365 Wrestling, Day 40: Ricky Steamboat & Don Kernodle vs. Ivan & Nikita Koloff (NWA JCP, 2/9/85)

365 Wrestling, Day 40: Ricky Steamboat & Don Kernodle vs. Ivan & Nikita Koloff (NWA JCP, 2/9/85)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Look at just about any era of pro wrestling in North America, and you can find someone portraying the role of an evil foreigner.

The foreign heel is one of those tried-and-true tropes of wrestling, for better or worse. Evil German and Japanese wrestlers were commonplace in various territories after World War II. Then, during the Cold War, Russian bad guys were the du jour choice. Iron Sheik emerged as an America-hating Iranian in the 1980s; he also stands out as one of the few foreign heels who truly was from the place he portrayed, though he ironically spent time before wrestling as a bodyguard for the Shah of Iran, fighting against the type of extremist he portrayed in the squared circle. Sometimes, promotions in other countries would flip the script by bringing in evil Americans; Sam Adonis, the brother of WWE broadcaster Corey Graves, found great success as a heel in CMLL working an over-the-top, pro-Trump American gimmick.

Two of wrestling’s most famous foreign antagonists were Ivan and Nikita Koloff. Ivan carried the “Russian Bear” gimmick for more than 20 years. He’s also famously the man who ended Bruno Sammartino’s 10-year run as WWWF Champion, then went on to extended success in the National Wrestling Alliance. He was a fixture for years on wrestling on TBS, first for Georgia Championship Wrestling, then for Jim Crockett Promotions when Crockett took over the time slot after absorbing Ole Anderson‘s promotion.

In this entry of 365 Wrestling, the Koloffs face Ricky Steamboat and Don Kernodle from the February 9, 1985, episode of WorldWide Wrestling.

You can watch this match on YouTube:

The Match

In 1984, Ivan brought in his “nephew” Nikita to Crockett’s realm and they became top villains in the promotion. At the time of this match, they’re the tag champions for the second time. Kernodle played a role in that first tag reign ending. After returning to JCP in 1984, Kernodle became a “turncoat” and allied with the Russians, until they blamed him for losing the belts and “injured” Kernodle. Kernodle wrestles this match wearing a neck brace, a visual symbol of the damage wrought.

The pairing of opponents to the Koloffs is interesting. Kernodle and Steamboat were on opposite sides of The Final Conflict, the cage match for the Mid-Atlantic tag titles that is considered the genesis for Crockett deciding to hold the first Starrcade. David Crockett and Tony Schiavone don’t mention that history, unfortunately.

The ensuing match isn’t some astonishing display of athleticism. Any play-by-play is pointless, as the sum here is much greater than any individual part. An incredibly rabid audience elevates every aspect of the match, from the Koloffs working the crowd and heavily selling Steamboat and Kernodle’s early offense, to the extended segment of the match where Kernodle is isolated and the Russians focus upon his neck injury, to the frenzied finish. Nikita is incredibly green here — only about eight months into his career — but the three veterans in the match shroud his inexperience and keep this match rolling. It goes about 15 minutes from bell to bell, but time flies.

If you enjoy studying wrestling, or you’re a wrestler yourself, observe the way they tease Kernodle making the tag to Steamboat and then find different ways each time to block Kernodle from making the exchange. Eventually Steamboat loses his patience and comes charging into the ring, sparking a melee that leads to Kernodle getting some revenge on Ivan, and the pin. There’s no tag, and thankfully no one on commentary complaining about who is legal; the action and the broadcasting are on a more visceral level here.

This is billed as a Flag Match, which apparently just means the winning team gets to wave their nation’s flag after getting the fall. Steamboat and Kernodle get to do so for only a few seconds before the third Russian, Krusher Khruschev, storms the ring. Another brawl ensues, but Steamboat wields the Russian flagpole to send the Soviets scattering and the good guys are left standing tall.

