#05-08626 – Most Unusual Matches Ever

Lee Maughan:

 

Ladder Match
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
I think anybody reading this already knows the story, but to reiterate: the ladder match had been a late 1970s invention of the Stampede Wrestling promotion operated by Stu Hart, whose son Bret had competed in several of them, most notably against Bad News Allen. Years later, with Bret as the WWF Intercontinental Champion, he pitched the concept of the ladder match to Vince McMahon, offering to lose the title to Shawn Michaels at the upcoming SummerSlam ’92 in Washington, D.C. According to his book Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Hart, recognising Europe as the WWF’s strongest marketplace at that time, also pitched the idea of taking SummerSlam to Wembley Stadium in London, England, with the idea of dropping the title to his brother-in-law, ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith, in front of Smith’s home country support. History shows that Wembley got the nod, but intrigued by the concept of a ladder match, McMahon asked Hart for a demonstration. The result of that was this match, the first ladder match in WWF history, albeit one the promotion for a long time tried to pretend didn’t exist, which seems rather strange when you consider it got a VHS outing as part of the Smack ‘Em Whack ‘Em release from 1993. That strangeness dissipates when you consider the promotional value in talking up the WrestleMania X ladder match between Michaels and Razor Ramon some 18-months later as a first time ever happening, which led to some considerable resentment from Hart who thought of the gimmick as being “his” and instead saw Michaels taking all the plaudits for its introduction. The irony amidst all that is the fact the WrestleMania scrap wasn’t even the first ladder match Michaels and Ramon had together, having spent the better part of a month ironing out the kinks of it on the house show circuit.

What I really love about this match is how unlike it the ladder matches that came after it were. Those bouts tended to be based around increasingly risky highspots, and delivering on the wow factor, but somewhere along the way, the psychological aspect got lost. Ladder matches came to be car crash stunt shows, where each smash and bash was set up specifically for just that reason, and that’s the kind of thing that most fans eventually start to see through. They’ll ask why a wrestler is stood in a particular position, particularly if it looks awkward and unnatural. Why are they climbing so slowly up the ladder? Why did they perch the ladder so precariously across the ropes, adjusting it to a very specific position? It’s almost as if they were setting up their own downfall two moves later on purpose! Gasp!

At no point is that ever the case here. Everything is completely natural, everything flows, and everything makes sense. It’s all consequential, just like it should be, and that’s part of the art-form that most pro wrestlers seem to have forgotten somewhere along the way. By all means, take a good six years off your career with a reckless backwards bump off a 20 foot ladder to the floor for my entertainment, but for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to do something so stupid, just please don’t let it look contrived! I want to sit up and scream “Holy shit!” not “That looked ridiculous.” I don’t want to be taken out of the moment. I want to believe in what I’m watching. When ‘Sensational’ Sherri grabs Bret’s foot, I really believe she’s trying to prevent him from winning the match. When Shawn clambers up the ladder and Bret has to dive across the ring, I really believe he’s trying to save his belt. When I watch Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels chase the Intercontinental title, I really believe.

Final Rating: ****¼

 

