Top Five Gimmick Matches
With the Extreme Rules and Money in the Bank PPV's in the rear view window, and the big ambulance match set for tonight, we are going over our top five favorite gimmick matches. We didn’t lay out any rules for this because it seems easy to understand…. So we shall see how far off Chris is from what I am imagining in my head. I’m pretty sure I know his #1, so I will leave that alone.
Also, here we both go with the old grizzled vet talk. We all like gimmick matches, but in moderation. An entire show of stipulations makes us all care less about them. Seeing something too much desensitizes us to it. So with all of my picks, I could say that I like them “as-is” but not to the point where I want to see them all of the time. I’ll try not to complain with each one in particular, but I make no promises.
Quickly, I’d like to give an honorable mention to the “Beat the Clock” gimmick matches. When they announce it, I think it’s cheesy and a little bit of a lazy way to get a #1 contender for whatever title they are going for… but it’s actually a decent concept. I don’t like that high profile guys are essentially losing quickly (which is my inherent problem with Ironman or multiple falls matches), but I do like the fact that "the clock" is a factor that is not present in most other matches. Another negative is that I can’t easily name any that were great throughout history. But… I wanted to give it a little bit of props here.
#5 – "Best Of" Series
I already see that Chris is going to be upset that I am breaking the rules. This may not be a gimmick match like a bullrope match or a battle royal…. But it is a gimmick and it is different than a normal match, so I need to give it the respect it deserves.
Speaking of no respect…. I will give you a quick peak behind the curtain at the Five Count offices. We use some resources when we come up with these lists; they aren’t 100% off the top of our heads. I know that I use the WWE Network and YouTube to refresh myself on some matches. I also use Wikipedia when I need some dates or facts. When I look up the Best Of Series, there are some great ones on the wiki list. TNA had two great series involving Beer Money vs the Machine Guns and the Wolves vs Roode/Aries. WWE’s best was probably the Terri Invitational Tournament with the Hardys vs Edge/Christian, which culminated in a ladder match. WWE also brought this concept back recently with Sheamus vs Cesaro, which led to them teaming together. But no mention of the best series….
If this isn’t the first pairing that comes to mind when you think Best Of Seven, you need to go back and watch. I am not sure it is on The Network, so you may have to flex your YouTube account or dig into your tapes of WCW Thunder from 1998…. Wait, am I the only person who has that? Anyways…
Funny that I didn’t remember this tidbit, but this series was to determine the #1 contender to the TV title… I thought it was for the title itself. Regardless, both men had established themselves in different capacities in WCW up to this point…. But these seven matches were Booker’s first step into singles stardom and they solidified Benoit’s upside in the business. Both moved on to bigger and better things in WCW and eventually WWE. Booker has recently said that this series was the best thing he ever did in the business. Hard to argue with that. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go rewatch these matches. If all seven are on YouTube, maybe I will get them onto the 20x20 channel and everyone can subscribe and enjoy along with us.
#4 – “I Quit” Match
What a great piece within a feud. Booking 101 here – two guys have an issue, it escalates, there are ups and downs, there’s some sort of blow-off… but when it gets so deep, we pull out a match where the loser is forced to say the words, “I Quit.” You have variations throughout history, Submission matches and managers throwing in the towel, wrestlers passing out to avoid the burial… but nothing eats at someone’s soul like audibly telling the world that you do not have the guts to continue.
There are a few epic examples of this style of match. The Attitude Era mark in all of you will remember the infamous Rock vs Mankind match at the Royal Rumble, where the story now tells us that Foley was expecting a certain number of chair shots, but The Rock laced into him over and over again. Foley’s family was in the front row, it was all caught on tape for Beyond the Mat…. It was brutal. There was a unique ending that I saw coming even as a kid where Foley was unconscious and a tape was played of him 'quitting,' thus ending the match. History often forgets that The Rock was in another I Quit match the very next night vs Triple H, which started the convoluted story of Chyna turning on DX, rejoining DX, then she and Triple H turned on DX… whatever.
Another great one was from 1996 WCW, featuring Brian Pillman and Kevin Sullivan. The backstage heat was real in this one…. It was booked as a Respect Match, where you had to admit that you respected your opponent. Well there was no respect here as Pillman abruptly ended the contest by saying, “I respect you, bookerman,” in a reference to the fact that Sullivan was on the booking committee.
