Class of 2018
Instructions for a ladder match: find a ladder, climb it to retrieve what is hanging at the top and in the process do everything you can to stop your opponent from climbing up with you. To win you have to risk being knocked down yourself but the prize at the top of the ladder will be all the sweeter for the price it cost.
It is a simple formula, one that wows crowds to this day and the match I am inducting to the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame today is the matches that did the most to introduce and popularise the ladder match to the WWE audience. However despite its groundbreaking legacy, which I will touch on later, first and foremost Shawn Michaels v Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania X is a great match by itself. A high stakes encounter that blends the perfect amount of story, athleticism and in-ring action on the biggest stage of all, Wrestlemania at the WWE’s spiritual home, Madison Square Garden.
This simple perfection all started with the story: Shawn Michaels returned to the WWF after his 1993 suspension still wearing the Intercontinental Title he never lost and proclaimed that he, not Razor Ramon who won the title in Michaels’ absence, was the true Intercontinental Champion. As tension rose between the two and the stakes grew higher, the answer to the problem of both claiming to be champion was to take both titles, hang them high above the ring, give them a ladder and say whoever got to both first was the champion. The risk inherent in the ladder match itself emphasised the personal risk that each wrestler was taking: to be the undisputed champion they needed to risk losing everything, to climb to the belts, they had to first risk falling.
By the time both men finally meet in ring on the night, everything escalates at the perfect pace as the two first battle to debilitate one another in the ring before Michaels exits and brings the ladder into the equation, dragging it from the outside. Once the ladder is placed under the hanging titles, the magic of the match really begins to get going. As things progress each man continually gets a few steps closer to the top, and the action ratchets up from the wrestler just pulling the other down from a few rungs up, to completely pushing the ladder out from under one another, all the way up to Shawn Michaels’ now iconic splash from the top of the ladder to the downed Ramon.
That moment in particular, when Michaels soared through the air and the audience’s collective hearts leapt into their mouths, has been described by future ladder match specialists Matt & Jeff Hardy as a moment when a door would open in their minds to the possibilities available to them in a wrestling ring. Years later these men would go on to launch themselves off even higher ladders, in equally spectacular ways but the reaction they dreamt of having was exactly the same as the one the audience had to this one: a mixture of wonder at the daring of it, fear something could go wrong and adrenaline at seeing it all unfold live.
All the components of a ladder match that are now familiar to us modern day wrestling fans are here, many for the first time: the two men trading blows at the top of the ladder, Michaels jumping from the ropes to knock Razor off the ladder, the ladder tipping over and dumping the wrestlers to the outside, even the classic God’s eye camera shot looking directly down at the wrestlers sprawled out on the canvas makes its debut in this match.
And yet watching it back today, this match still feels fresh. While the stunts are not quite as breathtaking to our modern desensitised mind, there is a compelling pace to the match as a result of the simplicity of using just one ladder and the fact that there are no no breaks to make illogical structures that serve no purpose other than gory spectacle. While still spectacular in its own right, every action in this match is done with the purpose of either retrieving the titles hanging above the ring or stopping the other wrestler from getting them.
Of course it is impossible to divorce this match from its substantial legacy in professional wrestling. In terms of historical impact it is hard to find many matches that have happened since that have had a bigger effect on the WWE product today. In a world that is so saturated with ladder matches it is hard to imagine a time when they weren’t at least a bi-annual part of the WWE calendar. While it isn’t the first ladder match to take place in the WWE it is the ladder match that would create new fans, inspire wrestlers for years to come and ultimately mark the arrival of a new genre that’s popularity persists to this day.
The shockwaves from this match runs through to the stunts of the early Hell in a Cell matches where Michaels leapt off the side of the cage, they go directly to the evolution of the ladder and TLC stunt brawls that can be credited for the launching of the careers, the aforementioned Hardys as well as Edge, Christian and The Dudleys, those waves continue to reach out to the phenomena of the Money In The Bank match and have come all the way back, full circle to the direct tribute to the original match by Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in the WWE Championship match at Money In The Bank in 2015.
This is a great match by any definition and on top of that it is a match that will forever serve as a marker point in the history and mythology of the sport we all know and love.
And so it is with great pleasure that I officially induct Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon’s Intercontinental Title Ladder Match at Wrestlemania X into the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame.