Musings of a Mark: 2006 Q3 Retrospective
?Musings? would be a very short column this time round were it not for Big Show, Ric Flair and Mick Foley. Well…them and my own laziness to review matches from Wrestlemania and No Way Out. Ah well. Can?t expect every quarter of the year to be good. Well…you can, but more often than not you?ll be disappointed.
In any case, here are the best matches from 2006’s mostly forgettable third quarter. And two extra reviews from No Way Out and Wrestlemania. Enjoy!
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio, World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender ? WWE No Way Out 02.19.2006
Much like Finlay / Benoit from last ?Musings?, this performance begs for an extended analysis of acting. I?ll refrain once again, but it’s safe to say that Mysterio’s body language is exceptional throughout. He looks genuinely peeved to begin with and absolutely distraught after the bell. Special mention goes to Randy Orton’s portrayals whilst working his opponent’s shoulder, chucking in all the minute niceties that make me giddy with geeky joy (tweaking, twisting, torturing and other such alliterative goodness!)
Speaking of the Legend Killer, usually his exaggerated cockiness irks me with its inane forcedness, but on this occasion it works well. Especially in engaging the rather tame crowd, a fault of the preceding matches. Of course it has everything to do with the infamous build that saw Orton proclaim that Eddie Guerrero now resides in the fiery pits below. He’s annoyingly, overbearingly arrogant, never ceasing in taunting his enraged foe (and the crowd, and Eddie Guerrero). Every time Rey gets a few shots in, teasing the desire for this punk to receive his comeuppance, he’s felled by an impactful cut-off and there’s that self-loving grin again! It’s great, making Orton’s control segments and the teased Mysterio comebacks an entertaining dynamic to watch.
The commentators play a fantastic part in emphasising the heat and anguish captured in this performance through their own bias. Extending upon that, their silence as the result sinks in ? a dastardly awesome way to conclude such a match by the way ? magnifies its effect as gut-wrenchingly uneasy. Don?t let the mediocre crowd fool you, this match is every bit as good as the sum of its parts. Possibly my current 2006 MOTY…
Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James, WWE Women’s Championship ? WWE Wrestlemania 22 04.02.2006
Until Beth Phoenix bent Melina into a pretzel at last year’s One Night Stand show, this was easily the best women’s match I?ve seen from World Wrestling Entertainment. Whilst it may have some competition now, and lets not overlook the equally great Gail Kim / Awesome Kong series from TNA in that little debate, Mickie James and Trish Stratus probably still hold that crown due to this showing on the grandest stage.
Much like New Year’s Revolution 2006, this bout is hard-hitting with spots of limb workage (coupled with some fine selling by Trish). Oh, and a dose of psychotic lesbianism. Mickie James? behavioural mannerisms throughout are a delight to behold, both in a geeky performance appreciation and red-blooded male perverted sense. It culminates in a fun story that ultimately sees James? overt neurosis unsettle Trish Stratus to the point where she loses. Unlike their previous encounter, there’s nothing subtle in what is exchanged between the two leading to a satisfying feeling of completion in this chapter of their feud.
Big Show vs. Ric Flair, Extreme Rules ? WWE ECW 07.11.2006
Now this is refreshing to see… in a morbid kind of way!
After witnessing Rey Mysterio’s superb work in constructing Mark Henry’s unstoppable mystique being undone by Kurt Angle suplexing the World’s Strongest Man repeatedly with EASE at Judgment Day, watching a badass giant fling sixty-something Flair about and look ominously dominant throughout is a sight I can?t help but embrace. Show’s delightfully mean in his offense, loosely slamming the Nature Boy and sending him crashing to the outside numerous times. Of particular note are his strikes, which hold a nice velocity / viciousness to them that I hadn?t seen from the then-ECW Champion (or since really).
They never test our idea of what’s believable between these two ? i.e. Flair’s one control segment only comes as a result of SEVERAL low blows consecutively, and even then the use of weapons is integral ? but remarkably at the same time our expectations of Flair are strongly tested (in a positive yet grim manner). He takes a beating; blading early on, eating some mean strikes, enduring multiple bumps as well as being tossed into thumb-tacks after the bell. Thankfully the violence operates to make him a very effective sympathetic figure, which is also contributed to via his fine selling of grogginess and pain (unlike RVD’s inconsistent portrayal a week earlier…).
As a result we receive a performance that’s believable in terms of its narrative, whilst also providing a challenge towards our expectations. A (relieving) effect of this match, beyond establishing Flair’s ability to compete in a bloody Extreme Rules environment (building towards his clash with Foley), is the cementation of Big Show’s unstoppable mystique and mean-streak. He brushes most offense off, takes four low-blows and a slew of weapon-oriented attacks to finally be toppled, only to arise from the dead after receiving a back full of tacks and blasts away the 16-Time World Champion.
Cool. Really cool.
Rey Mysterio vs. William Regal ? WWE Smackdown 07.14.2006
Almost a foolproof match-up, to be honest. Regal’s ground n? pound stiffness dominating the aerodynamic theatrics of the World Champion. They construct a nice flow based on this dynamic, with nice cut-offs (which I?m sure each of you are sick of reading about by now!) implemented to get the crowd engaged. JBL’s King Booker lovefest on commentary provides some humour, but it may grate with those who hate inconsistency (JBL and Booker feuded for a while) and/or King Booker’s gimmick. I, however, enjoyed his final characterisation in World Wrestling Entertainment and thus I enjoyed this.
