Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The 2014 Top 100 Matches Countdown, Part 2: The Greatest Six Man Tag in WWE History

Cesaro kinda owns the second part of this list
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Part two picks up on Valentine's day last year, and boy, this set of 20 matches has a lot to love. The first three months of the year were kinda loaded on quality, weren't they?

Cesaro vs. Randy Orton, Smackdown, 2/14 (airdate) - Watch Highlights Here!
The shock of Cesaro winning this match clean might obscure the fact that it was a fine Smackdown main event. Both guys came out looking better than they did going in, even Orton, who might seem to be hurt by yet another non-title loss. However, Cesaro made his barricade-based offense look tight, maybe better than anyone in the past. Cesaro being a sculpture come to life bumping like a crash-test dummy may have had something to do with it. His best bump may have come later on in the match when he missed a charging Euro-cut into the corner. But Orton also returned the favor, taking the Giant Swing, going hard on the uppercuts that did connect, and yes, the finishing sequence was just as effective not because he laid down, but because he took Cesaro’s offense like a Champ too.

Danny Cannon vs. Jay Freddie, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #1, 2/14 - Watch It Here!
Once upon a time, I saw a Beyond Wrestling match that featured two guys with whom I wasn’t well-acquainted. Both had been talked up beforehand, but they were still rasas tabulas to me. After seeing their opening match to the inaugural Tournament for Tomorrow, I was giddy at having seen the future of pro wrestling in front of me. Of course now, ACH and AR Fox are among my favorite wrestlers in the world, and when I got done watching Jay Freddie and Danny Cannon at this show. Two wrestlers who before this match may have been known in their respective local cliques burst out onto the general consciousness and made themselves entities on the national stage.

Cannon got a lot of the praise from the weekend, and it was well-deserved. He brought a different kind of energy to the ring, almost like a small child hopped up on sugar constantly, which is probably the best possible way to execute the high-octane, always on offense style. He almost felt like a video game character with how he’d have bursts of offense, and then take a few hits and be doubled over to recover for a period of time. It’s something that I would be used to seeing in games, but seeing it portrayed in the wrestling ring as well as Cannon was able to show it of was a refreshing breath of air. The guy certainly had a flair for the dramatic as well, breaking out some insane bumps, and maybe the most unique spot I’ve ever seen in wrestling. He jumped from the top rope onto the mini-ledge that was hanging off the wall (maybe it was a heating duct? I dunno) and deftly hit a moonsault on Freddie to the floor. You have to be three different kinds of crazy to try and pull that shit off, and he did it perfectly.

Freddie probably got a little lost in the hype, much like Fox kinda did back in that other match this one reminded me of, but without him as a canvas and a partner, I’m not sure Cannon would be able to get as over as he would have. Freddie always had the right reaction for everyone of Cannon’s actions. He hit hard, was in the right position to take Cannon’s insane spots, and he was able to keep pace. He was the difference between watching a shitty Davey Richards match and having a cohesive bout with strong tale being forged throughout. Overall, these matches are the foundations upon which Beyond is built, and I’m glad I get to watch them.

Devin and Mason Cutter vs. Angel Ortiz and Mike Draztik, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #1, 2/14 - Watch It and the Next Match on This List Here!
I have a thing for guys tossing each other into one another in crazy tag matches, and bonus points are in play when at least one of those dudes is a certified HOSS. The Brothers Cutter may be hard to tell apart at times, but they move like dudes half their size with seamlessly flawless double team timing. The guys across the ring, known collectively as EYFBO, were just as game with their double team offense this match. Seriously, these four guys just lob bombs at each other, and it was fantastic to watch. They weren’t afraid to delve into comedy either. At one juncture in the match, Ortiz grabbed a hold of Devin Cutter’s beard, and Devin responded by grabbing his afro. They had a hold of each other’s outrageous hair and were begging each other to let go. When you can work in-match comic relief in between the hammers dropping in a balls-to-the-wall tag team spotfest, you know you’re doing well.