Elimination Match
Doink, Doink, Doink & Doink vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, The Headshrinkers & Bastion Booger
Where does one even start with this mess? How about the fact it’s blatant false advertising on the part of the WWF, who promised four Doinks but instead delivered Men on a Mission and the Bushwhackers in clown attire instead? It does make you wonder if that was always the plan, given that the original Doink, Matt Borne, had been fired due to substance abuse problems and had quickly been replaced by Ray Lichachelli (independent wrestler Ray Apollo.) It’s possible it would have just been Doink, Mabel and the Bushwhackers, but I’d have got a kick out of one of the Clowns being revealed as Terry Funk, especially if he’d already been revealed as one of Shawn Michaels’/Jerry Lawler’s knights earlier in the show, as had been the initial plan there. Or Bob Backlund, that might have raised an actual laugh. Instead though, we get this appalling mess of tomfoolery, as nobody seems to have any idea about what the hell is going on, myself included. The crowd certainly aren’t impressed, as they just chant “We want Doink!” in annoyance at the bait-and-switch on offer. So the nonsense really gets ramped up as Samu gets eliminated after biting into a water balloon and pinned by Butch. If you’re someone who’s never actually seen this match, reading that last sentence will surely send a shiver down your spine, as should the next: Booger looks to score a certain pin but gets distracted by his enormous desire to eat a mid-match banana, and instead gets pinned by Mabel. That brings in Fatu, who attacks Luke with a raw turkey carcass that the Headshrinker’s manager Afa had be gnawing on. And then Mo comes in and starts circling the ring on a scooter to absolutely no reaction beyond complete and total confusion. Why did Mo even get hired? He was such an oddly-shaped guy, nothing like the WWF would ordinarily be interested in if not for the fact he was essentially Mabel’s mini-me. The Dink to Mabel’s Doink, which I guess is highly appropriate for this alleged “match.” Thankfully, Bigelow blasts him with an enzuigiri as he trundles around the ring in a spot seemingly lacking any purpose or direction. I mean, kayfabe-wise, what was he actually trying to achieve there? Anyway, Fatu goes up top for the big splash but then slips on Booger’s banana peel and gets pinned. He LITERALLY “slipped on a banana peel.” What IS this match? It’s a total circus. Obviously. And with Bigelow left alone, he gets shoulderblocked by Mabel and all four clowns pile on top of him for a pin that clearly never should have stood since three guys were in there illegally, but I’m just glad it’s over. “This is a cartoon!” exclaims Vince McMahon. No kidding, pal. How do you even rate something as nonsensical as this? I can’t. I don’t even know what it was supposed to be! And Bam Bam and the Headshrinkers were coming off an (in my opinion) **** match at SummerSlam no less, just think about that! What a complete, unmitigated disaster of a match, continuing the WWF’s pay-per-view hot streak (or should that be shit streak?) of dreadful matches with the two Undertaker-Giant Gonzalez matches at WrestleMania IX and SummerSlam, this, and the horrendous Yokozuna-Undertaker casket match at the 1994 Royal Rumble. I should also point out that my colleague James Dixon actually confessed to enjoying this match, calling it “absurd, anti-wrestling, but it’s not boring.” So let it be forever immortalised in print that he admits to liking something the Bushwhackers were involved in, and clearly that means he secretly wishes they’d been tag team champions forever and a day. Ho hum. An unrateable mess.
Final Rating: Not Rated (Unfathomable)

 

Razor Ramon vs. 1-2-3 Kid
Following on the from the Kid’s stunning victory over Ramon in what looked to have been a routine squash match came this largely forgotten follow-up. In an attempt to get the Kid back in the ring, Razor would appear on television and offer the Kid money for a rematch, increasing his offers in $2,500 increments until the rechristened 1-2-3 Kid finally accepted at $10,000. That all resulted in this, a fairly decent match in which Razor gleefully gets his licks in on the guy who so humiliatingly bruised his ego last time out, only this is now a Kid growing in confidence, who gets a handful more hope spots to circumvent a complete massacre. The result is an enormous collective heart attack from the crowd when Kid gets a nearfall early on, but Razor soon begins to dominate. The story then becomes about Razor’s ego, for as much as he desires victory, he’s feeding off the extended punishment. He was humiliated once, and this is his ten grand worth of payback. That payback includes a Razor’s Edge on the floor, with Ramon having exposed the concrete, only for Kid to reverse that into a back bodydrop. Up top, he goes for a dive to the floor which I figure would have led directly to the finish if not for the fact he slips and hits the concrete hard in a fall that looked like it should have broken his neck by rights. Veteran Ramon then has to improvise a new finish, which actually works really well in the context of things as they repeat the finish from the first match, only for Razor to kick out this time, which then leads to something of a cop-out ending as the Kid, thinking he’s won, grabs the sack of money and legs it out of the building, straight into a getaway car parked outside. Admittedly, the involvement of the cash led directly to Ramon’s babyface turn after Money Inc. stuck their nose in his business, so it’s not like I could call it a bad finish per se, and the reality is a loss wouldn’t have done either guy any favours at that point anyway. Razor losing two on the bounce would have pegged him as a loser rather than a guy who got fluked, and a loss would have re-confirmed the Kid just got lucky the first time, rather than being a guy who was actually good enough to hang with the genuine superstars like Ramon.
Final Rating: **¼

 