You also had a horrifically bloody contest with John Cena and JBL, an odd version with Vince McMahon vs his daughter Stephanie and recently a gentlemanly version labeled as an “I Forfeit” match on 205 Live. But the I Quit match that is cemented in my mind:
This was also in the confines of a steel cage, but that is not what it is remembered for. In fact, I don’t even know if I would have remembered that before my research. What sticks out to me is the ending, where Magnum was so set on winning the US title, he took a piece of splintered wood and tried to stab Tully right in the face with it. While blood wasn’t out of the norm in that era, and we are desensitized to this now… it’s exceptionally violent to try to kill someone like this in 1985. The hatred for the Horsemen was real, and this showed how real it was.
#3 - Ultimate X
Here we go. Bring on the TNA jokes. But there have been some good ideas coming out of the Impact Zone and this is one of them. Forever in the shadow of the bigger competitor, TNA needed to create their own unique things to stand out. Ultimate X was the next evolution of the Ladder match meets Something on a Pole and it fits right into their strength – the X Division. The idea is simple – string some cables from corner to corner in the shape of an X, hang the prize above the ring and whoever goes and get it is the winner.
Now there were some flaws… early on, the belt would never stay secured to the cables. Whoops. Then they started getting away from hanging titles, but instead would just have a big X in place of something like a #1 contendership… also kind of stupid. But the concept and innovation is what is putting it on my list, along with the stellar list of competitors that have competed in this gimmick. Also as already noted… less is more. An entire show of gimmick matches makes us all care less about them. Seeing something too much desensitizes us to it. On that note, how many Ultimate X matches do you think there were? Oh, probably a few in the 14 year history of TNA…. How about 40. FORTY! Chris Sabin has been in 17 of them. Luckily, no one watches TNA so you’re probably not sick of this style of match.
Perhaps if you did some digging, everything regarding Ultimate X would be new and exciting for you. But I’ll give you some highlights here. If you’re looking for some flips, some nonsense and a peek into the early years of some Good Brothers, check out the Machine Guns vs Generation Me. Another good tag bout saw AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels taking on LAX, which just reminded me how good these guys were ten years ago and makes me question why everyone drops the ball on Homicide. However, rewind that a little bit and keep some of the participants, and we have:
One of the better angles that TNA had was Samoa Joe’s initial run. The X Division was already strong, but Joe brought a different dynamic to it immediately. He would go on to have an 18 month undefeated streak and right in the middle of it was this battle for the X Division title. While not as good as the three-way these 3 had earlier that year, this is still a phenomenal match that incorporates the danger and excitement of the gimmick without going too far with the flip and flips and nonsense. Go out of your way to find this match, their previous triple threat match… and anything these guys delivered from any promotion in this era.
#2 - Cage Match
Ok.. there are tons of types of cage matches. I’m sure you’re thinking of the devils playground in the Hell in the Cell…. or the creation known as the Elimination Chamber… or even going old NWA with the War Games. I know I think of Lethal Lockdown or the Scramble Cage or the cage made of wood and chicken wire that Chris and I witnessed at the 2008 TPI. All of those are great. But I tell you what… there’s nothing better than two guys having an issue, trying to stop interference, wanting revenge and just duking it out in the confines of the old fashioned steel cage match.
Even as I write this, a few cage matches are spinning around in my head. I am also thinking of the types of cages. Hard to argue with the old fence that legit looked like a cage, where you will recall such infamous matches as Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes where the Horsemen were born or Jimmy Snuka leaping onto Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden. You also have the blue bar cage from the WWF, where I am thinking about Bret Hart vs Owen Hart, Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy or even Triple H vs Mankind. That changed to a black barred cage with the likes of Vince McMahon vs Steve Austin. And now WWE uses some weird hybrid that is lowered to the ring as opposed to having the ring crew set up in front of the live crowd. But the cage match that I remember most was inside the big blue bars of the 80s…
Hogan and Orndorff had a great feud that peaked at the main event of the first WrestleMania, eventually turned into a face turn and a friendship between the two… only to come back around to Round Two of the bitter feud after some miscommunication, some gloating and a piledriver that left the champ lifeless in the middle of the ring. And to cap off the second installment of this great feud…. a 15 foot high steel cage.
The match itself wasn’t spectacular by today’s standards, but it still holds up when you go back to watch it. The defining moment was the finish… or the false finish, I should say. Before Lex and Bret both tumbled over the top rope at the Royal Rumble, this was the original “Who won this thing, McMahon?,” as both men climbed over the top and touched the floor at the exact same time. Many props to the commentary team for selling the reason why each man should have won. In the end, the match was restarted, Hogan Must Pose and you can figure the rest.
