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Posted in: Just Business
Just Art’s Match of the Week: Introducing the Ladders Match (New Day vs. Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos, TLC 2015)
By Samuel 'Plan
Nov 27, 2016 - 4:27:35 PM

101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, available now on Amazon, is the book to challenge everything you thought you knew about how best to watch professional wrestling in the 21st Century. Whatever your issues with the product of today, this is the book that will teach you how to put the creative power in your own hands.


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Just Art’s Match of the Week: Introducing the Ladders Match (New Day vs. Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos, TLC 2015)

I’m going to start with a book plug this week: 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die is currently on Black Friday sale on Amazon for the very low price of £3.23 / $3.99, and if you’re a WWE fan struggling to enjoy the product it should prove right up your street. It’s not just about trying to evidence why professional wrestling is as credible and legitimate a form of art as, say, classical literature. So too does it seek to explain, in depth, how a fundamental shift in philosophy when it comes to receiving WWE’s product can help find a way to make almost anything work for you by delivering the creative impetus into your own hands through an interpretive method of viewing.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to this week’s Match of the Week: the beloved curtain jerk three way Ladders Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship at last year’s TLC pay-per-view. It was only through my performance art viewing philosophy which I explain in my book that I was able to overcome a deep set prejudice against the modern day, spot-driven and psychologically vapid trend of ladder matches, and it was this match that provided me with all I needed to find a way to make such matches work for me. Believe it or not, I owe this one to Michael Cole’s commentary.

“What an incredible ladders match!” he hollers at the close of proceedings. Not ladder; ladders. Plural. That was all I needed in order to get on board with this kind of match, and it seemed so obvious I can’t believe I never conceived the idea before. I used to believe, quite strictly, the Ladder Match to be one genre with a series of gimmick-oriented spin-offs, and in such understanding I was forced to consider the spot-heavy approach under the same criteria as the now very rare psychologically driven approach. What Cole’s line made click in my mind was that, in actuality, the rise of the spot-heavy approach had, in fact, become so prescient it had spawned into a sub-genre all its own: not the Ladder Match but the Ladders match. What’s the difference? Put simply, the difference is plurality, and there is no better representation of that in recent times than this week’s Match of the Week.

The reason I say this is because plurality is at the very heart of everything that transpires, from the opening act that revolves heavily on tag team symmetry in both the structure of narrative and of individual spots, right through to the finish, which sees the champions emerge victorious for, what reason? They have one extra member; plurality. All of this results in a frenetic, explosive, relentless special effects-heavy piece of work that never lets up and only escalates the action right up to the point of that crowd-melting Salida Del Sol from atop the central ladder.

This energy plays most heavily in the bout’s favour. The crowd is crackling with vocal anticipation from the off, and that atmosphere only finds itself amplified as the action spirals upward toward dizzier and dizzier heights. You wind up watching a match with tremendous urgency because of this, helped by a quite natural soundtrack from the announce booth. Xavier Woods is his usual comic self, but never as distracting as he can sometimes become when guest commentating. JBL’s incessant pleas for people to climb a ladder or remove themselves from the path of diving traffic compliments well. There are even inflections of giddiness and panic in the play-by-play. With all of these elements functioning in tandem, even upon a re-watch one year removed, it is hard not to find oneself immersed in the hysteria. This may not be pro wrestling at its most refined, but it may just be pro wrestling at its most infectious.

The pace is helped along by the seamless transitions of momentum. Ladders Matches are all about rapidity and multiplicity, and we might judge their success on how natural the action watches, considering that the more complex spots can often remove you from the fiction. There are one or two instances where this occurs – where a stunt requires too meticulous a set up that awkward pauses emerge – but for the most part it’s hard to spot the piece’s joints where one spot meets another. Such fluidity is hard come by in as busy a bout as this one, and is worthy of applause.

Nor does plurality ever disappear. Yes, it bookends proceedings, but it also helps inform perhaps the match’s strongest asset: Big E’s performance. For a man as athletic and as large as Big E, very rarely do we see his power emphasised in a match as heavily as it is here; heavily, but never anything other than passively. It is, impressively, actually a rather subtle character performance, and is owed once again to the plurality in play. Big E mows his way through the competition on several occasions, and most of those occasions include both members of an enemy team. His tug of war with the Dragons over a ladder early; his dispatching of both Usos; his bench-pressing of a ladder upon which both Dragons stand; it would be difficult to argue that Big E isn’t the piece’s MVP.

But what has me on side with this genre-clarifying Ladders Match more than anything else is the simplicity of its best stunts. It is so easy in environments such as this one for performers to allow their creativity and the pressure to innovate to carry them away into realms of ludicrous over-statement. For all this match’s complexities, however, the stunts themselves – the composition’s bread and butter, if you will – are awfully minimalist. People go head first into ladders, get slammed onto them; the aforementioned Salida Del Sol is by far the bout’s most complex stunt, and proves to be the emotional and physical climax. Anything that follows feels positively restrained in comparison, giving reason to be thankful that little else does follow; this is a nicely compact bout that provides enough time for a showcase but doesn’t outstay its exhausting welcome.

Since seeing this match, the stunt-driven approach to matches involving ladders, such as that at WrestleMania 32, have been far easier for me to stomach, because I am now able to define them on their own terms, rather than in comparison to an approach that, stubbornly, I maintain is vastly superior. I was able to do this by utilising my performance art mode of reception to find a way to make them work for me; by taking a throw-away line of commentary and utilising that as a jumping off point by which to redefine ladder matches dealing in plurality as a self-contained sub-genre all their own: Ladders Matches. It might not be what Cole intended, or even how WWE think but, as I explain in full in 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, when you come to understand pro wrestling as performance art, you come to understand that authorial intent is an irrelevance compared to artistic achievement.

And this match was, by every definition, an artistic achievement.

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