Can wrestlers accomplish the same things in less than time or is it better to have more time as a buffer?
That seems to be a questions some fans and even some wrestlers themselves are asking these days. There have been many matches that have reached classic status by the simple fact that they’re long. It’s almost like the same logic put into some films, with this idea that padding length gives more room to add more detail and therefore improve the overall story.
But that isn’t a universal truth, not in cinema and not in wrestling. As we have seen before, there have been some matches that have accomplished either the same with less or more with less. Some of those short, under-fifteen-minute matches, are actually better than many matches that’ve gone double, triple, or even quadruple that length.
Are any of these five in that same category of greatness? Read on to find out.
5. Winner-take-all title match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship & the NWF Heavyweight Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura [IWGP] vs. Yoshihiro Takayama [NWF] – NJPW Wrestling World 2004
Background: This match took place while Nakamura was the youngest-ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He was only 23 years old, just over a year into his pro-wrestling career, was nicknamed ‘the Super Rookie’ by New Japan, and was Antonio Inoki’s personal pet project. To help his career, Nakamura also had a few real MMA fights around this time since Inoki was still obsessed with his wrestling/MMA hybrid project. Nakamura finished that venture with a respectable 3-1 record, but Inoki was looking for other ways for stuff related to himself to rub off onto Nakamura. To that end, Inoki resurrected the NWF Heavyweight Championship, a world title once belonging to the National Wrestling Federation, which was an American wrestling company in the northeastern United States. Inoki won the in the early 1970s and then brought it with him to Japan where he defended it for a decade. In other words, this was Inoki’s world title before the IWGP Heavyweight Championship first came into existence. Inoki vacated that title in 1981 but resurrected it in 2003 for a tournament that was won by Takayama one year prior to this match. Takayama was a monster of an opponent, especially in the wake of his MMA fight with Don Frye that Dave Meltzer once described as “better than sex”. The winner of this match would walk away with both titles and be recognized as the only true world champion in the company.
The match: The instant the bell rings Nakamura rushes Takayama and traps him in a heel hook. Takayama gets a ropebreak and on their next exchange he applies a facelock. Nakamura counters into a hammerlock but Takayama wrestles into his own grounded headlock. Nakamura gets another ropebreak and tries a single-leg but Takayama counters into a cross armbreaker attempt. The two wrestlers traded grounded submission holds until another ropebreak ensues and then Takayama kicks Nakamura right in the face. Nakamura escapes a chinlock and tries one of his own but he struggles to reach since Takayama’s almost a foot taller. Takayama tries to snapmare Nakamura over but Nakamura maintains his hold and adds a bodyscissor to it. Takayama gets another ropebreak so Nakamura lands a side belly-to-belly suplex but doesn’t even get a one-count. Takayama tries blocking a German suplex but Nakamura fihts through and lands it. Takayama gets right back up and goes for a high kick but Nakamura blocks and manages a low-angle powerbomb followed by his Shining Triangle finisher, which is a Shining Wizard stepped into a triangle choke. But it doesn’t work as Takayama deadlifts him into a one-shoulder powerbomb and hits a nasty leg drop across his face.
Takayama continues the onslaught with stiff kicks, punches, and forearms. A big boot sends Nakamura to the floor and then Takayama drops him sternum-first on the barricade. Nakamura won’t stop holding his forehead which makes me think he’s hurt for real. But for Takayama that just means “target it more” which he does with punches and knees. Back in the ring, Nakamura tries a comeback with forearms but Takayama lands another punch and drops Nakamura easily. Another barrage from Nakamura ends in the same way and then Takayama drops the point of his elbow right in the middle of Nakamura’s forehead. Takayama lands a big kneelift to Nakamnura’s head and covers with his foot on Nakamura’s chest but only manages a two-count. Takayama hits more punches and knees and toys with Nakamura in the same way as The Big Show did for many years in WWE. He continues manhandling Nakamura until Nakamura counters an Irish whip with another Shining Triangle. And this time Nakamura counters the deadlift powerbomb by rolling though and keeping his hold locked in.