#1 - Money in the Bank
So I know what you are thinking…. why go with the all-inclusive cage match earlier, but then pick a specific type of ladder match here? Well, I will tell you why. I didn’t include all types of cage matches before… I singled out one type and it just happened to be the basic style. Your basic ladder match is great, and there are a TON of good ones… I almost want to change my list to include that, but I cannot change gears now. I decided to stick with the MITB style of ladder match, and heeeeere’s why.
I like stories in my wrestling. It’s a nice, long storyline that gets me invested in a program. Sure, there are great matches that stand alone… but I like the entire picture of where the ride has taken you and where it will go in the future. MITB has that already built in – the winner goes on to face the world champion whenever they want. It has the multi-man high spots of the TLC and the 24/7 element of the Attitude Era Hardcore title. Will they cash it in that night? It’s happened. When the champ least expects it? That happens more often than not. Will the cash-in be unsuccessful? That’s happened twice. Someone’s even lost the right to the contract, which is always funny.
Before I dive into one in particular, I will knock out the negatives of the MITB. I liked when they were at WrestleMania and the winner had until the next WM to cash it in. Moving it to its own PPV is ok… until there was a brand split and now we have two wrestlers with briefcases. We recently went back to one (and a women’s version in 2017), which I think helps. Too many came through too fast to make any memorable…. Just like having 3 Hell in a Cell matches on one PPV or multiple Elimination Chambers quickly diluted those concepts in my head. Why not just have 3 Royal Rumbles on one January PPV?... although I am sure we are getting closer and closer to a Women's version, so get ready. It goes from special attraction to “Damn, there have been 36 HIAC matches and a lot of them blur together in my memory.” So hopefully MITB is getting back on track in that regard. I also don’t always like that a ton of mid-card guys get piled into this match to get everyone a PPV check. Keep it to 5 or 6 guys; more than that is overkill.
So with all of that in mind, I am going against all of my logic and I will focus on the one that had 8 participants and no cash-in story…
It helps that we were in attendance for this WM. But looking back, there was enough to differentiate it from others in my mind. There was an insane ladder spot with Jeff Hardy and Edge that knocked them out of the match. There was tension within in the match with old tag team partners. There was a king. There was a leprechaun and a step ladder. There was a phenomenal speech by Mr Kennedy after his victory… and then he became the only person to ever lose the briefcase, thus banishing him to TNA. A little bit of everything here, which helps it stick out in my head among the other 19 Money in the Bank matches.
Quick sidebar… some of the cash-in’s have been spectacular. CM Punk’s first came out of nowhere and was certainly a special moment. Dolph Ziggler cashed in on the RAW after Wrestlemania, which is already a hot show. More recently, Seth Rollins turned a WM main event into a WM Moment when he interjected himself to make the main event a triple threat. While the act of cashing in is always meant to be a surprise, sometimes it doesn’t come off well or the fans don’t care about the holder of the briefcase enough. But when it’s the right guy and the right time… the pop is tremendous, the moment is etched in your memory and that guy is made forever…. All of which is the reason the Money in the Bank is my favorite stipulation.
When we decided to do a gimmick match version of the Five Count, I was really ready to go off the wall. Desert Death Match? Judy Bagwell on A Pole? Kennel From Hell? Maybe we will do a Best Of list in an ironic sense next. Anyways, before I jump in here with my list I will do a quick hit on an honorable mention, the Three Way Dance. Not to be confused with the WWE staples the Triple Threat Match, the Three Way Dance is an elimination style three way. Maybe it is just the ECW slap in me but I felt this is better than the 'first to a pin wins' stipulation. It gives you an extra dynamic. Sometimes you get down to two guys that turn it into a different match all together. Also, it just sounds so much cooler than a Triple Threat.
#5 - Falls Count Anywhere
There is no other match on this list that is distinctly made for the tv audience over those seeing it live in the arena. The Falls Count Anywhere Match is one that can go plenty of different ways. One that can be fun and innovative or an absolute train wreck. When done correctly, this gimmick match can hide the weaknesses of any performer, as it did with the countless folks who participated in the 24/7 rule era of the Hardcore Title. (Where is that collection on The Network?) Other times, the Falls Count Anywhere match is used when nothing or nobody can contain two competitors from trying to destroy each other and everything in their path. This was the case in 1996 when Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan fought their way to the arena bathroom on multiple occasions. These matches relied little on outside nonsense and gave just enough spice to a storyline that blurred reality. Maybe it is the memories of watching Nitro replays on hot summer nights, but the lack of polished production and genuine surprise these brought is something that seems to be missing when modern matches spill out of the ring. No flashy spots, no set up with someone in the stall or clear prop items placed in the bathroom. Just two dudes trying to take off stall doors and breaking towel dispensers over each other’s head. These matches were an early hint at the explosion of hardcore wrestling that would be a staple of the Monday Night Wars.
