Order Doc’s Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era here
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!
65. Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit on the September 26, 2002 Edition of Smackdown
Doc: And if DDP-Christian was what Mav was “talking about,” then this triple threat from the Smackdown Six Era is what I’m friekin’ talking about! Oh, it’s true! I think I must have watched this so many times that my Rey Mysterio: 619 DVD developed a skip. This is a 9-minute slice of awesome right here, arguably every bit as good and certainly every bit as aesthetically-engaging as the Mysterio-Angle Summerslam match just without the same sense of occasion. It took place in San Diego, so it was essentially a showcase for Mysterio to fly around all over the place, dazzling us as the in-ring innovation savant that he was, and I continue to appreciate to this day the breakneck pace that all three maintained for the duration of the run-time. In terms of timing, I would argue that all three were at their career peaks. Simply put: had this taken place at a major PPV, it would be regarded as one of the greatest matches ever.
Mav: You know, what Rey’s performance here really reminded me of was the work of Mustafa Ali over the past year; a perfect underdog performance up against two of the best technical monsters ever. The pace is unbelievable as well; the nine minute run time absolutely zooms by as these guys pull out all the stops. When it comes to consistent in ring action, no era can touch the Smackdown Six period, and this match is really exhibit A in that argument, no doubt.
64. Edge vs Christian in a Ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship at No Mercy 2001
Mav: Deeply, deeply underrated, the Edge and Christian break up feud was intelligently written as Christian’s jealousy over Edge’s King of the Ring win getting the better of him; he then threw his lot in with the Alliance for good measure, and this ladder match over midcard gold has remained a favourite of mine ever since. As always seemed to be the case, the two had plenty of innovation in mind, and also dealt out a great deal of physical punishment to each other without it ever becoming simply a hardcore brawl. Wrestling in a match they helped perfect, Edge and Christian graduated into the singles ranks with honours in October 2001.
Doc: I agree, Mav, and I think it is rather odd that it does not get more love than it does. As good as they were in the tag team ranks and as great as they would go on to be at the headlining level, they both had rock solid mid-card runs, and this was obviously one of the highlights, facing each other to part ways and never again really associate with one another prominently until the very end of Edge’s career. They each have one particular mid-card feud with someone else that overshadows the place for this Ladder Match in their mid-card histories, but the No Mercy performance is a great blend between the sub-genres of the gimmick, the stunt-brawl and the story-driven versions. How could Edge and Christian have ever ended their run together if not in a rousing rendition of one of the huge hits of the Attitude Era that they helped popularize; that they did it while also adding parts of prominent singles characteristics that they brought to the mid-card in the several ensuing years serves only to make this a sleeper hit historically.
63. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz for the United States Championship at Night of Champions 2010
Doc: This is one of my favorite mid-card matches of the decade. They each went into this with something massive to prove, and the build-up to it via NXT was just so engaging at a time when mid-card feuds of that quality were so few and far between. Bryan had never gotten a real chance to shine in a situation like this and he needed to prove to Vince McMahon and others who thought like him that he could respond and thrive; and he did. The Miz had done very little to suggest that he could succeed at a high level in the ring without John Morrison, and he was obviously on the brink of something big anyway as the Money in the Bank winner that year, but the standard for in-ring achievement at the main-event spot was already too high for it not to matter how well he performed when the lights were shining right on him in a featured PPV match with a good run-time; and he too responded. This is a great match that tells a great story.
Mav: I loved this storyline, and remember being super engaged by it at a time when, as Doc suggests, midcard wrestling was often treated as filler by the powers that be. Not being an indy aficionado, especially back then, before the 2013 NXT reboot brought so many more guys like Bryan into the fold, I was certainly sceptical of the hype around The American Dragon to begin with, but his performances against Jericho and Batista really opened my eyes, and then this feud came along and just blew me away. Miz worked his ass off in this match keeping up with Bryan’s technical wizardry, while not diluting his narrative as “WWE Style Guy”, and the finish and outcome were pitch perfect. Just really smart stuff all around, which they’d go on to better at Hell In A Cell when John Morrison got involved with a clever submissions count anywhere stip.
62. Chris Benoit vs. Booker T in Match 4 of a Best of 7 series for the vacant United States Championship at Armageddon 2005
Mav: I do love a good “Best Of” series, and this might just be the best of them! As we saw much earlier in the list with Sheamus and Cesaro, this kind of link to real life sports can really liven up the midcard, and so it proved here. With Booker going up 3-0 on Smackdown after Sharmell constantly gave him an advantage in the numbers game, Benoit was put in a kayfabe must win situation. With a methodical pace maintained, the two men ground each other down, with Booker’s wife once again proving an advantage to him, with numerous lucky escapes and changes of momentum provided by her, until a counter of the Book End into a DDT, followed by a Cross Face, sealed things for The Wolverine to stay alive in the series. A bit of a forgotten classic given that Benoit is involved, but very much worth the rewatch. It’s a nice example of how interference can help a story move along, and also how some matches really suit a slower, more grinding pace.
Doc: Recall that they had a more famous version of such a series in WCW, but I’m unsure that this was not the best match that they ever had together. WCW was peaking at the time of their original rivalry, so they were not given feature-length pay-per-view time together and, as good as that series was in WCW, most of those now-legendary matches were considered, critically-speaking, quite good but not great. I think this was a great match, personally, perhaps the best exhibition of the chemistry that they formed with one another in 1998 over the Television Title. As such, I really think fondly of Benoit leading the US Championship scene for a couple of years after he moved back to Smackdown in 2005. Minus obvious reasons, he might have been the first wrestler that I thought of when the topic of WWE’s United States Title came up.
61. Shelton Benjamin vs. Christian for the Intercontinental Championship at Survivor Series 2004
Doc: You know how rich WWE’s mid-card match history is when something like this struggles to inch toward the Top 50. Looking back, there were two wrestlers in 2004 that started the year as also-rans for me, but who ended up among my favorites in the company by year-end: Christian and Shelton. By the time they met for the IC Title, I was absolutely a Peep and an unabashed advocate for a monster Benjamin push. I swear, by the time this match ended, I was convinced that Shelton was going to be a future World Champion; I had never seen a guy that size springboard off the ropes like he did and, watching it again all these years later, it was evident just how much confidence he had built up, as if he could pull off anything that he tried to do in the ring. Christian, meanwhile, was thriving in every role, on the best run of his singles career, 2011 World Title-winning period notwithstanding; this is such a tremendous IC Title bout!
Mav: I concur; as previously mentioned, Christian is one of my favourites of all time, especially in this Wrestlemania XX to Wrestlemania XXI type of time frame, and I’ve always felt that WWE made a major error in letting him go to TNA at the beginning of his prime. Benjamin, meanwhile, was made to look an absolute stud at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 – it’s a pity he couldn’t really talk, as I think that held him back in the company’s eyes. Had Shelton been of this current NXT generation, that might not have mattered too much, but back then you most definitely needed to be able to hold your own in speaking segments, and that was just not the Gold Standard’s strength, sadly. What we do have though is a laundry list of midcard classics like this one, and as I’ve often said, there’s no shame in being a midcarder for life if you leave behind the kind of library he did.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your favorite mid-card title bout to have taken place on TV and not PPV?