WWE Network Hidden Gems
Ray Gunkel vs Lou Thesz NWA Championship Texas 5/30/51
"Louie Thesz". Lol. This is coming from the famed Sportatorium in Texas, and it was kind of neat to see Gunkel was doing the "sign autographs in the ring" thing that was still being used in WCCW in the late 80s. Hoping to see at least one back drop here. Lou goes for it very early on. Listen to the pop for Gunkel getting out of it with a toe hold. Gunkel hits a body slam, and focuses on Lou's back from that point on. Lou responds with a punch to the PANCREAS. Gunkel works a tight headlock, implementing some rolling with it along the way. Lou kind of gets a choke on during it. The announcer calmly explains cauliflower ears and how they're caused. Ray works the shit out of that headlock. Snug as a mug. Lou does a sweet ass guillotine and starts using some more roughneck tactics to keep the challenger at bay. Lou has a short arm scissors on for quite a while, when gets me fiending for a Backlund Lift. Will we get it? WILL WE? WE DO!...kind of. Oh shit, strike battle! God, this ref is terrible. Those counts are brutally slow. Ray hit Lou with the Thesz Press! AUSTIN AUSTIN AUSTIN RIGHT HAND RIGHT HAND. Ray hits a series of body slams to win fall 1.
Fall 2 begins with Thesz being reprimanded for how slowly he came out of his corner, then getting hot when he got slapped. Lol. I've seen him pull that shit so many times in Japan. Much of fall 2 has Gunkel having an answer for everything, until Lou hits a FUCKING POWERBOMB. In 1951.
The doctor won't allow Gunkel to continue the 3rd fall, based on a "dislocated vertebrae". Lou broke this fool's neck! Title retained. Lou Thesz was so wonderful. Just wonderful. I hope WWE finds more footage of him that they own. LOU THESZ COLLECTION. Imagine it.
Harley Race vs Bob Backlund WWF 9/22/80 Undisputed Championship
Oh man, please give me a Backlund lift to Harley. This has no commentary, which is even neater, although I do really enjoy late 70s/early 80s Vince commentary. God damn, Backlund does a press slam about a minute in. Harley was a big, weirdly shaped man at this stage of his life. Beer gut to the extreme. Bob nearly wins with a Thesz Press right after, which would be greatly ironic for him to defeat the NWA Champion with. It's quite amazing how strong Backlund was. Dude was always doing this bizarre feats of strength like reverse bridges and his name sake lift. I bet he attempted the lift on Andre once. Bob really dominates the first 10 minutes or so, scoring multiple near falls that had the NYC crowd going crazy. For a dude with a reputation that he wasn't particularly liked by the heel cities like NYC and Philly, they sure want to see him beat Harley here. That said, there is one lady you can hear very clearly who keeps giving Backlund a ton of shit and is rooting for Harley. MSG ERUPTS for a stalling suplex. They actually popped bigger for that than a German suplex. It's nearly 25 minutes in before Harley gets any sustained offense. Up to that point, Backlund was able to out power and out wrestle him at every turn. God damn, Bob's piledriver is fucking nasty. Bob has Harley in the sleeper. Harley grabs the ref. Of course, the bell rang and Backlund was declared the winner...by DQ. Why is WWE hoarding almost all of Backlund's prime footage?
Roddy Piper vs Jack Brisco JCP 7/7/82
What a bizarre mix of styles here. Piper stole Brisco's Mid Atlantic Championship, then agreed to a match only if he got $10,000 for it. Piper flips his shit at Bob Caudle and David Crockett Jr. for not having the full $10K. Wahoo McDaniel and Ricky Steamboat come out to put up the other $4K. Piper then refuses to have the match unless Wahoo and Steamboat leave the studio. He then threatens to actually kill the ref if the ref leaves with his money. Piper trying to do the amateur scramble stuff is hilarious, because Jack is clearly going half speed and just letting him do stuff. Much of this match is Jack having on the tightest headlock you'll ever see. As things tend to happen in Piper matches, this ends up a slug fest. Piper KO's Jack with a roll of coins. He's got the title and the money. I guess it was good for a Piper match.
Tommy Rich vs Buzz Sawyer Last Battle of Atlanta GCW 10/23/83
Until WWE released this in September of 2016, the footage was thought to be lost forever. It became a legendary story in the business, spoken about in hushed reverence for being one of the greatest matches ever. I doubt it will be able to hold up to the mythology built, but it should be neat to see. One of the biggest things about this match was that it was the first cage match with a roof, often said to be one of the inspirations for the HIAC (along with the around the ringside cages in Memphis). In addition, Paul Ellering is in a shark cage. Tommy hits his elbow on the cage very early on, so Buzz goes to town on it. He's then quickly shredded open, and if you know anything about Tommy Rich, you know that mother fucker knew how to bleed. Tommy fir....SUMBODY SAY SUMTHIN' 'BOUT GETTING FIRED UP? Buzz is now bleeding everywhere. Tons of blood. BLOOD. ULTRAVIOLENCE. Tons of blood, tons of punches, tons of throwing into the cage. Tommy wins after throwing Buzz into the support beam. Due to the stipulations, Ole Anderson would get Paul Ellering in the ring. Ole beats that ass. More blood. Actually, the Ole/Ellering part is better than the Rich/Sawyer part. Ole wins after a slug fest breaks out and ends with a huge headbutt. Of course, none of this lives up to the legend. It was just a normal, bloody cage match. There are probably 100 just like it just in Georgia/Carolinas over the years. Doesn't hold a candle to Magnum/Tully, which was only 2 years later. Just a normal, Southern cage match.
