Some wrestling fans like to see wrestlers fight in long, drawn-out wars of attrition while others like things summed up quick and easy.
There have been plenty of great examples of the former over the decades, but what about the latter? Can short matches tell the same stories as longer matches and just as well? Let’s find out.
Once again I’ve found five random under-15-minute matches to see how well they hold up and to see if any of them really do reach classic status.
5. Vader vs. Mitsuharu Misawa – AJPW Champion Carnival, March 28, 1999
Background: Vader returned to Japan after two years of horrible misuse in WWE. But instead of returning to New Japan, he debuted for the rival All Japan instead. He started his AJPW career by making it all the way to the finals of the 1998 World’s Strongest Tag Determination League tournament, where he and Stan Hansen lost to Burning (Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama). But his fortunes only improved from there. Three months later, Vader won a tournament to crown a new Triple Crown Champion after Toshiaki Kawada had to vacate the title due to injury. A few weeks after that, Vader entered the 1999 Champion Carnival tournament as the defending champion. And on the second night, Vader took on Misawa, the company’s top star and new de-facto president following Giant Baba’s passing.
The match: After a tense stand-off, Vader hits a single Vader Hammer so hard it drops Misawa to the mat. He sells like his ear is ringing (it probably was) and Vader continues with more stiff shots. Vader follows with a short-range lariat and a running splash for a two-count. He applies a chinlock and then lands a body block, an elbow drop, and a front slam. Vader goes for a second-rope splash but it looks like Misawa gets an elbow up and hits Vader on the impact. Undeterred, Vader drops Misawa chest-first on the steel guardrail but Misawa hits back with stiff elbows. Vader retaliates with more stiff shots and another lariat. Misawa resists a double-arm suplex so Vader counters with a Fujiwara armbar. Misawa gets a ropebreak and hits more elbows but Vader hits him right in his historically-injured orbital bone. A third lariat and a second running splash get Vader a two-count. Misawa goes for his corner Irish whip counter but Vader hits first with another body block. Vader follows with a powerbomb but Misawa gets his foot on the ropes. Misawa ducks some clotheslines and gets a bug running start before hitting an elbow smash. Vader catches his foot but Misawa lands an enzuigiri with the free leg. Misawa slams Vader and hits a diving elbow smash for a two-count. Vader rolls to ringside but Misawa lands his elbow suicida. The two fight by the ropes and Vader lands a suplex into the ring for another two-count. Vader removes his mask and lands more brutal Vader Hammers. Then he lands a corner body block and a nasty German suplex and a third running splash. One, two, Misawa kicks out. Misawa escapes another powerbomb, hits three more elbow smashes, and then drills Vader with a running elbow for the pin and the win.
Winner after 10:52: Mitsuharu Misawa
Review: The match was okay but far beneath what they had months later in October. Vader dominated the match and manhandled Misawa like almost no-one else. It looked like Vader would win several times but Misawa just grit his teeth, endured the pain, and hit a limited comeback to win the match. On one hand, it made Misawa’s elbows look truly lethal because he was able to win by spamming those strikes and little else. On the other hand, it seemed counterproductive for Vader, who was being pushed as this big monster new arrival, to be beaten so easily. Maybe Misawa winning was expected given that this was the first big tour following Baba’s death and All Japan needed some optimism to lift up the crowd’s spirits. Still, I think that building for the future would’ve been a better idea and this was one match that Vader should’ve won since Misawa really didn’t need the win here and Vader didn’t need to lose.
Final Rating: **3/4
4. Kensuke Sasaki vs. Yuji Nagata – NJPW Wrestling World 2004
Background: Kensuke Sasaki shocked the Japanese wrestling world in 2002 when he left New Japan after spending the entirety of his fifteen-year career there. He returned two years later following the unmitigated disaster that was his mentor Riki Choshu’s World Japan project and in this return match he faced company mainstay Yuji Nagata. At the time, Nagata was in the same position as Bret Hart was in during the early 1990s amid the steroid scandal: saddled with an entire promotion to carry on his back. As one can imagine, Nagata was not a happy man as he stared down a man that was being presented to the audience as a returning turncoat, especially since that’s how Sasaki was likely perceived in the New Japan locker room. Needless to say tensions were running high here and no one knew how violent this match would get.
The match: This is a “life or death fight” match, which is basically a Last Man Standing match. The bell rings and both men rush each other with a very long stiff strike exchange. Sasaki charges for a lariat but Nagata kicks his arm and then the rest of his body. Nagata lands an overhead belly-to-belly but Sasaki retaliates with two successful lariats. Sasaki attempts a cross armbreaker but Nagata rolls to the ropes, except Sasaki’s very reluctant to release his hold. Two referees have to force Sasaki’s arms apart (disqualification was a VERY rare thing in New Japan) and the action spills to ringside. Sasaki whacks Nagata with a chair a few times but Nagata boots it into Sasaki’s face, which busts him open. Nagata attacks Sasaki’s wound and lands an Exploder suplex on the ringside mats. Sasaki dodges a high kicks and smashes Nagata’s head into the ringpost. Sasaki shoves some officials around as Nagata starts bleeding too. The men trade slaps, head-butts, and other strikes in the ring as blood pours down both of their faces and covers them head to waist.
Nagata gets up at the referee’s count of six and Sasaki chokes him against the ropes and bites his wound. You sick bastard. Sasaki lands some head-butts but Nagata keeps firing up. Nagata refuses to give up so Sasaki lariats him once again. The crowd boos Sasaki so he gives their hero Nagata a Northern Lights Bomb. Sasaki stops the ref’s count at seven and rubs his boot into Nagata’s bloody forehead. He slams Nagata and punches the wound, which gets a big reaction because punches in general are discouraged in NJPW. Sasaki hits Nagata again but this time Nagata answers with a high kick followed by a corner running kneelift. Nagata lands more roundhouse kicks and then locks in his Nagata Lock III. Nagata keeps this submission hold locked in for well over two minutes as both he and Sasaki bleed like crazy. Sasaki keeps fighting but eventually the referee decides that enough is enough and calls for the bell. Sasaki never gave up!
Winner due to referee’s decision after 12:10: Yuji Nagata
Review: That was an intense, almost shoot-like battle. It looked like neither guy was holding back and both were hitting each other with genuine malice. It was an ugly and scrappy brawl with only the slightest hint of professional competition about it. The most memorable thing in the match was the blood, which was way more than usual for New Japan’s usual style. Both guys were pouring blood throughout the match. It was as if they were trying to match Muta and Hase with their scale-creating bloodbath from 1992 and Sasaki was trying to copy Freddie Blassie and his wars with Rikidozan by biting into Nagata’s open wound like a vampire. The match’s stipulation seemed to be somewhat inconsequential as Sasaki kept shoving the ref aside and stopping him from counting so that he could inflict more damage onto Nagata. But Sasaki’s greed got the best of him as Nagata made a sudden but strong comeback that ended with him trapping Sasaki in his Nagata Lock III for almost three full minutes. It was a fine match but a bit of a listless one as well. It seemed directionless at times and so they compensated for the short time and lack of storytelling with raw violence and carnage. All in all a fine match but nothing exceptional.
Final Rating: ***
3. Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero – WWE WrestleMania 21
Background: Eddie and Rey were WWE Tag Team Champions together at the time and this match was built on the “friendly” premise that Eddie just couldn’t beat Rey one-on-one. This would eventually morph into Eddie’s heel turn and bitter feud with Rey that would go all the way to SummerSlam.
The match: The match starts with some chain grappling and counter exchanges. Eddie grounds Rey with an armlock and switches to some double wrist-locks that get some more quick one-counts. Rey counters with an acrobatic sunset flip but Eddie counters that with a catapult toss that sends Rey to the floor. The crowd applauds as Rey dodges a baseball slide and does a 619 taunt to show he’s still in control. Eddy controls Rey’s arms some more until Rey escapes and hits a shoulderblock. Rey slingshots Eddie across the ring with his legs but Eddie knocks Rey off the apron. Eddie follows with a pescado splash to the floor and then covers in the ring for a two-count. Eddie follows with a double-arm stretch and a back suplex for another two-count. Then Eddie locks in a Liger-style Romero stretch and an STF, and then switches into a hammerlock. Rey escapes via awesome cruiserweight acrobatics and arm drags Eddie to the floor. Rey follows with a flying corkscrew plancha to the floor.
Back in the ring, Rey lands a springboard seated senton but Eddie knocks him down on the follow-up with a back elbow. Eddie goes for his Three Amigos triple suplexes but Rey escapes on the second and rolls Eddie up for a two-count. Eddie follows with a backbreaker for yet another two-count and tries the Three Amigos again. This time he lands two but Rey counters the third with a headscissor to set up the 619. Eddie dodges that move and lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Eddie finally completes the Three Amigos sequence but his follow-up frog splash misses the target. Rey tries capitalizing with a majistral cradle. Eddie counters with a cover of his own for a two-count. Eddie almost gets Rey in position for a powerbomb but Rey escapes and lands the 619. He goes for the West Coast Pop but Eddie counters with a snap powerbomb for a two-count. Eddie goes for another tilt-a-whirl counter but this time Rey counters with a modified Frankensteiner. One, two, and three! Rey beats Eddie out of nowhere.
Winner after 12:00: Rey Mysterio
Review: Obviously this is nowhere near as great as Eddie and Rey’s legendary singles match from WCW Halloween Havoc 1997 but still solid. It was all high-speed lucha-inspired action but it never got too frenetic or surreal since Rey brought the speed and Eddie brought the power. There were some obvious issues with Rey’s speed and follow-through between spots as he kept touching his mask. It looked to be loose and naturally he couldn’t risk it falling off. There were also some obvious limitations imposed on these guys’ ability to tell a story since this was a babyface-vs-babyface dynamic and that just didn’t really work that well in WWE. Because of that the match felt a bit subdued and the storytelling threadbare. Still, for an opener this was decent and served its purpose of getting the crowd ready for the rest of the show.
Final Rating: ***1/4
2. Kenta Kobashi vs. Go Shiozaki – NOAH, January 23, 2005
Background: Shiozaki was Kobashi’s protégé and in this match he was still less than a year into his professional career. Like Jun Akiyama in All Japan, Shiozaki was a promising student who was learning quickly and doing very well despite his relative inexperience. As a result, his teacher wanted to put him through his biggest test to date.
The match: They lock-up and Kobashi easily powers Shiozaki to the ropes but Shiozaki slaps back. He lands some elbows, and applies a headlock but Kobashi shoots him off the ropes and tackles him down. Easy thing to do since Kobashi is a wall of muscle and outweighs Shiozaki but a good 50 pounds. Shiozaki wrestles his way out of a headlock and floats over into one of his own and does Kobashi’s gimmick of keeping it applied no matter what. Despite several escape attempts from Kobashi, Shiozaki maintains his headlock. Kobashi rolls over to some quick pins but only gets some one-counts. Kobashi does manage to fight out and drops Shiozaki with a chop. Shiozaki shows his youthful fire as he hits elbows, but each elbow barrage does little to nothing to Kobashi and each Kobashi chop drops Shiozaki. Kobashi scoop slams Shiozaki and then locks in a Boston crab. Shiozaki gets a ropebreak so Kobashi pulls him to ringside. Kobashi sends Shiozaki into the barricade and a chop sends him over it. Back in the ring both men trade vertical suplex attempts until Shiozaki lands behind his mentor. He goes for a standing dropkick but Kobashi hits first with a downward chop. Another stiff chop gets Kobashi a two-count and then he applies an abdominal stretch that he switches into another pin attempt for yet another two-count.
Shiozaki tries fighting back with more forearms but again Kobashi chops his chest until it turns beet red and covers for another two-count. This same fightback exchange ensues at ringside as well. Shiozaki reverses a whip into the barricade but Kobashi bounces out, only to be sent into the barricade again. Kobashi tosses Shiozaki into the ring but Shiozaki dropkicks him off the apron and hits a suicide dive through the ropes. In the ring, Shiozaki hits a missile dropkick and gets a two-count. The same chop/elbow exchange occurs again but this time Shiozaki remains standing. A running forearm finally drops Kobashi. Kobashi elbows out of one German suplex but Shiozaki ducks a discus chop and lands two German suplexes for a two-count. Shiozaki mocks Kobashi by using the rolling cradle which was a move Kobashi used during his rookie years. Kobashi kicks out and then blocks a half-nelson suplex. Shiozaki tries a lariat but Kobashi doesn’t budge and hits a discus chop. Kobashi hits a Burning Sword downward chop and gets another two-count and then blocks a Backdrop suplex with his own headlock. Shiozaki crawls to the ropes and hits one final desperation elbow and slap barrage that does absolutely nothing to Kobashi. Kobashi taunts Shiozaki to hit even harder. Kobashi destroys Shiozaki with a discus chop, a half-nelson suplex, and a short-range Burning Lariat to get the three-count.
