Musings of a Mark #15
The Biggest Little Man
March 15, 2009
By: Scott Webster of WrestleView.com
Another week, another sojourn into the delights of WCW's fabled Cruiserweight division.
These delights are taken straight from Rey Mysterio's DVD The Biggest Little Man released in 2007, which I only managed to pick up recently. Judging from the match selection, it's a great purchase accommodating those hoping to investigate WCW and those catching up on lost ground in the WWE. I highly recommend the set, as I do the matches reviewed below. Again, like my look at Eddie Guerrero in ECW / WCW, this isn?t meant to be a definitive list of matches. In fact I?ve purposely chosen less renowned performances in Mysterio's praised series with Psicosis, Dean Malenko and co. simply to give these forgotten nuggets of goodness the attention they deserve.
With Rey Rey's current string of quality performances, there isn?t a better time to get into the enigmatic, amazingly gifted performer's body of work. Hopefully this week's ?Musings?? can help guide your viewing. Enjoy! Psicosis vs. Rey Mysterio ? ECW Hardcore TV 09.26.95
Not their best offering, but a worthy show nonetheless. What's pleasantly surprising is Psicosis? competency occupying the ?anchor? role, which serves to layer Mysterio's trademark aerial shenanigans with desperation and necessity. With the size advantage, Psicosis utilises a power-based repertoire (slams, suplexes, powerbombs etc.) to plant Rey into the canvas. The impact of the moves are complemented by Mysterio's limp ragdoll selling, as opposed to cries of agony more suited for prolonged submission hold sequences. Psicosis? offense is of a sudden nature, designed to knock his opponent senseless rather than torture into quitting. I feel that identifying such value in ?dead weight? selling is important, because the lack of extra investment in portraying pain (i.e. grimaces, cries, clutching an affected area etc.) often is criticized as a sign of laziness. Contrary to this, considering Mysterio's nimble stature, this form of selling can effectively communicate great impact sustained f rom moves if used consistently, especially if they?re designed to knock him out.
That said, consistent selling isn?t maintained in this match, though Mysterio's crumpled body aids in conveying desperation when trying to string together risky offense. An irk I hold with many Mysterio outings f rom the ?90s (and at time now) is his seeming ability to brush off accumulated damage ? the impression of near KO due to his ?limp? pain portrayal ? by bouncing back moments later, without hint of fatigue or lingering effect. This is an annoying trait that greatly hinders my enjoyment of TNA's X-Division. I don?t crave ?realism? in pro-wrestling, but I do expect to view performances grounded in logic. ?Dead weight? selling magnificently emphasises the impact of moves, but it sets up a difficult situation for the seller to not contradict the impression of pain created when in offensive control. If an individual is near KO one moment, he should look at the very least fatigued when galloping around the ring during the next is all ? In my view, it's almost too good a sell job of a move's immediate effect ironically. It doesn?t severely detract f rom this performance, though there remain flaws. Psicosis regaining control seconds after executing a suicide dive into a steel chair instantly springs to mind ?
Despite this, the match remains a good showing. Psicosis? dominance as ?anchor? grants Mysterio's high-flying purpose without degenerating into a ?flippy shit spot-a-thon? (though his self-congratulatory posing after each impressive move gets tiresome). Meanwhile Psicosis? exercises in riskier offense aren?t completely random, communicating his search for that final killer blow. The pace ebbs-and-flows nicely between the larger man's deliberate motions and Rey's adrenaline bursts, resulting in a performance that excites, as well as engrosses. Other Recommendations:Rey Mysterio vs. Psicosis ? WCW Road Wild 08.08.98Not as accomplished as anything these two produced in the Land of Extreme, this nonetheless is an acceptable performance featuring the same dynamic as the match reviewed above. Ignore the flat aura that plagues it, which is mostly a product of an open-air environment where the appreciation f rom the crowd, as well as the impact of the moves and the vocal selling, are drowned away due to no enclosed surfaces creating echoes. WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Rey Mysterio vs. Dean Malenko ? - WCW Nitro 07.08.96
These two delivered a collection of very good matches together, but this television outing often falls under the radar next to its pay-per-view brethren. Malenko may well be the unsung hero of the WCW Cruiserweight division, performing just as consistently as his praised colleagues (Benoit, Guerrero, Jericho and Mysterio amongst others) without receiving much award in the form of a push. That may be because of his inability to craft a sustainably interesting character (the stoic ?Ice Man? gimmick works, but that shouldn?t alleviate the need to break that fa?ade. Benoit had a similar characterisation, though he delved into depictions of excruciating pain, anger / frustration and intensity when appropriate). Nevertheless he meshed admirably well with most other performers of his weight distinction, which includes Rey Mysterio.
As expected Malenko occupies the ?anchor? role, grounding Rey with a combination of impact moves and submission holds (that is once Malenko manages to actually catch Rey Mysterio with a solid tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, following a moment or two of his nimble adversary running him in circles). Once again Mysterio's ?dead weight? selling is slightly inconsistent ? his recoveries exude no lost stamina ? though it's far less noticeable within the shorter television match timeframe. A quibble, rather than a serious flaw. His comebacks against the ?anchor? are great, resorting to his aerial assaults to combat the stronger, larger opponent. A theme of ?underestimation? exists beneath the surface of the conclusion, as Malenko looks to extend the torture by refusing to end the match. The point is communicated acceptably, though I can?t shake the thought that, had Malenko depicted frustration at Rey's evasiveness or malicious intent as he looks to hurt Mysterio further ? all it takes is a frown or smile! ? the effect could?ve been better. Alas this remains a neat, worthwhile match f rom WCW Nitro.
It's here that I wish to clarify my view on the ?anchored lucha?, and how it relates to Rey Mysterio. Existing as a response to a grounding force in a match ? otherwise called the ?David / Goliath? dynamic ? the ?anchored lucha? attempts to ascertain the offensive advantage via riskier moves (aka spots or aerial attacks) or even a sudden impact move. Once in control however, the performer has the opportunity to revert to ?wrestling? or even ?bombs?. Rey Mysterio, at least during his run in WCW, doesn?t entirely conform to this role. Billed with particular emphasis on his speed, agility and unique aerodynamic repertoire, that's predominantly how Rey Mysterio goes about business, even when he's claimed total control of proceedings. Though there's evidence of ability in mat-wrestling, Mysterio's performances are more akin to an ?anchored high-flyer? (unless facing an equal in size and ability, such as Juventud Guerrera, in which case the match is of the ?duelling high-flyers? sub-genre, a branch stemming f rom the ?bomb-fest? ? think Alex Shelley / Chris Sabin f rom TNA's Genesis 2009 event ? and largely fails due to non-existent selling and purpose). Whenever competing against a larger foe ? almost always a given with Rey Mysterio ? Rey's reliance on high-flying can be seen as a sign of desperation / necessity in keeping his opponent off balance, rather than being purposeless risks that would proclaim him a 'spot-monkey?. Excuse that ramble, but I felt a need to distinguish between an ?anchored lucha? and ?anchored high-flyer?, in addition to arguing against sole aerial risks as shallow, meaningless spots.Other Recommendations:WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Rey Mysterio vs. Dean Malenko ? - WCW Great American Bash 06.16.96
WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Rey Mysterio ? vs. Dean Malenko ? WCW Halloween Havoc 10.27.96Both recommendations extend upon the narrative evident in the reviewed television bout. Remove the chapter where Mysterio evades capture, and replace it with a stronger, longer story told through the interaction between the ?anchored high-flyer? and ?anchor? roles and that's what you?ll witness with these two exceptionally good performances. The second one, in particular, is worthwhile. WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Super Calo vs. Rey Mysterio ? - WCW Fall Brawl 09.15.96
I have no clue as to who Super Calo is, or whether he amounted to anything, but he satisfies as the ?anchor? in this performance. The amount of offense he is allowed is an interesting point to consider, dominating Rey Mysterio with a mixture of aerial, impact and submission moves. This presents the match's theme of fatigue, as Mysterio is understood as to be suffering f rom the plethora of championship defences performed across the globe, which also gives Super Calo an opportunity to exhibit his abilities and talent to the audience.
Fatigue is a significant word here. It's what was distinctly absent f rom Mysterio's previous performances. One moment he?ll be a motionless heap on the canvas, the next he?d be a blur dashing about the squared circle. However, that doesn?t apply here. After an extended Super Calo control segment, there's evidence of exhaustion in Mysterio's bursts of attack. He gasps for air, displays effort in returning to a standing position following a move (and when stringing together offense), and even has the awareness to sporadically clutch his arm, conveying the damage sustained throughout Calo's assault. Is this ?expressive? selling superior to ?dead weight? selling? Not necessarily, although on this occasion it grants an impression of lingering effect endured as a consequence of prolonged punishment, which is often missing in Mysterio's work f rom this period.
So, an unexpectedly decent match-up whereby Rey's ?expressive? selling not only constructs a logical portrayal, but also 'sells? the narrative of increased fatigue due to his workload as champion. Other Recommendations:Rey Mysterio vs. Ultimate Dragon ? WCW Spring Stampede 04.06.97An equally solid match, whereby Dragon occupies the more dominant, grounded position to the flexible antics of Rey Rey. This particular match is the better one on the DVD out of two encounters between Rey Mysterio and Ultimate Dragon, as the first one is a largely flawed ?duelling high-flyers? spectacle. With Dragon's ?anchor? transplanting meaning onto Rey's high-flying, combined with the narrative focusing on Sonny Onoo's disappearance and how Dragon needs his guidance (he continuously underestimates Rey, which consequently leads to his downfall a la Malenko earlier), this is easily the superior choice.WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Eddie Guerrero ? vs. Rey Mysterio ? WCW Halloween Havoc 10.26.97
Initially I was going to review the clash at World War 3 f rom the same year, but it's several notches below the quality of this performance. In a column where I?m recommending the best of Mysterio f rom the ?90s, drawing f rom his Biggest Little Man DVD, I can?t not mention the Halloween Havoc 1997 classic. Having looked at this acclaimed performance not two columns ago, not much has significantly changed to warrant a re-write, so here's what I wrote then:
?Since its initial acclaimed reception, the Guerrero / Mysterio classic of 1997 has received a split in opinion of sorts. It's still considered a great performance by many, but the extent to which is disputed. Those criticising it claim it's a finely worked spot-fest, though contributing not a great deal in terms of narrative. I disagree, but I can see the logic behind those with differing views.
