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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The 1995 King of the Ring Qualifying Matches, Part 2

Duke Droese vs. Kama WWF Superstars 5/27/95

ER: There's something nice about these condensed big boy battles, I mean outside of the fact that it's a big boy battle and therefore the greatest thing in wrestling. The short runtime always turns them into sprints, and I love seeing these guys run around. I also amuse myself with the idea that somewhere, there is someone who champions Kama - the Extreme Fighting Machine - as the best era of Charles Wright's career. Wright is a guy who hung around for a LONG time without having many (any?) matches championed, but one era has to by default be his best in ring era. So why not Kama? I await the heated debates. And I can't get over how many people in the crowd love Droese! Since this was not an era I watched as it happened, all I've heard about was how lame it was that WWF had a garbage man and a plumber and a dentist etc. But the fans were clearly into Droese and he was clearly very good! There is a woman with an infant shown cheering elatedly for the Dumpster, and I wonder where that woman is today? 25 years on, does she remember how excited she was to see Duke Droese banging his trashcan down the aisle? I hope so. I hope that no matter her relationship with modern wrestling, she occasionally thinks back to how happy she was here, that one perfect day at the Superstars tapings. As for the match, I liked it. Kama throws some nice distance kicks, and I really liked his mule kick to counter Droese charging into the corner. But this was a MAJOR Droese showcase, and it's surprising how dominant he was here. He works really fast, really exciting on offense; he hit a high dropkick, really hard pair of clotheslines after some complicated rope running, and his big rotation powerslam on a big guy like Kama was impressive as hell. And my god, let me tell you, we also got my absolute favorite moment, which is Droese TAKING DOWN THE STRAPS OF HIS OSHA REGULATED HEAVY LIFTING BELT before going in for the kill. That's a flat out genius babyface character specific spot and Droese is so much better than I have ever been lead to believe. He and Kama worked a couple fun standing exchanges, and as nice as these sprints are it would have been nice to see them stretch out a bit. Instead, the match ends suddenly with a big Kama spinebuster. Million Dollar Corporation win again. That white male fan rubbing his fingers together during their entrance, eyes smug, showing he knew the international sign of Big Bucks? He was right.


Jeff Jarrett vs. The Undertaker WWF Raw 5/29/95

ER: This was tremendous, an awesome under 10 minute match. Jarrett was a real ace in '95, might be the very peak intersection of his specific set of skills. Here he was still a super fast, hard bumping, graceful moving stooge, a pretty boy in the most garish wrestling gear of the decade, a total non-threat who keeps somehow winning. Jarrett gets flung around the ring in glorious fashion, whipped hard into the turnbuckles, flying high on beals, big bumps off his shoulders. But with Roadie running distraction he is able to gain frequent advantages, able to control Taker convincingly while also seeming like a constant underdog who frustratingly stays ahead. Jarrett throws two stunning dropkicks, the second of which was a picture of a perfect dropkick, his feet perfectly together, body fully extended, feet squarely angled into Undertaker's face. This was the right way to work a back and forth match, and there were 5 momentum changes over a 10 minute runtime; that kind of back and forth can be tiresome in the wrong hands, but this was pretty expertly crafted. This had the feel of a real cool Coliseum Video gem.


Doink vs. The Roadie WWF Superstars 6/3/95

ER: Man I am a big fan of 1995 Ray Apollo Doink. He really served the gimmick well and was much closer to Bourne's style than Lombardi's. This whole thing was a really curious decision, even having Roadie in the qualifying rounds of the tournament. Roadie had one match in WWF at this point (the televised handicap match w/ JJ vs. Razor at the IYH that just happened) and was clearly just positioned as a non-wrestling manager. That's why it wasn't deemed an insurmountable threat that he was included as an odds stacker against Razor. The roster was filled with guys who would have made way more on paper sense to have in the tourney: Hakushi, Henry Godwinn, Lawler, 1-2-3, the debuting Candido (if they wanted a new guy in the final 8), Pierre, etc. I had said Jacob Blu was the weirdest inclusion in the tourney, since he had not wrestled any singles matches in WWF, but that's probably not as weird as the manager who had only been in one match to this point. Now the match itself is fun as hell, as Doink works this as he would a match against a non-worker. Apollo is really underrated in the gimmick, as his work is quick and he knows how to fill all of his time with action and gimmick. There is no dead air, he takes a cool approach to Roadie, hits a cool amateur takedown, grabs a single leg and works an ankle while stepping on Roadie's other ankle, flipping him and working for an STF, then passing to work on a grounded headlock, scrapes his boot bottoms across Roadie's eyes, holds him at distance in a collar and elbow, then pops Roadie's head between his knees for a piledriver and just stomps his feet instead to ring his bell. Doink's offense is great, and he comes off more like Mr. Wrestling II than the poor version of the Clown that Lombardi portrayed. Apollo is really great at getting the fans into his offense, knows when to include Doink, knows when to mock along with Roadie's stooging, really shakes his butt and taunts Roadie during the "piledriver" set up, and then his super high gorgeous kneelift while I was typing all of that just confirms that Ray Apollo was a 1984 territory babyface and was great at his job, the Hennig rolling necksnap a delicious cherry on top. Roadie does get offense in, has a really nice falling back elbow, but his strength here is stooging, and when Doink is dropping cool back suplexes like Jack Brisco that is not really an insult. And the finish to the match is far too simplistic for the quality work they had given the match: Doink goes up for the whoopee cushion, jumps down because Jarrett makes a fuss at ringside, then Roadie hits a kneelift to the back and gets a school boy. That's a shame. It's an ending that makes sense with the character and how he had been portrayed in limited physical appearances, but I just wanted something a little more clever. The match itself was super fun and gave me a new perspective on late period WWF Doink, might just have to seek out more Apollo Doink.


Owen Hart vs. The British Bulldog WWF Raw 6/5/95

ER: This was my least favorite of the KOTR Qualifying Matches. It is a 15 minute draw, and the commentary by JR and Gorilla had that exact same annoying quality that Jeff Blatnick's commentary during the Rulon Gardner/Karelin match had. The commentary was clearly dubbed over a previously recorded match, the live crowd clearly was not made aware of any time limit, so JR and Gorilla really started hammering home the remaining time in the last few minutes of the match, then immediately explained that neither man would be advancing since neither man had won. It was a real limp dick result to the match, and their scripted explanation was brutal. It was this blatant "Well you know neither man won the match, and if there was no winner then neither man can advance!" "That's right, rules state that winners advance, and there was no winner here, so that means that they lost their chance!" It came off extremely phony, a seemingly complicated situation shrugged off with some "Well what are you gonna do?" rules chat. It was Jeff Blatnick explaining the very obscure rules that zero people would know offhand, in the immediate moment after the bell, a man buoyantly pretending he didn't have the test answers ahead of time.

The match proper was a bit of a bore until a hot but meaningless finishing sprint. They telegraphed going long by the deliberate pace they worked for the first half, and that's fine, but once JR and Gorilla started talking about time limits that made me realize what we were working towards. Bulldog gasses after a run of offense that at least included a nice press slam and a hard delayed vertical suplex, but ended with him holding a chinlock and open mouth panting in Owen's face. Owen had nice comebacks and hit harder to make up the size, really whipping into Bulldog with his spinning heel kick. We got a long kind of awkward moment where Bulldog set Owen up for La Tapatia, which lead to him popping a squat while standing on Owen's knee backs, while the director scrambles to cut through all of the various camera angles to figure out which is the least provocative angle of Bulldog holding that squat. And then after he took all that time to apply and eventually roll Owen through it, the ref immediately counts Bulldog's shoulders down, which is very stupid. Not only stupid visually, but stupid because we sat through a minute of set up for a move that ended in 2 seconds. After planning. The stretch run of this was the greatest stretch of the match, as we go through a real good sprint through pinfalls, handled much better than the frantic Time Limit Remaining endings typically go. Owen and Bulldog are both really good at plausibly holding cradles and pins, making every single pin look match ending. Owen grabbed a small package to stop a rope running Bulldog that felt like a weird World of Sport round ender, and Bulldog hit a cool crucifix pin with a snug high bridge. The rush to that time limit was hot, but even that was marginalized because I was deflated by knowing exactly what they were rushing towards.


Yokozuna vs. Lex Luger WWF Raw 6/12/95

ER: Due to the flat tire that was last week's time limit draw, we get Yoko and Luger announced as the next to potential qualifiers for that 8 seed. They do a kind of hilarious and sad video package with a real insulting timeline: Yokozuna beating Hogan for the title at KOTR '93, Luger slamming him on the Intrepid the next month, Luger getting "the moral victory" at Summerslam, and after that...."Now Luger gets another chance at getting into the mix for the title!" The montage literally covered June thru August 1993, and then skipped straight to June 1995 to explain that this is "arguably" the biggest match of Luger's career. This match would be a big deal if say Barry Horowitz was getting a shot at being the 8 seed, but I'm not sure I should give them credit for painting this as Luger getting revenge after not winning the title 2 years prior. That seems like a hard stretch. And unfortunately for Luger, he comes off as big of a boner as he came off in not beating Yokozuna for the title two years earlier.

The match is really good, with Yoko working as sadistic big striking monster fat guy, buckling Luger with full arm windup chops, hitting him in the face with a big lariat, going down quick for missed elbows and a legdrop. Luger threw nice punches straight into Yoko's face, ran into him on shoulderblocks and axe bombers, hit a big flying clothesline off the top, and we built to Yoko's wonderful banana peel bump and his all time fat guy signature bump (the one where he crashes through the middle ropes to the floor). But the finish is rough and makes Luger look like a real doofus. He runs out to save his American flag, punches Cornette, Fuji chops Scotty Anton in the neck, Scotty Anton is there holding the flag for some reason, and Luger gets counted out when Yokozuna smacks him into the ring post and legdrops him. Yokozuna has haunted Luger ever since the Intrepid, and Luger is the high school QB who washed out in college.


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