Recently I was having a bad day at work so I needed something to lift my spirits. When I got home the family was out on a play date, so I went downstairs, threw on my blue Glamasuit, and watched a replay of Extreme Rules 2010. As always, Beth’s title victory did the trick. I perked right back up.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think back to April 25, 2010, Baltimore, MD, when my beloved Glamazon pinned Michelle McCool to capture the WWE women’s championship. I have such great memories of that night. Sitting in the front row. Cheering like a little kid. Jumping around as the ref counted three. I’ve watched the match 12,809 times and I enjoy it every time. To me the match is perfect. (I’d say it was “flawless” but, you know, I don’t want to have to pay royalties…).
But I finally admitted something to myself the other night. As much as I treasure the match, it wasn’t “perfect”. I have been so in love with the result that I overlooked 2 aspects of the match that sadly affect its historical impact. First of all, the match was booked as an “Extreme Makeover” match. WTF?!? Were the rules ever fully explained? Two premier workers shouldn’t decide the women’s title by using ironing boards and make-up tables. Too “gimmicky”. Secondly, the match was on the Extreme Rules PPV, a show people will ultimately forget (seriously, name 3 matches without heading to Wikipedia). This wasn’t exactly WrestleMania. So even though I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement that night, I have to finally admit the match wasn’t perfect.
Which got me thinking…
Has there ever been a perfect match?
Obviously this is a very subjective topic. I think it would be very, very hard to get two people to agree on the definition of “perfection”. So how would I define the “perfect match”? Glad you asked…
Remember, this is just my opinion. That’s the beauty of professional wrestling; there is no right or wrong answer. It’s fun to debate this stuff. (For example, ask 100 people who is the better wrestler, Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair, and you would get widely different opinions. Sure, technically Flair was better, but Hogan carved out a bigger historical impact. Or did he? We could go on days.) So here we go, my official criteria for the perfect “singles” wrestling match (we can look at tag team matches at a later date). Take this with a grain of salt.
The perfect match should feature these 10 things:
- Heel vs. Face: I want a good guy vs. a bad guy. I like when the crowd knows who to root for.
- Build-up: A great match must be part of a solid storyline.
- Emotion: I want to see the proper emotion and feeling from the characters. Pro wrestling is a passion play.
- Big stage: Not all great matches need to occur at WrestleMania, but they probably aren’t taking place at the Kern County Fairgrounds either. Big shows heighten the intensity of all involved.
- Nothing too goofy: I don’t like when match stipulations detract or distract from the action in the ring. Some matches like Hell in a Cell can by awesome, but anything involving silly or needless gimmicks is forgettable.
- Interviews: I like when two people build the anticipation of their match through solid mic work, both in the ring and during backstage promos.
- Unpredictability: Once in a while we really don’t know what to expect from a match. When this happens, that’s pretty cool.
- Solid in-ring action: The actual wrestling doesn’t need to be “Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair” quality, but it needs to be accurate, tight, and well planned.
- Creative ending: I appreciate when bookers come up with a unique way to finish a match. There doesn’t need to be a huge “swerve”, just something that compliments the match and the emotion.
- Lasting impact: A truly historic match should resonate many years later. I want a sense of “historical importance”.
So using this list as a barometer, Beth’s championship this past April violates rules 4 and 5. This past week I spent about 65% of my time at work thinking about this list, thinking about which matches, in my opinion, come close to satisfying all of these criteria. I came up with 10 candidates. But did any of them contain all of these aforementioned elements? Let’s break it down.
#10 – Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart, WrestleMania 10, March 20, 1994: I love this match because I’m a big Bret fan and I thought the 2 brothers had great chemistry. Plus I liked Owen getting the victory over his older brother. This match isn’t perfect though because it pitted 2 faces against each other (although that did add to the unpredictability of the outcome) and I wasn’t following the WWF too closely at the time so I missed some of the backdrop. Plus I HATE the fact that Bret lost this match but won the WWF title later in the show…ugh! Also this match was ultimately overshadowed by the epic HBK-Razor ladder match. So in the end it violates rules 1, 2, 5, and 10.
#9 – Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania 25, April 5, 2009: Sensational storytelling between 2 artists. I am not a huge ‘Taker fan, but I will admit he was awesome in this match. HBK has never been better. The crowd was insane and seemed split 50-50 in their allegiance. I thought the match had several tremendous spots but I don’t appreciate it as much anymore because I really didn’t believe the WWE would end Undertaker’s streak and I didn’t approve of their rematch at WrestleMania 26. So the match violates rules 7 and 10.
