365 Wrestling, Day 60: Bruno Sammartino vs. Ernie Ladd (WWWF, 3/1/76)

365 Wrestling, Day 60: Bruno Sammartino vs. Ernie Ladd (WWWF, 3/1/76)

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

We’re kicking off the March portion of the project with another Guest Contribution, this time from Al Getz. You might know Al as a former manager on the independent circuit in the Southeast. He’s also worked as a commentator, and even dabbled as a promoter on one occasion in Asheville in the 1990s. Currently he’s delving deep into the history of wrestling through his Charting the Territories website and companion podcast.

Given Al’s taste for wrestling history, it’s no surprise he went deep into the days of yore for this match: Bruno Sammartino against Ernie Ladd from Madison Square Garden on March 1, 1976. At this time, the WWF was known as the WWWF.

Why did Al pick this match?

“When John asked me to recommend a match for his series, I had Ernie Ladd on the brain. I had just been reading about the 1965 AFL All-Star Game that Ladd had been a part of, which was moved from New Orleans to Houston on two days’ notice. So I looked for a match that Ladd had against a ‘marquee opponent’ in early March of any year and found this match against Bruno from MSG.”

You can watch this match on the WWE Youtube channel, and I’ve also embedded it below:

The Context

Sammartino is into his second reign as WWWF Champion, which began in December of 1973. Holding a title for two-plus years sounds impressive but also consider that Sammartino’s first run as champion lasted a decade.

His foe here is “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, and one of the most well-known crossover stars in wrestling. Ladd played in the AFL from 1961-68, and is best known for being part of the Fearsome Foursome that propelled the Chargers to the AFL crown in 1963. Ladd started wrestling around the same time his pro football career began, and when knee troubles curtailed his time on the gridiron, Ladd shifted to the squared circle on a full-time basis.

Ladd worked as a heel for the vast majority of his career as a wrestler, and was known for using his taped thumb to wreak havoc on the windpipes of his foes. He was also a phenomenal talker, and here’s a taste of that, from a WWWF TV broadcast just a couple of months before this title bout:

The Match

You saw him in the above segment and Vince McMahon is on solo commentary for this match from the Garden. At this time, the promotion is still being owned and run by Vince’s dad, Vince McMahon, Sr.

Ladd’s size jumps out at you. He’s a monster in this or any era, with incredibly long limbs. I’ve always thought more of Ladd as a character and a talker than a wrestler, but that could be attributed to just not seeing enough of his work before mobility started to be a factor. I wasn’t expecting him to take a backdrop, certainly, or to go to the top rope for what sets up the finish.

I mentioned Ladd’s taped thumb in the context portion and it’s a crucial storytelling device in this match. The referee searches Ladd before the bell, and he promptly turns and deposits something into his trunks. Later, after getting knocked around by Bruno, Ladd goes to the trunks and places a foreign object on the thumb to waylay the champion. Ladd’s got some slick sleight of hand on this, turning away from the referee before inflicting a blow with the gimmicked thumb and then dropping the foreign object back out of sight when the official tries to investigate.

Sammartino is the barrel-chested, brawny, beloved, longtime champion. After withstanding a several-minute barrage of offense from Ladd, the champ makes his comeback and just starts thrashing the Big Cat. There’s very little wrestling here and lots of brawling: punches,. jumping stomps, and smashing Ladd’s head into the mat. Ladd’s sell is great here as he just clutches his skull with both hands and writhes slightly in pain.

Ladd controls the majority of the match and Vince is teasing the upset hard on commentary, but after Ladd misses his dive off the top, Sammartino makes a quick cover for a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion.

Al’s Take: This is your standard Bruno Sammartino match against an opponent that they’re not building up a rematch for. Modern wrestling fans would probably hate it. When I watch wrestling footage from the 70s and earlier, I always try to keep in mind that the matches weren’t meant to be “evergreen”, i.e., watched years later for analysis. These matches were geared towards the fans that paid for their ticket to see the good guy whup the bad guy.

They get to see Bruno being superman, and they get to see Ernie do some badass things for a man of his size. When he hip-tosses Bruno, the size disparity between the two makes it look particularly effective. After some shenanigans with a foreign object and some karate-type thrusts that Bruno sells really well, Bruno moves out of the way as Ladd attempts to splash him off the top, then quickly covers him for the pin.

What stuck out to me was how ginormous Ladd was. He was always billed as 6-9. Given his prior career in football, I imagine his real height was well-known and thus they couldn’t exaggerate it. When he wrestles Andre in the Garden two months later, it looks like Andre maybe has 2-3 inches on him.

Random Thoughts

–There’s semi-regular debate about great punchers in pro wrestling, and I think Bruno should be in the conversation. His shots to Ladd during the comeback look great here, and Ladd certainly does his part by selling them as huge blows.

–I’d recommend young wrestlers watch this for Ladd’s facial expressions alone, whether he is selling or protesting to the referee after another illegal tactic. Ladd also cheats early and often, but always tries to turn away or cheat out of the ref’s point of view so as not to bury the official.

Final Rating: 5.4

This match reminded me in several ways of the Jerry Lawler-Jos LeDuc match we watched in January. You have the strong fan favorite headliner taking on another monstrous rulebreaker. The Memphis match has more shenanigans (imagine that), but I found the emotions and the level of action to be similar. Worth watching for historical value and some of the small details I mention in the above section.

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

Up Next

We go back to the independent scene in the Carolinas to see if familiarity does breed contempt.

Are YOU interested in making a match suggestion for the 365 Wrestling project? I’m accepting limited guest submissions for the remaining entries in the year. Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, February Recap

365 Wrestling, February Recap

You only have to look at the calendar to see how behind I am on watching and writing about these 365 matches before the year is over. I’m still grinding away, though, and don’t plan on throwing in the towel. (With that said, note to self, find a good match with that gimmick for the list…)

Anyway, here are some numbers and rankings with two months of matches down!

FACTS AND FIGURES

22 — The number of different companies and promotions included in the 28 matches in February.

4 — The number of WWF/WWE matches on the February list, the most of any promotion.

25 — The total number of years represented on the February list. This was totally by design, as I was aiming to watch at least one match from every year between 1980 and now as early as possible in the project.

29,640 — The total number of words I wrote in the 28 entries for February.

60,259  The total number of words written so far in the project.

