Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 28: Best of AWA 1983-1990 (Nick Bockwinkel, Curt Hennig, Shawn Michaels)

Hey Yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 28:
The Best of American Wrestling Association 1983-1990

Objective:  Break up the Greatest Match Ever Project (hosted at gwe.freeforums.project.net) 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 twenty-eighth volume of Pro Wrestling Love is the conclusion of the Top 12 countdown of the best matches to take place in American Wrestling Association between 1983-1990. The time period is set because this was the peak of the territorial era in regards to footage. Footage before 1983 in regards to American wrestling is a dicey proposition. There are some gaps after 1983, but for the most part from 1983 on we have everything. Originally I was going to end this countdown in 1987 as believe that to be the end of the territorial era (Crockett buys out Watts and World Class & AWA are on their death bed), but I figure I might as well include 1988-1990 because that’s when the AWA closed. You can revisit past Pro Wrestling Love Volumes at ridingspacemountain.blogspot.com. You can check out the full version of these reviews in ProWrestlingOnly.com by going to the forums and finding the folders associated with the date of the match.

Contact Info: @superstarsleeze on Twitter, Instagram & ProWrestlingOnly.com.

Greatest Match of All Time???

The Top Six Matches of the AWA 1983-1990

#6. AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkel vs Wahoo McDaniel - 8/28/83
AWA Match of the Year, 1983

I am so glad we have this on tape. There is no commentary and I dont know why we do, but it is so awesome. It was really cool to see Bockwinkel in this stiff, violent brawl. I have gotten to see very little, but what little I have seen, I liked a lot and am so grateful that we have a classic like this on tape. Bock ain't playing around, he has his fists taped up, but Wahoo is here to kick some ass. He targets the leg and and throws some tomahawk chops. The crowd seems pretty pro-Wahoo. Bock retreats to the outside where he grabs a chair and clobbers Wahoo. HOLY SHIT! He sends Wahoo into the post and then drives his head into a steel pole that holds up the ropes near the fans. Wahoo is bleeding, but comes firing back with chops. You can hear the crowd fine, but there are no sound effects so we are robbed of the dulcet cacophony of flesh on flesh. Wahoo is delivering a deliberate and measured ass kicking. Bock is the best at this kind of split-legged dazed selling or falling to his knees and rocking back and forth after every chop to the head. Bock rakes the eyes and throws Wahoo to the outside, but Wahoo meets him at the apron to chop him in the head and Bock falls on his ass in some great selling. Bock relentlessly tries to grab his famed Oriental Sleeper, not once, not twice, but three times and his head driven into the turnbuckles. Wahoo gets some payback on the outside cracking Bock's head off hard objects. Bock and Wahoo crack heads and Bock ricochets outside the ring. The finish sees Wahoo trying to go through the ropes to get Bock and is nailed with the chair. My one complaint that keeps this from being an all-time classic is that I did not feel like they were earning every inch. I thought Bock was complacent in selling and bumping, but Wahoo and not fighting back enough. It is a small complaint, but one that kept me from marking out to the fullest extent. Still Wahoo vs Bock lives up to the hype as one of the best violent brawls of the 80s.

#5. The Sheiks (Crusher Ayatollah Blackwell & Adnan al-Kaisse) vs Da Crusher & Greg Gagne
Steel Cage Match 3/25/85

Da Crusher is the pride of Milwaukee and along with Verne, Mad Dog, and Baron form the old guard of the AWA that the crowds of the Midwest still love to death. I have heard Da Crusher described as a precursor to Stone Cold and having watched a still down interview with him. I definitely agree with comparison. He was a champion of the blue collar, beer-drinking average Joe. He was a man's man. He loved drinking beer, smoking stoogies and large women that do the polka! That's my kinda man. I dare say Da Crusher is the coolest man to ever rock the bowl cut.

This is shot like the High Flyers vs Sheiks Cage Match with a single handheld outside the ring looking up and no commentary. It really adds to viscera, chaotic feel.