#8 – Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, WrestleMania 10, March 20, 1994: I know this wasn’t technically the first ladder match in WWF history but it certainly felt that way. I like that both men claimed to be the true Intercontinental champion so two belts were hung above the ring. There was great action all the way through and HBK took some sick bumps. However, I don’t think this match holds up well because of the incredible TLC matches we have seen since (this match looks tame by comparison) and because I never liked the Razor Ramon character. Plus, I wasn’t a diehard fan at the time so I didn’t feel all of the emotion. I think this match violates rules 2 and 10.
#7 – Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, The Main Event, February 5, 1988: The “Two Dave Hebners” match. To this day my favorite swerve ever. Even friends of mine who don’t like wrestling remember the switch-a-roo that gave Andre the shocking victory over Hogan. As a kid I couldn’t believe Hogan actually lost the belt and I couldn’t believe Andre just gave it to the “Million Dollar Man”. I would rank this match higher except the in-ring work was horrendous (by Hulk’s standards), the M$M was immediately stripped of the title, and Andre blew the post-match interview saying he was giving the “world tag team championship” to Ted DiBiase. Ouch! So I think this match violates rules 6, 8, and 10. Still…there were 2 freakin’ Dave Hebners!!!
#6 – Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat, WrestleMania 3, March 29, 1987: This match is universally regarded as one of the best Intercontinental title matches of all time. I loved the match because Savage and Steamboat had great chemistry in the ring and there was a solid story in place (the Dragon’s throat injury). However, I have never been a big Steamboat guy (in fact I found him slightly boring, how many “the Dragon will breath fire” interviews do we need?) and I don’t like the fact that George Steele was at ringside. One of the greatest IC champions ever essentially lost his title because the Animal pushed him off the top rope…UGH! Did Savage and the Dragon really need anybody else involved in this match? Rule violations 5 and 6.
#5 – Steve Austin vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 15 (1999), WrestleMania 17 (2001), and WrestleMania 19 (2003): Hard to pick just one. I thought these two guys had the best chemistry I have ever seen because their styles and personalities were just made for each other. I enjoyed all of their matches but I just wish we had that one, all-time, defining moment from these two. Plus it always seemed like Mr. McMahon was involved, or we had no DQ matches with a 100 chair shots, or something besides just letting The Rock and Austin deliver what could have been the perfect match. Their rivalry trips up on rule 5.
#4 – Beth Phoenix vs. Michelle McCool, Extreme Rules, April 25, 2010: Settle down. Remember, this is MY list. I know yours would look different. The only Divas match to make my top 10 violates rules 4 and 5 as discussed early.
#3 – Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13, March 23, 1997: This match is almost perfect, right down to the fantastic ending when Stone Cold passes out in a pool of his own blood. I love how the crowd started cheering Austin after this match and it became a milestone in his career. It is probably the last great moment for Bret in the WWE (umm, I’m not counting Montreal). And then there is this. I was completely out of wrestling in 1997. One night I randomly caught a replay of the match on TV and I stood there watching it like I was Richard Dreyfus looking at that spaceship. I was mesmerized and from that day forward I started following pro wrestling again. This moment changed my life. The match is almost, almost perfect, except for the fact I didn’t see it live or know the back story at the time. Match #3 falls down on rule 2…barely.
#2 – Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, WrestleMania 3, March 29, 1987: As much as WrestleMania 1 changed the wrestling landscape forever, I believe it was this match that changed the world forever (ok, ok, that’s a little strong). However, this match IS one of those “where were you moments”, right up there with the OJ’s Bronco chase and MJ’s moonwalking. 93,000+ jammed into the Silverdome to witness this epic showdown, and when Hogan bodyslams the Giant it literally takes your breath away. This is still the match all other big matches are judged against. It’s one flaw? The actual wrestling is very slow and plodding (mostly due to Andre’s declining health) and in many ways below average. Also, when Andre almost beats Hulk early in the match, he holds up 2 fingers to signify that he got the pinfall (umm, you need 3 big guy). I think this match fails rule 8 except for the “Bodyslam Heard Around the World.”
Finally we’re down to candidate #1, and in my eyes, this is the only perfect match I have ever seen.
#1 – Honky Tonk Man vs. Randy Savage, Saturday Night’s Main Event, October 3, 1987: The Honky Tonk Man was claiming to be the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. Former champion, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage took offense to that and started chasing HTM for the gold. Add in Honky’s obsession with Macho Man’s manager, the lovely Miss Elizabeth, and you have complete wrestling genius.
The actual match was taped on Wednesday night September 23, 1987 in Hershey, PA (remember SNME was not a live show) and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. I remember going to a house show the previous month when they handed out notices promoting this card, which featured Hulk Hogan defending his title against Killer Kahn (which eventually got switched to Kamala, and then to Sika…ugh, who was next? Conquistador #2?) and Randy Savage challenging the Honky Tonk Man. Everybody was excited to see Macho Man tear apart that “dime story Elvis impersonator.” People talked about it all night…and when the match actually took place, it didn’t disappoint on any level.