Hania the Howling Huntress vs. Eric Corvis, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #1, 2/14
The write-up for this match first appeared in my review for the first Feeding Frenzy Secret Show.
Creating a textured, full-storied, Memphis-style brawl between two wrestlers when one outweighs the other by 100 pounds can be a tall task. Some say it cannot be done, especially when the competitors are two different genders. Beyond Wrestling's mission statement is doing what other promotions refuse to, and so it presented Hania vs. Eric Corvis doing their thing in the ring. Hania's pit bull tenacity plus Corvis' about face and new sense of humility, both in word and in taking Hania's offense made this match the highlight of the night.

The match started off with a promo from Corvis, apologizing for his misogynist behavior and treatment of Jewells Malone (and women in general) at Tournament for Tomorrow 2, which sparked off a series of events that led to the match turning into a slobberknocker. Right from jump, Hania exuded the swagger needed to make up for the apparent size difference. Her strikes hit hard, and Corvis sold them like death. Of course, the infamous NEFW Academy support pier being used as a stationary weapon didn't hurt either.

But the story remained consistent throughout the match, even with the escalation throughout. Corvis losing his cool and then composing himself towards the end was a great nod of character, and it was expertly punctuated by the fact that Hania countered his corner rush. After a match that featured Corvis going Full Ziggler on a casadora bulldog and Hania taking a HARD powerbomb backbreaker, I wasn't so sure that ending on a flash sunset flip would have been the right way to go, but even Hania's execution of a low-impact pin combo looked rough and tumble, enough to be an appropriate cap on this match.

AR Fox (c) vs. Danny Cannon, Chile Lucha Libre Championship Match, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #2, 2/15
Danny Cannon had just wowed the Beyond Wrestling world the night before at the first secret show, so his reward was going up against a more proven indie star from the Northeast in AR Fox the next day. They weren’t given as much time as Cannon was with Jay Freddie, but it actually helped produce a tighter, more focused match that better was able to display Cannon’s high-energy style of wrestling against a seasoned opponent who has been in the ring with several different opponents over the last five years or so. It was a ballet of well-timed, jaw-dropping highspots that set a high bar for the mammoth second day of intimate viewing for the weekend.

Cannon’s jittery style works best when pitted against someone who can keep up with him or call attention to himself so as to distract from Cannon’s lapses in selling or whatnot. Fox in that respect was the perfect opponent for him, especially since he was already on his way to transitioning into a heel within the Beyond universe by this point. So while Cannon was able to drop jaws the lowest during this match, Fox was able to fill in the gaps and keep attention spans at full staff with his theatrics. His counter game was especially on point, putting in kicks and slipping out of moves and especially showing some longer-term psychology through countering Cannon coming off the wall moulding like he did the day before.

But yeah, Cannon’s grasp of using his surroundings to create explosive moments was amplified in this match. Not only did he do the moulding spot as an easy counter opportunity for Fox, but he found a way to top it by doing a Guile-somersault-walk up the refrigerator, which is way more impressive-looking because of the lack of footing on the smooth surface. Spots like that don’t necessarily make a match, but they can elevate a good match into something better. This match would have been fine, perfectly cromulent even, without the highspots, but these two went balls to the wall and kicked off the show with one of the most compact yet insane wrestling matches of the year.

Jay Freddie vs. Davey Vega, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #2, 2/15
Much like his dance partner from the night before, Freddie rode the momentum of his big, star-making match from the first secret show and went to war with another highly-acclaimed wrestler, this time from the central states/Austin region. Vega and Freddie may not have had blown the doors off the arena with big leaps and flips, but they went sound to the ground, put on a clinic in selling and working limbs, and threw around counters like dollar bills at the club. The sequence at the end was really tense and well-put together teasing the sharpshooter, Vega swiftly countering with the rollup, and then Freddie finishing with the suplex-lungblower into the final sharpshooter for the win. It wasn’t a let-down match from the opener, but it was a crucial change of pace needed to keep the crowd into the show without burning it out.

