Men’s Heavyweight Single: Toshiaki Kawada vs. Mitsuharu Misawa AJPW 6/3/94
Men’s Heavyweight Tag: Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama AJPW 12/6/96
Men’s Junior Single: Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Naoki Sano NJPW 1/31/90
Men’s Junior Tag: Gran Hamada & Super Delfin & Tiger Mask & Gran Naniwa & Masato Yakushiji vs. Dick Togo & MEN'S Teio & Shiryu & TAKA Michinoku & Shoichi Funaki MPW 10/10/96
Women’s Single: Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori AJW 4/2/93
Women’s Tag: Toshiyo Yamada & Manami Toyota vs. Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki AJW 11/26/92
Worked Shoot: Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Tsuyoshi Kosaka RINGS 6/27/98
Gimmick Match: Aja Kong & Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue & Sakie Hasegawa vs. Dynamite Kansai & Mayumi Ozaki & Cuty Suzuki & Hikari Fukuoka JWP 7/31/93
By far the toughest category to choose is the junior singles match. More than any style, it’s predicated on offense, which grows increasingly more spectacular. One could go in the direction of choosing the newest off the charts match, making the argument that Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Naoki Sano 1/31/90 was surpassed by Liger vs. El Samurai 4/30/92, then Wild Pegasus vs. The Great Sasuke 4/16/94, and Ultimo Dragon vs. Shinjiro Otani 8/4/96, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Even though Liger’s offense is generally considered to not be as good (because it’s not nearly as flashy and aerial oriented), it’s clear watching his best match against Sano, Samurai, and then Shinjiro Otani 2/9/97 that if we throw the time period out the window it’s hands down superior in 1997 due to the execution, impact, and use of newer deadlier moves.
The Otani match is the wild card for me, as the junior answer to the brilliant 1/20/97 Misawa vs. Kobashi is certainly the best 40% of a junior match I’ve ever seen. Though technically a heel at the time, Otani was as exceptional an underdog junior babyface as there ever was. The fans just eat up his never say die attitude, the passionate manner in which he wills himself off the canvas and struggles to find some way to one-up the man. Beyond the offense and execution, the drama and urgency have you hanging on every move, every counter and reversal, and that points directly to the great psychology and thoughtful selling.
Liger vs. Samurai is the perfect tournament final. It’s at least an attempt to surpass Liger vs. Sano, from the previous heat not even quelling for the initial handshake offer to the mask ripping, which can now be doubled up. It’s Liger’s greatest performance, but it’s Liger on lead vocals and all guitars with Samurai playing the drums. Liger’s gets boatloads of offense trying to slay the samurai, as after Samurai exhausts the rudo handbook they transition to Liger getting his stretch of flying then go into the lengthy closing sequence where they explode all their junior fireworks with super counters and dramatic near falls. The culmination is one of those great moments, with Liger practically collapses after hitting the Frankensteiner off the top, laying out backwards knowing he’s captured the Super Junior, but you almost wonder if he’s breathed his last breath as well.
Perhaps I’m just being regressive, but at least until I find out what Liger & Otani did early, I feel Liger vs. Sano is clearly the richest and deepest match of the bunch. While Pegasus vs. Sasuke and Ultimo vs. Otani are great one match shows, Liger vs. Sano is the ultimate feud closing match, a grudge match which no junior bout can come close to approaching. In fact, probably due to the lack of blood even Misawa vs. Kawada lacks that same feel, for me only Kandori vs. Hokuto really surpasses this as a super kill your opponent great match. Culmination the greatest junior feud, particularly in terms of psychology and storytelling, in the best possible way, the duo plays off their singles and tag matches in far more ways than I’ll allude to here. I love the start with heel Sano offering a handshake only to get slapped across the face and roughed up. Sano establishes himself early though and just destroys Liger for almost the entire bout, ripping his mask during the initial onslaught and causing him to lose a bucket of blood. The knockout had been a key to the series as their first singles match on 7/13/89 ended with a double down, but this time the cocky champion is determined to decisively stop his opponent and prove he’s really the top junior, not even going for pins. Liger makes a brief comeback introducing flying to the match, but the match is about it looking as bleak as humanly possible for Liger, as he fails to even mount an offense on his very sporadic hope counters. At the same time, we see Sano’s smugness give way to his desire to retain what’s really important to him, the belt that signifies he’s the greatest. Since Liger is regaining his title, normally he’d make a big comeback after finally having a success - turning Sano’s huracanrana into a crushing Ligerbomb – especially considering this is the blowoff match. However, rather than the requisite series of huge spots to score the decisive victory, the feud always stays true to it’s purpose of making both wrestlers stars. Liger is so dead by the time he has any opportunity to mount an offensive he just goes for broke with the tombstone then shooting star press, winning because he has the greatest move and he had enough intestinal fortitude, or luck, to hang around long enough to pull it off.
If I had to choose the 3 best of the best, I’d go with AJ 12/6/96 at #1. Even though Misawa & Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue is only a slight edge over the Misawa & Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue 6/9/95 for the top tag slot, I find it to be the closest any tag match has come to having everything done for a purpose, and it has a marginally more interesting story. At #2, I’d choose Kawada vs. Misawa, the pinnacle of the best all around style of wrestling, taking Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Genichiru Tenryu 6/5/89 to a new level that won't be surpassed any time soon. One could certainly argue that Misawa vs. Kawada is the match you’d choose to hold up to Marcel Proust and Robert Bresson to represent the art form, but it’s not the most accessible match, which is one of the reasons it could be the greatest ever, but I think the tag would also play better to a puroresu newbie. The 11/26/92 & 4/2/93 AJW matches are not only the best women's matches of their type, but the ultimate interpromotional matches. I choose Yamada & Toyota vs. Kansai & Ozaki over Hokuto vs. Kandori because it was the first of the women's interpromotional matches, and you aren't supposed to get the formula for how to do an interpromotional match totally right on the first try. Watch them all five times then decide for yourself.
Most Underrated Wrestler:
#1) Kazuo Yamazaki
The first time I saw Kazuo Yamazaki, on the initial UWF-I PPV, they called him "the second fiddle". He was always behind Nobuhiko Takada, and Takada always got all the credit. Usually Yamazaki was behind others as well, out of the spotlight even when he was in the main event, as his job was to put someone over so Takada could then beat them. While Takada & Yamazaki both started out in the New Japan junior division, even though Takada is one of the few great junior to heavy success stories and Yamazaki only even challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight title once, it was Yamazaki who shed the spot oriented junior mentality. Both guys had their biggest success doing matches that were supposed to be believable if not real, but Takada was showiness while Yamazaki was smarts and subtlety. Takada never bothered to learn the positions or what made the worked shoot style work, so while exciting, in retrospect his work wasn't the least bit credible. He took the easy way out and did the big moves that were allowed rather than taking the time to set something up, to truly develop the match. Yamazaki and Tamura would require a series of counters to apply the big spot, while Takada just put it on feeling the move itself was all that mattered. The best Takada matches were spot matches – in UWF and UWF-I the spots being the kicks, suplexes, and submissions that were allowed in that style - yet in his case the limited setting only made the holes more glaringly obvious because it's not the spot but whether one can figure out a believable lead into its application, and that was where Yamazaki & Tamura excelled. There simply was far more substance and depth to the matches of Yamazaki & Tamura. Even if all worked shoots get worse with age as MMA leads us to a fuller understanding of what does and doesn’t work with each passing month, their stuff in a sense gets better with age because we can now see that they were the ones ahead of their time, both in the way they moved and in the way they developed their matches. Yamazaki didn't have many great matches, as he usually had to fall before the opponent had to go all out (his 8/13/93 match with Vader is a perfect example of what was but also what could have been), but he was a guy that could find a way to get a good match out of most anyone, which is why he always got (to put over) the inexperienced martial artists the promotion (usually New Japan) was bringing in for one big match (against someone else). He understood what would make the match work, often doing a match that conveyed that strategy, and had the ability to see it through regardless of the lousiness or greenness of his opposition.
