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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Definitive Match Review History Of The February "Title Shot On The Line" Match
By Maverick
Feb 8, 2015 - 6:42:16 AM

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The Definitive Match Review History Of The February “Title Shot On The Line” Match

I wrote this past Tuesday about WWE riffing on their own rich history by booking Roman Reigns to defend the number one contendership at Fast Lane and as I spoke about the past instances of these tense in ring affairs, I was inspired to go back and re-watch them on the WWE Network over the past week. Lo and behold, I rediscovered some absolutely tremendous bouts! Be they from In Your House, No Way Out or even Monday Night Raw, the high stakes kayfabe environment adds a great deal to the feel of the matches. One thing is for certain, Daniel Bryan is likely to gift Roman Reigns his best singles match yet on the evening of February 22nd, and we will hopefully have ourselves another choice match to add to this list of crackers. I’ve decided to look at this in chronological order rather than rank them, but I have included the FLYBY! Rating, since I know you all love to disagree with those! Right, enough with the preamble, let’s talk some wrestling…

Shawn Michaels defeated Owen Hart (with Jim Cornette) in 15:57 to retain the number one contendership to the WWF Championship at in Your House 6: Rage In A Cage

The phrase “dream match” is oft overused in modern wrestling parlance, but for a sixteen-year-old Maverick, Owen Hart taking on Shawn Michaels for his shot at Bret at Wrestlemania XII was indisputably fitting of the title. Throughout the New Generation, WWF would pull out some amazing in ring action amidst an otherwise anodyne backdrop, and matches like this one were what kept you from fully lapsing as a fan. With both men at their peak in terms of physical conditioning and experience inside the squared circle, anticipation was high, with the bookers running a storyline which could easily have been used in today’s “Reality Era”. Shawn had been legitimately beaten within an inch of his life by a bunch of US Marines at a bar, and had to take time off. When he came back, a Monday Night Raw match with Owen ended when an enziguri caused Michaels to collapse. His return to action was pitched by the Fed as doubtful, until he announced his entry to the Rumble and won it for the second year straight. Taunting by the King Of Harts led to a reckless HBK putting up his title shot. Fans were either going to get a rematch of Bret and Owen’s classic from Wrestlemania X or a rematch of Bret and Shawn’s classic from Survivor Series ‘92. We were winning whatever happened.

The early going is dominated by showboating by both men, supreme athletes at the very top of their game, with the idea being that the psychological edge is a necessity with the two men being so similar in terms of their in ring strengths. However, the heelish run around the ring by Hart is interrupted by a picture perfect twisting crossbody off the top to the outside by Michaels, definitively gaining the babyface the early edge. The action is incredibly well judged by the two en through this early portion of the bout, with Cornette’s interference coming to nothing, meaning that we get a technical exchange as good as you’ll see anywhere. The awesome spot where they come out of a chain wrestling duel into a double kip up is pure magic, and despite all the incredible high flying manoeuvres these two are capable of, they keep a lid on the spots to instead wrestle in a psychologically sound, traditional wrestling grudge match where every move carries semantic value.

Owen’s ascendancy illustrates this perfectly, with a belly to belly leading Michaels to sell the back and his opponent to scent blood and go after it, with the crowd well aware that Hart’s finisher, the Sharpshooter, wrenches the spine. The two technical geniuses also work the audience by beginning to play on Michaels’ “concussion”. In fact, this may well be where Del Rio and Ziggler got the idea for their stunning Payback match from. A spinning heel kick sends HBK flying through the ropes where he lies in a heap, and a snap powerslam counter as Michaels dives desperately off the apron (eat your heart out Orton) adds further doubt as to the ability of the Sexy Boy to come back into the match. Watch the facial expressions of Hart carefully here; it’s a masterclass in heel performance. Shawn is, of course, able to keep the audience invested in his quest to stay on the Road To Wrestlemania with his brief flurries of offense and with his selling of Owen’s Sharpshooter, finally make it to the ropes. The finish is tremendously well judged, with Michaels making a sudden comeback, but in such a way as to make it highly realistic, with the Black Hart’s obsession with hitting that enziguri costing him, as HBK ducks it and delivers the sudden Sweet Chin Music to book his date with The Hitman at ‘Mania. Superb match.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Mr McMahon in 7:56 in a Steel Cage Match to retain the number one contendership to the WWF Championship at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: In Your House

In one of the greatest long running storylines in wrestling history, the Stone Cold vs McMahon rivalry came to an end in a phase that began with Austin being screwed out of the title at Breakdown, continued with him being fired after Judgment Day and screwed at Survivor Series, and entered its final stage when he defeated The Undertaker for the right to enter the Rumble only to lose in the final two to the boss after interference from The Rock. In the storyline, McMahon smugly vacated the number one contendership only to have Commissioner Michaels rule that in that instance, the runner up, Austin, would take the title shot instead. This allowed The Texas Rattlesnake to goad Vince into a steel cage match with the contendership on the line. Stone Cold, of course, just wanted to beat the hell out of the company’s owner legally, as his contract stated that he could not put his hands on McMahon except in a match.

With Vince being a non-wrestler, this one is very much about the storytelling and the volcanic crowd baying for the Chairman’s blood rather than the quality of the physical action. McMahon teases Austin by refusing to enter the cage, leading to an almost Tom and Jerry style pursuit around the ring, with Vince then guarding the door and the side of the cage to prevent Austin getting in. It’s tremendous booking that has the fingerprints of Pat Patterson all over it. The Rattlesnake then fakes a knee injury, suckering McMahon in, and we get an extended brawl around the arena typical of the era, with Vince bumping like a maniac. It’s very of its time, but it’s a huge amount of fun. McMahon continually tries to make the relative safety of the cage, but is denied by a vengeful Rattlesnake, who toys with his opponent, enjoying the opportunity to punish his nemesis...and that’s when that bump happens. Nobody can ever deny the courage and commitment of Vincent K. McMahon, and his willingness to take a Foley-esque dive off the side of the cage through the Spanish announce table takes the match up a further notch.

This finally leads us to the final portion of the contest, as Austin cuts a promo where he exhorts the crowd to give him a hell yeah if they want to see the can of whupass finished and takes Vince off the stretcher to finally toss him in the cage for the bell to finally ring. Echoes of the recent Ambrose and Rollins cell match there in that the short bell time doesn’t tell the full story. The story of the bout is just so well told, with Stone Cold about to step out of the cage when a middle finger from McMahon makes him pause and come back for more violence, and with that same trope stopping him from climbing out a few minutes later. For a match which is really not much more than an extended beat down, it really is quite the spectacle, and everything we see is building up to the bout’s iconic signature spot, the eyecatching debut of The Big Show, who bursts through the ring canvas and rag dolls Austin around the ring, only to throw him against the cage with such ferocity that the cage gives way and the Rattlesnake wins the match. In no way a catch-as-catch-can classic, but for storytelling and balls to the wall violence, it scores very highly.

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

The Big Show defeated The Rock in 9:33 to win the number one contendership to the WWF Championship at No Way Out 2000

The conclusion to Royal Rumble 2000 saw The Rock seemingly emerge victorious, but WWF had something more interesting in mind. In the weeks following the Rumble, The Big Show, who Rocky last eliminated, pursued head honcho Triple H relentlessly with photographic, eyewitness and video evidence to prove that Rock’s feet touched the floor before his. With his evidence looking fairly conclusive, Hunter granted Big Show a shot at the Brahma Bull’s Wrestlemania title opportunity, which enraged The Great One and led to plenty of running backstage battles on Raw and Smackdown leading up to No Way Out.

The People’s Champ is first out of the gate with adrenaline fuelled right hands and a big time DDT, before taking things to the outside, where he shows tremendous strength to muscle Show into the steel steps and over the barricade. As he often does in these kind of scenarios, Rock seems to wrestle almost as a tweener, aggressively going after his massive opponent and bending the rules to their limit. However, the superior size and strength of The Big Show eventually tells, and the match slows down to a more methodical wear down affair, although this does not seem to quieten the crowd, who are hot for the entire affair, particularly when the People’s Champ goes back on the offensive and the pace spikes. Unfortunately, we do get an absurd Attitude Era ref farrago, as Hebner and White quarrel over who should be officiating, with Shane McMahon taking advantage by cracking Rock with a chair as he goes for the People’s Elbow, allowing White to count the three.

