Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Wrestling Top 5 Two-fer

We'll start this post with the more trivial of the two lists: a ranking of my favorite title belt designs.

Now just because most of this list is the WWF/E, don't think others weren't in the running. For example, an honorable mention would go to the NWA title, still seeing the light of day in TNA. But a lot of what the other promotions did all lumped together. For starters, all the independents are out because either their belts looked cheap, or seemed to come from a "Belts By the Bucket" catalog - like a trophy store for pro wrestling organizations. WCW's TV & U.S. belt's are the best things the company did design-wise, but what they didn't have that these five will is a truly unique appearance and design.

Top 5 Wrestling Title Belts
5. The WWE United States Championship - I like this belt because of its simple, yet elegant design. Few belts are as colorful and bold as this. The only others I can think of are the Smackdown Tag Titles. And it has a cool shape to it.

4. The Big Gold Belt - This belt has changed representation several times, but one thing has not changed: its grandiose. It's like a crystal chandelier in a world of incandescent light bulbs. Really the only thing that spoils it for me is seeing it around the waist, or worse yet drug around by, wrestlers who I feel don't live up to history of it.

3. The WWF World Championship (1988-1998) - I like the designs and fonts of this one a lot. The only thing that loses points for it is its relative dinky size compared to other titles.

2. The WWF World Championship (1998-2002) - Hence why this belt ranks higher. It's huge and has a lot of good things in common with its older brother. I hated it right when it came out, but it grew on me. When a superstar thrusted this in the air, with its sheer size and huge "CHAMPION" jaunting out for a long way off, you knew he was something.

1. The WWF Intercontinental Championship (1985-1998) - This belt has a cool simplicity and elegance and symmetry that other belts do not. A real stately, attractive title. The colored in version used for about the first year or two of its existence was neither better nor worse. Luckily, the belt didn't lose its value until AFTER this design was retired, because it has a lot of great memories: Steamboat/Savage, Bret/Perfect, the Ladder Match, etc. etc. This, above and beyond, would be the one replica belt I'd shell out the C-notes for.

Next up, these are just my top 5 favorite wrestlers personally, regardless of any sort of qualitative drawing power, runs as champ, number of titles, promotions, what have you.

Honorable Mention: Steve Austin - And I'm talking specifically of the Steve Austin who wrestled, although I have a lot of respect and have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of his post-injury work with Mick Foley and the like. I guess it's a credit to his drive and motivation that Steve was almost completely limited from his former arsenal and still put on good matches. But pre-1997, you had the Survivor Series classic with Bret in '96, his underappreciated stuff with Savio Vega, his run as a single star & tag champ in WCW, etc.

Top 5 Favorite Wrestlers of All Time
5. Shawn Michaels
4. Curt Hennig - I had to mention them both in the same breath to talk about 'em properly. Shawn certainly has the greater body of honest-to-goodness great wrestling matches, but a lot of what he did as a singles star can be credited to Curt. I'm just biased towards Curt anyway, as I loved the Mr. Perfect character, theme music, moves, etc. Curt really bumped and sold like a champ throughout his WWF run, and you can see a lot of parallels in Shawn's early days. In Royal Rumbles, he took Mr. P's dramatic elimination teases to another level. As part of the Rockers, he and Marty did somersaults to put over clotheslines.

Sadly, the roster and times did not allow Hennig to truly shine as Shawn did. When you have to "hang" with the likes of Brutus Beefcake, you don't have to reach too high. As time went on, his opponents matched up to his athleticism, but it was too late, for both his back and WCW's money caught up with him before he could really go to that next level of immortality. Shawn is a master at the art of pro wrestling, and his timing in particular is something to be admired. He doesn't have the physique or strength of Mr. Hennig, but there's no question he deserves to be in anybody's top 10 as one of the true greats.

3. Ricky Steamboat - Combine the above two, and what do you get? Ricky Steamboat is unique as a smaller, quicker guy who also had a way with power moves. Check out how easily he breaks out a gorilla press in some matches. He too knew how to work, knew when and how to comeback, and was an excellent technician. I've seen him work fun, fun matches with the likes of Hercules right on up the card to Steve Austin in WCW, and so forth.

2. Ric Flair - Here's a guy, like my number one choice, that made every match special. If he was just squashing a jobber on WCW TV, I'd sit at attention and watch as he carefully measured out a knee drop, or got thrown from the turnbuckle for the 35,000th time. Far and away the number one wrestler people loved to hate, just so he could go nuts with a promo and find a way to cheat towards a victory.

1. Bret Hart - And to supplement what I already said about Flair, not only was each and every one of this guy's matches something to see, but each and every one of his moves and strikes in the ring were believable. Bret was such a crisp, crisp worker. The way he'd snap a suplex, or execute a Russian leg sweep made you think for just a match's length that this was a sport, and not entertainment. With such a caliber of performance, the moniker given to him by Gorilla Monsoon - "The Excellence of Execution" - was indeed deserved. Just as half of the Hart Foundation, you could find a couple dozen matches to prove my point, but he stepped up as one of the premiere singles stars of the 90s, and created dozens more reasons why he deserves the many accolades he's given by fans.

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