We'll have the final results of our Superstars '96: Top 25 Countdown as well as a video roundtable discussing it up in a week or so. But, until then, here's my ballot/thoughts:
1. Freddie Joe Floyd and Bart Gunn vs. Billy Gunn and TL Hopper - 11/10
Worked competitively, got a nice chunk of time, and took us on a nice ride. Billy brought his athleticism, Hopper his craftiness, Floyd his own unique blend of hillbilly acrobatics, and Bart, well, he was pretty much his stoic self but filled a role. The crux about this set is the show if often too busy for its own good and the in-ring isn't taken seriously but this got plenty of time to unfold; post-match hijinks were a blast, Billy reconciled with Bart, then turned, beating the hell out of all three other guys with his cowboy boot.
2. Justin Hawk Bradshaw vs. Jake Roberts - 6/15
I loved, loved this match. I'd argue some of the best selling I've seen during the entire project. Roberts' in-ring stories at this time were he was an aging (touted as 41), recovering alcoholic taking one last stab at glory. The culmination of that story-arch was at KotR '96 (vs. Austin) but in this KotR semi-finals qualifier Roberts takes everything the big Texan as but finds the resilience and and pride to fight onward. This is some remarkable stuff here.
3. Freddie Joe Floyd and Savo Vega vs. Justin Bradshaw and Uncle Zebakiah - 8/17
Take the MVP of this set so far (in my eyes) Vega and plug him into a southern style tag formula with a bunch of Midwestern veterans like Dutch Mantel and Tracy Smothers and you've got pure bliss.
4. Justin Hawk Bradshaw vs. Freddie Joe Floyd - 7/13
This was a fantastic match, one of the better singles bouts during the entire year, it played off their preexisting history, built splendidly, and was as physical as a barroom brawl in Tupelo. One of the more cringe-worthy bumps of the set came when Floyd ate a big boot and flew backwards off the apron landing back-first on the steel guardrail.
5. Owen Hart and British Bulldog vs. Jesse James and Savio Vega - 12/22
I'd forgotten how awesome Hart and Bulldog were together as a team. Owen's a pro, even working around James' inherent in-ring awkwardness (someone call the fashion police, too!), and the finish was quite good.
6. Owen Hart vs. Aldo Montoya - 2/10
You forget how vicious Owen could be, he really worked 'ol jockstrap head over. This is comparable to Credible's best stuff from his ECW run; take that for what it's worth.
7. Pierroth vs. Matt Hardy - 12/22
This felt like it would have fit in splendidly in '06 SmackDown!. Pierroth didn't give much of himself in terms of selling, and Hardy still looked clumsy (such as a "Lionsault" that almost ended disastrously), but this was high impact and different enough to stand out.
8. Savio Vega vs. Crush - 12/15
One of the better Crush match you'll likely see. Vega was great at face in peril and threw a tremendous dropkick. Double count-out finish felt like bullocks now but expertly fit the storyline of its time.
9. British Bulldog and Owen Hart vs. Duke Drose and Bob Holly - 5/11
This was good, got a nice chunk of time, the section with the heels targeting Drose's leg was splendid, and Holly's hot tag was late-'80's NWA worthy.
10. Salavtore Sincere vs. Aldo Montoya - 9/1
Brandi really embraces the Sincere persona and Aldo does an admirable job bumping around and keeping things moving forward. They actually pulled off the "Sincerely Yours" making it look like a credible finisher.
11. Justin Hawk Bradshaw vs. Savio Vega - 5/18
This was one of the more physical, stiffer bouts during the year's run. Vega took some gruesome bumps, including a huge one straight on his back from the buckles. Bradshaw was channeling Hansen and this was a mid-'90's TV facsimile of JBL vs. Eddy Guerrero which is still better than the lion's share of TV matches you'd encounter back then.
12. Salvatore Sincere vs. Shawn Michaels - 11/10
I've never liked Shawn but can't deny him this one, his plucky face in peril formula is as tried and true as the one-liners he'd use to pick up rats at hotel bars, but he certainly could make a nothing match fun to watch. He'd still needlessly hurtle himself around, bumping with reckless abandon, his true colors of selfish despotism on clear display. For what its worth Sincere probably never got a chance to look better than this.
13. Jeff Jarrett vs. Razor Ramon - 2/3
Jessie had pimped me on this match during a phone call and it was basically a one-man show as Jarrett demonstrated a multitude of different ways to sell punches. I enjoyed what was transpiring in the ring, as well as 123 Kid's antics outside of it with a stroller and oversized baby bottle. This made me want to watch the four-disc Jarrett DVD that TNA released.
14. Jerry Lawler vs. Aldo Montoya - 7/27
The "feel good hit" of the summer as Montoya gets a surprise roll-up on Lawler in a match he dedicated to Jake Roberts. Jerry busted out his trademark piledriver and did some patented Lawler selling including selling a punch for over a minute checking to see if he had a buster lip/loose tooth.
15. Faarooq vs. Freddie Joe Floyd - 12/15
Floyd surprisingly had some pretty believable near-falls and sold like someone doing an impression of Adam West dancing the "Bat-toosie" for a fun bout.
16. TL Hopper vs. Barry Horowitz - 8/3
Barry continues to puzzlingly impress and I dug the hell out of Hopper's channeling of SMW and Memphis with his stooge-based selling. He looked like Charlie Chaplin pantomiming pain as he did his goofball overacting.
17. Owen Hart vs. Barry Horowitz - 6/15
Another good Owen performance, coupled with Barry taking it amateur like he's grappling on the mat back in gym class, slightly mentally sidetracked daydreaming of that day's spaghetti lunch.
18. Owen Hart, British Bulldog, and Crush vs. Savio Vega, Jake Roberts, and Marc Mero - 12/1
This would have fit in nicely with the last set we did (WCW Power Hour '90) a comprehensive ranking on. It went over ten minutes and everyone got a chance to mix it up. Roberts looked especially good but nobody dogged it (although I'm really noticing how awkwardly Bulldog often bumps).
19. Marc Mero vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley - 7/20
One of our panel members had heavily pimped this, didn't leave up to its billing during the first act, a bunch of superfluous arm-work by Mero that went nowhere. Things picked up when Hunter took over, nice sequence out on the floor including a bodyslam in the aisle. I'm also a sucker for anytime a match ends on a super hurricanana so it's got that going for it, too.
20. Savio Vega vs. Vader - 9/22
Vader's a guy who was always fun to watch during this set but was usually just viciously squashing jobbers with bad physiques. This was one of the only times Vader let someone really look good against him and it's a testament for how much respect he must have had for Savio. This was quite good and makes me wish these two would have worked an extended program together. The match-ending powerbomb will make you two two Aspirin after watching it.
21. The Godwinns vs. British Bulldog and Owen Hart - 3/30
This was the semi-finals of the WWF Tag Team Title tournament and was quite good up until an unbelievably crappy finish. Phinneas looked outright bad but Henry brought some intensity to his sections, Bulldog and Hart both played their roles well, yet never really stepped it up. Still, it got some time, had decent back-and-forth, but then was ruined when the New Rockers came out and got involved; I think Jim Ross said it best, "that was stupid".
22. Freddie Joe Floyd vs. Justin Hawk Bradshaw - 6/29
Just like many of Shakespeare's finest masterpieces, the first act is often a delicious morsel preparing us for what's next, you could argue the same here as these guys crafted a pretty good little match built around Floyd's resilience and it'd be completely overshadowed a few weeks later by their terrific rematch.
23. Shawn Michaels vs. 123 Kid - 4/27
Michaels was preparing for an upcoming "no holds barred" match so beat the hell out of Kid, giving him a gross piledriver, a press-slam to the floor, a hiptoss on the ground, and ramming him balls-first into the ringpost. A nice post-match skirmish between HBK and Austin capped it off.
24. The Goon vs. "The Stalker" Barry Windham - 9/22
One of their two singles matches against each other; ridiculous gimmicks aside, both guys came out like they had something to prove, both brought enough to make what the writers likely intended to be a nothing match into something worth seeing. I dig Windham using the superplex as a finisher, too.
25. Flash Funk vs. Brian Walsh - 11/24
The only squash to make my list, but damn, Funk makes everything look so fucking good. He was one of the best in the world in '96 although the history books won't show it.
