COMMENTARY | When a rivalry has gone as far as it can, that's when the chains, leather straps, cages, ladders and other assorted pro wrestling gimmicks are brought out for the final struggle between wrestling's good and evil.
But not all gimmick matches are made the same. At the end of the day, a ladder is just a ladder if a ladder match is not executed right and several yards of barbed wire can look more silly than deadly without proper ring execution.
In order for a gimmick match to be successful, first and foremost, it has to be a solid, entertaining bout and not just a series of spots. The heat also has to be there. Remember, this is the final chapter in a long, heated feud. Bringing out the cage just for the sake of bringing it out is like setting the table with your finest china for KFC night. The gimmick, whatever it is, should mean something. Also, and this should almost go without saying, but the wrestlers need to know how to incorporate the gimmick into the flow of the match. A cage match without some face-gouging collisions with the steel is not really a cage match.
So, with these criteria in mind, here's a list of my top five gimmick matches of all-time. Feel free to share your own in the comment section of this article:
5. Ric Flair Vs. Harley Race (Cage Match), Starrcade '83
The passing of the torch from Race to Flair was as old school as one would expect. A near flawless technical battle got some added juice by guest referee Gene Kiniski and the addition of a steel cage, which turned the classic exhibition into a bloody affair. Flair would eventually prevail inside the cage, but not after plenty of blood was spilled and fans were thrilled by two true masters of the craft.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (Ladder Match), Wrestlemania 10, 1994
When Shawn Michael's claim that he was the real intercontinental champ, unfairly stripped of the belt, clashed with Razor Ramon's status as newly-crowned intercontinental titlist, the solution was to suspend both belts above the ring for the first-ever televised ladder match in WWE history. The bout, itself, was a classic with both wrestlers in fine form, incorporating body-crippling punishment from the ladder into a well-fought exhibition of modern wrestling. The "oohs" and "ahhs" of an enthralled live crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden served to highlight the excitement of a bout that Razor Ramon would eventually win.
3. Sabu vs. Terry Funk (Barbed Wire Match), Born to be Wired, 1997
It's hard to have a really good match when the ring ropes have been replaced by barbed wire. However, not only did Sabu and ECW heavyweight champ Terry Funk have a good match, they also established the high water mark for a brand of wrestling labeled, "extreme." A bout definitely not for the squeamish, Sabu's masterful ring acrobatics combined with Funk's genius for old school ring psychology made for a quality bout punctuated by plenty of gore. Skin-shredding high spots and buckets of blood made the match an instant internet classic, but it was the quality ring work from both wrestlers that made the bout worth watching again and again. In the end, Sabu would wrest the title away from the aged Funk, but not after a hellacious battle and an ugly mess of barbed wire did a number on both wrestlers.
2. War Games: The Match Beyond (Double Cage Match), Great American Bash, 1987
As a five-on-five battle between the NWA's biggest faces and its biggest heels, War Games was a no-brainer in terms of appealing to fans. The fact that its debut at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia turned out to be an outstandingly well-fought match that stands the test of time is a testament to the talents of all ten wrestlers involved. In the end, it would be the team of Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors (Animal & Hawk), and Paul Ellering scoring the victory over The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and James J. Dillon) when Dillon was forced to submit.
1. The Undertaker vs. Mankind (Hell in a Cell), King of the Ring, 1998
Really nothing more than a "big" cage match, the WWE's Hell in a Cell gimmick developed its own identity with this classic bout. It became clear that this one would be a bit different when Mankind (Mick Foley) climbed straight to the top of the cage to begin the bout. The Undertaker soon followed and would create one of modern wrestling's most iconic moments by tossing Mankind off the top of the cage and through the ring table below. A mangled and twisted Mankind would somehow find a way to continue, once again climbing to the top of the cage and this time being choke-slammed by the Undertaker through the chain-link cage, right to the canvas. Despite hitting the ring with an ugly thud, the hardcore legend would still find a way to wrestle a full match and even bring out the thumbtacks. A choke slam on the thumbtacks and a tombstone piledrive eventually earned the Undertaker a victory, but it would be Mankind earning his spot in pro wrestling history on that particular night with his fearless performance.
Paul Magno is a freelance writer who grew up on a steady diet of classic professional wrestling. Coming from AWA stronghold, Chicago, he was educated by the likes of Vern Gagne, Dick the Bruiser, The Crusher, and Bobo Brazil as a child, but later drank the pro wrestling Kool-Aid from every old school territory he could-- from the NWA, to the WWF, to World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas, and all areas in between. Paul has done work for Fox Sports, The Boxing Tribune, and Bleacher Report.
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