Primetime: Picture the scene: you are shipwrecked or marooned on a small desert island, leaving behind all of the art and entertainment that you know and love. You are cast away with nothing but your memories for company.
Now, imagine that you could prepare for such an event, carrying with you just a small number of things as keepsakes. These would be the only things you’d be able to have for the rest of your life. Under those conditions, and knowing that they’d be the only things you could have for the rest of your life, what would you nominate to save?
My guest today needs no introduction, as he’s one of the most prominent voices in the history of the main page of LoP. When he retired from column writing recently, the flood of tributes showed the high regard in which he has been held by his peers. The one that really hit home with me was the acknowledgement that, as one of the biggest WWE fans in the world, his break with the product was a really dark omen. I was struck by that because it sounds very much like something that people have said about me in the past, albeit it a long time ago. And while I don’t want to make this about myself at all, the long-standing love affair with the WWE and the frustration with its current direction is something I can relate to on a personal level. So for all those reasons, and just to talk wrestling with the man himself, I’m delighted to have The Doc, Chad Matthews, as my latest castaway.
Doc: This next one has a more personal significance. Edge is right there alongside Bret Hart as my second favorite wrestler of all-time behind Shawn Michaels, and his journey having happened during my adult fandom rather than during my youth, I have a greater appreciation for The Rated R Superstar than perhaps I do the other two. By 2008, I was obsessed as a fan with the concept of the WrestleMania main-event being the new Holy Grail for WWE Superstars instead of the World Title because, by that point, The Great Khali – the worst wrestler of all-time and the biggest sack of in-ring crap ever to have been a headliner – had been World Champion. I won’t say that it didn’t mean a lot to me, watching Edge become WWE Champion in 2006, because it did – I watched him in 2002 on Smackdown, tearing it up weekly, and I just gravitated toward him and his journey to the top. That said, my dad lived in Orlando, home of WrestleMania XXIV, and I knew as soon as they announced Mania for central Florida that year that I would be in attendance and I immediately set my hopes on an Edge vs. Taker match for the World Heavyweight Title.
Edge was the most unlikely huge star of the 2000s, as far as I’m concerned. He was a Top 5 guy for a half decade, and nobody can ever take that away from him. His main-event at WrestleMania XXIV, though, solidified him as a member of the WWE pantheon historically. That I got to be there to see that – man, that was tremendous. Obviously, we don’t know what is going on last until the last two hours of a show, so I’m sitting there in the Citrus Bowl next to my dad, having just watched my all-time favorite send his all-time favorite into retirement, and then Cena-Trips-Orton and Show-Mayweather happen, leaving Edge vs. Taker as the show-closer. I absolutely love that WrestleMania, and I absolutely adore the memory of Edge getting to main-event it, especially since that match has aged so well as a classic counter-fest.
I’m also quite fond of “The Streak within The Streak,” as I’ve dubbed it (I should copyright that), and I witnessed three of the seven consecutive classic Taker ‘Mania matches in person, with the one against Edge being the match I’ve grown most personally attached to in hindsight. My dad, who passed away in 2012, would often reminisce about his lone ‘Mania experience that Taker’s entrance was the most memorable thing about the show (“GONG!” he would recount). So, there are many layers to my nostalgic resonance with this match.
Primetime: That last is a great memory. And also, we should probably never forget the significance of being there live. If I was going to take a match from this period, and there’s no guarantee that I would, but if I did it’d probably be the RAW match between Cena and HBK – and while it won match of the year I don’t doubt that a large part of my appreciation for it was being in the arena and seeing it live. There’s really no substitute.
This match actually took place at a time when I’d drifted away from the WWE for the first time in my life, so I don’t have the best memory of it, but these guys are actually two of the reasons I’d stuck with the company for as long as I did. I’d always been an Undertaker fan so there was no real surprise there, but while I’d blown a little hot and cold with Edge he did deliver the only material, to that point, I’d enjoyed from John Cena. So that was the moment an appreciation was born there.