Nakamura switches to a cross armbreaker but Takayama rolls over into a cover for a two-count, forcing Nakamura to let go. Nakamura charges and runs into another stiff kneelift. One, two, Nakamura survives. Takayama lands mounted punches and a corner knee strike. Nakamura tries fighting back but all he does is flail around and Takayama stops him with another knee. Takayama lands two backdrop suplexes and suddenly Nakamura fires up out of nowhere. Takayama lands more kicks to Nakamura’s face and now suddenly he doesn’t feel anymore pain. Another kick to the face drops Nakamura for a moment but when he gets to his feet Takayama drills him once more. Somehow Nakamura kicks out so Takayama lands his Everest German suplex finisher. One, two, Nakamura kicks out again and he floats over into a kimura lock. Takayama taps out of nowhere. Nakamura wins both titles.
Winner and STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion and NEW NWF Heavyweight Champion after 13:55: Shinsuke Nakamura
Review: That was disappointing. I get what they were trying to accomplish with Nakamura taking a horrible beating and then winning out of nowhere, but this match’s structure and finish didn’t really help anyone. Even in Hogan’s most cartoonish affairs his opponent would dominate for 80% and he would have 10% offense in between and then have his big comeback. This match was, somehow, even more one-sided than that. 95% of the match was Takayama destroying Nakamura. Then there was 4% of Nakamura doing random moves throughout the match and then the last 1% was Nakamura’s sudden counter into a finish. It was so out of nowhere that it didn’t really have any sort of emotional impact. Worse, Nakamura’s selling and sudden comeback made the match come across as inconsistent and most of the first ten minutes didn’t end up mattering as a result. The only real appeal here is seeing a giant beat up a small guy, only for the small guy to make an unlikely and somewhat unrealistic comeback in the end. Wrestling is full of stories like that, and many of them are better than this one. It’s too bad; both of these guys were and are capable of better yet they were both hamstrung by the directions they were given from management (*cough* Inoki *cough*) at the time.
Final Rating: **1/4
4. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs. Rey Mysterio – WCW Starrcade 1996
Background: Liger was four months removed from having a benign brain tumor removed from his body. Although he recovered, that tumor forced him to change many things about his wrestling style. He wasn’t as adept in the air as before and so he switched to being a more technical and mat-focused wrestler that also liked to do power moves. And even though he was small due to being a junior heavyweight, Mysterio was smaller, which meant he was the perfect guy to fill the gaps in Liger’s wrestling while still bedazzling audiences with his own.
The match: They shake hands and the match begins. Mysterio takes control early with a Romero special attempt but Liger counters with a double-arm stretch. Mysterio shoots Liger off the ropes to escape a headlock but Liger answers with a shoulderblock. Mysterio kips up so Liger dropkicks him back down. Liger follows with a scoop slam and a vertical suplex and then sends Mysterio into a corner hard. Liger follows with a free fall drop and a nasty powerbomb. He goes for another free fall drop but this time Mysterio lands a counter headscissor. Mysterio follows with a second headscissor that sends Liger over the rope and to the floor and then does a 619 feint to get under Liger’s skin.
Mysterio tries to suplex Liger into the ring but Liger overpowers him and suplexes him to the floor. Liger follows with a ringside powerbomb that makes it harder for Mysterio to return to the ring. He eventually makes it in but Liger prepares a big move from the top rope. Mysterio goes for a diving dropkick but Liger blocks and hits a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and then locks in a Romero special. Now Liger goes for an over-the-rope suplex but Mysterio lands behind him and hits a German suplex followed by a standing moonsault splash. Mysterio follows with a DDT and a slingshot moonsault splash for another two-count. He hits a springboard dropkick and then locks in a camel clutch. After that Mysterio goes for another springboard move but this time Liger dropkicks him in midair. One, two, Mysterio kicks out.
Liger launches Mysterio with his own German suplex and gets another two-count of his own. He locks in a half crab but Mysterio gets a ropebreak so he lands a leg whip. Liger attacks the leg, and then sends Mysterio into a corner and lands a rolling koppu kick. Mysterio reverses a corner whip and then monkey flips Liger over his head. Mysterio follows with a wheel kick and Liger blocks another monkey flip and puts Mysterio on the top turnbuckle. Mysterio kicks Liger’s hand to stop a shotei and hits another headscissor takedown. Liger reverses an Irish whip but Mysterio flips onto the apron and leaps to avoid a baseball slide. Mysterio dropkicks Liger through the ropes and then hits a quebrada to the floor.
