Report from the Fort: Best Match (Rae’s Picks)

Andrew posted his favourite matches of 2011 yesterday. Here are my two awards winners….

Winner: CM Punk vs John Cena (WWE’s Money in the Bank: July 17th 2011)

What exactly do you want from the perfect wrestling match? Hitting the right balance for one viewer is tricky enough. Trying to cultivate a match that speaks to the masses is quite another. What CM Punk and John Cena managed to do at the 2011 Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View was truly remarkable.

If the Rock’s reappearance at last year’s Wrestlemania was designed to engage the casual fan who largely turned its back on the WWE once corporate branding turned the sex and violence soft, Punk and Cena’s match came about to mobilise current fans becoming complacent with the product. And, oh, did it succeed!

I wrote about the match the day after it took place in such a state of emotional, sleepless exhaustion that I had no idea whether what I’d written was brilliant or complete dross. Trusting my colleague’s wisdom, I took Andrew’s advice that I should post it immediately. Thankfully, to lovely feedback. By Tuesday there were whole sentences I had no recollection of writing whatsoever. There are events where a level head are mandatory when putting fingertips to keys, but the impact this match had was so strong, only stream of consciousness ramblings would do.

I rewatched Punk and Cena’s match a little over a week ago. I wondered if I would feel the same way about it now, knowing how the tale was punctuated. I wondered if the months of following stories would have washed away all those flailing emotions. I pondered this right up until a couple of minutes before the match started. Then I stopped. My heart started beating faster and I felt a rush of slight breathlessness as that incredible Chicago crowd noise assaulted me through my speakers.

When wrestling first drew me into its fold, the most intriguing thing of all was that grey space between reality and fiction; where you’re not fully convinced that what you’re watching is real, but it feels liberally speckled with truth at the same time. This match wasn’t the most technically precise display of wrestling that ever was, and I do love repeated nearfalls and cartoon-like “Why don’t you just DIE?” grimaces. Technically accurate does not a great story make. It didn’t need to be perfect because it had intense passion. In Punk’s possibly real contract ending and in John’s threatened firing, the story had potentially cataclysmic, game changing consequences that stretched way beyond just the two of them. When that’s your base, everything else takes care of itself.

Winner: The Throwbacks + Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro (CHIKARA King of Trios 2011 – Night One: 15th April 2011)

The morning after I watched this year’s Royal Rumble, I was in the back of a taxi chatting with the driver about the previous night’s TV, as you do. On finding out that I had spent three hours of my evening watching professional wrestling, he was stunned. “You? YOU!? Really? What a dark horse!” He also went on to joke that wrestling was not my hobby, but my downfall, and looked blankly as I responded to his question about my favourite wrestler with ‘CM Punk’. Apparently, in loving wrestling, I am a walking contradiction. Maybe I should have been offended. But hey, how often do you get to appear enigmatic in the company of strangers?

Explaining a love of wrestling to non-fans isn’t easy. I often wonder how I might convert them if I just had one match to do it with. One match, where they have a lightbulb moment and come over to my side of the fence. You might expect me to select that much discussed CM Punk vs John Cena at Money in the Bank match.  But I happened to watch a large chunk of it with non-fan company last week and either had to explain the storyline in great detail, which I didn’t actually mind, or had to suffer the ridicule of just loving it to begin with. I minded that rather a lot.

I’m paraphrasing slightly from the second Kayfabe Comedy podcast here, but if we accept that wrestling is ultimately very silly, and that CHIKARA do silly better than anyone, a CHIKARA match is the perfect introductory match. At King of Trios 2011, The Throwbacks and Matt Classic vs Team Osaka Pro had the ultimate newbie match. Before the action even gets under way, enough grin inducing, beautifully timed, slapstick comedy has taken place as to make everything that happens during the actual match feel like gravy. There’s competitive running of the ropes, makeshift basketball and Matt Classic’s in-match yoga moves. By far the most engaging character is Sugar Dunkerton, currently absent from CHIKARA for very personal reasons. Here, he shines.

There are some brilliant spots from both teams and there’s no complex story to explain, apart from maybe Dasher Hatfield’s stitch-face. No crowd sells silliness like a CHIKARA crowd and if this match doesn’t make you proud to pay wrestling forward, you might be needing a break. As well as being a great introduction to wrestling for novice fans, it’s also an effective antidote for when seasoned pros like ourselves get a little jaded. I recommend keeping a copy in your medicine cabinet.