A majority of the most celebrated matches in professional wrestling history are lengthy epics, like Ric Flair’s title bouts with Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham, or the highest-rated match of 2017 pitting Kazuchika Okada against Kenny Omega.
While a longer match often allows for more in-depth storytelling, and the opportunity for wrestlers to include more moves, sometimes two outstanding performers need only seven minutes or less to leave a lasting impression.
On this edition of The Open Man Wrestle Review Wednesday, I spotlight my all-time favorite short matches — those typically going fewer than eight minutes.
10. KURT ANGLE vs. BROCK LESNAR (WWE Championship) – WWE Smackdown – March 13, 2003
Very legitimate rumors of Kurt Angle needing neck surgery surfaced shortly before Wrestlemania XIX, threatening a main event pairing of the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist against two-time NCAA champion Brock Lesnar. The feud had been built brilliantly for months, but WWE acknowledged the growing rumblings when it gave away its Mania main event a few weeks before the event.
A despondent looking Angle walks somberly to the ring in a hoodie. The lights dim for the Beast Brock Lesnar’s entrance. What ensues is some of the most creative booking of all-time, which only upped the ante for Wrestlemania XIX.
9. STEINER BROTHERS vs. NASTY BOYS – WCW Uncensored – March 24, 1996
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, both the Steiner Brothers and Nasty Boys put on some of the most memorable bouts in professional wrestling history. By 1996, the Nasties were not the same team that had excellent battles of contrast with The Rockers in the AWA, and a pre-show match with the Steiners wasn’t going to replicate the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink brawl with Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne.
However, a limited time to work masked any limitations the Nasty Boys might have while accentuating the strengths of the Steiner Bros. The two teams come out hitting each other with bombs from the opening bell and never relent. The finish sets up a later feud down the road.
8. EDDIE GUERRERO vs. BRIAN PILLMAN – WCW Monday Nitro, Nov. 20, 1995
Of course two of the most athletic and revolutionary stars of the era would make magic, despite being given limited time to do so. Eddie Guerrero — a WCW rookie at this juncture in his career — comes out for a match with Ric Flair. Flair brushes him off, instead handing the bout off to Four Horsemen stablemate Pillman.
Early vestiges of Pillman’s Loose Cannon persona are evident in this match, which starts with an overconfident Pillman bullying Guerrero. Things reach a fever pitch in the closing moments.
7. LEX LUGER vs. RANDY SAVAGE – WCW World War 3 – Nov. 26, 1995
From the time it brought in Hulk Hogan in 1994 until the launch of the NWO two years later, WCW was fascinating promotion. As evidenced by the inclusion of three matches in this era, there was some truly excellent wrestling in the promotion, typically on the undercard.
The main event scene, however, featured some of the most putrid action, both in-ring and from a story-telling perspective ever seen in professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan was at his absolute worst at this time, trudging through with an even cornier version of the same character fans tired of a half-decade earlier in the WWF. The World War 3 pay-per-view opens with Hogan — booed mercilessly by the Norfolk Scope audience — cutting a promo on Dave Meltzer for reporting, among other things, that Randy Savage was working through a legitimate elbow injury.
That bears noting here, because the elbow injury plays a pivotal role in this short but fun match.
Savage was excellent in his initial stretch in WCW, putting on great matches with Ric Flair and Kensuke Sasaki, and later Diamond Dallas Page in a series that proved star-making for the latter. While it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him stay in WWF to feud with Shawn Michaels, Bret and Owen Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin in this stretch, he’s awesome here against a surprisingly motivated Lex Luger.
6. REY MISTERIO vs. PSICOSIS – WCW Monday Nitro – March 17, 1997
These two wrestled literally hundreds of times in Mexico before bringing their act to ECW. Rey Misterio-Psicosis bouts then became a staple for WCW from 1996 into 1998, with the matches varying in length and intensity. While their meeting at Bash at the Beach ’96 was the pinnacle of their WCW feud, this sprint on a March 1997 edition of Nitro manages to stand out among the sea of matches in their tenure with the promotion.
Both luchadores come out blazing, hitting big moves virtually from the outset.