Angel Ortiz and Mike Draztik vs. Myke Quest and Nicholas Kaye, Beyond Wrestling Feeding Frenzy Secret Show #2, 2/15
EYFBO is a tag team that works in any scenario, but their best work on average tends to come against megaheel teams that can handle their highspots and do a couple of their own even if it’s not their bread and butter. At this point on the Beyond calendar, Kaye and Quest were about as ruthless and jerky as they would have come, and they provided a stellar canvas for the Funky Monkey and Draztik to work against. Quest especially shone in this match on offense, throwing stiff shots all around and getting the opponents to bump for them. At one point, Draztik rotated so far on a lariat bump that he landed on his neck, which he may have regretted but at least looked phenomenal. Ortiz was also a highlight on offense here, doing his normal Funky Monkey stuff but capping it off by bulldogging Quest right onto Kaye’s nuts. I’m a huge fan of heel finishes coming off as if they were slimy and underhanded despite being totally legal, so the end of this match was right up my alley.

Christian vs. Daniel Bryan, RAW, 2/17
Christian has always been great at selling the big injury, but in this match, he actually was the aggressor. He instantly went heel and worked over Bryan’s arm, and it was natural looking. Even in the twilight of his career, Christian’s caginess has made him an elite worker. Of course, wrestling against Daniel Bryan is a panacea for anyone. I’m pretty sure he could have a stellar match with Moppy at this point. The match was given two segments, which means this match was a lock to get a pretty extensive writeup here.

Christian didn’t really do anything flashy, but really, his entire career post-WWE comeback hadn’t been about flash and razzle-dazzle. He just descended upon Bryan’s shoulder and kept on it like a swarm of lanky, Canadian locusts. Again, nothing flashy was in Christian’s arsenal, but everything made sense. He rammed the shoulder into the turnbuckle and hit hammerlock bodyslams. He systematically dismantled Bryan, and he looked as natural doing it as he did selling the same thing from Jack Swagger in 2009.

Of course, Bryan sold the shit out of it. Whether he was on offense or defense, he was there holding his arm. Maybe the best example was on one of his random, normal dropkicks. He went full force, landed on his bad arm, and then held it. If a wrestler wants to learn how to sell a fucking body part, he or she should sit down and watch Bryan in this match. I will also always be giddy over whenever the rolling prawn hold is used as a match finish. Bryan is Mr. Small Package for a reason.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
John Cena vs. Cesaro, RAW, 2/17 - Watch Highlights Here!
The write-up for this match first appeared in the Instant Feedback for the 2/17/14 episode of Monday Night RAW.
When a spot gets over, it gets a reaction. Whether it happens quickly during a non-competitive exhibition match, or whether it happens towards the end of the match, fans will hopefully recognize it and cheer for it. How can two wrestlers build to elevate even the most familiar of spots, though? How can they make that reaction go from a common, Pavlovian cheer into a transformative, echoing, satisfaction-inducing roar? They build to it. They tease the move, and then yank it away. For maximum effect, they'll do it again, maybe a third or fourth time before finally executing it after all hope is lost, and when the thing finally happens, they've manipulated the crowd to maximum effect.

When Antonio Cesaro first teased the Giant Swing on John Cena, I personally didn't think he would pull it off. That move is great to display on lower card opponents of sizable girth, but the Franchise, the Man, John Cena? No way. They would craft a match that was able to get the point across and work the crowd in ways both guys were more than able to. But then Cesaro had Cena by the legs again, and they even went one better, going into a STF attempt that went into the Swiss Superman lifting that pillar of granite into a deadlift gutwrench. If that instance was the last time they teased the Giant Swing in the match, they would have done their job.

But then, out of seemingly impossible setup, Cesaro grabbed Cena by the legs, lifted him up off the ground, and swung him around for ten rotations. The crowd, or at least the part of the crowd that chants "CENA SUCKS!" exploded. That reaction was no accident. They built to that spot. They earned that spot.

When critics and analysts talk about storytelling in a match, the march towards a climactic moment is exactly what they talk about. That moment can be something within the greater feud, but true masters can come in with barely any angular attachment and build to something special, a spectacle, if you will. Cena and Cesaro were entangled inasmuch as they're going to be in LEXAN pods in the Elimination Chamber Sunday. The overall narrative is more about Randy Orton anyway. So they had two options, and they chose the better one.