The Falls Count Anywhere match also is part of some of my favorite moments in the Attitude era of the WWE. Here is where I pull a Pete and bend the rules a little, but the Hardcore Title run was basically a nonstop Falls Count Anywhere Match, especially the 24/7 rule matches that brought a wide range of comedy. Some memorable Hardcore title falls, The Mississippi River, Crash Holly's Nap, a pile of boxes, a hotel bar, a airport terminal and a ball pit just to name a few. The one that always stands out from this era though......
This match is not going to be remembered with the likes of Steamboat\Savage or Taker/Michaels in the Wrestlemania history books, and with it being on a card many consider being the greatest of all time, it can be overlooked. But 27 time (yes, 27 time!) Champion Raven looked to defend his Hardcore Title against two giants. Raven would try to hit and run all match which gave it a great opportunity for all three men to chase each other throughout the massive Astrodome. Some over the top nonsense that included Big Show trying to lock himself and Raven in a cage that held up for 30 seconds, a big window bump, a golf cart chase that almost got Raven run over and a new WWE Hardcore Champion in Kane.
#4. Strap Match
The Strap Match, like many others we highlight on these lists, could be lumped together with various other forms of the same match. Yes, some may be more intense (Dog Collar Match) some may have much cooler names (Russian Chain Match, Texas Bull Rope Match) but the Strap Match is the bare-bones essential of what you need here. Don't get me ranting about the flashy light up poles for the Rusev/Cena Russian Chain Match. The strap match follows the same premise of another classic gimmick match, the steel cage match. It is a way to keep two combatants from escape and ensuring a victor. The world of wrestling has evolved and storylines have set up all sorts of matches with a wide range of reasons but the strap match has held the test of time. It is because it solves that essential problem in wrestling, keeping two bitter rivals linked together until there is a finish. It also takes you back to the look and feel of dark and dingy pro wrestling from the silver age of wrestling. That's why I of course will reference a strap match from the polished and well-lit late golden age...
1996 WWF always gets a bad rap, but there were plenty of underrated matches in the year that seemed to set the stage for WWF's most popular run of all time. And when it comes to underrated, Steve Austin probably doesn't come to mind, but his pre "Stone Cold" run in 1996 could be looked at as underrated. We all know the story, so I will save you the rundown of Austin arriving in the WWF. In 1996, Austin would feud with Savio Vega. These two would kick off their undercard feud with a match at Wrestlemania XII, that was so overlooked the announce team spent the match selling the backlot brawl. The feud would climax at the Beware of Dog PPV in a Caribbean Strap Match, which is different than your standard strap match because...uhm..it includes a Puerto Rican?
Whatever the case, these two tore the house down in this match... TWICE! The power went out during the PPV, so they had to finish the match and then do it again later that week. Imagine Foley and Taker redoing Hell in the Cell, spot-for-spot, two days later. I feel its been discussed more lately, but pre neck break Austin really was a damn good dude in the ring. This match also ended on one of the classic strap match finishes. The heel, feeling confident in his out cold opponent, drags them behind to hit each turn buckle oblivious to the face having just enough energy to hit each buckle as well. As Austin is ready to touch the fourth corner Vega jerks the strap around to a stand off. Here Austin tries to pull Vega in but launches him into the final turnbuckle. Vega gets the win, Austin doesn't get hurt by the loss and a classic match was born.
#3. Barbed Wire Match
Here is the one I am sure Pete was waiting for. Call me a slap for garbage wrestling, but the Barbed Wire Match was a staple of pro wrestling back to the early days up to the golden age of wrestling. Like others, this has many variations. The main being the ropes individually wrapped, all three wrapped or the one I instantly think of, the No Roped Barbed Wire Match. My first exposure to a barbed wire match came from the early days of buying pro wrestling magazines. Before ECW TV came to my area and my venture into tape trading exposed me to the best of BJPW, I would ride my bike to the local 711 to buy the latest wrestling magazines. Man, as a kid who grew up on
90s WWF, stumbling onto the site of a ring with barbed wire instead of ropes blew my mind. It was here I learned the Bushwhackers were once the Sheepherders. Where I became obsessed with ECW just through photos. Some of these matches of course don’t hold up to the legend that was built in my head just from the great shots, but I was hooked.