16.16 — The percentage completed. A long way to go!

THE RANKINGS

Reminder… I’m not a star-rating guy. I prefer the 10-point scale instead. I consider anything rated at 5.5 or higher to be worth watching, and worth you taking the time to seek it out. It’s also worth noting that I think any ratings or rankings of entertainment are fluid in nature. I might go back later and see one of these matches and like it significantly more. This was my initial take on each match, after finishing it. Anything bolded is what I would consider to be a great match.

FEBRUARY RANKINGS

  1. 8.2, White Castle of Fear Strap Match, Non Title: Sting vs. Big Van Vader (w/ Harley Race), WCW Superbrawl III, 2/21/93
  2. 8.0, NWA International Tag Titles-Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu (Ch) vs. Ishin Gundan (Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu), All Japan, 2/5/86
  3. 7.8, Kana vs. Meiko Satomura, Triple Tails, 2/13/11
  4. 7.8, 2/3 Falls: Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero, CMLL Arena Mexico, 2/25/05
  5. 7.6, Ben Carter vs. B-Boy, ACTION: $2500 vs. Hair, 2/7/20 
  6. 7.5, Jim Breaks vs. Adrian Street, Joint Promotions, 2/12/72
  7. 7.2, SMASH Title-Dave Finlay (Ch) vs. Tajiri, SMASH 25, 2/19/12
  8. 6.8, Vacant WWE Women’s Tag Titles-Elimination Chamber: Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection vs. Carmella & Naomi vs. Nia Jax & Tamina vs. Fire and Desire vs. Iiconics vs. Riott Squad (Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan), WWE Elimination Chamber 2019, 2/17/19
  9. 6.7, WWE Tag Titles-Los Guerreros (Ch) vs. Team Angle (w/ Paul Heyman), WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03
  10. 6.7, Steel Cage: Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon, WWF St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, 2/14/99
  11. 6.5, I Quit: Jake Manning vs. John Skyler, PWX Rise of a Champion IX, Night One, 2/15/14
  12. 6.4, Japanese Death Match: Super Crazy vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri, ECW in Jacksonville, 2/4/00
  13. 6.3, Junkyard Dog & Dusty Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase & Matt Borne, Houston, 2/11/83
  14. 6.3, WOH World Title-Kelly Klein (Ch) vs. Mayu Iwatani, ROH Bound By Honor 2019, 2/10/19
  15. 6.2, Slim J vs. Andrew Alexander, NWA Chattanooga, 2/18/11
  16. 6.2, Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. British Bulldogs, When Worlds Collide, 2/2/89
  17. 6.1, WWF IC Title-Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Ch) vs. Undertaker, WWF Shotgun Saturday Night, 2/8/97
  18. 6.1, ECWA Mid-Atlantic Title-Prince Nana (Ch) vs. Ace Darling, 2/28/04
  19. 6.1, Jordynne Grace vs. Skylar, Beyond I Want It All, 2/24/18
  20. 5.9, TNA World Tag Titles-Monster’s Ball: The Wolves (Ch) vs. Decay (Abyss & Crazzy Steve) (w/ Rosemary), Impact Wrestling, 2/16/16
  21. 5.9, No DQ: AJ Styles vs. Sandman, NWA-TNA Weekly PPV #34, 2/26/03
  22. 5.8, Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Semifinals: Kayden Carter & Kacy Catanzaro vs. Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez, WWE NXT, 2/3/21
  23. 5.5, TWGP 2005, Quarterfinals: Chris Hero & Mike Quackenbush vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico, CHIKARA Tag World Grand Prix 2005, 2/20/05
  24. 5.5, Satoshi Kojima vs. Drew McDonald, Reslo, 2/27/95
  25. 5.2, WCW U.S. Title #1 Contendership: Booker T vs. Bret Hart, WCW Nitro, 2/22/99
  26. 5.2, El Texano, Silver King & El Fantasma vs. Samu, Fatu & Fishman, UWA, 2/9/92
  27. 5.0, Mesias vs. Takeshi Morishima, AAA, 2/1/10
  28. 5.0, Randy Savage & Lanny Poffo vs. Lou Winston & Jerry Bryant (w/ Eddie Gilbert), Memphis TV, 2/23/85

PROJECT TOP 10

  1. 9.0, WWE World Title-Last Man Standing: John Cena (Ch) vs. Umaga (w/ Armando Alejandro Estrada), WWE 2007 Royal Rumble, 1/28/07
  2. 8.9, Rockers vs. New Orient Express (Tanaka & Kato [aka Paul Diamond]) (w/ Mr. Fuji), WWF 1991 Royal Rumble, 1/19/91
  3. 8.7, OMEGA Tag Titles-Hardy Boyz (Ch) vs. Serial Thrillas (Mike Maverick & Shane Helms), Wendell, NC, 1/29/99
  4. 8.2, White Castle of Fear Strap Match, Non Title: Sting vs. Big Van Vader (w/ Harley Race), WCW Superbrawl III, 2/21/93
  5. 8.0, NWA International Tag Titles-Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu (Ch) vs. Ishin Gundan (Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu), All Japan, 2/5/86
  6. 7.8, Kana vs. Meiko Satomura, Triple Tails, 2/13/11
  7. 7.8, 2/3 Falls: Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero, CMLL Arena Mexico, 2/25/05
  8. 7.8, WWE Cruiserweight Title-Tajiri (Ch) (w/ Akio & Sakoda) vs. Rey Mysterio, Jr., WWE SmackDown, 1/1/04
  9. 7.6, Ben Carter vs. B-Boy, ACTION: $2500 vs. Hair, 2/7/20 
  10. 7.5, Jim Breaks (Ch) vs. Adrian Street, Joint Promotions, 2/12/72

365 Wrestling, Day 59: Prince Nana vs. Ace Darling (ECWA, 2/28/04)

365 Wrestling, Day 59: Prince Nana vs. Ace Darling (ECWA, 2/28/04)

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

Since the heyday of Bobby Heenan in the WWF, I’ve always enjoyed a heel manager who is good at what he does. Even as a kid, I would root for Heenan (though maybe not the people he managed). It made sense to 10-year-old me, OK?

