POSTED ON by Corey Collins CATEGORIES TAGS
brian lee, cm punk, gimmick matches, gimmicks, gino hernandez, jose lothario, list, nwa, raven, ric flair, roh, tommy dreamer, wcw, wwfWRITTEN BY Corey Collins COMMENTS Leave a comment
head drop soup
When a feud becomes too heated to be finished with your standard, garden variety wrestling match the only logical step is to up the ante to a more physical, more brutal, and oftentimes more horrific degree. There are countless variations on gimmick matches and new ones being dreamed up by weirdos all over the planet. I’m going to list just a few here, however, as I traverse the list of my Top 5 Gimmick Matches of all time. This list isn’t intended to necessarily showcase the best or most famous gimmick matches of all time but rather a ranking of my personal favorite gimmick matches from a lifetime of watching pro-wrestling.
There are few things better than a good gimmick match. The key word in that last sentence, however, is “good”. It doesn’t make much sense to just throw a gimmick match out there for the sake of having one; that’s a big reason I’ve gone sour on things like Hell In A Cell as it’s now forced onto an annual pay-per-view rather than being used only when necessary to contain two or more individuals until the fight is finished. Who can forget the first-ever HIAC match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels? That match and everything that led up to and came out of it is still great, but the gimmick itself has lost some steam for me over the years thanks to its over-saturation.
So, join me as we countdown the very first edition of The List and let me know in the comments below what your list would look like!
The Texas (or Mexican, depending on where you are and who is involved in the match) Death Match isn’t your garden variety Falls Count Anywhere. It’s not your garden variety Last Man Standing Match. The Texas Death Match is about much more than just pinning your opponent or making sure that they can’t respond to a referee’s ten count – it’s about letting heated rivals fight with no rules, no time limit, no countouts, and no disqualifications until only one person is left on their feet. To me, this is an underused gimmick match in mainstream pro-wrestling. We’ve see our share of high profile Last Man Standing matches over the years but that match has always just seemed to weird to me. All you have to do is knock your opponent down and wait for the referee to start counting. Everything happens at the discretion of the referee and whenever they find it reasonable to start counting one wrestler out.
The Texas Death Match, though, puts everything in the hands of the competitors involved. Pinfalls and submissions can happen in abundance, but what really matters is what goes on after the fall. Once someone has been pinned or submitted they then have the referee’s ten count to get back to their feet and continue the match. Not only do you have to beat your opponent, but you will have had to brutalize them the point of not being able to get back to their feet at all. Oftentimes Texas Death Matches come with an additional rest period between the fall and the referee’s count which means there can be an extra thirty-to-sixty seconds of potential recovery time. If, after all of that time, your opponent can’t get back to their feet the decision is absolutely decisive.
This is one of the best ways to blow off a long-running feud, in my opinion. The wrestlers are able to tear each other limb from limb with no regard for their bodies, the rules, or the safety of anybody involved until one person’s body completely gives out on them. There can be no question who has won the feud when a Texas Death Match is over. The video below showcases a classic Texas Death Match from 1979 between Jose Lothario and Gino Hernandez. This one adds a little extra to the match – a steel cage around the ring to (as the commentator explains) keep the wrestlers in and the fans out! The commentator also makes a reference to “fish net matches” and now that’s something I have to try and dig up.
The Lothario/Hernandez match isn’t the most brutal by some Death Match standards (this isn’t FMW), but it’s one of the better Texas Death Matches I’ve seen as far as psychology and story-telling are concerned. Lothario was once Hernandez’s mentor before Hernandez turned on him. Hernandez previously broke the left arm of Lothario which threatens to limit the punching ability of “Supersock” in this fight. Throughout the match Lothario tries to employ the same offensive method on Hernandez by targeting his left hand in order to even the odds. The match starts slow and builds logically to a finish that sees both men busted open as they fight for their survival.
Bonus video: Dory Funk Jr. explains the rules of a Texas Death Match.
Who the hell came up with this match? What’s even the point of it? For most gimmick matches you can figure out the root issue by the gimmick itself – a steel cage to keep people from running away or getting in, No Disqualification to keep notorious rule breakers from throwing a match away, or a submission match when two wrestlers want to see who has the most grit. But a Scaffold Match? What problem comes up that can only be solved by trapping two or more individuals on a scaffold above the ring? What does any of it mean?!
All that being said, I love this stupid, ugly, dangerous match. It doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever but the mere spectacle of it all is enough. In a Scaffold Match, the competitors are bound to fight on a scaffold of an undetermined height above the ring. The only way to win? Knock your opponent(s) off of the scaffold and into the ring. This is the match that, in its debut, saw Jim Cornette blow out his knee falling from the scaffold and into the ring. You aren’t going to see a classic wrestling match when you buy a ticket to see a Scaffold Match. Hell, you’re barely going to see a wrestling match at all. You’ll be lucky if you see anything more than kicks, punches, and maybe a headlock when people are fighting on a scaffold. What you will see, though, is something completely bizarre and terrifying.
When I was a kid I only knew WWF. We lived in the northeast and didn’t have a satellite dish, so we didn’t get any of the channels that would have shown the NWA or WCW. One day in middle school changed all of this for me. I went over to a friend’s house who did have a satellite dish and he showed me something that completely blew my mind: ECW. I had never seen anything like it. I remember one of the first things I saw was Public Enemy cutting a promo while smoking cigarettes and drinking beers. I was floored! “These guys would be fired if they did this on WWF!” I either thought to myself or said out loud, my thirteen-year-old brain still unsure of where the line between reality and fiction was drawn with certain aspects of pro-wrestling. From that first showing I was hooked. I found out that, late at night, the MSG Network (which we got at my house) became the Sunshine Network which would air ECW at some ungodly hour like 2am on a school night. Since I couldn’t stay up that late, I would set the VCR to record each week and watch the tape later on.
ECW changed everything for me. It showed me an entire different world and style of wrestling that I never knew existed and that, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. As a kid I always wanted to be a wrestler, but the idea of training at the ECW school with Taz seemed like a horror movie come to life. They’d probably kill a guy in a place like that! ECW did such an amazing job at cultivating an atmosphere and attitude that were present in every facet of their programming, including the commercials for Extreme Warfare Volume 2 which promoted a Scaffold Match between Tommy Dreamer and Brian Lee. This was no ordinary Scaffold Match, though. Not only was the scaffold itself scary to look at as it swayed back and forth with every movement, the ring was covered in tables waiting for one of the bodies to come crashing through them. This wasn’t just a Scaffold Match – this was High Incident.
Bonus Video: The video below is of a higher quality, which is great, but was also run through the WWE sweetening machine which is not so great. If you want the original version with the original audio, check it out here!
We’re going to stray from the path set forth in the intro above for a minute with this one. The Royal Rumble isn’t a match used to blow off a blood feud or anything like that. Instead, it’s an annual attraction match (well, I guess twice-annually this year with the Greatest Royal Rumble) that sets the path toward WrestleMania for one lucky individual. This is in a completely different category for me than the forced annual gimmick pay-per-views like Hell In A Call, TLC, and even Money In The Bank. Those types of matches should be reserved for as-needed situations rather than having feuds shoehorned into them before they’re ready. The Royal Rumble is something unique and expected – something that doesn’t rely on forcing a feud to hit certain milestones in a short period of time to make sure they can have this “special” match in January. For me, it’s one of the few gimmick matches WWE consistently does well.
As a kid, the Royal Rumble was always so exciting. You take thirty wrestlers and randomize their entry every minute or two, and the only way to eliminate somebody is to throw them over the top rope. It often becomes the testing waters for a potential match or feud down the road – what happens when two hot babyfaces wind up as the only two people in the ring for a minute or two? If two tag team partners are left alone in the ring, will they fight one another? (Spoiler alert – they will!)
The unpredictability of the Royal Rumble is the fun of it for me. Yes, there are of course years where the writing is on the wall as to who is going to win and it takes the allure of the match away a little bit. Even in those cases, though, the fun of the countdown and seeing who would be out next – whether it’s someone current, a returning wrestler, or a surprise legend – helps keep things interesting and exciting. For us, we tend to get a group of friends together and all draw numbers until there are none left. Then you’ve got your pool of entrants with the added bonus of some goofy prize to the winner. It’s the only match of the year that has this kind of unpredictability and allows you to just immerse yourself in the mystery of what may happen next.
The 1992 Royal Rumble is always going to be one that is special to me. Not only was it the first Royal Rumble where the wrestlers were competing for the WWF World Heavyweight Title, but I was there in person! Aside from the Rumble match itself I also got to see “Rowdy” Roddy Piper win the Intercontinental Title from The Mountie and I was about 9000% convinced that he was going to run the gamut and win the WWF World Heavyweight Title in the Rumble itself. Unfortunately for the Hot Rod it turned out that Ric Flair would survive from #3 all the way to the end to claim the prize. This was a pretty pivotal night for me as a child wrestling fan as well because it was the first time I began to see the shine come off of Hulk Hogan. After being fairly eliminated from the match he caused Sid Justice to also be eliminated and, being that Sid was the last good guy in the match with Flair, my friends and I were pissed. We yelled whatever obscenities 9- and 10-year-old kids knew to yell and ripped our Hulk Hogan signs to shreds. Hulkamania was dead!
Dangerous, bloody, and visceral the Dog Collar Match is one of the most underused and under-appreciated matches in modern professional wrestling. I’m sure there are indies all over the world using these matches but I can’t recall the last time I saw a major US-based company run a Dog Collar Match to end a feud. Is the idea of two wrestlers linked by the neck too dangerous to tempt fate in this day and age? Or is there some other reason the Dog Collar Match has fallen to the wayside for the general public? For me, it’s the perfect way to end a feud between two people who can’t settle their differences and should be dusted off the shelves every now and again.
In this match the two participants are linked with a heavy chain with dog collars attached to each end. Those collars go, of course, around the necks of the wrestlers so there is no possibility of escape. To me, this is an even better outcome for the problem of the heel who always runs away when threatened than a steel cage match. In a steel cage match the wrestlers can still climb over the top of the cage or exit through the door to escape. Yes, they are confined within the cage but there are still means to run from your opponent. With a Dog Collar Match, there is no place to go. You are tied to your opponent and only have the freedom to venture ten or fifteen feet away depending on the length of the chain in question. There are no disqualifications and no countouts with most Dog Collar Matches requiring the fall to take place in the ring. The chain, naturally, can be used as a weapon to bloody your opponent.
The most famous Dog Collar Match of all-time has to be Roddy Piper vs Greg Valentine, and if you’re reading this you’ve probably already watched that match at least a dozen times. I’m going to share a more recent use of this gimmick match from Ring of Honor in 2003 pitting CM Punk against Raven. These are two of my all-time favorites and the feud between these two spread not only through Ring of Honor but to other indies as well. I remember seeing this feud make its way to Major League Wrestling at the time as well. The story here is that Raven, though cleaned up and sober now, lived a life as a degenerate who abused drugs and alcohol. CM Punk, being CM Punk, spouted the virtues of the straightedge lifestyle and made sure everybody knew that because he was straightedge, he was better than you. Punk took umbrage with Raven showing up in Ring of Honor with a focus on the fact that Raven reminded him of his own drunken father. Punk would make it his purpose in life to rid Ring of Honor of the scoundrel Raven.
Not only do you get a good fight in this one but you get some pre-match banter with Punk running down Raven, ECW, and Danny Doring who appears in the crowd. Post-match, as Punk attempts to humiliate Raven, a face from the past shows up to save the leader of The Flock and turn the tables on Punk. Plus, you get to hear Punk using one of my favorite entrance songs of all-time which is an added delight.
Bonus video: Piper and Valentine talk about their infamous Dog Collar Match.
Number one on the list has straddled the line between “forced onto feuds” and “perfectly used” over the years. It became an annual staple in WCW to use at Fall Brawl, but with their reliance on factions with the Four Horsemen, nWo, and lesser groups like the Dungeon of Doom it always felt like the match made at least some amount of sense happening. Like the Scaffold Match, part of the appeal of this one is the pure spectacle of it all but unlike the Scaffold Match you can still work a solid match inside of the cage. For years I hoped that this match would make its way to the WWE in some form as it was just about the only thing they haven’t rehashed from WCW (I stopped holding out hope for the fun PPV sets for shows like Halloween Havoc long ago) and they finally made those wishes came through this past year. Not only that, but they did it in NXT where there’s a bit more freedom in the matches and you’re almost guaranteed to see some 4- or 5-star matches at each Takeover. I don’t know that I need to see a main roster War Games match with dudes like Roman Reigns or Randy Orton at this point.
The first requirement of a War Games match is the warring factions. Without a group of individuals trying to kill each other time and time again there’s no reason to really lock a group of people in a double cage to settle a score. The NWA and WCW always had at least one faction, the Four Horsemen, who could run roughshod over a ragtag group of babyfaces until they hit their boiling point and had to take everything to the next level. One of the aspects of War Games that I love the most is the sheer barbarism it encourages. Let’s say you’ve got four wrestlers on each side – one from each team starts and for a set period of time they fight one-on-one in the massive dual-ring covered in a cage. Then the time in that period expires a member of one of the teams enters for a two-on-one advantage for another set period of time, at which point a member from the opposing team enters. Because of this, at multiple points along the way one team will have a brief advantage during which time they can dominate their opponents.
What drives the callousness of the match home even further is that the match can’t finish until all participants have entered the ring and The Match Beyond officially begins. This means that the first two wrestlers who entered the match will have been beaten, and likely bloodied, for twenty to thirty minutes before a decision can actually happen. In a classic War Games match pinfalls can not occur – the only way to defeat your opponents is to make one of them submit or surrender. What is there to not love about War Games? A cluster of wrestlers beating each other silly in of two rings trapped in a steel cage with a top on it. There isn’t a referee in the cage to stop the match and with so many bodies flying around at any given time the chaos factor is off the charts.
This past year NXT brought back an altered version of War Games with Takeover: Houston. Having just moved to Austin the year prior I knew that there was no way in the world I was going to miss seeing the return of War Games, even if it wasn’t exactly the War Games I had fallen in love with as a teenager. Instead of two teams there were three, instead of teams of four or five it was teams of three, and there was no top on the cage. The last part is what really soured me on the concept at first but after seeing it all in person I have to say that I don’t think that removing the lid from the cage affected the quality of the match whatsoever. Is it a bit more of a sinister match when there’s no vertical escape? Of course it is, but personally I didn’t feel that it hurt the match at all and, in fact, opened things up to some different spots using the top of the cage. From the rumblings I’ve heard War Games may become an annual NXT tradition and I’m all for it – again, assuming the storyline basis of using the gimmick makes sense.
Below, take a gander at War Games from July 4, 1987 pitting The Super Powers of The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Paul Ellering against The Four Horsemen of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and JJ Dillon.
Which gimmick matches make your list and what do you think of the ones listed above? Let me know in the comments below!