Holy Greg Gagne! This is his career performance he was on absolute fire during this match. We are talking Shawn Michaels Brawl In St. Paul levels of piss and vinegar! He is ripping through the Sheiks early on coming off the top rope and throwing everyone into the cage. I don't think there are better cage match workers than Adnan & Blackwell. Sheik Adnan blasts him with the cast and they try to work over Greg. Greg just keeps fighting back. It creates this sense of awesome struggle. Finally beating his way out of the Sheik's corner, he tags Da Crusher on his knees. The crowd is so behind Da Crusher! Crusher slams Blackwell into the cage repeatedly and the crowd counts along. Greg wants in on this and walks the ropes to get his kicks in. Blackwell is busted open and Crusher starts hitting stiff jabs to the cut. Now it is Sheik's turn to get his ass kicked. I love Crusher's short little jabs to the face, Holy shit! Crazy Blackwell back drop into a cage and Greg runs up to hit a knee drop and boom see ya later Kenny P. Blackwell eyerake on Da Crusher allows him to slam him into the cage.

There is a great moment that demonstrates the raucous mayhem of this match as you get the camera close up of Patera holding Blackwell as he slams Crusher and the ref getting pissed. The ref did a really good job only to have Greg holler he is coming and just lights up Blackwell. Crusher and Sheik brawl. Blackwell goes for top rope splash! Crashes and burns! Greg Gagne top rope splash! He is not the legal man, but who the hell is! It is CHAOS BABY! Crusher back drops Blackwell and calls for the BOLO PUNCH~! Blackwell throws a stiff left and a FUCKING DROPKICK~! BATSHIT INSANITY~! Sheiks maul Da Crusher in the corner, but he fights out and Greg IS RIPSHIT! He DESTROYS Sheik Adnan! He sees Blackwell out of the corner of his eye and blasts him in the face! WIND UP...BOLO PUNCH TO SHEIK ADNAN! Tremendous bump off the cage by Blackwell. Greg Gagne scales to the top of the cage and drops with the knee on the leg. 

AWESOME MATCH! Patera bum rushes the ring with the chair slamming Greg and Blackwell holds the door, but AWA babyfaces with Brunzell saves. Loved Greg Gagne's performance. I am a total mark for energy and this is was such a great energetic performance. Blackwell and Sheik Adnan are ultimate cage match workers. Da Crusher is definitely bets utilized in a cage setting. The Sheiks vs Old Guard feud was delivered some great brawls. AWA is holding their own with any other territory as a brawling territory. Really great!

#4. Midnight Rockers vs Buddy Rose & Doug Somers - Steel Cage 12/25/86

To paraphrase Prince, “Excuse if I get excited, I was watching a badass Shawn Michaels shine.” This is a very controversial and your thoughts on it probably tells a lot about who you are as a person. As a person that is a bit of a ham that loves things over the top and outrageous. I love this shit. Where other people may find Shawn Michael’s to be a douchebag in this match, I saw a person that was excited to be kicking the ass of the men that had been keeping them away from the titles for months and had bloodied him on two occasions. Shawn Michaels as the serious asskicker in the beginning would have been fine, but it wouldn’t be Shawn Michaels. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he is going to let you know that “Fuck Yeah! I am kicking these pricks’ ass”. I was vibing off that positive energy and it really sucked me into the match. Now, if you don’t like it, you are just a different person and that is cool, but I think this is all-time great shine. I will never get down on someone that is that invested in the match. 
In addition, I thought the match told a great coming of age tale. In the 80s, it was commonplace to take a pretty boy babyface tag team (blowjob tag team, if you will, not a term I particularly fond of) to put them in a nasty, bloody brawls to prove their mettle and they were not just some pretty faces. It was seen with the Fabulous Ones & Moondogs and Fantastics & Sheeperherders. With Rockers leading up to this cage match, we have seen Rose & Somers bloody up Shawn Michaels on two occasions. This is that coming of age tale to demonstrate to the crowd that Rockers have an edge to them and that they can fight. This cage solidifies this position.