Final Rating: 6.8

This is a great example of a throwback 1980s match, and what older wrestlers today grouse about when they say it was easier to work in front of crowds “back in the day.” Steamboat, Kernodle and the Koloffs wrestle a rather simple match but do it so well that the crowd eats up every second of it and remains fully engaged. Getting to chant “U-S-A” at the top of their lungs didn’t hurt.

While many “evil foreigner” characters tend to age poorly and come off as a display of ugly nationalism today, the Koloffs hold up. That’s because they are imposing and convincing heels who use more than just anti-American schtick to build their heat.

Up Next

We examine one of the wildest high-flying matches you’ll find, and one you probably have not seen.

Follow In Moorehouse Wrestling on social media on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Imperial Pro April 22 Preview

Imperial Pro April 22 Preview

Every spring, approximately 1.5 million Peeps get eaten.

Tomorrow night, in Bristol, it’s payback time. At least, that’s the inspiration for the show name for the next Imperial Pro Wrestling event, “Attack of the Peeps”. It happens Saturday, April 23, as Imperial Pro returns to its “home” venue, the community center of Realife Church, located at 1317 Weaver Pike in Bristol, TN.

Front row tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets remain available for $12 apiece. Kids 12 and under get in free.

Here is the current announced lineup:

Axton Ray defends the Imperial Championship against Hunter Drake. Axton is a local favorite who just returned from his first tour of the United Kingdom.

Kenzie Paige Henry defends the Imperial Women’s Title against Alice Crowley. Kenzie recently announced she had signed a contract with the National Wrestling Alliance.

Greg Rocker defends the Hickory Tree Hardcore Title against CJ Knight, Big Al and Toby Farley.

Jason Kincaid vs. AJ Cazana

Judi-Rae Hendrix vs. Michelle Green

The Golden Egg Battle Royal

Follow Imperial Pro on your social media platform of choice: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

New Japan Pro Wrestling has produced, over the course of its history, some of the best wrestling on the planet. And the Best of Super Juniors is probably my favorite of their annual tournaments: first because I enjoy that style of wrestling, and second because it gives the junior heavyweights — who usually are second banana in the promotion — a chance to shine.

The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title is the top prize for the New Japan juniors. At the time of this writing, there have been 41 wrestlers to hold the title for 91 combined reigns. Past champions include Jushin Liger, Finn Balor, Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega, Owen Hart and more … but it all started with today’s match selection, a bout between The Cobra and Shiro Koshinaka on February 6, 1986, to crown the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.

You can watch this match on New Japan World.

The Match

Koshinaka got started in All Japan, NJPW’s top competitor, and jumped over in 1985. The Cobra is George Takano, who is working here under a mask and billed from Uganda. The match is the culmination of a round-robin league tournament to crown the first IWGP champion. Other participants in the round-robin included the original Black Tiger, Mark Rocco, and Keiichi Yamada (a young, unmasked Liger).

After a month of round-robin league wrestling to get to this point, and a loss to Koshinaka during the block, the Cobra isn’t wasting any time. He takes the fight right to Koshinaka and, mere seconds in, hits a fantastic standing dropkick. I’ve watched, well, more wrestling that I probably would care to think about and this is one of the best dropkicks I’ve seen. It also elicits one of the great “OHHHH!” reactions known to Japanese crowds.

There are a few lulls, mostly to sell holds, but otherwise this match keeps the pedal pressed into the proverbial floor. The finishing stretch would hold up against any modern Japanese juniors match, with both men trading some very close near falls to the delight of the Sumo Hall crowd.

As is often the case, the small moments stand out and really tie together this match. The Cobra is aggressive in going for pins. After weathering the initial storm by Cobra, Koshinaka shows some grit with a running cross body, but note now he jams a forearm into the face of the Cobra on the impact and the landing. Later, Koshinaka lies prone with a twitching leg after taking a tombstone. That and a running legdrop still aren’t enough to put away Koshinaka, and the crowd starts chanting for him as he counters a top-rope splash and hoists the Cobra in a bridging German for the historic victory.

