REQUESTING FLYBY: Five Great Matches From Autumn Pay-Per-Views
Sep 12, 2016 - 5:03:24 PM
Five Great Matches From Autumn Pay-Per-Views
Greetings dear reader! WWE have gone into their new era full steam ahead, with up to two pay-per-views a month moving forward as the brand split rolls out. This Autumn promises to be a place of many interesting matches. To that end, I thought I’d throw a quick column together highlighting some fun bouts that took place between in the wrestling calendar between September and November. Enjoy!
Randy Orton defeated Dolph Ziggler (with Vickie Guerrero) in 18:24 at Night Of Champions 2011
Now as I recall, this was one of those midcard feuds that had no particular story to it, but in this case, that didn’t matter, as the very idea of the pairing in the ring made the mouth water. They’d had several excellent TV matches the winter before and at the time, Ziggler’s stock was on the rise while Orton had plateaued following the relative creative failure of his babyface run and had also violated the Wellness Policy for a second time for good measure. This meant that he was stuck solidly in this kind of “good hand in the midcard” role, and it arguably led to some of the best quality in ring work of his career. It’s a funny thing with The Viper that his best ring work and best character work almost always occur separately to each other. Anyway, I had forgotten just how good a match this was until I saw it again. As soon as I did, it was obvious to me that this is the best contest to occur under the Night of Champions banner to date. It’s just a shining example of how to put on a show stealing barn burner and should be applauded as such.
Key to the quality of the bout is the bumping and selling of both men, who go all out to make it look and feel impactful and gruelling; it’s the kind of thing you saw a lot in Kurt Angle matches and I can think of no higher praise than that. Ziggler in particular at this time was so motivated and hits the floor like Curt Hennig shot out of a cannon. The crispness of the wrestling, the way the moves flowed seamlessly together, the chemistry of the two men facing each other, it really was very easy on the eye indeed. The pace they worked at was gruelling, the counters were out of this world, and the near falls convincing. You really can’t ask for much more from a bout that was actually only meant to be supporting the main event...but even as a massive CM Punk fan I can tell you that Ziggler vs. Orton was easily a half star better in hindsight than Punk vs. Cena. What The Show off and The Apex Predator actually confirm for me here is my long held belief that around 19 minutes is the optimum time for an excellent wrestling match between two talented guys. The preponderance of bloated half hour main events is something that has bothered me a whole lot through the late 2000s and into this decade, and why this match beat out all the Night of Champions headline bouts thus far to take top spot in my countdown.
One thing we should also note is the fact that the audience on the night were off the charts loud for the match, with Ziggler super over and a segment where he and Orton brawled got absolutely huge “boo!” “yay!” duelling chants and put over The Show Off as someone that could actually bring toughness as well as slick grappling. How about that finish, too? Draping DDT on the outside, a Ziggler foot on the ropes denying The Viper a win, The Show Off slapping on a sleeper but getting shrugged off and tossed in the air for a unique and thoroughly awesome RKO. What a fantastic advert for just letting two guys go out there and tear the house down and a worthy number one all ends up.
FLYBY! Rating: ****¼
Kurt Angle defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin in 23:12 to win the WWF Championship at Unforgiven 2001
The pop for Angle amidst his babyface push on this night in his home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is absolutely insane, and the early face shine of the WWF Loyalist is brilliantly booked, an even more heated version than at the Summerslam that preceded this one. The Olympic Hero was all over his opponent in the opening minutes, much to the delight of the audience. However, the veteran Austin works the neck by slapping on a sleeper but when Angle breaks out of it, the Rattlesnake decides to take a walk, and he is, of course, caught by the face, who schools him and then tosses him to the concrete floor.
Kurt shows a great deal of aggression in this middle section of the bout with an almost UFC game of knees and strikes, before fireman’s carrying his opponent back to the ring, where the post is employed several times. Austin is only able to get back into things as a result of his psychotic desperation and his reverse suplex onto the announce table puts him firmly in control with Austin using his knee braces on the repaired neck of the patriotic Angle. The commentary of JR and Heyman really sums up how much of a marquee match this is, helping the viewer at home to ride the full gamut of emotions as they watch the personifications of the Alliance and the WWF go toe to toe. This is emphasised with the Germans that Kurt breaks out, with Stone Cold powerless to counter until a low blow sends Angle to the outside. Even so, The Olympic Hero is not done, using the Stunner for a near fall, but finding that turnabout is fair play as Austin steals the Angle Slam.
The finish is fantastically emotive on so many levels. With 9/11 unfortunately occurring only a couple of weeks before, the All American Hero winning championship gold through having the Rattlesnake of all people tap out in his hometown was quite simply a massive moment, particularly after the screwy finish at Summerslam earlier on that year...wow! Anyone that thinks the Austin heel turn was an error needs to see those two bouts. He was a magnificent heel who put Kurt over huge.
