8 Great is our extremely original listicle series where we take a break from snark and negativity to focus on the positive, and list eight of our favorite examples of something great from pro wrestling. Matches, performers, shows – whatever is helping us enjoy wrestling in a particular week, that’s what this feature is all about.
This 8 Great is the second in a series that’s related to current events but isn’t about current wrestling. When a pandemic forces everyone inside and socially isolated, it highlights how valuable the ability of art to help people escape from reality for a while really is.
So while most of this site’s devoted art form, pro wrestling, is on hiatus or in a weird no-fans limbo, the With Spandex team is taking the time to appreciate the matches from the past we’re drawn to revisit the most, and always get something out of re-watching. Our comfort food wrestling, basically. We’ll explain why these matches stuck with us and what we like about them, but the eight matches on everyone’s lists were picked completely subjectively and reflect our different preferences and experiences as fans.
Emily Pratt did one of these last week, and now it’s my turn. I suppose my list is pretty idiosyncratic, reflecting my love of women’s wrestling, dramatic Southern-style storytelling, and hardcore violence. I contain multitudes, but then, don’t we all?
Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard, Steel Cage “I Quit” Match, Starrcade 1985
What can I say about this match that hasn’t already been said? Brandon Stroud has written about it at length, and so have most other wrestling writers. But there’s a reason for that. Even people who only know Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA as Tessa Blanchard’s two dads have at least heard that this is the greatest hardcore match of all time. It’s the most memorable match at Starrcade ’85, a show that featured the Dusty Rhodes/Ric Flair match that paid off the Hard Times promo, and also the Midnight Express fighting a dancing hobo and a drag queen.
This match is plenty violent and bloody, in that way that WWE has moved away from and AEW occasionally brings back. But it’s not the violence that makes this match so good (although the violence is great), it’s the emotion behind that violence. Watching it, you really believe that these two men despise each other. You really believe that Tully Blanchard is a garbage human and Magnum TA is a good man who doesn’t really want to hurt anybody, but he just hates! Tully Blanchard! So much! when he gives into that hate and stabs Tully in the eye with that shard of wood, that’s when the match really becomes something special. And at the end when Magnum wins, he can’t even be proud, because he’s let out the worst part of himself. This is old-school Southern Wrestling Drama at its absolute best.
Sting vs Cactus Jack, Falls Count Anywhere, WCW Beach Blast 1992
As somebody who didn’t really watch wrestling until this century, this was the match where I really felt like I “got” both Sting and Cactus Jack, and understood why people love them. Sting is a real-life superhero in a level nobody else in that era pulled off. Yeah, Hulk Hogan was selling himself as a superhero, but even then he was a big balding pork sausage of a man. In contrast, Sting was actually movie star handsome, and still masks on his face as part of his colorful persona (and just like the superheroes in comics, later in the ’90s he would become a darker version of himself, but that hadn’t happened yet).
And Cactus Jack is the perfect supervillain for Sting. He’s not a mastermind, but he’s a hell of a brawler. Later, of course, Mick Foley would play other characters and get to show other sides of himself, but as Cactus Jack he’s just a nasty man who loves to hurt people. And he’s good at that. Sting doesn’t love hurting people, but he has no problem hurting Cactus Jack since that’s the only way to beat him. This isn’t one of those stories like the one above where the babyface has to compromise his values. Sting follows the rules, but this is a Falls Count Anywhere Match, so the rules are “beat the hell out of him,” and Sting’s not afraid to do that. Also? Sting’s hot pink ring gear in this match is spectacular.
The Rhodes Brothers vs The Shield, WWE Battleground 2013
Remember when the Authority fired Cody Rhodes and Goldust, and threatened to fire Dusty Rhodes too, unless the Rhodes Brothers beat the Shield? In retrospect, WWE might have spent a few years leaning a little too hard on storylines about how terrible the actual people who actually run the company are to their employees. But this story works because it’s all about that high drama that the Rhodes family is great at.
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, who were Tag Team Champions at the time, represent the Shield, with US Champion Dean “Jon Moxley” Ambrose on the outside. Dusty’s at ringside too, and he hits Dean in the face with his belt buck before taking him down with a Bionic Elbow. I have to think Mox is still proud he got a chance to take that move.
The match in the ring is excellent too, of course, with Roman and Seth going hard on the Rhodes Brothers. Goldust plays the face in peril, which he’s great at, reaching out to his little brother desperately as if to say “I’m a forty-something man with a full face of makeup, and this is too much for me!”
And yeah, it’s interesting to watch this match in 2020 when so many things are different. Of the six guys involved in this midcard match, one is sadly departed, two are among WWE’s biggest stars, and three now work at a company nobody could have imagined would ever exist back then.
Emma vs Paige, NXT Takeover: Arrival (2014)
Let’s forget who “some say” started the Women’s R/evolution in WWE. This certainly played a role in kicking it off, but more than that it’s just a really good wrestling match between two women I really miss getting to see in the ring. Paige was my first favorite female wrestler, and it breaks my heart that she can’t get in the ring anymore. Emma’s still around, here and there, making occasional appearances in Impact and elsewhere as Tenille Dashwood, but she’s never fully recovered the fire she had in WWE when they would actually let her work.
This match shows that chipper, bubble-popping Emma could already get brutal when she needed too. And Paige, who is basically a child, already knows exactly what she’s doing. These women weren’t going to wait for Stephanie McMahon to announce that it’s time to take women’s wrestling seriously in WWE. They were going to go out there and do some serious goddamn pro wrestling, and it was on Stephanie to rush out beforehand and warn everyone what was about to happen.
Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy: The Final Deletion
Is this a wrestling match? Technically yes. There’s a ring and a ref and a winner. There’s also a xylophone, a bunch of drones (including Chris Jericho’s current rival, Vanguard 1), vindictive lawnmowing, a fireworks fight, and a dilapidated boat. You already know if this is your thing or not. But what I’m saying is, if this is your thing, now’s a good time to rewatch it. It’s delightful all on its own, and even better if you watch all the Matt Hardy videos from Impact that come before and after it. Plus it has new relevance with the return of Broken Matt Hardy and Vanguard 1 in AEW. Wonderful!
Nikki Cross vs. Asuka, Last Woman Standing, NXT (June 28, 2017)
From my previous “8 Great” about Nikki Cross matches:
If you go back and watch this full match on the NXT episode (which I recommend), there’s also a vignette earlier in the episode that you don’t want to miss. On the day of the Last Woman Standing Match, as Asuka was being driven to Full Sail, Nikki Cross jumped on the hood of the car and started pounding on the windshield, trying to get in so she could start fighting Asuka. She was never a woman of restraint.
The match itself is incredibly good, and takes up about half the episode. It’s full of the kind of bananas hardcore shit that makes Last Person Standing matches worthwhile. Asuka literally put Nikki Cross in a trash can, and then kicked that trash can until it was dented and Cross had even less idea what was going on than usual. At one point Asuka was trying to suplex Nikki out of the ring onto a pile of chairs on the floor, but Nikki slipped out of her grasp and between her legs to the floor, and then powerbombed Asuka onto the chairs instead. The match only ended when both women went through the announce desk from the top of a ladder, and Asuka barely managed to stand up. With all due respect to Bayley and Ember Moon, I don’t think Asuka was ever pushed to her limit in NXT as much as she was in this match.
Meiko Satomura vs Mercedes Martinez, Mae Young Classic (October 3, 2018)
I decided to keep this list pretty mainstream for ease of watching, but if I had included the indies and Japan, there are plenty of matches featuring either of these women that could go on this list. In fact, I once had a conversation with Cageside Seats contributor Stella Cheeks about wrestlers who never have a bad match. She named Mercedes, I named Meiko, and then we agreed we were both right. Here’s what I had to say in 2018 (long before Mercedes officially signed with WWE, of course):
It almost feels like cheating to include this match on this list. Both of these women are multi-decade wrestling veterans, and neither of them has ever had a WWE contract. They were just stopping by to show the kids how things are done. Every match either of them had in the Mae Young Classic (or just about anywhere else) is absolutely worth watching, but when they got in the ring together it was on a whole other level. Meiko’s a legendary babyface, but you could see her frustration increase as Mercedes kept kicking out, until eventually she was literally roaring with anger as she drove Mercedes’ head into that mat again and again and again. The storytelling wasn’t subtle (not that wrestling should be), but it was perfect.
LAX vs Lucha Bros, Impact Homecoming 2019
Santana and Ortiz faced Pentagon Jr. and Fenix a bunch of times in Impact (and I’m sure eventually they’ll have plenty of matches in AEW too), and they’re all worth watching, but this is probably the best one. These are two of the best tag teams in the world, and they have amazing chemistry together. This match had the high-flying spots you expect from the Lucha Bros (and LAX) as well as the brutality you expect from LAX (and the Lucha Bros). These two teams go hard as hell against each other for twelve minutes or so, and then they’re still friends at the end. And as much as I love dramatic hate-fests like the first match on this list, wrestlers shaking hands and being friends and good sports is still one of my favorite ways for a match to end.