Following my initial Roll the Dice column, I’m back with six more wrestling matches randomly selected by software on my computer – US, Puro and Lucha wrestling could be on my menu for today, the only caveat being that I cannot choose myself. With that said, let us get down to a WWE-centric six which covers some of the biggest matches from the 90s, 00s and 10s.
Mr Perfect vs Bret Hart (King of the Ring 1993)
An event that would really work as Bret Hart’s coming out party, this would be the semi-final sandwiched by impressive efforts against Razor Ramon and Bam Bam Bigelow. With two faces, there needed to be some added animosity from somewhere on top of the general desire to reach the final, and the choice to have a pre-match interview where Mean Gene Okerlund questioned Hart’s belief that he would rather fight Perfect than Mr Hughes, thus angering Perfect. With Perfect not a million miles removed from his heel run, he plays an effective heel foil, almost forcing Hart into the role of underdog just as he would be in the other two matches in the night.
The match sees a lot of short bursts of offense before grappling on the mat, something that isn’t too surprising considering this goes almost twenty minutes. Early on, each men’s offense mirrors the other to highlight how well they know each other, and it takes Perfect breaking the rules by refusing to break clean and pulling the hair to gain control. We also see a pretty big bump for the time, as Hart is knocked off of the apron and into the barricade. The visible frustration of Perfect really helps to sell the guts that Hart is showing, and he uses the ropes to add further leverage to a sleeper hold attempt. After getting crotched on the top rope, Perfect attacks the fingers of Hart (injured in the first match against Ramon) to block the Sharpshooter in yet more ingenious heeling, leading to a reversal of a small package by Hart to win. Hart was often good at not being too reliant on the Sharpshooter as the de facto finish in his matches, an important concept during a three match win streak across the evening. Whilst I have heard it doesn’t match up to the Summerslam 1992 match, this is a very solid outing and worked well to help push Hart to that next level coming out of this PPV.
Batista vs Mr Kennedy (Royal Rumble 2007)
On paper, I’m not sure about this at all. It just doesn’t seem to offer me anything that I want from my wrestling, although I know that Batista can turn it on at times and provide something worthwhile in the ring. Having the commentators mention Kennedy defeating six former world champions the previous year (as well as Batista twice) is funny in hindsight, especially considering how Kennedy would disappear from the WWE only a couple of years later. Considering Kennedy’s victories over Batista, this match lacks the heat you might expect. The majority of the match sees Kennedy work over the leg, using an interesting modified leglock. Kennedy just doesn’t really have much in terms of offense to carry a long heat section, which really doesn’t help this match.
With Kennedy bleeding from the nose, a spinebuster brings Batista back in the match but also seemingly ends the selling of the leg. A rolling samoan is impressive for a man of Batista’s size, but undoes a lot of Kennedy’s work earlier in the contest. A ref bump is followed by a low blow and a Kennedy neckbreaker, leading to a slow two count that a number of fans choose to count along with, suggesting either a growing support for Kennedy or a lack of interest in Batista. Kennedy is hit with a clothesline as he comes off of the top rope, before getting planted with the Batista bomb for the loss. The ref bump didn’t really add anything, outside of the visual pinfall for Kennedy, and the match as a whole was as uninspiring as I expected coming in.
Christian vs Randy Orton (Money in the Bank 2011, World Heavyweight Title can change hands on a DQ)
As a booking technique, the added stipulation almost feels like it could give away the ending, unless the WWE are planning a big double bluff, which is a possibility. Either way, Christian offers Orton a chair right at the start and gives him a chance to lose the belt within the first thirty seconds. Unsurprisingly, Orton doesn’t take it. This is the third match the two had been involved in in short order, and both men create a sense of urgency and frustration at their inability to finally shake off their opponent as the match progresses. Orton even uses a wider offense to really sell the need to go above and beyond to get Christian out of there; a Thesz press and a Jacknife pinning combination aren’t exactly impressive, but help to develop the story further.
Christian is also willing to raise the bar in terms of his offense, as a diving headbutt gets him a near fall. It is to be expected, but the Killswitch only gets Christian a two count, which could be seen as devaluing the finisher, thought finisher kickouts in World title matches were ten a penny during this time it seemed. Another move that Orton uses which would be nice to see a return to is the gutwrench into a neckbreaker, a move of real beauty and impact. When Orton threatens to use the Punt, even just the move into the corner by Orton gets a huge pop from the crowd, showing the extent to which that move was over due to the instakill booking of it. The finish itself is a bit of a shame, as Orton kicks Christian in the balls to give Christian the title – the likelihood of Christian beating Orton via pinfall was always unlikely, but it made the stipulation feel as if it was tacked on just to give Christian a short title run before losing the belt back to Orton in less than a month. Still, you can see why the WWE ran with this match several times in a row, as it did feel that they brought the best out in each other.
Brock Lesnar vs John Cena (Summerslam 2014)
This is a match that suffers based on two things – comparisons to their match in 2012 at Extreme Rules, and time. The match at Extreme Rules felt crazy and legitimate; a Brock in the ring before the diminishing returns of his comeback begun to sink in. I remember watching the Summerslam match and being amazed at the squash-like nature of the booking. For that alone, this match is worth watching. However, seeing it against a couple of years removed, there are long sections where the match just felt boring.