FLYBY! Rating: ****½
D-Generation X defeated Legacy in a tag team Hell In A Cell match in 18:02 at Hell In A Cell 2009
Until last Sunday, this tag team tornado version of the gimmick from the inaugural pay-per-view was the best of these more modern cell matches. Michaels and Helmsley busted their asses in this feud to get DiBiase and Rhodes over, and it has always been a mystery to me that the put over job didn’t stick better. It was the perfect blend of young and old, and probably the only “reincarnation” DX feud I ever enjoyed. Legacy stepped their game up hugely through the rivalry, and their hunger to hang with the veterans was palpable. Looking back on all of this, I find that I rather miss Ted DiBiase Jr and a Cody Rhodes that isn’t gimmicked up. They really did have a nice run as Orton’s back up and I remember pulling for them both to make it to that next level.
The ambush of the young guns as the established babyfaces made their overcooked entrance was a perfect way to get over their ruthless characters, and the Attitude Era twosome bumped like crazy for their young opponents in a thrilling ringside brawl that went all the way around the arena and into the crowd before they ever got near the structure itself. The fluidity of the action was a real achievement and a hot pace was established early on that never really let up. The psychology of divide and conquer that Randy’s boys had used throughout the feud came into effect again very memorably as they dissected HBK’s knee and then destroyed Hunter on the stage, before heading back to Michaels and locking him inside for the two on one handicap assault. The focus on the leg looks particularly convincing here, and the way a recovering Game had to watch his best friend be beaten to a pulp while he’s trapped outside was truly excellent storytelling, as was Mr Wrestlemania’s stirring comeback while Helmsley tried to find a way, in to no avail, by which time Legacy had reasserted their dominance over Shawn, locking in the double submission that sealed their win at Breaking Point the month before.
When Triple H finally made it into the cell with boltcutters and went on a tear, you knew that it was only a matter of time before the heroes pulled out the victory, but their offense was interesting enough to keep everyone invested, even so, and the turnabout of throwing a knocked out DiBiase out the cell and locking the door with the boltcutters inside was interesting poetic justice, while the sledgehammer shot/Sweet Chin Music combo was a great way to finish things off. What an interesting match that was; awesome storytelling and psychology throughout.
FLYBY! Rating: ****½
Bret Hart defeated Steve Austin in 28:36 to become number one contender to the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1996
A lot of mythologising nonsense gets written about the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The narrative people like to use has all manner of holes in it. The man from Victoria, Texas had already been a very successful tag and midcard wrestler in WCW and his Ringmaster gimmick in WWF was by no means the bomb everyone likes to pretend it was. The myth of Austin pitching the new character to McMahon and becoming an overnight success as Stone Cold is terribly attractive, as it makes for a nice story, but the truth is that even after the gimmick change, King of the Ring win and “Stone Cold 3:16 says I just whupped your ass” promo, he still had a lot of ground to cover, and he did it the old fashioned way, through hard work and getting better incrementally. Bret Hart had always admired the work of the Texan brawler and had, in fact, asked Vince McMahon to bring him into the company years before he actually arrived, so when Austin began calling Hart out through the summer sabbatical the Hitman took after his loss to Michaels in the Ironman Match, it was clear that this was going to be the beginning of Stone Cold’s ascension to the main event. Of course, no-one knew just how quickly he would explode into being the most popular man in wrestling, but it was certainly obvious by November 1996 that he was likely to be a major player moving forward. The first meeting between the two is overshadowed by the all time classic at Wrestlemania XIII a few months later, but for me, it is very nearly the equal of that match, with only the compelling intangibles of the submission match really setting it apart.
With the crowd cheering Austin’s promo before the bout, the growing overness of the heel was very apparent, and the raw charisma of the Rattlesnake as he made his entrance was something special to witness then, and remains so even now. The opening mat wrestling exchange was a masterclass in psychology as hold and counter hold were traded, with Austin looking almost Hart’s equal in the technical side of things, with the psychology being that the heel wants to beat the returning hero at his own game and humiliate him. Finally though, in a move befitting his character, Stone Cold dropped The Hitman neck first on the top rope, selling his ruthlessness for all to see. The neck of Bret was targeted ruthlessly by the cold eyed Texan, and even when a flurry of offense from the Excellence of Execution briefly shook him, he held his ground and continued to grind away at his opponent, taking Bret out of his gameplan and keeping the veteran on the back foot. The storytelling was wonderful as Austin’s frustration at not putting his opponent away began to show. It was the compelling command of character that really set the Rattlesnake apart at this time.
