Doctor’s Orders: The Top 100 Mid-Card Matches in WWE History (#60- #56)

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Mav: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. Last winter, The Doc suggested to me that we should work together on a collaborative series, and I knew right away what we should do. Anyone who has read my work on this website for the past four and a half years (and even longer if you were with me down in the Columns Forum), or listened to The Right Side Of The Pond knows that my number one passion in pro wrestling is not the “epic” main events but the midcard barn burners and forgotten classics of yore, those matches which either stole a show or enhanced a card through their intelligence and storytelling acumen. After much conferring, we finally came up with a list of the matches we felt represented the top 100 bouts of this type in WWF/E history. But we have rules and parameters! Let me pass you over the good Doctor to take you through them…

Doc: When I think about the term “mid-card,” I tend to think of a rather catch-all term applying to men’s singles matches that took place beyond the confines of the main-event scene, with respect to women’s and tag team matches which are specifically distinguished by their respective divisional labels. This thought process does indeed go against the grain of the literal definition of the term – a match that took place in the middle of the card – but there should naturally be a line drawn to help set apart from the mid-card situations in which the top championship of a brand is at stake earlier on in a show rather than the last match or when the clear and obvious lead feud on television does not get the main-event on a pay-per-view. The mid-card scene certainly has its obvious division-based distinctions too, specifically the mid-card singles championships (the United States and Intercontinental), and Mav and I also decided to perhaps controversially include the World Heavyweight Championship from 2012 until its retirement (to be explained in greater detail later), but the goal of the parameters set forth in the upcoming Top 100 was to encompass a broad spectrum of potential candidates (end date May 2018).

If you have any questions about rules and parameters, let us know, otherwise, let’s get back to it!

60. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Championship at the Boston Garden, February 8 1986

Mav: Ahead of its time just as much, if not more so in some ways, than the more famous Ricky Steamboat match a year later, this TV bout in which Savage first won the Intercontinental Championship possesses all his hallmarks: incredibly smart pacing, smouldering intensity, charismatic rule breaking, and a desperate will to win. Santana was the perfect babyface champion to complement the up and coming star in Savage, and the two men were well matched for athleticism and technical prowess. The climax of the match is utterly thrilling, with a Macho Man escape from the figure four leading to a struggle by the ropes; in the chaos, Savage manages to strike Tito with a foreign object, much to Monsoon’s disgust! A must watch match, no doubt about it.

Doc: One of my favorite memories during the research process for my original WrestleMania Era book was watching the ascent of the Intercontinental Championship while around the waists of Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Randy Savage, and Honky Tonk Man. My memories of live viewing, regarding the IC Title particularly, begin during Mr. Perfect’s dominance in the division from 1990 to 1991, so constructing a bridge from my long-held memories to the distant ones in the furthest reaches of my 1987-beginning fandom was an awesome experience. Before the famous Mania III match for the IC Title could be what it became, there had to be three things on the table: #1 – the championship had to be coveted and attached to major players over a long period of time (it was) / #2 Steamboat had to be a character that had a lot at stake (he was) / #3 Macho Man had to be a game-changer, a bold personality with a desire to maximize his position (he was). Savage perfected his overall skill-set in matches like this one against Tito, an ideal straight-man foil for Macho.

59. Edge vs. Kurt Angle at Backlash 2002

Doc: Allow me to gush over this match like it was among the final third on our list. I have so many great memories about this performance, mainly because it was through this match that Edge started on his journey to becoming my second favorite wrestler of all-time (in a tie with Bret Hart) and that made Angle my fan anchor (the wrestler who I respect so much that he kept me tuning in, no matter what) from 2002-2006. I have often felt that Angle and Edge found a way to channel the spirit of the Mania III IC Title classic into their work together, because it was so frantically paced but simultaneously so well executed that, by the time that the thrilling climax (with all its awesome near falls and plot twists) was over and the final bell had sounded, you were emotionally spent. I see so much of what modern pro wrestling has become stylistically, and I wonder to myself about the role that this rivalry might have played in that on some kind of fundamental level because it was so fast and so content-laden that it would look right at home on an NXT Takeover. I just love it.

Mav: Having just watched this again, I think we may have underrated it as well. Although less famous than the hair vs hair match which came a month later, this is actually just as good. The high octane athleticism of both men, prior to their respective major surgeries, is very much in evidence here, and there are some simply breathtaking sequences which spoke both to Edge’s determination to crash the main event party, and Angle’s unparalleled brilliance at the time. The finish, in particular, is a thing of beauty, with a knee to the face countering the spear, before the Angle Slam takes it home for Kurt. It’s a wonderful example of how to execute a midcard feud during a brand extension, and something that WWE execs would be well advised to take a look at, given how often they’ve struggled in that regard lately. A hell of a match and a hell of a feud.