These days, managers appear to be making a comeback in major televised wrestling, but for most of the 2000s, a good manager was hard to find anywhere on the scene. That’s what helped Prince Nana shine so brightly. The real-life descendant of a royal bloodline in the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, Nana amplified this into a gimmick as an arrogant royal who used his family’s wealth to bankroll The Embassy in Ring Of Honor. He got so much heat at some of these ROH shows. The combination of his word choice and the cadence and sound of his voice really got the fans going. The roster of the Embassy stable ebbed and flowed, but the peak Embassy for me was Jimmy Rave, Alex Shelley, Abyss, in 2005 or so.

Nana wasn’t just a manager, though; he also was a trained wrestler. In fact, he competed regularly on the very first run of ROH shows including the promotion’s debut event in 2002.

We take a look at Nana’s in-ring career, but in ECWA, for this match against Ace Darling from February 28, 2004.

You can watch this match on IWTV.

The Context

Nana is the ECWA Mid-Atlantic Champion here, and that’s the secondary title in this promotion. It’s now known as the ECWA Legacy Title. At the time of this match, Nana has been champion for 300 days, and he’s wrestling in the main event of the card against an opponent chosen by a vote of the fans in attendance.

The fans’ choice is Darling, who is completely unfamiliar to me. Some research informed me he was a mainstay in ECWA, that his trainers included Iron Mike Sharpe, and that he wrestled on the independent circuit in the Northeast U.S.

The Match

We’ve become conditioned here in the 2020s to see main events go long. This is not that type of match. Nana jumps Ace as he slides into the ring, and they maintain a fairly fast pace for the duration, which is less than 10 minutes from bell to bell.

The setup of the match reminded me of the very first Summerslam, when Ultimate Warrior hit the ring as a surprise opponent and trucked The Honkytonk Man in seconds to win another secondary title. We see a similar result here, but take a different path to get there. Nana isn’t happy about Darling winning the vote and he shows it with some physical offense. He lays in some chops that have Darling’s left pec turning a bright shade of red by the end of the bout. He levels Darling with a charging clothesline. Later, he delivers a charging body smash in the corner, then immediately follows up with a hip attack.

At one point, Prince Nana just blatantly stomps Darling in the balls but even that won’t put him down for the three count. Ace tries to mount a comeback, and Nana cuts him off by slapping him right in the mouth. He’s more of an imposing figure here than he ever was in ROH. For all the beatings, Nana ends up losing the match and the title when Darling counters a modified Cobra Clutch into a pinning predicament. Nana shows the requisite amount of shock at the sudden defeat, and Darling is still flat on his back as he receives the belt and has his hand raised.

Darling’s selling really helps make this match. Even when he’s on offense, such as a flying cross body on Nana, he sells the effects of the move and past punishment and is unable to cover for the pin. He sells the low blow spectacularly, curling up on the mat and throwing in some retching coughs for emphasis. Bravo.

Random Thoughts

–Check out Straw Hat Guy from ECW in the front row!

–Nana gets on the microphone before his opponent is announced and riles up the crowd, mocking some of the possible choices for his foe. Threatening to pick someone out of the audience and thrash them instead was a nice touch.

Final Rating: 6.1

I really liked this match. Nana plays an effective heel champion and his offense looks good — especially the chops and his combination attack in the corner. Ace meanwhile does a fantastic job selling to further elevate what’s happening. These two don’t try to reinvent the wheel; they just go out and have a damn solid wrestling match that is worth watching. This is definitely worth checking out, especially if you primarily know Nana as a manager and mouthpiece and haven’t seen him wrestle.

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

Up Next

We recap the February list, then move on to another Guest Selection from a guy who really getz wrestling.

Got any feedback about the 365 Wrestling project? If so, contact me on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 58: Satoshi Kojima vs. Drew McDonald (Reslo, 2/27/95)

365 Wrestling, Day 58: Satoshi Kojima vs. Drew McDonald (Reslo, 2/27/95)

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

New Japan Pro Wrestling has been using the same system for decades to develop up-and-coming wrestlers. Aspiring wrestlers come up through the New Japan dojo, enduring rigorous training and long days. They debut as Young Lions, wearing black trunks and boots and using very limited movesets. Then, once these wrestlers graduate, they’re sent on excursion–meaning they go to other promotions in other countries to continue to ply their craft.

For this entry, we’re taking a look at an excursion match of an NJPW legend: Satoshi Kojima, in action here against Drew McDonald in Reslo from 1995.

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

The Context

Reslo was a televised wrestling program in the small country of Wales, part of the United Kingdom. The show aired entirely in the Welsh language, and the name, Reslo, is simply the Welsh word for wrestling. (Thank you, Google Translate …).

Kojima stayed on the New Japan roster through the end of 1994 and then made the move to Europe for this excursion. At the time of this match, he’s been in the United Kingdom for about a month.

McDonald is an established veteran on the UK scene by the time of this match, having debuted in 1980. Here, he’s known as The Ultimate Chippendale, a gimmick he adopted earlier in the ’90s.

The Match

Forget the Kojima you know from New Japan and All Japan or, currently, making appears for Impact Wrestling now that THE FORBIDDEN DOOR has opened. We are far afield from that hard hitter; this is long before he started firing off machine gun chops in the corner, dropping foes with his version of the cutter, or tweeting (mostly about bread).

Kojima is listed on both Cagematch and Wrestlingdata.com as Lion Satoshi for this match, but on the footage, the ring announcer calls him Suzuki Kanemoto. Kojima is considerably leaner here, wearing long loose pants, and has his face painted. The entire presentation is reminiscent of the Great Muta, which makes sense when considering that Keiji Muto is one of Kojima’s chief mentors.

McDonald has an unnamed manager in a tuxedo and derby in his corner. He’s a huge-looking guy–overweight but also massive, with that wrecking ball-type physique.

The match itself is fairly boilerplate. The Reslo crowd quickly throws its support behind Kojima, who spends the early minutes getting tossed around, and then eats a steady diet of clubbering offense from the Scotsman McDonald. In between, Kojima shows the spryness of a junior heavyweight; there’s a fine bit of rope running early, culminating in a baseball slide between McDonald’s legs, and springing to his feet for a crisp standing dropkick.

This is my first exposure to the Reslo TV product and the crowd is loud. Factor in the screaming and all the bright colors in the venue, and it’s more reminiscent of a children’s TV show than a wrestling event. Kojima also works the crowd more than I expected, and when he unleashes a barrage of leaping elbows on McDonald (another homage to Muto), he lets out a whoop as each blow is dealt. Ultimately, Kojima goes to the top rope one time too many, leaving him easy prey for McDonald to win a brisk seven-minute match.

