FLYIN’ SOLO #9
LOU THESZ © vs. VERNE GAGNE (NWA World Heavyweight Title - 1/25/52)
If one can appreciate well-done work, even if it’s not exactly flashy, then this isn’t something to steer clear of. The first fall looks more like an exercise in babyface and heel dynamic than it does anything else. Lou adds a lot of subtle heel touches, like cheap shots and using the ropes to his advantage, and Verne sticks to the rule book and tries to win with straight up wrestling. The fans in the Chicago Amphitheater respond in kind, with huge boos for Lou, and big cheers for Verne. The headlock portion does tend to drag, but neither Verne, nor Lou, is lazy about it. Verne does an excellent job with working the hold, to show how much effort he’s putting into it, and Lou reciprocates with his selling. Lou knows how to escape, but he can’t pull it off right away, but, eventually, Verne tires himself out enough from working the hold, and Lou pulls off the backdrop counter, and Verne is so spent that Lou is able to pick up the first fall.
Lou and Verne undergo a role reversal in the second fall, where Verne is taking the cheap shots, and Lou is trying to keep it technical by wearing down Verne with a body scissors. But, after Verne escapes, the resume their original roles. Lou’s subtle heel tactics are great to watch here, he takes every opening he can to sneak in a cheap shot to Verne, and makes sure he’s close to the ropes so that he can halt any potential comeback by Verne, and the crowd absolutely eats it up. Verne finally gets the opening he needs and catches Lou in the sleeper, in the middle of the ring to tie the match. The third fall is pretty much a sprint, but, with only five minutes left until the time limit, it’s to be expected. Verne is behind the eightball, so, rather than methodically wear him down, he just needs to stun Lou long enough to take the fall, which he intends to do by bumping Lou every way that he can, but time runs out just as Verne gets the sleeper. The crowd erupts thinking that Gagne has won, but then gets the bitter dose of reality. That’s a “Dusty” finish, you say?
BUDDY ROGERS © vs. HAYSTACKS CALHOUN (NWA World Heavyweight Title - 4/14/61)
This might as well be Flair defending against Plowboy Frazier in ‘81. The NWA Champion is saddled with a huge, and mostly useless, opponent, and, more or less, wrestles himself to pull the whole thing off. Rogers always manages to be entertaining in some form or another. His exaggerated stooging, the way he goes airborne when Calhoun tries to get out of the headlock, or, just playing to the crowd. Watching Calhoun is just a little less enjoyable that a colonoscopy. His punches don’t even look like they could break an egg, and, only real offense is standing and sitting on Rogers. The finish is certainly unique, with Calhoun breaking the ropes and tumbling to the floor (the only bump he took) and getting counted out. It looks like Rogers got a lucky break, but, it’s clear who the better man really was.
GIANT BABA © vs. VERNE GAGNE © (AWA World and PWF Heavyweight Titles - All Japan 1/18/81)
The fact that both titles are at stake, as well as the time frame of this match, more than give away the outcome. But, this is still fun to watch. The first fall is mostly left on the cutting room floor, but, judging from what's shown, that's probably for the best. Verne wears down Baba on the mat and winds up putting him away with his sleeper, but, the work itself just isn't very interesting. There's a smart touch from Verne toward the end, where he switches things up and stuns Baba with a pair of dropkicks before cinching in the sleeper, but, the work the rest of the way there is pretty rough. The second fall is a nice change of pace. It's more or less a sprint, compared to the first fall. Verne shows some mean streak and slaps Baba, and Baba responds by bumping Verne all over the place for near falls, with Verne providing some very animated selling and reactions. Verne scores a glancing blow with a drop kick, and tries for a second, just like how he won the first fall, but Baba sidesteps him, and gets such a close near fall from the Russian legsweep, that it's obvious that Baba's big boot will tie the match.
The third fall gives us more of what we got in the second fall, a much quicker pace, and less emphasis on the mat and more on strikes and spots. Verne's selling is still good, and both he and Baba get fired up. They both show they've learned from their earlier losses, Gagne surprises Baba twice to get the sleeper, the first time he breaks it by backing Verne into the corner, and the second time Baba sends them both tumbling over the top for the expected finish. Baba also gets Verne with his bigger moves, but, Verne makes sure to be close to the ropes so that Baba can't pin him. Taking the work of all three falls into account, this winds up being a surprisingly fun match, from two wrestlers who had age catching up with them. If the first fall was up to the level of the second and third, then this would have been a real gem.
ANDRE THE GIANT vs. STAN HANSEN (New Japan - 9/23/81)
This is one of those matches that is better off being seen than simply read about. There are few better examples of ‘realism’ in wrestling than this. It would look out of place on a RINGS card, but, the intensity and stiffness make it look more like a fight than a wrestling match. Sure, there are some moments of obvious cooperation, like Andre’s armbar, and Stan’s bodyslam (yes, someone did it before Hogan at WrestleMania III). But, moments like that aren’t exposing in the least, and they don’t detract at all from the fact that Andre and Stan are trying to pulverize each other. They don’t need ridiculously dangerous (and exposing) spots, and they don’t need to bring out all sorts of props and weapons to make their point. Andre and Stan are able to accomplish far more with far less. So quit reading and go watch it already!