I am once again expanding the matches I review for TJR to include something that I think some of us take for granted. One thing I’ve noticed in these reviews is that sometimes wrestlers can do more with less.
Even though some of the greatest matches to ever take place have been these long epics that’ve ranged from 20 minutes to over an hour, sometimes the best matches have been the short ones. Two matches in particular stand out to me in this regard. The first was an under-ten-minute match between Rey Mysterio and Psicosis from the 1995 Super J Cup tournament. Mysterio was there for an exhibition match yet this short match of his blew away anything in the tournament itself. The second match that came to mind here was Shibata vs. Ishii from the 2013 G1 Climax. That match went just over twelve minutes yet it was so manly and badass that it deserved every one of its 5 Stars.
With that in mind, I’ve scoured various wrestling sites and databases and have found some famous matches that went fifteen minutes or less. And like with the other matches being reviewed, let’s see how well these matches hold up.
5. WWE Championship Match: Batista [c] vs. John Cena – WrestleMania XXVI
Background: Cena and Batista were two of the biggest stars in WWE for most of the 2000s. They were in the same OVW training class. Both of them achieved success on different shows. Both of them won different world titles five years earlier at WrestleMania 21. They were both pushed as top stars but were mostly kept apart for many years. They crossed paths a few times, but they didn’t enter a really personal feud until 2010. Their feud began when Vince McMahon confronted Bret Hart and Cena sided with Bret while Batista sided with Vince. Batista saved Vince from an attack by Bret and then attacked Cena who was attempting to save Bret. At Elimination Chamber, after Cena endured the eponymous match to win the WWE title, Vince ordered Cena to defend his title right then and there against Batista. Cena was too exhausted to put up a proper fight and lost in short order. Cena eventually got his hands on Batista in a non-title match and earned the right to challenge him for the title, leading to this match at WrestleMania 26.
The match: This is for Batista’s WWE Championship. A long lock-up starts things off and then Batista applies a headlock followed by a shoulder tackle. Cena does some chain grappling to bring Batista to the mat but Batista powers him into a corner. Cena ducks a punch and hits body blows of his own. Batista counters a corner whip and Cena does the Bret Hart forward corner bump. Batista ‘hits’ a clothesline but it looks like he barely connects. Batista drops Cena in a corner and then targets Cena’s neck with a facewash and some clubbing blows. Batista goes for a suplex but Cena counters into one of his own. Cena pulls a Sasaki and hits a corner Irish whip/bulldog combo for a two-count. Cena lifts Batista up for the AA but Batista counters with a DDT for a two-count of his own. Batista gets another two-count off a running kick and then locks in a sleeper with bodyscissors but Cena powers up and gets to his feet with Batista still on his back. Cena breaks Batista’s grip but Batista hits a knee to Cena’s back. They do the yay/boo punch exchange that ends with Batista hitting a neckbreaker for a two-count.
Batista applies a front chancery to target Cena’s neck some more but Cena escapes via back body drop. Cena kicks Batista to stop a corner charge and then begins his Five Moves of Doom. Two shoulder blocks, a ducked clothesline into a side suplex, things are moving like clockwork. He goes for the five knuckle shuffle but Batista hits a spinebuster to the biggest reaction thus far. Batista goes for his powerbomb finisher. Cena rolls into an STF but Batista reaches the ropes and then hits a spear for a two-count. Batista hits corner shoulders to Cena’s gut and places him in the top rope. He goes for a superplex but Cena powers out and the two have the test of strength in the corner. Cena punches Batista down and hits a top-rope five-knuckle shuffle. Cena goes for the AA but Batista holds onto the ropes and then counters into a Batista Bomb. One, two, Cena kicks out at two. Batista teases another powerbomb. Cena lifts him into the AA. Batista slides out and lifts Cena up for a powerslam. Cena blocks and lifts Batista up onto his shoulders again. AA connects. Batista kicks out at 2.8. Cena goes back to the top rope for his Kobashi-style diving leg drop. Cena dives…right into a spinebuster. An almost perfect copy of what happened at SummerSlam 2008. Batista lifts Cena up for another powerbomb. Cena counters with a Yoshi tonic into an STF. Batista taps. Cena wins!
Winner and NEW WWE Champion after 13:30: John Cena
Review: A fine match but nothing special. The story was about Cena overcoming Batista’s power in this match and getting passed the injury Batista gave him two years earlier. Batista smartly targeted Cena’s neck to try and keep Cena from fighting at full strength but it didn’t work. Cena showed some impressive strength here and there but didn’t do anything impressive beyond that. He just survived move after move and hit way fewer moves on Batista yet somehow did more damage. The overall action was slow and plodding and some of the ‘special’ moves both guys busted out for this match came across as either lifeless or overly labored. The crowd was dead for it until the final three minutes or so and neither guy did much to tell a truly deep story. the commentators tried to fill in the gaps to make this a captivating contest, but that proved to be too much work since no one seemed to really care that much about the finer details in this feud.
Final Rating: **3/4
4. Steve Austin vs. Kevin Owens – WrestleMania 38
Background: At first, in the lead-up to WrestleMania 38, Kevin Owens found himself without a match. So to vent his frustrations, he mocked the state of Texas whenever he could. His insults eventually reached the legendary Steve Austin, who got so fed up with Owen’s BS that he vowed to “confront” Owens at WrestleMania. That’s the key word here: confront. Everyone and their grandmother could predict that Owens was actually going to fight Austin in Austin’s official last match ever. But instead of promoting this as Austin’s retirement match, they kept it ambiguous and sold the idea that Owens would have Austin on his talk show. Then when WrestleMania came about, the talk show lasted only a few minutes before the chairs were thrown out and the referee came down to start the match that everyone saw coming.
The match: This is Austin’s final wrestling match and his first match in nineteen years. They start with some trash-talking and a punch exchange. The crowd chants along as Austin lands slow corner mudhole stomps and then does then at the normal speed. Owens takes a hard landing in the corner allowing Austin to chug a beer and land more stomps. Austin throws Owens to ringside and goes for an Irish whip but Owens reverses it. Austin hits the barricade but quickly bounces out and clotheslines Owens. Austin bounces Owens off the barricade and brawls with him at ringside until Owens reverses a throw into the ringpost. Austin hits it hard and goes down which allows Owens to hit him with a camera tripod and some punches. Owens sets up a table but Austin reverses the whip and Owens goes through it instead. Austin throws Owens over the barricade and brawls with him into the stands. Austin goes for a suplex on the concrete but Owens blocks and counters with a suplex of his own. What a painful landing. Owens gloats and hits some forearms but Austin fights to his feet. Owens lands some knees to regain control but Austin throws Owens over the barricade and onto the announce table. Austin grabs some beers for a short celebration and throws Owens into the ring. Owens hotshots Austin against the top rope and then decides to leave on Austin’s ATV. But Owens can’t start it (and he calls himself a Canadian…) so Austin does that for him and takes him for a short ride. Austin follows with a suplex on the entrance stage, and then a second suplex on the other side of the stage. Austin throws Owens down the ramp and into the ring. He drinks his Steveweisers but Owens catches him off guard with a Stunner. Stunner on Stone Cold! One, two, Austin kicks out. Owens grabs a chair and swings it at Austin. Austin ducks and the chair bounces off the ropes into Owens’ face. Austin takes advantage. Stone Cold Stunner! One, two, three! Austin wins his retirement match!
Winner after 13:55: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin
Review: If we were rating this match based on its nostalgia factor alone, then it’d probably be around **** or higher. But as an actual match…it was a huge disappointment. WWE relies on nostalgia so much that isn’t a marketing tool anymore; it’s a crutch. They were so desperate to sell more tickets that they brought Austin back for one last match. But instead of doing the commonsensical thing and have the current guy in his physical prime win, the older guy won instead and made Owens into a total chump. Aside from the suplex on the concrete, none of Owens’ offense looked effective or real. It looked like he was trying to be as delicate as possible whereas Austin was trying to hit hard like he was still in his prime. Austin tried to make the most out of this nonsense but he was given weak material to work with. He ragdolled Owens with relative ease and made him look like he was made of paper. Owens came across as a coward and a moron that was felled by a slapstick sequence that saw him hit himself with a chair. Austin didn’t even play the hits. Everything he did was slow and methodical, which was expected given his age and physical limitations. I’m not saying that Austin should’ve been putting himself in physical danger, but the precious little he did here only highlighted just how beaten up he was even after not wrestling for almost two decades. This was a bad idea that just screamed desperation on WWE’s part. And once it was over, what were we left with? Another beer bash? Austin did a second one 24 hours later, completely negating the need for this one. Another silly WWE ‘moment’? The WWE Network has an extensive library that shows Austin in his prime which is way better than this. Austin’s last match? Sure, you can call this Austin’s last match if you want. But this was nowhere near as competitive or exciting as Austin vs. Rock III at WrestleMania XIX. All this match did was prove that today’s WWE superstars are vastly inferior to better wrestlers from an age long gone. How anyone can take Owens seriously after this remains a mystery. But at least he’s set for life after his paycheck for this weird match.
Final Rating: **3/4
3. ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams vs. Jun Akiyama – AJPW Champion Carnival 1994, April 10th, 1994
Background: All Japan’s annual round-robin singles tournament was known as the Champion Carnival. The 1994 edition had twelve wrestlers participating and also featured something very rare for All Japan: an angle. Early on, Mitsuharu Misawa, the reigning world champion and odds-on favorite to win the tournament, “suffered a neck injury” and had to forfeit all but two of his scheduled matches. In truth, this was an angle to give the rest of the field a fighting chance at winning. With ace Misawa out of the tournament, the remaining wrestlers’ collective sense of hopelessness vanished and they all got a renewed chance at winning. Two of the wrestlers involved were Steve Williams and Jun Akiyama. Both of them were gifted and accomplished amateur wrestlers before turning pro. Those natural talents made them big stars in All Japan, but Doc was way higher on the card than Akiyama. Nevertheless, Akiyama wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
The match: The match starts with some amateur grappling that ends in a stalemate. Akiyama tries various holds but Doc out-grapples him and forces him to the ropes for a break. Akiyama out-grapples Doc on their next exchange, forcing Doc to get to the ropes. Doc takes Akiyama to the mat and more amateur and chain grappling ensues. At this point, even Doc has to acknowledge Akiyama’s natural talents as he nods his head while the crowd applauds once more.
They go to the mat again and this time Doc throws Akiyama off with authority. They do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock and Doc judo throws Akiyama to the mat. Akiyama shoots Doc to the ropes to escape a headlock but Doc explodes with a huge shoulderblock. Doc hits some stiff chops and an ax handle and whips Akiyama into a corner. Akiyama dodges a stinger splash and hits a German suplex. He follows with a jumping knee and covers Doc but only gets a one-count. Akiyama hits some kicks but Doc tanks them like a boss and powers up. Akiyama answers with chops and then dropkicks doc to the floor. He goes for a plancha but Doc sidesteps and Akiyama hits the ringside mats hard.
Doc throws Akiyama into the ring post and then into the ring and then applies a camel clutch. Akiyama gets a ropebreak. Doc takes a very long time letting go which causes the crowd to boo. Doc hits more stiff forearms and then smashes Akiyama into different turnbuckles. He hits some stiff chops and mocking slaps until Akiyama powers up and hits back. Akiyama hits some elbows and a corner dropkick get the crowd behind him. He goes for a corner whip but Doc reverses it and hits a corner body splash. Then Doc goes to the top rope and lands a diving facecrusher with his knee in the back of Akiyama’s neck. Doc teases the end and goes for the Dangerous Backdrop. Akiyama wisely rushes to the ropes nearest to him to avoid this fate but Doc answers with hammer fists and a big slam. Doc goes for a diving press but Akiyama dropkicks him in midair. Akiyama gets up first and hits corner elbows and a running elbow in another corner. He goes for a northern lights suplex but Doc tries countering with a guillotine choke. Akiyama answers by shoving Doc into the turnbuckle and then connects with a bridging northern lights suplex. One, two, Doc kicks out. Akiyama follows with an Irish whip into an overhead throw for another two-count. He goes for a top-rope crossbody for Doc catches him in midair. Doc lands one half of the Oklahoma Stampede but Akiyama escapes before he can complete the move. Akiyama lands a forearm to the back of Doc’s head and goes for a German but Doc elbows out. Akiyama charges but runs into a powerslam. Doc pins but Akiyama kicks out at two. Doc goes for the gutwrench powerbomb. Akiyama escapes and hits a kick. He goes for a forearm but Doc hits a judo arm throw first. Bridging Dangerous Backdrop Driver connects! One, two, three! Doc wins!
Winner after 12:26: ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams
Review: Excellent match between two incredibly gifted and talent amateur grapplers turned professional wrestlers. The match started off with both men showing their amateur skills and technical skills. Both guys jockeyed for control but neither man had a clear advantage. That set the tone for the rest of the match as it shifted away from mat wrestling and into a King’s Road-style brawl. Akiyama looked amazing here for a guy with less than two full years of experience. He didn’t do a lot of different things but what he did do he did well. Once Doc started powering up, Akiyama entered survival mode and hit whatever he could while trying his best to escape and avoid Doc and his arsenal of dangerous moves. That little game of cat and mouse elevated this match and turned it into something more worthwhile. Akiyama had no chance but he wanted to see how long he could last. He scored a few near-falls here and there but after Doc’s corner splash the match went from ‘could Akiyama win’ to ‘how long before Akiyama gets destroyed’. That didn’t hurt the match at all; if anything it improved things because Doc had to work harder than expected to put Akiyama down. The final five minutes were great with great near-falls and lots of last-second reversals. For a throwaway first-round tournament match between a wildly mismatched pairing, this match was tremendous. Doc looked like a killer and Akiyama looked strong in defeat. You can’t really ask for more than that under such circumstances.
Final Rating: ****
2. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio – WWE SummerSlam 2002
Background: Rey Mysterio debuted in WWE two months earlier and was made one of Paul Heyman’s SmackDown Six. Shortly after his debut, Mysterio entered into a feud with Kurt Angle, who was going through a challenging year. He had spent the year in high-profile feuds and matches with guys like Kane, Edge, The Rock, and The Undertaker. It seemed like Angle was going through a losing streak and suffered one embarrassment after another. Those embarrassments included Mysterio costing Angle several wins on SmackDown, which only further angered Angle. But could he bounce back by beating one of WWE’s newest signees, one who, despite his legendary status as a cruiserweight, was still unfamiliar with WWE’s environment? That set up this match at SummerSlam 2002 in the opening match at that great show.
The match: Angle enters first and Mysterio comes in second. Angle focuses on the entrance ramp so he doesn’t notice Mysterio behind him. Mysterio lands a springboard headscissor takedown to the back of Angle’s head to start the match. The bell rings and Mysterio lands another gorgeous running headscissor, followed by as dropkick and a monkey flip. Angle reverses a corner whip and goes for a German suplex but Mysterio escapes and tries to land a German on Angle. Angle elbows out and grabs Mysterio’s leg but Mysterio kicks him off. Angle rolls through for another ankle lock but Mysterio gets a ropebreak. Mysterio drop toeholds Angle into the ropes and goes for 619 but Angle dodges and pulls Mysterio to the floor by his leg.
Back in the ring, Angle lands a suplex and goes for a back body drop but Mysterio kicks him first. Mysterio goes for a wheelbarrow bulldog but Angle counters with a suplex. Angle goes for another one but Mysterio holds onto the rope so Angle answers with forearms. Mysterio counters with a sunset flip attempt. Angle kicks out at two and hits a clothesline out of nowhere for a two-count of his own. Rib breaker by Angle. Mysterio kicks out again. Angle applies a rope-assisted camel clutch and then hits some corner punches as the crowd chants “Angle sucks”. Angle hits one punch too many as Mysterio hits back. Angle reverses a corner whip but Mysterio blocks and goes for a headscissor. No, Angle counters with a sidewalk slam. One, two, Mysterio kicks out. Angle locks in a torture single leg crab. Mysterio counters with a cradle roll-up. One, two, Angle kicks out and hits another clothesline for yet another two-count. Angle gets cocky as he hits more punches until Mysterio blocks one and lands a jawbreaker. Mysterio hits some forearms but Angle counters an Irish whip. Mysterio counters Angle and lands a jumping sunset flip and – Angle tries the Bret/Bulldog cradle counter. He goes for a mounted punch but Mysterio dodges and Angle hits the ring instead. Mysterio charges…into a belly-to-belly suplex. An Angle Slam gets countered into an arm drag. Mysterio pulls the top rope down to send Angle to the floor. Angle climbs onto the apron but Mysterio dropkicks him causing him to hit his face on the edge of the apron. Mysterio charges for an outside dive but the ref stops him out of concern for Angle. The crowd boos him loudly, but then the ref turns away from Mysterio. Mysterio decides “f**k it”, and lands a suicide senton over the rope, over the referee, and onto Angle on the floor! Mysterio throws Angle into the ring and hits a springboard guillotine leg drop to Angle’s neck. One, two, thr – no, Angle survives.
Angle reverses an Irish whip but Mysterio ducks under his legs. Angle hits first and sends Mysterio into a corner but Mysterio jumps backwards and lands sitting on Angle’s shoulders. Angle drops him forward and applies another ankle lock. Mysterio mule kicks Angle off into position for the 619. 619 connects! Followed by a West Coast Pop springboard hurricanrana! One, two, and thr – Angle narrowly kicks out. Mysterio lands a wheel kick and goes to the top rope. He sees angle charging toward him and jumps off while Angle climbs onto the turnbuckle. Mysterio hits a triangle dropkick and then climbs onto the same turnbuckle. He goes for the spinning diving hurricanrana. Angle escapes and locks in another ankle lock. He drags Mysterio to the middle of the ring. Mysterio taps out. Angle wins!
Winner after 9:25: Kurt Angle
Review: My God what an awesome match. This more than lived up to its reputation as the best opener in SummerSlam history. It was so short but both wrestlers made so much out of what little time they got. They had a fantastic David vs. Goliath dynamic, which was Mysterio’s bread and butter for much of his career. He answered Angle’s power and aggression with trickery, speed, and unpredictability. Mysterio tried to bring Angle up to his pace but Angle was too clever to let Mysterio get comfortable. He shut Mysterio down whenever Mysterio seemed to be gaining the slightest momentum. both guys had awesome chemistry with each other, as seen with their incredible counters and the crispness and smoothness with which they moved and wrestled. Mysterio managed to land some of his craziest moves and seemed to have Angle’s number on more than one occasion. It was rare to see someone out-do Angle in the ‘clever counter’ department but that’s just how good Mysterio was at escaping certain doom. But it wasn’t enough. His speed, technique, and incredible arsenal weren’t enough to overcome Angle’s submission mastery. Angle was smart to go for the ankle lock often throughout the match, and the fact that he won with that very move made his win all the more satisfying. This is an awesome match that both men should be proud of. it’s proof that more time isn’t always necessary, especially when you start off at a blistering pace and never slow down until the bell rings.
Final Rating: ****1/4 (It was also rated ****1/4 by TJRWrestling’s John Canton in his SummerSlam 2002 review as well.)
The clip below features Angle and Mysterio talking about this match with Kurt saying he was nervous while both guys talked about how much they wanted to work together.
1. Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Kensuke Sasaki – NJPW G1 Climax 2004, August 8th, 2004
Background: Both Sasaki and Takayama were heavyweight freelancers that were brought in to compete in the 2004 edition of New Japan’s annual G1 Climax tournament. Also, this match has a bit of an infamous reputation. Shortly after this match (and the brutal beating Takayama endured), Takayama suffered a stroke. It was such a severe stroke that it sidelined him for almost two full years. If you ask me, it’s hard to say whether said stroke can be attributed to this specific match, all the brutality Takayama put himself through beforehand, or both.
The match: They start things off with a Greco-Roman knuckle lock that sees both guys trade control. Sasaki starts gaining ground until Takayama counters with an overhead double-wrist suplex. Takayama applies a headlock but Sasaki counters with an overhead armlock to begin another test of strength. Sasaki powers Takayama to the mat and goes after Takayama’s arm. Takayama fights to his feet but Sasaki counters with a rolling armbar. Takayama gets a ropebreak and on their next lock-up he applies a standing chinlock into a front chancery. Then his inner ogre comes out and he lands a stiff knee to Sasaki’s face and a Kawada-style spine punt. Takayama tries a cross armbreaker but Sasaki resists so Takayama slaps Sasaki’s belly hard to distract him and apply the hold properly. Sasaki resists still and escapes so Takayama boots him in the face.
Takayama hits more stiff boots and pins for a one-count. He follows with a snapmare/running PK combo and pins with his foot on Sasaki’s chest but only gets a one-count again. Takayama channels Kawada again with stiff chest kicks but Sasaki starts powering up and no-sells them. Takayama answers with a big boot and covers for another two-count. He powers Sasaki into a corner with walking kneelifts and then hangs him upside down in the corner. Takayama hits a huge running knee and the ref makes him back off to check if Sasaki can continue. Sasaki fights through the pain so Takayama goes for a sleeper hold but Sasaki judo throws him off. Running lariat by Sasaki, followed by a diving side kick. Sasaki hits a second lariat that sends Takayama to the floor. Sasaki whips Takayama into the ringpost and then hits a third lariat. He continues his onslaught by smashing Takayama into anything metal that he can find. Then he lands a short-range lariat against the barricade and a vertical suplex on the ringside mats.
Sasaki returns to the ring and Takayama makes it back in at the ref’s count of seventeen. Sasaki hits a nasty corner chop/lariat combo followed by a running bulldog at the ten-minute mark. He hits a chop and yells at Takayama to bring it. Takayama gets angry and answers with a stiff elbow. Then the elbow exchange begins. Sasaki tries mixing things up with chops and Takayama hits a nasty boot. Neither man leaves his feet and the crowd chants along with each strike. Sasaki hits a fifth lariat. Takayama barely even moves. A big boot barely affects Sasaki and he hits back with a sixth lariat. Takayama remains standing and boots him again. Sasaki hits a seventh lariat. Both men fall to one knee. The crowd applauds loudly as both men fight back to both feet. Another boot from Takayama and another lariat from Sasaki. Back-and-forth it goes with both men trading strikes. Takayama hits one more big boot to finally drop Sasaki and then he lands a running knee to Sasaki’s face. One, two, Sasaki kicks out. Takayama goes for his Everest German finisher but Sasaki elbows out and lands an enzuigiri. Lariat #10 drops Takayama to the floor. Sasaki goes to the top rope and lands a crossbody to the floor.
Sasaki rolls Takayama into the ring but when he gets into the ring Takayama hits him with a boot. But Sasaki shrugs it off and hits lariat #11. Sasaki signals the end. Northern Lights Bomb! Sasaki somehow scoops up the mammoth Takayama for a Brainbuster! One, two, and thr – NO, Takayama kicks out at 2.99! Sasaki tries a Tiger suplex but Takayama backs him into a corner. Takayama hits one kneelift, pulls down his kneepad, and hits another exposed kneelift right to Sasaki’s face. Sasaki hits back with lariat #12. But it only grazes Takayama as Takayama traps his arm and hits a dragon suplex. Takayama follows with a bridging Everest German suplex. One, two, and three! Takayama wins!
Winner after 14:40: Yoshihiro Takayama
Review: Awesome wrestling match. Actually, I wouldn’t really call this a wrestling match per se; it was more like a fight or a machismo contest. It was a brutal slugfest between two hosses wanting to prove who was tougher. They started with a test of strength to establish how strong both of them were. And once those cards were on the table, they threw technique to the wind and just started throwing bombs at each other. Forget about strategy or logic; these guys got unto an ugly brawl and did whatever they could to try and knock each other out. They cared not about variety or playing to the crowd; they made the crowd react to whatever they did in the ring. This match was built on its simplicity and straightforwardness. Both guys took turns fighting from beneath and enduring punishing offense from one another. Sasaki had a monumental challenge since Takayama was taller, heavier, and far tougher given his accomplishments and matches under his belt. So he hit Takayama with lariat after lariat and even dumped the giant on his head with a Brainbuster. But Takayama was just too tough. His combination of boots and knees weakened Sasaki just as much as all of Sasaki’s lariats and other tricks. Then, at the very end, Takayama turned a lariat into a dragon suplex out of nowhere to use Sasaki’s own weapon against him. That was enough to break Sasaki’s resolve enough for Takayama to land his finish and win the match. All in all, this was terrific. There was something primal here that made it so engrossing. There’s something particularly satisfying in seeing two monster badasses fight it out in an ugly way to see who is left standing. These two did a great job of telling such an enthralling tale in such a short amount of time. Hidden gems like this make the subscription to New Japan World all the more worthwhile.
Final Rating: ****1/4