Rockers kick their asses from pillar to post busting Rose open immediately. Shawn Michaels kicks the ever-loving shit out of them. Somers takes some ridiculous cage bumps. Shawn is all fired up. You can really feel that he is becoming a man by taking it to these two grizzled veterans and dominating. Sherri’s hysterical wailing never ceases. There is lots of great stooging and delayed bumps and staggering. The Rockers giving the Rose & Somers a taste of their own medicine, gnawing at the cuts. I love the crazed Somers cage bumps. Rose is beaten senseless on apron and is selling like a chang. Shawn is revved up on the top turnbuckle and I am going wild here in 2015 in my kitchen. Jannetty slams Rose’s head in the back of cage until he just slumps down, DAMN! Shawn yells no mercy. He goes for double noggin knocker, but Rose rakes the eyes and sends him into the cage. Rose looks to go up top, but Jannetty cuts him off and crotches him and A HUGE POP! Repeatedly sends him head first into cage. Somers breaks it up and Somers beaten up slumps down. Rose low blow! Shawn breaks up and sends Jannetty into cage and he no sells. I will say for as much shit Michaels gets in this match. He punches away on Rose and pulls him up at two! I thought Jannetty was more egregious in his dumb decisions pulling up Rose & Somers on two occasions and no selling cage shots.

Somers is fucked up in corner. Rose is sent into Michaels fist and falls all the way back into his corner and tags out. Michaels hits an elbow drop and pulls Somers up. (Michaels isn’t perfect) Somers headbutts Michaels low. Somers crawls over. Buddy Catapults Michaels into the cage. Shawn is bleeding. Buddy throws him into the cage. Rose DDT. Rose pulling him up now as a dick move to show up the faces, which I like as a way to play off the earlier pull ups. This is a strong, short heat segment. With Rockers fatigued from their shine and nastiness of Rose & Somers, you believe they have weathered the storm and that Rose & Somers could pull this out. Michaels with his staggered lunges and Rose gnaws on cut. Fans cheer for Michaeks. Rose rakes his head across cage. Somers suplex and tags out to Buddy. Shawn back body dropped into cage (great bump) and then straddled on ropes. Shawn fires back from his back, but trips over Somers and almost pinned (really cool). Shawn hits a tremendous kneelift! Tags in Marty! Everybody into the cage! Rose tries to get out and they fight on top of the cage and Rose tumbles towards inside cage. Jannetty with a huge cross body to win! WAIT! What oh it is non-title Rose and Somers lock cage to do a number on Jannetty. An all-time great cage match that is never dull and just constant excitement. Add in the controversy, definitely check it out and make your voice heard! 

#3. AWA World Heavyweight Champion Rick Martel vs Nick Bockwinkel - 9/20/84
AWA Match of the Year, 1984

WOW! Until the finish, I think this was the best match I have seen so far as part of my 80s watching and is definitely neck and neck with Flair vs Kerry from August of 1982. It featured some of the best selling I have ever witnessed in pro wrestling. It was not just from Martel. It was from both Martel and Bockwinkel. It felt like a war of attrition between the two best wrestlers in the world. It was a game of inches and they were both so good that it was just going to be the details the decided the winner. The small detail was Bockwinkel's nasty little short jab to the ribs. It was his great equalizer. Martel was so focused on his kneework that he would leave himself exposed to these quick punches and that eventually took their toll on Martel physically. The story really became who could overcome their injuries Bockwinkel with his knee and Martel with his midsection.

Bockwinkel wrestled most of the match on his knees and he proves why he is one of the all-time best by selling his pain and desperation throughout the match. In this match, Bockwinkel tries to start the match hot and heavy, but he gets overzealous and hits a high knee to the turnbuckle. Martel just pounces on this mistake like in the Lawler match with toeholds and strikes relentlessly. Bockwinkel sells the agony of the holds in such an engaging way that you never lose interest. Bock and Martel trade blows within the toehold and when that does not go well for Bock; he hits a quick jab to Martel's midsection, which forces him off his body. Bock with JYD heabutts to Martel's midsection. Oh shit, this is my kinda match! He pounds Martel's side as best he can with his good knee. This is just dripping with struggle and urgency. Bockwinkel collapses in the middle of the ring while Martel writhes in pain in the corner. Holy shit! Bock uses the wrong knee on a knee lift and can't capitalize soon enough. Martel hits a kneecrusher! Martel is back to work with seatdrops so Bockwinkel just grabs him by his hair and punches him in the head. He forces Martel out of the ring and is basically working a King of the Mountain from his ass and it is awesome! Martel picks the leg and wraps it around the post. Have I gone to Heaven? Bock saves his knee by trying to claw Martel's eyes out. This was no normal eye gouge, he was getting in there. He puts Martel in a stretch where he can constantly maneuver him to expose the ribs to his rabbit punches without the ref seeing. Martel punches to the knee to get out of it and kicks the leg out from under him. Yep, I died and have gone to Heaven. Martel rides high and Bock applies a body scissors, but his leg is so fucked up he can't hold him. They knock heads in the middle of the ring and it is time to hit the finish. Martel goes for the kill first, but misses the reverse cross body from the middle rope. Martel fires through Bock's offense and it looks like he has more gas in his tank. Slingshot splash EATS KNEES! THOSE RIBS! OW! The selling is tres magnifique. They work through a barrage of nearfalls with neither having enough to put the other way. However, the ref gets bumped, Mr. Saito is able to throw salt in the eyes of Martel who has Bockwinkel dead to rites in the Boston Crab. 1-2-3!?!?!?!?!? Bock wins??? After much deliberation, the belt is returned to Martel. I fucking hate that finish. I don't care if it is babyface or heel, it is just stupid bullshit. It is definitely worse when a babyface wins, you get the pop and then rob people. Still even letting the people see Martel get pinned and not lose only hurts the moment when he will actually loses the title.

The finish is the only thing that keeps this from *****, but fuck if this is the tenth best match of the AWA in the 80s, I am in for quite treat! This was fucking tremendous. Small critique would be that they just had one or two more highspots down the stretch to take the drama level to the next level. I am thinking a Bockwinkel sleeper and maybe a piledriver or two. It does not have to be an AWA Jumbo match with a ton of highspots, but a couple more would have been enough to overcome my least favorite finish ever. Enough negativity because this is my favorite match so far. It is a master's class in selling and should be absolutely mandatory to be watched by all wrestlers young and old in the industry today. 

#2. Midnight Rockers vs Buddy Rose & Doug Somers - 8/30/86

I really don't know how much I can say about the famous Bloodbath match that has not already been said, but I will try my best to explain why this may be the greatest American tag team match ever.

Shawn Michaels quick pinfall attempts. Superkick. Rose slams his head into the post and Michaels outside and taps a gusher. Awesome, awesome staggered selling and wild punches. Somers is nasty as fuck gnaw at cut spitting blood. Every hope spot is met with a jab to the cut. Jannetty tries to help, but no avail. The drama is ridiculous for Michaels to get to Jannetty. Jannetty gets in and nails everything that moves. He sends Somers into post twice to bust him open. Sherri distracts and Buddy buries the knee in the back. Buddy busts Marty open with pistons rights. It is a bloodbath. Buddy gnaws. Somers is fucked up. War of attrition. Michaels hanging from ropes on the arpon and just great selling. Somers with a seated dropklick finally gets Jannetty down, but kick out at 2. Jannetty taeks a swing at Buddy. Jannetty tumbles after missing to hit Somers. Somers great selling. Jannetty weird spurts spastic spurts of energy. Jannetty bits Rose. Shawn in and he is incensed from his own blood and Buddy is such a great chickenshit. Shawn fires off and full court press. It is a fracas. The ref is knocked down. Somers and Jannetty knock head.s Rose drops Jannetty onto a chair. OW!!! Two refs throw it out. Rose and Somers look to beat Michaels down, but AWA faces save. Michaels jumps Buddy on the outside in the classic moment. If you have not watched this, you must. Pitch perfect selling from the Rockers especially Michaels and great heel work from Rose & Somers working the cut. The epitome of drama! 

#1. AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkel vs Curt Hennig - 11/15/86
AWA Match of the Year, 1986

What can I possibly say about not just possibly the greatest one hour draw of all time, but possibly the greatest match of all time? It was totally engrossing. I love professional wrestling, but my mind will always wander it is just natural for me. Now you take two men put them in a single bout that goes roughly 2-3x longer than the average match and I am going to lose focus at some point and have to rewind. I have watched this match multiple times and that has never ever happened to me. It is just as gripping to me now as when I bought the WWE Curt Hennig comp. I think there are two essential facets that help it. First and foremost, is their attention to detail. Everything is a struggle from the first lock up to Bockwinkel's agony in the figure-4 one hour later. Second was their unpredictability. I don't mind predictable. I think at some point in your wrestling fandom you enjoy the routine of the push off the side headlock, come off the ropes, shoulder tackle dropdown, block the hiptoss, reverse and the babyface hiptosses the heel. Now because this match went one hour, they did not need to follow the formula to a T to make sure that crowd was invested in Curt through the shine and then build sympathy and go to a hot finish run. They could switch up the rope running sequences in such a way that I did not know how they would end. At actually, furthermore and this does not get played up enough this is technically babyface vs babyface. Bockwinkel plays the de facto heel down the stretch, but this further allows the departure from face/heel dynamics to increase unpredictability. I think when you have two really top flight babyfaces both in terms of workrate and starpower that's when pro wrestling can really feel like a sporting contest and just jam packed with drama. The beauty of it being one hour is I never can remember everything about this. Going into this rewatch, I distinctly remember loving the short arm scissors work and blood down the stretch. That was it. So everytime, I watch it the unpredictability is still there.

Nick Bockwinkel surprise dropkick and bodyslam for a quick pinfall at the start of what would be a one hour draw is one of the all-time great starts in pro wrestling history. I love a BANG BANG play like that at the beginning of a match to really jostle the crowd. Reminds me of Bock's crossbody right at the outset of his championship loss to Jumbo in AWA (another classic start). It tells the story of Bockwinkel leveraging his experience against the vim and vigor of young Curt Hennig. The beginning of the match is trying to tell the story that Hennig is Bock's equal on the mat that not only can he withstand the punishment, but keep up. They do some really interesting spots. Bock takes advantage of Curt's bumping abilities when Curt does a backroll into a standing position off a shouldertackle and Bock snaps him over with a side headlock takedown. It looks smooth as silk. Everything is earned in the early going. The headscissors work out of the headlock is just perfect pro wrestling. Hennig is just as detail-oriented as Bock. In an armabr, he places his knee on Bock's head both as a way to pin Bock down and use it as a fulcrum is awesome. Hennig keeps going back to the arm and ends up applying the short arm scissors one of my favorite holds. Bock is great at selling this slapping his hand from keeping going numb and working out of it. He works so hard just get into a toehold. He really has to pry it open. The way he is selling the arm even as he is working the toehold is masterful.

When Hennig grabs the arm again, Bock lays in the first heavy blows of the match at 20 minutes deep. Up to this, it has just been riveting clean, technical matwork. Bock is starting to feel that pressure and is looking to change gears and see if he can shake up the young challenger. Hennig sticks with arm and now goes rolling short arm scissors. Bock pulls the tights and Hennig is forced to break the hold or be pinned. Bock now takes a walk to reset. Bock is going to try every trick in the book to rattle Curt. Hennig to his credit stays calm and collected. He is wrestling well beyond on his years. There is an intensity in his eyes and his motions that makes you feel this is the most important thing in the world to him right now. Bock executed a drop toe hold and rolls right up into a leg scissors crab. One of my all time favorite spots! He wrenches it and Hennig is writhing in pain. Hennig says two can play at this game and he yanks the hair to crossface Bock and then attack the arm. A perfect move by Hennig. Hennig kneedrops the arm, which further damages the knee. Bock pounces on this mistake. They roll to the apron and Bock starts burying knees into Hennig forcing him outside. It is no more Mr. Nice Guy. Bock pops him in the crowd with a nasty forearm. Hennig takes the Bret Bump into the Oriental Sleeper! They both tumble out with the ref. Hennig sends Bock flying with a chop in the ring (great bump by Bockwinkel), but there is no ref! Hennig again to his credit stays focused and wrenches the arm against the post while Bock is trying to work an angle into a figure-4. I don't have the time to describe how expertly they are transitioning between thus dueling limb psychology and also ramping up the heat from technical masterpiece to one now where you feel that is so much at stake and some shortcuts are being taken.

At this point, Bockwinkel begins to use his favorite counteroffensive the quick jabs to the midsection to stun his opponent and set up pinning opportunities. Hennig trips up Bock up and wrenches his knee around the post. He is selling his own knee at the same time! Bockwinkel tries the bodyslamd, but his knee gives out. He is able to execute a piledriver, but it is too close to the ropes. He jumps back on Hennig's knee, but as he rears back Hennig applies a crossface and headbutts him off. Wow! Now we get the big Hennig bumrush of hot nearfalls that whips everyone into a frenzy, chop and piledriver! Bockwinkel looks totally overwhelmed by this hot rising star. Curt has wrestled a perfect match not giving way to any of Bockwinkel's tricks. He stayed with him on the mat. He found openings and now he his exploiting all the hard work by pouring on the offense. Just when it looks like Hennig may get the submission with the spinning toe hold, tragedy strikes. Bockwinkel shoves him off with his foot and Hennig is sent careening into post. He is dazed, confused and bloody. All that hard work looks like it went down the drain for one bad bump to the head.

Bockwinkel assumes his traditional role as King of the Mountain using the high ground to attack the wound of Hennig. Bockwinkel is aggressively calling for time calls. Does it get more heelish than attacking an open wound of opponent and calling for time? Bock gets him back in the ring where his teeing off until THE AXE~! Hennig hits the AXE~! HUGE BUMP! Hennig is bleeding profusely, but he will not be denied. Multiple Axes now and it looks like Bock may have bladed hard to tell as Hennig is bleeding buckets. You really believe that Hennig may pull this out just because of how damn good Bockwinkel's performance is in this. Direct quote from my notes "Bock in the figure-4 is fucking the best thing in wrestling". He is in pain, he is struggling to get out and his facial expressions are so fucking pitch perfect. He knows time on his side, but GOD FUCKING DAMNIT THIS HURTS! The crowd is all standing and I am marking out all over again. There is a nice little carny touch at the end where the ring the bell prematurely of the official count to make the crowd believe Hennig had won, but it is ruled a draw.

The story of the match is that Curt Hennig was ready. He could go toe to toe with Nick Bockwinkel. He pretty much took every single one of Bockwinkel's best shots and kept coming. If it was not for busting himself open, kayfabe-wise he had Bock on the ropes. He did make the ferocious ending in the figure-4, but he came up short of winning the title. You get a sense of pride and a sense of "not if, but when". The story of Curt Hennig's progression is he is getting better and he is able to get Bockwinkel on the ropes quicker and quicker into a match, but then these bullshit finish start to catch up to him. However, a draw is a respectable finish and Curt is a respectable man and he holds his head up high after this match. Nick Bockwinkel gives one of the most sublime performances in pro wrestling history. He gives so much of this match to Curt and he makes you believe Curt can win, but never once do you count him out and never once do you ever feel is any less of a mountain to climb. He has seen everything this wrestling world has to offer and he has a shortcut for anything. The Oriental Sleeper and the legwork were all moments that felt like gamechangers for Nick. The blow to Curt's head and the way Nick relished that and was calling for the time was proof of his expertise. 60 minutes is a long time and there was never a dull moment.

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