365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

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

Underrated and unappreciated.

These are just a few of the words I would choose to describe how Shelton Benjamin has been used — or not used — in WWE.

This project has allowed me the chance to reflect and pontificate on my various favorites in the realm of costumed murder gymnastics: Jushin Liger, William Regal, and Stan Hansen, just to name a few.

Shelton caught my eye in a dark match before watching RAW in Knoxville in the spring of 2001. His legitimate wrestling background combined with some freakish feats of athleticism always made him stand out to me. We all have our personal favorites, and he’s one of mine.

He’s also in action in this, the 37th installment of 365 Wrestling, pairing with Charlie Haas in the still-new-to-WWE Team Angle gimmick against Los Guerreros with the WWE Tag Titles on the line.

Now that the WWE Network has migrated to Peacock, where, at the time of this writing, only the last three years of SmackDown are available, fret not. You still can find this match on Dailymotion, or embedded below:

The Context

Benjamin and Haas spent the bulk of their time in WWE’s developmental system working in tag teams, but not with each other. They started teaming together in the fall of 2002 in dark matches, then made their televised debut on the 12/27/02 episode of SmackDown as backup for Kurt Angle, playing off their legitimate athletic credentials. Both wrestled in college–Haas at Seton Hall and Benjamin at Minnesota, where he was a two-time All-American. New to the main roster, Haas and Benjamin made a quick rise in the tag division, getting this title shot after defeating Edge and Chris Benoit the preceding week thanks to some help from Angle himself.

Eddy Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero, Jr., are the reigning champs, winning the titles in an excellent three-way match at Survivor Series the prior November. They’ve made four televised defenses heading into this match.

The Match

This match serves as a classic example of how to establish a new act as an immediate, credible presence in a promotion. Haas and Benjamin are the rookies (or, presented that way, even though Haas started wrestling professionally back in 1996) but they have instant credibility due to their amateur backgrounds, which Michael Cole and Tazz take great pains to tout on commentary. Cole goes the standard route with resume-reading, while Tazz points out specific things the challengers are doing and techniques they are displaying that make them a threat to the Guerreros.

In a traditional match layout in American wrestling, the fan favorites outwrestle the heels, who have to take shortcuts to seize the advantage. This match flips the script. Despite their experience edge, the champs are unable to outwrestle their pesky young challengers. Instead, it’s Eddy and Chavo using the dirty tricks and pulling out all the stops to take control — after all, “lie, cheat, and steal” was the Guerrero credo at this point.

We watched another tag title match on SmackDown in the January portion of the project, and this match exceeds that one in almost every aspect. The work is superior: with more athleticism and more intensity. The early mat wrestling occurs with a purpose, unlike many instances in the last 20 years where such exchanges come off like a feeling-out process or — my pet peeve — a cooperative affair where one wrestler has a hold but is then waiting, or even assisting, in what becomes a showcase of reversals.

The titles seem like more of a prize here, as well. Both sides go for pin attempts early and often with frequent tags by each team. Overall, a greater sense of urgency is created that adds significantly to the overall presentation.

These four wrestlers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The true heat segment begins after a collision between Shelton and the referee knocks the official into Chavo, launching him into the commentary table at ringside. When Eddy makes the inevitable hot tag, he never leaves his feet during the initial comeback, still cleaning house on the challengers, flinging Shelton out of the ring and even taking a kick at Paul Heyman, who is in Team Angle’s corner.

The match builds to its biggest moves at the end. Superplexes from the top rope. Frog splashes. Dives, or falls, from the top rope to the floor. The drama heightens, with a couple of very credible false finishes along the way, but after all the big moves, some confusion by the champions about who the legal man is leaves Eddy prey to a rolling cradle by Haas that ends the match and Los Guerreros’ title reign.

Random Thoughts

–Team Angle spent most of their time in WWE developmental in tag divisions, but not with one another. In Ohio Valley Wrestling, Benjamin paired with Brock Lesnar, followed by a team with Redd Dogg (better known as Rodney Mack, after Lesnar got called up to the main roster. Meanwhile, in WWE’s other developmental territory, Heartland Wrestling Alliance, Haas was teaming with his brother, Russ Haas, until Russ’ untimely death in 2001.

