Our trio of themed pieces concludes with:
LIII. Specialty Matches
Wrestling fans of the modern era might be scratching their heads, because “specialty matches” has almost been replaced by “specialty PPVs,” in that both TNA and WWE have taken to crafting entire PPV events around certain types of specialty matches.
But for the record, “specialty matches” refers to cage matches, ladder matches, Texas bullrope matches, Hell in the Cell, Elimination Chamber, elimination matches, no disqualification matches, time-limit matches, ambulance matches, on and on, otherwise known as gimmick matches, any time a match is conducted under anything but ordinary rules, where pinfalls and submissions are not the only things to keep in mind.
In previous eras, these matches would be the big blow off for a hot feud, the way to say, “This is the only way these two wrestlers are going to stop trying to beat each other up.” As with everything else, over time that just wasn’t good enough. To retain the attention of a wide audience these matches became more and more common. ECW built its reputation over allowing an overall hardcore style to become the norm, which in turn led to hardcore divisions in both WCW and WWE. It might even be argued that the cruiserweight division, by any other name, is basically a gimmick division, in that competitors routinely wrestle a unique, freewheeling style, not just because they’re smaller and more agile, but because they’re capable of sustaining that style over many minutes, matches, and entire careers. You’d never ask Abyss to permanently compete in TNA’s X division, but to make a point, you can feature him in a program against wrestlers who regularly do.
Anyway, gimmick matches also serve to prove how tough a wrestler is, not just in death matches, which are clearly insane, but in general. Triple H had proven himself many times over by the start of 2000, but he gained a new legitimacy by going toe-to-toe with Mick Foley in a street fight and epic Hell in a Cell encounter in the first few months of the year. Without them, it’s doubtful “The Game” would be recognizable today. Foley himself earned immortality by taking a legendary bump a few years earlier.
It doesn’t always have to be something that involves some kind of foreign object or environment, either. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart brought the idea of an hour-long match into modern times at WrestleMania XII, when previously it had been something guys like Ric Flair did at house shows on a nightly basis, just flat-out exhibiting the best of their technical abilities for a special occasion. Long matches are one thing, but this is something else entirely, especially when you’re given an opportunity to record multiple pinfalls or submissions (something that particularly set Michaels-Hart apart, since neither recorded one until overtime). Wrestlers like Triple H, The Rock, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar later demonstrated that fans liked this specialty plenty much.
WWE developed the idea of TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) thanks to the emerging popularity of tables in the early months of the new millennium, courtesy of the Dudley Boys, whose feud with Edge & Christian and Matt & Jeff Hardy culminated, or so everyone thought, at WrestleMania 2000, which was technically a ladder match. The three teams had such great chemistry, that they reprised that match, added more elements (officially), and TLC came about, and eventually reprised at WrestleMania X-7 the next year. WWE would bring back the TLC concept several times, before making it a PPV, with various elements from that configuration either used separately or all together. Ladder matches, popularized by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) at WrestleMania X, also gave birth to Money in the Bank and TNA’s King of the Mountain and Feast or Fired matches. Each threw several competitors into the mix for the chances of winning coveted contracts or even championships themselves. Money in the Bank, too, eventually became its own PPV.
Why bother with these matches at all? Cage matches in themselves became so routine in WWE that they rarely in themselves made it on to PPVs after a while, instead becoming almost a fixture on TV. Fans can become jaded of even the most extreme specialties (as the hardcore phenomenon proved), so it’s always a balance of providing the best and most interesting wrestling possible. A lot of fans can’t seem to be interested in even the most basic wrestling, it can sometimes seem, so there’s always some new specialty being hatched, some new gimmick, or even the tried-and-true being utilized in new and innovative ways, or used as they’ve always been. It’s part and parcel of the wrestling experience.
And here you thought wrestling was just about basic wrestling.