The screwy finish to the match, along with the Cactus Jack vs. Triple H war in the main event, would lead to the fatal fourway at Wrestlemania XVI, perhaps a road map for how this Bryan/Reigns/Lesnar/Rollins situation may pan out. The number one contendership duel between Big Nasty and The Great One was short but sweet, typical of its time and a fun little watch that served a greater purpose.

FLYBY! Rating: ***

Kurt Angle defeated Triple H in 14:42 to win the number one contendership to the WWF Championship at No Way Out 2002 (with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley as guest referee)

Kurt Angle’s vow to win the Royal Rumble at the first attempt ended in tears when the returning Triple H eliminated him after Kurt thought he had already dispatched The Game. An irate Angle used his influence with Vince in the storylines to have a match for the title shot booked, with the kayfabe marriage trouble of Triple H and Stephanie interwoven into the rivalry, as the rejected Billion Dollar Princess aligned herself with the Olympian and got herself made guest referee. At this point, the babyface version of Hunter was hugely over after the vignettes depicting his heelish rehabilitation from his quad tear had put his heroic efforts over for the audience.

These two men always had excellent chemistry with each other, and the storytelling is on point from the very early going, with Steph going over the top rope after Angle misses a clothesline. With the biased special guest official out of action, the match proceeds in more traditional fashion, which is wise, since an entire fifteen minutes of the boss’ daughter trying to screw Helmsley would have been over egging the pudding somewhat. The Cerebral Assassin works a consciously babyface style, including a 1980s style ten punches in the corner routine, while Kurt sticks to his suplexes and mat wrestling, psychologically wanting to avoid a brawl which might play more to his opponent’s strengths. Eventually, Angle’s arrogance costs him as he gets caught with a powerbomb out of the corner and Hunter goes to work with high impact signatures like the double A spinebuster, but a hyper aware Kurt decks Tim White to cause a distraction and enable the return of Stephanie, but an Olympic Slam fails to get the job done.

The finish is very much in debt to the Attitude Era which had just been left behind, with ref bumps galore for both Tim White and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, a Pedigree, vile chair shots and the final Olympic Slam which allows Steph to count the three and transfers the number one contendership to Angle. Triple H would ultimately win back his title shot and face Jericho at Wrestlemania XVIII, but the bump in the road was an important and interesting one, and also solved the problem of a babyface having a heel wife in the storylines by severing their onscreen relationship, ironically just as their real life one was taking off! Not the best of the many matches these guys had with each other, but very good fun nonetheless.

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

Randy Orton defeated Rey Mysterio in 17:28 to win the number one contendership to the World Heavyweight Championship at No Way Out 2006

As with the previous match, the last man eliminated from the Rumble showed sour grapes and finagled his way into the number one contendership picture. Randy Orton stated categorically that there was no chance that Mysterio could beat him in a standard match, and followed this insult up by continually running down the recently deceased Eddie Guerrero, in a deeply uncomfortable series of promo segments which included Orton telling Mysterio that Eddie was down in hell and a sarcastic reading from Latino Heat’s autobiography while stood in a lowrider. Though the taste and decency of all of this was questionable, Mysterio, Jericho, Malenko and others who were close to Guerrero have since said that he would have loved the angle, so it perhaps feels less shocking now than it did at the time.

With Mysterio’s daughters in the crowd and with the man himself wearing an “EG” band on his arm, the crowd quickly begin a chant of “Eddie! Eddie!” as the bout begins. Orton’s cocky aura makes him easy to dislike as the heel, and as he uses his strength advantage to try and ground the high flying luchadore in the opening minutes, sound psychology which is played up by Tazz and Cole on commentary, but Mysterio is not so easily grounded and his quickness catches Orton off guard until a mistake by Rey puts Orton back in control. The Legend Killer proceeds to calculatedly pick his spot and grind the Master of the 619 down, mocking Eddie’s signature poses as he does so. Mysterio’s comebacks are brief bursts which end with one risk too many being punished by the merciless Orton, including a brutal spot where a huracanrana off the apron is countered into the ring post and an awesome powerbomb. Rey, for his part, sells brilliantly, evoking all the right notes of sympathy.

