Thursday, March 26, 2015

WrestleMania Week - The Cage Match by Jerry Chandler

I pretty much figure everyone this week is going to be looking at the best of wrestling. There will also be a ton of stuff about the best Mania matches, the best Mania performers, the best memories of Mania, and so on. Just for the hell of it, I’m going to go in the other direction by looking at a “worst” match. Hell, I’m not even going to look at a Mania related match with this.

A lot of people throw around the label “the worst” when discussing some of the things that have happened in pro wrestling in the recent eras. WCW in its dying years gave us some real stinkers. TNA has given us some really bad moments when it’s been at its lowest. WWE certainly hasn’t been immune from the four finger stinker curse either. But there was once a match, a cage match to be precise, that should probably go down in wrestling history as the match where idea and execution collided to give us possibly both the worst gimmick idea for a match and the worst match in the history of professional wrestling.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s a pretty bold statement given some the matches that pro wrestling has seen over the years. Certainly fans who suffered through the Russo days of WCW or the seemingly “be gimmicky to be different” days of TNA are thinking up matches right now that should get the title of either worst gimmick or worst match. Come on, you’re likely thinking, look at the contenders that get talked about from just the last two decades alone.

What about blindfold matches? Two guys walking around, arms outstretched, doing nothing for most of a match. Yeah, those were stinkers, but this was worse.

How about a Judy Bagwell on a Pole Match? A bad gimmick to be sure, and the match wasn’t exactly a classic either. But you still had two wrestlers who were able to put on a serviceable match.

How about a Reverse Battle Royal? That’s got to be a contender for the worst gimmick. Pro wrestlers having to act like clumsy toddlers to avoid getting into the ring so that only the wrestlers meant to actually be in the normal battle royal segment actually got into the ring.

How about matches where wrestlers are voluntarily signing on to fight for a prize that could be a title shot or a pink slip as seen in the Feast or Fired matches?

Two guys fighting on the back of a semi-trailer as it cruises on down the road?

Maybe deliberately sucking the energy out of the arena by having two wrestlers fighting in an empty venue?

How about just about any match involving two men or women who are not wrestlers, do not train as wrestlers, and can’t wrestle to save their lives seeing who can pull the other person’s dress or tux off first?

Come on, you’re saying, how about a street fight where the usual weapons of choice are replaced with large fish?

How about scripting the end of the match to involve a firecracker going off in someone’s exposed buttocks? No, I’m not joking about that. But, by way of explanation as to how this was thought of as a good idea, I offer these four words - it was in Japan.

No, I still think that there’s a match that makes most of those look... well… “Good” may not be the right word here. Maybe we’ll just go with this being a match that makes all those others seem somehow less bad than they may have seemed to you when you first watched them. It certainly has to have the crown as the worst cage match in history.

Chamber of Horrors? Dog Kennel Match? Punjabi Prison Match? Nah, these were all five star classics compared to the cage match that I’m thinking of. No, I’m looking back to the bygone days of Big Time Wrestling, when someone somewhere (and amazingly not Vince Russo) while likely greatly partaking of popular 70’s recreational drugs at the time thought that it was a good idea to pit Chief Jay Strongbow and “Bulldog” Don Kent against one another in a Shark Cage Match.

I can see your mind working now, the little gears spinning and everything. You’re getting grand ideas. WCW floated rings over pools during Spring Break, so was this a ring floating over a pool filled with sand sharks? No, it was not. Was this an overly elaborate structure designed to evoke the image of a shark? Not even close. Did it involve sharks with frickin laser beams? We all likely wish it did.

No, this was a far simpler, and far cheaper, gimmick. They really used a shark cage like you see on so many Shark Week shows, only it wasn’t as large or as pretty as the modern ones are. Here it is. And to think that no one looked at that thing, looked at the two guys they were stuffing into it, and said, “I think you’re gonna need a bigger cage.”

Yeah, there’s an image that just spells classic in the making. And, no, unlike the TARDIS it was not in fact bigger on the inside. That was too bad really, because if they could have actually moved around a little bit more they might have been able to make a match of it. As it was, you had two guys locked into a space so confining that they couldn’t properly pull back for a punch.

Amazingly, the obvious stipulations that one might come up with for such a match seemed to have completely escaped the bookers at Big Time Wrestling. Was this a match where the goal was to knock the other guy unconscious? Nope. Wait, I see some of you thinking, it was a shark cage. Blood in the water comes to mind, so it was obviously something akin to a first blood match. Nyet. It was just a cage match.

The rules were simple. Pinfalls didn’t count because, well, just look at the picture. There was no way to pin your opponent in that thing since neither man could actually lie down to be pinned. Climbing up over the top was out because the shark cage was completely enclosed. The first blood stipulation might have made sense, but they didn’t use it. You won by simply walking out through the cage door. The cage door, I should point out, being pretty much the entire side of the cage, and all you had to do was take a single step to get out of the cage whenever the door was opened.

And it was opened quite a few times. The door wasn’t exactly the most secure thing on the planet, seemingly swinging open every time it got hit by a stiff breeze in the arena. It was almost as if the cage itself was so embarrassed by this match that it was desperately doing everything it could to get the thing over with as quickly as possible. Seriously, if either man had tripped over his opponent’s feet at the wrong moment he could have accidently won the match.

This led to some moments that rival the worst “waiting and stalling” moments that you’ve ever witnessed in professional wrestling. Imagine a wrestler only needing to step backwards to win the match, but repeatedly failing to do so even when he has the upper hand and the ability to do so. Don Kent knocked the door open with his own butt multiple times in the first minute or so only to then move himself (inches) away from the open door. Don’t believe me? Here you go. Enjoy.

Unbelievably, the Shark Cage Match completely failed to take off and become a thing. I really can’t imagine why. I mean, who out there wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes watching two wrestlers stuck in a space so confining that it prevented any actual wrestling from taking place and limited them to basically grabbing each other’s hair and throwing sloppy punches over and over again?

I’ve seen a lot of bad ideas for match gimmicks over the years, and I’ve seen even more bad matches over the years. The Shark Cage match has to top my list for both. It was an idea so unbelievably bad in concept that you almost have to wonder if the bookers did it as a gag to see just how much they could get away with and still not have the audience revolt. No sane bookers should have ever thought that this was a good idea. That’s probably why I’m still amazed that TNA didn’t trot the thing out while they still had Shark Boy under contract.

Enjoy WrestleMania, everybody.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.

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