From Bret Hart and Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 and the Ric Flair/Ricky Steamboat series in 1989, to Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997 and The Undertaker tossing Mankind off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage at King of the Ring 1998, the annals of pro wrestling are littered with memorable matches.
I’ve often found myself drawn to some of the lesser-known gems of the wrestling world – some much less known than others. With the success of my Malt Liquor List O’ Goodness in 2013, I’m back with yet another list: 30 (and then some) Unheralded Wrestling Gems. I’m not claiming these are necessarily the MOST underrated matches or even all that obscure, but they are all worth a look. These are matches I love, along with some extra recommendations along the way for you to check out.
A disclaimer before I begin: I’ve kept this thing narrowed to major U.S. promotions only. I do dig international wrestling, but I’m NOT the guy to be picking stuff from across the globe. Others are far more knowledgeable than I about all that. Maybe I’ll enlist some help one day and tackle it. I also tried to stick to matches that I could find online or that are at least available on the WWE Network for easy viewing. I’ll be releasing entries over the course of the next few weeks. With that being said, let’s get to it.
30) Vladimir Kozlov vs. Festus (WWE Smackdown – August 15, 2008)
I’m sure the “WTF” looks are out already, but trust me, this is one HELL of a match to kick this list off. Clocking in at about 3½ minutes, the big fellas made the most of it by beating the hell out of each other from bell to bell. A hoss battle for the ages, albeit a quick one, with one of my favorite theme songs of all time. Biscuits and gravy, indeed.
29) Ric Flair vs. Jim Powers (WCW Monday Nitro – July 8, 1996)
One night after winning the WCW U.S. Heavyweight Title from Konnan at Bash at the Beach (that show, and this one, too, will pop up on the list later), “The Nature Boy” locked up against longtime undercard talent Jim Powers on Monday Nitro. Powers is one of those guys who was around forever, but was never on top or even close to it. He spent much of his career putting top guys over, but was a solid worker to have around. While nobody ever thought Powers had a chance to win this match, he had a really good, if brief, showing against Flair, who even worked in a great strut on the floor mid-match. A great example of a television match between a veteran superstar and a veteran enhancement guy done right. The end result is known from the start, but it’s still entertaining and Flair made it seem like Powers had a fighting chance.
28) Kato vs. Shawn Michaels (WWF at Madison Square Garden – March 15, 1991)
Somehow, I never got a chance to see this one before giving it a look a few days ago. A really fun, fast-paced match with Michaels showing flashes of the superstar he would become. Kato was Paul Diamond, who is really an underrated guy when you look back at his body of work. He and Pat Tanaka, first as Badd Company and later as the second incarnation of The Orient Express, were a solid tag team and often get overlooked. They could both go.
AND THEN SOME: Michaels and Marty Jannetty as The Rockers had a great match with Kato and Tanaka at the 1991 Royal Rumble and some more high-profile matches – both singles and tag – with all these guys would’ve been awesome.
27) Ric Flair vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE RAW – July 1, 2002)
This match….THIS MATCH is a prime example of how to use an aging veteran to help further elevate a young talent. Lesnar and his agent, Paul Heyman made an open challenge to any veteran on the roster at the beginning of the show, and “The Nature Boy” accepted. There’s no way a past-his-prime Flair could look legitimate by going toe-to-toe with Lesnar, who was just a monster of a human being at this point. Flair picked his spots and took his shots while absorbing punishment from Lesnar, until he broke out the big guns: shots to the balls. Flair attacked the ding ding, clipped the knee and looked to be on the verge of an upset until Heyman provided a distraction. Brock was STILL a monster, Flair proved he still had it and the fans got a great match.
AND THEN SOME: This same show had a Jeff Hardy/Undertaker ladder match main event for the Undisputed WWE Championship. It’s not the car crash that many ladder and TLC matches have been. A totally different approach, with Hardy taking an ass whipping for most of the match. Two really good underdog scenarios on this show. Lesnar and Taker met in October of that year in a really good Hell in a Cell match.
26) Juventud Guerrera, Hector Garza and Super Calo vs. Damien 666, La Parka and Ciclope (WCW Monday Nitro – May 26, 1997)
WCW was notorious in the mid ’90s for signing anyone not under contract elsewhere, including every single Mexican professional wrestler on the planet. This match showcased six luchadores, several of whom never did anything of real note in the promotion. Ciclope, AKA Halloween in Mexico, is best remembered in WCW for Dean Malenko dressing up in his gear to sneak into, and win, a cruiserweight battle royal at Slamboree ’98. The match was short, fast-paced, got the crowd up and showcased Hector Garza in his WCW debut. In other words, it served its purpose.
25) 2 Cold Scorpio vs. Sabu (ECW Cyberslam ’96 – February 17, 1996)
Sabu is, hands down, one of the most inconsistent, but entertaining guys to ever set foot in the ring. When he was bad, he was REALLY bad, but when he was on, he could be a ton of fun to watch. (For a look at the REALLY bad, go find his NWA World Heavyweight Title defense against Air Paris from NWA Wildside in 2000. Oof.) He was on in this one. This match had a little bit of everything – brawling, high-flying, weapons and a SICK table bump from Sabu – as Scoprio retained his ECW Television Title in a 30-minute, time-limit draw, which drew a standing ovation from the ECW Arena crowd.
AND THEN SOME: Former WCW star Brian Pillman made his ECW debut earlier in the evening, interrupting announcer Joey Styles as he addressed the crowd. It is one of the more memorable debuts in wresting history, as Pillman threatened to piss in the ECW ring and attacked a “fan” with a fork. Styles was cut off as the lights went out and the crowd absolutely LOST IT when they came back on and Pillman was in the ring. The fans even started a “Let him piss!” chant as police officers tried to get him out of the building. Really good stuff. I loved Pillman’s “Loose Cannon” schtick.