Final Rating: 6.3

This is a good match with a couple of off moments, such as The Cobra coming up short on a cartwheel into a dive to the floor. There’s probably nothing here you haven’t seen before, but it’s a well-worked match and a historic one to boot.

Up Next

A very good example of the youth vs. experience story, told inside the squared circle.

Follow us on social media: FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Leakee vs. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (FCW, 2/5/12)

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Leakee vs. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (FCW, 2/5/12)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

It’s a fair criticism that WWE struggles to make new stars but when The Shield formed, it was the launching pad for three future headliners.

Together, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns made a greater impact as a unit than any WWE faction or group since D-Generation X. Each also went on to stardom individually. Rollins and Reigns remain fixtures at the top of the card for WWE, and Reigns finally has blossomed into the company’s unquestioned top draw. Ambrose, who you also may know as Jon Moxley, has played a prominent role throughout the short and growing history of All Elite Wrestling.

After the Shield dissolved the first time, an eventual match between the three of them seemed inevitable. I thought it would happen at a flagship event like WrestleMania or SummerSlam. Instead, they met in a triple threat at Battleground in 2016 — right after WWE went to a brand split — for the WWE Title.

However… before they became The Shield, these three crossed paths one other time, when they were in the WWE developmental system.

You can find this match on YouTube.

The Match

Before NXT went from a quasi-reality competition to WWE’s developmental-territory-turned-third brand-turned-developmental-territory, WWE used Florida Championship Wrestling to prepare its rising talent. All three members of the Shield were part of the FCW roster, and meet here in a triple threat match to determine the next challenger to Florida Heavyweight Champion Leo Kruger (you may know him better as Adam Rose).

Reigns is going by Leakee (pronounced lay-ah-key) here. It sounds good but it reads like “leaky”, which is why I am guessing the name did not stick. Reigns gets enough guff on social media as is, imagine how bad it would be if his name looked like “leaky.” And people thought Bron Breakker got a bad hand from the WWE name generator.

But I digress…

Rollins and Ambrose were veterans of the independent scene before coming to WWE, while Leakee is about 18 months into his wrestling career. Leakee is much leaner than the Reigns we know now, not to mention greener. He also shows some athleticism that isn’t part of the usual Reigns game. Early in the match, he kips up out of a Rollins headscissors. Later, he busts out a leapfrog. And his finisher is Checkmate — a spinning bulldog where he leaps and then changes direction in midair.

Ambrose is the engine that keeps the match moving. He spends some time jawing at William Regal on commentary and Regal talks about their past history — they wrestled once in FCW about three months before this match aired — and how the two are bound for another violent collision. Regal’s verbiage and delivery here is tremendous and made me want to see more of their feud in FCW — likely as part of this project. Ambrose starts the assault on Leakee, then double-crosses Rollins to queue the finishing stretch. Ambrose also advances the story with Regal, borrowing the Regal Stretch and the knee trembler from the Englishman.

Rollins is doing the same schtick he later does in NXT, with the floor-punching, moshing entrance. He’s the forgotten third man in this match at times but everything he does is smooth and looks good. He delivers a particularly on-point springboard knee during the finishing stretch.

Most of what happens here is standard WWE multi-man match fare that you’ve likely seen a hundred times before, but the finish stands out. Leakee blocks Ambrose’s finisher and hoists both his future stablemates for a double Samoan drop. It’s an impressive show of strength and succeeds in the ultimate goal to elevate him as a title contender.

Final Rating: 5.4

This is a fun way to spend about 10 minutes and an interesting snapshot into the past history of three of the most significant wrestlers of this generation.

Up Next

A historic match from New Japan.

