Magical Mat-stery Tour: What We Learned

Ah, 2009. When one foolhardy wrestling fan and admitted statistical dork decided to try and keep track of all the matches watched in one calendar year.

There were good times. There were bad times. There were, certainly, matches that slipped through the cracks.

There was laughter. There were tears — mostly those of boredom whenever Randy Orton wrestled. Seriously, it’s 2009. Enough with the headlocks.

The final total, according to my inexact math, was 425 matches — with a year-best streak of 11 consecutive days watching, and 141 total days spent watching. I’m sure all those numbers are specious at best and I’ll try to do better this year.

Along the way, I even learned a few things.

What, you say? Read on!

1) I like independent wrestling: Sure, I watch Raw, Smackdown and the other “big boys” but give me an NWA Anarchy show filmed in somewhat grainy video quality from a church in Cornelia, Ga., and I’m intrigued. Show me the latest episode of NECW action with dopple-ganger gimmicks and countless promos in Bahston accents, and I’m sure to be amused. Is it just me, or is wrestling even more of a satisfying guilty pleasure as the production values drop?

2) Independent wrestling drives me crazy: In recent years I’ve become a rather ardent fan of Ring Of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Dragon Gate and other promotions of that ilk. However, after watching more old-school territorial wrestling this year than since the tender days of my youth, certain habits of the guys that work the “ROH Style” now drive me crazy. This isn’t solely restricted to ROH — guys in WWE are just as bad — but they can be the worst offenders.

The major transgressions?

— Jumping to take a bump before someone makes contact. THIS DRIVES ME BANANAS. It happens in ROH and it happens in WWE ALL THE TIME. Just watch the next time somebody on Raw, ECW or Smackdown takes a cross body or a missile dropkick. Chances are he’s doing a midair Fosbury Flop before his opponent is anywhere close to him. Zack Ryder, who I’ve grown to enjoy to some degree, is a particularly noted offender here.

— The same spots, over and over. Stop me when you’ve seen this before. Wrestler A is near the ropes. Wrestler B charges. Wrestler A flips Wrestler B out over the top rope. Wrestler B lands on the apron, and nails Wrestler A with a punch or back elbow as he turns. Wrestler B then goes to the top rope for some sort of maneuever. Watch a full week of WWE programming (all six hours!) and you’re guaranteed to see this same spot at least once a week.

— Cutesy hold-for-hold exchanges. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it. In short, it’s when one wrestler seems to “let” the other guy reverse a hammerlock, headlock or some maneuver. Sometimes, the holder will even outstretch a helping hand to assist the holdee in escaping or reversing it. “Smart” crowds like ROH applaud these exchanges. Often they drive me batty. It doesn’t help that I watched a ton of 1980s New Japan stuff at the tail end of the year. Say what you will about the way that style has aged, but when somebody like Steve Keirn, Antonio Inoki or Dick Murdoch had you in a hold, then dammit, you were IN the hold! There was no “Ok, now you’re gonna let me come up behind you, put my leg here, spin through and put you in a wristlock.” Feh!

I like my wrestling when it’s intense and realistic. Not when it becomes an exhibition of “look at how many technical exchanges we can do when we help each other.”

3) I have new favorites… or at least, guys I want to see more of.

A quick list, in no particular order.

Mike Quackenbush: Aside from one match against Chris Hero I disliked, and that was from back in 2004, I definitely want to see more of him and CHIKARA in general in 2010.

Bill Dundee: Shorty can work! I spent my time recuperating from walking pneumonia watching 1980s Memphis stuff. Back in that era, Dundee could face anyone from Lawler to Dutch Mantell to Koko B. Ware and tear down the house.

Stan Hansen: I always want to see more of Hansen, which is ironic since according to lore he could see very little anytime he was in the ring. Did he not ever hear of contac lenses? I’m asking…

Mr. Wrestling II: He would have had no chance in the current scene. Here’s a guy who looked like somebody’s grandpa with the plain white mask, non-sculpted body and tighty whiteys ring attire. But he could flat-out go once the bell rang. I especially enjoyed a match between he and Magnum T.A. and the Midnight Express from the old Mid-South territory.

Undertaker and Shawn Michaels: They had my favorite match of 2009, at WrestleMania. Let’s just say this. I’ve had friends over to the house for pay-per-views before. Never has a match earned a round of applause. This one got a standing ovation — and half of the guys in attendance were workers on the local indy scene. Tremendous stuff.

4) Dark Helmet was right.

It can be from the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s or the 2000s. From the smallest of territories to the grandest pay-per-view. Every day, in every way, wrestling proves the statement of the arch villain from Mel Brooks’ space odyssey time and time again.

“Now you will see that evil will always triumph… because good is dumb.”

Long live the heels, baby.

Back again next year. Hopefully I’ve learned more stuff and haven’t run my wife out of the house thanks to this hobby… and watched more matches.

And less bad matches.

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