Kojima spent the rest of 1995 in Europe before returning to his home country and near-immediate title contention, first in the tag division. It might be somewhat forgotten as he has moved down the card in NJPW, but Kojima and has compiled one of the most impressive bodies of work of his generation. He joins Muto and Shinya Hashimoto as the only wrestlers to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Title, the Triple Crown Championship for All Japan, and the NWA World Heavyweight Title.

McDonald stayed active on the UK circuit for nearly another two decades after this match, even wrestling a ladder match in 2006 when he was 50 years old. He died from cancer in February of 2015, just a couple years’ removed from his final bout.

Random Thoughts

–Kojima wasn’t the only NJPW wrestler to appear in Reslo on excursion. In 1987, a wrestler named Fuji Yamada also worked for Reslo. You may know him better by another name, though.

–Kojima is credited with inventing the Rydeen Bomb, which you may know better as a sitout spinebuster.

Final Rating: 5.5

Sometimes a match is mediocre or skippable on its own but still has a quality or element to make it worth watching. Maybe it’s a title change, a debut, or it has historic value for some other reason. There are other matches from Kojima’s excursion out there (he had several later in the year against Finlay), but this is the one and only I have seen in this Great Muta homage. I think it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re a big fan of Kojima.

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

Up Next

We head to the Northeast independent circuit to watch royalty in action, so get your shrimp cocktail ready.

Got any feedback about the 365 Wrestling project? If so, contact me on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 57: No DQ, AJ Styles vs. Sandman (NWA-TNA, 2/26/03)

365 Wrestling, Day 57: No DQ, AJ Styles vs. Sandman (NWA-TNA, 2/26/03)

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

The early years of Impact Wrestling provided a method of storytelling we haven’t seen yet, or since, from a major wrestling promotion. Then known as TNA (or NWA-TNA, specifically, since it was affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance), the promotion aired a two-hour pay-per-view each week, in the middle of the week, for about 10 bucks.

Did it work? Financially, no. As he wrote in his book, Jerry Jarrett — the longtime promoter in Memphis who started NWA-TNA in partnership with his son, Jeff — observed that the pay-per-views needed to generate 55,000 buys a week for the company to break even. The first three events yielded 50,000 boys — total. “We have been producing shows, but the public, in large part, does not know we exist,” Jarrett wrote.

As a business, the weekly pay-per-view model didn’t work well. Creatively, however, it yielded some interesting stuff. Each event was its own standalone product, but the goal was to get people to come back and buy the next one, and the next one, and so on. It always reminded me of old Memphis wrestling: except, rather than trying to use a studio show to induce fans to come out to the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday night, these pay-per-views were a larger-scale version of the studio TV and a smaller-scale version of the arena event, all wrapped into one.

In this entry of 365 Wrestling, we look at a match from this era that only happened once: the only match ever between AJ Styles and Sandman from the 34th weekly NWA-TNA pay-per-view, held on February 26, 2003.

You can watch this match on Impact’s YouTube channel. For your convenience, it’s also embedded below:

The Context

All of the weekly pay-per-views aired from the same location, the state fairgrounds in Nashville, TN. TNA called this venue The Asylum and it had a raucous crowd with a good share of regulars.

Vince Russo is part of the creative team at this point and, surprise surprise, he’s also a prominent character on screen, heading up a faction called Sports Entertainment Xtreme (or SEX for short, get it?) Russo is trying to recruit as much top talent to his faction as he can. Earlier on this event, both AJ Styles and Raven want to be part of SEX (and hey, who wouldn’t, right?) Aj and Raven get into an argument about which of them, and which style of wrestling, is better. And so Russo puts Raven in a match with an X-Division wrestler and books Styles to wrestle Sandman. This is all pretty solid except for the group name, which is like hanging a neon sign that says “Look how edgy we are!”

AJ is probably one of the top five wrestlers most synonymous with the TNA name. He appeared on the very first of these weekly shows and stayed with the company for more than 12 years, through the end of 2014. Sandman made his name in ECW and at this point he’s been engaging in his cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, cane-swinging shenanigans for TNA for a couple of weeks.

The Match

I like seemingly random, unique matches that don’t happen often. The pairing of AJ and Sandman is definitely an odd one, but it works. They show good chemistry working together. After a flip dive to the floor to abruptly end Sandman’s length entrance and beer-spraying circumnavigation of the ringside area, AJ gets to show off his amateur background early on, wrestling circles around Sandman on the mat.

They don’t get a lot of time here, but they make the most of it. Most of the highlights consist of AJ taking a beating: the Sandman blocking a drop toehold into a trash can, then bouncing said can off Styles’ face; AJ launching for a top rope splash to put Sandman through a table on the floor and coming up empty; and Sandman propelling Styles into a chair wedged in the corner with enough force to put AJ through the seat. One of my favorite moments was watching AJ flip, duck, and dodge his way out of attempted Singapore cane shots by the Sandman.

Sandman gets a lot of grief in certain circles for a perceived lack of wrestling ability, but here’s the thing: he knows his limits and stays within them. He’s already got the crowd with him before any physicality happens here. Once the match starts, he struggles just enough during AJ’s mat wrestling to make you buy in, and he uses the weapons as a structure for the rest of the match. AJ is out of his element using this type of plunder in a match, giving the edge to the veteran.

Things go off the rails a bit at the finish. The referee takes a bump that is awkwardly set up, for no reason. And speaking of no reason, Raven runs in and wallops Sandman with a chair, helping his rival Styles position himself for the win. The actual finish, however, is pretty spectacular. Styles hooks and delivers a Styles Clash from the second rope. Note how Sandman struggles and flails before getting dropped to the mat… a nice little accent.

Random Thoughts

–We are deprived of “Enter Sandman” because of good ol’ music copyrights and so instead we get the video game load-screen version of Sandman’s theme song. If that’s not awkward enough, Sandman’s entrance reaches full cringe level in a hurry. You see, at this point, The Asylum featured dancers who would gyrate in these small cages adjacent to the wrestling stage. Sandman gets right in one of these cages with one of the dancers, Lollipop, grinds against her, makes out with her, gropes her, and then heads for the ring. Later camera cuts to Lollipop show her smiling at Sandman but this screen shot captures her initial reaction, and mine:

Eww.

–That referee bump is one of the more nonsensical ones I have seen in a while.

Final Rating: 5.9

This is a brisk little match that goes less than 10 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The matchup is unique and they played off their contrasting styles (no pun intended) well. The handful of high spots are memorable, especially the second-rope Styles Clash. There’s plenty to like here in spite of the bad booking. I also noticed all three TNA/Impact matches I have watched as part of the project have ended up with the same final rating. It sums up a lot of this company’s wrestling for me: good enough to watch, but not memorable enough to stick with you or really break into higher tiers of excellence.

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

Up Next

We look at one of the early excursion matches of one of the current New Japan Dads.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 56: Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero (CMLL, 2/25/05)

365 Wrestling, Day 56: Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero (CMLL, 2/25/05)

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

As mentioned before, I’m not very well-versed in the world of lucha libre. So far in the projet I have made a couple of forays into lucha, but both the February 1 and February 9 entries have included outsiders. Not this time. Two homegrown luchadores do battle in this singles match from February 25, 2005, as Mistico takes on Ultimo Guerrero.

This match is available on Youtube and, for your convenience, embedded below:

The Context

You may know Mistico better as Sin Cara, or, rather, the first wrestler to play that character in WWE. The original Sin Cara struggled to connect with WWE fans and he suffered multiple injuries during his time with the company. He currently works back in CMLL, under the moniker Caristico. Before all that happened, as Mistico, he became the top star in CMLL and arguably all of Mexico. In storyline, Mistico was the orphan prodigy wrestling student of Fray Tormenta, the wrestling priest and the real-life inspration behind Nacho Libre (yes, really).

This match, Mistico’s very first singles main event, represents a key moment in his ascension to superstardom in his native country. Just a few weeks before this match, Mistico defeated Ultimo Guerrero’s stablemate, Averno, to become NWA World Middleweight Champion. Now Mistico finds himself taking on the leader of Los Guerreros del Inferno. These two went at it the week’s prior event in Arena Mexico, with mask ripping on both sides and some big dives by Mistico to whet the Arena Mexico crowd’s collective appetite for this mano e mano showdown.

Like most lucha libre matches, this is two out of three falls.

The Match

There’s a big-fight feel for this, and the crowd is buzzing. Extra effort in the entrances goes a long way; Ultimo Guerrero is wearing Aztec warrior gear, and is preceded by four guys in similar Aztec get-ups doing a ceremonial dance. And this is just another weekly Arena Mexico show! Mistico enters the arena on the arm of a lovely young lady, then ditches his entrance gear and comes sprinting down the aisle right at his rival.

The story here is similar to the Booker T-Bret Hart match from a few entries ago, except there’s so much more savagery and urgency. Ultimo lays in a beating on the new tecnico on the block, dominating the first fall and much of the second. Along the way, he rips at Mistico’s mask, jaws at the referee, the fans, and generally has a masterful performance as a heel.

As a relative novice to lucha libre, I had a hard time picking up on the outcome of the first fall, but the replay — and an explanation from the luchawiki site — helped. After a brief comeback by Mistico, Ultimo powders out to the floor and Mistico looks to the fans for approval, leaps for a corkscrew plancha… and completely. Eats. Shit. Ultimo Guerrero just walks out of the way and Mistico hits hard, but the slow-motion replay shows that he is able to brace the impact with his hands and feet in an impressive show of body control.

Mistico is ready to give it up and surrender this first fall, but Ultimo Guerrero doesn’t care… he sets Mistico on the top turnbuckle, picks him up and hits a beautiful moonsault fallaway slam. It’s a spectacular and spectacularly dangerous move and Guerrero makes it look effortless. Because Ultimo won’t calm down, the referee disqualifies Ultimo, reversing the decision on the first call.

The second fall gets under way and Ultimo Guerrero is still out of the ring, throwing a fit, and risking a countout. He comes back in and lays in a savage beating on the tecnico. Mistico makes a comeback cued by Ultimo coming up empty on a corner attack, with the tecnico’s rally including a springboard dive to the floor and catching Ultimo with an armdrag on the way down because why the hell not? Guerrero is reeling but isn’t done. He blocks a top-rope rana by Mistico and answers with a release powerbomb that looks amazing and somehow safe. That rudo conceit strikes again; Ultimo pulls up Mistico rather than score the pin. Guerrero goes for a second top-rope powerbomb, this time sitting out with it, and clutches his right knee upon impact. Ultimo Guerrero transforms from the bully rudo with swagger and starts begging off. It’s a great shift in the dynamic of the match that transcends any language barrier.

Shortly thereafter, the referee gets knocked down, and Mistico uses a page out of the rudo playbook, yanking off Ultimo’s mask, then pulling him into a small package to win the fall and the match in a 2-0 sweep.

Random Thoughts

–Mistico went on to hold the title for 496 days, which sounds impressive until you consider he only defended it successfully four times before dropping it to Black Warrior.

–This was just the start of Mistico’s big push in CMLL. He headlined 18 events for CMLL in 2006, each of which drew more than 10,000 people, and was named Wrestler of the Year for 2006 by The Wrestling Observer.

Final Rating: 7.8

This is a great wrestling match that I highly recommend, and also stands as proof that a match doesn’t have to be a 30-, 40-, or 60-minute epic to shine. The high spots are tremendous. You can see from watching this why Mistico became such a big star. Not only is this a great match on its own, but I also think it’s a good choice for wrestling fans who are unfamiliar with lucha libre but would like to learn more about this style.

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

Up Next

A very random match from TNA’s early days.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 55: Jordynne Grace vs. Skylar (Beyond, 2/24/18)

365 Wrestling, Day 55: Jordynne Grace vs. Skylar (Beyond, 2/24/18)

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

Looking for one of the most influential independent promotions of the past 10 years? Look no farther than Beyond Wrestling. This promotion based in the Northeast U.S. has seen a stellar array of talent pass through: some making guest appearances, but others working there regularly and parlaying that success into big opportunities for major companies.

