A few months ago I referenced to professional wrestling in the 1980s in my DailyMTG column Top Decks, in relation to the explosion of popularity of the Legacy format. This is how it came out in published form:
Some readers sometimes enjoy finding out what gets left on the cutting room floor. So I figured I might share the original (check my emphasis):
Thirty years ago, professional wrestling consisted of two burly — if “manly” and hairsuite — fat men overacting across a padded square, catering largely to regional audiences. First Vince McMahon, then billionaire Ted Turner, the emergence of high production value cable television, and even the emergence of mixed martial arts as a national phenomenon transformed the rasslin’ landscape… And its audiences. We have gone from thuggish strongman contests in smokey high school auditoriums with tabacco spit all over the floor to multimillion-dollar IPOs, high resolution video games played on your iPad, movie stars, and — by force of competition and focus — in-ring performances of such grandeur and violence that the long ago regional beginnings seem a different animal entirely. Once upon a time, Legacy was played infrequently at a large scale and the highest levels (maybe one domestic Grand Prix per year) and catered to a comparatively small and specialized audience; but today, the Star City Games Open Series highlights a competitive Legacy event almost once a week. As a result, we have a format that is full of lively, week-over-week, innovation and give-and-take, with many of the greatest minds in the game devoting time, care, and technology to curating the still-emerging metagame.
My original assumption was that then-editor Kelly Digges didn’t want me comparing longtime Legacy aficionados to chaw-spitting West Texas rednecks (not actually my original intention), but just thought the cut-down version read better.
I liked the original
This past week in my Flashback review, Flashback to Flashback, the DailyMTG folks exercised some good judgment and edited an old Kibler deck list to “something uncouth” …
Wonder why Brian played One Deep Analysis in the sideboard of his ‘Tog deck?
Here is the original text (emphasis, again):
To be fair, at the time, we got to play with Fact or Fiction, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that Deep Analysis was that good. Kibler played the one copy — in his sideboard no less — simply so that he could call his deck “Deep Anal Probe” (notice the three copies of Probe in the main deck).
Yes ladies, even nine years ago, he was a dreamboat of unparalleled wittiness.
You might not know that I am a thirty-five year old marketing executive living in New York, NY; that is, an adult, a husband, and a father of two. Or that I graduated with honors from a top 5 university, own my own condominium in Manhattan, and have designed numerous Pro Tour Top 8 and National- and World Championship-winning Magic: The Gathering deck lists. Additionally, I co-authored a book on Google that the former CEO of Apple said “should be on every marketer’s bookshelf.”
But for the purposes of this blog post I am an unapologetic, more-or-less lifelong, rasslin’ fan.
This post is about my Top 10 favorite memories as a wrestling fan.
I actually worked pretty hard on this list, not just in terms of picking moments that really stand out to me over a fandom that I have embraced since at least the age of eight or so, but poring over hours of video to pick representative moments, if not the exact ones that made me continue to love sports entertainment well into my third decade; so I hope that the rasslin’ fans (and potential rasslin’ fans) among my readership enjoy it.
A couple of things…
Not all of these are “matches” … Most great rasslin’ is great matches but, some of these are and some of these aren’t.
Not a single Hulk Hogan memory in the bunch! The Hulkster was certainly top of my list at some point (as he was for most young American wrestling fans at some point in their lives), I was watching live when the NWO was formed (the greatest angle in the history of sports entertainment)… But whatever. I guess I never really cared enough.
10. Chyna’s Heel Turn
I spent most of the year 1998-1999 separated from most of my friends, living in Ohio in my parents’ house. My friends were mostly a year or two younger and were still in college. The ironic thing was that I was watching the Montreal Screwjob and my roommates thought I was crazy (and then they became rasslin’ fans the year I left and we would bond about it over the phone).
The year I was at home, the WWF (which is what it was called then) was in a bit of turmoil. Shawn Michaels — then the promotion’s biggest star — was gone (and his faction, DX was bereft of their leader). Competitor WCW had every big star.
And yet Vinnie Mac made some kind of lemonade out of those lemons. He elevated HHH and The Rock to main event status, with both of them (along with Mick Foley and especially Stone Cold Steve Austin) forging legends and becoming some of the most memorable superstars in the history of sports entertainment.
DX somehow became the most popular face faction on TV, and waged weekly wars with corporate management. HHH was a good guy and I loved him for the first time ever (and probably the only time I ever did or will). The Rock was the bad guy, and deliciously so. In this segment, there is a betrayal in DX, which happened at the end of a free match — and a heck of one — between The Rock and HHH.
Trust me, it was shocking at the time
9. The Final Monday Nitro – Ric Flair in a shirt
Most of the 1990s (in the world of wrestling) involved the Monday Night Wars, Ted Turner’s Monday Nitro fighting with Vince McMahon’s Monday Night Raw.
