THE JOY OF GIMMICK MATCHES
As a wrestling fan it’s a combination of things that interests us. For some of us it’s watching an wild-eyed, passionate babyface or heel giving an impassioned promo, for others it’s an interesting quirk of a particular wrestler’s gimmick and for others it’s stipulation or gimmick matches. For me it’s a combination of all those but in particular gimmick matches.
This relates back to my first memory of watching professional wrestling as a seven year old child. My first wrestling memory was the 1990 Royal Rumble. That had a combination of all the things that interest us as fans but the unique match at the end which was the 30 man battle royal was what grabbed me. It was so exciting to me and up to that point in my young life I hadn’t seen anything like it. This had so many great elements to me looking at it then and now. They still had a large number of the wrestlers on their roster that put the WWF on the map as a national company, there were little subplots going through the course of the match to keep things interesting.
Ted Dibiase entered as Number 1 which I found out a few years later was because he had bought Number 30 from Slick, Akeem and Big Boss Man the year before. This also set the idea of one wrestler in the match lasting a long time and even if they didn’t necessarily win the Royal Rumble you knew that they were a force to be reckoned with in the grand scheme of things. That wrestler in 1990 was Ted Dibiase who lasted around the 40 minutes mark before being eliminated by The Ultimate Warrior.
The two years after that also saw other memorable, lengthy Rumble performances from 1991 by Rick Martel and 1992 which for me was the best Royal Rumble match saw Ric Flair not just give a great performance and be in the match a long time but win it from Number 3 and win the world championship. I liked the idea in the Rumble of there being no friends in the match and even tag partners would occasionally take each other on which was best highlighted in 1989 as the Demolition team which is my favourite tag team of all time started off the match against each other and for the first couple of minutes until another wrestler entered the match went off against each other.
From 1992 onwards after the Flair win they seemed to catch onto the fact that the Rumble match could be used to further the main event and world title picture as apart from 92 when the title was obviously at stake, generally whomever wins the Rumble match gets a title shot at Wrestlemania. It’s good to see a separate women’s Rumble however they need to expand their female roster and give people reasons to care about a lot of their talent. Due to the fact that they have quite a small female roster, they tend to have to rely on persuading female veterans to come out of retirement to wrestle in the match.
You do get some surprises like that in the men’s Rumble but it’s a handful of wrestlers at best and they’re generally just nostalgia pops and not having to stay in the match a while so they’re not taking away much attention from the current roster. I actually prefer the Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania due to the earlier years of watching the Rumble as a kid being so well presented.
There are a number of different gimmick matches used in a variety of different ways to keep fans interested.
A type of match which has been used numerous times through history if a particular feud caught the attention of fans and if the two wrestlers seemed so mad at each other was the steel cage match. It’s generally always been presented as the ultimate way to settle the score and sometimes spectacular things happened to cement memories in the watching fans eyes or could light the touchpaper to spark off interest in a feud to happen. With regards to lighting the touchpaper, the perfect example of this was how the Von Erichs v Fabulous Freebirds feud started in Dallas. Even though the NWA world title was being defended inside the cage that night, the match and even the most prestigious title in wrestling at the time was the backdrop to what unfolded at the end of the match. When Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry Von Erich’s head, that set Dallas on fire for several years afterwards as successive bookers in the territory found ways to keep the feud going. For the spectacular inside the cage one good example was a cage variation, Hell In The Cell as Mick Foley as Mankind did some crazy things to his own body in that match with The Undertaker allowing himself to be thrown off at the start and inadvertently chokeslammed through the top of the cell into the ring. One of the best examples of a cage match to settle the score was the I Quit match in a steel cage between Magnum TA and Tully Blanchard as they bled profusely.
The various brawling type matches if used correctly were a great way to get fans interest in what was going on. ECW for a period had the whole promotion’s roster have matches like that and for the most part it worked, it also helped to hide the negatives of some of the talent if they were brawling rather than doing things they couldn’t do very well. They had conclusive winners eliminating countouts and disqualifcations, it even led to an inventive way to turn someone heel as they turned veteran referee Bill Alfonso into a heel eventually making him a heel manager by initially having him as a referee enforce the rules such as stopping a match for the slightest trickle of blood. It seems like a strange idea now but that worked really well. Brawls going all over the arena worked with matches in the territorial days and the modern era such as the Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl in the Memphis territory.
Gimmick matches if used sparingly in the right way can enhance wrestling to such a great degree and make it so exciting to watch.