Beyond’s list of “homegrown” alumni includes a slew of wrestlers now in AEW: Orange Cassidy, MJF, Santana, Ortiz, Kris Statlander, Alex Reynolds, John Silver, Allie, The Butcher, The Blade, Tracy Williams, Joey Janela, Penelope Ford … I could go on. Beyond also has become known for making women’s wrestling and intergender wrestling important components of its product. The latter generated a viral, highly controversial, hotly debated spot involving Chris Dickinson and Kimber Lee that you can watch here:

Beyond even developed its own all-women’s affiliate series of shows, Women’s Wrestling Revolution. Two familiar foes from those events locked horns for Beyond at its I Want It All event, held February 24, 2018.

This match is available for free on Beyond’s YouTube channel, which I have embedded oh-so-helpfully below:

The Context

You probably know Jordynne Grace from her recent exploits in Impact Wrestling, but she’s a seven-year vet at this point. As the commentators note on this match, Grace started out in wrestling when she was just 14 years old. She’s one of the top women in the Beyond/WWR umbrella at this time, winning the Tournament for Tomorrow at the end of 2017 as well as the Revolutionary Rumble the month before this event.

I didn’t know much about Skylar and never had seen her wrestle coming into this. Some research on the Series of Tubes told me that she debuted in 2016. The commentators provide some valuable context as the match begins, noting that Grace defeated Skylar during her victorious run through the TFT.

The Match

These two make very good use of their time in the ring. I enjoy watching Jordynne Grace in the ring, both for her feats of strength and the way she can hit another gear and quicken the pace. We see the latter in the early minutes, as these two combine for seven pin attempts. This creates an immediate sense of urgency for both, and emphasizes the importance of the ouytcome. There’s an especially smooth counter by Skylar on Jordynne’s attempted sliding clothesline, ensnaring her arms for an attempted crucifix pin.

Jordynne is the more proven performer here and she makes Skylar look as good as possible. Skylar holds up her end by hitting all of her offense crisply and with intent. There’s a unique take on the overdone apron bump to set up the closest thing to a heat segment in a back-and-forth match; Skylar misses with a running kick from the apron, gets hoisted with an electric chair, and dropped ring-first on the apron.

Skylar makes a nifty comeback, stringing together a fine flurry of moves. The finish comes abruptly, with Skylar countering another electric chair to surprise Grace in a successful pinning predicament. Given the relative status of both on the card in the Beyond/WWR realm, it’s a result that makes sense.

Random Thoughts

–I’m always a fan for a good-looking spinebuster, and Jordynne hits a sweet one in the home stretch of this match.

–It turns out that 2018 is a big year for Jordynne Grace; she shows out in the Over Budget Battle Royale at All In in September, and signs with Impact shortly after that and quickly enters the title picture.

–I could have done without the commentators implying a fast pace worked against Jordynne Grace because she’s more likely to get blown up because of her size. First off, rude. And secondly, I have eyes and have seen her matches.

Final Rating: 6.1

I couldn’t help but compare this match to another recent viewing in the project where a rising prospect upends a proven star: the Booker T-Bret Hart match. In that contest, Bret dominated his opponent and got caught in a pin at the end, after keeping a methodical pace and allowing little offense. Jordynne Grace controls this match at well, but Skylar gets in more offense, scores a few near-falls along the way, and both maintain a quick urgent pace. I think Jordynne Grace is one of the top women on the current scene, but this is a fine performance by both and a good match worth seeing.

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

Up Next

Back to Mexico for an action-packed mano e mano match.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 54: Randy Savage & Lanny Poffo vs. Lou Winston & Jerry Bryant (Memphis, 2/23/85)

365 Wrestling, Day 54: Randy Savage & Lanny Poffo vs. Lou Winston & Jerry Bryant (Memphis, 2/23/85)

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

We’ve taken a look at the wonderfully wacky world of Memphis wrestling before in the project — watching a grudge tag match, and a chapter in the long-running feud between Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart — but now it’s time to explore the weekly TV element that drove this promotion for years. Even well into the 1990s, when nearly every other territory had closed its doors, Memphis wrestling remained alive, if not well. For nearly two decades, starting in 1977, Championship Wrestling aired live in a 90-minute block every Saturday morning from the WMC-TV studios in Memphis.

In this entry, we take a look at a match from one of those episodes — February 23, 1985, to be precise: Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo against Lou Winston and Jerry Bryant.

You can watch this match, and the peripheral shenanigans, on Youtube:

The Context

For more than four years, the Lawler-Hart feud was a focal point of the Memphis territory, but now things are in a state of flux. Hart left for the WWF a few weeks earlier, leaving Lawler in search of a new foil. Enter Eddie Gilbert. “Hot Stuff” is certainly no stranger to the Memphis audience by now. In fact, earlier in February, he lost a match to Lawler at the Mid-South Coliseum, which triggered a stipulation that banned Hart from the territory for a year (“a year” ended up being forever, and Hart wasn’t even in attendance, as he immediately started working with the WWF after giving notice to the Memphis office).

And so, on the February 16 episode of TV,. Gilbert comes out wearing military garb, with a Jimmy Hart doppelganger, and forms his Army:

Meanwhile, Savage and Poffo made their way to Memphis in 1984, after their father Angelo’s promotion, International Championship Wrestling, closed down. ICW was considered an “outlaw” promotion at the time, meaning it ran in direct competition with other shows in Kentucky — which was also part of the CWA’s geographical “territory” — and because the ICW was not aligned with the National Wrestling Alliance. Today, referring to a wrestling promotion as outlaw is more of a statement on quality, but the Poffo-led ICW featured his two sons, along with Ron Garvin, Pez Whatley, Ox Baker, Bob Orton, Jr., and several other significant names from the territorial era.

The Match

This isn’t the shortest match in the project (that mark is still held by Stan Hansen‘s All Japan debut), but it’s close. Savage and Poffo spent most of their time in Memphis as heels, but are on the fan favorite side of things here. Bryant, whose head apparently went unshaved after what happened in the video linked above from last week, is teaming with Winston, who is not an official member of the Army. Gilbert is in ringside in the same military outfit.

I think Savage is one of the best wrestlers, certainly of this era. He flies with apparent reckless abandon on his double axehandle here: once to the floor, and again from the neutral corner while his opponents are double-teaming Poffo.