Mysterio makes it to the ring first and hits a springboard guillotine leg drop to the back of Liger’s neck. He slams Liger and attempts another springboard but this time Liger dodges. Liger hits a diving head-butt for a two-count and goes for a corner whip but Mysterio blocks it. Liger blocks a corner charge and sends Mysterio onto the apron. Mysterio teases another big move but Liger knocks him off the apron. Mysterio cuts Liger off as he ascends the top rope and attempts a Super Frankensteiner. Something goes wrong and Liger lands on his feet and lands another rolling kick. Ligerbomb connects. One, two, and three! Liger beats Mysterio!
Winner after 14:15: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger
Review: Good match but one that was killed by a dead crowd. I know I probably shouldn’t care about crowd noise in matches anymore, what with WALTER and Ilja proving that you can have a great match without fan noise and whatnot, but still, this match just felt off because of the lack of atmosphere. Additionally, it was obvious these two guys were on different pages. There was little follow-through between segments and the match lacked smooth flow from one segment to another. The selling was inconsistent and there was simply no heat here. Liger can be expressive and animated when he wants to be despite his mask but he didn’t get that opportunity here. So what we were left with was a cold match that had some solid moving parts but little to hold it all together. If you just like seeing well-executed power moves and Mysterio taking a beating, then you’ll be satisfied with this. Otherwise, there are better matches out there from both men.
Final Rating: ***1/4
3. Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama – AJPW 20th Anniversary Show, September 17, 1992
Background: This was Jun Akiyama’s debut match after spending months training in All Japan’s dojo. He was a standout at Senshu University in Tokyo and came from the same amateur wrestling team that included other top Japanese wrestling stars Manabu Nakanishi, Riki Choshu, and Hiroshi Hase.
The match: they lock-up and Kobashi gets a clean break on the ropes. They lock-up again and the technical chain grappling begins. A standoff ensues and Akiyama goes for Kobashi’s leg but Kobashi kicks him away. Kobashi avoids getting taken down a few more times and the crowd applauds. Akiyama escapes a headlock but Kobashi shoulder tackles him down. More chain grappling ends in yet another stalemate and they do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock. Akiyama counters that with a double-wrist suplex and gets a one-count. He starts working over Kobashi’s arm but Kobashi hits a back elbow to escape. He tries working over Akiyama’s neck but Akiyama counters into a hammerlock. Kobashi fights to his feet and the two trade armlocks until Akiyama out-counters him, leading to still yet another stalemate.
Akiyama counters another attempt at control from Kobashi with another hammerlock but Kobashi gets to the ropes. He hits a barrage of forearms but Kobashi drops him with chops. Some stiff kicks to the back send Akiyama to the floor but Kobashi tosses him back into the ring and lands a big scoop slam. Akiyama gets a ropebreak to escape a Boston crab so Kobashi applies a cobra twist/abdominal stretch. Akiyama gets another ropebreak so Kobashi hits a vertical suplex for a two-count, followed by some corner chops. Akiyama counters a corner whip and hits a forearm smash but Kobashi hits back with a big kick. Akiyama fires up as Kobashi hits stiff chops and kick. He lands a few more forearms and then drops Kobashi with a standing dropkick. Kobashi kicks out at one and lands more kicks and knees. He lands a corner lariat and more strikes followed by a Perfect-plex for two.
Akiyama tries a sunset flip counter to a back body drop but Kobashi answers that with a slap. Akiyama blocks a Backdrop suplex so Kobashi hits an enzuigiri. Kobashi lands a successful Backdrop suplex but Akiyama kicks out and the crowd chants Akiyama’s name. Kobashi bounces off the ropes but Akiyama counters with a hiptoss/powerslam for a two-count of his own. Kobashi elbows out of one German suplex and goes for a suplex of his own but Akiyama lands behind him and lands a bridging German for another two-count. Akiyama goes for a northern nights suplex but Kobashi counters with a DDT. A springboard bulldog gets Kobashi another two-count. Then Kobashi lands a corner jumping knee followed by his Kentucky Bomb pumphandle powerbomb finisher for the pin and the win!
Winner after 12:53: Kenta Kobashi
Review: I cannot stress enough that this was Akiyama’s FIRST professional wrestling match and he looked and moved like multi-year veteran. It made sense for him to be competitive with Kobashi since he was a much-hyped rookie with an incredible amateur pedigree coming out of training. Whoever trained him deserves a medal or a big raise because Akiyama wrestled here like a seasoned pro with his perfectly-timed counters, technical skill, precision, and ability to tell a story. He fought as much as possible and by the time the ten-minute mark passed he started looking more competitive with Kobashi. Kobashi, for his part, used his experience and toughness to match Akiyama’s speed. He knew Akiyama would try to make as big of an impression as possible which is why he didn’t hold back. And yet, the first half of the match saw Kobashi coast along since he wasn’t feeling that threatened. By the time the match reached its final few minutes, though, Kobashi realized he was dealing with someone special and adjusted accordingly, hence all the bombs, suplexes, and stiff strikes. This isn’t that special of a match on its own, but as a wrestler’s first match in front of a live audience this is as good as it gets.
Final rating: ***1/4
2. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Taue – AJPW, January 26, 1991
Background: AJPW had something called a seven-match Trial Series in which younger wrestlers would face different other wrestlers one-on-one to assess their skills. Here, Taue found himself facing Misawa for the first time ever. Not only that, but Misawa was PISSED at Taue for leaving his Super Generation Army and aligning himself with his then-archrival Jumbo Tsuruta. Taue’s defection led to some incredible matches, including the first of many Misawa’s Arms vs. Tsuruta’s Army six-man tags in October 1990 and Taue’s incredible bloodbath with Kawada nine days prior to this contest.
The match: Taue wins the first two lock-ups, gets overconfident, and shoves Misawa. Misawa fires back with a stiff slap and he’s way more animated than usual. On the next lock-up attempt he drops Taue with a stiff elbow and then lands some equally-stiff kicks. Taue tries fighting back with forearms but Misawa stiffs him some more. Misawa dropkicks Taue and lands a takeover-type move for a one-count. Taue escapes a chinlock via stunner and dumps Misawa to the floor. He throws Misawa onto the commentary table which is not gimmicked in any way so Misawa lands hard. Taue attacks Misawa as he re-enters the ring and lands a snap suplex followed by some more stomping. A top-rope body splash gets Taue a two-count, as does a piledriver. Taue locks in a neck scissor but Misawa’s quick to get a ropebreak. He sends Misawa into the ropes but Misawa hits back and the two exchange more strikes. Misawa runs into a wall and charges once more but Taue catches him in a powerslam for a one-count. Snap Chokeslam by Taue. Misawa kicks out. Samoan Drop. Misawa kicks out again so Taue throws him from his shoulders to the floor. Taue follows with a baseball slide dropkick and a senton dive from the apron.
Back in the ring, Taue hits a diving dropkick but only gets a two-count. He goes for a suplex but Misawa lands behind him. The two dodge each other’s strikes until Misawa lands a huge running elbow smash. Misawa attempts a Tiger Driver but Taue powers him into a corner. Misawa blocks a corner whip with his foot but turns around and eats a big boot. Taue hits a corner clothesline and tries a second-rope DDT but Misawa blocks by holding onto the ropes. Taue tries a standing DDT but Misawa counters into a bridging northern lights suplex that gets a two-count. Taue catches Misawa’s leg on a spinkick but Misawa answers with a kick with his free leg. Tiger Driver connects. Taue kicks out. Then history is made as Misawa spikes Taue on his neck with his first-ever Tiger Driver ’91! One, two, and three! Misawa wins!
Winner after 7:24: Mitsuharu Misawa
Review: Awesome little sprint of a match. Misawa wasted little time bringing the fight to Taue and the two just went at it like beasts. Both guys were extra aggressive for different reasons: Taue wanted to make an impact in his trial series and Misawa wanted revenge. As a result, these two hit each other very hard and with what looked like genuine hostility. It was competitive until the very end. Whether it was out of malice, or just to add a new move to his arsenal, Misawa made an emphatic statement when he planted Taue with that Tiger Driver ’91. He made Taue look like a major threat and he showed he meant business. These two packed so much into just over seven minutes that one would be forgiven for thinking that this was either a tribute or compilation video and not the entire match itself. If there was ever a match that sold the idea that two guys that, on the surface, looked like they didn’t have any history or heat with each other but actually did, it’s this one.
Final rating: ***3/4
1. The Undertaker vs. Randy Orton – WrestleMania 21
Background: Orton was at his peak as the villainous “Legend Killer” and at the time there was no active wrestler more legendary than The Undertaker. Orton announced his intention to end the Streak at WrestleMania and spent weeks mocking and taunting the Undertaker. He even went so far as so slap Undertaker in the face and attack him from behind after his father Bob Orton pleaded for Undertaker to be merciful. Orton was a rising star at the time and many people genuinely felt that he truly stood a chance of ending The Streak since, while it was established, wasn’t as enormous or significant as it got by the end of the decade.
The match: Orton spends the first bit dodging ‘Taker and then slaps his face hard. Orton acts as slimy as possible but Undertaker catches him and applies a side headlock. Orton escapes and hits a dropkick for a two-count followed by a back body drop. He tries the same duck-down/leapfrog combo once again but his time Undertaker turns around and punches him down. Undertaker hits some big punches and sends Orton into the opposite corner. He misses a corner charge and Orton rolls ‘Taker up for another two-count. Then he teases the RKO but Undertaker blocks and sends Orton to the floor.
Undertaker capitalizes with his apron leg drop followed by Old School. Undertaker goes for a corner boot but Orton dodges and dropkicks him off the apron. Once back in the ring, a slugfest ensues until Orton clotheslines ‘Taker down and gets a two-count. Orton attempts another back body drop but Undertaker counters with a running DDT for a two-count of his own. A sidewalk slam from Undertaker also gets two. Undertaker lands two running corner clotheslines followed by Snake Eyes. He charges for his follow-up big boot but Orton hits first with a back elbow. One, two, Undertaker kicks out. Orton hits a barrage of forearm clubs and then poses but Undertaker does his zombie sit-up. Another slugfest ensues and ends with a forearm from ‘Taker and another two-count. Undertaker locks in a dragon sleeper. Orton’s arm drops once…twice…th – no, he fights back and counters with a DDT. One, two, Undertaker kicks out. Undertaker fights out of a deep chinlock but Orton reverses an Irish whip and applies a sleeper. Wait, no, Undertaker counters with a Saito suplex to loud applause from the crowd. Orton charges into a corner. Undertaker gets his boot up and then he charges…and runs into a swinging powerslam. One, two, Undertaker kicks out.
Orton hits more corner strikes and poses but Undertaker prepares to hit him with The Last Ride. Orton escapes and tries the RKO. Undertaker blocks and sends Orton into the referee. Undertaker tries another Last Ride but Orton pushes forward and lands on top of Undertaker. But here comes Cowboy Bob Orton. Bob hits Undertaker with his cast and drags Randy’s body onto Undertaker’s. The referee counts one…two…thr – no, Undertaker kicks out. The crowd goes nuts. Undertaker sits up! Crowd goes nuts again. Undertaker fights back. Orton reverses an Irish whip to send Undertaker into his father’s cast on the apron. Undertaker boots Bob off the apron, ducks a clothesline, and chokeslams – NO, counter into an RKO! Amazing counter! One, two, and th – Undertaker kicks out again. Orton mocks Undertaker and teases a Tombstone. He gets Undertaker up…and Undertaker reverses. Tombstone Piledriver connects. One, two, and three! Undertaker wins! The Streak goes to 13-0!
Winner after 14:06: The Undertaker
Review: That was a great match. It was best Undertaker WrestleMania match up to that point and one of the best matches of Randy Orton’s career. The story was told perfectly with Orton as the cocky rising star that wanted to win by any means necessary. Undertaker tried the power and striking game, but Orton ducked and dodged all the time and seemed to have an answer for whatever Undertaker did. He kept slithering back into control over and over, to the point that it became believable that Undertaker might actually lose. This became especially true once Cowboy Bob came down and started helping his son. His interference was pretty minimal but it was enough to create two great near-falls. That chokeslam RKO counter was especially impressive. Clearly WWE knew they had something with that, and look where we are almost twenty years later: Orton’s time-tested gimmick has been his ability to hit that move out of nowhere. Aside from that, the whole match was paced very well; not too long, never too slow or plodding, and mixed with solid action that made the match have a solid sense of unpredictability. This was definitely an impressive match for its time and an underappreciated match given what else was on the card above it.
Final Rating: ****