Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 10: Greatest WWF Matches of 1993-1997 (Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin)

Hey Yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

The long-waited conclusion to the Greatest Matches of WWF in 1993-1997 countdown, which I had been putting off due to needing time to watch Mind Games and Wrestlemania XIII again.

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 10:
The Greatest Matches of WWF in 1993-1997

Objective:  Break up the Greatest Match Ever Project (hosted at into more manageable chunks to help me build my Top 100 List for the project.

Motivation: Contribute to the discussion around these matches to enrich my own understanding of pro wrestling and give a fresh perspective for old matches and even hopefully discover great pro wrestling matches that have been hidden by the sands of time.

Subject: This tenth volume of Pro Wrestling Love finishes the Top 12 countdown of the best matches to take place in the World Wrestling Federation from 1993-1997. The timeline covers the Bret/Shawn/New Generation of the WWF. Bret Hart began the year of 1993 as World Champion. In addition, Hulk Hogan left in 1993. The year 1997 sees the last Bret Hart title reign and Shawn Michaels ends the year as the Champion. 1997 was the last year before the Attitude Era and Stone Cold took off.  You can revisit past Pro Wrestling Love Volumes at You can check out the full version of these reviews in by going to the forums and finding the folders associated with the date of the match.

Ratings: The top two matches of this list are mortal locks for my list. Numbers three through five are definitely in contention for the Top 100. The sixth match will not be making the list.

C'mon did you expect any other image to be the lead image?

Top Six Matches of World Wrestling Federation from 1993-1997

#6. WWF World Heavyweight Champion Diesel vs Bret Hart 
Survivor Series 1995 No DQ Match

In my opinion, this is Bret Hart’s personal masterpiece. As mentioned above, I think one of Bret Hart’s greatest strengths is having compelling face vs face matches, more often than not by playing the subtle heel. He really showed his high wrestling IQ in understanding the nuances of face/heel dynamics in the Royal Rumble ’95 match where he had to make the new babyface champion, Diesel, look like a hero without heeling himself too hard and also come up with compelling ways to take control of the match over the much larger Diesel. Here, they build on that great foundation by delivering one helluva fight.

Unlike most face vs face matches, one wrestler does not play subtle heel for the entire match but instead they take turns and they weave such a great story that it never undercuts the characters or the match. Nash begins the match as the slasher movie stalker and there is an impending dread with every blow he strikes against the Hitman. Then on a dime, Bret is able to turn heel mid-match and make Nash the sympathetic babyface by attacking the knee and eventually tying his feet up in the corner with the mic cable, which is the spot that I always remember from this match. Credit to Diesel for great job selling his leg and for such a logical ending to the heat segment with Diesel crotching Bret Hart on the top rope to end a great heat segment. The finish stretch is excellent with Diesel selling the leg and Bret coming up with creative ways to hit his signature spots. Bret goes all out at the end with two massive bumps crashing and burning on a pesacdo and being slingshotted off the apron through the table. I am not a huge fan of the finish, which is why this match will not make the Top 100. It is a possum finish where Diesel believes Bret is easy pickins’ after these two hellacious bumps and is caught with an inside cradle. The reason I don’t like is because those bumps were hellacious and I feel the finish undercuts those bumps. I think this is a great demonstration how to work babyface vs babyface in very compelling fashion.

#5. WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon - Summerslam 1995 Ladder Match
WWF Match of the Year, 1995