Follow In Moorehouse Wrestling on social media: FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Low Ki vs. Amazing Red (HOG, 2/3/18)

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Low Ki vs. Amazing Red (HOG, 2/3/18)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

There’s no denying that Ring Of Honor has been a major influence on the modern wrestling world. Some of the biggest current names today previously wrestled for ROH. And the in-ring style of the promotion, which set it apart from other American companies for several years, now can be found, well, just about anywhere.

Back in the early days of ROH, when the promotion was running monthly events in an oddly-lit rec center in Philadelphia, one of the most famous matches from that first year of existence pit Low Ki against Amazing Red. These two faced off as part of the tournament to crown the first ROH World Champion and combined for a famous, often-imitated opening minute.

Nearly 16 years later, they met again, in this match for House of Glory from February 3, 2018.

You can watch this match on YouTube, and I’ve also embedded it below:

The Match

Amazing Red is one of those guys who was setting new standards in the ring during the 2000s but, due to injuries, was not able to reach the heights of stardom of some of his peers. Red was a fixture for both ROH and TNA during its early years. In the latter, Red pioneered the X-Division style against opponents like Low Ki, AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn. No matter the match, his aerial antics were a constant source of unabashed delight from commentator Don West:

Here, Red is the top champion for House Of Glory, a promotion in New York City that grew out of a wrestling school Red founded with the same name. Anthony Gagnone, who Red beat for the title, is trying everything he can to bring down the popular champion, including bringing back someone from Red’s past… Low Ki, who had never lost a singles match to Red.

Low Ki is in his Hitman-inspired “Agent 47” attire, which makes sense since he’s the hired mercenary here on Gagnone’s behalf. He starts out as a havoc-wreaking heel, punching a chair into the face of the referee — and said official sells it so strongly he lies motionless for the remainder of the match, to the point Red and Low Ki literally have to work around his prone form.

The match takes a turn when Low Ki and Red fight through the crowd up onto the stage. As much as I loathe people using the term “sequence” to describe pro wrestling, that’s the best way to explain what happens next. The history of these two plays heavily into the booking of the match, and what ensues is dedicated to trying to re-create the special opening to that 2002 ROH meeting. “Trying” is the key word in the previous sentence. The opening minute of the 2002 match is incredibly choreographed like a Hollywood stunt fight, but it stands out because it was so unlike anything else happening at the time — evidenced by the amazing reaction by the Murphy Rec crowd. This is a pale imitation in better video quality, relying on extra bells and whistles like weapons (a chair for Red and a wooden pole Low Ki snaps in two and wields like fighting sticks.)

Next Low Ki takes control in a stretch that felt long and meanders, both psychologically and directionally as these two circumnavigate the ringside area. The commentary doesn’t match the action, either, as they discuss Low Ki’s drive to cripple Red or end his career while his offense consists of chops.

The home stretch is the highlight, cued when Red delivers a beautiful spinning DDT. Low Ki offers a nifty counter when Red attempts a catapult, landing on the middle rope and springing off with a double stomp. Red and Low Ki tease the same finish that ended their 2002 ROH match, but Red counters with Infrared to finish it.

Final Rating: 4.9

Red and Low Ki fail to recapture the magic of their 2002 meeting. The portion of the match on the stage feels forced and comes off overly cutesy. At one point, when Low Ki is stalking and chopping Red on the floor, I found myself checking how much time remained in the match — never a good sign.

You might enjoy this if you’re a huge fan of Amazing Red or Low Ki, or both, but this was not for me.

Up Next

We examine a chapter from one of the classic rivalries from ECW.

Follow us on social media: FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, January Recap

365 Wrestling, January Recap

It seemed simple enough on paper: watch 365 matches in 365 days, one from each day of the year.

The first month of entries is in the books, and rather than provide you with a written recap, I’m taking a different approach.

I’m partnering with my friend Tom Batista, host and creator of the Military Industrial Suplex Podcast for a special series of podcast episodes. Each episode will recap one month of entries here at 365 Wrestling.