5. GAIL KIM vs. AWESOME KONG (TNA Knockouts Championship) – TNA Impact! – Jan. 10. 2008
Women’s wrestling achieved a milestone in 2018 with the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match. Women in WWE continue to progress into more prominent roles, thanks to the growing fan interest and excitement the Four Horsewomen of NXT cultivated in 2014 and 2015.
I dare say that without the tremendous series of matches between Gail Kim and Awesome Kong in TNA a few years prior, the former Divas division might have been given the same chance.
At a time when TNA was mired in confusing storylines, with talented, homegrown wrestlers overshadowed by retreads, the burgeoning Knockouts division was left in the capable hands of Scott D’Amore. He focused on simple but effective rivalries. Gail Kim and Awesome Kong retold the timeless David vs. Goliath story, captured in a way not seen since Sting and Vader 15 years prior.
4. HIROMU TAKAHASHI vs. KUSHIDA (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship) – NJPW Sakura Genesis – April 9, 2017
2017 was quite a year for trilogies in professional wrestling. Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega delivered the most acclaimed trilogy since Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair’s 1989 feud, perhaps casting a shadow on the outstanding Tetsuya Naito-Hiroshio Tanahashi bouts; the hard-hitting series pitting Omega against Tomohiro Ishii; and WWE’s introduction to British Strong Style via Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne.
Of the many tremendous series in 2017, the most varied in its presentation pit NJPW Juniors division ace KUSHIDA against the unpredictable Hiromu Takahashi. Part of the fun of professional wrestling is the real-life comic book aesthetic to it, and that style is underscored in this rivalry that has a decided Batman-Joker quality.
The typical arch for trilogies in cinema dictates the hero must suffer a grave defeat in the second installment to set the scene for the finale. That happens here in the most shocking fashion possible.
3. TRIPLE H vs. TAKA MICHINOKU (WWF Championship) – WWF RAW, April 10, 2000
Triple H was the best wrestler in the world in 2000. Period. Whether in violent brawls, like his Match of the Year candidate Street Fight vs. Cactus Jack, technical bouts with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, tags and multi-mans, or TV main events, Triple H delivered every time out.
He was also coming into his own as a main-event wrestler at this point. Upon initially winning the title in late 1999, Triple H felt a bit like an upper mid-card act not quite ready for prime time. Steve Austin’s refusal to put him over one-on-one Summerslam contributed to that, as did a lackluster feud with the Big Show at the end of the year. The Cactus Jack matches helped elevate Triple H, and his character become cockier — which worked well in conjunction with the lingering sentiment he wasn’t ready for the top spot.
Belief, even the slightest sliver of it, makes for the most entertaining wrestling product. And because fans believed at this point Triple H wasn’t necessarily the guy, they were ready to believe he could lose the title at any moment. Was lower card act TAKA Michinoku really going to win?
At a few points watching this match live back in high school, I believed.
2. OWEN HART vs. 1-2-3 KID – WWF King of the Ring – June 19, 1994
Previously the benchmark for short matches — and in many ways, still the standard-bearing for telling a great story with limited — Owen Hart and 1-2-3 Kid absolutely lit up the King of the Ring in under five minutes.
The underdog Kid defeated Jeff Jarrett in the quarterfinals, but not without injury. Gutting through a bout with the athletic, submission specialist Owen Hart further emphasized the never-say-die character 1-2-3 Kid portrayed. It later came into play that same summer in a WWF Championship match with Bret Hart, a legitimate classic worth your time.
This match is a classic, too, in its own right. Owen Hart was one of the best in the world at this point, and Kid’s the perfect opponent for the Rocket to show off his more vicious style of wrestling.
1. BROCK LESNAR vs. GOLDBERG (WWE Universal Championship) – WWE Wrestlemania 33 – April 2, 2017
I spotlighted this match previously on Wrestle Review Wednesday as my biggest surprise of 2017. Goldberg’s abbreviated wrestling career featured very few classic bouts, and those in which he was involved happened two years prior to Wrestlemania 33.
Brock Lesnar has a laundry list of outstanding bouts to his credit. Since his return from UFC in 2012, however, the quality of a Brock Lesnar match depends largely on the quality of his opponent and the level of motivation Brock appears to be feeling on that given night.
Well, Brock showed up to Orlando ready to go. As did Goldberg, who had arguably the best match of his entire career.