Monday, March 9, 2015

The 2014 Top 100 Matches Countdown: False Hope, Dog Collars, and Secret Show Mayhem

Sandow and Cena helped kick off the year with a big RAW match
Photo Credit:
Welcome once again to The Wrestling Blog's top 100 matches of the year. Each post contains 20 matches, listed chronologically, one post released per day for this week. As with every year, if you don't see a match you think should be on here, it means I either haven't seen it or I didn't deem it worthy enough to be on my top 100 list. The first match from 2014 that makes the list is one of the most violent match-types done in a grimy little Northern Georgia promotion. Let's get it started:

Shaun Tempers (c) vs. Andrew Alexander, Empire Pro Championship Dog Collar Match, EPW House Show, 1/4 - Watch It Here!
The match with the largest capacity for violence, or at least the highest bar to clear, is the dog collar match. You gotta get down to business early and often, and while I increasingly find blood less and less welcome in pro wrestling, the sentimentality of the Roddy Piper/Greg Valentine match makes some color okay. Tempers’ first title defense of 2014 had all the violence that was fit to air, he showed color early, and the ending of the match had a little bit of a unique flair. Alexander whupped Tempers, who played the scalded dog role to absolute perfection. The Champ was busted open within the first couple of minutes as well. The violence kept escalating especially with a few uncomfortable hanging spots over the ropes as well as a couple of other instances where the chains were used as a binder. But Tempers undoing the dog collar and foiling Alexander’s final pin attempt before nailing the challenger with his signature cross-armed neckbreaker with the chain wrapped around his neck was a brilliant, cerebral finish that displayed a need for cunning even in the most sadistic of environments.

David Dutra (c) vs. Timothy Thatcher, WCWF Championship Match, WCWF House Show, 1/11 - Watch It Here!
Watching a Thatcher match is brutal, brutal art. The way he works in and out of grapples, targets body parts, and segues into impossible counters are a treat to watch. His matches against guys like Drew Gulak or TJ Perkins who can keep up with him are great, but when he’s in there against a guy who has a slightly different mindset. Dave Dutra, Northern California townie and Champion of this smallish promotion, was able trade holds and work counters, but his aim clearly was to shift focus towards brawling and strikes. This match was HEAVY on the mat wrestling exchanges and counters, but every now and again, Dutra would get his licks in and try to bring it back to his wheelhouse. Thatcher still held control and showed his mastery at every turn, but the final stroke, Dutra getting that last counter in and drilling him with the DDT, put the wrapper on the match and was able to show the Champion’s guttiness and guile in escaping a match against a superior opponent who’d dominated him for most of the action.

John Cena vs. Damien Sandow, RAW, 1/13 - Watch Highlights Here!
Cena and Sandow have the mythical chemistry, the kind I saw with Cena and CM Punk back before they went out and proved it on a huge stage at Money in the Bank ‘11. All of their matches seem to have the same feel to those early Punk matches. I always feel it in my gut that Sandow is never going over, not in a million years, but Cena always gives him a bunch of offense, and always feels vulnerable enough to let the feeling slip. Sandow always comes out looking better, even if he eats the inevitable loss, booking after said match notwithstanding.

This match obviously wasn’t their first match, because Cena had two healthy arms. That layer of psychology was stripped away and re-coated with a layer of MOVEZ. Seriously, both Sandow and Cena dusted off some gems they hadn’t used in years or at all, including Sandow co-opting half of Edge’s moveset, but I thought that story was almost as fitting as the first match. Sandow here was set out to flounder. He got the jobber entrance and wasn’t billed before the match. This match was set up from jump to be a Cena showcase, so Sandow going balls to the wall makes the most sense. He’s a proud man, so he shouldn’t want to be fodder.

So out came the twisting sidelong sharpshooter and the Edge-o-matic and the crossface that ended up leading to his doom. He had to throw caution to the wind, and Cena not getting to enjoy a squash match made him break out a tornado DDT for the first time in maybe ever. Sometimes, an abundance of moves can mean something, and when two wrestlers with that much chemistry get in the ring and tell a story, the odds of that happening skyrocket.