Our January recap episode includes:

  • A quick introduction of the project, and the reasons behind it
  • A countdown of the top five matches of the month
  • An interview with Thomas Simpson, OMEGA co-promoter, talking about our Day 29 entry, the Hardys vs. Serial Thrillaz tag team match

Listen to the full episode.

The Military Industrial Suplex Podcast is proud to be part of the PWOM Podcast Network. Find PWOM on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform.

Follow In Moorehouse Wrestling on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 32: Aja Kong vs. Bull Nakano (AJW, 2/1/92)

365 Wrestling, Day 32: Aja Kong vs. Bull Nakano (AJW, 2/1/92)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

As a writer, I tend to focus on the stories of pro wrestling. These stories might be long-term, such as the booking of a feud or build to a major event; the layout of an individual card; or the psychology behind a single match. One recent entry told the story of man vs. monster and we kick off February with a take on monster vs. monster, as Aja Kong faces Bull Nakano for AJW in this match from Feb. 1, 1992.

The Match

For decades, All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling was the top joshi promotion in Japan and, with a 37-year existence, certainly the longest running. Bull and Aja stand out as two of the top stars in the promotion’s history, and both trained in the AJW dojo. By the time of this match, the feud between Kong and Nakano is approaching its second anniversary. For the bulk of their rivalry, Kong has been chasing Nakano, who’s holding the WWWA World Single Championship — the top title in AJW.

Both women bring an imposing physical presence to the ring, so seeing them collide is a spectacle, even though this is one of their shorter one-on-one meetings. It’s also more of a storytelling device than a match and very little of the action takes place in the ring. I’ve written before about grudge matches that have a sense of urgency and feel like fights, and that’s the case here. Kong rampages to the ring throwing chairs but, the second she hears Bull’s music start, Aja high-tails it back through the crowd and drags Bull back through the entrance door.

Brawls through the building have been pretty common in what little joshi I have seen, but this one has a different feel and intensity. It’s also a unique matchup between two wrestlers who are used to overpowering their opponents, but seem almost equal in size and power. Fans, dojo students and ring crew orbit around the duo, who are more content to annihilate one another than even try to have a wrestling match.

The action reaches the ring, Bull is bleeding and both are waylaying one another with weapons in full view of the referee. The official is powerless to stop them and gets blasted himself every time he tries to intercede. Each wrestler whiffs on a move off the top: Bull with her somersault leg drop and Aja with a diving headbutt. Finally the referee has had enough and all the peripheral staff and wrestlers swarm the ring, trying and failing to separate them. The brawl spills onto the floor and continues until Bull makes a retreat. After Aja Kong cuts a brief promo, there’s a great wide shot to show the effects of the havoc wreaked in the building. Two of the four sections of ringside seating are wrecked completely and Aja stomps across the fallen chairs before heading for the exit in the final seconds of the video.

This is why we can’t have nice things, Aja!

The careers of these two juggernauts veered in different directions. Nakano retired before the age of 30 due to accumulating injuries and entered the world of pro golf, qualifying for the LPGA. Kong, meanwhile, is still wrestling. You might have seen her make appearances for several American promotions in recent years, including AEW, SHIMMER and CHIKARA. Kong also founded the ARSION promotion, which was featured in a previous entry.

Final Rating: 6.0

This is not much of a match but it’s a fun brawl to watch and the presence of both wrestlers is captivating. The goal here is to tease a bigger confrontation between these two down the road, and they succeed… and that match will be the subject of a future entry in this project.

Up Next

Two of the top tag teams of the 1980s meet for the first, and only, time in a legitimate dream match.

Follow us on our social media: FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 30: El Generico vs. Jushin Liger (PWG, 1/30/10)

365 Wrestling, Day 30: El Generico vs. Jushin Liger (PWG, 1/30/10)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

When it comes to sheer longevity and maintaining quality over an extended period of time, is there any wrestler who can match the legacy of Jushin Liger?

