Over the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed watching the Netflix series “The Toys That Made Us” and its spin-off series, “The Movies That Made Us,” in my downtime. I don’t watch a ton of television of any sort, but I like to watch “easy” things when I’m having lunch or when my daughter goes down for her nap.
If you’re not aware of those shows, each episode focuses on a particular type of toy or a specific movie throughout history. You’ll get to see the entire history of them, from where the idea came from to the trials and tribulations of making them to watching their popularity skyrocket, and so forth. Some of the toys that have had episodes are He-Man, Lego, Hello Kitty, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and yes, Pro Wrestling. Movies that have been discussed include Home Alone, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Back To The Future, Jurassic Park, and Forrest Gump. Interviews with the people who were involved from start to finish give you access that we’ve never had before, and you’ll find yourself learning a ton of things, even if you consider yourself to be an “expert” on the topic of a particular episode.
As I was watching it, I was thinking about turning it into a column. The initial idea was to follow the show formula, where one column would be about one wrestling match. As I kept thinking about that, I couldn’t get the format to work in my head. I’m not going to be interviewing the wrestlers and the promoters involved in the matches, so it would be the equivalent of an episode of the show being 15 minutes long. After going through four or five different format ideas, I decided on looking back at my entire wrestling fandom, year-by-year. Almost as soon as that came to my head, I saw a conversation on Twitter that involved writers, past and present, of this very site. They were talking about doing the same thing I was thinking about… look back at every year you’ve been a wrestling fan, and talk about your favorite match from said year.
So, that’s what I’m doing. I’ll be going back through every year of my wrestling fandom and sharing my favorite match from each year. Keep in mind that “favorite” doesn’t necessarily mean “best” when it comes to this stuff. These are going to be the matches that made me… the fan I am today. Simple enough concept. The only “rule” is that a match had to take place during that calendar year. Even if I didn’t watch it until 20 years later, it still counts. I’ve been a fan of this wonderful sport since 1986. That means there’s going to be 36 matches in this series. As I said earlier, I won’t be dedicating one whole column to a single match. Think about that for a moment. If I did that, my final column in the series would be posted on May fucking 4th of next year, and that’s if I didn’t write about ANYTHING else in that span. Hard pass. Instead, I’ll break it down into decades. The 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, and then a final one for the 2020’s. With there only being two entries for the 2020’s, maybe I’ll just attach it at the end of the 2010’s column. WHO KNOWS?!? I’M WILD AND UNPREDICTABLE LIKE THAT.
Shout-out to Sir Sam, Andrew Ardizzi, and everyone else involved in that initial Twitter discussion.
Alright, let’s not waste any more time.
The Rock N’ Roll Express vs Ole Anderson & Arn Anderson (NWA StarrCade – November 27th, 1986): Above all else, I have to say that you’re really missing out if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, better known as The Rock N’ Roll Express, or the work of Arn Anderson. Don’t get me wrong… Ole was good, too. He just wasn’t on the level of the other three men in this match.
This was a true battle between the masters of tag team technical prowess (the Andersons) and the masters of the tag team formula that was setting the wrestling world on fire in the 80’s (Morton and Gibson). I say this with the utmost respect… that formula was in just about every Rock N’ Roll Express match you’ll ever see. It happened a million times, but it worked, and wrestling fans ate it all up. That’s how good they were at it. Morton would spend a huge chunk of a match playing the “face-in-peril” and the story would build and build and build to him finally getting the “hot tag” to Gibson, who would come in and clean house as the crowd would absolutely blow the roof of the building. It’s a formula that still works when done right, decades later, although there still might not be a face in wrestling history who took ass whippings better than Ricky Morton did.
