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WWE Network Deep Cuts (June 11, 2014): It's Time! It's Time! It's Vader Time!

It's a theme week, as we go All-Vader, all the time this week on Deep Cuts, looking back on some classic battles between Vader and Cactus Jack, The Boss, Shawn Michaels, Ken Shamrock, and Owen Hart.

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No themes the last couple (or few?) weeks, but this week it's theme time. This past week or so, I've been real into Vader, just, like, watching his matches, thinking about how cool he is, wondering if he gets my pick for (American (soil)) wrestler of the 90s. He might!

So this week, let's talk Vader. I feel like some of y'all youngsters still don't quite have a handle on how kickass great Vader was in the 90s, and that some of you might even think he "flopped" in the WWF, which is ludicrous, but I will explain. Let's get to it!

Vader vs Cactus Jack (WCW Halloween Havoc 1993)

First off, I was thrilled when I loaded this show up and the opening sketch with kids and a creepy Tony Schiavone. If you've never seen it, let that play through. It's a few minutes of your life that you won't regret giving up. Big ups to Schiavone for his performance.

Vader vs Cactus Jack is my favorite feud of the 90s. Vader was basically an unstoppable monster in WCW at this point, having pretty much dominated their top babyface in Sting, and though he had a brief setback dropping the WCW title to Ron Simmons, he also got it back. But with the conventional top stars of WCW unable to cope with Vader very well, Cactus Jack made for a very interesting foil, because he was crazy, quadruple-tough, and completely fearless. In story, Vader's intimidation factor at this stage was off the charts. But Jack was intimidated by nothing. He didn't fit the hero mold. And it was the first time we saw, five years before the WWF made him a main event guy, that Mick Foley was a main event player. Cactus Jack could have won the WCW title and probably carried it fairly well in a short-term manner. He probably would have been a better champ than Simmons, at any rate. (Cactus was one of the first guys tasked with trying to help Simmons out as champ, actually. Also, when I rag on the Simmons title reign, I don't mean to say Ron Simmons wasn't world title material. Maybe he was. Maybe he was not. But they put the WCW belt on him at a point where outside of Vader, they had no true top heels for Simmons to work with. He was in a no-win situation through no fault of his own.)

Vader and Cactus worked well because Vader was a big, brutally strong lunatic, and Cactus was totally willing to get punched in his face or thrown on his head or power bombed on concrete or whatever else. Like I said, this is my favorite feud of the 1990s. There should have been a better one. It would also have involved Vader. But, well, I'll get to that in a minute.

Vader vs The Boss (WCW Spring Stampede 1994)

This match is a big fat load of fun. Vader and Boss Man were a couple of athletic, oddly agile big men who could throw a punch and whip an ass, and they had a nice little run at each other in WCW, after Vader's run of dominance had ended, his feud with Flair was over, and then Hulk Hogan arrived. These big SsOBs come out firing heavy leather and this match is just a gotdanged fight. I love this match. I love Vader. I love Boss Man. YEAH! This ain't no messin' around. Boss Man isn't having Vader's business. He's not here to get messed with, jack.

Vader vs Shawn Michaels (WWE SummerSlam 1996)

This is the feud that should have been the greatest feud of the 90s. Instead, it was a truncated nothing, a missed opportunity wasted because Diva Shawn of '96 couldn't deal with Vader, a rugged, hard-hitting bastard who didn't play pat-a-cake with him the way that Shawn was used to with other bigger guys like Razor and Diesel. I'm not trying to go on some big anti-Shawn Michaels tangent, because over the years, I came to really love Shawn Michaels as a performer. I always thought he was great, but he rubbed me the wrong way for such a long time, and it's not like the stories about him back then aren't true. He's admitted they are, admitted that he was a pain in the ass, and for whatever it's worth, that's great, he's a real man and I admire who he became.

But there are reasons I cannot and will not consider Shawn Michaels truly greater than Ric Flair. Over time, he might have edged Flair in the ring. Maybe. I say that not to diminish how great Shawn's career was, but I don't know how often people consider how great, and for how long, Ric Flair was on his own level, too. What they did is relative to their times in the ring; Flair came up in the 70s, Michaels in the 80s, and by the time they were at their peaks, wrestling was very different. Shawn was part of a faster-paced generation. Flair was the 60 minute man trying to drag hours out of Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones and the like.

Flair was better on the mic (by a country mile), has as many great matches, and then there is The Vader Factor, which weighs abnormally heavy with me. In '96, Michaels more or less whined his way out of having to work with Vader. In '93-94, Flair's old ass was getting potatoed by Vader and ripped the SOB right back, and they wound up having a couple of great matches. Michaels didn't have the gumption at the time to deliver fully with Vader, even though this is still a pretty terrific match.

And it's sad, because the '96 Vader and the '96 Shawn Michaels on paper are such a great stylistic matchup. The ultimate big monster and the ultimate pinball babyface. These two should have blown the roof off of arenas all over the damned country. They did not. And by the end of the year, instead of Vader in the spot he earned, they were back to dumbass Sid in the main event. So, like, remember that when you talk about Shawn Michaels in '96, who was great, sure, he got a great match out of Kevin Nash, a pretty good match out of Sid, did some awesome stuff with both Bret and Owen Hart, and yet he couldn't answer the call with Vader. Maybe you don't see that as a major fault. I do.

Vader vs Ken Shamrock (WWE In Your House 15: A Cold Day In Hell)

I rewatched this match going through '97 WWF PPVs last year, and holy crap, you guys, I LOVE this match. This is one of the most overlooked and underrated matches of that entire year in the WWF or WCW or ECW or all of professional wrestling. Ken Shamrock was making his "in-ring debut" with the WWF with this match, and he was kind of an unknown quantity. Vader was actually really hot to start the year, at least in the ring, and he kept that up here, with a really phenomenal performance against the limited but very unique and valuable style of Shamrock. There weren't many guys who I think could have immediately gotten Shamrock over as a submission threat, a great technical wrestler, and a very strong, standout athlete and all-around BMF. Vader did it all in just one match here. This set a tone that Shamrock actually couldn't match going forward, because not everyone was Vader and good enough to do this stuff. This match is great. It may not be your cup of tea, but I sincerely believe it deserves another look from everyone.

Vader vs Owen Hart (WWE One Night Only 1997)

"Wrestling is about leverage and science," Jim Ross says early in this match, with Owen Hart playing babyface in the United Kingdom against bigger, stronger American Vader. This was right in the heart of the Hart Foundation angle, so the Harts were well-liked in Canada, the UK, and basically anywhere but the States. This is also months after Vader had stopped mattering much at all in the WWF, but as you can see watching this match, and most of Vader's '97 run, it was all about politics and BS and whatnot. Vader could still go and was still as monstrous a force as ever. There was never anything smooth or pretty about Vader. This match is mostly fun because they're both really good, and because it's always interesting to watch a later career Owen Hart in a babyface role. He was great at it, but he was just better at being a jerkwad of a heel.

Did Vader "flop" in the WWF? No. Nope. Nah. Look, I get the idea behind saying he did, because he fell well short of the expectations that we had going in. However, whose fault is it? It's not Vader's. Vader was the same damn Vader he'd always been. Shawn Michaels was not going to adapt to Vader's style at that point in his career, because he didn't want to, and ultimately, that played a big role in thwarting Vader's chances at being a top star in the WWF.

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