The Best Non-WWE Wrestling Match Of All Time

There have been countless phenomenal wrestling matches to have taken place outside of a WWE/WWF ring over the years. The likes of AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 and Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega from NJPW’s Dominion 6.11 event come to mind from recent years, as do a vast number of classic matches from the sport’s territorial days. However, in my humble (but correct) opinion, the greatest wrestling match to ever take place outside of World Wrestling Entertainment took place in Smoky Mountain Wrestling at their Night of Legends show in the year 1994. The show, which took place at the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee, featured an incredible showcase of talent which was presented to a sold-out crowd. Smoky Mountain Wrestling is probably the most underrated and undervalued wrestling promotion to exist in the last 30+ years. The Night of Legends 1994 show is absolutely deserving of its own article discussing all of its greatness and, if I have anything to say about it, it will eventually get one. But ultimately, one match stands out above the rest from the super-card booked by Smoky Mountain. That match is, of course, the classic tag-team bout between The Heavenly Bodies (Gigolo Jimmy Del Ray and Doctor Tom Prichard) and The Thrillseekers (Chris Jericho and Lance Storm).

The match was the result of an angle built up by Smoky mountain in the weeks leading up to the Night of Legends show. The basic premise of the feud was that the Thrillseekers, the babyface team, were viciously attacked in a parking lot by The Heavenly Bodies, the storyline’s heel faction. This attack garnered instant heat with the fans, as at previous Smoky Mountain show, The Heavenly Bodies had come out on the losing end of a “Loser Leaves Town” match. Seeing the polarizing team back in the promotion loaned instant credibility, as well as an immense amount of heat. To allow The Thrillseekers to get their revenge following the attack, the Smoky Mountain promotion decided to lift the “loser leaves town” sanctions against The Heavenly Bodies for one night only: The Night Of Legends.

 

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The Thrillseekers: Lance Storm (left) and Chris Jericho (right)

The match itself begins with The Heavenly Bodies entering the Knoxville Civic Coliseum with their manager, the great Jim Cornette. Before The Thrillseekers make their entrance, Cornette cuts a short, but epic, promo. After this short segment, a racecar pulls up to the entranceway, which is portrayed as being driven by The Thrillseekers. however, the lights go dark and the tag-team enters from the back entrance and immediately begins striking at The Heavenly Bodies. On commentary, the legendary Jim Ross is quick to point out that Thrillseeker Chris Jericho had suffered a broken arm in a “motorcycle accident” within 24 hours of coming to the ring to contest The Heavenly Bodies. While Jericho had actually suffered a broken arm within 24 hours of the bout, it was actually sustained while doing in-ring training prior to the Night of Legends event. Jim Cornette, who was also the owner and booker of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, discussed the utter shock and panic caused by Jericho’s injury in a later shoot interview with Kayfabe Commentaries years later. In what I found to be an immensely funny moment, Cornette addresses the added panic he felt when he realized that the arm Jericho had broken was the arm he would use to blade himself in the match, referring to it as his “juice gettin’ arm”. Regardless of how the injury was suffered, it added an incredible amount of drama to the match and Smoky Mountain was brilliant to use it to add to the Thrillseeker gimmick and to use it to enhance the storytelling of the match.

 

 

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The Heavenly Bodies: Dr. Tom Prichard (left) and Gigolo Jimmy Del Ray (right) managed by Jim Cornette (middle)

The next several minutes of the match are characterized by a great amount of action. The Thrillseekers and The Bodies seem to trade the upper-hand back and forth as several tag-ins, spectacles of impressive teamwork, and of course, Jim Cornette shenanigans make this sequence immensely entertaining. Just shy of the 13-minute mark of the match, Chris Jericho is thrown into the ringside barricades by Doctor Tom Prichard. It was directly following that spot when Jericho bladed his forehead. What followed was one of the goriest, and yet most inspiring sequences of events in professional wrestling history. Unbeknown to the crowd, and most of those involved in the show, Jericho had taken an aspirin prior to the match. The blood thinner paired with a sloppy, broken-armed blade job led to unimaginably heavy bleeding from Jericho. As the bleeding continued, The Heavenly Bodies began to truly take the upper-hand as The Thrillseekers were seemingly reduced to hopeless underdogs. After a brutal beat-down of Chris Jericho, the referee stops the match out of fear for Jericho’s health. However, after impassioned pleading from Chris Jericho and epic commentary from Jim Ross about Jericho’s toughness, the referee decides to restart the match. Jericho, bloodied to the point of no recognition at this point, is quick to deliver a martial arts kick to Gigolo Jimmy Del Ray. Jericho covers the Gigolo and a 3-count follows. Jim Cornette and The Heavenly bodies are absolutely stunned by the turn of events as an almost lifeless Jericho is helped out of the arena by his partner, Lance Storm.