The take away moment from this match is when Razor just lets the standing ladder fall on Shawn’s decimated left knee. To me, this is the greatest WWF match where body part psychology is the main hook of the match. One of the things WWF does especially well is create narratives outside the scope of body part psychology. I think too often wrestling fans conflate psychology with body part attack and body part selling. Targeting a body part and selling a body part is just one aspect of psychology. It is an aspect that can be immensely emotionally gripping watching your hero overcoming an injury and answering the question can he or she successfully complete the comeback.
That all being said it is refreshing that WWF showcase a match every once a while that is built around body part psychology and in my estimation that could have not chosen a better wrestler to execute the selling than Shawn Michaels. I think Bret is a great seller even underrated, but as we have seen from Shawn Michaels’ Rockers run that when he is on that there are very that can touch him in the selling game. On top of that, Shawn Michaels was not alone in this match, Hall was great in control and never was better on offense. Shawn’s comeback was perfectly pitched. It is a very gradual progression to gaining control…not too energetic…not too subdued. In addition to the great body part psychology, there were so many great callbacks to the original Ladder match at Wrestlemania X that you would think this is All Japan and Giant Baba was booking. Like in the previous I discussed it is the finish that is holding me back from giving this full marks. It is not for the reason you expect that it is a blown finish. Even if Shawn executed the finish correctly on his first attempt I would not be too enamored with it. It was too contrived and drawn out. As I mentioned in my analysis of Shawn Michaels’ work this is when it became too cinematic and took me out of the moment. This is a nitpick and does not completely devalue the amazing work leading up to the finish where Razor and Shawn weave callbacks from Wrestlemania X with excellent leg psychology from both men (Razor in control and Shawn selling) that this is easily one of the all-time WWF classics and it is one of the few times in the history of entertainment where I believe the sequel is better than the original.  

#4. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – Badd Blood 1997 Hell In A Cell Match
There is no match better at creating the horror movie atmosphere than this match. The Undertaker is the ultimate slasher movie monster stalking his prey. However, unlike the slasher movies, the Undertaker is not the villain he is the avenging hero seeking to exact revenge against the biggest douche in the history of the WWF and maybe even pro wrestling. Shawn Michaels was at the height of his heel powers just so eminently hateable. Yet at every pass, Michaels was able to escape his punishment and in fact seemingly found ways to antagonize The Undertaker even more by hitting him with steel chair after steel chair and using the newly formed D-Generation X to keep him out of trouble. Thus Hell In A Cell was constructed for the first time to finally deliver the punishment that the Heartbreak Kid so richly deserves.

The beginning of the match goes exactly as a fan would expect. Undertaker delivers helluva ass-whuppin’ to Shawn Michaels. It is pitch perfect. I think what this match does so well is actually create a logical Shawn Michaels heat segment. The monster babyface is in my opinion the hardest role to play and it is a very rare role in general. How do you garner sympathy on the Deadman especially against the smaller, cowardly Shawn Michaels? I loved how Michaels needed three big spots in order to garner control. Each of the spots was using Undertaker’s momentum and mass against him. Then once he had control, Shawn Michaels was not using typical spots to hold The Undertaker down. He was climbing the cage and crashing down with all his weight down on Taker. He was piledriving Taker on the steel steps. He was going the extra mile because he knew his hold on the match was tenuous at best. I love matches where there is this type of tension. You know you are just one zombie sit-up away from Taker whupping his ass. We know it. Taker knows it. Most importantly, Shawn knows it and he is wrestling with that desperation. Then it happens the Sweet Chin Music->Zombie Situp. Shawn’s reaction is awesome and he wants to get the Hell Out of Dodge.
They accomplish this smartly by having Michaels accidentally wipe out a cameraman when he was backdropped over the ropes. Michaels then throws a temper tantrum as this was a play off Michaels’ shoot temper tantrums in matches and the worked temper tantrum in the Mind Games match. I have heard this as interpreted as a Michaels’ escape plan, but I don’t think it was premediated in kayfabe sense. It was accident and Michaels took out his frustrations on the cameraman and continued his heat segment on Taker. It was the Sweet Chin Music->Zombie Situp that makes HBK want to get on his bicycle and ride and it just so happened that the cameraman was getting medical attention. The ending is perfect and revolutionary. So many incredible, iconic spots. I love how they make sure Taker gets his revenge by caving Michaels’ brain with a steel chair and he finally gets his receipt for Summerslam. Then Kane debuts! What an amazing finish! Kane debuts in the most epic fashion possible and that little bastard Michaels, a bloody pulp, somehow reaps the rewards. Just great booking, Michaels takes the ass whupping we want to see, but comes out with a ton of heat and it sets up the big Undertaker vs Kane feud. A terrific match that is so creative and revolutionary with two excellent characters that hit it out of the park.

Greatest finish ever?