58. Shelton Benjamin vs. Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Title at Backlash 2005

Mav: Coming off of his electrifying performance in the inaugural Money in the Bank ladder match a few weeks prior, Shelton Benjamin was about as hot as ever he was, and going up against one of the men he took on in that very ladder match was a nice way to keep his hot streak going. Jericho was coming to the end of his first run with WWE, and was very much the dependable veteran deployed to keep the kid’s shine going, and of course he did his usual immaculate job in that respect. The story of the match saw Jericho get more and more frustrated with Benjamin’s superior pure wrestling ability, forcing him to reach deep down into his bag of dirty tricks, despite this essentially being a face vs face affair. Some of the counters are absolutely breathtaking in this, and they build the pace nicely to the climactic reversals that lead to Benjamin retaining. An object lesson in how to wrestle a good curtain jerker.

Doc: Oh, man, how I love this project. Benjamin vs. Jericho was a fantastic performance. I caught a little bit of flack for ranking Shelton so high up in the third tier of my first book, but if you take out the fact that he was not a huge star with main-event accolades (just one of what I deemed five pertinent categories which define greatness in pro wrestling history), then he was, in the 2000s, one of the finest pure wrestlers, one of the most decorated mid-card champions, and had one of the best performance records of all non-headliners. I would put his singles peak, from the win over Triple H in March 2004 through to his Title vs. MITB contract match with RVD in April 2006, against any primarily mid-card act’s peak during this century. The match with Jericho was arguably his best ever, and it was within two weeks of his acclaimed Raw match with Shawn Michaels, the finish of which gets lauded among the pantheon, but really was no better than the final moments of the Jericho match.

57. Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind at In Your House: Canadian Stampede

Doc: Such a formative feud for then-emerging Triple H and such a great example of the full value that Mick Foley brought to the WWF, you know? That is always the first thing that jumps out at me when I rewatch a Foley-Hunter match from Chapter 1 in their saga through the summer of 1997, the year that Triple H went from an intriguing prospect to a budding superstar. They had a lot of really good matches that year, but the manner in which they brawled – and particularly the manner in which Hunter went toe-to-toe with the Hardcore Legend (a recurring theme that never failed to heighten his credibility on a broader scale) – set the stage for their wilder brawls in the near and distant future. It was this match that changed my perception of who Trips was and what he could be, and it was the match that made his partnership with Shawn Michaels matter because it was the match that really made Hunter Hearst Helmsley matter.

Mav: I adore this match, coming as it did in the very early months of the Attitude Era, and at a show which was so important to establishing the tone of what that era would be. The match itself is as hot as it gets, but as Doc suggests, it’s the arena wide brawl which takes place afterwards that really makes it special. Fans of mordant irony will enjoy the fact that Triple H at one point hits Mankind in the face with a shovel! As a bout to showcase midcard acts breaking through to the next stage of their careers, this is outstanding, and as a way of pointing towards the future direction of both men, it is similarly effective. Triple H’s record as a midcard wrestler is perhaps one of the more underrated things about him; his work between 1996 and 1998 in particular crops up a fair few times in this list. A fantastic match on one of the best non-Big 4 shows ever.

56. Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio in a No Holds Barred Match for the Intercontinental Championship at Extreme Rules 2009

Mav: The 2000s was generally speaking not at all kind to the storied Intercontinental Championship. Largely irrelevant during Attitude bar the odd occasion, and sent into brand extension purgatory after 2002, it found it hard to get back to the prominence of the Savage vs Steamboat days. However, following Jericho’s clash with the old folks home at Wrestlemania XXV, he set his sights on his old rival from WCW’s midcard gold, and the two men wrestled a series of absolutely breathtaking matches, which absolutely harked back to Savage, Steamboat, Valentine, Santana, Rude and company. This no holds barred match between two men who are nominally work horses was an interesting choice of stipulation, and they used it intelligently, with the steel chair in particular playing a key part in the action, although it was actually Jericho’s obsession with Rey’s mask that allowed him to win his record breaking ninth Intercontinental Championship.

Doc: The finish to this match has to be considered among the most unique in the history of professional wrestling. If you have not seen it, we have avoided spoiling it for you and simply suggest you drop what you’re doing and go watch the match so you can join us in marveling at the final moments. (Are you ready? OK, let’s resume). Mysterio and Jericho had unbelievable chemistry that allowed them to pull off highly intricate move sequences with near unparalleled effectiveness. It was simply a joy to watch them wrestle each other. The manner in which they built the next match in their ongoing series to play off the set-pieces from the previous gave each performance this “counter to the counter of the counter originally used in counter” aesthetic that someone of my personal in-ring tastes just adores, and as such their matches never really got old to me. Technically, their 2009 feud, which we will highlight again later in the countdown, lasted about two months, but they packed so much content into their series that it felt like six months in hindsight. Just brilliant stuff…

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who, in your opinion, was the top primarily mid-card act of the 2000s decade in WWE?

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