A molten hot crowd was into every second of this. The Andersons were, putting it nicely, dicks. They tortured both of their opponents, destroying Morton and working on Gibson’s injured knee. In kayfabe, Arn and Ole were nephew and uncle, respectively, but in reality, they weren’t related at all. You wouldn’t know it by watching their matches. Not only did they look alike, but they wrestled alike, and they had an in-ring chemistry as if they had known each other for 30 years. They hadn’t even been tag partners for two years when this match took place!
I honestly don’t remember when I saw this match for the first time. It certainly wasn’t in 1986. Through time, though, it has become one of my favorite old-school tag matches.
Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant (WWF WrestleMania 3 – March 29th, 1987): I know, I know… it’s not “cool” to praise anything involving Hulk Hogan these days. With that said, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t include this match here. In an article about the wrestling matches that made me the fan I am today, this match is the literal description of that. My first exposure to wrestling was a random Ric Flair promo on television in 1986, but my first true blue fandom was being a little Hulkamaniac. This was the match that turned me into one. I didn’t watch it live, but I do remember seeing it on VHS at a friend’s house later that year.
As one of the most famous professional wrestling matches of all-time, you don’t exactly need a full breakdown of what happened. It was the ultimate “spectacle” match. It was never going to be an all-time classic as far as ring work is concerned, especially with Andre already having serious physical issues by this point in his life. WWE Hall Of Famer Gorilla Monsoon said it all best, saying this was “the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.” Hogan was one of the most famous and recognizable faces on the planet, with Hulkamania truly running wild. Andre was kayfabe billed as being undefeated for the last 15 years. Something had to give.
The visual of Hogan lifting Andre up and slamming him to the mat in front of what seemed like an endless sea of fans is still a part of every WrestleMania video package you’ve ever seen, even 34 years later. I would be willing to guess that it will still be shown 34 years from now, too.
Ric Flair vs Lex Luger (NWA StarrCade – December 26th, 1988): One of the biggest myths in wrestling history is that Lex Luger couldn’t “go” in the ring. People that only caught his WWF career as The Narcissist or with the “Lex Express” days, or his WCW run that followed, might be excused for thinking that. However, if you go back to his time with the NWA in the late-80’s and early-90’s, you’d know that Lex could not only have good matches, but he could, and did, participate in a bunch of great ones, too. Just narrowing it down to singles matches, and not including this one, there’s his match against Barry Windham at Chi-Town Rumble 1989, his match against Ricky Steamboat at Great American Bash 1989, his match against Tommy Rich at Clash Of The Champions 8, his match against Brian Pillman at Halloween Havoc 1989, another match against Pillman at Clash Of The Champions 9, his match against The Great Muta at StarrCade 1989, his match against Ric Flair on that same StarrCade 1989 show, another match against Flair at WrestleWar 1990, yet another match against Flair at Capitol Combat 1990, his match against Dan Spivey at WrestleWar 1991… you get the point.
Ric Flair was the absolute perfect opponent for Luger. Lex was still pretty new to the business at this point, only three years removed from his first match ever, and this might be the era where Flair was at his peak in the ring. Ric could do the proverbial heavy lifting, letting Luger focus more on his power spots and popping the crowd. Flair’s best attribute in his heyday was making his opponents look like a trillion bucks, whether they needed it or not, and making fans in arenas from Charlotte to Tokyo think that anybody he was facing was going to win. Think about how difficult that would be in this day and age. Let’s use Roman Reigns as an example. By the time this column gets posted, Reigns will have been the Universal Champion for 367 days. In that span, he has successfully defended the title 14 times. Of those 14 matches, how many times did you really and truly feel that he was going to lose? Imagine an era where you thought Reigns would lose every match, but he kept sneaking away with victories at the last minute. That’s old school Ric Flair for you. It didn’t matter if he was facing bigger opponents, smaller opponents, powerhouses, technical wizards, brawlers, rookies, veterans, main event talents, opening match guys… Flair was so good at what he did that he could convince crowds that he was in trouble, night in and night out. It wasn’t just because the era was different, either. Sure, fans back then thought things were more “real” than fans today do, but this wasn’t something you could say about just anybody back then.
