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Posted in: Just Business
Just Art’s Match of the Week: Let’s Revisit That Chairs Match (Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto, TLC 2016)
By Samuel 'Plan
Dec 10, 2016 - 9:08:45 PM

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Just Art’s Match of the Week: Let’s Revisit That Chairs Match (Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto, TLC 2016)

We are a couple of weeks removed from the latest Blue Brand pay-per-view effort, and while the rest of the world was perhaps inevitably mooting the grand success of a Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match of a main event, that I found to be largely forgettable, and the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match, that I found to be one chapter too many, it was over the effort of Corbin and Kalisto I found myself obsessing. The reason for that was simple; while it perhaps went undetected by most, we finally got a Chairs Match that actively tried to justify the existence of a pretty ridiculous idea.

You may have been following my work with LOP’s own Chad “The Doc” Matthews as we put together an exhaustive Genre Index of WWE’s product, and if you have you’ll know this is an idea I cover in great detail in my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die> To reframe pro wrestling in WWE within the context of genre, you must attempt to identify the unique properties that inform how specific match types operate in the main, then test that formula by examining popular and critical reception to specific iterations of that match type. This allows us to understand what people come to expect from specific match types – most readily identifiable in the sphere of stipulation wrestling, of course – and in turn justifies our choice to then label an examined match type as a ‘genre’ of pro wrestling.

Under this method, the Chairs Match, to my mind, has always struggled to find justification for its existence, and year upon year came up short of figuring out just what its identity really was. These were borderline comical No DQ bouts dressed up as something else; not very good No DQ bouts that acted in far too post-modern a manner to ever really achieve anything close to a justifiable individual identity.

So, bearing this in mind, when Baron Corbin and Kalisto put together a fantastic mid card package a couple of weeks ago, imbuing the Chairs Match stipulation with purpose for the first time – and, thereby, lending the genre an identity to which it can now aspire – I was absolutely delighted. This was a match that maximised minutes by creating purpose behind the genre; it wasn’t two guys hitting each other with chairs because as characters they want and as performers they have to. Instead, this was a story, wherein the chair’s vital and integral role was that of, foremost, the equaliser: using the genre as a home for a traditional David vs. Goliath story proved mutually beneficial, with the story a lot more fun for use of the stipulation, and the stipulation a lot more justified for the choice of story.

The latest Chairs Match made sure that the chair itself was an active narrative device as opposed to a necessitated, even obligated refrain. That narrative device was put to use in a myriad of ways. Its primary purpose, of course, was as the equaliser, allowing Kalisto to chop Corbin down to size, but it also acted as poetic justice, that threatened to see Corbin hoist by his own brutal petard. Not settling there, though, this wonderfully mobile story also utilised the stipulation to inform a potential character-driven tragedy, as it informed Kalisto embracing the worst part of himself with increasing gusto the longer the action went, threatening to see him engage in the very behaviour for which he now sought retribution.

This switching between elements of basic story archetypes was the key behind my immense enjoyment of what Corbin vs. Kalisto achieved. It morphed gleefully from Big Man/Little Man, to underdog comeback, to beat down and even, at one stage, took pause to engage in something akin to a pro wrestling version of a slasher flick.

Kalisto was not the only one operating here with increasing gusto; so too did the creative philosophy.

The utilisation of space and movement was another major positive. If the match is at times guilty for too self-consciously setting up the next big spot, the fluidic way the characters move around the ring space, with the action naturally informing positioning rather than the other way round, ensured you had to be paying very close critical attention for the aforementioned set-ups to really pull you out of the fiction. It also led to some excellently executed action.

Then, you have the brilliant simplicity of the piece. I drew particular delight from the way both men kept the spots simple and clean. Acting rather like the punctuation in a genre effort such as this, moments such as the six-seated senton provided riveting, fleeting moments of high drama that escalated the action without ever indulging to a laughably ridiculous extent, as the Show / Sheamus effort once did, or Del Rio vs. Swagger. Best of all, and perhaps the most inspired moment, be it accidental or otherwise, was the climactic finish that saw Corbin nail Kalisto, in prohibitive fashion, right in the head with a chair, before nailing a vicious End of Days.

That moment is key; the most crucial turn of events in the entire affair.

Suddenly, a Chairs Match has individuality; it has purpose. Where chair shots specifically to the head are banned in WWE, it is now in a Chairs Match we can say you may actually see one, and thanks to their scarcity that means, when you do see one, it both looks and feels singularly dangerous. So, on top of the aforementioned practical achievements, in a single quite possibly accidental moment, Corbin and Kalisto made the Chairs Match a genre with freshly imbued peril unique to the stipulation’s individual environment. That, my friends, is what I would call a genre defining piece. Accidental? Most likely. A botch? Quite possibly. But as you know by now, my performance art approach pays less heed to authorial intent and focuses instead on the artistic achievement, be it purposeful or not.

From its ability to transform its story type, to its wonderful use of space and movement to bravely attempt to naturalise the otherwise rather awkward spot work necessitated by deployment of the genre, right through to the final moment that breathed purpose into a genre that, before now, had never warranted being referred to as a genre, Corbin and Kalisto quietly worked their trade in the shadow of more vaunted, less impressive achievements elsewhere on the roster. Great matches in WWE are a dime a dozen, and while that’s not to take away from the shifts put in by men like Styles, Ambrose, Miz and Ziggler, for me, there were far more interesting things happening elsewhere.

Things like character progression; like an intelligent storyline-driven match; like genre defining – or should that be genre incepting? – professional wrestling.

The largely neglected Chairs Match between Baron Cobin and Kalisto from Smackdown Live’s TLC pay-per-view deserves to be revisited. It’s that simple.

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