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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: Nobody Does It Better (Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat, Beach Blast 1992)
By Samuel 'Plan
Mar 12, 2017 - 8:25:03 PM

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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: Nobody Does It Better (Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat, Beach Blast 1992)

Psychology: it’s one of those words often thrown around in conversations about pro wrestling where many different people have many different ways to define the term. To me, psychology is reasoning; why does that character execute that move at that moment? And to me, psychology is diluted increasingly with each passing year.

It is not my intention to wax lyrical about the good old days, especially considering that I was much too young to remember what many would define as those days anyway. There is, however, an important empirical point to make that, in recent times, newer generations of pro wrestling talent have failed to operate consistently in the same spheres of subtlety and discernment as their forebears once did. There are exceptions to any such rule, but the rule cannot be ignored.

As WWE’s product continues to spiral further and further into the realm of this excess, it feels timely, then, that “Ravishing” Rick Rude is being inducted into the Hall of Fame, for very few, if anyone, did “psychology” better than him.

I have written in the past about the changing styles of wrestling throughout the Eras of modern pro wrestling history, and the period known as the Golden Age – in the lattermost days of which sits this WCW bout – was informed primarily by what I refer to as a form of in-ring structuralism. The focus wasn’t on deploying the most breathtaking moves seen by fans, but instead of structuring simple moves in exactly the right way, deployed at exactly the right moment. It was a style more symbiotic than the immediate rushes of Reality’s hyperactivity, and this United States Championship Match between Rude and another all-time great, Ricky Steamboat, watches as a pristine example of just why the structuralism of the Golden Age was so spell-binding.

It is not a match without its flaws. The sudden appearance of the opening decision, for instance, may be obvious in its intention but serves mainly to jar in its execution – and not necessarily in the manner you can believe the authors of the work wanted. It is emblematic of a common flaw in the Iron Man genre, which sees normally generic exchanges take on the sudden and inexplicable weight of a finish. Happily, though, it is the opening decision that marks the only time this irksome trope is exhibited, thanks in large part to the natural chemistry that seems to so naturally connect the Iron Man genre to the structuralist’s style.

In watching this 30 minute championship clash, you are reminded of the standard-setting Hart / Michaels main event of WrestleMania XII, though not for reasons of similarity. Rather, for reasons of stark difference. Hart and Michaels showed their ingenuity in building drama off the back of a single fall, creating a genre masterpiece by, essentially, eschewing the genre entirely. In contrast, Rude and Steamboat actively, energetically embrace the genre, deploying a myriad of falls but never in the melodramatic fashion of later Iron Man bouts, like the abhorrent Rock / H effort from 2000.

Instead, the main body of falls stack up rapidly in the opening third, and see the promise of Steamboat’s otherwise promising opening volleys diminished to a hapless defence. It makes complete sense that an Iron Man match of multiple falls would watch this way: one man has an advantage appear suddenly in his grasp and he presses it relentlessly. Iron Man bouts, were they ‘real’, are far more likely to see decisions come in flurries such as this than neatly interspersed across the predetermined match length. It’s a more naturalistic approach than the modern fan may be familiar with, and it works greatly to the benefit of the action.

Promise transforms to jeopardy in the space of two or three short minutes as a result, Steamboat’s aspirations being unapologetically wrenched away from him in a single set-piece. This then transforms the ticking clock acts into a creeping menace, with the final sequences appearing with breathtaking suddenness, but not unexpectedly so. This manipulation of pace and timing is a thread that runs through the entirety of the match, of course, with the action unfolding in far steadier fashion than some of Steamboat’s circular, twice as lengthy efforts opposite Flair from a few years earlier.

Such tight focus is a hallmark of Rude’s psychological approach in the ring, responsible for the Ravishing One etching out masterpieces on the canvas opposite everyone, from the likes of Roberts to the Warrior. The clarity of direction sees the drama centred, often literally, in the ring, while also ensuring the slew of false finish never feels like a cheap shortcut to elicit reaction from the crowd but rather a natural result of both character’s determination; a determination as evident through their marvellously physical performances as anything else.

More and more I find myself talking and writing about body language in professional wrestling. After all, when you watch professional wrestling primarily as a performance art, body language becomes vitally important; in promos and in matches alike. Here, the exhaustion of both competitors is not just an aesthetic inevitability but an apparently conscious creative choice; watching Steamboat fall into a Piledriver counter to gain a glimmer of hope for a comeback is intoxicating, and watching Rude desperately chase an equaliser in the closing moments is enough to make your legs ache and lungs burn simply sitting on your sofa.

Such mastery of body language, ability to manipulate audience and fierce understanding of genre potential comes naturally to any psychological master of the mat, and rest assured that is exactly what the new WWE Hall of Famer “Ravishing” Rick Rude was. Most WWE fans will know him for the three barnburners he wrestled Ultimate Warrior to, or for his cerebral thriller opposite Jake Roberts that went so far as to play on the Snake’s own family. Rude wasn’t just a pretty boy; he was more than a Shaman of Sexy, went beyond being just Dashing. He was a master psychologist; a poster-boy of pro wrestling structuralism; an as-yet largely unheralded legend of his age.

But finally, thankfully, that’s now about to change.

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