Having been pounded into the mat for much of the bout, Hart’s comeback saw him get ultra aggressive, as if he suddenly realised the threat posed by the young, hungry villain in front of him. A very un-Bret like use of the ropes to hang Stone Cold was followed by a sit out piledriver, but as The Hitman went to press his advantage, his opponent came roaring back with a huge superplex after he caught him on the second rope. Again, the story they told was front and centre; the new, hungry up and comer had an answer for all of his legendary foe’s best tricks. However, Bret thrillingly kicked out of the Stunner, to Austin’s disbelief, and the heel began once again to get frustrated, applying a Texas Cloverleaf in a taste of the submission war to come at Wrestlemania XIII. The small touches here were fantastic- Stone Cold pulled Hart away from the ropes before covering him, so the extra time allowed the Pink and Black Attack to get that shoulder up at two, and then ensured that he only broke the submission at a count of four when he reached the rope. The Rattlesnake then continues to work the back, breaking out a bow and arrow, with the psychology being that he wants The Hitman to be humiliated in MSG, where he had many of his finest moments, but Hart reversed and went for the Sharpshooter only for his canny opponent to prevent its application. Then suddenly, when the former Ringmaster applied the Million Dollar Dream, the finish came, with the Wrestlemania VIII style kick off the top turnbuckle giving Bret the win, while simultaneously putting over Stone Cold huge. Many will point to the loss Austin sustained at the Grandaddy as putting him on the map, but the process actually started here in Madison Square Garden. A storytelling classic which has aged superbly well.
FLYBY! Rating: ****½
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker fought to a no-contest in 16:20
Funnily enough, this was the first time Michaels and The Undertaker had ever met mano a mano in the ring, and bear in mind that this was two of the company’s top stars, so this was a huge bout in that sense. Actually, it’s fairly easy to explain in the sense that the Deadman had usually been on special attraction duty with assorted hosses while Michaels had been the guy pursuing and then carrying the top strap. Now though, their paths were well and truly about to collide, with classic results. Chemistry is such an intangible thing in wrestling, but these two had it for sure.
This first one on one meeting, the feud opener if you will, gets heated before the bell has even rung, in keeping with a rivalry that was swiftly developing into a war; Shawn attempts to hide behind the referee who takes a massive right hand from ‘Taker so he can get to his hated enemy. The selling of the Michaels character change is all important here, as he flees his larger opponent in classic yellow-belly fashion only to get ordered back to the ring by Commissioner Slaughter, who HBK had made the mistake of alienating in the weeks prior to this event. This main event already feels very Attitude by this early point, and the Demon of Death Valley proceeds to gorilla press Michaels to the floor and then fling him into the house of the set that was an ever present prop at the IYH events. Remember, during Attitude, anything and everything could be used as a weapon! The heated nature of the bout and the pace of the beatdown, as well as the fact that Shawn is in super-bump mode, make the opening minutes of the bout truly fascinating.
Indeed, the in-ring tale that unfolds is all about Michaels being punished for his transgressions against his supernatural foe. He suffers huge haymakers, choke holds, turnbuckle bumps and a crotch of the top rope, all in the name of ‘Taker’s grisly brand of vengeance. In fact, we could see this match as the blueprint for the Undertaker/Edge feud that would follow a decade or so down the line. Needless to say, the live crowd are all for it, even popping for the exposure of Michaels’ backside when an escape from the ring is foiled by his opponent. It’s worth remembering that this was still very much the Phenom character who showed huge powers of recovery, so it’s not surprising that he sits right up from a Michaels neckbreaker, but for all of Shawn’s travails, the thought of an insurance policy is always on our minds, and indeed, it’s the entry of Ravishing Rick Rude that turns the tide; a ref bump allows brass knucks to be tossed to the Boy Toy who nails ‘Taker with them, finally gaining himself the advantage in the match at just about the half-way point.
This is reinforced further by the interference of Chyna and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who beat down a replacement official and then start to wail on the Deadman, double irish whipping him into the steel steps. It’s classic faction booking this- the foot soldiers helping their general get the job done and in this case in brutal fashion. The ludicrous yet entertaining amount of ref bumps continues when the zebra in the ring comes to only to be rammed straight into the turnbuckle; psychologically, it’s as if Shawn no longer wants to win; he just wants to beat on the Phenom and take him out of the game, which he proceeds to try and do with chokes and well-placed knees.
Given how heated the entire bout has been, it’s difficult to imagine it growing more so, but that it does, with bombs traded in the middle of the ring and a clothesline over the top rope which leads to ‘Taker falling once again into the clutches of Hunter and Chyna, allowing Shawn to come off the top rope to the outside with customary athleticism. Back in the ring, the band is tuned up, but the Demon of Death Valley has it scouted and catches the leg to a huge pop, creating an even bigger one when he nails first his opponent with his own brass knucks, and then the Blueblood, who makes the mistake of interfering again.
The finish is glorious chaos indeed; Michaels kicks out of the knucks shot, which sends Undertaker into a rage that causes him to chokeslam the referee. A replacement official finally calls for the bell as ‘Taker battles three opponents; this post-match section is compelling, with Sweet Chin Music dished out to officials that try to stop the beat down, a fightback from ‘Taker and finally the intervention of the entire locker room that leaves the Demon of Death Valley standing tall at the end. A breathless encounter which laid the ground for the seminal Hell in a Cell match to come.
FLYBY! Rating: ****
Let me know some of your favourite Autumnal wrestling matches in the comments section below, or you can tweet me here: