Doctor’s Orders: The Top 100 Mid-Card Matches in WWE History (#71- #75)

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!

75. Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase at WrestleMania VI

Doc: This is one of my mid-card WrestleMania favorites, borrowing as it does from the themes previously discussed when profiling other Hulkamania Era bouts. The story is the key, not the moves, and without dialing into the story, the lack of moves will threaten to tarnish your experience. Jake Roberts knocked it out of the park in his pre-match promo, which is an essential part of any Roberts-DiBiase viewing; it remains one of the greatest promos ever delivered. The vitriol behind The Snake’s message was born of a feud that began a year earlier, when The Million Dollar Man attacked Jake and put him out of action for most of 1989; it also stemmed quite naturally from the organic everyman role that Roberts played as effortlessly as he did the psychologically-destructive villain – a point to keep in mind when contextualizing the finish of the Mania match, the bell-to-bell action for which ended in a count out but truly climaxed after the bell when Jake gave away DiBiase’s money to people sitting at ringside. It is, admittedly, one of those matches that you have to have a deeper appreciation for what wrestling can be to fully appreciate, but if you can tap into the story, then it is a very charming performance.

Mav: Two of the very best to ever lace up a pair of boots, in this writer’s opinion. Absolute masters of psychology and storytelling, they were also gifted technical wrestlers, particularly DiBiase, who was ahead of his time in that respect. Some might see the inconclusive finish as a weakness, but it was such a common trope at the time to have count outs and time limit draws that as long as you can put yourself in the mind frame of the era, it’s a veritable clinic in the art of midcard wrestling and character acting. As Doc mentioned, the post match antics of Roberts take this to the next level; it was probably his finest moment as a babyface other than his vanquishing of Rick Martel one WrestleMania later.

74. Jeff Hardy vs Johnny Nitro for the Intercontinental Championship at Unforgiven 2006

Mav: Two generations of spot monkeys collide! In all seriousness though, how awesome was it to see Jeff Hardy, who redefined the art of risktaking at the turn of the millennium, face off against the man who was doing the same thing seven years later? Containing all the fast paced, high octane action you could possibly wish for, this is the kind of match that lit up an otherwise so-so era in WWE history. Nitro (soon to be Morrison) showcased the considerable starpower that would see him almost make it to the main event level before his departure in 2011, whilst Hardy was about to embark on one of his several hot streaks with the company. This one is, as a result, an absolute blast!

Doc: Jeff Hardy had just come back to the company as well, so this was actually his first PPV match since he departed in 2003. Nitro was plenty motivated too, as this was his very first one-on-one PPV bout; MNM had been and would later continue to be a rock solid tag team, but when Johnny broke out on his own as the Intercontinental Champion, he opened some eyes to the full extent of his potential, which at that time had never looked greater than it did in this match against Hardy. Nitro looked like a young RVD out there, or dare it be said, a young Jeff Hardy. Healthy and ready to get back in the game, Jeff appeared rejuvenated, and it was performances like this one that had Triple H actively touting him behind the scenes as a guy that WWE should push to the top in the years that followed. I echo Mav’s sentiment that this was a blast, and I’ll add that it was also a really underrated curtain jerker for one of the top brand-only pay-per-views in history (top heavy as it may have been).

73. Test vs. Shane McMahon in a Greenwich Street Fight at Summerslam 1999

Doc: He had his critics and may he of course rest in peace, but I really dug Test as a big man worker. I thought he showed on numerous occasions throughout his career a penchant for exceeding the expectations that his limited personality perhaps unfairly imposed upon him. I can imagine that Vince McMahon took one look at Test and said, “That guy can be in the main-event,” but the lack of charisma likely underwhelmed; frankly, though, he had a ton of value as a mid-card big man who could work hoss or work small or, as was proven against Shane, work against a non-wrestler and make it work just as well. The spotlight shone brightly upon Test in the summer of ‘99 and I think it fair to say that WWE officials came away depressed about the wrong thing (lack of acting skill) when they should have been impressed with the right thing (his working ability). Speaking of matches that are a blast, here’s another one. What’d you think of Test, Mav?

Mav: I actually thought Test hit his peak during the InVasion storyline two years later, when his defection to The Alliance and victory in the “Immunity Battle Royal” at Survivor Series briefly turned him into a legitimate top heel contender- the kind of position Drew McIntyre finds himself in today. However, I also think you’re absolutely right to say that his ring work in 1999 was very promising indeed, particularly in the context of the time period. I have always loved this match; although it’s depressing that Shane is still trying to work this exact style all these years later, as a balls to the wall brawl that’s fun as blazes to sit and watch, I don’t think there’s much that can beat this “Love Her Or Leave Her” match, and it also serves as a lasting testimony to the why the Attitude Era was the the hottest time in company history; the combination of wild soap opera story and chaotic action in the squared circle works so well here.

72. Rusev vs. John Cena for the United States Championship at Fast Lane 2015

Mav: I guess we’ve cheated with this one a little, given the talent involved, but it’s not a lie to say that John Cena in 2015 very much worked in the midcard workhorse role, especially in the first six or seven months of the year. And while it’s a shame that this huge pay-per-view win for Rusev did not develop into something more (the biggest knock on Cena’s career is that inability to “make” up and coming heels that wrestled him) this match from the newly named Fast Lane pay-per-view was one of my favourite matches of 2015. Rusev in his original “Pro Russian” gimmick was a glorious throwback to all those 80s heels, and while many critics at the beginning stated that it would never work, it ended up working magnificently, mostly because WWE stuck to their guns and just went all in with it – and when they do that, it tends to pan out (it’s all the half hearted chopping and changing of gimmicks and characters that creates the issues). What we have here then is a hot heel coming up against the top guy in the company who has come down to wrestle in the midcard, and they tell a classic story brilliantly, with an unseen low blow ultimately leading to Cena passing out in The Accolade.

Doc: Yeah, this is an instance of us fudging the “mid-card” label a bit on account of the decision to include any US or IC title bout that was not the actual main-event of a pay-per-view. John Cena is not a mid-card guy, but let’s be honest, I think you’d struggle by standards set in the past 20 years to call Macho Man and Rick Steamboat mid-card guys as of WrestleMania III (theirs was the second biggest match at the biggest wrestling PPV of all-time). Anyhow, 2015 was Cena’s “back to the mid-card” year, the last great run of his WWE career to date (the AJ Styles series has basically become an anomaly at this point). One of the themes we have touched on in this series to date is the “old school” mentality of wrestling characterful matches rather than trying to out and out steal the show, and this is perhaps the most old school of all of Cena’s US Title bouts in 2015, its focus on America vs. Russia channeling the spirit of Rocky IV’s Drago vs. Balboa fight. Hell, I half expected Cena, after getting his win back at WrestleMania 31, to launch into a Rocky-esque “doing a lot of changin’” speech. This match against Rusev earned its place in the ranking because it was delightfully old school and gave us one thing that a lot of the older school mid-card bouts did not – a conclusive finish.

71. Shane McMahon vs. X-Pac for the European Championship at WrestleMania XV

Doc: I don’t know about you, Mav, but I really miss seeing Shane in this kind of role, prominent on account of his name, but not pushing the limits of both credibility and patience. Shane was awesome in matches like this, in which he was expected to wrestle for 10-12 minutes either in a schmozzy affair or a hardcore brawl like his match with Test. Less is more with Shane ‘O Mac, and he found an ideal dance partner in X-Pac, who at this point in 1999 was thriving pretty much anywhere he was put on the card and truly in his sweet spot where he was still healthy enough to aerially dazzle but too injured (neck) to lean on spots as a crutch; he had to be smarter about his deployment of high risks and pay greater mind to his body, and the end result was the best run of matches in his entire career as far as I’m concerned.

Mav: It’s actually outrageous that this was Shane’s first proper wrestling match given how good this is, and as Doc suggests, Shane, in this kind of role, added a lot of value in that 1999 to 2001 window. I certainly no longer want him anywhere near the product, but let’s not forget what he once offered! All credit due to X Pac for carrying the green McMahon to a high octane midcard classic. When I revisited this one, it was the sheer pace and sense of fun which really set it apart, as well its place in the night long story that led to Triple H turning heel and setting himself on his path to top heel status (interestingly enough we covered the match that came out of that storyline earlier in this list). Wrestlemania XV is a pretty bum show in retrospect, but this was its stand out midcard moment for sure.

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your historical opinion of X-Pac? As far as influential 1990s stars, what hierarchical tier would you put him in?

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