”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you think is the quintessential use of the term “underrated” in pro wrestling, past or present?
At present time, there is something that I am taking part in here on LOP with which I have really had a blast. Our talented new columnist, TypeitinMaan (Type), who joined the staff recently after working his way up through the LOP Columns Forum (the NXT to our WWE, some would say in more ways than one, wink wink) and in whose footsteps you could follow if you win a writing tournament we will be hosting in the very near future to crown an automatic new main page columnist here at LOP, has been the commissioner of a WrestleMania Era fantasy draft and, in this incredibly fun exercise of putting together the best roster possible made of only the wrestlers who competed in a match at The Show of Shows, I picked Jeff Jarrett in I believe it was the 8th round. As has characteristically been the case when Double J’s name has come up, in this his Hall of Fame induction year, discussion immediately centered on whether or not he was overrated.
My kneejerk reaction was going to be say, “Hold up there, Slap Nuts,” but LOP’s own Samuel ‘Plan jumped in and made a more interesting statement – that Jarrett had been called “overrated” so much that he had actually become “underrated.” I would tend to agree with ‘Plan, while simultaneously believing wholeheartedly that nobody else with a resume as decorated as the TNA founder’s has been as unfairly remembered in hindsight. I will readily admit to a soft spot heldover from 1990/91 viewings of USWA’s TV show, which played host to Jarrett, Stunning Steve Austin, and Dr. Tom Pritchard in their formative years. That is not to say, though, that I wear rose-tinted glasses about Jarrett’s career; conversely, I would counter that those vehemently in objection of his Hall of Fame nod wear poop-tinted glasses. Curse “end of days” WCW and proselytize about Jarrett putting himself over so much in TNA all that you wish, but do not disregard that 2000/2001 WCW had a rock solid main-event scene minus a few historically atrocious creative gaffes or that Double J – like Triple H in WWE around the same time – winning so much in TNA made his losses feel massive when they did happen.
Summerslam had already been on my mind and ‘Plan’s comment got me thinking about the use of the term “underrated” in wrestling. The Jarrett example provides a contrasting definition of how we would normally think of the term; he is a multi-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion and WWF Intercontinental Champion, as well as a damn fine hand in the ring and (complementarily) a poor man’s Ric Flair as a character, so for him to be underrated, there has to be a strongly negative narrative rooted in many years of confirmation bias. That idea flies in the face of more traditionally-thought-to-be underrated wrestlers like Rick Rude or Mr. Perfect or Scott Hall, for whom that term applies in the context of their never having won a World Title, and Cesaro, for whom the label was given a few years ago on account of his being someone capable of ascending to a Top 10 in WWE sort of level.
As it pertains to the Summer Classic, the wrestler-centric conversation about over/underrated segued in my mind, as I continue to think of historical re-appraisals as my column writing happy place given my documented distaste for the current product, to a wrestling match-centric discussion. Christian vs. Randy Orton at Summerslam 2011 takes on a version of underrated, in my opinion, even though it has been heralded by many as the culmination of one of the WrestleMania Era’s best modern feuds. Skulduggery, a former MP columnist still writing excellent stuff in the Columns Forum, has been hosting a written panel on the greatest Summerslam matches in NCAA Tournament style; he has Christian-Orton as a 7-seed, to which someone who believes there are not fifteen better Summerslam matches much less between twenty-five and twenty-eight (like yours truly) reacts with eyes wide open. The incomparable Dave Meltzer gave it an even four-stars, which I interpret as a “great match but not all-time great”; by my own fully-developed star ratings scale, I rate it as [**** ¼], the reason being that while I agree that it may not necessarily be “all-time great,” it falls in between just plain old, we’ll call it “generic” great and the status of a grander esteem. With respectable, thought-out takes like Skul’s and Meltzer’s being what I have gathered as the dominant stance, I think a good argument could be made that Christian-Orton is an underrated classic.
The Million Dollar Man vs. Virgil is another one. We have become a wrestling fanbase obsessed with incredible matches that are technically near-flawless and aesthetically brilliant (and intricate to boot) – and that is very understandable when we are just two years removed from one guy having close to twenty “great” performances in 52 weeks – but I think we often forget that WWE in the early WrestleMania Era was not about great matches; rather, it was about great stories. When fans think of the excellent storytelling by the characters that defined the Hulkamania Era, certainly Ted DiBiase vs. Virgil is not one of the very first that generally comes to mind, stuck as it is behind historical titans such as The Mega Powers exploding, Andre’s betrayal of Hogan, The Ultimate Challenge, the reunification of Macho Man and Elizabeth, or even the various quests by several wrestlers to make The Million Dollar Man feel as low as DiBiase made others feel while forcing them to beg for his money. Nevertheless, Virgil slowly reaching the point of no return for his tolerance of mistreatment was absolutely one of the finest, and when you add the weight of that story to their quick but powerful pay-off, suddenly the Million Dollar Championship bout at Summerslam ’91 becomes vastly underrated as a go-to yearly viewing experience during Summer Classic Season.
Stone Cold vs. Owen Hart at Summerslam 1997 also comes to mind as underrated, just like the Summerslam ’97 card overall, I might add. Naturally, Owen vs. Stone Cold is best remembered for the called-Tombstone turned sit-out piledriver that nearly stopped the Austin Era before it ever really got started, and that is by no means an historic footnote – in fact, I would argue that it gives the match a resonance on replay that is difficult for other matches in Summerslam lore to replicate. That said, the first fourteen minutes of that sixteen-minute IC Title bout were absolutely fantastic. Had it finished as designed, there is little doubt that it would have become one of the 15-20 most iconic matches in the history of WWE’s second biggest pay-per-view, as opposed to one of the most notorious. Still, for a variety of reasons, it is comfortably one of the thirty Summerslam matches that you have to revisit every few years, either to refresh your memory of what peak in-ring Austin wrestled like right up until that terrible moment that robbed him of his physical prime or to see Owen remind you of why there are people around here every year clamoring for his long-overdue WWE Hall of Fame induction.
I suspect that both of last year’s exemplary tag team matches will wind up on the “underrated” list, Usos vs. New Day because it happened on the pre-show and will have a consequent tendency to get the “oh yeah…” treatment and Rollins/Ambrose vs. The Bar for reasons that steer more in the direction of the DiBiase-Virgil section of the underrated library.
Pro wrestling lore – certainly Summerslam history – is full of wrestlers and matches that could be considered underrated; and, as such, I think it is important that we collectively develop as a critical fanbase a broader idea of terms like underrated and others so as not to allow them to become extensions of the all or the nothing mindset that plagues the vast majority of our world. If we can have well-rounded conversations about wrestling, then in the bigger picture, we can have well-rounded conversations about anything…
A five year labor of pro wrestling love culminated yesterday, ladies and gentlemen. I excitedly and proudly present to you, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era, my magnum opus as a 15-year sports entertainment columnist. If you would like to order, click here, and I will look forward to reading your thoughts!