gets bounced around on Raw like Janosz Poha ragdolled by Vigo the Carpathian. The deliberate pacing of today’s Raw, so as to stretch stories out thinner than angel-hair, only bores the fans that want to see Bryan kicking ass with the spitfire heart that they’d seen before WrestleMania. Foley stepped in to criticize this treatment of Bryan as well, warning WWE that such uninspired mythmaking is what killed of Zack Ryder in 2012, as if the company cares about Ryder in any way.

Now it’s revealed that Bryan is in need of rather light neck surgery, which would likely sideline him until early July. For WWE’s part, they’re reportedly leaning toward keeping the gold on him (a la Punk with his knee injury in late 2012), but what good does it really do? Bryan’s going into the operating room a cold champion, second-rated by a tremendous Shield-Evolution turf war, and whatever the hell that thing is that John Cena and Bray Wyatt are doing.

Anything that’s hot is generally rendered sterile by Holding Pattern Theater, the biggest affront to the Attitude Era’s fun, fast-paced nature. A three-hour Raw where nothing happens, where Dolph Ziggler wrestles Fandango for some reason, where Natalya wrestles Nikki Bella over confusing artwork, will kill off any momentum that a hot act like Bryan has. Remember how fast the 2011 Summer of Punk burned out? And that was a two-hour uninspired mess, as opposed to three.

When you’re sick of Bray Wyatt simply because he’s been cutting the same promos for ten straight weeks on John Cena, and the storyline is about as linear as a DUI checkpoint walk, you see a company that’s forgotten how to continue a good thing. You can tell me how they did the right thing by putting the belt on Bryan, and I’ll remind that it wasn’t even the original plan; we had to scream everything short of “ATTICA” for it. The lack of a true follow-up to Bryan’s win seems to make my point.

The lack of story momentum, the weak characters, and the valuing of tenuous footholds of style over havens of substance remind me of 1998 WCW, without the presence of another major wrestling promotion to shove back. WCW in 1998 had Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page vs. Raven, Chris Jericho being a lovable jerkass, and The Wolfpack as ‘nWo fUn’. Beyond that, the company was such a forgone plane crash that CNN would devote a month of coverage to its whereabouts.

How’s this different from WWE? Today, there’s Shield vs. Evolution, Daniel Bryan when used to his fullest, the Paul Heyman association with Cesaro, and Bray Wyatt when he’s not spinning his creative wheels. Even their greatest hits sometimes come with asterisks. Everything else is hollow, fleeting, not to be relevant in a week, or not to be desired for an encore.

To that end, WWE today is a melding of WCW and WWE in 1998, with Daniel Bryan playing Mick Foley in a minefield of mire. His winning of the WWE Title draws the “yeah, that’ll put butts in the seats”, but not from Tony Schiavone. Watching the shows, it almost feels like one of his own corporate officers is dismissively uttering it.

I really feel if WWE was as strong as its boasts claim, Hacksaw Jim Duggan wouldn’t be out there, all but peddling WWE Network like fishnet gams. Then again, it’s just plain that Vince and the ilk spend more time in marketing than in creative these days.

If they recreate the Fingerpoke, it won’t be creative, but hey, maybe they can market it better.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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