Turner had Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and at one point or another, both The Ultimate Warrior and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. In addition he had amazing developing talent from Chris Benoit to Rey Mysterio (both eventual WWE Champions later in their careers). On top of that, Turner developed Bill Goldberg and repeatedly bought WWF top talent like Kevin Nash (Diesel), Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), and Brett Hart, decimating Vince’s ranks. Turner used some of that former WWF talent (starting with Hogan, Hall, and Nash) to create the NWO, the uncontested greatest angle in the history of the wrestling business.
Unsurprisingly, WCW hammered the WWF in ratings for years.
But Vince was scrappy.
He was resourceful.
He used former mid-card talent and made superstars out of them.
He marketed well, essentially did everything right, and eventually managed to kill WCW after the AOL / Turner merger (AOL probably wondered why billionaire Ted Turner had a black hole of millions and millions on the books and “I like rasslin’” probably wasn’t good enough for them).
This clip is the last match on the last Monday Nitro.
It features Ric Flair (one of the Top 3 wrestlers of all time, and at that point a fourteen-time World Champion) against Sting. Sting was the one and only elite Tier One superstar of wrestling that never worked in the WWF or WWE. He was NWA / WCW forever, and currently wrestles in TNA / Impact Wrestling. Vinnie Mac has made ovations to Sting, but he never bit (probably never will).
My memories of the specifics are kind of vague on this one. Like most people (explaining the ultimate fate of WCW and Monday Nitro), I wasn’t watching much at this point, despite being absolutely religious about Raw.
You can view the clip and see Sting has a stupid haircut and is looking a little out of shape. I doubt Flair had been in the ring as a wrestler in some time… He probably looks awful under all that… Part of what makes it memorable to me is Flair’s wearing a tee shirt in the match.
Despite both guys being past their primes (BTW they are both headlining today still, ten years later), I think they put on a good show. The match has many of the characteristic trappings of a great Flair match. Flair flops and he sells Sting’s offense like it is gun shots. Flair gets the advantage via a low blow (he is “the dirtiest player in the game” after all).
Uncharacteristically, the two hug it out at the end of the battle (Sting and Flair had been heated rivals most of their careers). The announcer says “thank you Steve Borden” at 10:30 (Steve Borden is Sting’s real name). They didn’t know what the future held, and they all acted like it was their last day… Putting on a good show and showing camaraderie and appreciation.
I couldn’t help but think this, watching the last Nitro live; and either Flair or Sting said it in his last interview: If everyone had put on shows like they did in the last ep, it wouldn’t be their last ep.
8. Dean Malenko on Monday Nitro
I spent a couple of hours trying to find an appropriate Dean Malenko clip.
What you need to know about why I care about Dean Malenko:
Dean is maybe the greatest in-ring mat wrestler, ever. I think I like him better for that than Daniel Bryan, Brett Hart, etc.
Dean Malenko will plant you on a power bomb. I mean you are a plant. As in buried in the earth. I remember noticing him for the first time on a Monday Nitro in I think that show’s first or second season and being just “wow.”
Malenko throws a drop kick that looks like it will actually hurt you. Most guys do a drop kick and it looks like it will hurt them just as much, flopping face-first onto the mat, etc. Dean hits you right in the kneecap at high speed. Dude is just unbelievable.
Like I said I couldn’t find an appropriate showcase match, so instead, Dean and a young Rey Mysterio (this match was like fifteen years ago!)… Enjoy.
Watch out for: a proto-619 at 2:30 (Rey was not using the 619 as his finisher then)
7. The Beginning of The Rockers
I am so glad I was able to dig up this match, featuring two of my favorite wrestlers of all time (Arn Anderson and Shawn Michaels).
I was a lifelong Rockers fan the moment I saw this match (my first exposure to them), and Shawn was my favorite wrestler from this moment on. This was the height of Hulkamania and Ultimate Warrior and all that, but I didn’t care. I told my friends how great I thought Shawn / the Rockers were and most of them thought I was crazy (“I guess he’s good, but those guys never win the title”).
Pretty good match… Glad they were wrong
The match is pretty awesome, but I am actually glad whoever uploaded it left in the commercials (how great are they)?
Double superkicks at about 3:04 (later in Shawn’s career this would have qualified as a decapitation)
3:44 sick corner escape by Shawn
3:49 — five seconds later, a literal Frankensteiner (mise just run that as a transition move)
10:53 Arn Anderson sticks his signature spine buster. I’ve always thought Arn was an underrated in-ring competitor… great move set for a tough guy.
Match is just mono-unreal, and like twenty years old.
Oh yeah, the commentator is a former governor of the state of Minnesota
6. Survivor Series 1992 (first main event)
Survivor Series 1992 was the first PPV I actually attended.
