Saturday, July 12, 2008

WWE The Ladder Match DVD Set – Disc 1

In bygone eras, in the sport and spectacle of professional wrestling, cage matches were used to settle feuds and grudges and were well known as brutal payoffs for the fans. Nowadays, that has changed, as while the cage match is still a staple in the business, the ladder match has arguably usurped it. Fans love and crave these exciting matches, and rightfully so, as generally you’re guaranteed a good time. Two majors reasons for that, the first being that ladders are certainly not friendly to the body, making for some very violent and physical matches; hell, whenever my manager needs me to use a ladder at my retail job I end up finding a way to hurt myself in the process, imaging battling another hungry competitor intending on beating you at any cost! The second reason is that ladder matches are usually done with the prize being a dangling championship belt that you must ascend to, thus kicking up the reward and importance in a very big way. This three-disc set compiles what the executives at WWE consider the best of the best, so it’ll be my pleasure to watch each and every second of compiled footage, and then come back here with three separate reviews covering the contents of each disc.

Another note before we start, our ratings system, utilizing a ten-point scale, may not be the most clear analysis tool, especially for those new to our beloved blog. While there’s an official score guide on the official Never Hand Over website, in this review, and perhaps in future ones as well, I’m going to discuss why I graded each particular item the way I did. Generally speaking, think of it this way, the scale is basically to what degree I’d recommend the match to you, the reader and all other fans; so if the grade’s lower than I wouldn’t bother seeking it out, but the higher the grade equals the more worthy of attention and praise the match is in my eyes.

1. Jake Roberts vs. Big Daddy Ritter – (Stampede Wrestling ’79) – Ladder Match – 3

I gave this a 3 largely due to the fact its clipped, as the match is joined already in progress, according to the announcer it’s about 5 minutes in, although by the competitors appearances you get the impression we’ve missed much more than that. It’s slightly different than its modern equivalent, as they use a really long, one-sided ladder that’s leaning against the building’s catacombs as a ref tries to hold it steady. Both guys make several attempts at scaling it, but the other is always nearby to stop the ascension by either grabbing an exposed limb or popping their opponent in the stomach to stop their momentum. Ritter eventually gets the win, as Roberts misses with a wild haymaker punch and gets caught up in the ropes, giving Big Daddy the opportunity to climb the ladder unhindered. Had this been the complete match I’m sure I would have scored it higher, also of note, Roberts and Ritter (later Junkyard Dog) were both perennial WWF stars of the ‘80’s and it’s a neat bit of nostalgia seeing them in their earlier years. For being such old footage the video quality’s remarkably good, too.

2. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – (WWE ’92) – Ladder Match – 6

Bret and Shawn, all of their personal history and heat aside, bring out the best of each other in the ring itself. Bret’s always physical while working and Shawn does his best to keep up. I gave this match a 6 for a couple reasons, namely, the work itself is very good, and it’s mostly fast-paced and compelling as the match’s story unfolds. I also throw it a bonus point for rarity, as outside of the old Coliseum Video VHS release Smack ‘Em, Whack ‘Em, this thing haven’t been widely publicized. This was the WWE’s first-ever ladder match and that’s a historical footnote itself. The work they do with the ladder itself doesn’t come off as smoothly or innovative as the stuff from later years, but that doesn’t hamper the match’s quality as I see it. Shawn’s seemingly got Bret beat when Hart surprises Shawn and the live audience by springing up and dropkicking the ladder itself and Shawn, sending Michaels toppling uncontrollably and giving Bret the opportunity to climb the ladder himself and reclaim his Intercontinental championship belt.

3. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – (WWE Summerslam ’95) – Ladder Match – 7