Big Show vs. Undertaker, ECW World Championship ? WWE ECW 07.18.2006
If it weren?t for Big Show, I probably wouldn?t have any television matches to review from the third quarter of 2006. He had an under-rated run as ECW Champion, both stabilising it after the RVD fiasco and building its prestige as a ?championship?. Following his surprise packet of a bout with Ric Flair, here’s another Big Show contest that I?d rate as ****ing fun. These two hardly fail to deliver when partnered together, and this match doesn?t do much to buck the trend.
What more can I say about this performance beyond ?fun monster-mash slugfest?? Taker and Show pound at each other with the ECW Champion eventually settling into a dominant role repelling Taker’s injections of offense. It may seem strange considering the usual opponents Big Show performs this dynamic with, but it works well. The cut-off spots specifically are executed almost perfectly. There’s a subtle leg-working plot operating beneath the slug-a-thon surface, an injury that Show sells more profoundly as the match progresses. This builds towards an interesting spot that sees Taker ?chop down? his rival before nailing his trademark running DDT, adding to that ?immovable mystique? Show has as a giant.
The ‘sit-up? sequence following a Superplex is a tad off-putting, although it is a conscious no-selling in line with Undertaker’s characterisation. Beyond that there’s hardly a fault in the challenger’s selling of fatigue and pain. He builds up to running about after being dominated, throwing a collection of strikes and hitting a few ?bombs? prior to it. As it stands these two create a nice heavyweight bash for our enjoyment. And enjoy it you shall!
Finlay vs. William Regal, WWE United States Championship ? WWE The Great American Bash 07.23.2006
It’s matches like this that make you realise how stupid pro-wrestling crowds can be… Boring? Are you kidding me?! Regal and Finlay perform all sorts of physicality you?d expect, plus some neat touches that I honestly haven?t seen before. Trading uppercuts? A common elbow tie-up making its way out, up the steps and back into the ring? Finlay jamming Regal’s fingers into the ropes as he works on his injured hand? Hell yes! These two beat on each other, in the detailed manner that makes both of them amongst the best performers to grace the squared circle. Oh, and shock horror the Hornswoggle interference and exchanges with William Regal are actually entertaining. Don?t miss this!
Big Show vs. Undertaker, Punjabi Prison Match- WWE The Great American Bash 07.23.2006
Replacing The Great Khali with Big Show was a great move for several reasons, beyond that of simply guaranteeing a good show. It completely shifted the story, having an unprepared and anxious Extreme Giant enter the foreign confines and realising his animalistic potential, rather than the ominous Khali. This leads to a nice burn throughout the match. Moreover, rather than endure Khali’s atrociously poor control segments, we get to witness Show toss around the Phenom and bloody him up. A very welcome trade in my opinion.
For the most part, this performance is designed to introduce and establish the Punjabi Prison as a match-up. Hence, once again, them needing to throw in an experienced and talented performer in Big Show. All things considered, I think they succeed in presenting this structure as possessing potential for a dramatic showdown. The complexity of the rules may be off-putting (and there are one or two dumb moments in this encounter), but ultimately Undertaker and Big Show deliver a show that has a few twists, a sort-of-nice ending and some good action in between.
Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair, I Quit Match ? WWE Summerslam 08.20.2006
Woah … This may allude to some disguised sadism deep within me, but GAWD DANG I enjoyed this! ?Disguised sadism? is a fitting term to introduce here, as the second half of this performance focuses on Flair’s regression into a rare depraved mindset. I won?t jump on the speculation bandwagon as although there is ample evidence of intended stiffness (which COULD hint back at the allegedly real issues underpinning this feud), there’s just no way of truly telling. Instead I?ll describe how it made the match itself great…
An ?I Quit? match is established as traditionally NOT the Nature Boy’s speciality. The expectations of blood and brutality are more associated with the ?Hardcore Legend? Mick Foley. For the first half of the match, we witness much of what makes Foley’s ?Cactus Jack? persona such an enthralling portrayal at times. The slurred and garbled dialogue, intermingled with yelps and shrieks; the rapid-fire fists; the mad glint, twisted smile and (appropriately) clumsy yet ruthless movements. Foley’s promise of greater suffering after each exchange on the microphone is both believable and paid-off ? he shows no restraint in RAMMING the barbed-wire bed into Ric Flair multiple times, then outdoes that by scoop-slamming his opponent right into the middle of the mass of thumbtacks. Flair also blades early and deeply.
Just as that ?promise? of greater suffering is fulfilled, Flair’s own degeneracy into a madman is equally convincing. His strikes and chops contain a notable sting due to their velocity; his frenzied (bloodied) expressions / body language are both unsettling and uncharacteristic, and he intentionally rolls THROUGH the ?tacks right before the finish. That, coupled with the dramatic moments of his not wanting a cheap victory and threatening Melina with ?Barby?, effectively conveys the point of his emerging ?disguised sadism?.
A great match that blows away the Edge / Foley encounter at Wrestlemania (which was merely a clone of the admittedly fine Orton / Foley meeting in 2004), and bests the hard-to-love-but-hard-to-hate Foley + Edge + Lita / Dreamer + Funk + McGillicutty blood-fest from One Night Stand at its own game. As a final note, whether or not this feud was designed to vent frustration, what is abundantly clear is that ?hardcore? wrestling is not necessarily the exclusive domain of glorified stuntmen but can also be as great a slab of pro-wrestling as any amount of limb workage… Depending on how it is performed, of course.
— — —
Hopefully the final quarter of 2006 yields a few more worthy contests to review in a fortnight’s time. As always, if you think I?ve unjustly ignored a performance (or unjustly praised a performance in this column) send an email to email@example.com and have your say.