This match was the big culmination of a lengthy feud that had been going on for over a year. At the end of 1987, Luger would turn face by eliminating fellow Four Horsemen member, JJ Dillon, in a Bunkhouse Stampede Battle Royal. He went to war with the Horsemen for the entirety of 1988. This was going to be the match where Lex would finally be able to topple Flair, the reigning NWA World Champion. It sure as hell looked that way to start, when Luger spent several minutes basically no-selling every little bit of offense Flair tried to have. You’d be hard pressed to even find any working offense for Flair in the first fifteen or so minutes of the match. Today, that sounds like a match that wouldn’t work, as fans are used to “squash” matches being short and sweet. In December of 1988, it worked perfectly, as it allowed fans to watch Ric Flair get his ass handed to him on a platter.
Things would only begin to swing Flair’s way when he would find ways to cheat. He is the “Dirtiest Player In The Game” for a reason. With a match stipulation calling for the title to change hands if Flair was disqualified, he had to be very careful about how he handled things. With the help of a distraction by JJ Dillon, Flair was able to attack Luger’s knee with a chair, and that would help play into the finish of the match. The entire thing… all 31 minutes of it… was a masterclass. Flair helped to make Luger look like a legitimate main event wrestler, helping to “make” him for the next several years. The storytelling allowed for both men to look great and have their chances to shine.
Ric Flair vs Terry Funk (NWA Clash Of The Champions 9 – November 15th, 1989): As I said earlier, Ric Flair and NWA programming were responsible for my first venture into the world of wrestling, but it was the WWF that made me a mega fan. It’s still strange to look back at a list like this and see the NWA dominating my favorite matches from those days. Or is it? I guess it shouldn’t be. The NWA was definitely more about the action back then, while the WWF was more about (surprise, surprise) the over-the-top spectacle of things.
I could’ve gone in several different directions for my 1989 pick. The Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat trilogy at, in chronological order, Chi-Town Rumble, Clash Of The Champions 6, and WrestleWar are deserving. Flair vs Sting at StarrCade could’ve been the pick. Steamboat vs Lex Luger at Great American Bash. Flair & Sting vs The Great Muta & Terry Funk at Halloween Havoc. Sting vs Muta at Great American Bash. Randy Savage vs Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 5. There’s a ton. In the end, I had to go with the match I picked simply because of my initial reaction to Terry Funk. It was the first time I had ever seen him wrestle. The first time I had ever experienced Funk at all was six months earlier, when he was one of the official ringside judges for the Flair vs Steamboat match at WrestleWar. After Flair’s victory in that match, Funk would enter the ring and challenge Flair to a match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title. When Flair basically gave him the “I respect you, but you’re not worthy of being ahead of the top challengers in this company” line, Funk would attack Flair and “break his neck” by putting him through a table with a piledriver. It’s no surprise to anybody now, but Terry Funk came across like a crazy person to me. I had never seen anything like it, and the piledriver through the table? Shit, he might as well have shot Flair in the head with a rifle. That’s how much that level of violence stood out to me at the time.
With this being Flair’s triumphant return from nearly having his career ended, it’s heated and heavy from the very beginning of the match. Not that the match needed any added craziness, but this was an “I Quit” Match, and both Flair and Funk sure did try to beat each other into verbal submission. They fought all over the place, and Flair did a tremendous job of making fans believe he really wanted to take Funk out. Funk, on the other hand, as we have all learned by now, might actually be insane.
Swinging back around to something I said a couple paragraphs ago… in the entire history of professional wrestling, there might not be a better year for one wrestler than what we saw with Ric Flair in 1989. I’ve seen people have top five lists for Match Of The Year in 1989, and not only did Flair take place in all five matches, but he was in some of the honorable mentions, too. He did it all that year… heel, face, challenger, champion, technical wrestler, brawler, singles ace, tag team star… all while cutting some of the better promos of the decade. If you haven’t already done so, it would behoove you to check his year out. I listed six matches in this entry you can work with if you’re feeling froggy.