Liger spent more than three decades in the character he adapted from anime. He’s one of the most influential ever in terms of popularizing the cruiserweight style that you can now see throughout wrestling in all promotions, at all levels, in all weight classes. Even as his retirement approached, he was still going out and having good matches. In fact, just a few months removed from his final matches at the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 15, Liger had a fantastic match with Minoru Suzki at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s King of Pro Wrestling event in October of 2020.

While other long-tenured wrestlers stand out through their ability to reinvent themselves, it’s the durability and consistency that jump off for the page for Liger. His track record also led to this amazing statistic and graphic that was posted on Twitter back in 2018:

Simply stunning. Liger’s longevity is a major reason why I consider him one of the top 10 pro wrestlers, ever. In this installment of the 365 Wrestling project, Liger is in action against another beloved masked wrestler, El Generico. This match went down in 2010 as part of PWG’s Kurt Russellmania event in California.

You can check out this match, along with pretty much the entire archive of PWG and a bunch of other content, on the Highspots Wrestling Network.

The Match

Even here, 10 years before his retirement, Liger is more of a novelty act than a title contender. At the time of this match, it’s been 10 years since his 11th and final run as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion — an astonishing statistic. Meanwhile, Generico, who you also might know as Sami Zayn, is on the rise.

If you’ve ever been to an independent show with a big name on the lineup, you know you’re going to see said name “play the hits” and deliver their signature moves. That’s the way this match starts. Liger runs Generico through some of his better-known mat work and submission holds, like the Mexican surfboard. The crowd is engaged, everyone seems happy and nobody’s having to do anything particularly dangerous or crazy.

But that doesn’t last long!.This match hits a different gear when Generico clocks Liger with a leg lariat, leading the legend to roll out to the floor. Generico quickly springs to the top rope and off with a picture-perfect moonsault (some call it a Spaceman Moonsault, a name I dig) to the floor. Seeing Generico here, and how much he was universally beloved by audiences in the gimmick, it’s amazing to reflect on his transformation into the smarmy, scuzzy, conspiracy-theory-spouting heel that Zayn has become on WWE programming.

After that big dive, both guys are still “playing the hits” but the tempo sure has quickened. Generico busts out a Blue Thunder Bomb and multiple iterations of his running big boot in the corner. In another impressive feat of aerial derring-do, he goes coast to coast on a somersault legdrop across the back of Liger, who’s hung up on the top rope in the adjacent corner.

Liger brings it during the finishing stretch as well: a brainbuster, a release German suplex, a shotei and a Liger Bomb are all on the menu, with the latter move disrupting Generico’s attempt at the always spectacular and dangerous-looking top rope brainbuster. That sets up Liger to hit a second brainbuster on Generico and end it.

Final Rating: 6.2

A strong finishing stretch elevates this from “amusing curiosity” to a match you should seek out, especially if you’re a fan of either wrestler.

Up Next

We head to England for some vintage action, taking place one round at a time.

Follow In Moorehouse Wrestling on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

How many wrestlers who step through the ropes today grew up watching Matt and Jeff Hardy? They rank as one of the most beloved duos in the history of tag team wrestling. While each has spent some time on the Dark Side as an individual (Matt more than Jeff), the Hardys as a team were consistently fan favorites … but not always. In this installment of 365 Wrestling, the Hardys take to the ring as heels, in this match from OMEGA (the promotion the Hardys helped start themselves) on January 29, 1999 against Shane Helms and Mike Maverick.

This match is available in two parts on YouTube, and embedded below:

The Match

You know three of the players in this match. ECW diehards may recognize Maverick as Jack Dupp.

For all the details on this match, I went straight to the source: Thomas Simpson, one of the co-founders of the OMEGA promotion, and someone I did commentary for on some independent shows in South Carolina a few years ago. The Hardys had been OMEGA champs for about six months, winning the titles off of Helms and Venom (aka Joey Abs from the Mean Street Posse in the heyday of the WWF Attitude Era). Simpson noted Venom was substituting in that match for Maverick, who had broken his arm when he fell off a roof while working a construction job.

This match takes place at East Wake High School in Wendell, NC, also the alma mater of Helms and Maverick. The challengers are out first and greeted as conquering heroes. Meanwhile, the Hardys already are a known presence on WWF TV but they get booed mightily. Matt stirs them up even more, stating that he and his brother will be “winning on Sunday Night Heat” after beating Helms and Maverick.

This match is filmed on a handheld camera and, once it’s under way, you can hear someone in the crowd say, “They’ve gotta win the belts or the crowd’s gonna riot.” That’s a good summary of the raucous atmosphere for this match. The crowd at East Wake High helps elevate what’s happening in the ring — and the match itself already is quite good.

Maverick and Helms work with a big man/little man dynamic that I’ve always enjoyed in tag teams, and they do it well. Twice, Maverick flings his partner into the air to do damage to their foes: a gorilla press that turns into a splash for a close two count, or launching him out of the ring to land on both Hardys. Such power already has been established through some early interactions with Jeff: delivering a brutal-looking spear and then catching him in midair to disrupt the Hardys’ now-well-known Poetry In Motion double team.

Helms plays a spectacular face in peril and is the engine that keeps this match going. He spends more time in the ring than anyone else, and the fans bite on every bit of offense he musters up. When he gets cut off, it just builds the anticipation. Helms continues to sell but never completely fades, showing enough fight to keep the already-rabid crowd engaged.

Jeff Hardy is in splendid form here. This is 1999 and well before many of the catastrophic landings and injuries that Jeff has accumulated through the years, so he is still at his physical peak. At one point, Jeff busts out a springboard swanton off the top rope, chains it directly into a quebrada and makes it all look effortless. In front of a different crowd, it might have earned a golf clap of appreciation or even outright applause. Here, Jeff culminates the high-flying combination by hugging his brother, only further enraging the crowd.

As the match progresses, Matt ensnares Helms in a sleeper and many of the fans start clapping and stomping, to the point that the camera filming literally starts to shake. We’re 15 minutes into the match at this point and it feels half as long — if that.

There is creativity on display here. These four twist the standard tag formula, first during their control of Helms. Then Helms makes the “hot tag” to Maverick, who promptly gets cut off. A ref bump leads to a visual pin by the Hardys, not the fan favorites, as is usually the case. When a replacement referee finally scurries to the ring and makes a count that ends in a long two, Matt responds as a true heel would: first by powerbombing referee #2, then hooking Helms by the arms while Jeff brings a chair into the ring.

By now, you can see what’s coming from a mile away, and so does the crowd, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. Helms moves, Jeff pulverizes his brother and gets knocked to the outside. Helms and Maverick both scale the nearest corner, with Helms leaping off of his partner’s shoulders with a splash to score the win and take the titles to the delight of the packed crowd.

Final Rating: 8.7

These four combine to create a love letter to Southern tag wrestling with a modern adaptation through the moves used. The crowd is red-hot throughout and shows no signs of tiring out or losing interest. The end result is fantastic, and a must-watch, especially if you’re a Hardys fan.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We take a look at another wrestler who embodies excellence over the long haul.

Follow In Moorehouse Wrestling on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

365 Wrestling, Day 28: John Cena vs. Umaga, Last Man Standing (WWE Royal Rumble, 1/28/07)

365 Wrestling, Day 28: John Cena vs. Umaga, Last Man Standing (WWE Royal Rumble, 1/28/07)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

The Royal Rumble match is a spectacle that wrestling fans anticipate every January. The event itself has produced some gems on the undercard in recent years. This entry spotlights one of those standouts, from the 2007 Rumble: John Cena vs. Umaga in a Last Man Standing Match.