#2) Volk Han
Perhaps a questionable pick because he’s a god to RINGS fans, but that isn’t a huge group and no other great male wrestler is so close to being a nothing to everyone else. To me, a Hall of Famer is a guy there should be no argument about. You just say their name, often the whole thing isn't even necessary, and everyone knows and understands it represents an all-time great. And a guy that was the best ever in his style (and is still #2 behind Tamura) is obviously an all-time great. Wrestling can get a bit tricky because there are hundreds of leagues spread out all over the world, but it's extremely hard for me to imagine anyone that actually watched Volk Han not thinking this guy was an obvious choice. He entered a league that was dreadful, and managed to have an exciting match every time. True, he only worked once a month, but almost every match he ever had was good, which given some of the atrocious opponents he faced in RINGS, is quite a bit more impressive a feat than it probably reads. He wasn't just someone who was simply talented; he was the guy that brought a new style that made worked shoots exhilarating. He was original, inventive, part of virtually every great match RINGS ever had, and the guy that drew the big houses against the top natives. On top of his in ring greatness, during and after his career he's been an important trainer, working with many of the Russian's that have made a name for themselves in worked or legitimate shoots, including no less than the greatest heavyweight shooter Fedor Emelianenko.
#3) Shiro Koshinaka
Koshinaka had the gift for getting the unbelievably good match out of the slug that’s often associated with Shawn Michaels. However, Koshinaka regularly delivered with quality opponents. He lacked the push, but made the most of his opportunities in singles, particularly delivering when the G1 Climax rolled around. He was wasted leading a unit of no talents in a gimmick that didn't suit him one bit, but he not only made so many of their matches passable, he made them good. The poster boy for move set being of minimal importance, I've never seen anyone that could make a match exciting on fire and energy like Koshinaka could. He’s a magnetic performer that has always been enthusiastic in spite of being stuck behind many lesser talents that were merely egotistic. It might sound corny, but his matches were moving. I don't think people realize how much he added to a match or how many different opponents he could bring the best out of.
HM) Kuniaki Kobayashi
Though overshadowed by Dynamite Kid, Kobayashi is probably the key opponent of Shodai Tiger Mask. He carried this tremendous talent to matches that were tremendous, being the perfect complementary wrestler. He had a incredible understanding of how to get the most out of Tiger, and didn’t seem to care if he got any glory. Unfortunately, the NJ junior division was so completely focused on Tiger that you pretty much only got on TV if you were fighting Tiger. So the material I’ve seen from Kobayashi’s prime is exceptional, but an incredibly incomplete picture. I would have liked to have seen what the division would have been like if they gave him the division after Tiger left, which they at least should have done while they tried to develop a new flier for him to compliment. Instead they attempted to turn George Takano into something he wasn’t at all suited for, the second coming of Tiger, and the division wound up largely being a bust like it’s new top star. Kobayashi’s matches remained good solid stuff while he was in the junior division, but he remained a guy that was just there to make the opponent look good, and as the face of the division changed his opportunities seemed to diminish each year (other than 1987 when he was pushed after jumping back from All Japan, where he had been overshadowed by the second Tiger Mask). Kobayashi may be a poor choice because in later years he’s merely ordinary, but I throw him in as an example of a once great wrestler you probably saw and thought wasn’t that great unless you saw him during his peak, and even then you may have thought it was simply the greatness of Tiger because it's expected of him. Also, I include him as a rare example of a top notch junior heavyweight who didn’t get by on flash, stiffness, or both.
HM) Hiromi Yagi
Yagi is basically what I’d give as the definition of an underrated wrestler. She’s a small, unselfish, extremely consistent, low attendance league undercarder that’s not trying to overshadow anyone. She’s someone that almost always has a good match, but rather than firing up for the title match or tournament final it’s often it’s one of her opponent’s first or only good matches, so it winds up not standing out in the grand scheme of things. She’s probably the best wrestler who rarely has a match for compilation tapes or year-end lists, and when she does she probably gives her opponent much of the offense and loses. What stands out about Yagi’s ability is even something people don’t talk about too much. She has amazing gracefulness and agility, but even then it’s not in the most obvious ways. Yagi isn’t about soaring through the air like a bird, but she is exceptional at making her opponents move look so much better than it normally does. It’s much more than just the landing (bump), it’s the way she is able to go with the move for it’s entirety (superb body control) that gives it a flow rather than just an abrupt ending.