#3. WWF World Heavyweight Champion Shawn Michaels vs Mankind – Mind Games 1996
WWF Match of the Year, 1996

It is such a shame that this match has such a lame finish. It is such an anti-climatic lamedown. It could be the Greatest WWF Match of All Time if it didn’t.

“Think shoot, but work” is a great motto from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on his philosophy how to work. This match epitomizes that mantra. It is raw and organic. What makes this match so special is how it combines brawling and psychology. Everything is smart & logical without feeling planned or contrived. Everything feels intense & chaotic without feeling mindless & aimless. It never drags, but it never throws too much at you. It is a very sticky match in the sense that everything sticks with you. Vince McMahon must love this match because it has so many iconic moments, from Shawn jumping up and down on Foley while the floor mat is on Foley to the amazing ending table spot. My favorite sequence of the match is when they executed a worked shoot centered around Shawn’s predilection for temper tantrums in the middle of a match. It turns into a heated brawl. I really love how Foley yanks Michaels down from behind in the claw. It was intense and uncomfortable. Not to be outdone, Shawn really lays in fucking brutal back elbows into Foley’s head. There were so many stiff shots in the match. I thought Shawn was firing off live rounds and even Foley strikes looked rough. There were other great chaotic moments with Shawn leaping over the announce table to tackle Foley. Such an exciting fight! Shawn looked amazing fighting on top, probably his best offensive performance of his career. He was really taking it to Mankind and that work over Foley’s leg was top notch! He even threw in a dragon leg screw! There is a great character moment when Michaels has Mankind in a half crab, Paul Bearer places the urn on the apron next to the ropes to give Mankind that extra incentive to grab the ropes. There are so many great little things throughout this match. I loved the transition out of Shawn control segment when Mankind’s knee gives out and he falls back and this hot shots Michaels. Perfect confluence of what happened and bringing the match to the next step. The next iconic moment is Foley stabbing his own knee with a pen to get feeling back in it. Great deranged, psycho moment. Foley targets Michaels’ head due to his concussion history. Michaels really wrestled out of his mind. So many great decision and sold like a million bucks. I love how Shawn needed three big hits to EARN control of the match again. Foley goes ass over tea kettle on a knee into the ring steps, then a drop toehold into the steps and then in a fight on the apron Foley eats the ring post. I love how bang bang this match is. No downtime, but never overdone. Mankind gets his head caught in the ropes and Shawn looks to press the advantage, but Mandible Claw! Mankind becomes obsessed with getting the claw so Shawn retaliates by destroying the Claw hand. The Claw hand is rendered completely ineffective the rest of the match. Just great escalation. So Mankind has to resort to Cactus Jack moves like the Double Arm DDT and piledriver since he cant use the hand. Mankind has an amazing mid-match freak out when he cant put Shawn away. Shawn’s comeback is red hot; he really clobbers him with that forearm. The finish stretch is incredible, Shawn rocking, the insane table spot and then Shawn Van Dam hitting the craziest Sweet Chin Music ever. God, if Shawn just got the 1-2-3 in that moment instead of Vader, Sid and Undertaker getting involved. Lets forget the finish and just remember the good times of this incredible match. So many long brawls will peter out, but this match just builds and builds. So many logical matches feel contrived, but this match feels like a shoot for the most part, just raw emotion. A true masterpiece!   