You can watch this match on Peacock. Just go to the 1:04 mark of the video.

The Match

This is Cena’s third, and longest, reign with the WWE Title. Umaga has been built as a juggernaut since returning to WWE in April of 2006. He went undefeated for about nine months, a streak that ended earlier in January when he challenged Cena for the title and lost on a roll-up after dominating the match. After that outcome, heel authority figure Jonathan Coachman (and hasn’t that become an overdone storyline trope in wrestling?) made this rematch.

Cena might be the box-office draw but the star of the match is Umaga. The anything-goes format provides a fine showcase for his athleticism, size and overall fearsome presence. He’s also a credible threat here after several months of steady build as a force. Would this match have so much sizzle if Umaga had been trading wins and losses, instead? Definitely not.

Umaga is such a force here. The tale here is less a battle of two competitors, but one between man and monster. Cena takes a beating throughout and when he does rally, it usually ends with him getting clobbered by the Samoan Bulldozer. Overwhelmed by his foe, Cena has to escalate the violence beyond the normal standards of a wrestling match to even faze the challenger. As a result, Umaga takes some insane bumps down the stretch: getting the ringside steps thrown into his face, and having one of the commentary monitors smashed into his head while Umaga’s head hangs, seemingly lifeless against the ringpost. And yet, like the killer in a slasher movie, Umaga rises again and again.

As the violence builds, Cena pays the consequence and bleeds profusely. In fact this stands out as the last memorable use of blood in WWE until the promotion makes its PG pivot. To this day, WWE continues to avoid blood as a storytelling device, while chastising would-be competitors for it.

One moment in this match sticks with me, which I can describe best as a stunt. With this being the era of three brands of main WWE TV (ECW being the third), there are three commentary tables at ringside. Umaga stacks Cena on the ECW table, climbs on the far edge of the far table (where Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are calling the match) and gets a running start. He leaps off the middle table for a splash that Cena avoids, and the table does not so much break but explode under Umaga’s mass. The challenger barely beats the 10 count in a delightfully close and completely believable false finish.

We reach the climax when Umaga’s manager, Armando Alejandro Estrada, literally dismantles the ring and removes the top rope and one of the turnbuckles. Umaga wields the turnbuckle for a version of his Samoan Spike, but Cena turns the weapon on the wielder and uses the top rope to throttle the challenger into unconsciousness. The fact it takes two separate stranglings to finish the job only underscores the unstoppable atmosphere of Umaga.

Speaking of the commentators, Ross is in his prime here and I can’t think of anyone better to provide the soundtrack for this match, in this era. His “Oh Jiminy God!” when Cena smashes a monitor into Umaga’s head, is a genuine reaction and his line that “even monsters have to breathe” at the finish provides logic and justification for Cena’s brutal tactics.

Final Rating: 9.2

This is one of the best WWE matches of the decade, and maybe the best modern example of the last man standing stipulation. It’s also a perfect example of Cena as the never-surrender fan favorite, and who was, at his peak, the closest approximation to Hulkamania that WWE has produced. It’s also the peak moment in WWE for Umaga, whose fantastic second run with the company as a singles competitor is somewhat overshadowed by its brevity. Consider that, 2 1/2 years after this match, Umaga was released by WWE after two violations of the company wellness policy. He sadly died a few months later, at just 36 years old, of a heart attack brought on by acute toxicity from taking several painkillers.

Other pro wrestlers usually point to the Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit match from the 2003 Rumble as the best non-Rumble match ever. If Angle-Benoit is the wrestling equivalent of a symphony, this is the equivalent of a blockbuster action movie. Is one better than the other? That’s really in the eye of the beholder, as the two products are so different that it’s difficult to compare them outside of the shared setting of a WWE ring.

Up Next

We head to 1999 and a packed high-school gym in the Carolinas to see one of the most beloved tag teams in wrestling… as heels?

What’s your favorite non-Rumble match from Royal Rumble pay-per-views? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.