Winner after 13:59: Kenta Kobashi
Review: A simple but exciting match that was all about putting Shiozaki over in defeat. Shiozaki stood no chance of winning here so the match was all about showing how much he could withstand before going down. He put up a good fight but he just was no match for his mentor. Both guys did very simple things in and around the ring yet got a lot out of them. Both guys targeted each other’s neck and kept things realistic with things like headlocks and stiff strikes. Shiozaki made several fiery comebacks and tried to take down what was for him an immovable object but Kobashi was just too strong and too tough. It was a fun little underdog story with Shiozaki doing everything he could to last as long as he could. These guys didn’t need to get overly complex; they told the right story with the limited moves they did, and sometimes simpler is better.
Final rating: ***1/4
1. Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe I – TNA Genesis 2006
Background: This was a HUGE dream match for TNA fans and wrestling fans in general. Kurt Angle’s departure from WWE was a massive story, as was his signing with TNA. And upon his debut, Angle singled out the biggest rising star the company had which was Samoa Joe. Going into this match, Joe had an undefeated streak that began eighteen months earlier. He hadn’t been pinned or submitted during that entire time, and in multi-man matches he wasn’t figured into any falls so his record remained unblemished. Joe was well on his way to becoming a major star, but could he overcome the Olympic Gold Medalist wrestling in his first PPV match in five months?
The match: A “this is awesome chant” breaks out seconds in as the two wrestlers jockey for control against the ropes. After a break, Angle single legs Joe but Joe gets a quick ropebreak. Joe hits some hard strikes and appears to target the bandage on Angle’s head. Angle counters an Irish whip, lands kicks of his own, sends Joe into the ropes, and lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Angle clotheslines Joe to the floor and gets in a split-second argument with the referee. That momentary distraction allows Joe to catch Angle’s leg, pull him into a powerbomb position of sorts, and swing him and smash him head-first into the steel barricade.
Back in the ring, Joe covers Angle but only gets a two-count. Angle fires back with uppercuts and sends Joe into a corner but Joe sidesteps and Angle hits a ringpost shoulder-first. Joe follows with a Misawa-style elbow suicida and then drags Angle all around the ring until he smashes him head-first into the ringsteps. Joe re-enters the ring and argues with the referee for a bit as Angle recovers ringside. Angle re-enters the ring with blood pouring down his forehead. Joe attacks the open wound and head-butts it until some of Angle’s blood can be seen on his forehead. Angle tries firing back, but the exhaustion mixed with the blood in his eyes prevents him from blocking Joe’s counter snap powerslam. Joe covers but only gets a two-count.
Joe lands crossface shots but Angle makes another comeback attempt with uppercuts. Joe reverses another Irish whip and answers a ducked clothesline with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for another two-count. Joe powers Angle onto the top turnbuckle and then the two wrestlers trade stiff slaps. Angle applies a front facelock while still on the turnbuckle and reverses a slam attempt with a DDT for a two-count of his own. Angle wins a standing strike exchange, dodges a forearm, and lands a German suplex. Joe tries elbowing out but Angle’s grip is too strong and he lands the second one. Angle goes for the third but his strength gives out so he only gets Joe part of the way up before letting go. Joe kicks out at two so Angle goes for the Angle Slam but Joe blocks that with an arm drag. Joe follows with a CM Punk-style corner kneelift and a standing enzuigiri. Muscle Buster! One, two, and – Angle kicks out. Angle escapes a Coquina Clutch, dodges a clothesline, and lands an Angle Slam. One, two, and – Joe kicks out. Ankle lock. Joe tries fighting out but when that doesn’t work he counters into a Coquina Clutch. Angle fights through the urge to tap and counters back into the ankle lock. Joe manages the roll-through counter and sends Angle into a corner. Joe charges but is too slow and runs into the corner himself as Angle dodges. Angle follows with another Angle Slam and another ankle lock. Joe taps out. Samoa Joe’s undefeated streak has come to an end!
Winner after 13:36: Kurt Angle
Review: That was a fun and competitive match. Angle and Joe had great chemistry and complemented each other. Angle was the older veteran and Joe was the hungry rising star. Joe out-powered Angle and bloodied him to even the playing field since Angle had more experience. But with Angle’s vision limited by blood and with a lack of energy resulting from that blood, he couldn’t stay at the top of his game all the time. Since this was the first match between these two, they kept things relatively simple by playing the hits and building towards their respective finishers and especially their respective submission holds. Angle looked closed to losing once he was in the Coquina Clutch but he made a miraculous recovery and went through almost everything to finally beat Joe. I think this could’ve been better with a stronger and more decisive finishing stretch to make Joe’s fight even more dramatic and intense. That said, these two went on to have more singles matches together in TNA so it’s not like fans were starved for quality.
Final Rating: ***3/4