This is a re-match from their classic WrestleMania X ladder match. Highlights are shown from that epic first encounter, and it’s easy to see that both guys fed off each other’s momentum, the hot crowd, and pure adrenaline as the level of craziness just went up and up as the match proceeded. This match is a little less showy, but perhaps more physical, as gone is grace and it’s exchanged by viciousness. Shawn especially is on the receiving end of some truly horrendous bumps, including a spot where Razor’s on the apron and suplexes Shawn from inside the ring, letting him go in mid-air, where he plummets back first from about eleven-foot in the air landing roughly on the floor. Razor’s resilient, and it even looks like he’s capable of pulling it off, but while they’re both climbing their own ladders Shawn kicks Razor right in the face sending him sailing off his and down below. Shawn dives for the belt but misses, landing hard on the mat; this gives Ramon a chance to recover and he goes for his finisher the “Razor’s Edge” but Michaels reverses with a backdrop that sends Razor out to the floor in a clump where he lays motionless. Here’s where the score got knocked down from an 8 to a 7, as Shawn leaps from a ladder and grabs the belt, attempting to hang on it in attempt to pull it down with him but Shawn drops and the belt’s left still hanging in an awkward moment. That’s not the problem, the problem is Shawn’s unprofessional behavior, as just like he’s prone to do, he throws a hissy fit like a small child, kicking and aggressively slamming one of the ladders since he blew his spot, then angrily climbs the other ladder and yanks the belt down to the delight of his fans, many I’m sure who were confused about his shrewd outburst. Granted, I respect Shawn as a performer, I’ve grown up throughout life surrounded by diehard Michaels fans, but his random bouts of being a dick, be it to other performers, crew members, fans, etc. harms his overall image in a negative way.

4. Triple H vs. The Rock – (WWE Summerslam ’98) – Ladder Match – 5

5. New Brood (Hardy Boyz) vs. Edge and Christian - (WWE No Mercy '99) - Ladder Match - 7

6. Edge and Christian vs. Dudleys vs. Hardy Boyz - (WWF Summerslam '00) - TLC Match - 6

7. Shannon Moore and Shane Helms vs. Jamie Noble and Evan Karagis vs. Kaz Hayashi and Jimmy Yang - (WCW Starcade '00) - Ladder Match - 5

8. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho - (Royal Rumble '01) - Ladder Match - 9

I'm going to write up the rest of the matches in a summary format, as it's been several days since I've watched them, normally I write up most of my entries at work, but since we've been swamped all week here I am minutes before dinner with a sleeping kitten on my lap. So, Rock and Triple H I remembered from the summer of '98 and I recalled it being surprisingly good and overlooked. Well, I re-watched it, twice, and time has not been kind. Granted, there's a couple decent bumps, but the work just isn't there, especially for a major MSG show, and I really disliked the weak finish with Chyna hitting Rock in the nuts to allow Hunter the chance to climb the ladder.

Now I’m back at work… will this review ever see the light of day? Back to the action, the Hardy Boyz, or the New Brood at the time, a horrible gimmick by the way, against Edge and Christian is pretty good stuff and worthy of a 7. This is before the ladder match started getting too heavily emulated and a lot of this stuff today still comes off incredibly fresh and exciting. Also, these guys were still young and at their hungriest, so there wasn’t any resting on laurels in this one. Next, the first TLC match in recorded history, and it doesn’t quite live up to its lofty accolades. Yes, there are some huge bumps, but a lot of it comes off incredibly contrived, almost to the point of comedy. Even my wife who only watched a few minutes of this match with me noted how unlikely it was that these giant stacks of tables just happened to be placed right where these guys “randomly” fell from ladders. This is more of a stunt show then a wrestling match, and for that reason I must insist you look elsewhere for your ladder lust.

The three-team tag ladder match from Starrcade is a bigger joke then what’s in Mike Tenay’s pants. They try some innovation, but outside of a decent “can you top this?” dive section to the floor, which itself is a superfluous sequence, this comes off really bush league. Give me an OMEGA handheld with some really solid Christian York working armbars sections, or anything from Cham Pain’s OMEGA New Frontiers title run and I’ll take it over this fetid spot fest any day of the week.

Following that match is arguably the best ladder match in existence, or at least, that I’ve seen in recent years and can recall from memory. Benoit and Jericho, who always work well together, as I can remember watching some of their stuff from a Best of Chris Jericho in Japan tape I scored from RF Video back during my high school days, put on an epic bout. The thing I like the most about it is that stylistically it’s not worked like your basic, spot-intensive ladder match, but instead, a real, physical hard-hitting fight with ladders thrown in for good measure. I gave this a 9 because I honestly recommend it that highly, search this scorched earth we exist on, but chances are, you’re not going to find a more intense and ultimately pleasing ladder match. If you do find something better, you’ve obviously used a time machine to glimpse into the future, and if so, would you let me use it so I can go back in time and share a tangerine with Gandhi, pick up one of those specialty movie tie-in donuts from The Simpsons Movie marketing blitz from 7-11 before they went extinct, and a few other small but equally important things?

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