26. Duke Drose vs. Bill Irwin - 3/16
Irwin must have taken some speed earlier that day as he was exhibiting pure nuttiness and was all sorts of wound up. He brought what could have been a tiresome throwaway squash up to a higher standard, he was all over the place, including a spot that cemented this match on my ballot, a whip into the turnbuckles where he essentially did a backflip over them and spilled out to the floor like The Dudesons driving a car off a cliff.
27. Savio Vega and Steve Austin vs. The Bodydonnas - 3/23
Vega got stuck with unlikely partner and rival Austin in a fun bout. Vega did all the work as Austin wouldn't tag in, still, Vega held his own, singlehandedly kicking butt until Austin had finally had enough and drilled Savio costing them the victory.
28. Goldust vs. Hakushi - 3/2
Just a unique match-up, don't have a lot to say, in terms of the work done, just enjoyed watching these two do their thing, what choices they'd make when selling, etc.
29. Savio Vega vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley - 9/8
Vega started it off fast-paced and hot but when Hunter got control the match slowed down considerably. Vega capitalized on a distraction (Mr. Perfect still Hunter's broad) to get the victory. Not top-shelf Helmsley nor Vega but saved a pretty pedestrian episode.
30. Goldust vs. Leif Cassidy - 12/29
A nice, but far too short, back-and-forth bout with both guy's in their prime (Goldust in terms of character maturation and Al Snow in terms of athletic ability).
31. Undertaker vs. Diesel II - 12/22
It was interesting seeing the guy that'd later become Kane and build a career upon working with Undertaker work with him then. It was almost as good as any of the actual Diesel matches versus Undertaker until Vader ran out and battered Undertaker like he was a piece of catfish.
32. British Bulldog vs. Savio Vega - 8/3
I was really looking forward to this one but it felt kind of half-baked. I fear the steroids had already robbed Davey of much of his natural athleticism as he looked kind of clunky even taking basic things like hip tosses. The finish felt weak, too; didn't buy Vega running into Cornette as something that'd put him down for the count, especially considering he made about as much contact as I ever will with Katy Perry's clitoris.
33. Fatu vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley - 4/6
The only highlight from one of the worst episodes I'd seen at that point. Fatu brings a nice set of tools, looks great with a big clothesline in the corner that HHH made look terrific, but the subplot of these two mafioso-looking samoans coming to ringside to observe detracted from it.
34. Crush vs. Aldo Montoya - 8/17
Crush continues to pleasantly surprise me and Aldo despite the goofy gimmick bumped around enthusiastically and was a great ragdoll.
35. Sid vs. Marty Jannetty - 8/10
Marty looked clumsy running headfirst into some of Sid's offense because Sid is so damn inept himself. The highlight was Leif Cassidy taking a chokeslam on the floor.
36. Vader vs. Savio Vega - 12/29
The last match that aired on Superstars in '96 was really, really great until a lousy ending. Vader started off beastly but Vega had a hot comeback that even saw him bodyslam the mammoth Vader for a huge crowd pop. The lights flickered on and off signaling The Undertaker's presence so Vader ran of aloof like an idiot.
37. Steve Austin vs. Marc Mero - 8/17
The main event of a loaded episode but was undermined entirely by bullshit -- obtuse commercial breaks, Goldust and Marlena prattling on at the commentary booth forcing a split-screen that distract from the action, Mankind molesting Sable, and even Undertaker shows up. I dig like Mero's hurricanrana from the top and Austin's sell of a chinbreaker by flopping around like a fish out of water.
38. Phineas I. Godwinn vs. "The Stalker" Barry Windham - 12/29
Liked Windham taking it old school early, but not nearly as much as I liked Jim Ross bagging on Barry's outrageous get-up. Given the apparel this looked like two guys at Bass Pro Shops fighting over the last crossbow. The roll-up finish was lame.
39. Marc Mero vs. Who - 8/3
It felt like a pre-season NBA game (in that it really didn't matter) and it became blatantly obvious Vince created the Who gimmick merely to get to do the "Who's on first?" routine.
40. Steve Austin vs. "The Stalker" Barry Windham - 12/15
Windham doing two backdrops cried lack of creativity but you forget how quickly and surprisingly Austin pulled out the "Stone Cold Stunner" back then.