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    Thursday, September 3, 2020

    The Supercard (9/3/20): Grudge Match Magic


    Although professional wrestling and legitimate martial arts have their similarities, one major difference is the natural presence of stakes. In boxing or MMA, the outcome of a single match can make or break a career of young talent due to the winner getting more of the purse. These stakes, coupled with the action in the ring, allow for engaging fights. Pro wrestling isn’t that simple. 

    Although better performance does equal better pay, that performance is measured over a long period of time versus in the span of a single match. With weekly television shows and multiple matches per month, matches at times can feel like puzzle pieces to a bigger narrative rather than a must-watch event.

    However, if the narrative is built properly, the closing match can feel as and even more impactful then a legitimate fight. Stakes would have been established during the storyline. In my opinion, a good grudge match is the epitome of this stake-building. In situations where both wrestlers have similar records against each other, the deciding match between the two is set to answer the question “So who’s really better?” This promise of a definitive answer heightens fans’ interest as there are clear gains and losses to be made.

    With that, The Supercard raises the stakes as we look at some of the best grudge matches of all time.

    Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong in a Street Fight (August 13, 2008 edition of TNA Impact)


    As I’ve stated in a previous article, the fact that even the most hardcore of wrestling fans don’t talk about this feud is just plain sad. Before the Four Horsewomen of WWE would be credited with uplifting women’s wrestling in the modern era,  the TNA Knockouts division did it first and pulled it off for the most part. At the core of this resurgence was Gail Kim and Awesome Kong.

    To those who just know Kim and Kong from their stints in WWE, imagine their characters there, but with emotional depth and actual match time. Yes, that was shade. Now imagine these two having a nine-month-long rivalry culminating in a straight-up fight. It sounds amazing because it is. Gail's selling isn't credited enough and works beautifully in telling a classic David and Goliath story with Kong's devastating move set.

    The grudge match wasn’t advertised as one, but it without a doubt felt like one. With two wins apiece, the final match was intense and brutal and, in my opinion, the perfect send-off for a feud between possibly the greatest underdog and the greatest monster in all of women’s pro wrestling. And most importantly, watching this match back induces a legitimate fear of Awesome Kong. You have been warned.

    Ric Flair (c) vs. Ricky Steamboat for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (WCW WrestleWar 1989: Music City Showdown)


    Flair and Steamboat. In the history of pro wrestling, very few feuds have etched adversaries' names so close together that you can’t think of one without thinking of the other. Remembered as the gold standard for wrestling trilogies, the championship feud between these two legends truly set the bar high for what tit-for-tat storytelling should look like in pro-wrestling.

    In early 1989, the matches were promoted as a conflict of views on masculinity in the medium of championship bouts. The story is simple with Flair working as the in-your-face heel, condemning Steamboat’s domestic lifestyle in favor of his own different-girl-every-night approach to life. With Flair invoking Steamboat’s family, Steamboat felt like he legitimately had something to prove against the megastar in Flair. 

    People often credit their second installment at Clash of Champions as the best in the series. I think differently. Although their second match was a nearly hour-long masterclass, their final match in the series blew everything prior out of the water. If you put this match on any card today, it would steal the show. The combination of the heelwork Flair perfected with the truly innovative pop-at-every-move style of Steamboat told for a classic story that wrestling fans of all ages can still drop their jaws for.

    Main Event:  Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a 2 out of 3 falls match (NJPW Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-jo Hall)


    Do I think this is the greatest match of all time? No. Is it up there in the conversation? Hell yeah.

    At Wrestle Kingdom 11, Kuzuchika Okada and Kenny Omega created waves in the pro wrestling landscape when Dave Meltzer rated their IWGP Heavyweight Championship match an unprecedented six stars. The two men would then go on to have two more matches with 6- and 6.25-star ratings. Like many others, I have reservations concerning the high pedestal that the wrestling community puts Meltzer's opinions on. With that being said, what a feud and what a grudge match.

    Okada was at the top of the wrestling world. With his record-breaking reign as champion entering the 700-day mark and his record-breaking accumulated 1,400 days as champion, he decided to take his pick of his next challenger. After beating Tanahashi at Wrestling Dontaku 2018 marking his record-breaking 12th title defense, he called out a man which he had a one-win, one-loss, and one-draw record with. As Kenny Omega came out to face Okada in the ring and a packed Fukuoka Center came alive, the stage was set.

    No time limit. Two out of three falls. One winner. With either man not limited to a certain "style," it was a beautiful story told by two artists who just wanted to be better than the other. No gimmicks. No complicated storylines. The story of Omega and Okada is that of two wrestlers who believe they're the best and wanted to prove that fact. With both men inching and clawing to pick up that last pinfall, you could feel every bit of emotion as stakes in pro-wrestling have never been higher. Meltzer aside, Okada and Omega are the two best wrestlers of the current generation and this match proved any doubters wrong


    Photos and videos courtesy of Impact Wrestling, World Wrestling Entertainment and New Japan Pro Wrestling

    *****

    Jacob Tambunting is a freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University currently studying BS Psychology. In his high school years, he authored plays for competitions, essays for projects, and fan fiction for fun.  He currently lives with his two parents, his two siblings, and his two dogs, and is probably writing something angsty on his 10-year-old laptop.
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    Item Reviewed: The Supercard (9/3/20): Grudge Match Magic Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Jacob Tambunting
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