Doctor’s Orders: The Top 100 Mid-Card Matches in WWE History (#66- #70)

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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!

70. Rikishi vs. Val Venis in a Steel Cage Match for the Intercontinental Championship at Fully Loaded 2000

Mav: In undertaking a project like this, you really become aware of the periods of WWE history which were fruitful for midcard wrestling, and the key figures who were workhorses for the company in boom periods. Val Venis, as mentioned earlier in the series, was a seriously underrated worker, whilst Rikishi had one hell of a year 2000, going from Rumble MVP in January to world title contender by December, with a heel turn on Austin in between. This match from July 2000 sees both men at the crossroads, with Val soon to be turned by the Right To Censor and Rikishi soon to be unveiled as the hit and run artist, but in the meantime, they had one hell of a heated cage match. Famous of course for Rikishi’s crazy 400 pound splash from the top of the cage, there’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s well worth revisiting. A classic of the genre.

Doc: I was taking a break from the WWF when this aired live and when I came back to the product the following year, I never really had much reason to check out this match. In fact, the first time that I saw it was actually in 2010 while working on a column series called “Mr. Pay-Per-View,” examining the top wrestlers from each PPV month and the matches that defined them. I do not even remember why I watched it frankly, but for some reason I did and, for obvious reasons once viewed, I was very pleasantly surprised. The spot off the cage is the most memorable moment of the 14-minute run-time, and in my opinion this was a good example of the golden era of WWE/F cage matches, which always built to a big move or two (or three) off the side or the top of the structure. I would venture to say that, if this kind of performance took place today, it would be quickly hailed a modern mid-card classic and the best cage match in years.

69. Chris Benoit vs. MVP for the United States Championship at WrestleMania 23

Doc: Montel Vontavious Porter was the Val Venis of the late 2000s, wouldn’t you agree, Mav? The prima-donna wide receiver-esque character was as perfect a fit for its era as Venis was to Attitude. Like Venis, MVP was a baller between the ropes who took full ownership of his on-screen persona’s potential and truly stands out as one of the top mid-card acts from last decade. Against Benoit at ‘Mania 23, he flashed his potential as a work-horse in one of the finest sub-ten-minute matches you will ever see from WWE. Benoit thrived in the kind of role exemplified here, the credible champion who could add considerable value to whatever part of the card he was placed on. After getting rave reviews on the house show circuit throughout the early part of 2007, they unleashed this little gem from ‘Mania lore that nobody ever talks about, but it was certainly good enough to get talked about more often now and it is deserving of its place here.

Mav: I’d certainly agree that MVP was one of those midcard talents of the later 2000s who tragically came up against a triple reinforced glass ceiling again and again, just as Val Venis never quite made it to the top level of the Attitude Era, despite arguably having the talent and the popularity to. Around this time it really did seem only a matter of time before MVP was thrust into a headlining role. A solid worker with an excellent grasp of his character, Porter really shone here, allowing the canny Benoit to carry him to a wonderful debut performance at the Show of Shows. The pacing and the intensity of the mat based grappling was a hallmark of any Wolverine bout, and the cocky newcomer having the stones to trade on the mat with a technical wizard was an astute piece of storytelling. MVP worked the arm over to prevent the crossface, but Benoit adapted and hit the diving headbutt to retain instead. A perfect example of how to get an up and comer over without having to take the belt off the veteran.

68. Chris Benoit vs. Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental Championship at Summerslam 2002

Mav: It’s a truth almost universally acknowledged that Summerslam 2002 is the greatest non-Wrestlemania pay-per-view event in company history, and as a consequence of just how stacked that card is, this match is often cruelly forgotten about, but what an intriguing contrast of characters! The goofy Van Dam had lit WWE on fire in his debut year with the company, thrilling fans with his unique style and becoming a go to upper midcard hand. Meanwhile, the always ornery Benoit had struggled for relevance on the Kliq dominated Raw since coming back from injury, but a move to Smackdown was about to rehabilitate him under the booking genius of Paul Heyman. This match allowed Benoit to drop the Intercontinental Championship (a Raw title) to RVD, and a damned good job he did of putting the Whole F’n Show over in a big spot. I don’t recall these two wrestling too many times other than here, so it’s kind of historically intriguing to me, too.

