Da Art Of Storytelling, Vol. 1

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Columns, Dyscyplynary Action, Wrestling
Tags: , , , , , ,

“It’s real to me, damnit!”

Well there’s a truth in that, but of course professional wrestling is fake. Yes, I know that match results are pre-determined and the punches never really connect at all (sometimes). But the time, effort, and dedication put into the matches are pretty legit. As I try to stray away from being a defensive mark, I put together a little piece that I’ll construct whenever I get the inspiration to. With these writings, I’ll focus on a pair of great wrestling matches, their background, and why they matter to me in what I like to call… “Da Art of Storytelling.”

For this first edition I chose two matches that hold a historical and personal significance with one another. Two completely different matches in how they are worked, but both shared a similar and all too familiar story. What makes this special to me is how they took place a mere 29 days from each other in the same year and had the same emotion. Four men that can vie for the “Greatest Of All-Time” moniker on any given day, displaying storytelling at its absolute best.

1. Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa – GHC Heavyweight Championship (Pro Wrestling NOAH: March 1, 2003)

The tale of Kobashi v. Misawa is a fascinating one. Debuting in 1988 for All Japan Pro Wrestling, Kobashi has always been the determined, gutsy fighter that would look good even in defeat. I mean it actually took 63 singles matches until he was booked into his very first win in ’89, but his efforts won the hearts of many in his rookie year. He was one of Misawa’s closest allies feuding with Jumbo Tsuruta, eventually becoming his main tag partner for the early part of the 1990s. It wasn’t until 1998 when Kobashi and Misawa split as a team and became rivals, having stellar contests for the AJPW Triple Crown. However, Kobashi was never able to defeat the All Japan ace for the title and it lingered with him to the next millennium.

When most of the All Japan roster jumped with Misawa to form Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2000, Kobashi joined with him and continued their competitive rivalry. Recurring knee injuries kept Kobashi from the title picture and away from a singles match with Misawa for over two years. It wasn’t until late 2002 when Kobashi began to build on becoming the next challenger for the GHC Heavyweight Championship.

In front of a sold-out Nippon Budokan Crowd, Kobashi looked to finally upsurge the title “Ace” from Misawa’s crown. Misawa was always looked at as the main guy for Puroresu (Japanese Professional Wrestling) for over a decade at the time and Kobashi was a mere second towards him. Before this encounter Kobashi was only able to get one victory over him at the 2000 Champion’s Carnival tournament and now this was their first singles match against each other since. All the drama built to this one moment came to a head and led to one of the most memorable matches of the 2000s.

This match in itself gave a stunning crash course into the “King’s Road” style – one of the smartest worked forms of professional wrestling. It starts with an intense, yet slow build in the early portions of the match culminating into a series of big spots and overkill at the end. It eventually became problematic enough that more recent matches lost value due the spot-heavy route it took. This was one of those matches that did it in such a way, that it is to be loved from years on out.

I credit that mostly on Kobashi and Misawa being masters of their craft, timing their best spots at crucial points of the match and leaving no dull moment throughout. Ironically enough, this was the first match I’ve ever seen them together in and I loved it, but it’s not even their best. However, it stands as my favorite as Kobashi was able to top Misawa again, win the GHC Title in the process, and went on to having one of the greatest runs in wrestling history.

*******

 2. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWE WrestleMania XIX: March 30, 2003)

Any casual wrestling fan of the 1990s definitely knew how much of an impact these two names had on the wrestling business, let alone the entertainment industry. The hallmark names of WWE’s (then WWF) Attitude Era, The Rock and Steve Austin were constant foils with one another. They started around the same time with the company and evolved their personas to larger-than-life superstardom. It was inevitable that these two would collide and they did on multiple occasions, but none were bigger than the encounters that they had at WrestleMania.

The Rock’s flashy, Hollywood charm was a far cry from the blue-collar, defiant nature of Austin. It made it easy for Mr. McMahon to crown The People’s Champion as the Corporation’s prize jewel to combat The Texas Rattlesnake. Their first major meeting was at WrestleMania XV for the WWF Title in a NO DQ match where Austin won the title from Rock despite the efforts of Mr. McMahon to help him. Then again in Houston at WrestleMania X-7, Austin bested The Rock after he turned heel and joined forces with McMahon, costing The Brahma Bull the WWF Title again.

The build for their third and final encounter came in between the years of when momentum for the love and admiration for the two superstars shifted. The Rock was planning to branch out more into the entertainment industry, casting in movies such as The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. He was quickly amassing popularity while Austin had frequent personal clashes with the WWE (the company name officially changing in mid-2002). It led to Austin’s departure from the company for eight months before returning in February 2003. By this time, The Rock was a heel that turned against the fans because they felt that he “sold-out” to do movies.

The obsession of wanting to beat Austin at WrestleMania became the main focus for The Rock and this match, as he was offended that Stone Cold was awarded Superstar of the Decade over him. After a series of insults, promos, and ringside interference, it was finally set for them to entangle at WrestleMania XIX. A large, energetic crowd of 55,000 filled Safeco Field to watch two icons one last time in the ring together.

This match was a great as a match these two were going to have at this stage. Banged up throughout his years from his bad neck and back, Austin knew that this was going to be his last match as an active performer. He showed the pain in his face with each bump, especially towards the finish, but it he did not phone in this match at all. The two worked it like it was a No DQ match, but the rules were definitely in effect for this one (which is a complete opposite from their previous two Mania encounters which had no rules). That too didn’t deter the action as the crowd ate up every spot and interaction from both. Finishers, signature spots, and an awesome Stunner sell from Rock were all present in the 20 minutes these two had. But in the end, after three consecutive Rock Bottoms, Dwayne Johnson was finally able to accomplish the one thing that had eluded him – beating Stone Cold at WrestleMania.

It was the post-match that caught my attention the most, as The Rock went to thank Austin for this moment quietly but was shown on camera. It’s touching actions like that which made this match so special and bittersweet as it was the final nail in the coffin for the ill-fated Attitude Era.

I look at these matches and it comes like a changing of the guard, Misawa/Kobashi in particular. The triumphant of Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, and Kenta Kobashi mirrors the NBA’s Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan during the 1980s. For the longest, Magic and Bird were the two names that ruled the decade until the budding Jordan came to his own and bested Magic and the Lakers for his first NBA Title for the Bulls in 1991. That’s how I see it with Kobashi growing into that main spot after Misawa and Kawada ruled the 90s with their feud for so long. In saying, Kobashi is Puroresu’s Jordan.

As for Rock/Austin, their match was a definite end to what people knew of the WWF/E. There’s never been a time since where a company was able to have two megastars of unparallel charismatic and solid in-ring work at the same time. Times have changed greatly over the years, but I always keep faith that there can be another boom period in wrestling.

It happened twice already.

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