Monday, 6 February 2012

Wrestling Matches To See Before You Die - Attitude Era Edition

And we come to the period that every WWE fan knows and (most of them) loves. It was certainly a boom period for wrestling in the United States during the late 90s when WWE were facing huge competition from WCW and so upped the ante by moving their programming away from the traditional family friendly image. Now WWE television featured a lot more violence, gore, profanity, sexual content and a whole lot of randomness. Obviously I tried really hard to prevent this from turning into the Rock/HHH/Austin show. The video is in two parts below:

Stone Cold vs Shawn Michaels:
And of course we kick off the video with the very match recognised as the one that kicked off the Attitude Era. For the 14th edition of WrestleMania we had the now-a-star Stone Cold Steve Austin challenging the Heart Break Kid Shawn Michaels who was also in a faction you may have heard of. What was the name? Oh yeah D-Generation X. In order to give some more spice to the big title match, none other than Iron Mike Tyson was acting as the special guest timekeeper though the weeks leading into the PPV gave us the impression that he was going to be a teeny bit biased towards D-X. At the PPV it was a different story entirely as the iconic moment where Mike Tyson counts to three and gives Stone Cold the win is recognised as the beginning of the Attitude Era.

Kaientai vs Bradshaw & Taka Michinoku:
I know a good few of you are probably scratching your heads wondering who these people are and I’m sure nearly 90% of fans don’t even remember this match but it is definitely worth seeing. WWE did try to create a Light-Heavyweight division to compete with WCW’s Cruiserweight division but of course we all know how that turned out. Nonetheless we had four very talented guys bringing over the hard-hitting Japanese style of wrestling and putting on a fast paced and thrilling little match. Bradshaw held his own in there as well and it just goes to show the actual pedestal Kaientai used to be on before they got reduced to jobbing out while having their voices dubbed by Jonathan Coachman.

Mankind vs The Undertaker [Hell In A Cell]:
The second HIAC match in WWE history took place at the 1998 King of the Ring event and certainly had a tough act to follow in its predecessor which you saw in the last video. Within the first two minutes it topped the inaugural HIAC match when Mankind was thrown right off the top of the cell and landed smashing into the announce table, prompting JR to scream his now famous line “my God! He’s dead, he’s broken in half!” but of course Mankind not only leapt off the stretcher the trainers tried to wheel him out on but immediately ran back to the ring and continued the match. We get to see the iconic Foley spots such as the sack full of thumb tacks as well as another moment that I loved recreating on the video games – Undertaker chokeslamming him through the roof of the cell. Ye Gods.

Owen Hart vs Ken Shamrock [Dungeon Submission Match]:
I was hoping I’d be able to include Owen on the list again and thankfully this match came to my attention. Even if you’re not a fan of either men, it’s certainly worth a look considering it takes place entirely within the famous Hart Family Dungeon and goes to show how much the WWE superstars can do when they don’t even have a wrestling ring. This was clearly the fore-runner of the backstage fights and Falls Count Anywhere matches that were all over the Attitude Era but this one has a twist – the guys wrestled and wrestled perfectly fine without a ring. It isn’t the longest match but it’s certainly one of the most unique and impressive you’ll ever see.

Triple H vs The Rock [Ladder Match]:
As much as I didn’t want to turn this video into the Triple H/Rock/Stone Cold show, I couldn’t leave this match out. Ladder matches were growing in popularity and SummerSlam 1998 featured one between two guys who were slowly climbing up the (pardon the pun) ladder to become the main eventers of the company. What’s surprising is that this is a main-event calibre bout but it’s only for the Intercontinental title. Obviously the standards for ladder matches were still being set at this stage but the guys gave it their all and produced a fun match that’s held up reasonably well over time.

X-Pac vs D’Lo Brown:
Hold up your hands and admit that a few “X-Pac Sucks!” chants just zipped through your head when you read the title. Well now that that’s out of the way, let’s reflect on this doozy of a match for the European title (which Mr Brown is currently tied for most reigns with, the other being William Regal) that was booked for Judgment Day 1998. It’s amazing to see X-Pac in the face role because he plays it quite well and this is him at his peak, before he fell victim to his own X-Pac Heat. Need I say anything else except mid-air X-Factor?

Mankind vs The Rock:
This is the match that nearly the whole world knew the result to before it aired and yet still sat down to watch anyway. The geniuses at WCW thought they were being clever the night they revealed the result of Raw’s taped episode, jokingly saying “that ought to put some butts in the seats”. Well thousands of viewers immediately switched from Nitro to Raw and eagerly awaited Mankind winning his first WWE title. Obviously Mankind was something completely different from the image WWE’s top guys normally fit and so for him to win the world title was an amazing achievement back in his day. The match isn’t the longest but it’s one of the most emotional you’ll find in terms of crowd involvement.

Billy Gunn vs Ken Shamrock:
Of course I mark unashamedly for Billy G and do the same moonlit vigils for him that I do for Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian but I’m not being biased by putting this match on the list. Billy Gunn was certainly a great combination of strength and athleticism as one of my trainers put it, he could military press guys over his head and still leap as high in the air for a dropkick as any of the Cruiserweights. And as for Shamrock, well it’s Ken friggin Shamrock. This is a fun and fast-paced match with some great action in it and some cool spots like the facebuster from the apron to the announce table and the Kitchen Sink countered into a school boy. Certainly a strong showing from the midcard guys back in the day.

Triple H vs X-Pac:
Former DX team mates now turned enemies and no, X-Pac is still the face which I am more than fine with. 1999’s Backlash PPV offered this juicy match and the two guys delivered big time. If your main exposure to Triple H is his sluggish brawling and repetitive moveset like mine is then you’ll be surprised to see just how good a wrestler he was before his injury in 2001. It’s great to see him actually wrestle a match and not just throw punches and kicks, hit his five moves of doom and bring out the sledgehammer. He and X-Pac shared a real chemistry together which this match is proof of. And can I just say Chyna, what an outfit. It’s like she comes complete with her own safe word.

Steve Blackman vs Ken Shamrock [Lion’s Den Match]:
I found one more offering from Ken Shamrock to squeeze onto my list before his abrupt departure from the WWE and I always liked Steve Blackman. He was always really underrated to me and definitely one of the baddest guys there was. These two had a big feud over the summer of 1999 and it warranted a special Lion’s Den match at SummerSlam. For those unsure of the rules (I know I was at first), it takes place inside a cage to the side of the ring and you win by knocking your opponent out. Weapons were allowed in this match and displayed around the top of the cage. This went about the way you’d expect with these two badasses inside a cage together and, despite a confusing ending, is definitely must-see.

Edge & Christian vs The New Brood [Ladder Match]:
In case you were a bit confused, the New Brood is really Matt and Jeff Hardy in their initial gimmick when they got a big promotion to the main roster in 1999. WWE’s fun with acronyms continued with Terri Runnels introducing the Terri Invitational Tournament which culminated in a ladder match at No Mercy. A bag of $1000 was hanging above the ring and the team that claimed it would also snag Terri’s managerial services as well. Now given that these two teams helped shape this kind of wrestling as we know it today, it’s amazing to see them go at it back then and this match still holds up today. The crowd cares a lot more than the crowds today because they had literally never seen stuff like this before. It’s safe to say that with this match, the two brothers from North Carolina became stars.

Kurt Angle vs Steve Blackman:
The Armageddon event at the end of 1999 featured the PPV debut of the WWE’s first Olympic Gold Medalist. Kurt Angle at the time was a huge contradiction in terms of character as he displayed many characteristics associated with faces but turned them around and made them work as a heel. For anyone interested in seeing Steve Blackman actually wrestle instead of hitting people with everything but the kitchen sink, you’re in for a treat as he was as good at grappling as he was in hardcore competition. It’s a shame the crowd was so dead because this match really was a treat to watch.

Hardy Boyz vs Dudley Boyz [Tables Match]:
The first PPV of the new millennium kicked off with the first ever tag team Tables match in WWE and pitted the already flashy Hardys against the new team of the Dudley Boyz. The Dudleys were the third team along with the Hardys and E&C that helped shape this kind of wrestling leading to the creation of the TLC match which will be covered in more detail in my video for gimmick matches. This of course is a huge spotfest and is just complete chaos from the moment the bell rings, which is a good thing I might add. Though Jeff Hardy’s painkiller addiction is getting easier to believe with each match I watch.

Scotty 2 Hotty vs Dean Malenko:
Now maybe I’m a bit biased because Scotty is the only wrestler on this list I’ve actually met but on asking him what he thought his best match was, he replied this one from Backlash 2000. On watching it back, I quite agree. Scotty was a strong character and really over with the fans for it but he was a great wrestler as well and demonstrated how he could have been one of the stars of the Light-Heavyweight division had WWE invested actual time into it. Malenko of course could gel with just about everyone but this is a combination that really worked and these two could have had a full blown feud if WWE had gotten behind both of them. I’ll leave this entry by saying – super Impaler DDT!

Kurt Angle vs Chris Jericho:
Mr Angle certainly had one of the best rookie years anyone could ask for in WWE as he became a Euro-Continental champion (he held the EU and IC belts at the same time for those who can’t put two and two together) and walked out of King of the Ring as royalty. I watched the finals match from the PPV and considered putting it on here but this semi-finals match with Chris Jericho was just so much better. Watch Jericho here and watch his matches now and you’ll see that he can still go like he used to while guys like Triple H and Undertaker are struggling to keep up. And even if you don’t like these two guys, it’s worth it to see Jericho locking lips with Stephanie.

The Rock vs Chris Benoit:
As you all know (and as much as WWE would like us to forget) Benoit finally got his hands on WWE Championship gold in 2004 but he actually got a taste of main event status as early as his first year in the company. While Benoit was booked as a face throughout most of his career, he played a really good heel here and dominated the People’s Champ. Of course having Shane McMahon at ringside adds some colour to the match but thankfully he doesn’t take away from the wrestling, which is exceptional. You might get your hopes up towards the end there when Benoit is declared champion but even when the match gets restarted, it’s still a nice back and forth contest that doesn’t bury him at all. Good match from this rare combination.

Chris Benoit vs Triple H:
No Mercy was hailed as being WWE’s absolute worst PPV of 2000 but the trainwreck of a show had a 10/10 match from another unlikely pairing. Going back to what I said in the entry with Triple H/X-Pac, my reaction to this was really “holy hell, Trips used to be a fucking great wrestler”. Seriously, this is one of his best matches, period. He doesn’t brawl, he doesn’t cheat, he wrestles and does it exceptionally. Just look at that leg grapevine. There’s certainly an interesting psychology going on here with Triple H going after the leg and Benoit targeting the arm and it makes for a really enjoyable contest.

Kurt Angle vs The Undertaker:
King Kurt of course snagged himself the WWE title at No Mercy and became a star. Going into the Survivor Series though he was up against some stiff competition in the form of the Undertaker who had dropped the dead man gimmick and repackaged himself as a badass biker called the American Badass. Wrestling in one of the most epic pair of snakeskin pants I’ve ever seen, Taker gave as good as he got and tore the house down that night. And of course you have to mark out whenever you see a Figure 4 done around the ring post. The ending will go down as one of the most creative in history and I’m sure the Bella Twins used this as inspiration for nearly every other match they’ve been involved in.

Billy Gunn vs Chris Benoit:
Billy G returned from a knee injury in late 2000 and was rechristened “The One” complete with a great entrance theme that now is one of the most played songs on my iPod. He got a good singles push and defeated Eddie Guerrero to win the Intercontinental title. Of course the reign was short lived as he dropped it to Chris Benoit three weeks later at Armageddon. The night wasn’t a total loss though as Billy put on the best match of his career, even wrestling with earrings in at that. Of course it was nigh impossible for Benoit to have a bad match and this is one of his best as well.

Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho [Ladder Match]:
Lillian Garcia recently gave us a nice bit of trivia in that the feud between Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit came about when she accidentally goofed and announced Benoit as Jericho so they built the storyline off that initially. WWE’s hot potato with the IC belt continued as only weeks after winning it off Billy Gunn, who himself had only just won it from Eddie Guerrero, Benoit dropped it to Jericho at the Royal Rumble. Like Billy Gunn, Benoit lost the title with a bang in what has got to be the best ladder match in history. Seriously, the video game developers most definitely got most of the crazy stuff we can do with ladders in the games from this match. The spot of the match has got to be that suicide dive right into the steel chair shot though the Octopus hold on top of the ladder is a close second.

The Rock vs Stone Cold:
And what would an Attitude Era appreciation video be without the grand finale? WrestleMania X-Seven is widely hailed as one of the best Manias in history (though personally I thought 19 and 22 were way better) and it’s this iconic confrontation, the second in an epic trilogy, that sent the fans home in complete shock. The standard formula for an epic main event involving Stone Cold ensues such as brawling, spots on the outside and robbing your opponent’s signature moves. But then there’s of course his infamous heel turn where he sides with his arch-nemesis Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Not exactly the best technical match but certainly one of the most memorable.

Team WWF vs Team Alliance:
Now I know that the Attitude Era officially ended at WrestleMania X-Seven but I didn’t want to make a separate video for the Invasion since this is the only noteworthy match to come out of that storyline and so it finishes off this video in grand fashion. The months long feud between the WWE wrestlers and the WCW/ECW Alliance came to a close in a Winner Takes All match at the 2001 Survivor Series and, while the result may have been predictable, the execution was the best SS match ever. Clocking at around 45 minutes, this was one of the most epic and highly anticipated confrontations between the two sides and there’s not much else I can say about it except that Stone Cold, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show, Booker T, Rob Van Dam and even Shane McMahon worked their asses off to give the storyline a grand finale. With that, the Invasion was over and the Ruthless Aggression Era began…

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