#1) Ric Flair
I don’t understand why people can detect that Ricky Steamboat was great within a certain limited context, but also both limited and horribly dated in other contexts yet the sacred cow Flair, who actually had many more higher profile major letdowns (Jumbo, Fujinami, Tenryu, etc.) gets a free pass. Everyone always said Flair was often imitated but never duplicated, but maybe that’s because the other guys didn’t have the ridiculous hardcore fan hype behind them, so people were able to see there wasn’t much going on beyond a complete unbelievably tedious cliché. Flair lacks the crucial aspect that makes a truly great wrestler, adaptability. He had one face match and one heel match that he never, ever updated. The formula worked, but it was also extremely limited, not to mention repetitive and tedious. Until the end of the 1980's, if his opponent could be plugged in it might be an excellent match, if you didn't mind it looking almost exactly like every other supposedly excellent match. If you’ve read this far you’ve probably figured out I don’t put much stock in high spots, but you have to find some way to get by in the modern day. Riki Choshu is hardly my favorite wrestler, but even though he didn’t update his move set, he had enough stiffness and attitude to remain credible while 1990’s and beyond, while Flair simply came off a fossil. The best thing about Flair was his stamina, but as match times grew increasingly shorter that asset was no longer a factor, and he predictably never made any attempt to compensate. He had an extremely lengthy resume of quality matches, did have tough matches that made the title a prize every night during his championship years, and had his share of great matches before he was left behind. However, he’s so far from the best ever it’s completely absurd. Flair was a team player and for most of his career a positive influence and a great guy to build a wrestling promotion around, but whatever remaining respect I had for him was lost when he bought that glow in the dark face.
#2) Kurt Angle
WWE has always had their great hope. This is the guy Vince "made" who is good enough to have "good WWE matches", maybe even some legitimately high quality stuff when they are against a few outstanding opponents, and because of his enormous push he winds up getting all the hoopla instead of the guys that actually made him look good. Once he has the WWE hype machine behind him ever a 5 minute match against a bad wrestler begins to garner at least ***. This guy tends to be all the rage for a year or two (remember how great HHH was supposed to be), and then slowly people get bored of them and start thinking he’s gotten really mediocre all of a sudden. Angle is actually more talented than the typical Vince creation, but how many guys don’t deliver when they are wrestling with guys like Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Rey Misterio Jr., and Yoshihiro Tajiri in prime spots? Based on the matches vs. Benoit we can say that Angle is a notch, maybe two, better than Booker T, but that hardly makes him God’s gift. I actually find Booker T easier to take, as Angle is so unbelievable it’s infuriating. At least Booker’s matches aren’t built around a finisher that not only obviously isn’t doing anything to his opponent, but also is applied so incorrectly anyone could counter it at any moment. Angle’s transitions are the most preposterous I’ve ever seen. I mean, the counters he concocts to go from his opponents submission to his ankle lock couldn’t even be done to a three year old girl! His acting is terrible with the comic book facials, displaying all the subtlety of an atomic bomb. Angle is also the epitome of the joke that the whole WWE promotion is, a guy that was legitimately tops but had to become mount bulk to put on a show.
#3) Keiji Muto
Leizi Muto must be some kind of untouchable god with a magical power to spread delusion. He became king of psychology by doing the lamest, palest, most predictable imitation of Liger's knee attack anyone has ever perpetrated. He even won wrestler of the year during a year when Kawada had far better matches and got a lot more out of the exact same opponents, and the disappointing Kawada was when Muto predictably sabotaged their match. No one has ever questioned Muto’s talent, but that only makes him more frustrating, as he is more physically gifted than Misawa. Muto had every opportunity to deliver a handful of match of the year candidates each year, but Misawa’s #10 bout regularly smoked Muto’s best. Even if we get on later Misawa for taking most shows off, no top Japanese wrestler dogs it more regularly than Muto. More frustrating is when Muto doesn't dog it, he makes sure nothing is done for at least half the match, killing time in a manner that renders this portion completely frivilous. Muto only puts you over if you fight the style he likes, and even then you might have to be his buddy. In later years, every match looks the same, but obviously repetition is not an issue considering two wrestlers whose matches I could call if I were deaf and blind, Ric Flair and Bret Hart, are two of the most highly regarded ever. Still, basically relying on three whole moves over a 15+ minute match that he of course has to dominate should bore more than just me to tears. Yes, there was a decade and a half when Muto was capable of an excellent match, but there were a lot of other guys that were also capable, and practically every one of them smoked Muto for overall quality, consistency, and effort.
