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REQUESTING FLYBY: The Top 10 Matches In Unforgiven History
By Maverick
Sep 27, 2014 - 7:25:41 PM

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The Top 10 Matches In Unforgiven History

Although the month of September is now ruled by the pay-per-view known as Night of Champions, back in the day, the Unforgiven brand was once known as the one which oversaw the changing of the seasons, and over its decade long history it came up with plenty of classic matches. As it’s still September- just- I thought I’d rake over those old cards on your behalf. The following is your author’s top ten, though I welcome dissent and discussion, so please let me know what you think of my choices in the comments section below!

10) Chris Jericho defeated Christian in 22:29 in a Ladder Match to win the vacant Intercontinental Championship at Unforgiven 2004

With Edge’s neck issues taking him out of the game for a while, he was forced to vacate the Intercontinental Championship, meaning that Summerslam contender Jericho and long term adversary Christian got it on in a stellar ladder match that has stood the test of time very well indeed. From 2002 to 2005, these two were fixtures in the Raw midcard and upper midcard, and without them, the show would have been nigh on unwatchable. Their tag team and their feud is one of the few bright spots of that red brand era.

Christian starts proceedings off in a heated manner with a stinging slap, and this leads to an irate Jericho unleashing his full arsenal on his former partner, with the CLB getting backdropped a mile over the top rope and almost getting beheaded by the ladder’s first entry into the match. The action outside is brawling on an Attitude Era level, which is no surprise really, given that both men were a key part of that time, and there are some excellent spots brought out of the bag, including some sick reversals and an Unprettier on the concrete floor. As with all the best ladder matches, the psychology is the key rather than the bumps, and the way that they keep each other from the gold and allow the fans suspension of disbelief is a key reason why it’s so good. Christian’s selling when Jericho pilots a ladder onto the small of his back is priceless, while the same applies to Y2J when he gets stuck in the rungs of the ladder and Christian charges the helpless babyface.

Although I praised the match for its cerebral stylings, both men take hellacious ladder bumps as the match nears its conclusion, and the crowd are wild to see those high spots happen, and even more so when Jericho gets that crazy Walls of Jericho on the ladder. The end finally comes with a bulldog off the top of the ladder to the canvas, which gives Y2J the needed leisure time to make it to the title and unhook it. A good template for any young wrestlers out there looking to master the ladder match genre.

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

9) Matt Hardy defeated Edge in 21:33 in a Steel Cage Match at Unforgiven 2005

I’m not sure I was ever into this feud as much as most people seemed to be, but there’s no doubt that as an old school steel cage match based on real life beef, it delivered handsomely and made (briefly) the elder Hardy as over as his old tag opponent. Vince McMahon was never, ever shy of controversy and he let it all hang out with this one.

In terms of cage match action, it is fairly standard stuff, but the story, being as it is as combination of kayfabe and real life, is more hard hitting even than usual, but a few big moves are blocked early, including a side effect off the top rope that becomes an advantage for Edge after he prevents it from taking place. The crowd get behind Matt as the contest forges forward, and his resilience following a sick powerbomb is particularly instructive, and he stops the Rated R Superstar from getting out of the cage too, coming roaring back with a whole load of full on offensive manoeuvres, including a bunch of face first introductions to the steel. With his opponent bloody, Matt tries to take his briefcase up into the upper echelons up into the cage, but Edge’s spear suddenly throws his name into the mix before a double cover brings Lita into the fray. Hardy manages to block a chair shot from the Latino, hit the Twist of Fate and kick out of the spear he takes straight off his seeming ascendancy.

Ultimately it is Edge’s job that stays in the memory and everyone remembers how hot he stays afterwards, of course, leading into his epic cash in. Matt Hardy would never be the same again but at least he can always say that he owned a win over an incredibly over personality in a fantastically heated match that stands the test of time

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

8) Randy Orton defeated Shawn Michaels in 18:47 at Unforgiven 2003

The stellar WWE production department is well known for their awesome video packages, but this one, with the veteran Michaels giving some advice to the young Legend Killer “if you’re going to use me as a stepping stone, you’d better step hard” is a bit of a cult favourite in the Maverick household. Back in September 2003, Orton was still a third generation midcarder on the rise and he was being built brilliantly, with his premature acceleration to the headline scene in summer 2004 still to come. HBK played the special attraction better than anyone ever has between 2002 and 2010, and this bout against Randy is a perfect example of what he brought to the table in that capacity.