#2. Bret Hart vs Owen Hart – Wrestlemania X
WWF Match of the Year, 1994

Brother vs brother is there a simpler, more natural story than that? Any man who has a brother knows the story. We love one another, but there is always a little bit of competitive fire between the two if not a whole lot of competitive fire. Owen plays the insecure snot little brother with a fierce inferiority complex. The way he celebrates the break from the collar and elbow tieup always get me. The flip side is how humiliated he is when Bret makes him fall out of the ring. Owen comes back in and slaps him. He is the consummate insecure brat. Bret plays the calm older brother perfectly. He just wants to outwrestle his young brother not hurt him. So often we forget that wrestling is not about injuring your opponent. It is about pinning your opponent’s shoulders to the mat for a three count or forcing a submission. There is no reason to hurt one another. However, tempers flare and that’s when the heat comes out. Owen is not wrestling to win. He is wrestling to hurt. Bret responds in kind. Bret is peppering in hope spots while Owen is crushing it on offense. The Tombstone Piledriver spot was out of this world. Great transition to Bret Hart re-taking control when Owen goes for the home run shot of the top rope diving headbutt. That’s where this match excels so much is escalation. Since Owen escalated this from hold-counterhold by attacking Bret with high impact moves. So Bret returned in kind by hitting the Fives Moves of Doom, but it was an out of nowhere Enizguiri that turns the match back in Owen’s favor. When Bret jams his knee, this match goes into overdrive playing into how Owen turned heel in the first place during the Quebecers match when Owen kicked “Bret’s leg out from under his leg”. Owen does the Hart family proud with this leg work and Bret sells like a million bucks. Good payback spot where Bret gets the enziguiri as his receipt. The commentary did a great job putting over how this would affect Bret’s world title shot later that night. He should just cut his losses and focus on the title match. But any brother knows how important it is to win against their brother and he wont give up. Owen has crossed the line it went from winning a match to injuring Bret now. Bret returns in kind. He holds nothing back. PILEDRIVER! TOP ROPE SUPERPLEX! Bret has gone from cradles & armbars to dropping his brother on his head. Owen one ups this when his trick knee acts up and he heel kicks Bret in the balls. He goes from wanting to humiliate his brother to becoming so desperate he hits him in the testicles. Is there anything more low down and pathetic than that? I love that nobody has ever broken Bret’s Sharpshooter, but since Owen is not as proficient at it, Bret is able to break it. He applies his own, but Owen makes the ropes. Bret goes for the Victory Roll, but Owen kneels down on his shoulder to win the match!

I love how each man is transformed throughout the match. It is such amazing, organic character work. Bret’s face at the loss is perfect. He is like I cant believe that little fucker pinned me. Owen’s reaction is also priceless at his victory. Maybe the best character work in American history.   

#1. Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – Wrestlemania XIII Submission Match
WWF Match of the Year, 1997

 This is Bret Hart's Five Act Masterpiece. 

Act One: Brawl Outside sets the mood, establishes this a fight. 

Act Two: Bret works the knee. Is there anybody you would rather see work a control segment than Bret Hart. Steve Austin is such an amazing seller. So much energy! So much flailing! We get the rhythm of the match and its a submission match and the Sharpshooter is always looming. 

Act Three: Austin's first desperation comeback with the steel chair. He tries to win the match with conventional submissions (moss-covered three-handled-family granduza and the Boston Crab). 

Act Four: Austin is busted wide open. Bret beats the shit out of him and is almost taunting him in the way he is not putting Austin away and is instead dishing out excessive punishment like he is running up the score. Bret is turning heel and you want to see Austin open up a massive can of whoop-ass. 

Act Five: Austin, bleeding profusely, makes a furious comeback that includes nutshots, middle fingers and trying to choke out Bret with with an electrical cord,  but Bret hits Austin with the ring bell. Then it all climaxes in that amazing moment that is seared in all wrestling fans' minds with Austin fighting through the Sharpshooter, blood squirting from his head, passing out from the pain. 

The reputation that precedes this match is so gargantuan what could you possibly say that has not been said in the past. We all know the historical import of this match. I would go as far as to assert this is the most historically important match in Vince McMahon Jr's WWF. Everything, the superstars, the live events, the TV shows, the merchandise that after this match now for over twenty years was made possible by this match. Very rarely can we point to such a singular match or singular moment where a Superstar is born that is literally going to save a company, lead them from the brink of bankruptcy so that in fours years, they buy their biggest competition and run a major Dome show. What is even more rare is how this match is the perfect confluence of history and art. Think of Hogan vs Iron Sheik and Hogan vs Andre, massively important matches, but as works of art they certainly leave the wrestling fan wanting more. How about matches like Slaughter vs Sheik an absolutely amazing bloodbath, but mostly forgotten to history because ultimately, it was NOT that important or influential, it was a last gasp of a dying era. So what we see here above all else is the magical intercourse of history and art. The resulting climax is true gratification.

It is a boring selection, but there's a reason it is boring, this is the Greatest WWF Match of All Time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment