Ask around the wrestling fandom who the best tag team in the world is right now and many of them will say FTR.
The duo once known as the Mechanics/The Revival has come a long way from being underappreciated reliable hands in NXT and WWE. For years they toiled away and suffered from being treated as second or third bananas to teams that had better marketing and better reputations. Then in 2022 things finally seemed to turn around for them. It took years but FTR finally reached the top of the mountain as they won multiple tag title belts and began having alleged dream matches wherever they went.
But were their matches really that great? Let’s take a closer look by revisiting the third match in the fabled trilogy between them and the Briscoes that defined tag team wrestling in the United States in 2022.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
The Briscoes were 0-2 against FTR in tag matches, yet they still refused to give up. And so, in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, Mark and Jay delivered some Christmas cards to the ROH Tag Team Champions via The Gunn Brothers. And included in that Christmas message was a pair of dog collars. It was a clear message: if FTR were as great as they claimed to be, then they shouldn’t have any problems being chained together.
As history had shown, dog collar matches were noted for their exceptional brutality and bloodiness. This wasn’t going to be the same sort of technical grappling exchange or the more classic tag battles that had already been seen from either side before. This was going to be violent, visceral, and sanguineous. There would be no escape here. With both wrestlers from each side chained to one from the other, neither could make use of space or surprise. It was going to be up close and personal. The match favored the Briscoes given their more unpredictable style, but that wasn’t to discount FTR, who took after many big tag teams of the past and were just as comfortable getting violent as those earlier teams.
So with all of that, could FTR live up to their claims of being the top guys and go three for three? Or would this more unchained wrestling match benefit the unorthodox challengers?
This match originally took place on December 10, 2022. It was rated *****1/2 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, which made it the highest-rated match of this tag trilogy.
Both sides begin a tug-of-war with the chain and then the brawling begins. Harwood takes Jay down and Wheeler brawls with Mark. Mark goes for a diving ax handle off the apron but Wheeler hits first by whipping the chain into Mark’s midsection. Wheeler smashes Mark’s head into the ringsteps, busting him open. Jay does the same to Harwood and goes to whip him with their chain but Harwood dodges and throws a chair in Jay’s face. Jay and Harwood brawl into the crowd as wheeler chokes Mark with the chain. Harwood throws water in Jay’s face as Wheeler chokes Mark on the entrance stage. Jay hits Wheeler with some metal object as Mark dives onto Wheeler from the stage to the floor.
Harwood and Jay make it into the ring as the other two continue brawling ringside. Jay wraps the chain around his fist and goes for a punch but Harwood counters with a back suplex and a German suplex. Harwood loses a tooth as Wheeler chokes Mark with the chain wrapped around a ringpost for a moment until Mark escapes thanks to his Redneck Kung Fu. Harwood chokes Jay against the ropes with the chain until Mark whips Harwood with his chain. Jay lands some punches to Harwood’s head and then lands some with the chain wrapped around his fist. Chaos continues as Harwood gets choked in the ring and Wheeler gets whipped outside it.
The crowd chants for both teams as Jay places a chair in a corner and opens up Harwood’s head wound. Jay goes to throw Harwood head-first into that chair but Harwood reverses it and sends Jay through it instead. Then Wheeler catches Mark off guard and yanks him down with the chain. FTR double-team Mark and he gets whipped with a chain as well. Both Briscoes are now bleeding heavily as FTR land a Doomsday chain punch on Mark. One, two, Mark kicks out.
Harwood traps Jay in a corner as wheeler locks Mark in a chain-assisted Gory special submission hold. Harwood whips Mark and then Wheeler sends him over the ropes and hangs him by the dog collar while Harwood holds Jay in place. Harwood hoes for an Irish whip but Jay reverses it, which sends Harwood into Wheeler’s chain, saving Mark.
Jay drops Mark with a chain-fisted punch and then hits a swinging neckbreaker. Mark hits a chain-assisted Froggy Elbow but only gets a two-count. Now all four men are bleeding as Mark pulls out several chairs from underneath the ring. As Harwood and Jay brawl in the ring, Mark gives the fans what they’re chanting for and starts prepping a ringside table. But Wheeler pulls Mark back and tries to suplex him onto a stack of chairs. Mark blocks it and counters with a ringside suplex of his own. Meanwhile, Jay and Harwood continue brawling as blood pours from both of their heads. Both of them hit each other with the chain and then Harwood hits a diving head-butt with the chain wrapped around his head. Harwood gets a standing ovation as he lands more chain-fisted punches. The referee starts warning Harwood about hitting too hard but Harwood brushes him off. Then Harwood goes for another big punch…only for Jay to pull the referee in and use him as a shield. A second ref at ringside checks on that first ref as he gets busted open. I’m sure somewhere off on the side Jon Moxley is thinking happy thoughts right now. By this point so much blood has spilled that the commentators can smell it from ringside.
As a ringside doctor attends to the bloodied ref, Jay and Harwood duke it out nearby. Jay hits a boot, ducks the clothesline that Harwood used in that same sequence in their previous match, and lands a Backdrop suplex. Mark and Wheeler battle on the apron. Wheeler ducks a big wind-up forearm and lands a Back suplex onto the apron and then places him on a table. Wheeler ascends the turnbuckle. Mark cuts him off and the apron brawl continues. Mark dropkicks Wheeler onto the stack of chairs and puts him on the table. The Briscoes tease another Doomsday move on Harwood. Wheeler cuts Mark off and yanks him from the turnbuckle by the dog collar. Mark flies off the top rope onto the stack of chairs!
Meanwhile in the ring, Harwood goes for a piledriver but Jay counters with a J-Driller onto the chain. One, two, Harwood kicks out. Jay hits Harwood with a steel chair multiple times and then teases a J-Driller onto a chair. But Harwood hits a low blow and then piledrives Jay onto the chair instead. One, two, th- Jay survives.
Wheeler tells Harwood to “f**king murder him” as he throws more chairs into the ring. Harwood teases a top-rope piledriver onto the chairs. Jay escapes and yanks the chain which causes Harwood to get crotched. Jay knocks Wheeler back down. Superplex by Jay. Both wrestlers hit the stack of chairs as Mark holds Wheeler in place at ringside. Jay covers Harwood. Two-count. Jay chokes Harwood with the chain wrapped around Harwood’s mouth. Wheeler tries desperately to save his partner as Mark pulls on the chain. Harwood taps out! We have new champions!
Winners and NEW ROH World Tag Team champions after 22:20: The Briscoes (Mark and Jay Briscoe)
You can watch the full match here.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that loved this match when it first took place because of how violent it was, but I’m not sold on its supposed classic status. This match suffers from the false premise that blood automatically makes a match better, just like having a longer match is also automatically better. Sure, this match lived up to expectations as a bloody car wreck. Honestly, if someone watched this without context or without being a wrestling fan I’d forgive them for thinking this was some kind of R-rated piece of torture porn that belongs on some unspeakable gore site. And as much as the match was built on this sense of sacrifice and passion from both sides, the match just didn’t convey that story as well as it could have.
From a story perspective, this match was inconsistent to put it lightly. FTR came into this match as the babyfaces and were presented that way but then they abandoned that and began hitting as violently as the Briscoes, who acted and wrestled like heels. The Briscoes didn’t have a clearly-defined purpose in this match beyond showing that they were more violent and aggressive than the champions. And what little follow-through and callback to their previous matches together were few and far between and lacked any depth or catharsis. Because of this, the match came across as empty. It was one of those “cheer both sides” matches that had solid action but a substandard story. The Briscoes’ win felt anticlimactic and lacking in accomplishment. It didn’t come across as a big win even though it should’ve been. All viewers were left with was a similar sort of loud pop that can be found in almost every “dream match” setting and the noxious smell of iron permeating the arena.
Don’t get me wrong; this was a fun match but nowhere near classic status. Having lots of blood and some creative weapons-based spots does not a legendary match make. The effort was there to make this into something truly special, but like their two-out-of-three-falls match, something was lost in execution. The match just didn’t have much of a personal edge to it. The more violent and extreme moments came across as ham-fisted and performative instead of genuine and malicious. What was supposed to be a personal grudge match came across as just another bloodbath with some convoluted setup that led to less-than-thrilling payoffs.
Final Rating: ****1/4
This could’ve been better. All the elements were in place to make this into a classic yet it fell short. Maybe it’s the personalities of the men involved but this didn’t have the realism or sense of genuine antagonism that a double dog collar match should have. Even with the loud crowd and a never-ending sense of unpredictability, this match fell short in my opinion. I got the distinct impression that both sides just wanted to do creative stuff that may or may not have been seen before since this match had such a novelty stipulation. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Shoe-horning novel ideas into a story doesn’t automatically make it better, especially if doing so comes at the expense of telling a story and giving people a reason to pay money to see your match.
And while there’s no denying that this match sold more enough tickets on the “FTR vs. Briscoes III” premise alone, the end result wasn’t anything truly out of this world. Bloodier matches than this have been shown all over the world for decades. Just watch old FMW tapes, older WWE matches that aren’t censored, or even some stuff from the modern indy scene like CZW or even AEW and you’ll find gorier and more unsettling violence than this.
If you’re going to watch any FTR or Briscoes match, watch their first one from Supercard of Honor. That one is much better than this because it truly lived up to the sense of novelty. Both the second match and this one didn’t just lack that same factor; they came across as obvious cash grabs based on an oversimplified feud masquerading as genuine “dream matches”.