Wrestling soon would take this concept and run it into the ground with promotions like CZW, but when built up and done right, a Barbed Wire Match is all you need. The thing many hardcore promotions seem to miss is the slow build to actually using the barbed wire in the match. Terry Funk was always the master of teasing taking a barbed wire bump, only to scoot out of the way at the last minute. One big whip or suplex into the ropes with a good build does 10x more than violence for the sake of violence. Even in a hardcore match, my grumpy old wrestling fan comes out.
ou could go with the King of The Death Match final, or any other mid 90s ECW title match here... but when it comes down to two guys, barb wire and making an impact, nothing will top Sabu vs Funk in 1997. This match is beyond brutal. Sabu rips his bicep wide open on a missed Air Sabu into the barbed wire. Sabu is still taping up his arm as Funk is dropping his neck across a couple steel chairs. The match would end after a Sabu legdrop on Funk through a ringside table, and they somehow rolled the tangle ball of wire and both competitors back into the ring. It should be noted Terry Funk was 53 years old here. That's wild. Also, if you get a chance, find the post match interview where Sabu is getting his arm sewn together and RVD says "come on don't be a baby, I got one too" showing a lone stitch on the nose.
#2. Ladder Match
Like my previous matches, this one can come in many forms... but also like the previous examples, it is best showcased in its basic form. This has become a common theme with this Five Count. The Ladder Match has evolved to include the TLC, Stairway to Hell, Money in the Bank, etc. but in doing so, it seems to have lost its magic. Yes, MITB will include some exciting spots and will more times than not steal the show. However, as we have mentioned countless times, when it becomes so diluted and overused it is all a blur of high spots between way too many guys sandwiched in for no other reason than a need to get them on the card. That being said, it is still a great version of this match and if utilized better in the storylines would be cant- miss-tv.
I think my biggest reasoning for the traditional ladder match here is how smooth and worked out the multiple man MITB matches have become. A lot of it has to do with how good guys have become and some of it has to do with too much planning ahead, but it just seems it is missing some of that organic feeling you get when its just two guys going at it with a ladder added to the mix. Bruce Prichard's recent podcast kind of touched on this, and its for the lack of a better word, the lack of sloppiness in matches. When you go back and watch the famous Mania X ladder match you notice not all the spots are clean. sometimes the ladder buckles, sometime they are just tossing it around or slipping up. It's a weird thing, but with everyone being so well trained and looking for the 5 star go-go-go pace in matches, you seem to lose some of that realness of bitter enemies going at it. With that, I have a match that definitely has four guys that can put on a show but also brought that real grittiness that makes a ladder match special...
was originally going to use Mania X here, but if your reading this than you already know why that match is so amazing. I had to go with a match that maybe feel through the cracks for some. If you haven't had the chance to watch this or any other match between the Briscoes and Steen/Generico, then I highly recommend you do. These four made you believe those tag team titles were the most important thing in the world that night. The two teams traded piledrivers, suplexes and package piledrivers through numerous ladders. Chants in wresting have become so overused it is easy to not take any serious, but the "match of year" chants this one received from the crowd were fitting. To this day. I have not seen many ladder matches as intense as this one. Bonus points for the fantastic Age of The Fall promo at the end of it.
#1. Royal Rumble Match
So I feel like I have spent this whole list talking about why the original version of gimmick matches are the better than any future variations. That is not the case here. The Royal Rumble takes the battle royal concept and turns it into a unique and exciting match. It's hard to pinpoint what my first wrestling memory would be. I know it had to be Superstars of Wrestling one Saturday morning. What I do know is that my frequent trips to the video store and multiple rentals of the early Rumble matches is what lit the fire of my wrestling obsession. I don't know what it was, maybe the ring slowly filling, maybe the wide variety of characters, or the fun of reenacting the matches with my Hasbro or pillows and Warrior wrestling buddy. Whatever it may be, the Rumble is what laid the foundation for my fandom.
The Rumble now has evolved to become more than a simple match to determine who is the best of 30 combatants. There iss the winner getting a World Title shot being added in 93. There is the surprise returns and nostalgic surprises. Maybe the best use of the Rumble match is the showcasing of certain individuals. Diesel, Kane and Reigns tossing everyone in site. Rick the Model, Greg Valentine or Jericho putting in lengthy performances or maybe Jerry Lawler or Road Dog hiding out.
There really is no reason for inclusion of this Rumble match other than it is one of my all time favorites for nostalgic purposes. It is the year I really can remember getting into wrestling and is loaded with solid performers. In this match you have Greg Valentine, Bret Hart and Rick Martel going on extended runs. You have the Undertaker's first Rumble appearance and of course, Hulkamania running wild. There is of course more exciting or interesting examples, but simply for my fandom, the 1991 edition of the Rumble match is my example of the best of the top gimmick match.