Speaking of Poffo, he was ridiculously athletic for the time period. He shows off some of that athleticism in an early exchange, and later in the match busts out a moonsault — simply called a backflip by commentator Dave Brown. If anyone else did the moonsault before Poffo, I’m not aware of it. He seems like the type of wrestler who came along too late; can you imagine if Poffo had been active during the super-indy era of 2000s, when Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla were getting rolling?

But I digress. This match is curious but also a glorified squash. Savage and Poffo clearly have their foes outmatched. Whenever Bryant and Winston are trying to take control, we get punchy-kicky pro wrestling. Not long after Poffo hits the moonsault on Bryant, Savage slams Winston and follows with his patented flying elbow, and it’s over.

After Gilbert makes Bryant do pushups as punishment for the loss, Eddie has his Army bring out a huge box that clearly has a person inside, and is teased as a “present” for Lance and the studio audience. What’s in the box? The revelation isn’t part of the footage, which ends with a Lawler interview musing on how “Hot Stuff” is mirroring some of the past antics of “The King.”

Savage turned heel again a few weeks later, and would be out of Memphis within a matter of months, headed to the WWF and eventual megastardom.

As for Bryant and Winston, they would move on to form Memphis Vice within the year. Memphis Vice, you guys! Get it? Like Miami Vice except different because they lived in Memphis!

Random Thoughts

–One interesting note on the February 16 footage. Tommy Hart, the faux Hart who accompanies Gilbert, makes the analogy to shooting a racehorse when it breaks a leg, a callback to the same verbiage Jimmy Hart used when he turned on Lawler after “The King” broke his leg playing pick-up football in 1980. Hart immediately became the top heel in the territory:

–I’ve talked before about Lance Russell and how good he is on commentary, but he’s a true natural as the “host” of a wrestling show and you see why in all of these videos (well, except the Memphis Vice one). He moves from one segment to another with near-bulletproof aplomb, even as all hell breaks loose around him. It was very rare to see him get flustered, or have any physicality with any of the talent, although it did happen. Watch in the interview segments how he leads and guides whoever is talking, as needed. The Jimmy Hart impersonator is clearly nervous and flustered, but a steady Lance Russell provides direction and allows the doppelganger to hit his catch phrase and laugh, which is a dead ringer for the Mouth of the South.

Final Rating: 5.0

This is a decent snapshot of the flow of a Memphis TV show, but far afield from the best action or angles to come out of this territory. It’s also a chance to see Savage and Poffo (who never were acknowledged as brothers in the WWF) teaming together, but not a sterling example of their work as a team. I’d recommend checking out some of their stuff against the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, which also happened in Memphis, instead.

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

Up Next

We go above and Beyond.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 53: Booker T vs. Bret Hart (WCW, 2/22/99)

365 Wrestling, Day 53: Booker T vs. Bret Hart (WCW, 2/22/99)

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

The Monday Night Wars represent my favorite time period in wrestling, and it’s entirely for sentimental reasons. It was the summer of 1996 and, in the WWF, Steve Austin dropped his Austin 3:16 line while, in WCW, Hulk Hogan dropped the yellow and red to join the New World Order. The two biggest wrestling companies in the U.S. were going through major changes at the same time, and it was exciting to see. Meanwhile, I was starting college.

My Monday night ritual became flipping back and forth between Raw and Nitro, usually on the phone with my dad. One would watch one show, one would watch the other, and we’d let the other person know if something happened that warranted changing the channel. This was some great, and expensive, father-son bonding. I’ve written before about my dad’s own wrestling fandom and how it helped guide and shape my own. We spent hours on the phone every Monday. Keep in mind, this was before cell phones became widespread. Long-distance calling was still a thing. After a month or two of phone bills, they purchased a special 800 number I could call for unlimited minutes, at any time. It got plenty of use on Mondays for the next few years.

By the time of this match selection, the worm had turned once and for all in the battle between the two promotions. We just didn’t know it yet. Nonetheless, this match choice — Bret Hart vs. Booker T from the February 22, 1999, episode of Nitro — illustrated many of the issues WCW was facing.

Let’s dig in, OK?

The Context

We got a look at the Hitman as a participant in the house-show Royal Rumble watched as part of the January docket, but this is his first singles match in the project. By now, it’s been well over a year since Bret Hart jumped from WWF to WCW. At the time it happened, it looked like a move that potentially could cripple the WWF; instead it inspired the Austin-McMahon feud that anchored the Attitude Era. Hart, meanwhile, made an unfathomable heel turn just a few months after his no-compete clause expired, and has spent most of the past several months in the mix for the U.S. Title, rather than the WCW World Title.

Booker, meanwhile, is an up-and-coming singles star. After five tag title reigns with his brother Stevie Ray in Harlem Heat, Booker broke out in 1998, winning and losing the TV Title five times in about eight months. He also challenged Bret for the U.S. Title at the 1998 Bash at the Beach, with Bret inflicting a kayfabe knee injury.

Hart and Booker are wrestling to be the top contender to the U.S. Title, currently held by Scott Hall, who won it just a night earlier at Superbrawl.

The Match

It’s fitting that Larry Zbysko is one of the commentators for this match, because Bret Hart takes a page out of Zbysko’s book in the structure of this match. He stalls. He jaws at fans and the referee. He bullies Booker, maintaining a methodical pace of punishment and pretty much dominates the offensive flow of the contest.

Meanwhile, even considering who is in this match, or that it pairs someone who is (or should be) a WCW headliner with a fan favorite on the rise, so much of the match feels like an afterthought due to all the shenanigans happening around it. You see, the night before, at Superbrawl, David Flair turned on his father, Ric Flair, and allied himself with Hogan and the nWo. And later on this episode of Nitro, Tony Schiavone is going to moderate a sitdown between father and son. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, because the commentary team of Schiavone, Zbysko, and Mike Tenay talk about it constantly during the match, until Schiavone leaves to prepare for the sitdown.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a cut away from the match entirely as it’s happening to see Disco Inferno bribing someone in the production truck to hijack the feed for the end of the show. If the people airing the match don’t care enough to show it or even talk about it while it’s happening, why should the viewer?

The match itself is a solid if unspectacular throwback anchored by Bret Hart’s constant presence in control as the deliberate heel. The finish is solid. Booker throws a spin kick, and Bret provides an original and believable sell of it. Booker goes up top, gets cut off, and Hart delivers on a great-looking top-rope superplex. After a second attempt for the Sharpshooter sees Booker immediately make the ropes, Bret goes for a sunset flip, but Booker sits down on his shoulders and grabs his legs, pinning the Hitman in a callback to the exact same finish Bret used to defeat Davey Boy Smith at Summerslam 1992 in London.

Oh, and that number one contendership that Booker wins? It goes absolutely nowhere. Hall vacates the title a few weeks later due to injury, and Booker never gets his title match.

Random Thoughts

–The crowd really wants to cheer Bret Hart here, it seems. He’s heeling it up in spite of them, but the reaction when he first goes for the Sharpshooter is one of the biggest of the match.

–This was the sixth and final singles match between these two, all in WCW, but the first and only time that Booker got the pin.

–With such a large and varied roster (and no pesky brand split), WCW had unique matches like this one all the time even though most of them got lost in the ether due to bad booking.

–Every time the Flair angle comes up on commentary, Zbysko keeps going on back to the same point parents can’t use corporal punishment on their children. It starts out as strange and then just becomes obnoxious.

Final Rating: 5.2

This one missed the mark for me. The crowd is large and loud throughout, but relying on Bret to methodically control the pace on Booker for the bulk of a match that goes nearly 20 minutes bell to bell makes things drag. It’s an important moment in the build of Booker as he scores a clean win, but with all the proven veterans on the WCW roster, the Hitman really feels like the last guy who should be putting over the rising talent.

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

Up Next

We go to Memphis for some tag team action.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 52: White Castle of Fear, Sting vs. Big Van Vader (WCW, 2/21/93)

365 Wrestling, Day 52: White Castle of Fear, Sting vs. Big Van Vader (WCW, 2/21/93)

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

Certain combinations of wrestlers just bring out the best in one another. One of those magic pairings, in my opinion, is Sting and Vader.

In his book, Vader Time, Vader (whose real name was Leon White) had high praise for the Stinger, describing him as “one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

“We never had a bad match, ever,” Vader added in the book. “He knew how to sell for me, he knew how to come back, and we got to know each other very well.”

Lasting for about a year, the feud between Sting and Vader is one of my personal favorites, even though it didn’t yield big box-office success for WCW. In today’s entry for 365 Wrestling, we take a look at a match I missed from their rivalry: the White Castle of Fear from Superbrawl III.

The Context

Sting and Vader first crossed paths in the spring of 1992, with Vader going after Sting’s WCW World Title. Vader won the title at the Great American Bash in 1992, then finally bested Vader at Starrcade that year in the King of Cable tournament. By early 1993, Vader had regained the title from the man who took it from him — Ron Simmons — and saw Sting as his greatest threat. And so the champion challenged Sting to an unsanctioned match at Superbrawl, looking to remove his greatest competition.

But not just any challenge. The video sums up things better than any words can …

The Match

Wrestling changes and evolves like any artistic medium and one of those changes has been the use, or absence, of blood. It’s been well more than a decade since WWE intentionally used blood in matches, although All Elite Wrestling definitely has shown no qualms about employing crimson as a storytelling device. In the case of this match, the use of blood as a storytelling device significantly elevates the entire tale being told.

After an early few minutes where Vader has the upper hand (a departure from the traditional wrestling match structure where the fan favorite controls the opening), Sting gains control and starts delivering some shots across the back with the leather strap. Vader rolls to the floor, where his manager Harley Race goes to check on Vader… and blades his back. The cut keeps bleeding for the remainder of the match, and serves as a fantastic early sign of the viciousness the strap can unleash.

Later, Sting is bloodied following a withering-looking array of strikes in the corner by Vader. “He’s bleeding!” Race crows from ringside, exhorting the champion. Given Vader’s reputation for being incredibly stiff in matches, it’s hard to say whether the punches are worked, legitimate, or whether Sting’s rubber-legged stagger is selling or genuine.

Sting’s comeback elicits the third and final use of blood in the match. I’ve always felt Sting was underrated as a wrestler, and his incredible, fiery comeback here serves as good evidence for my stance. He turns the tide with a rolling kick, followed by a German suplex, then unleashes a brutal series of punches battering Vader into the corner. To this point, Vader has been built as the massive, unstoppable force in WCW and Tony Schiavone on commentary responds with the appropriate amount of shock and awe. Vader blades again, this time on his left ear — the chief target of Sting’s punches. As it turns out, Vader cut too deep, actually severing an artery.

Sting meanwhile throws Vader up onto his shoulder and begins to circumnavigate the ring in an attempt to touch all four ringposts in succession and win the match. While en route to the fourth and final corner, he trips over referee Nick Patrick — bumped a few moments earlier and Vader comes crashing down on Sting.

There’s been a healthy debate through the years about the finish of the match; some feel it ruins the whole match. I actually liked it. After weathering pummeling and punishment from his massive opponent, Sting makes his last-ditch attempt to finish things with his Herculean lift-and-carry of the 450-pound Vader. When this falls short, Sting is drained and has nothing left. Vader drags Sting around the ring, touching three of the four corners, but Sting shows the requisite amount of fight to deny Vader the fourth corner. Ultimately, Sting’s desperation kicks knock Vader sprawling backwards into the corner, ending the match. Sting loses, but if perception is reality, it’s the champion who looks like the loser given his battered and bloody condition, especially considering this is Vader’s touted specialty match and he fails spectacularly in his attempt to eliminate Sting for good..

Random Thoughts

–This pay-per-view was historically significant for WCW as it marked the return of Ric Flair, who made an appearance just 11 days after leaving the WWF.

–Schiavone and Jesse Ventura are on the call for this show, and they show good chemistry and teamwork playing off of one another.

–One of my favorite pieces of “window dressing” in this match occurs early, when Sting is lashing Vader with the strap and the camera catches some grandmother in the crowd screaming “Hit him!” repeatedly. You won’t find that in the Thunderdome…

Final Rating: 8.2

I’ve seen this discussed as the best strap match ever and I have to agree with that. The video building up this match might be the height of early 1990s schlock, but Vader and Sting work some magic here. The level of violence here was unexpected, welcome, and, as mentioned, assisted by the use of blood as a storytelling device. This is a great match you should definitely watch if you’d missed it in the last 28 years, as I had.

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

Up Next

We’re staying in WCW, (and breaking the “rules”) but jumping ahead six years for a battle between the Sharpshooter and the Spinarooni.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.