Chris Dickinson vs. Gran Akuma, Wrestling Is Respect 6, 1/19
Wrestling Is Respect’s final show started out slowly and meandered a bit before Dickinson and Akuma woke the crowd up. Dickinson’s personality and panache helped spice up an already solid contest that featured slick counterwrestling and great progression. Mat wrestling and exchanges seemed to be in in ‘14, but these two took the concept and told their own story with it. Namely, Dickinson tried to keep up with Akuma early, but every time he tried to go hold for hold, he got outclassed. It wasn’t until he got a little spicy that he started to get the upperhand, and even in a PG environment, saucy Dirty Daddy means maximum entertainment value. It was nice to see Dickinson in an environment where his gimmick wasn’t sexual harassment for heel heat or where he was across the ring from a death match specialist, because he was able to work without too heavy an encumberance against someone who’s been around the block a few times. That ease translated into a solid match with counters until the very end, when they reversed the tombstone position three times before Akuma got his patented tombstone lungblower for the win.

Iron Ant!
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Green Ant vs. Drew Gulak, Iron Man Match, Wrestling Is Respect 6, 1/19
Little did the crowd at the Boonton Elks Lounge know, but this match would be the final bout in Wrestling Is Respect’s short but eventful history, and given how this particular Chikara horcrux was built upon the backs of Green Ant, Gulak, and Francis O’Rourke, going out in an iron man match between the two who were healthy enough to wrestle in it was the definite best way to go out. The entire history of the promotion seemingly built to this match, and it did not disappoint in the least. It was raw and tense, and the ending hit all the beats that a great, non-worked sporting event would have had. The brilliant part and probably the biggest work of them all was that for all the unsteady grapples and the shaky counters and the “realism” that the MMA fetishists cling to, the match from jump was directed towards hitting every single pro sports beat rather than going the cinematic storytelling route that many other great wrestling matches traverse.

From the beginning, when both wrestlers tapped out in cursory fashion rather than risk suffering long term injuries through the point where Gulak held a 3-1 lead and took Bryce Remsburg’s count all the way to 19 before breaking, through to Green Ant’s tying fall with a drilling spike tombstone and tap out with two seconds left on the clock for the win in the Chikara Special Green, the match was plotted out with sporting realism in mind throughout. That structure and framework was decorated with the rough-around-the-edges amateur-tinged counters and grapples that Gulak has adopted as signature nearly everywhere and that Green Ant has taken a shine to when the time was proven right (like against mentor Mike Quackenbush). Even down to the timed nature of the match and the stripping of the “winner take all” atmosphere of any other wrestling match, they executed the gameplan of making the viewer feel like they were watching some kind of weird football game transposed into the squared circle.

It could not have been done without two wrestlers the caliber of Gulak and Green Ant though. The things that informed their personae in the ring meshed so well within the framework that it would be hard to imagine anyone else even attempting wrestling this kind of match. Gulak’s dogged pitbull tenacity, always grabbing for the extra leverage, treating every opponent as if he or she was entangled in a blood feud, helped to crank up the heat in the middle portions where he played with the lead, while Green Ant’s resilience and trademark will made his victory come off as satisfying and organic even if it was telegraphed the moment he tapped out to the Gu-lock to go down three falls to one. This match was almost perfect, and it was the sheer result of two masters taking a formula and going all the way with it.

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins vs. Big E Langston, Cody Rhodes, and Goldust, RAW, 1/20 - Watch Highlights Here!
With The Shield in the story crumbling at the foundation, I was afraid that the well of trios matches was going to run dry. To be honest, their forays against Punk in December of 2013 and January of this year had been a bit uninspiring. However, getting into the ring with Goldust will cure what ails anyone. The Shield found their mojo, Cody Rhodes jump started his year and cemented himself as the next big WWE babyface, and Big E Langston got to mix it up with five of the best wrestlers in the company in order for him to get more comfortable in the ring.

The match open started out with Goldust and Rhodes on parade doing the babyface piefacing of the heels. It lasted for the whole first commercial break, but them fightin’ Rhodes Boys did it so well. I liked Rhodes’ panache especially on the placekick from the rope position. The standoff between the two teams going into break was a nice touch too. I would have liked to have seen how The Shield got the upperhand, but sometimes, you just have to live with the hand you’re dealt as a viewer of wrestling on free, televised, sponsored wrestling.

But the finishing derby, with Langston presiding over HOSS COURT, Rollins bumping like he was falling off a ladder just by going into the turnbuckle face-first, and Cody Rhodes clearing house on the hot tag, was sublime. This flourish also gave what became an early contender for spot of the year. With Rhodes coming off the springboard for the Disaster Kick, Reigns hit him with a picture-perfect, right-at-the-last-second Superman punch. The visual was beautiful, almost as gorgeous as Rollins’ curb stomp to end the match. Basically, this match was everything the trio’s 2013 was, and it was also a great continuation in the Goldust redemption story.

Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto del Rio, RAW, 1/20 - Watch Highlights Here!
The difference between Mysterio and del Rio, and say, Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler, is that when WWE Creative has nothing for them to do but wrestle, they go out and put on a different match. Sometimes, it’s not inspired. Their first two matches in this series were pretty meh, but they tried to do something different. On this episode of RAW, they got two segments of the show, and they may have turned in their best performance to date, which is saying something given their long, rich, and sometimes played-out history. The first part of the match was all about del Rio throwing his considerable tyranny around. His offense looked a little too real at points. The rope hanging-curb stomp was especially stiff, but the toss into the ring steps may have topped it. Mysterio broke out his signature bump in this match as well, the slide from the ring to the floor. I’ve seen him do that bump a thousand times since I’ve returned back to watching wrestling, and it never, ever makes me look comfortable. This match had all the makings of scripted murder, even with del Rio teasing his own signature bump (the missed dropkick through the top and second ropes to the floor) and eating the apron face first on a Mysterio hope spot. But then they started playing into their rich history, countering spots, and adding in new wrinkles to charge into the hot finish

Alberto del Rio vs. Sin Cara, Main Event, 1/22 - Watch Highlights Here!
Man, the difference between Mistico and Hunico as Sin Cara is night and day, or more accurately, regular lighting and special Sin Cara mood lighting. del Rio spent a good portion of the match doing what he does best, working ruthlessly to make sure the babyface is just not comfortable, and Cara not only took the beating like a Champ, but his comebacks were sprightly and on point. The issue with Mistico was never really the botches for me, but the levels of apparent discomfort he showed exchanging with the gringos on the WWE roster. I also dig symmetry in a match. Sin Cara took the through-the-corner ringpost bump, only he missed the actual post and slid to the floor, which was cringe-inducing as it was visually impressive. Then del Rio took the same bump (at least catching the post this time), which was a nice bit of flashback.

Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt, The Royal Rumble, 1/26
The write-up for this match originally appeared in my review for The Royal Rumble.
Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan went out in the proper opening of the Royal Rumble event, told everyone to top that, and no one could even come close. I could write nothing more about this match, and the description would be sufficient, but no lie, Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan told everyone else to "top that," and no one came close. Brock Lesnar and Big Show didn't even try. John Cena and Randy Orton weren't physically able to. The Rumble was the Rumble. But this match was the best non-Rumble match at the Royal Rumble event in history.

Bryan did all the things that have made Bryan matches great in his history. He bumped hard. Apron spots are still coming into vogue in WWE, but he set the bar high by taking that extra-fast arm-wringer from Wyatt. Then he let Wyatt senton him on the floor, and I am not sure what he was thinking when he agreed to take the Sister Abigail's Kiss into the barricade. No sane man would take that spot, but Bryan, by all accounts, is a guy who takes his craft very seriously. Of course he was going to throw himself into the wind like he always does. However, the way he escalated his offense, especially with the curb stomp, set him apart in other performances. The dude wrestled like he was trying to kill a man who had been tormenting him for months.

And Wyatt turned in his first signature match in a big league ring since adopting the persona. He even found a way to make the inverted crab walk look even creepier, but he actually put it together in the ring completely. He was confident, diabolical, and sharp. His facial expressions were amazing, and his knack for offense was second to none. All in all, both men looked like they hit harder, tore at each other more intensely, and put their beef in corporeal form for the time they got to tell their story. One was a master at work that was known to us. The other was a wild card who needed something to hang his fedora on. They overdelivered, and their performance may have salvaged an otherwise dreary show.

Cesaro vs. Dolph Ziggler, Elimination Chamber Qualifier, Smackdown, 1/31 (airdate) - Watch Highlights Here!
Cesaro in WWE is a blessing because the company knows how accentuate his strength. Wrestling-time mainstay Tom Kingsmill remarked that Ziggler looked like a child in Cesaro’s grasp, but that’s anyone who isn’t at least Cena-sized. His feats of strength were coupled with some nimbleness. The pinning combination derby to start the match was a great show of athleticism by both wrestlers. While Ziggler’s dexterity is well-documented, Cesaro looked as natural as a cruiserweight getting over for those combos, especially the sunset flip. Ziggler’s counters, timing, and of course bumping brought the thunder from his end. His counter of the Swiss Death into a DDT was on point, and he bumped hard off the Zig Zag miss to help set up a definitively impactful finish to put Cesaro into his first ever Elimination Chamber.