The cerebral smarts of the legend are shown early on, as he plays on Orton’s ego, trying to frustrate him. When Randall does do better, Michaels still catches him, using his experience in kayfabe to anticipate the Evolution man’s moves before they occur. This is also shown as the Heartbreak Kid blocks a German with the ropes and then switches to hit one himself. The storytelling is fantastic, as you might expect from Shawn. The Legend Killer only manages to get the advantage with Flair’s assistance, but once he does, the youngster has no mercy and goes after the former WWF/E champion with sadistic intent, working over the arm with fantastic intensity, and of course one of the best sellers in the business makes you think his arm is about to fall off. Flair really adds to proceedings in his managerial capacity, taking bumps and having an influence on Randy’s ascendancy, sweating buckets, styling and profiling, and getting irate when an awesome RKO counter to Sweet Chin Music does not get the job done.

The finish is beautifully constructed, with Nature Boy taking another bump, Michaels hitting the elbow off the top and setting up and hitting the superkick, only for Ric to place the boot of his protege on the bottom rope, and the chaos that follows allows Orton to use brass knucks to win the day. A fantastic way to put over a young talent and a latter day Shawn Michaels match that is, in my view, criminally ignored.

FLYBY! Rating: ***¾

7) Triple H (with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley) defeated Kurt Angle in 17:26 in a No DQ match (with Mick Foley as special guest referee) at Unforgiven 2000

The love triangle between Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Kurt Angle was one of the primary storylines of late summer and early autumn 2000, and after neither man managed to displace The Rock as WWF Champion at Summerslam, they resolved to settle their issues mano e mano, with Steph in Hunter’s corner but with divided loyalties. Kurt even cut a happy birthday promo for Steph before the match. Interestingly, the heel vs. heel dynamic saw Helmsley emerge as the de facto face, while the spectre of Stone Cold’s “investigation” into the October 1999 hit and run assault also hung over the bout.

As the bell rings, the adrenaline rush The Game feels as the wronged husband causes him to get the early shine, and Angle bumps like an absolute maniac through the opening portion of the contest, going all the way over the top to the outside after a huge back drop. The battle out there is compelling in itself, with plenty of hard hitting brawling, with Kurt hanging on in there even though the rage of Trips is still fuelling his assault. However, in a nice storytelling twist, the technical nous of Angle, in the form of multiple suplexes, turns the tide his way for a while, until the action spills outside, where Helmsley is once again the master, but an obsession with an announce table Pedigree backfires when he ends up getting belly to belly suplexed through the table by a sharp Olympian. With the war intensifying, Stephanie’s concern for her husband adds a certain frisson, particularly when Angle ascends the ropes for a moonsault, only for Triple H to move out of the way.

I love the finish too, with Steph climbing in the ring and being told to choose by Hunter. She chooses him, booting Kurt in the crotch straight into a Pedigree for the win. A tremendous story driven match with some excellent spots. Well worth revisiting! 2000 was such a great in ring year all around, and bouts like this took place on every show that year. That’s how good a year it was.

FLYBY! Rating: ***¾

6) John Cena defeated Edge (with Lita) in 25:28 in a TLC Match to win the WWE Championship at Unforgiven 2006

How cool was it that Edge named that stipulation for this one? “A match I invented, a match I’ve never lost, a match in my home town, TLC...you’re out of your element son!” For me, John Cena has always been at his best when he was up against an opponent who looked like a really credible threat and who could talk the talk to the point where Cena’s underdog routine looked convincing. Edge was one of the best at that. In addition, The Rated R Superstar being so over in his hometown against the polarising Cena added a hugely interesting dimension to proceedings.

The heat as the Franchise Player uses big shoulder blocks and take downs on Edge is incredible, and when the native Canadian introduces the steel to proceedings, the audience are mad for it, as, indeed, they are mad for all of the former tag specialist’s offense, but particularly when he starts using the ladders and tables to go alongside the chairs. The high spots get gradually more intense, with bodies starting to go through tables as we move towards the last stage of the bout. Cena avoiding the Con-Chair-To is a great moment and instead we see Edge go face first into the chair off a spectacular neckbreaker. The STFU inside the ladder is similarly awesome, and a determined John Boy decides to go high risk with a five knuckle shuffle off the top. The swapping of spots gets ever more mad as time goes on, and the landings get more frightening too, particularly the company golden boy going off the ladder to the outside through the table courtesy of “the bitch” Lita, but she pays, getting an FU, following which her partner gets one through a stack of tables.

