This week's Deep Cuts spans a full 20 years, between 1981 and 2001, and every week I think I love WWE Network just a little more, because I just can't even commit sometimes to what matches I want to feature for this thing, and that's a cool feeling, to have so much that I don't even know what to do with myself. Mostly I just pick sort of at random, bouncing around the menu until something strikes my fancy, or I remember a match I want to watch.
I do want to again make clear that I am not merely trying to feature great matches, but just matches that I wanted to watch right then. There probably won't be any big piles of crap, but sometimes I do like things most people will not. There's one of those on the list this week.
As always, if you want to talk rasslin with me on Twitter, follow @tapemachines. Let's get to the in-ring action!
Previous Deep Cuts: April 9 / April 16
Bob Backlund vs Stan Hansen (WWE Old School, MSG, 4/6/81)
The Backlund Era, sandwiched between the eras of Sammartino and Hogan, doesn't get a ton of love these days, but if anything, Bob is now quite well underrated. If any of you are boxing fans, it's similar to the time of Larry Holmes, which was underappreciated for a long time between the eras of Ali and Tyson, with Holmes long seen as a good fighter, to be sure, but one that did not really transcend the sport or anything of that nature. In other words, Holmes was often seen as the bridge between the two superstars, which is the sort of predicament Backlund is still in.
It likely does not help Backlund that he's best remembered by most fans these days as the nutjob heel, who even at his most serious came off more as a comedy character when he returned to the WWF in the mid-1990s, winning the title from Bret Hart and passing it to Diesel, so that Diesel could stink up the joint for a year as champion, with the WWF doing everything in their power to find a business successor to Hogan. Luger flatlined before he even really got the chance, and for as great as Bret Hart was, he was not Hulk Hogan. Hart was the Backlund between Hogan and Austin, the Holmes to their Ali/Tyson, which in terms of personality actually fits a little better than the Sammartino comparison, though the times line up almost perfectly with the earlier set.
Anyway, Backlund and Hansen have themselves a good old-fashioned cage match at the Garden. This show's best match is the Slaughter-Patterson brawl, which set up their famous Alley Fight later in the year, but the Backlund-Hansen fight is pretty good, too. It's nothing special -- furious punches and a sense of real hatred between the two, who were very different fellows indeed. Hansen is a blast to watch at any time. He bodyslams Backlund like he's trying to break his ribs, and even in defeat, he is defiant in front of all them city folk in New York, who go nuts for Backlund escaping the cage.
If you were possibly wondering, yes, I am one of those people, like anyone sane, who believes that cage matches with escape rules are pretty stupid. I accept them and all that, but the cage is meant to settle a feud that cannot be settled without being confined. To have the winner the first guy to successfully run away from the violence seems a little stupid to me, but then I am a Very Serious Man and Very Serious Fan.
Ric Flair vs Eddie Guerrero (WCW Hog Wild 1996)
With the freshly-turned Hollywood Hogan going after the WCW world title and The Giant still on top of WCW at the moment, Ric Flair had picked up the U.S. title and settled into a momentary upper midcard role as a main event-level talent, which allowed us to get this little gem of a match in Sturgis at Hog Wild, the one and only time the event would be named as such in its four years.
Guerrero was a clean-cut babyface at this point, always looking and acting all excited just to be there, with his superior wrestling acumen his main trait. This was before he got to wow us all with his sleazy heel genius in WCW, accompanied by one of my favorite themes ever, one that really spelled out the character, a rarity for WCW themes, which were often just crummy stock music in the Turner library. (This might have been crummy stock music, too, but it was good crummy stock music. Did you know the Hardys' old theme was crummy stock music? I heard it on SportsCenter one time and was weirded out.)
While Hogan was still doing everything he could to avoid working with anyone but long-established top guys, misfits from the Dungeon of Doom he'd known for years, or "the son of Andre the Giant," Flair was out here giving Eddie Guerrero some shine. In his book, Flair recalled a time in Monroe, Louisiana, when he had wrestled Guerrero, and Brutus Beefcake gave him some what's for "on behalf of" Hogan:
Eddie Guerrero and I tore the joint down. Eddie was the good guy, I was the bad guy. But I was in a program with Hogan at the time, so Beefcake was worried. You see, Eddie's only five-foot-eight, and Beefcake was afraid that if I took too much of his offense, the fans wouldn't buy me as a viable opponent for the Hulkster.
As soon as the match was over, Beefcake walked up to me. "Hey, let me tell you something here," he said, like he was going to give me a hit of cocaine. "I don't think the big man's gonna like the way you were selling for Guerrero. You're giving him too much."
I looked at him with disbelief. Eddie's one of the best in-ring performers in the world; if anyone deserves to be made to look good, it's him. ... As I look back on the conversation now, I'm astonished at how stupid Beefcake really was, thinking that he could tell me anything about wrestling.
Flair and Guerrero don't quite tear down the joint in this one -- for one thing, there's no joint to be torn down -- but they go out and have a damn good match that may be the best on this show, with only the Benoit-Malenko match (which is great, but the Sturgis bikers weren't at all into) as real competition. Flair, as Flair would do when he could still go, makes Guerrero look like a legitimate threat by giving him plenty of offense, while keeping himself strong. These two don't have the most ideal style matchup, but Ric hangs with Eddie and allows for Guerrero to get his normal work in. Two of the greats, meeting at probably as good a point as any for them to have a match this good.
Chris Jericho vs X-Pac (WWE Unforgiven 1999)
1999 was a very big year for the WWF financially, but not so great in the ring until the summer and fall, when things started to pick up pretty nicely. Jericho didn't shine early in his WWF run, as he had to readjust after his self-described "Jericho Curse" struck in his first matches with the company. This was supposed to be Jericho vs Ken Shamrock, as they had worked a brief angle that involved Jericho adding Curtis Hughes as a bodyguard, which sucked like it always did, because Curtis Hughes was terrible. Hughes wound up having an altercation with Shamrock, as according to Shamrock, Hughes was laying in kicks a little too stiff, and Ken lost his cool, and there was a whole to-do. At any rate, Shamrock was gone, making his way back to MMA after a two-year stint with the WWF, and X-Pac was subbed in on Sunday Night Heat right before this show.
The best news is that X-Pac and Jericho were familiar with one another, having worked together some in WCW in 1996-97, and their styles obviously meshed pretty nicely. This starts off a slight bit clunky, but they pick it up and have a good match, the only mark against it being the DQ ending, which I probably cared a lot more about 15 years ago than I do now.
Mike Awesome vs Spike Dudley (ECW Guilty as Charged 2000)
Mike Awesome was toward the end of his run as ECW champion at this point, as he'd defect to WCW while still champion, which led to Tazz (a WWF wrestler) beating Awesome (a WCW wrestler) for the ECW title at an ECW show, which then led to HHH (WWF champion) beating Tazz (ECW champion) on SmackDown, before Tazz dropped the belt to Tommy Dreamer, the one guy Paul Heyman could count on not to leave, who really never should have won the ECW title, because it was a better story if he never had, but that's how the cookie crumbled and all that.
Why did I include this match? Because it's a showcase of two guys being used to their greatest ability. Mike Awesome was best when being carried by a crazy person willing to let him throw them all over the place, and pretty pedestrian when he didn't have a Masato Tanaka or the like to make him look ridiculously devastating. And Spike was arguably the greatest crash test dummy of his era. I mean that as a true compliment. Everything Mikey Whipwreck was, Spike Dudley was, too, and a better wrestler.
This isn't a pretty match, as it has some sloppy moments and goes a good bit longer than it needs to, and it's more or less just an extended squash with valiant Little Spike Dudley, who had pulled the upsets before over the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow, giving the occasionally brief feeling he might do it again and become ECW champion. But I enjoy watching it because you've got a guy who loves throwing people haphazard all over the damn place and the guy who is the best at being thrown haphazard all over the damn place. And it's nice, really, that Spike got a PPV title shot. He'd certainly earned it, what with years of being thrown haphazard all over the damn place. Spike was generally a good time.
Given the task of closing what was a pretty laborious show, with a match that didn't feel like a real main event, they did their best. It is what it is, as they say, for better or worse, as they also say, too, in addition. Added bonus to this match: Judge Jeff Jones and his hilarious earrings.
The Dudley Boyz vs The Hardy Boyz (WWE Smackdown, Episode 76 / February 1, 2001)
This was Extreme Smackdown, which was a fun episode, and this is the show opener for the WWF tag team title. These teams had a really fun tables match at Royal Rumble 2000 -- still my pick for pound-for-pound the best show in WWE history -- and this one might be even better. The Hardys and Dudleys were both still super hot and were heading into the WrestleMania X-Seven TLC II match that also featured Edge and Christian.
I've been getting more and more into Jeff Hardy lately. I like my wrestling to have a little bit of scuzz and grime, and Jeff Hardy is the modern day redneck king of professional wrestling. I guess I get why people are all, "Nyer! Professionalism!" but truth be told, I don't really care. I'm not his mom and I don't care if he takes drugs on his free time. Obviously it would be preferable if he weren't too impaired to perform, but a lot of my favorite wrestlers have been quite well impaired in the ring at one time or another. I mean, what am I gonna do, hate Kerry Von Erich for being so out of his mind on pills that he kept wandering into the crowd looking for a slice of strange during a world title match with Ric Flair? Wrestling is best when there's still a dirty edge to it. Plus, Hardy is a lunatic, a trailer park poet with no regard for his own well-being. I dig that. There's a silly romanticism to it that I just enjoy.
I remember a time when people argued Matt was actually the better of the two, and I was probably one of them. Maybe for a brief period, he actually was. I don't really know. What I do know is that looking back over their careers, it's not really close. Jeff is the messiah, the big daddy of dirtbike/dirtbag Southern slime in modern professional wrestling. I don't want to get into a big John Cena thing, because I could go on for thousands of words on the subject of Cena, and I don't hate him, and I don't think he "can't wrestle," but to me, as a guy who has particular tastes and preferences, we could use more Jeff Hardys and less John Cenas.
Watch and share your thoughts! Discuss and love! LET'S HAVE OURSELVES A PARTY!