Eddie Guerrero takes upon the ?anchor? role here, attempting to prevent Mysterio's insane high-flying antics by dominating him. He mixes up his control segments with power moves, whilst wearing down Rey via a number of rest-holds. Guerrero's utter disdain for the crowd and Rey Mysterio makes his control segments even more engrossing, though they hardly needed it due to the depth of Guerrero's move-set. His dominance grants reason for Mysterio to risk his body's safety to gain back the advantage. There's no denying the amazing athleticism on display as Mysterio works his spotty magic, and with the narrative grounded by Guerrero, it makes these flashy moves bear meaning and purpose as well. Overall Guerrero performs just as well in the ?anchor? position, as he does taking to the air.
The ?heel? persona of Eddie here presents the untapped charisma at this point in time. His expressions of disgust, frustration and anger are great, whilst his attempts to rip the mask off Rey not only gathers him more heat, but also emphasises the significance of that piece of attire to Mysterio and the match as a whole. It's a performance that possesses that immediate ?wow? factor, without compromising a surprisingly simplified narrative. Essential material for both individuals.? WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match:
Rey Mysterio ? vs. Chris Jericho ? WCW Souled Out 01.24.98
Not the greatest match in history but, as with the Super Calo contest, it showcases a great display of selling by Mysterio. I?m not one of those fans who demand absolutely perfect selling (you wouldn?t survive a Mysterio compilation if you were, especially considering some of his opponents!), though its presence does aid the narrative flow immensely. Here the emphasis lies on Rey's injured knee, which he tweaks during an aerial stunt. The level of pain he communicates is maintained throughout the performance (i.e. it is a very big hindrance), and becomes the focal point for Jericho's attack. He hobbles about, limps as he attempts a move, and actually looks to stay grounded to prevent further damage.
The high level of injury that Mysterio presents works fantastically leading into the finish, as a remarkable counter into the Liontamer causes Rey to immediately tap out. Had he not portrayed his knee as hurt as he did, this would?ve seemed a tad too quick a submission. Meanwhile Jericho's assault of the limb is complemented well by Rey's notable cries of pain, as opposed to merely clutching the knee for a few seconds after a move. I?d say that at this point Rey Mysterio had grown as a performer, even though ?dead weight? selling isn?t necessarily a negative.
Chris Jericho, on the other hand, is a negative aspect of this performance. His character's interactions with the crowd leave a lot to be desired in the entertaining heel antics department. Maybe I?m just harsh because of the fantastic persona he has going currently ? Ah well. It isn?t a crippling flaw in the performance.
Well this is an unexpected development ? Going through Mysterio's back catalog in ECW and WCW (well, those on his The Biggest Little Man DVD at least) has allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for TNA's X-Division and the collection of independent promotions out there. That's not to say they?re gold mines of quality wrestling, far f rom it, but looking at how Rey occupied the ?anchored high-flyer? almost entirely in his matches and still managed to entertain me with a logical narrative, it makes me wonder whether an AJ Styles, a Christopher Daniels, a Petey Williams (now unemployed) or any member of that style of wrestling have pulled out better performances than I give them credit for. If Mysterio can largely escape the 'spot-monkey? cries, I have no doubt that that can also apply to others locked in that criticism.
Don?t go thinking I like Alex Shelley / Chris Sabin f rom TNA Genesis 2009 though, as it's still the most overrated performance of this year. The ?duelling high-flyers? remains a tough cookie to perform well, and they certainly failed to crack it. I actually can?t think of a good example of that sub-genre, although should the suggested Evan Bourne / Rey Mysterio encounter take place at WrestleMania 25 then we could be in for a treat. All I will say is, for ?duelling high-flyers? to succeed there needs to be sustained selling of damage, otherwise it's a stunt show, not a professional wrestling contest.
Regardless, another ?Musings?? has arrived at its finish. At a future date, I?ll explore Mysterio's WWE output which I think, controversially, is where his best stuff lies. Next week though, I?m going to begin a series looking at the standouts of 2005. It's a year I mostly missed, so it?ll be a whole slab of new stuff to enjoy, beginning with the sudden rise of ?The Animal? Batista to main-event status.
If you have any thoughts, peg a message to the following e-mail address and I?ll try to respond in short fashion: firstname.lastname@example.org