Any dedicated fan of professional wrestling will have some understanding of the grind the average wrestler goes through in the big leagues. On the road often, whilst also carrying the odd knock here and there, wrestlers in major companies like WWE and NJPW face a gruelling schedule at times.
However, some competitors have a slightly sweeter deal, in that they don’t have to compete anywhere near as often. This could be because they are outside celebrities who have only come in as a special attraction, or it could be that they are people who are normally employed in other roles, such as managers or authority figures.
Despite not being regular in-ring competitors, these men and women can still put on an entertaining spectacle in the right situation, so today’s list pays tribute to ten of my favourite matches involving slightly irregular wrestlers. As this is a Retro list, the matches in question will have to be at least ten years old to qualify, hence why Shane McMahon Vs AJ Styles won’t be making an appearance. This is all just my opinion, of course, and not supposed to be an objective “best of” list or anything like that.
So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
We start out the list with someone who at the time was taking their first steps into in-ring competition. Before she went on to become a multiple time women’s champion and WWE Hall of Famer, Trish Stratus was better known as a fitness model who had been brought into the, then, WWF as a manager for the newly assembled tag team of Test and Albert.
Christened as the incredibly original “T&A” (think about it, someone was paid to come up with that name), Andrew Martin and the future Lord Tensai were a middling big man tag team who are probably most well known for having a lousy match with Al Snow and Steve Blackman at WrestleMania 2000.
In a heaped 2000 tag team division, T&A were little more than members of the chasing pack when it came to the tag team titles, but they did have some enjoyable bouts with The Hardy Boyz. As The Hardys had their own manager in the form of the tomboy-like Lita, it was only natural that Trish’s meddling would eventually get her in trouble with Team Xtreme’s red haired maiden.
At Fully Loaded 2000, the six competitors had a very entertaining opening bout, with Stratus holding her own impressively despite being so inexperienced. Stratus wouldn’t really take on a full-time wrestling schedule until she returned from an injury in late 2001 to win her first women’s title, but moments like this showed that there was certainly potential there should she ever hunker down and have a proper go at this wrestling lark. History has shown that she not only met that potential but exceeded it also.
Newer fans might think it strange to see Shawn Michaels in the “Semi-Active” category, but back in 2002 this was indeed the one he’d best fit into. After suffering what everyone at the time thought was a career-ending back injury in 1998, Michaels spent four years away from active competition dabbling in roles such as trouble shooting referee and WWF commissioner.
However, in 2002 Michaels felt like he might just be capable of having a match again, and considering his real life buddy, Triple H, was floundering somewhat as a good guy, it presented a good opportunity for Triple H to turn on his friend and ignite a heated rivalry.
Triple H cemented his turn to the side of villainy by brutally slamming Michaels’s head through a car window. Michaels swore that he would have vengeance, so a non-sanctioned match was signed between the two for that year’s SummerSlam.
The match itself is one of my all-time favourites, with Michaels entering a superb performance as he sells his back before making a thrilling comeback. I honestly might prefer the Michaels from this run to the one from the 90s. Age and injuries combined to make it so that Michaels couldn’t wrestle the same way he did previously, so he instead used psychology and ring smarts to adapt and still provide impressive grappling thrills.
This match was such a success that Michaels decided to continue wrestling. Throughout 2002 and 2003, he gradually had more matches, and by 2004 he was pretty much an in-ring regular again, having great matches every week. He could probably have another great match tomorrow if he wanted to, but he’s happy being retired, and I think he’s earned that after all those years of superlative performances betwixt the ropes.
In 1998, Ric Flair was still one of WCW’s biggest draws both at the gate and when it came to television ratings. The fans loved him and often cheered him even when he was supposed to be a villain. However, WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff did not share that same enthusiasm, and Flair was a long way from the main event scene in April of 1998.
WCW around this time was an utter madhouse, with decisions being made seemingly on a whim without any reason. One day, Bischoff had the bright idea that he’d have Ric Flair show up on WCW’s nationally syndicated show “Thunder” to partake in an important angle. However, Flair had already booked that day off to go and watch his young son, Reid, compete in an amateur wrestling event.
This being WCW, despite Flair giving the office plenty of advance notice about Reid’s event, no one had actually bothered to note that Flair wasn’t going to be free on the day Bischoff wanted him to be at Thunder. Bischoff, in his usual bullish manner, decided to demand that Flair attend Thunder anyway, because it was incredibly important he be there despite him only having the idea a few days before. Flair justifiably refused and went to watch Reid wrestle, causing Bischoff to blow his top.
This led to a long legal battle between both sides, meaning that Flair was absent from television. The WCW fan base took Flair’s side in the dispute and would regularly chant his name at shows. Realising this was getting him nowhere, Bischoff contacted Flair and asked him if he wanted to turn the whole thing into a storyline. Flair acquiesced and returned to WCW in September 1998 to a humongous reaction. The two battled at Starrcade 98 with Bischoff winning thanks to a slew of run-ins.
An infuriated Flair chained himself to the ring post the following night on WCW’s Monday Nitro television show, stripped down to his boxer shorts and demanded Bischoff face him again. The catch would be that this time the presidency of WCW would be on the line. Bischoff accepted, and the match was on.
Once again, the bout saw a lot of run ins, with members of Bischoff’s “New World Order” group coming down to help him. However, this time Flair saw some backup of his own in the form of Diamond Dallas Page, Konnan and The Four Horsemen. With the odds now evened up, Flair was able to give Bischoff the kicking all the fans wished they could dole out themselves, and Bischoff eventually submitted to Flair’s famed Figure Four Leg Lock.
Fans were overjoyed to see a WCW wrestler stick it to the nWo (something that wasn’t a regular occurrence despite WCW supposedly being the good guys in the storyline), and Nitro for once ended on a satisfying, positive note.
Entitled “Love her or leave her”, Test and Shane McMahon’s epic battle centred around Shane’s sister, Stephanie. Stephanie and Test had begun a romance during the summer of 99, something that her father and brother did not approve of. Shane and his Greenwich Posse decided to try and make Test’s life a living hell in an effort to split him and Stephanie up.
Test and Stephanie were defiant though and demanded they be left alone to pursue their relationship. Thus, a match was signed for SummerSlam, with Test taking on Shane in a “Greenwich Street Fight”. If Test won, Shane would back off, but if Shane won, then Test and Stephanie would have to split up.
The match was the archetypal Attitude Era Brawl™ complete with an assortment of weaponry and constant run ins from Shane’s posse. This may have also been the debut of the customary Wacky Shane Bump® as he dove off the top rope to put Test through a table on the outside. Test eventually saw some assistance from an unlikely source in the form of Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, who continued their feud with the posse by laying them out to a huge reaction from the crowd.
With the posse neutralised, Shane found himself splatted by his much larger foe, and Test picked up the win. Following the contest, Test and Stephanie hugged in the ring to a roar of approval from the amassed crowd. This should have been the first step in making Test into a big star, but sadly, things didn’t turn out that way for him as Stephanie would eventually end up with Triple in both storyline and real life.
WCW was on a massive hot streak during 1997, and you could make a legitimate argument that they were second only to New Japan when it came to being the biggest wrestling company in the world. A huge reason for that success was the New World Order group led by former heroic figure Hollywood Hogan. As his name suggests, Hogan had turned to the dark side and now considered himself not just bigger than his rival wrestlers but bigger than even wrestling itself.
He added to this demeanour by hanging around with real life celebrities, one of which was Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman. “Rodzilla” was a huge name during this period and had a reputation as a “bad boy”, so it only made sense that he’d buddy up to the equally uncouth Hogan. Rodman even showed up on some WCW events and helped Hogan defeat WCW competitors. Enraged by this star from another sport making fools of them, WCW wrestlers Lex Luger and The Giant challenged the troublesome twosome to a match at that year’s Bash at the Beach event.
Rodman did a serviceable job for a man in his first proper match, being able to perform amongst other things an arm drag and a leapfrog. The match was more spectacle than technical exhibition, but the live crowd enjoyed it, and Lex Luger’s eventually victory built him up for a big title match with Hogan not soon after.
WCW used Rodman again the following year along with fellow NBA player Karl Malone. The resulting match involving Hogan and Diamond Dallas Page wasn’t as good as the 1997 effort, but the show did a very good buy rate for WCW, showing that Rodman still had that magic at the box office.
The ultimate McMahon Battle, Vince and Shane’s colossal clash in Houston was a seminal bout for any fan during the Attitude Era. Vince had been mistreating Shane’s mother, Linda, for months, going as far as to drug her and then tongue Trish Stratus right in front of her during a broadcast of WWF SmackDown. Needless to say, Shane was not happy that Vince was treating his mother in such a manner, and a match was signed as consequence.
Shane added fuel to fire a week out from WrestleMania by purchasing WCW from under his father’s nose, adding yet another element to an already packed match. Shane once again tried to deliver an elbow off the top rope through a table, but his devious sister, Stephanie, dragged Vince out of the way, meaning that Shane splatted through the table himself.
At this point, Trish rolled a comatose Linda out to ringside at Vince’s orders, only to slap him and then fight to the back with Stephanie! Undeterred, Vince put Linda in the ring and then started to decimate Shane right in front of her. However, in a moment etched in my memory for eternity, as Vince rose a trashcan for the final blow, Linda rose from her wheelchair and kicked Vince right in his famous grapefruits!!
With Vince now on the defensive, Shane leapt from one corner to the other, dropkicking a can into Vince’s mush, and guest referee Mick Foley gleefully counted the winning pin to gain vengeance for Vince firing him months before.
This match is a masterpiece. Yes, the actual wrestling isn’t that great, but the storytelling is superb, and Linda rising from the wheelchair never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Number Four – Rob Van Dam and Bill Alfonso Vs Tommy Dreamer and Beulah – ECW As Good As It Gets 1997
Bill Alfonso was hated by the ECW fan base for one very big reason, that being that he tried to bring rules and law to the Land of Extreme. After a highly successful run as a dodgy referee, Alfonso moved into valet work, managing “The Human Suplex Machine” known as Taz. However, in 1997, “Fonzie” turned his back on Taz, siding instead with Rob Van Dam and Sabu.
Fonzie, Sabu and RVD began openly courting the WWF, a big no-no in ECW, and this raised the ire of ECW flagbearer Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer at the time was managed by the exceedingly beautiful Beulah McGillicutty, and his feud with Fonzie’s men led to an inter-gender tag match at the famed ECW Arena.
Eventually, RVD and Dreamer ended up leaving the ring, meaning the bout now became Fonzie Vs Beulah, one on one. The two took part in a highly physical match, hitting each other with weaponry at will. Fonzie ended up wearing the crimson mask, and in an unsettling visual, Beulah ended up with some of his blood on her as they continued to brawl.
Eventually, Beulah was able to pin “the man who called it right down the middle” and got a rapturous response from the ECW faithful as consequence. In real life, this was supposed to be Fonzie’s last outing for ECW as he’d been secretly speaking to WCW about bringing some ECW guys over there. Once he was rumbled, he was set to be fired following this event. However, Fonzie did so well in this match that he was actually able to keep his job, and he ended up working for ECW way into the year 2000.
The violence in this match is perhaps a bit OTT, but the storytelling is sound, and it really is an enjoyable, if at times uncomfortable, spectacle that’s well worth a watch.
This is pretty much the Citizen Kane of celebrity wrestling matches, as Bigelow carried LT to a surprisingly great outing in the main event of WrestleMania XI. The set up was simple enough: Bigelow had lost a match at the 1995 Royal Rumble, and whilst stewing, he noticed LT sitting on the front row. A smiling LT tried to offer his hand, but Bigelow instead shoved LT down before storming off.
