The Art Of Stringing Together A Classic Wrestling Match by Kevin Pinto

I love nostalgia. Whether it’s by subscribing to the WWE network or scrambling through my vast collection of WWE DVDs, I enjoy going back in time to relive matches and moments of yesteryear. Hence the reason the Rumble match is one of my favorite match concepts of all-time. WWE always does a solid job of bringing in superstars of the past for Rumble matches via surprise entrants. But what better way to fully indulge in nostalgia than by selecting a throwback WWE pay-per-view event to watch. Which brings me to SummerSlam 2001, particularly the main event headlined by Booker T and The Rock.

I do not plan on providing a play-by-play review. Instead I will concentrate on covering certain parts of the match I felt prevented it from turning into a five-star classic. This is not a knock on the performers by any stretch as I consider both men two of my favorite superstars of all-time. As a matter of fact, Booker T and The Rock put on an enjoyable main event. However, little subtle details that go a long way and make a difference in producing a fantastic match went missing. The potential was there. It was just a matter of those subtle details not being executed.

Factors to consider when judging match quality:

  • Type of match- whether it’s a traditional singles match (in this case it was), a tag team bout or a triple threat contest, matches are worked differently depending on the match type and storyline support.
  • In-ring chemistry- the wrestlers who square off need to be aware of each other’s tendencies and have good communication during the course of the match. This minimizes sloppiness and botched spots.
  • Babyface vs. heel dynamic- a clear distinction between face and heel must be communicated to the audience through the performers’ actions in the ring. If done properly, the crowd will react accordingly and, as a result, boost crowd engagement.
  • Pacing & Timing- the pacing or flow of the match is paramount. The match needs to build up to big spots and sequences. Timing goes hand-and-hand with pacing. Timing refers specifically to the performers having the instincts in choosing the most suitable move to execute in key moments of a match. It was timing more so than anything else in this match between Booker T and The Rock that derailed it from becoming five stars.
  • Length of match- the duration of match from bell-to-bell. Highly dependent on the bookers to give the performers time to tell a story. A well-told story includes a rising action, a climax and a resolution. Same could be said for a wrestling match. Of course, the amount of in-ring time provided affects pacing.

If wrestlers are mindful of these elements during their matches and are afforded ample time, then their chances of putting on a classic increase immensely.

Case study: SummerSlam 2001, Booker T vs. The Rock (WCW championship match)

Booker T, the WCW champion, is accompanied to the ring by Shane McMahon who at this point is the (kayfabe) owner of WCW. On the other hand, The Rock comes down for his match alone.

Analysis: Before the match gets underway, the audience is led to foreshadow that Shane McMahon will get involved and provide Booker T with an unfair advantage. As a result, instant heel heat is generated for Booker T the moment Shane McMahon decides to deliver the underhanded assist. The seed of doubt is also planted into the fans’ minds. Fans could now see a scenario where interference by Shane McMahon could potentially cost The Rock the victory.

In typical heel fashion, Booker T attempts to strike first before the match officially starts.

Analysis: A very heel-like trait shown early in the match by Booker T. Well done.

Back-and-forth action early on with both men getting their brief share of offense in. The Rock begins to take control of the match as the match spills to the outside after The Rock throws Booker T over the top rope. Booker T turns the momentum in his favor when he shoves The Rock’s face on the steel steps. Shane McMahon removes a turnbuckle padding while Booker T continues his attack on The Rock outside the ring.

Analysis: Booker T remains on offense for an extended period of time. This is the middle portion of the match. It’s a very formulaic approach for the heel to be firmly in control for a significant amount of time, but it’s effective. It gets the audience to rally behind the babyface. It’s also a good gauge for how over with the crowd the babyface is although in this case The Rock’s an established star. Booker T’s flurry of offense did not, at any point, include him targeting a particular body part of The Rock. Weakening a leg or an arm creates the possibility of it playing into the finish. In this case, however, it wasn’t really necessary considering the interference factor was in play.