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins vs. Daniel Bryan, Rey Mysterio, and Sheamus, Smackdown, 1/31 (airdate) - Watch Highlights Here!
Never break up The Shield. Never, ever break up The Shield. Every time I felt like their inevitable demise was a good idea, they went and put on yet another performance against some permutation of the roster at large in trios form, and the results are still sterling. STERLING. The fact that three of the best television wrestlers in WWE history were on the other side of the ring. Bryan and Sheamus both were not strangers to the group in 2013, and Mysterio is a natural fit against any wrestler, large or small.

Sheamus held court early on in the match, showing off the form that made him WWE’s best in-ring performer of 2012. He traded blows with Reigns and hossed around the other two. The highlight of the early part of the match was definitely landing the signature chest clubs on Ambrose’s exposed chest. But where the match took off was when Bryan took the hot tag and went on a warpath, ending with a crescendo of a suicide dive THROUGH the corner. From there, finisher mania took hold. Bodies flew everywhere, both on offense and defense, and the final stroke of Reigns putting a spear into Mysterio’s belly so hard that he probably grew two inches was poignant and stunning.

One batshit crazy match in one of the most batshit crazy tourneys of recent memory
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
ACH and AR Fox vs. Ricochet and Rich Swann, PWG DDT4 First Round Match, PWG DDT4, 1/31
Every year, DDT4 has one match that ends up blowing up bigger than any of the other six in the tournament slate. In any given year, the Young Bucks usually end up taking one side, with the other being some enterprising new babyface team come to challenge them. The Bucks were in Japan for this event, but four enterprising young black high flyers did more than their share to pick up the slack. I don’t know what the major indie promotions have about sticking all POCs together in one clump, but in this case, the results could not be argued. With ACH and AR Fox on one side of the ring and Ricochet and Rich Swann on the other, an average match was the absolute, unlikeliest worst case scenario.

Of course, the high spots were off the charts, but with four guys like these who not only put their bodies on the line for offense but for bumping on that said offense, that scenario was to be expected. The flair and subtle character work they put in provided a solid ground for them to light their fireworks. Most impressive to me was how ACH and Fox were able to work rudo just enough to give the ICMGs something to fight against. It was a side of ACH that I’d never really seen before, and much like Fox, who’d turned heel in Beyond shortly before this, they were both adept at playing the bad guy. ACH making Swann clap his hands to the rhythm of his “All Night Long” crowd chant was deliciously evil, and it was part of what made this match more than a spotfest. I have nothing against spotfests. I love spotfests. But when the flips and dives and inhuman feats of flexibility and jumping are backed up with a story, then the action becomes much more memorable. It’s what pro wrestling is built upon.

But of course, the flips and the dives and the jumps and the stretches were all balls-out crazy amazing. Live or on tape, seeing ACH clear twice his height on his skywalker dive to the outside is a feat that is barely rivaled in wrestling. Fox’s ability to make high spots look easy and his even more impressive and dangerous tendencies to have no regard for his own body may shorten his career, but the brightest flames do burn quickest. But the ICMGs were just perfect all tournament long in their timing and the knack for treading the fine line that so many spot guys just stumble at. The finishing sequence with Swann missing the standing 450 only for Ricochet to hit ACH with a springboard variant was the kind of visual dosey-do that felt super fresh. This match lived up to its expectations and then some.

Hallowicked vs. Mike Bennett, National Pro Wrestling Day, 2/1 - Watch It Here!
The write-up for this match originally appeared in my review for National Pro Wrestling Day '14.
The match that perhaps had the most deeply-rooted history on the card, even if the build for it was dormant for the last 16 months. Bennett tapped out to Hallowicked's Chikara Special to seal the King of Trios tournament for the Spectral Envoy. This match was his first bout back in the Chikaraverse, and he continued to show the form that made him a breakout star that weekend back in September 2012. Even without the Bucks to buoy him, Bennett, against a good opponent and one of Chikara's best babyfaces in Hallowicked, was all-around on top of his game.

Bennett played the crowd up to perfection, a crowd that was ready to remind him of his last appearance in the company. He got Wicked's offense over with a simple shriek at the threat of a plancha. He played into his infamy for effect by trying to piledrive 'Wicked on the apron. He even looked for a tag that wasn't there for the Bucks while dazed from a barrage of offense. He was also the sharpest I've seen him on exchanges and his moves looked really good. Hallowicked may have turned one of his finest singles performances of the last couple of years as well. His offense was also on point, and his timing was great, especially on the plancha pump fake that caused Bennett to shriek. His fire was the hottest I've seen in awhile as well. These two bring out the best in each other, and I'm glad they got a chance to rekindle a rivalry that I hope continues into the future.