Originally Ric Flair was the WWF Champion but had inexplicably dropped the title to Brett Hart in a non-televised match in Canada (I know… What the!?!). So we got a double main event with Brett Hart defending against Shawn Michaels in the last match, and a different main event that saw the return of Mr. Perfect alongside “Macho Man” Randy Savage against Flair and newcomer Razor Ramon (Ramon, real name Scott Hall would eventually be a pivotal member of the NWO).
I didn’t really see the good guys winning this one. Wrestling at the time was booked as gods v. mortals, and Flair (like Sting, Hogan, Andre the Giant, etc.) was a god. Perfect was a great executor (like Shawn Michaels) and a career bad guy (and coming off a bad injury).
This one was pleasantly surprising to me, again at my first PPV
What made it memorable: About 12:49 Razor goes for the Razor’s Edge (his finisher); Perfect goes nutso, reversing it and hitting a pair of gorgeous PerfectPlexes.
5. Survivor Series 1992 (final main event)
Like I said, at this point, Shawn was already my favorite wrestler (this was close to ten years before his legitimate “push” as a World Championship caliber draw), and I was shocked that he was in the main event (I mean I was shocked Brett Hart was the Champion, too)… But I didn’t think Shawn was going to win.
Some pleasant memories:
2:24 – Shawn hits the superkick; years later this would be christened Sweet Chin Music and graduate to his finisher, but at this stage it was just a random holder move from his Rockers days.
2:40 – Cut throat signal… After the superkick, Shawn signals he is going for his finisher…
3:04 – Tear drop suplex; this move never got over with the fans as a legit finisher. I remember it being Shawn’s “big move” from my WWF Super Nintendo game at the time, of course.
4:00 (actually a bad memory) – Shawn goes up to the second rope for a “high risk maneuver” after missing the pinfall with the tear drop suplex. I was probably the only kid in the audience screaming “don’t do it, Shawn” … Of course he gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar and the good guy won.
Still, a fine match, and a nice preview to Shawn’s eventual dominance some many years later
This isn’t actually one of my favorite memories (I had never seen it before doing the research for this blog post), but it is a nice reversal to clean our visual / mental palettes of that Brett Hart-catch.
Shawn nails Shelton Benjamin coming off the ropes with Sweet Chin Music here… It is positively “Cammy” from Street Fighter!
4. The End of The Rockers
My sister (huge crush on good guy version of Shawn Michaels at the time) probably still has nightmares about his heel turn.
But going “bad guy” Shawn, divorcing himself of longtime Rockers tag team partner Marty Jannetty, was the only way he was ever going to be World Champion. Took a while, but he is today considered by the WWE locker room to be the #1 wrestler of all time… And he would never have gotten there as a tag team specialist.
3. Ricky Steamboat and Dustin Rhodes over The Enforcers
This match is impossible to find on YouTube. They actually have almost every other segment from the event it was from, but excised the one match. Speculation is that it is featured on Ricky Steamboat’s commemorative WWE DVD… Oh well.
Basically Dustin Rhodes (son of “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes) is challenging Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko for the tag team titles. Dustin’s partner is injured and he has a mystery partner. It turns out to be Ricky Steamboat.
Match is awesome and the good guys steal the titles.
Why this was awesome:
Ricky Steamboat was a mid-carder in the WWF, blowing fire as his gimmick but not really doing anything important. WCW brought him back in a funky dragon mask and made it seem like the earth had split. Steamboat at his height was a god in the ring, BTW… Would have been an all-time great if he wanted to.
Arn Anderson was basically the perfect bad guy. Villains like the Undertaker are cartoon characters. You know, even as a kid, that he isn’t a dead man with superpowers. If you cross Arn, he will break your arm by slamming it in a car door. Once a promoter didn’t send out who Arn wanted to fight, and he said “you are about to see the closest thing to attempted murder in the history of television” … and you believed him.
Overall, Dustin was lame; Ricky was so great he made all of us cheer for the future GoldDust!
2. Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho over HHH and Stone Cold Steve Austin
This is literally my favorite match of all time.
It is perfect from top to bottom. I remember seeing it live and thinking “wow, Chris and Chris really want to win this one!”
At the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin was the biggest star in the history of wrestling. HHH was rising, and marrying into the right family.
This match happened.
They billed the Tag Team Titles like they mattered. Two amazing workers — Benoit and Jericho — were able to go over two of the biggest stars ever. It wasn’t just one of the greatest matches of all time, but represented something much bigger than a match or even a title change.
In case you don’t know this, Austin’s knees at this point were heavily braced. He still got around pretty well if you ask me.
HHH took a savage injury that kept him out of the ring for like a year… And finished the match (you can see him start to limp about 11:58… and by 12:30 he is locked in Jericho’s Boston Crab variation on the announce table [the most painful experience of HHH's career if I recall].
Again, the match is perfect from top to bottom, and I loved it upon the re-watch.
1. The La Parka Diamond Cutter
I am pretty sure this was the most surprising moment in the history of wrestling.
I think you can probably tell that I did / do / will forever.