The Rock now battles back and applies the Sharpshooter on Booker T. Shane McMahon stands on the apron causing the distraction and causing The Rock to break the hold. The Rock shifts his attention to Shane McMahon and turns his back to Booker T. Booker T gets back to his feet and nails The Rock with a heel kick and goes for a pinfall attempt, but The Rock kicks out.

Analysis: Poor move choice. Had Booker T gone with a rollup or one of his finishers (the Bookend or Scissors Kick), he would have created the first believable nearfall of the matchup. Instead, he hits a heel kick and goes straight for the pin. The crowd fails to react because they don’t buy into the nearfall. They are well aware that a heel kick is not a match ending maneuver. This goes back to my point of choosing the right move at the right time to elicit an emotional response from the crowd.

The Rock recovers and catapults Booker T into the exposed turnbuckle before dropping him with the DDT. The Rock goes for a cover.

Analysis:  The DDT is equivalent to the heel kick in that they are not match ending finishers from either man. Again, the crowd does not treat this as a believable nearfall. At this juncture of the match, the pace is picking up. The Rock applying the sharpshooter for a second time or hitting the Rock Bottom or People’s Elbow would have sold the nearfall perfectly.

Shane McMahon places a chair in the ring to distract referee Charles Robinson. While the referee is not looking, Shane enters the ring and nails The Rock with the championship title.

Analysis: This would be the perfect opportunity for Booker T to go for a pinning attempt on The Rock to create the first believable nearfall, right? Well, it doesn’t happen. Bradshaw and Farooq, better known as APA, chase Shane McMahon around the ring before Bradshaw lays him out with a clothesline from hell. The timing of APA’s involvement would have worked better had Booker T first covered The Rock for a nearfall attempt.

In the ring, Booker T slams The Rock with the bookend and covers The Rock for a two count.

Analysis: Bad timing. The Rock should be on offense at this point immediately following APA’s appearance since Shane has been knocked out cold and should therefore cause Booker T to express concern.

Seconds later, The Rock gets back on offense. Booker T temporarily counters The Rock’s offense when he attempts a Scissors Kick, but The Rock counters with a Spinebuster and sets up for the People’s Elbow. After successfully landing the People’s Elbow, The Rock hooks Booker T’s leg for a cover. Shane McMahon pulls the referee’s leg to stop the count.

Analysis: BRILLIANT. That marked the first believable nearfall of the matchup. The crowd was definitely sold this time because The Rock had gone for a cover after one of his match ending maneuvers. They even counted along with referee Charles Robinson.

The Rock leaves the ring to hit Shane McMahon with the Rock Bottom.

Analysis: Another potential nearfall situation had Booker T immediately gained control with a rollup or Scissors Kick upon The Rock re-entering the ring. Instead, The Rock continues on offense.

Moments later, Booker T counters The Rock’s offense with a Spinebuster and follows it up with the Scissors Kick. He opts not to go for the pin. He performs the spinaroonie while The Rock kicks up and drops him with the Rock Bottom for the win.

Analysis: A crowd-pleasing finish with Booker T walking (or hopping) straight into the Rock Bottom. It was hysterical to see Booker T hopping on one leg as he turned around to an awaiting Rock.

Additional Comments: Booker T and The Rock showed a great deal of chemistry which is very impressive considering this marked their first singles match ever. Both of them made their respective role (babyface/heel) clear throughout the match. The match was roughly 15 minutes long supplying them with enough time to work a well paced match, which they did. Although the action had its moments outside the ring, Booker T and The Rock managed to maintain the bulk of the action inside the ring, which is expected when working a traditional singles match. The only true downside to this match is the blown chances by both superstars to perform certain moves at certain moments in an effort to produce convincing nearfalls. Due to the lack of nearfalls, The Rock was never in danger of losing since Booker T did not pick up a single, believable nearfall.

Verdict: A very entertaining match that failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented to create a variety of believable nearfalls.

Final rating:   ***3/4

Thanks for reading.

Kevin Pinto- [email protected]

Twitter- @kevinpint0

Dear readers, if you have a match in mind that you wish for me to breakdown, please feel free to email me or tweet me your requests. If you simply would like to share your thoughts on my post, you can do so as well. Your opinions are welcomed.