Vordell Walker (c) vs. Jesse Neal, Falls Count Anywhere US Pro Championship Match, US Pro 30th Anniversary Show, 2/1 - Watch It Here!
I can be way too easy at times, because little things that get thrown into a random match will automatically win me over. A grown human adult shoving another grown human adult’s head into a toilet is one of those things, and it happened twice in this match. Hell, Neal planned so far ahead he gimmicked a guy taking a dump in the one stall to wait so he could dunk Walker’s head in “shit.” That move is some next-level carny-ass bullshit, and I love it. Walker actually wrestled for a good ten minutes with wet toilet paper on his head. The best part of the whole exchange was Walker actually returned the favor. I may get way too hyped to see middle school-grade bullying appear in wrestling matches, but honestly, it’s all in what those kinds of antics represent, which are the absurd strains in pro wrestling manifesting themselves in the heat of two guys wanting to kick the shit out of each other.

And this match found Neal and Walker kicking the shit out of each other in ways that ranged from the grittiest of the gritty into the wonderfully “fat birds don’t fly” territory that no wrestling match should ever fear to tread. They threw each other over the gimmick tables. They took turns hitting each other with the trashcan. Walker choked Neal with an empty bag, while Neal made Walker wear the can before kicking him. It was a total, fun, trainwreck brawl up until the last two minutes, when they liberally no-sold each other’s German suplexes. But the missteps at the end couldn’t take away from the violent joy they produced, whether it involved toilets or not.

Mickie Knuckles vs. Kimber Lee, WSU Secret Show #3, 2/7 - Watch Highlights Here!
The write-up for this match originally appeared in my review for WSU Secret Show #3.
A great wrestling match isn't just comprised of holds, counters, bumps, and selling. At its heart, pro wrestling is performance art, theater if you will. Chatter within the match, facial expressions, and gesticulations are technically not necessary, but they can elevate so-so matches to good and so on and so forth. Mickie Knuckles took this match, which was actually would have been a standout match on its own, and elevated it with her shit-talking (on par with Mark Henry, to be honest), her wide-eyed war faces, and her general frenetic energy.

Of course, the main pitfall of being as expressively extracurricular as Knuckles was during this match was that the main conflict against Lee could have become secondary to getting herself over. However, everything Knuckles did built towards her desire to destroy Lee. She jawed with the announcers out of a paranoia that they might not have been giving her enough credit. She threatened Sozio because god forbid the referee show concern for the opponent that Knuckles would've been content to eviscerate with no concern.

Lee herself played the best babyface she possibly could, enhancing both the story and her opponent's bloodthirsty and somewhat perverted rage. She bumped hard and brought some blazing fire with her comebacks. And when the time came for Knuckles to make Lee's offense look like a world-beater, she put as much into selling as she did in her psychological torment. Lee at one point hit Knuckles with an enzugiri, and she took the move as if she were a redwood falling in the forest, that is, if a redwood had a face to blank out while the lumberjack yelled "TIMBERRRRRR!" This match was a complete performance from both wrestlers, especially Knuckles, who stole the show from the second match and dared everyone else to try and follow that.

Hania the Howling Huntress vs. Athena, WSU Secret Show #3, 2/7
Hania had a reputation for sloppiness going into this match, and Athena had just returned from an injury. Those elements could have come together to create a disappointing contest, but both wrestlers were sharp, crisp, and tight. Hania had a coming-out party. Her offense was on point, especially the lucha-inspired moves that were her pitfalls in the past. She showed great command on her casadora moves as well. Athena showed very little ring rust as well. The best part of the match was how intense the two played the contest out. The amount of apparent enmity may have seemed out of place for a first time match, but at the same time, Hania at this point was still an unestablished name. What better opportunity would she have to make a statement within the narrative than by going hard at Athena? I thought that was a great story, and the match benefitted because of its implementation.

LuFisto vs. Athena, WSU Mutiny, 2/8
Sometimes, a match gets so much hype beforehand that it cannot at all measure up to the results. It happens enough that it’s unbelievable that any event could meet up to the immense anticipation that can build up in the age of social media, instant information, and availability of so many voices weighing in on a subject. But it does happen from time to time. While a lot of the attention for Mutiny was focused on the main event, the match that would decide who’d face the winner of that match got a lot of the attention, and for good reason. LuFisto had been riding a hot streak around the continent, and Athena was coming back from injury, ready to pick up where she left off. The resulting contest was one of the best matches of the year.

They didn’t take too long to hit into third gear, throwing each other into the apron and brawling on the outside against the barricade. It was the equivalent of a firefight with cluster bombs. They worked stiff, and the most impressive part about it was the sustained intensity of the match. They kept throwing heat at each other and didn’t stop except to sell the damage. Apron powerbombs and curb stomps and armbreakers over the barricade and double stomps from the top into the tree of woe, it was all brutal and visceral visually. But it wasn’t just a match full of spots just to have spots. Everything led to something else. The progression, the escalation, it all made sense and led to the crescendo of LuFisto blocking the O-Face and then walloping Athena with the backfist into the Burning Hammer. The finish was earned by both wrestlers.

Knuckles not exactly thinking good thoughts for Malone
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Jewells Malone vs. Mickie Knuckles, Uncensored Rules Match, WSU Mutiny, 2/8
Hardcore wrestling is an acquired taste for some, but at its heart, it’s just stiff Memphis-style brawling, just with weapons. Sometimes, it involves wrestlers getting slammed into dollhouses. Sometimes, it involves dollar bills being stapled onto genitals and then ripped off and shoved into the victim’s mouth. Okay, so maybe that kind of stuff goes above and beyond the call of duty and transcends into crazy territory. But then again, no one ever accused Malone or especially Knuckles of being all there. But even though I would never in a million years want someone stapling anything to me, let alone my private parts, I can’t help but have immense respect for Knuckles for letting Malone defile her in such a way. Of course, this match wasn’t singularly valuable for a stunt that many might find tasteless. These two threw everything they had at each other and then some. It just goes to show that maybe, just maybe those who think that women can’t produce the kinds of violence and stiffness that men can are full of shit.

Devin and Mason Cutter vs. Heidi Lovelace and Jordynne Grace, Beyond Wrestling St. Louis Sleeper Cell, 2/9 - Watch It Here!
This match was a little over ten minutes, but it packed so much insanity between the bells that it felt grander in scale. The Hooligans are known for recklessly careening into people and fixed objects alike, but they are both big boys who can and should work “big” whenever they can. In this match, they outweighed their opponents probably by at least 200 or more pounds combined and used that to inform their offense, but they still were able to display their awesome, car-crash speed and disregard for their bodies. It was weird seeing them slow down their big high spots and still have them look impressive, but it speaks to the Brothers Cutter’s versatility. Lovelace and Grace were the perfect foils too, high energy, big strikes, and smart teamwork. Grace especially was in the right place at the right time for the big counters, especially taking a HUGE powerbomb to the floor after Devin countered her apron rana. Lovelace has become synonymous with taking the giant bump as well, and boy, I didn’t envy her as she ate the Hooligans’ wheelbarrow leaping DDT combo finish to end the match.

Sheamus and Christian vs. Cesaro and Jack Swagger, RAW, 2/10 - Watch Highlights Here!
Honestly, this tag match building towards the Elimination Chamber was made for me when Cesaro and Sheamus were clubberin’ on each other in the corner. Cesaro put those arms in Sheamus’ face, and then the Irish Stone Cold burst out with a fire as hot as his orange hair would have suggested. Some guys trade strikes and look like they’re going through the motions, but these two throwing hands at each other feels like a slugfest with some gravitas. Most of their staged pugilism was contained to a few minutes, but it left me wanting so much more.

But this segment of the match was part of a larger narrative, one that included some great face-in-peril work by Christian, huge bumping, the chest clubs from Sheamus, and a wild finish. Christian is so good at almost everything one can do in a wrestling match. He’s one of the only guys who makes a sunset flip look like a legit pinning move instead of an excuse to put face in crotch. His corner feint kick is timed perfectly. And when he’s stretching and reaching for a tag, he sells the desperation. All of those things were on prominent display, the best part of which was him lunging futilely to tag Sheamus while Cesaro yanked him back in Sisyphean anguish.

Of course, the punishment he took while acting the face-in-peril was outstanding too. The Real Americans showed off their best-in-WWE (and possibly in America) tandem offense, capped off with Cesaro catapulting Christian into the waiting arms of a powerslamming Swagger. Sheamus showed great fire outside of his clubberin’ as well. All in all, this match felt like the prototype of what a tag match should be on free television.

Tomorrow, the countdown gets up to WrestleMania's doorstep