When you have a babyface like John Cena, his opponents are the most important factor, and Edge was one of the best he had. On that night in September 2006, he went into battle and showed how well, and how convincingly, he could compete against the heel of his generation. Great stuff.

FLYBY! Rating: ****

5) Eddie Guerrero defeated Edge in 11:55 at Unforgiven 2002

In the first of two “Smackdown Six” pairings in this Unforgiven countdown, a battle for respect in the build up led to Eddie Guerrero unleashing his heel best on the fast rising former tag star, with the result being great TV. This was a period of time in company history when Paul Heyman had the ability to put together in the ring great pairing after great pairing, using his six workers as an ever revolving rubiks cube of amazing wrestling, and this match is a prime exhibit for 2002 Smackdown’s rightly lofty reputation.

There’s nothing particularly innovative about this one, it’s just a really great midcard wrestling match, 12 minutes of heaven involving two workers at their physical peak. Eddie was super motivated having come back from his time in the drugs rehab wilderness, and he is in prime villainous form early on, waiting to an adrenaline pumped babyface to make it to the ring before casually slipping out through the second rope to the floor, forcing Edge to chase him around the ring and then ambushing him when they’re back in the ring. It’s a spot we’ve all seen a million times, but as with everything involving Guerrero, he imbued it with such style and purpose. That goes for everything in this match; the hot face comebacks from Edge, the sneaky heel tactics of Guerrero, the helter skelter near falls, the use of the exposed turnbuckle pads...it’s so traditional, but works so well, because in wrestling, sometimes the old way is the best way. The whole bout, taken together, has echoes of Savage vs. Steamboat, a simple heel/face dynamic performed by exceptional wrestlers.

My Lords of Pain colleague The Doc has often referred to Edge as being one of the best “closers” in the history of the business, meaning that he is one of the best at creating interest in the last few minutes of a match, when it is important to have the crowd in the palm of your hand as a performer. This is definitely the case here, with the Canadian looking to have the advantage after ramming Eddie’s back into the exposed turnbuckle and then spearing him into it, only for Latino Heat to use it in turn on Edge’s cranium and then hit a spectacular sunset flip powerbomb pin off the top, and with the time honoured handful of tights, it’s enough to get him the victory. Crisp wrestling, great storytelling, super chemistry. This contest has been overshadowed over the years by the insanely good Angle vs. Benoit match from the same night, but it’s time to give this one its due.

FLYBY! Rating: ****

4) Rob Van Dam defeated Chris Jericho in a Hardcore Match to retain the Hardcore Title in 16:33 at Unforgiven 2001

RVD was on fire through the InVasion angle, whilst Jericho got the opportunity to step up as a top tier face in the late summer and early autumn. As had been the case for the previous year and a bit, Y2J tormented Stephanie McMahon in his promos and in face to face segments, and InVasion MVP Van Dam found himself cast as the defender of his paymistress. Of course, with talent of the calibre of these two men, we were always likely to be presented with an excellent match, and so it proved.

They start with a fairly traditional wrestling match rather than a hardcore battle, which was a smart move, as they get to build towards the high spots and weaponry rather than exhausting the crowd early. The athleticism, speed and innovation of both men helps the middle section of the match to have plenty of thrills and spills, and many of the best moments involve ladders, which is a nice nod to Van Dam coming out of two battles with Jeff Hardy. Jericho gets to tattoo RVD on top of a ladder with a chair and then repeat his famous Walls of Jericho on a ladder spot from Royal Rumble 2001, only to moments later miss a dive to the outside and hit his head on the barrier. Y2J gets a little colour, and the ECW alumus goes after the cut eye with savate kicks and enziguris, but the advantage constantly ebbs and flows meaning that neither is ever in control for long. I love the fact that, in a hardcore match, Y2J uses a technical submission, locking in a nasty fujiwara armbar, and when Van Dam escapes it, throws that shoulder into the steps.

Inevitably, Steph’s interference turns the tide in RVD’s favour, as Jericho’s obsession leads to him turning his back on the man from Battle Creek while holding the chair, turning back into the Van Daminator, allowing Rob to hit the Frog Splash for the very hard fought retention. A really great example of how to wrestle a hardcore match without turning it into a garbage brawl. Super fun stuff; Jericho and Van Dam had underrated chemistry.