But to come back to the point for a minute, what I’m struck by here is that it’s the personal connections that you’ve brought to the fore and chosen to mention as to why you’ve taken this one over any of the other Streak matches, for instance, and it got me thinking that narrowing down all the matches you’ve seen to a shortlist of just eight is tricky business, and how important was the personal connection to each match in your decision making?
Doc: Massively important, for the vast majority of them, balanced out by the concept of their established rewatchability. God Bless the Ironman match between HBK and Bret, for instance, but though I have enormously fond memories of it as the showdown that brought me back to wrestling as an older kid after my initial enamoration with sports entertainment had petered out, I really struggle to watch it as an adult.
Primetime: I think you’re not alone in that. The match definitely has it’s advocates but I know plenty of people – myself included – who have a lot more respect than affection for the bout in 2019. To be frank, I remember at the time that expectations were so high going into that bout that once Shawn nixed the idea of taking a fall I’m not sure they were ever going to be able to deliver. I can’t quite think of an example quite like it since, to be honest. But you mention Bret and Shawn there, and so dominant were they in the WWE in the 1990s that it’s hard to imagine either one or both of them not being in your list – so as we come to the halfway point, are either likely to make an appearance at this point?
Doc: Three times in total, so let’s start with one of the two HBK matches, which is on my list less for how it emotionally resonated with me and more because of the aesthetics – in my opinion this is the best example in WWE lore of a wrestling match being analogous to fine wine in how it gets better and better as it ages. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XIX is the type of performance that was fantastic on the night, but that has gotten significantly better with repeat viewings. The manner in which it flows through its run-time, its essentially flawless execution, its plot twists and false finishes, and on down to smaller details like the hype video package recapping what really was an excellent feud, the cool looking WrestleMania XIX set at Safeco field, and bits and pieces of the commentary…I don’t think it often gets labeled as one of the greatest matches of all-time, but trust me – and I’ve got five years of meticulous pre-book research to back this up – it holds up against anything you throw it at as competition.
At some point on this hypothetical island, I’m sure I’d simply want to view something that just watches well, and few matches ever watch back better than Y2J vs. HBK.
Primetime: I do remember the reception to that show being really quite mixed, but that match was probably the only bit of the show that came out essentially unscathed. In fact, it might be the most popular thing the RAW roster did in 2003 – I’m struggling to think of an alternative, to be honest with you. It’s interesting, too, because in a way we were surprised that Shawn had those kind of performances left in him after already seeing his career end once, but of course he had an entire second career. Meanwhile Jericho has gone on to outwork and outlast almost all of his peers and people now legitimately talk about him as a potential greatest of all time in his own right. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that these two delivered as they did. I think there’s just enough time in this first half for me to ask you what book you’ll be taking to the island with you?
Doc: Perhaps it may come as a bit of a surprise given the plethora of options, but aside from the gold standard “behind the scenes of the industry” book written by Mick Foley back in the late 1990s, the most mentally stimulating book I’ve read about wrestling in my lifetime has been our own Samuel ‘Plan’s 101 WWE Matches to See Before You Die. I personally like to think deeply about the wrestling business, particularly about wrestling matches, and what we have in ‘Plan’s book is a work that challenges the way that you think about professional wrestling and that urges you to see all that it can be and all that it has been. It also would compliment my chosen matches on the island because, given that his performance art thesis demands that you open your eyes to the possibilities of stories told on the 20’x20’ canvas, I would be engaged with the process of finding new angles to take from the various perspectives of the wrestlers involved in my picks.
Primetime: So I guess what you might say is you’re taking a book that takes your eight matches and potentially multiplies them out into what is potentially a far greater number than you started with, just from the way in which you can see them differently as you rewatch? That’s no bad thing, and I know ‘Plan will be thrilled to death that you’ve decided to take his book. We’ve got plenty more matches and some other bits and pieces to get through, but why don’t we take a break here and let people catch their breath and we’ll come back with the second half shortly.