To prove to you this was a perfect match, let’s align it with my official criteria.
- Heel vs. Face: Honky Tonk Man was white hot as a heel, and Randy Savage had begun a face turn that would change the WWF for the next several years.
- Build-up: Honky spent the previous few months claiming he was the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time, which upset Savage (and with good reason). Once Honky turned his attention to Miss Elizabeth, Savage responded with fury seldom seen before or since.
- Emotion: Randy Savage always showed incredible intensity, and Honky Tonk’s “cool, cocky, bad” attitude was the perfect compliment.
- Big stage: Back in the 1980’s Saturday Night’s Main Event was a big deal and served as a key storytelling device. With a limited schedule of PPVs and a generous helping of weekly squash matches, SNME was one of the only opportunities to see the main stars wrestle each other.
- Nothing too goofy: No leprechauns, crazy stipulations, guest referees, or fiery infernos.
- Interviews: If you can name 2 guys who ever gave better interviews than Randy Savage I’d like to hear who they are. And back then the Honky Tonk Man held his own, helped to a degree by his manager the “Colonel” Jimmy Hart, who was always a great copilot. For this match these two delivered some of their best work, and I can still recite all of the prematch interviews from memory. Do yourself a favor and rewatch this match, and see why everybody is “super serious in the Danger Zone”!
- Unpredictability: I really thought the Macho Man was going to recapture the title. In fact I was sure of it. Scratch that. I REALLY wanted Savage to regain the title, but secretly I had no clue what was going to happen.
- Solid in-ring action: History will show that the Honky Tonk Man was sub-standard in the ring, but on this night he was the perfect foil for the Macho Man and more than held his own.
- Creative ending: I was really pissed off when the Hart Foundation interfered, but the resulting few minutes were just beautiful. Savage gets blasted with the guitar. The Harts and Honky continue to beat him down until Hulk Hogan makes the save, then Hogan and Savage shake hands, leading to my favorite Vince McMahon line of all time, “We could be seeing the meeting of the Madness and the Mania…YES! There it is!” CHILLS!!
- Lasting impact: This match was the beginning of the Mega-Powers, one of the strongest storylines in WWF history and the WWF’s focus for the next two years.
That’s 10 for 10, perfect. Oh, and I left out the most memorable part – the Honky Tonk Man pushing Miss Elizabeth to the canvas. To say that the Hershey Park Arena was ready to riot is a huge understatement. There was blood in the crowd. It was insane. It was primal. How dare the Honky Tonk Man touch Miss Elizabeth, much less THROW her to the ground!? My friend Harry was yelling that he was going to go down there and kick Honky’s ass. He was 14.
How could a valet create this pathos, this unbelievable sense of collective emotion, from the entire crowd? Hulk Hogan, that’s understandable; he was the world champion and the face of the company. But make no mistake; Miss Elizabeth was beloved in a way I’m not sure we’ve seen since.
As Randy’s valet she always looked spectacular (monster understatement), and occasionally she became the focus of Randy’s storylines (like George Steele’s obsession). But as a manager she never got physically involved in matches and she never actually wrestled. Most of the legendary Divas are treasured for their work in the ring (Trish, Lita, Mickie, Sherri, Moolah, etc,), but not Liz. Even though she was shy and quiet, somehow she became a beaming light to all WWF fans that followed wrestling during that time. I certainly feel she was every bit as important to Randy’s success as his flying elbow drop and shiny robes. After this match in Hershey she became more popular than ever and the heart of the Mega-Powers. Remarkable.
Today’s wrestling fan might not fully appreciate what Miss Elizabeth meant to the WWF in the 1980’s. Her eventual divorce from Randy, her ill-fated run in WCW, and her untimely death have hurt her legacy to some degree. But if you lived through it you will never forget how excited you were when Macho Man’s music started to play because you knew she was accompanying Randy to the ring.
In the late 90’s I met Miss Elizabeth after a Nitro taping in Baltimore and she was very gracious, signing an autograph that to this day I have framed with one of her WWF workout posters. At first I was nervous and intimidated to chat with her, but she was friendly, demure, and pleasant. Almost shy herself. In a word…lovely.
That night in Hershey Vince proclaimed, “We just witnessed a magic moment in the annuals of sports history!” We sure did, and more than anything it was because of Miss Elizabeth. RIP Elizabeth Hulette.
— Mr. Glamazon
PS – Have you ever seen any “perfect” matches? Share your opinions with me!
PPS – Like everybody here at Diva Dirt I was saddened to hear about the passing of Luna Vachon. Another star taken too soon, which unfortunately is a story all too familiar to wrestling fans. I hope she is in a better place now.
PPPS – I hope you enjoyed my first Glam Slam mailbag. I still have space for a few more questions, so send them to [email protected] and I’ll put them in my second one.