As I said earlier, these entries are going to be my FAVORITE match in a particular year. They may or may not be the match I feel is the BEST for that particular year. I certainly wouldn’t say that Hogan vs Andre was the best match I saw from the year 1987. It’s just my favorite one because of how important it is to my wrestling fandom. However, for those who are curious about these types of things, here are the matches I feel were the BEST for those four years:
- 1986: The match I chose as my favorite
- 1987: Ric Flair vs Barry Windham (NWA’s Crockett Cup, Night 2 on April 11th)
- 1988: Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada vs Terry Gordy & Stan Hansen (AJPW’s Real World Tag League, Day 22 on December 16th)
- 1989: Ricky Steamboat vs Ric Flair (NWA’s WrestleWar on May 7th)
Your turn, ReaderLand. Let me hear from you about your favorite matches from the 80’s, if your fandom stretches back that far or if you’ve gone back and watched a lot of tape from the past. It’s worth repeating yet again that I’m looking for your favorite matches, which don’t necessarily have to be the best matches from any given year. If you want, you can go further back than the 80’s, or you can go into the 90’s, but you might want to save the 90’s selections for the next edition of this series. If nothing else smacks me in the face and makes me write about it next week, I’ll be back here in seven days with my picks for my favorite matches from 1990-1999.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Damian Priest vs Drew McIntyre vs Sheamus: Yes, I was disappointed that we didn’t get the advertised match between Sheamus and Bobby Lashley, but golly gee, this was a good’n. Every bit as physical as you would expect with the participants involved. The best part was Priest pinning McIntyre cleanly, and then McIntyre putting Priest over again in the post-match goings on. It’s one of those moments that just feels like something we’ll look back on years from now as the time Priest really and truly became a top-tier player in WWE.
- Jurassic Express vs Lucha Brothers: It seems like most people expected to see Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy win here, sending them to All Out, where they would challenge The Young Bucks for the AEW Tag Team Titles inside of a Steel Cage. That would’ve been fine, but honestly, I’m glad that Penta and Fenix won here. They’ve had some fantastic matches with the Bucks, so I’m excited to see them square off again, and even more excited that it will take place in a Cage. The possibilities there are endless.
- Colby Corino vs Steve Corino: From Premier Wrestling Federation’s “Colby Corino’s 25th Anniversary” show, this was a ton of fun. Colby continues to look better and better in the ring, while his father, who was having his first match in nearly five years, looked much better than I could’ve hoped him to. A tale as old as time, this was all about Colby wanting and needing to prove to himself, and to his father, that he was the “man” now. The match was paced really well, going about 35 minutes, but holding back on too many “sprint” style bursts so that the 48-year-old Steve could keep up. Just fun storytelling throughout, with Colby trying to force his father to go back to his old ways, only to regret it when he got his way. All in all, a true unexpected gem.
- Trevor Murdoch: No matter what you think of Nick Aldis and his NWA World Heavyweight Title reign, the fact of the matter is that it lasted for 1,043 days. After winning it on October 21st, 2018 at NWA’s 70th Anniversary Show, he finally lost it on August 29th, 2021 at NWA’s 73rd Anniversary Show. That’s crazy. Murdoch, best known for his three World Tag Team Title reigns with Lance Cade in WWE, looked as good as he has in a long time in picking up the win here.
- Awesome Kong & Gail Kim: Women like Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Paige, AJ Lee, and Nikki Bella have been credited for the “women’s evolution” that we’ve seen in wrestling over the last several years. I’m not saying those women don’t deserve credit, but Gail Kim and Awesome Kong aren’t getting the props they deserve. They were doing some fantastic work with each other all the way back in 2007 and 2008. To put that into perspective, Sasha Banks and Paige were only 15 years old when Kim and Kong were having their first series of matches in TNA. Seeing Kong come to the rescue of Kim at NWA’s 73rd Anniversary Show was a lot of fun, made even more special by Kong getting on the mic and announcing her retirement from the business, saying that only Gail Kim could get her off the couch to show up. Very emotional, with both women in tears.