Ric Flair vs Barry Windham NWA Championship JCP 1/20/87
Back when Barry was the next big thing. Plus DUSTY on color! Flair offers a clean handshake before the match. Actually, Dusty seems to be taking the lead on calling this match. This crowd is SO hot. Most JCP crowds were between 1985-1987. They want to see a new champion. Dusty repeatedly points out how important it is to constantly be on the offense against Flair, as Flair will very quickly get you out of your gameplan, and that will cost you the match. Barry controls the match for the first big chunk, mostly by using headlocks to wear Flair down, mixed in with flurries of punches. He then takes a fall to the floor, and Flair uses the guard rail and post to his advantage. This means Flair is going to spend 20 minutes working the arm to set up the figure four. I can see it now. From here, Flair dominates, with sporadic hope spots and near falls from Barry. Flair then takes a fall over the ropes, injuring his leg. Barry hones in on that and looks to be trying to win the title with the figure four himself. Naturally, there was a ref bump, which meant Barry's missile dropkick didn't end the match. Four minutes remain in the TV time limit. Barry has Ric pinned as time runs out. Good TV match, but as you may know, the Flair Formula is so stale as fuck to me that I need to see Flair doing something out of the ordinary to get me into his work. This was not that match, but it would have been a hot thing to see on a Saturday morning.
Undertaker vs Unabom SMW 8/19/95
Call me crazy, but Kane had a cooler look as a red/black version of Lord Humongous than as Kane. Until he took the mask off, at least. That goofy face and mullet. Speaking of mullets, Mark Curtis' mullet is OUT OF CONTROL. This is your normal ass boring 90s Taker match, even clipped. This is obviously just here for the novelty of seeing Taker vs Kane before Kane was Kane. I can't believe Cornette was letting Kane do that flying guillotine spot. You'd think he'd be pissed seeing a 7 foot monster doing that as a signature spot. Taker wins with the tombstone.
Bret Hart vs Steve Austin WWF 9/14/96
This is interesting. One, it's from South Africa. Secondly, this is Bret's first televised match of any kind since Wrestlemania.. On TV, Austin had been building to a match with Bret at Survivor Series for months, but this aired as part of a South African TV special and was portrayed as Bret fifilling his last contract obligation. JR and Owen call the match. Austin says he'd whip Owen's ass just as soon as Bret's. It will be interesting to me to see if they go full out and how much it is like their Survivor Series match (aka, their best match). If we're being honest, Bret doesn't look great. Some notable jiggle near the belly and a lack of tan makes him look like he's been taking his time away pretty easy. He's only done a few house shows since April, mostly just with Owen and Bulldog. Opening minutes are quite technical until Austin hits a big back elbow to the face. What's neat to me is Austin does Thesz spots, while Bret does Brisco spots. No attention is ever drawn to it, of course, beyond the Thesz Press being called as such. Austin ends up stalling and grinding the pace to a halt whenever Bret starts gaining momentum. Austin hits a low blow and controls after that. Austin grinds Bret down for a while, only to lose to a small package OUTTA NOWHERE. This was solid, not great. Bret definitely seemed rusty, but it was also worked somewhere between house show and TV match, so who knows.
Bret Hart vs Terry Funk No DQ 9/11/97
Technically, this isn't from any promotion, as it was part of a celebration known as "50 Years of Funk" and was supposed to be Terry's retirement. Again. The whole thing is covered in Beyond The Mat, but this mother fucker didn't even stop taking bookings at all. He was on a tour for FMW less than two weeks later. The show featured talent from ECW, WWF, and FMW. Joey Styles called the show. Dennis Stamp is the referee, and he's actually the man Bret Hart had his first match against at the age of 15. Before the match, the Funk Family and various ECW guys presented Terry with a title belt, declaring him the Lifetime ECW Champion. Bret cut a babyface promo, saying he was honored to be there against who he believes to be the greatest wrestler in history, saying Amarillo wrestling is the greatest wrestling that ever existed...then says he's going to give Terry a Canadian ass whipping. Lol. This should be interesting to see what style Funk is going to work, because I definitely don't see Bret getting dragged into an ECW-style wild brawl, but Funk hadn't had a straight match in about a decade at this point. The first 10 minutes or so are all mat wrestling. Then, curiously, Bret is the first one to start throwing fists and taking it to the floor. Bret dissects the legs of Funk, which were shown to have zero cartilage in Beyond The Mat. Some of the lesser Harts are out there to cause trouble. Terry starts throwing hands, which seems to work pretty well. It actually does get kind of ECW-y, with brawling in the crowd, plenty of chairs, and Funk going through a table. Bret ends up winning after getting his shoulder up last second on a backdrop. I would say this was more interesting than good, as Terry was pretty limited, but there was a lot of novelty in seeing Bret do a weird NWA/ECW hybrid match at a rodeo, with Joey Styles calling, and ECW production.
Samoa Joe vs William Regal UPW 10/11/00
Another novelty match. Joe had yet to blow up at all. He wasn't even a "rising indie star" at this point. He was one year into his career. UPW was loosely affiliated with the WWF. They occasionally got WWF stars to work the shows. Joe looks like a teenager. He's also wearing a singlet and luau shirt. Opening minutes have Joe surprisingly keep up with Regal's Euro stuff. Regal wins in about 7 minutes with the Regal Stretch. Post match saw Naked Mideon show up and kiss Regal. Regal then cut a minute of a promo with a dead mic before getting a working one. He shits on the WWF sending Mideon instead of Taker, which then brings HHH out. "YOU WANNA TALK SHIT?" HHH talks up UPW's stars, then shits all over a guy called "The Swag" or "The Scrub" or "The Shwag". That guy then comes out. HHH pedigrees him.
A collection of novelties more than good matches. There can never be enough Lou Thesz footage, and Harley/Bob is the only match I'd say was good-great on this. Other stuff like Austin/Bret, Bret/Funk, and Barry/Flair were decent-good in their specific contexts.