What is interesting in the opening moments is the F5 for a two count. Though it is unlikely the WWE would choose to run a thirty second main event on their second biggest show of the year, Lesnar’s momentum made this viable enough that the crowd believe it is a potentially legitimate finish. Thankfully, this is before the overuse of the ‘suplex city’ concept, and Cena has to be lauded for the viciousness with which Lesnar dumps him repeatedly. The crowd feel like they want to cheer Lesnar, but are almost too afraid to considering the beating he is giving Cena. What Cena does well in this match is include just enough hope spots to make the match competitive, and to draw the audience back in to the match as a contest. A teased second F5 and a subsequent AA gets huge pops from the crowd.
The rolling Germans in the second half of the match are just an impressive feat of power and athleticism, although we do begin to get some crowd unrest and a few ‘boring’ chants. Out of nowhere, we get another hope spot of an STF, only for Lesnar to power out with relative ease and land an F5 for the victory. A ballsy booking move from the WWE to allow Lesnar to blow straight through their biggest star at the time, and a unique watch, but one that doesn’t always deliver in the ring, and one that would be usurped by the quality of the following match.
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns (Wrestlemania 31)
Lesnar vs Cena 2014 felt like it became the prototype performance for the modern Lesnar character and the modern Lesnar match. Reigns even is hit with an F5 right at the opening of the match, though it doesn’t draw a nearfall this time. Unlike Cena, however, the sense of competitiveness is always there, with Reigns offering more than token offense. Still, this is primarily the Brock Lesnar show as he ragdolls Reigns around with ease and keeps control of the majority of the match, including the introduction of the now overused ‘suplex city, bitch’ soundbite.
WWE had booked themselves into a corner with champion that no-one wanted to lose and a face that no-one wanted to win. Yet, as the match progresses, you do feel a shift in the attitude of the crowd. This was how Reigns needed to be booked in this match; a man who was able to gut it out and compete against the most physically impressive specimen a wrestling ring had arguably ever seen. Reigns bumps heavily in several instances, including into the barricade and onto the edge of the apron following a Lesnar clothesline. Two F5s follow shortly afterwards; both nearfalls. There is a palpable change in atmosphere following these two kickouts and Lesnar getting busted open hitting the ringpost. People began to feel that Reigns not only might win it, but shock of all shocks, deserve it to.
Multiple superman punches topple the giant, before two spears give us another near fall. A fourth F5 is a suitable counter to another attempted Superman punch, leading to the Rollins’s cash in that I loved at the time. In retrospect, I am now firmly in the camp of people who think it ‘ruined’ a really good match. With the work Lesnar and Reigns had done to make Reigns seem viable, it was a shame to have this undermined by Rollins’ title victory. If they wanted to, they could have gone with Reigns at this time – it definitely would have had more success than what occurred the year following. A Rollins’ curb stomp on Reigns would give WWE the booking out to have Lesnar lose the title but Reigns not win; just sad that it came at the expense of a brilliant Wrestlemania main event.
Rusev vs John Cena (I Quit Match, Payback 2015)
My last match of this week’s column sees the finish to the most recent incarnation of the Russia vs USA feud. Many point to this feud as the stalling of Rusev’s character, with the booking that saw him lose his undefeated streak, as well as three matches in a row, to Cena cutting off his character at the kneecaps. Even so, Rusev’s character and in-ring work allowed Cena to do what Cena does best and we ended up with an entertaining series of matches, ending with an intensely heated I Quit match.
A good I Quit match is often about escalating brutality, and spots which, whilst safe, give off the sense of danger and impending injury that is required to make it conceivable for any of these men to chuck in the towel. With this being the case, this match is largely successful, as a solid initial section gives way to work with the stais, including a nice spinout uranage by Rusev and an AA by Cena. A barricade is introduced just to get destroyed, before a table breaks awkwardly to derail the momentum. Not to be put off by this, laptops are used as weapons before an angled table against a wall sees Cena chucked through with an Alabama slam. Neither man was to be beaten by shoddy woodwork, it seemed.
An impressive looking, yet ultimately for show, AA into the pyrotechnics allows for some sense of a ‘big’ spot having occurred, before we then head back to the ring for the finish. Knocking out Cena with a camel clutch, Rusev grabs the metal pole attaching the ropes to the turnbuckle, only to get dropped into an STF with the ropes used for assistance. Though this is a repeated spot from previous Cena matches, it is always visually arresting finish, and whilst a tirade of Russian exits Rusev’s mouth, Lana enters the ring and quits for her man. If anything, Lana’s intervention does make the finish feel a little awkward, yet it does help to build towards the separation of Lana/Rusev that had begun in previous Cena vs Rusev matches. A good match all in all – you couldn’t really go too far wrong with ‘big match’ Cena and Rusev.
That’s it for this week. I already have the matches picked for next time, and you can expect a more cosmopolitan selection for sure. As always, share your thoughts, feelings and ideas and I look forward to hearing from you before the next time I roll the dice.