–Is that a Burberry scarf that Heyman is rocking at ringside? Perhaps this gave early inspiration to MJF, who was 6 years old at the time of this match, by the way.

–Speaking of Heyman, at one point he starts screaming bloody murder as Shelton gets choked with the tag rope in the corner by the Guerreros. It adds to the moment.

Final Rating: 6.7

This is an all-action tag match with real stakes, a creative finish, and it’s historically significant as it marks the start of the first title reign for Benjamin and Haas. Any booker could take a lesson from the way Team Angle gets presented, and built up quickly as contenders, then champions, but without having them shoved down the throats of the audience.

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

Up Next

An exciting take on a longstanding narrative trope: the young up-and-comer looking to make a name against an established veteran.

Send feedback or recommend a match for one of the upcoming dates in 365 Wrestling! Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 12: Paul London & Brian Kendrick vs. William Regal & Dave Taylor (SmackDown, 1/12/07)

365 Wrestling, Day 12: Paul London & Brian Kendrick vs. William Regal & Dave Taylor (SmackDown, 1/12/07)

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

I’ve tried to think of this project in stages, with January serving as the introduction. In this first month, I’m trying to spotlight some of my favorite wrestlers and tag teams, so you can learn a little more about my preferences during this yearlong deep dive into wrestling history.

Today I want to talk a little about William Regal, an all-time favorite of mine. He can bust out some smooth technical wresling, or throw down in a brawl. He’s shined as both a singles and tag wrestler, as a standalone character, part of a group, or in a henchman-type role. While he spent the bulk of his career as a heel, he did some fine work on the babyface side of things during alliances with Eugene and Tajiri that both led to eventual tag title runs. I honestly think that Regal was on track for a run as a world champion in WWE in 2008 when he was both general manager of the Raw brand and won King of the Ring only to have his push promptly stopped due to a violation of the company wellness policy.

Today, we’re taking a look at a match from SmackDown in 2007, where Regal teams with fellow Englishman Dave Taylor to challenge Paul London and Brian Kendrick for the WWE Tag Titles.

You can watch this match on Dailymotion, or below:

The Context

These are the tag titles that WWE first introduced in 2002, a few months after the initial brand split. London and Kendrick have been champs since the previous May, an eight-month reign that already had set the record as the longest run with the titles. They’ve crossed paths with the two Brits a few times before this, most notably in a four-team ladder match titles the prior month at the Armageddon pay-per-view that is worth watching (but not for the squeamish as Joey Mercury suffers a ghastly facial injury).

On this episode of SmackDown, prior to the match, Regal and Taylor approach the champs backstage reminding them this will be a straight-up wrestling match, with no ladders or other shenanigans. Regal , who does all the talking, doesn’t actually say shenanigans, even though this is a very Regal-esque type of word for him to use in such a scenario.

The Match

I’m a sucker for the rugged wrestlers with technical skill playing the part of the heel, and it’s a role perfectly suited for the duo of Regal and Taylor. They spend the first few minutes feeding into the fast-paced, occasionally high-flying offense of the champions. London and Kendrick are also giving up a lot of size in this match, so they tag in and out often. Note the sequence with three straight tags and immediate attacks off the top targeting the back of Regal, punctuated by a London double stomp.

Momentum changes when Regal delivers a wicked clothesline to London. A solid beating from the challengers follows, but London never feels to be in any real particular peril or especially dire straits. That said, Regal unloads a fun series of strikes bludgeoning London in the Englishmen’s corner.

This match took place during the era when SmackDown was taped, and sweetened crowd noise became the norm for the blue brand. It’s off-putting to hear these big oooh’s and ahhh’s during the hot tag by Kendrick and finishing stretch, while all the fans on camera are sitting there, silent and passive. Regal reverses a cross body by Kendrick into a pin attempt for a convincing near-fall, and shortly thereafter, Kendrick catches Regal in a backslide for the sudden victory. The facial expressions and mannerisms of both challengers selling this sudden and crushing loss are pretty great.