- The Bianca Belair vs Liv Morgan Portion Of The Elimination Match On Smackdown: Let’s forget about the fact that Carmella and Zelina Vega, the other two women in this match, are a combined 0-381 against Bianca Belair this year and how incredibly stupid it was for them to claim rights to any sort of title shots against Becky Lynch. Instead, let’s focus on this being some of the best work we’ve seen from Liv Morgan. She did such a good job that I actually had moments where I thought WWE was really going to give us the major upset and have her defeat Bianca to earn the title shot. Even though Liv would eventually go on to lose, you have to wonder if it’s a good sign that she was given this type of opportunity.
- Tommaso Ciampa vs Ridge Holland: Ridge Holland was set for a major push in NXT before his freak injury last October, when he suffered a dislocated left ankle, a fractured left leg, a dislocated patellar in his right knee, and a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. He returned to NXT about a month ago, but he already looks like a different performer. He always looked like a million bucks, but now he seems to have the confidence to match, and it shows in his in-ring work. This was another fun match for him. Even in a loss, it’s clear he still has a bright future with the company.
- The “Shoot” Portion Of The Charlotte Flair vs Nia Jax Match On Raw: Oh, God, this made me laugh. I don’t care if it was a “shoot” or not. If it was, it’s funny because Charlotte stepped out of character and almost immediately got punched right back into character. If it wasn’t, it’s funny because THAT was the action they decided to deliver to the masses. There was a stretch in the match where they literally looked like two women that were chosen from the crowd to have a match with zero training. None of their moves were connecting, and they were rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling all over the place. The best part? Nia won the non-title match, pretty much guaranteeing that we’re going to see these two face each other again soon!
- R-K-Bro vs Bobby Lashley & MVP: Once the match was made, you could see who was going to lose, and who would take the pin, right away. It was still fun, though. Randy Orton and Riddle continue to be, arguably, the best act on Raw these days. Live crowds are just eating their promos and matches up with a spoon.
- The Creed Brothers Joining The Diamond Mine: I have absolutely no idea how well Brutus and Julius Creed (Drew and Jacob Kasper, respectively) are transitioning from successful amateur wrestlers to pro wrestlers under the WWE umbrella. It must not be going too bad, though, if they’re already on NXT television as the newest members of Malcolm Bivens’ Diamond Mine stable. They fit in perfectly with what the group is going for, so I’m interested in seeing how things go moving forward.
This Week’s Playlist: “family ties” by Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar… “FYE FYE” by Tobe Nwigwe & Fats Nwigwe… “R4 Theme Song” by Big KRIT… “Rotation” by Big KRIT… “My Sub” by Big KRIT… “Country Shit (Remix)” by Big KRIT, Ludacris & Bun B… “Money On The Floor” by Big KRIT, 2 Chainz, 8Ball & MJG… “My Sub (Pt. 2: The Jackin’)” by Big KRIT… “White Jesus” by Rittz… “High Five” by Rittz… “Nowhere To Run” by Rittz… “Sleep At Night” by Rittz & Yelawolf… “Set You Free” by Black Label Society… “Bleed Me Dry” by Memphis May Fire… “Reflections Of The Dead” by A Pale Horse Named Death… “Invisible Enemy” by Spirit Adrift… “Back From The Dead” by Halestorm… “READY TO DIE” by Adema… “Alone Again” by Asking Alexandria… “Feast Of Fire” by Trivium… “Torch” by Black Veil Brides… “Like A Stone” by Audioslave… “Lonely Boy” by The Black Keys… “Uprising” by Muse… “I’m So Sick” by Flyleaf