HM) The Undertaker
Do the names Warrington Gillette, Richard Brooker, Ted White, C.J. Graham, Kane Hodder, or Ken Kirzinger mean anything to you? They all stalked around selling for no one. They all were interchangeable big stiffs in a role that required exactly zero talent. They all were lucky to ever get another role. Simply holding onto a role for a number of years does not make you any good, much less hall of fame material.
HM) Shawn Michaels
Michaels was one of the biggest reasons the low dosage period was the best in WWF history. That said, he’s still a terrible guy to build a promotion around. A whiner, baby, brat, and a destroyer of every belt he ever touched. Having a totally unprofessional guy on top sets a bad example for the entire locker room, and certainly the unwillingness of HHH to ever do something for the good of the company can be traced right back to his pal Michaels. If Michaels were in a sport the media covered, he'd certainly be their hero, or at least right up there with Latrell Chokewell. In the ring, Michaels was a top tag wrestler, but in singles his style never quite worked. Brian Pillman was a US worker whose matches were improved by his ability to incorporate aspects of Lucha Libre, but he was also smart enough to not make it the backbone of his match on a regular basis, against every opponent. Michaels on the other hand basically did Lucha, except his opponent wasn't doing Lucha, and Lucha Libre is the style where timing and cooperation are most important. Michaels' supporters always point to the matches he had with the big stiffs, missing the fact that this type of opponent played into what he did well. I suppose that contradicts my point about Lucha to an extent, but his match was bumping like crazy and then winning with the softest finishing strike in wrestling history. Against the big stiffs, he was allowed to do exactly what he wanted and it came off, at least as well as it ever did with those bums. The thing is when you put Michaels against a capable opponent, it was almost always a disappointment. The match couldn't go entirely Michaels' way, and the lack of cooperation and understanding of how to make the match work had the whole equaling something far less than the sum of the parts.
#1) Toshiaki Kawada
When Kawada is doing his thing you never forget about not only his injuries and weak points, but those of his opponent. One of the more understated sellers, Kawada almost never goes over he top and would rather you recognized he was hurting by the amount of time it took him to get up or his inability to complete certain maneuvers than having to come out and tell you. His selling is at the heart of AJ’s top period, as taking it to new levels was one of the main things that took the entire main event style to new levels.
#2) Jushin Thunder Liger
Selling was the key to Liger’s maturity, and it’s the big reason grounded Liger is actually better than shooting star Liger. All Japan was a growing influence on Liger, and while many followed Kawada for a time, Liger was one of the only ones that actually stuck with the mid 90’s AJ mentality. Very few of Liger’s singles matches don’t feature excellent selling, and more than anyone he elevates the level of his opponent’s selling to the point even the biggest goofballs seem to be near geniuses for a match. What’s perhaps more important than the selling itself is that Liger brings such focus to matches that would otherwise be so random and spotty. Liger’s selling and unselfishness has kept his singles matches exciting because even when he’s in with a guy that rightfully has no chance, he’ll make that guy far more credible against him than they have the right to be, and maybe even lose to them.
#3) Mayumi Ozaki
Acting wise, no one tops Ozaki. Her facials add so much to the match, and are the big reason she can excel at roles she quite honestly should have no business playing. Her best matches are already good just for her expressions, though being in women’s wrestling and even worse spending so much time in GAEA Nitro she’s involved in too many matches where selling is an afterthought.
HM) Mitsuharu Misawa
At his peak, Misawa ranks behind only Kawada. Though Kawada was the driving influence, Misawa was in there with him, and matched him put over hold for put over hold. Unfortunately, much of what was gained in the mid 90’s by AJ’s two top stars focusing on selling was lost in the later 90’s when Misawa’s inspiration switched from brilliant Kawada to senseless Kobashi. Just nine months after a masterfully laid out match with Kobashi (1/20/97) that some would say even surpassed Misawa’s best with Kawada, they did a great junior style match. What I gave glowing praise to at the time as something different, thinking it was a perfect counterpoint to the 1/20 match that showed their great diversity, quickly turned to boredom with the awful trend where most every match looking more like the juniors without Liger to lead them. Part of Misawa’s problem is that he loses so extremely rarely it’s hard to ever believe he’ll lose. In intending to help his opponent and make people think this is going to be the match where he does go down, he sometimes, especially in later years, just winds up killing off his opponent’s big moves by taking driver after driver. Perhaps I am being too harsh on Misawa, whose league is one of the last bastions of wrestling that’s just about wrestling, but it’s hard not to feel that Jumbo Tsuruta would have done a far better job of figuring out how to work with his lesser and especially younger opponents rather than letting them drop him on his head 10 times then pinning them when he tired of taking their finishers. In the end, I believe the king should be judged harder than the pawn because he’s in a position that grants him the opportunity to make things better.
#1) Zen Nihon Joshi Puroresu (AJW)
AJW gets #1 because they maintained greatness riding so many different people. A smart promotion such as All Japan can get several big years out of one good crop, but no promotion can close to producing as many top workers as AJW did during their big run from the early 80's through mid 90's. Starting with Jaguar Yokota & Devil Masami, they added Lioness Asuka, Chigusa Nagayo, Yukari Omori, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, Mima Shimoda, Kyoko Inoue, and a whole host of others.
#2) Zen Nihon Puroresu (AJPW)
All Japan gets #2 because their big show main events were a must see for so many years. I mean, it was a disappointment if the Budokan main wasn't a great match. After their television show was cut to 30 minutes in 1994 they gave up on the idea of doing anything with the undercard, soon becoming a promotion that appeared to have even less depth than they actually did. But even when they were dying their slow painful death you could kind of look past the undercard largely being wasted because the big matches delivered better than any other major promotion.
#3) Shin Nihon Puroresu (NJPW)
Their dominance of top notch junior heavyweight wrestling is legendary. Michinoku had a run of great Sekigun vs. Kaientai Deluxe tag matches in the mid 90's, but practically every legitimate junior men's singles match of the year contender comes from New Japan. New Japan was never a great promotion, but unlike the so many promotions that had a fleeting spark of greatness, they always had the resources to keep their top guys and most importantly develop the next crop of superstars. New Japan's dojo has consistently been excellent, as even though there were years when I probably enjoyed watching the worked shoot leagues more, their backbone was New Japan defectors. The promotion is very well booked, almost always the best booking in the world actually, as they more or less attempt to utilize the entire roster rather than simply promoting a few top guys and letting everyone else hang out to dry. Bringing in enough outsiders to keep things fresh and developing enough young wrestlers to keep the promotion from stagnating, New Japan has always been more than watchable, usually good to very good. Their heavyweight division has had a few impressive times (NJ vs. UWF, early 90's with Musketeers and elevated juniors) and some really lean times (particularly Kensuke Sasaki’s first reign), but their junior division has been the model of consistency everyone else is measured against. Clearly the best division in the world since it started over 25 years ago, the New Japan juniors have had years when their regular tag match was ***1/2.
#1) World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
There are countless poor products with lousy styles that waste everyone's time, but they don’t even come close to rating in comparison. All WWE's actions have contributed to an entire country not being able to have a decent wrestling product on TV. But more importantly they were one of the forerunners in turning the American "entertainment" industry into something that is unnatural and unhealthy, vulgar and lewd (for solely commercial reasons), a reprehensible product that consistently sends all the wrong messages and distracts from the real issues. Instead of promoting wrestling, they promote a superficial freakshow filled with homophobia, racism, sexism, hell every kind of ism. Their message to men is the only way to succeed is to become a steroid freak. I understand why some athletes use them in moderation in real sports, but there is no practical advantage to using steroids in wrestling, much less being the most over the top abusers that aren’t out and out bodybuilders. They "accomplish" few things beyond shrinking your nads, killing your stamina and in WWE dosage eliminating your flexibility. Steroids are the primary reasons we are stuck with awful matches that consist of some fake punches and kicks and then poses and rest holds so the freaks can catch their breath. They also increase the injury rate tremendously, the muscles are so enlarged and tightened that they pull or tear much more easily, not to mention they aren’t suitable for taking bumps (for that it helps to actually be able to bend). I can live with bad matches, but how many lives has this cost? And how many more WWF alumni are already in bad shape because of this nonsensical abuse? Vince's insistence on having half his roster around just to humiliate them and keep them from having good matches elsewhere cost Owen Hart a lot more than his dignity, but no one can put an exact figure on the rest of the lives that are on him. Drugs, pain killers, and everything else abused by the American wrestlers are probably no less prevalent in Japan or Mexico, yet we don't see a handful of wrestlers from those countries dropping dead in their 40s each year, most likely because they aren't mixing them with ludicrous doses of roids. Whether you consider it sport, entertainment or some combination of both, wrestling is still arguably the hardest whatever you want to call it on your body because there is no off season. You (usually) take more punishment per match in boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, but your result largely determines your placement when you fight again whether it’s a few or several months later. On the other hand, since wrestling it’s not necessarily (if at all) based on ability, everyone is afraid to take time off to heal because they might quickly lose their spot. It’s bad enough that there’s a small risk for a devastating injury and a huge risk that the toll of just making a career out of wrestling will leave you in constant pain if not worse, but thanks to Vince we have a system where seemingly half the guys are physically wasted not long after he’s done with them, and basically getting into wrestling is making a deal with the devil where you sacrifice your future for a chance at your 15 minutes of fame. For women, the message WWE sends is you have to be a semi-human Barbie doll. This message isn’t exactly even hidden anymore, now that you’ll be denied entrance unless you’d be willing to pose for Playboy, home of mutant women wannabe kiddie porn paintings. Obviously there's no thought of delivering good matches, you are just there to be a sex toy, and if you really want to get pushed it’ll wind up being hard to discern you from the inflatable ones. As with the men, he'll probably be done with you by the time you have your health problems, and even if he isn't he can just hire another clone that bought the same repulsive features from Dr. Hackenstein. In WWE, it’s not about what you are, but what you can be made into. However, even after you subject yourself to potentially irreparable damage, as long as the McMahons are in control the stars will still be the non wrestlers.
#2) Women’s Extreme Wrestling (WEW)
Porn attempting to pose as wrestling. A roster with no inspiration trying to be remembered for their alteration. I can’t even insult them by calling them whores, their champion boasts about it!
#3) Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW)
In many ways, this promotion is responsible for the above two. It could be seen to be following in the path of WWF with the exploitation of women and the corny vignettes, but on the other hand all the variety show aspects and scantily clad wrestlers that everyone blasted GLOW for were the backbone of mid 90’s and beyond WWF. Of course, then it was called Sports Entertainment and passed off as something revolutionary. I rate GLOW better because they were a more innocent form of exploitation. It was more toward the 70’s attitude of admitting sex is fun and thus just providing some campy entertainment that might even be good natured and have a little charm as opposed to the post STD awareness stuff that is violent and vile (I think this started with movies as a way to delude the MPAA into thinking the films weren’t a celebration but were actually saying sex was bad, and everyone else saw this as a way to get away with combining the two commercial aspects). In any case, their legacy is turning American women's wrestling from something with regular women that wasn't in the class with hot oil or apartment wrestling into a completely superficial fashion show that was just about how "attractive" they were and how much skin they were and/or would be showing. And once you've gone down that road there's no hope of being taken any more seriously than a stripper, even for particular wrestlers who aren't trying to be about that.
#1) Akira Fukuzawa
No announcer in any sport made matches dramatic and exciting like Akira Fukuzawa. He had tremendous energy, but the thing is he understood what to get excited about and when. He wouldn't try to make every move out to be the Tigerdriver ’91, every near fall out to be the certain killshot, but if it was going to be close you'd be hanging on his counto three! He also never struck me as a cliché, unlike most of the loud announcers.