Random Thoughts

–I forgot Ashley Massaro was managing London and Kendrick during this time until I saw her come out for the match with the champs. When people and pundits talk about individuals in the world of pro wresting who had tragic ends, they don’t mention Ashley nearly often enough. I won’t go into all the details here, but you can find them easily enough with some Internet searching.

–It’s something to go back and watch WWE television that is more than 10 years old and watch a product that looks and feels pretty much the same as the current stuff. The only difference is probably more zoom cuts in the camera work now.

–Kendrick has short hair and looks to be about 10 years old as a result.

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

Final Rating: 5.0

There’s plenty of good talent in this match and while there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, there’s also not anything to make it really stand out or that I can identify as a reason for you to go out of your way and watch it.

What’s Next

We head to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? 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.

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

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

What makes someone an outstanding performer in the realm of pro wrestling? Should they be measured by their single “greatest” match? Their ability to sell tickets (when we aren’t in the middle of a plague, of course) or move merch? In recent years, I’ve placed more stock in longevity as a key determinant in wrestling–whether it be the ability to reinvent yourself time and time again to remain relevant, a gradual evolution to become one of the top practitioners of your craft, or being able to sustain excellence for years… even decades.

For me, Rey Mysterio, Jr,. falls into that latter category. He’s slowed down some, naturally, after the pile-up of years and injuries but his appeal, his style and many of his signature moves remain, in many ways, timeless. In the opening installment of 365 Wrestling, I decided to watch a match between Rey and another personal favorite, Tajiri, from the New Year’s Day episode of SmackDown back in 2004. You can check out this match, and every episode of SmackDown except the most recent four episodes, on the WWE Network. You can also watch a clip from the match in the video above.

The Context

Rey gets one more crack at Tajiri, the man who beat him for the Cruiserweight Title the previous September. Tajiri’s reign included him bringing on two lackeys to watch his back and interfere on his behalf, Akio (better known as Jimmy Yang) and Sakoda.

The Match

This culminates a four-month rivalry between Rey and Tajiri, and their familiarity shines through in this one. Rather than go flying at one another, and flying around the ring, at the opening bell, they opt for a more patient, mat-based battle in the opening minutes that runs counter to what most might expect from a matchup between these two. Each man anticipates key offense of the other: Rey blocks signature Tajiri offense like the springboard back elbow and the Tarantula, while, late in the bout, Tajiri avoids a springboard senton by Rey into a sweet counter to a half crab on the left leg, which is the main target of Tajiri’s offense for most of the match.

After relying on a distraction from Akio and interference by Sakoda to get control of the match, Tajiri really works over that leg, busting out the shin breaker best known as one of Ric Flair‘s favorite moves, the aforementioned single-leg crab and (my personal favorite) a pinpoint dropkick to the knee while Rey is hanging upside down in the Tree of Woe.

The finishing stretch is a good one. Tajiri delivers a nasty-looking running sitout powerbomb for a long two count. Rey counters the following Buzzsaw Kick with a double leg bridge for a very believable false finish. Ultimately, Rey foils interference by Akio and Sakoda, hooking Tajiri with a huracanrana into the pin to become two-time Cruiserweight Champ.

Random Thoughts

–Because this is the opening match on the show, I watched from the very beginning and was reminded of Hardcore Holly getting the rub as Brock Lesnar’s challenger at the Royal Rumble, and the SmackDown credits, which were a fine trip down memory lane as they’re the same credits and theme song from SmackDown: Here Comes The Pain, a game I played habitually for most of the mid-2000s.

–Sending out Akio and Sakoda in blue shirts with black pants wasn’t the best choice. On wide shots, they looked to similar to the uniform of the time for SmackDown referees.

–Hearing Michael Cole on commentary underscored just how long he has been a lead broadcaster for WWE. Has anyone else had a longer stretch as a key part of week-to-week TV for the company?

Final Rating: 7.8

This was an excellent match that showcases both Rey and Tajiri in their primes. Everything flowed well and looked good. At under 12 minutes (counting entrances, and minus the early portion of the match we don’t see due to the commercial break), this is a brisk, action-packed match with real stakes and a satisfying conclusion. A high bar has been set for tomorrow.

What’s Next

We head to Japan and get hardcore with a death match.

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

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? 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.