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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #11: Paul London vs. Michael Shane
[A long time ago in a War Rig far, far away, a young War Boy named 'Plan wrote an excellent column series called 101 WWE Matches to See Before You Die. It was perfect, so perfect that it's now a book you can buy on Amazon! There was just one problem; it only focused on WWE matches! Thus, as a fellow War Boy, I've taken it upon myself to take a look at the other stuff, compiling a list of 201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die. This right here is entry #11. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
There are two favorite matches of mine that I’d like to discuss with you before we get to the meat of this column. The first is The Undertaker vs. Mankind, Hell in a Cell from the 1998 King of the Ring. The second, entry #5 in this series, was Ivelisse, Angelico and Son of Havoc taking on The Crew from Lucha Underground’s season one episode “Trios Champions”. What do both of these matches have in common; they each feature at least one unbelievable spot that cemented their reputation as memorable matches. These spots are also the reason I love the respective matches, but not for the reasons you think. I don’t love Mick Foley falling off/ through the Cell or Angelico flying off Dario Cueto’s roof like he’s Superman just because they’re both amazing visuals; I love the spots because of what they represent. And what these spots represent is two men, in two different eras, willing to go further than anyone else and put their bodies on the line just to create one extra moment for fans to cherish forever. We have so many great wrestlers out there today, but so very few like a Foley or Angelico who will do anything for the fans. It’s why Angelico is my favorite wrestler right now and why I do love Lucha Underground so much; it can sometimes be cringe worthy, but they will go the extra mile for entertainment. They’re a dying breed of wrestling.
All the way back in the fall of 2002, a couple hundred fans at Philadelphia’s Murray Recreation Center were treated to a match featuring two individuals of this ilk at Ring of Honor’s Unscripted. The first guy was Michael Shane, the cousin of Shawn Michaels and a man with seemingly limitless possibilities for how far he could go. The second guy was Paul London, a young man still a year away from being introduced to WWE audiences and at the time best known for a match with good friend Brian “Spanky” Kendrick from a few months prior. Both Shane and London were familiar with each other, which in many ways made this one of the first matches in ROH history to have a storyline going in. Both men had been trained at Shawn Michaels’ Texas Wrestling Academy by Rudy Gonzalez and were later brought in by ROH at around the same time. After a controversial finish to a tag match both men were involved in, London and Shane started a rivalry that would soon hit critical mass after Shane attacked Gonzalez following a victory over London at ROH’s Honor Invades Boston show. Naturally this all led to the two deciding to settle things in a Street Fight, with London forgoing a chance to earn a ROH Tag Team Title shot just to get his hands on Shane. In the pantheon of great decisions, London choosing to do this match ranks right alongside Will Smith declining to do Independence Day 2 and the time I bought a Mistico mask at an indie show one month ago. What can I say; I’m the Paul London of decision makers.
The match begins as one would expect, with London launching an all out assault on Shane via forearm shots and London’s amazing athleticism. It doesn’t take long however for the tide to turn and by not long, I mean about three minutes in. While trying to do HBK’s skin the cat move on the ropes, London would end up taking a spear from Shane, which pretty much gave HBK’s cocky cousin control for the next several minutes. Those next several minutes included London being flung into the guard rail so hard that it topples over into the stands, Shane taking too long setting up a table to give London a glimmer of hope, and finally London grabbing a chair, not realizing that Shane has gotten back into the ring and is running the ropes to HOLY SHIT HE JUST SENTONED LONDON AND CRUSHED HIS HEAD AGAINST THE CHAIR!
Normally that would be the highlight of most wrestling matches, which naturally means that here it’s only the third, arguably fourth biggest moment. It’s also the point where Shane pretty much takes control on a bloodied up London and the match slows the match down like he’s Bowser in Mario Kart. We’re talking chairs tossed into London’s face, vertical suplexes, chin locks, hard Irish Whips to the ropes; it becomes apparent that Shane is too arrogant to finish off London in a more violent way and for a moment you can start to see shades of Shane’s more famous cousin creep into him. Ever the resilient babyface, London fights back and eventually bloodies up Shane after tossing him into a chair. The blood is enough to make Shane realize he’s going to have to start going hardcore, which leads to him getting a ladder, which leads to London then smashing the ladder into Shane’s mush with a sidekick off the apron. Not a good start for Shane going hardcore there I must say.
From this point the match degenerates into a back and forth affair that seems like it’ll never end, despite commentator Gabe Sapolsky’s (yup, THAT Gabe Sapolsky) claims that it won’t last longer. The back and forth (featuring a London headscissors through a table on the outside) featured two main spots; London being belly to belly’d into a ladder by Shane, a pretty bad ass move if not for the fact that London would backdrop Shane into a different ladder a few minutes later in a much more bad ass way. Why was this more bad ass? Because Shane would collide with the ladder so hard that he would actually bend the ladder to a point where there was no way it could possibly be functional (more on that in a moment). Now at this point Shane, cowardly heel that he is when the chips are down, decides that enough is enough and it’s time for a change. He begins to walk back as the fans boo…and then just like Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven, Paul London comes in and steals the whole damn show.