#2) Gordon Solie
The representative of everything you can't find in a wrestling announcer today, an announcer that realizes his job should be to add to the product not to overshadow or be the product. He treated wrestling as a sport that should be respected. Even when it got totally absurd, which was not Solie's cup of tea at all and really reduced the quality of his broadcasts in the later years, he made it come across as a lot less ridiculous than it had a right to be. Regardless of the old real or fake issue, he made you believe important things were happening inside the squared circle. He put the matches and workers over instead of doing a cartoon broadcast loaded with corny one liners and lame catch phrases When you are good you don't need a gimmick. When you are bad you don't need one either, you need a new line of work. Respect came to Solie because he wasn't a selfish distraction.
#3) Mike Tenay
A great at play by play or color when he's allowed to be. He knows wrestling not just the league he's announcing, and he's not afraid to incorporate that knowledge into his broadcasts when it makes sense, for instance calling the moves properly. Unlike at least 95% of the announcers, you actually feel like he knows what he's talking about and isn't just piling on the bull. He actually conveys concepts that should be mandatory like strategy and the intricacies Unfortunately, Tenay is usually stuck wasting everyone's time talking about Vince Russo's pointless illogical angles that never have a chance to go anywhere or do any business. Russo also makes it hard to be credible because, similar to Eric Bischoff, he thinks it's a good thing if his announcers are as dumb as his fans. Tenay hasn't allowed himself to become a pathetic zero credibility joke like Jim Ross, who would get my #2 spot if he had retired after WCW rather than endlessly lying in between Lawler's endless drooling over plastic dogs.
Best Wrestler on the Mic:
I’d never pick this category on my own, to me it’s what the fast forward button was invented for. Twenty weeks later, they'll still be saying the same basic thing, and it's still be as basic, juvenile, and utterly pointless. If you are going to give me some strategy and/or analysis like MMA guys such as Maurice Smith, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Matt Hume, and Pat Miletich, I'm more than willing to listen. Unfortunately, all we get in wrestling are segments even the worst dope opera wouldn’t consider or the lamest most generic insults, the later of which have been destroying MMA of late since all UFC wants to promote anymore are loudmouth thugs.
#1) Mick Foley
Foley's segments in ECW were so hilarious. Granted, Paul Heyman was able to make pretty much every guy entertaining as if he couldn't find a way, you pretty much wouldn't see any talking segments with them, but all you had to do was put a mic in front of Cactus. All Vince McMahon can do with the guys that aren't getting a major push is give them a gimmick that's intended to humiliate them, or a juvenile gimmick that can't be funny more than once (i.e. Testicles). Foley somehow managed to still be good in WWE, but Austin, who had some segments that were equally classic like his imitation of Uncle Eric, became the typical cliché.
#2) Arn Anderson
Anderson was so intense. He was intelligent and a very good talker, but it almost didn't matter what he said because he made you believe he wanted to maim his opponent.
#3) Ted DiBiase
The Million Dollar Man was the best of all the circus characters. I could actually watch his vignettes because at least he'd find a different way to humiliate some pathetic individuals that weren’t "lucky" enough to have any "reality" shows around to appear on. Unfortunately, these days it’s hard to find anyone on TV today that his "everyone has a price" message doesn’t seem accurate of.
The best manager is no manager. Seconds lend credibility to the match, but managers just make it a farce. Worse yet, they usually just purport racist stereotypes.
#1) Jim Cornette
A great interview that added a humorous side to the product and took nasty bumps for a non-wrestler, particularly if a scaffold was involved.
#2) Sherri Martel
I normally hate valets because they are such flagrant T & A distractions to the gayness of the rest of the league, but Sherri gets #2 because she was often the second best wrestler in the match behind the guy she was managing. Imagine how good she could have been if her actual reason for being there was for her ability rather than because she was willing to show her ass.
#3) Harley Race
Race gets #3 for lack of anyone else. Bobby Heenan was a good interview and sometimes a good commentator, but he irritated me as a manager because all his bumps were miles over the top. Race wasn't nearly as good an interview as Heenan, but he's one of the greatest wrestlers and his specialty was bumping, so if you needed someone to get involved in the match, he was your man. Even in old age he was still an imposing tough guy that could deliver a big move like the piledriver to turn the course of the match.