Doc: I was always of the opinion that RVD’s routine worked best, specifically referencing his work in the non-hardcore environment, when he was up against a wrestler with whom he could craftily map out his signature spots for maximum impact. Benoit very well played the Dean Malenko to RVD’s Rey Mysterio at Summerslam ‘02, and the aesthetic quality of seeing moves like Rolling Thunder executed at peak efficiency within the flow of a more technically-oriented performance really clicked for yours truly. Van Dam had plenty of engaging spot-fests in his career that would rank higher on a broader list, but in terms of his more standard matches, I would rank this one with Benoit near the top.

67. Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions 2012

Doc: OK, so in the intro, I referenced the controversial decision to include a brief period in the World Title’s history as part of this mid-card discussion. Allow me to expand. In 2011, the big gold belt started to get positioned in opening matches, and in 2012 the trend was furthered to the point that it became readily apparent to folks like myself and Maverick that the World Title had begun to function like the Intercontinental Title of yesteryear, very much the top of the mid-card food chain rather than an extension of the main-event. Sheamus and Del Rio had a really nice series of matches across the summer months in 2012 that highlighted the concept of the World Heavyweight Championship becoming a mid-card title pretty much through the end of its existence in late 2013. Respectfully to them, the likes of Sheamus, Del Rio, Ziggler, Swagger, Bryan, and Show were glorified mid-carders feuding over a title that no longer carried the aura of headlining stakes, and I think it benefits them, the title, and their matches to look at them more like a rediscovery of how the top mid-card championship division should function – the subtle beginning of the return to prominence of the mid-card titles we’ve seen in the last few years. Del Rio vs. Sheamus at Money in the Bank, Summerslam, and Night of Champions were all very good “mid-card title matches.”

Mav: Sheamus really did have a fantastic run with that big gold belt in 2012, with Bryan, Del Rio, Ziggler and Big Show all pulling fantastic performances from the Irishman that shut his many internet critics up for a while (I was one of those critics, mostly because I found his white bread babyface character so lame, but there was no arguing with the quality of those matches). Realistically, Sheamus was never meant to be a top star, but as Doc mentioned above, he thrived in the upper midcard environment afforded him by carrying the Smackdown world title during a down phase in its prestige cycle. Del Rio’s overall body of work in WWE is massively underrated, and the two men beat the hell out of each other in this one. I could’ve done without the nonsensical banning and unbanning of the Brogue Kick, but other than that, this is as solid a midcard match as you’ll find, and stiffer than you’d think too.

66. Christian vs. DDP for the European Championship at Wrestlemania XVIII

Mav: Now we’re talking! A firm favourite on The Right Side Of The Pond on LOP Radio, this instant early card classic from a Wrestlemania chock full of hipster midcard classics is a masterclass in maximising your minutes. Page and Christian cram as much balls to the wall action as you can possibly imagine into their six minutes, and do so with crispness, flair and imagination. The fact they also manage to tell a complete story regarding Christian’s rejection of DDP’s swami teachings, ending with the former tag specialist having an enormous big baby tantrum in the middle of the ring is just the icing on the cake. Just brilliant fun. This would be a real desert island match for me.

Doc: In Samuel ‘Plan’s book, he refers to this as one of the ultimate “make the show” (as opposed to steal) type performances, and there’s really no denying the truth in that statement. I wish we saw more mid-card matches like it today, not just at WrestleMania but all the time on PPV. CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio eight years later filled a similar role on the ‘Mania XXVI card and I loved it too, but DDP-Christian is the type of match that you didn’t necessarily need to see more of to get the most out of the experience. Roster positioning dictated that the Euro Title was lower mid-card fare, so it was treated as such from the outset, and all the while both the wrestlers and us as fans benefited from their 6-minute story, as did ‘Mania X-8; had it gone even three minutes longer, it might have overstayed its welcome, but as it was, it was perfect.

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: Rewind the clock to 2007 and I would’ve been willing to bet you that MVP would have won the World Title at some point in WWE. In terms of mid-card talents from the last 15 years, which ones did you think were going to win the WWE/World Championship gold?

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