Lumberjack Match
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan
This was part of a late spring/early summer deviation for Michaels as his principal feud was with Mr. Perfect in the run up to SummerSlam, but he spent a couple of weeks feuding with Duggan on television just to give him something to do. The week previous, Shawn had done a runner as Duggan was destroying him and on the verge of winning the title, so Duggan had staged a sit down protest in the middle of the ring until he was promised a rematch from which Shawn couldn’t run, and the upshot of that would be this. The lumberjacks for the occasion are Mr. Perfect, Bob Backlund, Tatanka and Typhoon on the babyface side, and Bam Bam Bigelow, Terry Taylor, Mr. Hughes and Yokozuna in the heel corner. Hughes raises a chuckle by wearing his lumberjack shirt over his long-sleeved business shirt and tie, whilst Yokozuna is so massive they don’t have a shirt big enough for him, and he gets into a fight with Duggan before the match starts, owing to his having put Duggan on the shelf with three Banzai Drops during an attack earlier in the year on Superstars.

Shawn soon hobbles out on crutches, dressed in cowboy boots, jeans and a t-shirt, and attempts to duck the match, citing a knee injury that’s left him so crippled, so he can’t defend his title. So what else is new? Luckily, Mr. Perfect sets about him, resulting in the grand revelation that Michaels was just faking the injury all along. So what else is new?

Eventually the match gets underway, and Duggan just destroys Shawn to the point that he tries to leave, but Perfect is there to thwart him yet again. Back inside, Duggan destroys him some more. They actually made pretty good opponents for one another since Duggan’s forte was brawling and Shawn was absolutely fantastic at getting the shit kicked out of him, and there was also the dichotomy of Duggan being the snot-ugly, blue collar common man type and Shawn the good looking, athletic ladies man. Shawn however still lacks that impeccable sense of timing that was to come in later years, and as a consequence, they drag out Duggan’s shine for far too long with Shawn getting absolutely nothing in return. A good mesh of styles they might have been, but Duggan was still too limited to fill a 20-minute match.

Duggan’s dull domination eventually comes to a conclusion after a commercial break, and that leads to a few more traditional lumberjack spots with the guys on the outside getting involved. That leads to the key moment as Duggan goes after Bigelow, allowing Shawn the opportunity to fling ‘Hacksaw’ to the floor where a waiting Yokozuna destroys him for a second time. And then, in the most infuriating of finishes, Yokozuna rolls Duggan back inside to give Shawn what looks like a certain pin, only for Perfect to jump into the ring and attack Shawn for the misdeed, leading to the piss-weak disqualification before a mass brawl breaks out between all the lumberjacks and, for some reason, ‘Iron’ Mike Sharpe, who I don’t think was even at ringside. I figured his run-in was to give Duggan someone to clobber with the 2×4, but Sharpe escaped that so I’ve no idea what the purpose of him coming out was at all.

The match was really just a backdrop for furthering a few ongoing angles, but since this was the blowoff to the Michaels-Duggan mini program, I’ve no idea what couldn’t have been achieved by Shawn scoring a pin, especially in a match booked to go as long as this one was. A pin would have had largely the same effect on things since the match basically existed as a backdrop for furthering the Yokozuna-Duggan issue that would ultimately lead to Duggan leaving the promotion prior to SummerSlam, and to raise tensions in the Michaels-Perfect feud, but would also have given Michaels a little more credibility as champion on top of that. Shawn would actually segue into another micro feud after this, trading the Intercontinental title with Marty Jannetty over the summer before bringing in Diesel as his bodyguard and finally squaring off with Perfect in their notoriously disappointing SummerSlam 1993 match.
Final Rating: **

 

Summary: As you can probably tell from the review, I’m a big fan of the Bret-Shawn ladder match here, though this is one of no less than five different tapes you can find it on (the other four being Smack ‘Em Whack ‘Em, Best of the WWF: Most Unusual Matches, German Fan Favourites and Bret Hitman Hart: His Greatest Matches), not to mention the fantastic The Ladder Match DVD release, and in gloriously upscaled digital quality as part of the WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Blu-ray set. The Razor-Kid and Michaels-Duggan matches might be worth a gander if you’ve got this tape laying around, but make no mistake, the elimination clown-fest culled from the 1993 Survivor Series is one of the worst pieces of business you will ever, ever see. Perhaps in that sense, you’ll get a kick out of it Plan 9 from Outer Space style, but you’d have to be completely insane if you do. Worth seeing only if you’ve ever wondered how NOT to do professional wrestling.
Verdict: 41

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