Ordered to apologise, Bigelow refused and instead challenged the former American Footballer to a match. LT accepted, and WrestleMania’s main event was set. Sadly, the match didn’t do too well at the box office, but it was certainly a success between the ropes. LT made sure to only do simple stuff like forearms and bulldogs, which made his offense look believable and allowed for suspension of disbelief.
Bigelow though is excellent in this match as he holds everything together brilliantly and really goes all out to sell for LT and make him look good. Bigelow is a man whose work has really grown on me over the years, especially his WWF run from the 90s. I only really saw Bigelow towards the tail end of his ECW run going into his WCW one, and that’s not the best Bigelow. The best Bigelow you can find is the one in this match as he carries a celebrity to a believable and dramatic bout in the main event of the biggest show of the year. It truly is his crowning achievement and a perfect example of why he’s Hall of Fame-worthy.
It’s often difficult to be a manager for the good guys because most of the time you don’t have a lot to do. A villainous manager can cheat and get involved in a contest at will as the point of their existence is to be hated and transfer some of that hate onto their charges. A heroic manager has to try and get the crowd to like him/her, which isn’t always easy.
Hence, why Jim Cornette and Paul E. Dangerously’s feud from WCW worked so well because the existence of one gave the other a foil to play off. Cornette had been a bad guy for years, managing the nefarious Midnight Express tag team. However, one day on a televised WCW event, Cornette and his team were jumped by Dangerously and a team he proclaimed were the “Original Midnight Express”.
The native WCW fans sided with Cornette and his men, thus turning them to the side of good in the process. Sadly, internal politics meant the Original Midnights were turfed out of WCW before the feud could be concluded, but Dangerously remained, and at the Great American Bash event of 1989, it was decided that Cornette and Dangerously would meet one another in a tuxedo match.
To win, you simply had to strip your opponent of his tuxedo. As Cornette has said in interviews since, the WCW booking committee considered the match to be a few minutes of comedy, but both Cornette and Dangerously decided that they wanted to have a more intense battle so as to give their feud a satisfying payoff.
Disaster almost struck as Cornette aggravated his knee right before the event, but he gutted it out, and the two worked it into the match’s story, even though Dangerously at first started hitting the wrong leg with his trademark big cellular phone!
This match is an enjoyable scuffle, and I give both men credit for trying to give the match some gravitas. This was a hot feud, and people, including a lot of the wrestlers backstage, thought that the two legitimately disliked each other, so it was only right that the match had a bit of needle to it. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it.
Once again, Shane McMahon makes the list with perhaps his greatest ever performance.
If you only started watching the product recently and were wondering why Shane McMahon, an aging man in sneakers and a sports jersey, got such a big reaction upon his return to the WWE in 2016, you can pretty much trace it back to this match.
The fact that Shane McMahon, a wealthy man who really doesn’t need to be doing this stuff, allowed himself to be thrown through glass and Olympic Slammed from the top rope really highlights the calibre of nutter that he is. Most people in his position wouldn’t do any of that sort of stuff, but he did because he’s both strong-willed and insane.
The backstory for this match came from Shane mocking Angle for crying over winning his Olympic gold medals, leading to Angle giving him an Olympic Slam from the top of a podium. That all made sense at the time, trust me.
Angle did an excellent job carrying Shane in the early parts of the match, but during the contest he got suplexed on the floor, severely damaging his tailbone. Anyone who has had an injury in or around the back area will know that it severely limits your strength. As a result, when it came to the point in the match where Angle was supposed to fling Shane through a window, at first he didn’t have the strength to pull it off, meaning that Shane fell right on top of his noggin in a terrifying moment.
Thankfully, Angle was able to eventually find the strength to get Shane through the glass, but by then Shane had already had a number of intimate encounters with the concrete floor. When Shane returned to the WWE in 2016, I went back to watch this match to see if it still held up, and it most certainly still did. If you own a WWE Network subscription, then you owe it to yourself to watch this if you haven’t already. A brutal and violent classic of the era.
Thanks very much for reading this list, I’ll be back next week with a video game article, but I’m not exactly sure what that will entail yet, so watch this space.
Until next time;