 

 

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Chris Jericho being helped out of the arena following the match’s conclusion

I do not possess an adequate amount of words to describe my love of this match. The storytelling is simply superb. The underdog babyfaces being attacked by an iconic heel team and then being able to seek their revenge at the biggest show of the year is just great. The Heavenly Bodies are an absolutely iconic team and their pairing with the infinitely talented team of Chris Jericho and Lance Storm was a phenomenal booking decision. Lance Storm’s amazing talent can sometimes be overshadowed in this match because of Jericho’s legendary performance. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He is a spectacular wrestler and his abilities are showcased perfectly in this match. While the match may not be a technical masterpiece (one of the participants had a broken freaking arm, after all), it was still an amazing piece of entertainment. I can’t recommend this match enough to anyone who enjoys professional wrestling, or even just great entertainment. It truly is one of the better wrestling matches of all time.

 

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out some of the other great articles by me, as well as the rest of the guys at Mid-American Culture!

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Why Professional Wrestling Is Struggling In Today’s Culture

Professional wrestling has been a cultural staple in the United States, particularly in the South and Mid-Western parts of the country, for decades. Being a 90’s baby and the son of a huge professional wrestling fan, I grew up watching wrestling during what I believe to be the best time in the history of the sport. During a significant part of my childhood, wrestling was everything to me. I idolized the wrestlers. I collected the action figures (to this day, I still have literally hundreds of them boxed up in my garage). I proudly wore my replica championship belts. I watched WWE programming religiously. Wrestling was my greatest childhood passion.

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However, wrestling gradually began to lose its appeal to myself and many other fans. At the time, I blamed my loss of interest on my discovery that the outcome of the matches were scripted and the departure of some of my favorite wrestlers from the sport. My recently rekindled love of wrestling has led me to reconsider this. I believe that a cultural shift and the industry’s attempts to keep up with said shift are more to blame than anything else.

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Wrestling was arguably never more popular than it was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The sport was at its peak during the “Monday Night Wars”. The Wars were actually a competition between the country’s two top wrestling promotions, World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) for superiority over one another. The Monday Night Wars led to the beginning of the Attitude Era in the WWF. The borderline vulgar, often profanity-ridden, and violent storylines that came from the Attitude Era are some of the most entertaining content ever created by a wrestling promotion. Not only were the storylines great, but the characters were iconic and the viewer could really identify with them to an extent. Who didn’t want to give their boss the finger and pound beers like Stone Cold Steve Austin? Who didn’t want to have the charisma and swagger of The Rock? Who didn’t want to be as rebellious and controversial as the D-Generation X faction? No other point in wrestling history could even hold a candle to the Attitude Era.

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However, the sport took a drastic decline in the years following. After the demise of WCW, World Wrestling Entertainment stood as the only major player left in the world of professional wrestling. This led to a noticeable decline in quality. The crude, bloody action sport that wrestling was gradually declined into a series of watered-down matches between mostly goofy, generic characters. The change was undeniable. Ratings and house show numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years. These loses cant be blamed completely on the decline in quality, however. Even the less violent matches between the lower card wrestlers during the Attitude Era were great. So what is the issue?

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I personally believe that much of the problem is the change in culture in the last two decades. Ultimately, political correctness is a good thing. Simply put, it basically promotes common courtesy and respect being expanded to everyone regardless of who they are. It makes the community a better place. But, wrestling is not about that. Wrestling was so great during the Attitude Era because it provided viewers with an escape from all social norms. Fans could live vicariously through the wresters and experience things that are not plausible in the real world. As WWE became more mainstream and family friendly,    it strayed further and further away from what made it so great. While trying to move in a safer and more commercially acceptable direction is commendable, this alienates a vast percentage of the sport’s core fan base. The proof is in the numbers. The sport just isn’t the same.

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With that being said, it is important to note that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. That light comes in the form of  a man named Paul Levesque. Better known by his in-ring name Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), Levesque was a focal point of the Attitude Era. As a member and eventual leader of, the D-Generation X faction, Triple H played a key role in some of the Era’s most controversial moments. Levesque is also the son-in-law of WWE owner Vince McMahon. Many believe that Helmsley will eventually take over the company. This could lead to an instant resurgence of the things that made pro wrestling the cultural icon it is today.

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Only time will tell if WWE will return to its attitude-filled roots, but the future of the sport is certainly bright. Regardless of all of the flaws in the current WWE product I mentioned above, the current roster is arguably more athletically talented than ever before. With the right kind of help from the creative team, the wrestling promotion could easily return to its former glory. While the Attitude Era deeply contrasts what political correct culture is about, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Professional wrestling is scripted and predetermined. It is done for the sake of entertainment. Entertainment needs to continue to push boundaries. The world of professional wrestling can do that by bringing back what made it so edgy and exciting, despite pressure to conform to social pressure. While it does not need to turn to the gory, uber-violent, and often outright offensive content of a promotion like Extreme Championship Wrestling, WWE  does need to recapture some of the grit it exhibited during the Attitude Era. This kind of sports entertainment could succeed, and even thrive, in todays culture. It is time to bring the attitude back to professional wrestling and that’s the bottom line…….

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Twitter: @ BigRedAFerg