FLYBY! Rating: ****

3) Shawn Michaels defeated Chris Jericho in 26:53 in an Unsanctioned Street Fight at Unforgiven 2008

The creative behind this feud was just unbelievably, with both men ignoring the WWE writers and going straight to Vince to be given carte blanche to create the most compelling one on one feud of the last decade, at least in terms of originality and the ability to push boundaries. Only CM Punk vs Jeff Hardy from 2009 comes close on that score. Jericho was legitimately hated by crowds in a way that didn’t seem possible in the modern day product, particularly given his considerable history as a beloved babyface. Michaels, for his part, played the avenging hero to perfection, having his elbow wrapped backstage as in kayfabe, the triceps tendon was coming off the bone, forcing him to make a fast start, going right after Jericho with a loaded boot and employing an unusual (for HBK) ground and pound assault.

However, the dastardly heel is not to be marginalised, and Y2J uses a table and the ring apron to punish the Texan, picking up a chair and sending Michaels reeling. The heel mashes the “injured” eye of HBK, sending fan support for the face into the stratosphere, and that inspiration leads to an overconfident Jericho going right into the steel post, following which Shawn is able to fight out of a suplex attempt and hit a flying forearm to take the advantage and fight through the storyline pain with a vintage top rope elbow, setting up a punishing series of right hands in lieu of Sweet Chin Music, followed by a crossface. However, the eye and the arm of the babyface are always something Jericho can use to his advantage and that’s exactly what he does through the middle of the match (anyone who says Y2J can’t fo brawling obviously never saw this contest). Brilliantly, the bout retains an unpredictability as Shawn gets out of the Walls with the use of a fire extinguisher and proceeds to whip his opponent’s ass all over the arena until Lance Cade’s intervention stops his momentum and allows the psychotic Canadian to have his way, in particular as regards that triceps. Even so, Cade was not enough to keep the Ayatollah in control, and Michaels got hold of a chair and sent Jericho though a table with it.

The story demands that Lance Cade gets taken care of before Chris can get his just desserts and so we see The Heartbreak Kid ascend the top rope and hit an elbow off the top to the announce table, driving Lance through the wood. I love the way Shawn breaks down in tears as his two opponents lie prone in particular, and it’s awesome that the former Rocker hasn’t even finished his punishment of his enemy, with Michaels using his belt to stripe his opponent’s back and then going for the UFC style ground and pound again, eventually forcing the ref to wave the match off by stoppage. Even after the finish, he takes on the referees to further punish his nemesis. WWE masterfully capped off the rivalry as Jericho limped into the Championship Scramble later in the evening and somehow won the gold, setting up a genius ladder match at No Mercy 2008. Just amazing stuff, especially for such a “meh” time in wrestling history.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

2) 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

1) Chris Benoit defeated Kurt Angle in 13:55 at Unforgiven 2002

Ridiculously, this classic came about because both men were in receipt of a Stink Face from Rikishi, with both men laughing at the plight of the other when it happened. No matter the reason for the feud though, once it was underway, all that we saw was unrestricted quality, with a game of submission one upmanship in the build. Whose submission would prove more deadly? It was a story they used every time they feuded, and it always worked brilliantly.

The early stages are a story of stalemate with the amateur wrestling stylings of both men leading to an absolute clinic of chain wrestling that transitions into a power battle and then a series of attempted roll ups. Both men are hyper aware of where the ropes are, thwarting both the ankle lock and the crossface early. The crowd are on fire for this; they know that this is exactly what great wrestling looks like. The Olympic Hero gets the advantage first and unleashes a tremendous amount of high impact punishment, with some great psychology, softening his opponent up for the submission game later on. When The Rabid Wolverine finds himself in control, the same happens. It’s a punishing gladiatorial combat, and the German suplex duel is an incredible thing to witness. Screw Brock Lesnar, no-one ever threw Germans like these two. We then get a couple of ridiculous belly to belly suplexes to boot, with both men bumping their tails off.

At the close of the bout, the speed and intensity is just amazing, with multiple submission reversals, top rope high risk and high impact mat moves. Kurt using the crossface in particular was a mark out moment, but the Wolverine reversed it into a pin with the ropes used for leverage gaining him the 1-2-3. The great thing about this number one match in Unforgiven history is the way that it was used to create the awesome Angle/Benoit frenemies tag team as well as it being one of the best semi-main events in company history. These two had so many heart stopping duels, but this one stands out as one of the very best.

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

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And until then, this is Maverick requesting flyby!