Pretend for a second that crowds actually saved their "This is awesome!" chants for selective matches and didn't give it out to everything that involves a wrestler they like that goes two segments. A match like this doesn't get that kind of chant only for the Giant Swing. Cena took a MASSIVE bump that I thought his name was Seth Rollins for a second. The finishing sequence was sublime as well. How a man the size of Cesaro has the dexterity to land on his feet out of an Attitude Adjustment attempt is probably the most impressive thing he does, and he's a man who shoot deadlifts Great Khali like it's no thing. Then, Cena rolled through the Neutralizer into the final AA, and its beauty cancelled out any malodor that was connected with him taking another duke.

But this match was all about the delicate teetering on the edge, making the crowd rabid for something they seem to take for granted. Pro wrestling is art, and both Antonio Cesaro and John Cena are artists. I for one love the fact WWE has opened up RAW as an expansive canvas for them to create.

Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan vs. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins, Elimination Chamber, 2/23
The write-up for this match first appeared in my review for Elimination Chamber.
This match was absolutely perfect. If any match was expected to be perfect going in, this match would fit that bill. However, even with sky-high expectation, I thought these six performers came close to exceeding those predictions. Each individual in the match took his role, played it with the same methodology as a Daniel Day Lewis, only if Lewis' job was to crash through things repeatedly, and they built an emotional hyperbaric chamber where no possible result would end up damaging my soul. Be that as it may, the result they came to was absolutely the correct one.

They came out of the gates in utter perfection, staring each other down and jawing until Ambrose, the livest wire of either group, decided he was going to do his best Warner Bros. Tasmanian Devil impersonation, dunking the fray into the complete anarchy one might expect gang warfare over disputed turf might delve into. The only thing that I was surprised by was that no one thought to break out a trident. They took turns showing each other how they could isolate and eviscerate single members of either group. The first act of this match was a clinic on tag team and trios wrestling injected with the performance enhancing drug of "can you top this" escalation, punctuated with Wyatt shouting to the crowd "IS THIS THE WAR YOU WANTED?" Judging by the roaring applause, I wasn't the only one who was nodding furiously in agreement.

Then, the action started transitioning, as each member began to show their individuality. Rollins bumped like a fucking madman and answered those big shots with panache-laden high spots of his own. If he's not a nuclear, Jeff Hardyesque babyface one day, WWE will have failed him. Ambrose kept showing everyone why those Roddy Piper and Brian Pillman comparisons are apt with his short fuse, which was unusually truncated with the larger-than-normal payload behind it. Reigns was the fixer with his Superman punches and cool vampire flair. Wyatt barked the orders and set to creep with his wild eyes, while Harper and Rowan followed his orders and stalked the ring with their unholy cool demeanor, like golems towering over unsuspecting prey.

But the finishing flourish was what cemented this match as an all-timer within WWE's folklore. Ambrose had to be absent for the finish, but WWE gave him the out by having Wyatt drag him out of the camera eye (to Hell, perhaps?). Rollins took a massive bump through the Spanish Announce Table FROM the English Announce Table, while the DAMN NUMBERS GAME brought down Reigns despite his best efforts. If this match is to be The Shield's final as a three-man group, then it effectively mirrorred their debut match against Daniel Bryan, Ryback, and Kane. Ryback was Ambrose, lured away from the ring so as not to affect the finish. Kane effectively mirrored Rollins, as both were destroyed using the scenery as a weapon. And just as Bryan died a warrior's death at the hands of Reigns and Ambrose at TLC '12, Reigns was devoured whole by the entire hillbilly cult. Symmetry is a wonderful thing, folks.

Randy Orton (c) vs. Christian vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. John Cena vs. Cesaro, WWE World Championship Elimination Chamber Match, Elimination Chamber, 2/23
Six of the best wrestlers in WWE entered the Elimination Chamber and were given free reign to create as much chaos as they could before going about their scheduled exits from the War Games substitute. Even when the lineups aren’t as talented as this year’s crop was, the action inside the Chamber resembles a car crash, especially when the first elimination doesn’t happen until everyone has exited their respective pods. The requisite mayhem was allowed to build, and everyone in the match got to have a signature moment that was both uniquely signature to themselves but that felt fresh and new.