Of course, the beat down is there to facilitate the plucky comeback, and Rey excels here too with some innovative moves that utilise his improvisation skills and get the crowd hot for the West Coast Pop and rolling neck snap that gets a nice near fall. A head of steam for the babyface seems to set up the 619, but a canny Legend Killer ducks it, snags a roll up and uses the ropes for leverage in a classic heel tactic to steal the victory. As with the Triple H vs. Kurt Angle match from 2002, Mysterio ended up getting his opportunity back as Angle defended in a triple threat against both Orton and Mysterio, and again, the bump in the road made his Wrestlemania moment all the more meaningful. Very good match which palpably felt important on the night.

FLYBY! Rating: ***¾

John Cena defeated CM Punk in 19:37 to retain the number one contendership to the WWE Championship on Monday Night Raw, 2013

This one is a little different, since it took place on Monday Night Raw, rather than at the February pay-per-view. When Mr Sobriety was relieved of the title he’d carried for 434 days by a part-timer, and then dominated the rematch at Elimination Chamber only to ultimately be denied again, the disappointment Punk felt in kayfabe and real life made for promo gold. In its way,like its more famous brother the pipe bomb, the “ham and eggers” speech the record breaking former champion gave Cena is fundamentally based in truth. Had anyone ever dared to attack the Royal Rumble concept in quite such a way? The thing is, Cookie Monster is right; winning a lottery match like the reverse battle royal is a funny way of earning a title match. We accept it because it is tradition. But should we not question our traditions? That was what Punk laid at Cena’s feet, and the Franchise Player responded by accepting the challenge, just as his character absolutely should in that scenario.

When these two are inside the ring, they use the history they have built to their advantage; they craft something memorable through the re-enactment of past sequences, adding further nuance and variation with each passing contest. Just like every match they’ve had, this one begins with chain wrestling, with jockeying for position. The psychology is so sound: Cena is trying to prove that he really can wrestle, while Punk tries to maintain the superiority his kayfabe self has in the mat game. As I’ve intimated, Punk is in charge for much of the early going, selling the pre-match hype concerning Cena’s inability to beat him in a match that matters. Desperation comes into play early too, with a breathtaking submission sequence where the Anaconda Vise is broken with a pinning predicament, the STF is countered into the Vise, the Vise into the STF and finally both men break, selling the submissions they’ve suffered for considerable to play up their skills. This is a nice touch; the effects of these kinds of holds are too often undersold in the modern WWE.

When the two finally make it to their feet, they re-invest the crowd by trading bombs, a touch
which sells their heated rivalry to perfection, and the importance of the bout is once more put in the front and centre of the storytelling. It’s all about will to win and desperation to be the better man, and here we find another theme this feud has constantly returned to: the way John Cena ups his work rate every time he’s up against Punk. First, there’s the top rope leg drop which he only ever seems to roll out on the big occasions, and then there’s a brutal powerbomb, something I can’t often recall the Franchise Player having used in his main roster career and something he should probably use more; it suits him. Cena is very much in the ascendant in this middle part of the bout and he shows prescience in countering the corner high knee for the first time I can remember in the series and turning it into the AA, which Chick Magnet kicks out of.

Ultimately, I think the success of the match is about timing and how the spots build. The closing minutes tell a convincing story that the false finishes- the amount of which have been criticised in some quarters- are very much a part of. So we have Mr Sobriety lay John Boy out with the GTS only for the Rumble winner to kick out. Punk attempts the move again, telling a story of impatience and frustration, which leads us to the Cena counter into the STF. The pace here is hectic, still reeking of desperation, and its that quality which made it such an incredible thing to witness at the time. Speaking of witnessing incredible things, how about that piledriver, dear readers? Now, if there’s better way of shouting THIS MATCH IS SPECIAL to your audience, I don’t know one. The move, this dangerous, practically banned manoeuvre, and the Straight Edge One is so obsessed with beating the company poster boy and heading to ‘Mania that he pulls it out. Just a brilliant spot, and Cena’s escape from the resulting pin is a raise the roof moment. And how about the finish? Punk missing the Macho Man elbow and Cena hitting a huracanrana as a set up for the Attitude Adjustment? Who could ever have predicted that?

What a way to end a rivalry.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

So there you have it folks, the six times that the Rumble winner has had to put their shot on the line. What did you think of the matches? Feel free to comment below and let me know also what you think of the forthcoming Reigns/Bryan bout.

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And until next time, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!