Sheamus and Cesaro set the tone early, lobbing bombs at each other and generally hossing it up. Then Bryan came in and broke out the spot of the match, maybe the entire year when he wrangled Sheamus into an Indian deathlock while simultaneously nailing Cesaro with a Northern Lights suplex. I don’t understand how anyone could have watched Bryan, Sheamus, and Cesaro pull that spot off and not consider professional wrestling art of the highest order. While the match could have faltered after that high point, everyone involved kept the wheels turning. Christian showed a darker side, ripping off Bryan’s protective tape and using the cage and unbreakable LEXAN (which actually broke during the match, MY WORLD IS SHATTERED) to work over his injured parts. Cesaro turned into Death, the Destroyer of Worlds with frenzied uppercut sprees and crashing competitors large and small into various parts of the structure. And Orton capped off the first act of the match by exiting his pod last, surveying the carnage he inherited, and preening like he had done all the work.

The eliminations also held both shock factor and rich storytelling. I didn’t see Christian getting to eliminate anyone, let alone putting Sheamus out first. It came off a frogsplash from atop the pod, which made for a cool visual. Cesaro’s exit at the hands of Cena elicited a few groans, but it came after the two jousted, previewing what I hope would become a series of outstanding special event masterpiece contests. Cena himself would fall to the Wyatt Family, which got the crowd to thank the interlopers in an amusing twist. But the final elimination, even with the mountainous interference from Kane, worked as a final slap in the face of Bryan before he was off to become the most decorated single-WrestleMania performer since Randy Savage at IV. This match may have been the finest Chamber I’ve ever seen.

Big E vs. Cesaro, RAW, 2/24 - Watch Highlights Here!
My only complaint about this match was that it happened out of season. Big E and Cesaro thumping each other and taking turns throwing each other around the ring should have happened on a cool, crisp December 23 after everyone had their turn to gripe. Truly, the feats of strength flowed free like wine. These two may be WWE’s strongest pure competitors, and they each had the size to make their hossery look even more impressive than normal. E’s offense especially shone bright here. His belly-to-belly suplexes looked AMAZING, especially because Cesaro actually has the dexterity to get up tight and arc up high. The STO in the corner, however, looked dangerous, like a sharp bump from a mid-’90s AJPW match. Big E's compact build made Cesaro’s Big Swing look like it had ALL the centrifugal force going for it. I even dug the Jack Swagger disqualification finish, because it protected both the Champ in a non-title match and the guy headed for a huge, main event level match at the subsequent NXT ArRIVAL show that would happen days later.

Don't drop Sami Zayn!
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn, NXT ArRIVAL, 2/27 - Watch Highlights Here!
I didn’t think they could match their best two out of three falls match from the weekly show last year. I didn’t think they had another high-caliber match in them. I thought they’d have diminishing returns. But my mistake was underestimating these two mat wizards. They had a story, they had the talent, they had the timing, and they had the faith from the office. They were told to go out and open the first ever live show, to put NXT’s best foot forward. What they did was rip the goddamn amphitheater down and tell the rest of the roster to “FOLLOW THAT.”

The thing about it was that they didn’t necessarily tread new ground. Instead, they took their prior affairs and built from them. They told what was a perfect progression of a story from their prior encounters, especially the 2/3 falls match. The most jarring and well-executed example was when Zayn tried the through-the-corner tornado DDT to the floor, but Cesaro met him with a perfectly timed European uppercut. Cesaro has always been a master of timing, but he met Zayn with his arm at the split-second he needed to be there. I shouldn’t have expected anything different. Their callbacks weren’t limited to their NXT matches though. They drew from their expansive histories as Claudio Castagnoli and El Generico on the indies, especially on a super Ricola Bomb tease in the corner. Hell, the broadcast team even called Zayn’s signature corner big boot the Helluva Kick, which is what Excalibur called it in PWG.

But they did tell other stories as well. They wove a whole bunch of threads together into a tapestry that involved Zayn’s leg, teasing the Giant Swing, Zayn’s punch-drunken never-give-up attitude, and Cesaro going all beast mode to finish. They worked in little nuggets contained within the stories, like the Koji Clutch getting countered into a stretch muffler, or Zayn’s exaggerated, reluctant sell of the Swing. Even though the finish felt wrong at first, once it sank in, once Cesaro emerged after his hurricane discus Euro-cut and EMPHATIC Neutralizer, Zayn not winning felt immaterial. They put another chapter in their illustrious novel of classic wrestling.

Kyle Matthews vs. Jason Collins, DSCW Pure Wrestling Classic Tournament Final, 3/2 - Watch It Here!
First thing’s first, no, the top rope is not present on the ring. I didn’t see the whole show, so I have no idea what happened to it, and honestly, I didn’t notice it missing until about three minutes into my watch. But Matthews, like the savvy veteran he is, played it into the match very well, first using it to stop his momentum running to the ropes before eating a kick, and then afterwards while going for various “top” rope moves in the corner. Matthews, in fact, played a great subtle heel. The match, which was contested as the culmination of a tournament that rewarded “pure” wrestling, called for such delicacy, and Matthews did all the little things trying to get the fans behind Collins. He boxed the ears, made frustrated faces when he didn’t get full pinfalls, worked at a grumpy, deliberate pace while Collins was able to use him as a canvas for his unique offense which included a wheeling inside out kick to the face out of the normal foot-hold counter and a variation on the crossface that allowed for more stretching. Collins got the win with that submission after Matthews couldn’t get a bearing on his frogsplash by having to go from the second rope and missed. It just goes to show that any wrestling environment, even one considered to be suboptimal like a missing top rope, can turn out to be a positive with the right workers.

Finally, a pic without Cesaro! (alt capt. second verse, same as first)
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, and Luke Harper, RAW, 3/3 - Watch Highlights Here!
I never in a million years thought that Seth Rollins would be the one to light the fuse on The Shield’s breakup, but after Reigns got knocked off the apron, causing Rollins to be left out to dry, he walked away and watched one of the craziest, most anarchic finishes to a free TV match I’ve ever seen. Seriously, bodies flew everywhere, and even though Reigns and Ambrose were at the man disadvantage, they felt like they covered just as much ground to keep the breakneck pace going. Whether it was Reigns delivering his best spear taking Rowan out OVER the rebuilt announce table, Harper booting Ambrose onto his neck and then hitting a plancha IMMEDIATELY after on Reigns to the floor, Ambrose taking a shot of adrenaline to follow that up with a barrage of punches on Harper, or Wyatt finishing it up with a Kiss from Sister Abigail, those five men followed up the scene they set with the perfect finishing swell.

Sheamus vs. Christian, Memphis Street Fight, RAW, 3/10 - Watch Highlights Here!
Gimmicked street fights in WWE usually are fun at the very least. The Dublin Street Fight from 2012 and the Broadway Brawl from last year were both great matches featuring creative workers, and lo and behold, Sheamus and Christian all those criteria. They didn’t take as much advantage of the local-flavored plunder, but the match was still full of wacky weapon use. Christian split some kendo sticks on Sheamus’ back, making the world’s most easily bruised Irishman light up like a Christmas tree. Sheamus’ offense is so brutal and thick, but what makes him an elite worker is his propensity to let his body get all sorts of banged up. The topper was the frogsplash on top of the chairs, which actually fit in with Christian’s MO during the feud. His motivations have been to hurt Sheamus, but then again, Sheamus dealt some of that aforementioned offense. The Irish Curse off the ring steps and the Brogue Kick through the bass drum were tremendous.

Heidi Lovelace vs. Danny Cannon, EPW St. Patrick’s Beatdown, 3/13 - Watch It Here!
Some pro wrestling roles, archetypes, and tropes are so steeped in tradition that when two (or more) wrestlers deviate from the script, it is seen as a negative from some camps. Deviating from norms can be good, although obviously, change for the sake of change isn’t good in and of itself. The results have to make sense and be executed in a way that shows understanding of the visceral beats of pro wrestling. Some things have to be included, but while the standard shine-heat-comeback-finish formula may be the most prevalent for a reason, every wrestling match has room to deviate and still be effective. Heidi Lovelace and Danny Cannon worked a match that really wasn’t too far out of the purview of what is normal in wrestling, but it was different enough to stand out.

Basically, they played with the idea that maybe they could extend the “feeling-out” process where no one really got the upper hand for more than a couple of seconds at a time and make a whole match out of it. No one got to put heat on the other wrestler for more than two moves. In fact, the wrestler who got the most face time pounding on another was when Reed Bentley, who accompanied Lovelace to the ring, wailed on Cannon on the outside. The action appropriately escalated, and each wrestler did a good job increasing their shown wear in appropriate increments and the caliber of their offensive moves. From the beginning to the feint kicks meant for show (where Cannon fell on his ass, causing Bentley to exhort to Lovelace that she should win because he couldn’t even stay up during that) through to the finish where Cannon landed what looked to be a grazing Phoenix Splash but actually from the angle of the fan-cam looked like a devastating twisting knee to Lovelace’s head.

But the dynamic wasn’t the traditional English World of Sport style where the exchanges were based in grappling counters after the first minute or so. Both wrestlers know their bread and butter is in kicks and strikes, and the match was laid out almost as a combative dance routine, a description that might put it off to some viewers. However, the action itself didn’t really feel overly choreographed if that makes sense. Every move and miss and counterstrike fell into the next logistically, but it still had that pro wrestling fight feel. It was the best formula to use for a midcard match, where the wrestlers shouldn’t have upstaged the main event but did everything in their power to make a piece of art that was still memorable.

Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton, No Disqualification, RAW, 3/17 - Watch Highlights Here!
Bryan and Orton met in a no-DQ match in 2013, and it turned out to be one of my favorite matches, if not my favorite match, of that year. Early in 2014, they were tasked to be in the same situation, and while the results weren’t as great as the original issue, they pulled off another fine free TV match in what seems to be a monthly tradition for the duo. The beginning of the match felt like they found a match to phone in, but things got intense as the contest progressed, especially around the commercial break. Orton taking time to shit-talk a fan calling for a DQ was a great ad lib, a personification of his excellent character, and one of those “little things” that elevate matches above their nominal pay grades.

After the match came back from commercial, each competitor went into overdrive. Bryan took the most overused weapon in wrestling over the last 15 years and found a way to reinvigorate it by working the kendo stick into his basement kick flurry routine, and then drilling Orton over the timekeeper’s barricade with a dropkick. Orton had some fire in him too, and the finish was looking hot until Batista came in. Then again, the fuck finish was to be expected given the build to WrestleMania, and WWE wasn’t going to have Bryan tap Orton out with the cane again. It fell a tad flat, but it was still the right ending to the match.

Hanson vs. Biff Busick, BTW Webster Show, 3/22 - Watch It Here!
Time is often a relative construct in wrestling, in that not every five minute TV sprint is bad, nor does a broadway necessarily indicate supreme quality. It’s all about how one uses that time to construct a story or a lucid match. I’m sure in another time and in another ring, Biff Busick and Hanson could have gone a half-hour and brought the house down doing it, but in the Big Time Wrestling ring, they had ten minutes stashed away on the midcard. So they went out and had a banger, packing in as much of a tale as they could with the time allotted. Basically, Busick played the role of gutty underdog, trying to counter the two-pronged agile big man of Hanson, whose counters and segues were as beautiful as his big lariats and power moves were devastating. Hanson reminded me of a time when Mike Knox was allowed to do his thing on WWE C-programming instead of being pigeonholed. But the way they used the time made the clock a non-factor rather than something to be bemoaned in either direction.

Chris Hero vs. AJ Styles, ROH Flyin’ High, 3/22
If you like seeing Chris Hero boot suckas in the face, then this match is for you. I don’t know how many Styles took to the mush, but it seemed like every time Hero had the upper hand, he was throwing some sole into Styles’ face. In fact, Hero didn’t have much trouble mounting offense in this match throughout most of it, building the match narrative around a classic sporting archetype. Hero, in front of his hometown crowd of Dayton, exerted his will throughout most of the affair as the “home team” of sorts, but he let Styles hang around too long, letting his hubris get the best of him at the end. Styles spent his offensive sequences working Hero’s leg, which he used to build towards the Calf Killer submission for the win. Styles’ biggest opening came when Hero tried to use his own finish, the Styles Clash, against him, which stood out as a climax in the match and steered the story towards that hard-fought win. It was a nice bit of psychology from the promotion that should be encouraging its wrestlers to build more sports-like stories in their matches.

Tomorrow, the countdown powers past WrestleMania!