Now prior to this jaw dropping moment the match had already featured some incredible daredevil esq maneuvers that would fit the “will do anything for the fans” narrative, such as Shane’s crushing senton and London’s headscissors through the table (a top five spot in any other match that winds up being a foot note here!). But both of those pale in comparison to London scaling a freshly bent and unstable ladder propped up against a turnbuckle and then jumping off the turnbuckle post to nail Shane with a rolling senton with hardly any room to spare (as you’ll be able to see, Shane was right up against the guardrail as London took flight). It checks off all the boxes; it’s an amazing feat of athleticism no one had seen before, it s a competitor who hates his opponent so damn much that he’s willing to kill himself just to kill him and it’s a young man who wants victory so bad that he’ll go to the ends of the earth to get it. Of course after this bit of awesomeness the question becomes how these two can possibly top this. Spoiler alert; they do. But in the words of a future Lucha Libre Elite performer, you already knew that.
After a couple of minutes London manages to get Shane back to the ring, sets up the non bent ladder and climbs up it looking to hit a vaulting front dropkick. It was a great plan; it also didn’t work as Shane caught London to deliver a scorching sit out powerbomb for a near fall. A few minutes later a London rally is cut off and Shane flies off the turnbuckle to hit his Picture Perfect Elbow, a move that he does actually nail picture perfectly. Of course London kicks out anyway and a few seconds later his hitting the greatest shooting star press since Billy Kidman for a two count of his own. A stalemate had indeed been reached, which of course meant that someone would have to do something special to secure the win. So what does Paul London do? He gets up, looks around and naturally picks up the bent ladder.
That’s right folks; with the perfectly fine ladder set up right in the corner, Paul London instead decided to set up the bent ladder, which looking back on it was more wobbly than King Kong after he took that fiftieth bullet to the chest. I guess you only live once right? As it turns out London takes too long setting up the ladder (perhaps he was distracted by the dead on “You sick fuck!” chants from the ROH crowd) and Shane manages to knock him off. But by this point Shane himself has been inflicted by the fever, the rage that turns good men cruel (although in fairness, Shane was already cruel) and he too starts scaling the ladder. Three steps from the top Shane finally decides he’s gone high enough and, you guessed it, nails yet another Picture Perfect Elbow from the heavens (inexplicably the crowd doesn’t react here. The hatred for elbow drops was strong with this crowd). It’s over right? Of course it’s not over! Like Robert De Nero in Midnight Run, Paul London has come too far and he refuses to go quietly, kicking out at two. Undaunted, Shane attempts to climb up the ladder again but London knocks him down and as expected begins to descend it himself as the ROH crowd launches into the chant that would make London famous; “PLEASE DON’T DIE! PLEASE DON’T DIE! PLEASE DON’T DIE!” London pays them no mind and reaches the same step Shane jumped from. I think you know what happened next.
Let’s get something straight here sports fans; it’s really, REALLY hard to do a Shooting Star Press from the turnbuckle. Sure it seems easy because we see dudes like Son of Havoc and co do it all the time, but the reality is that you’re still trying to do a reverse moonsault onto your opponent; you can easily end up hurting your opponent if you overshoot your landing (ala Billy Kidman and Chavo Guerrero) or you could pull a Brock Lesnar (ala Brock Lesnar). To attempt one from off the top of a ladder (and this was pretty much all the way at the top) isn’t just insanity, it’s the stuff Suicidal Tendencies did songs about. But Paul London has never been your conventional wrestling superstar, which of course means he not only attempted this move but landed it better than I can possibly imagine anyone else landing it. Three seconds later he was rewarded with a victory, a massive standing ovation and chants of “five star match!” and “match of the year!” statements that would’ve been true if this match had taken place in Japan. I kid Meltzer I kid; or do I?!
Whether or not it truly was the best match of 2002 didn’t matter, because everyone involved in it came out smelling like homemade pizza. London became an icon on the independent circuit and used the match to springboard himself to a successful WWE career, paving the way for many other indie starts to succeed on a larger platform. Shane, while never reaching the heights his cousin or even London would reach, parlayed the match into a solid run with TNA under his real name Matt Bentley, and still does wrestle every now and then for Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling. Arguably Ring of Honor benefited more than both guys, with London vs. Shane serving, along with American Dragon vs. Chris Daniels vs. Low Ki (among other matches) as a launching point for what would ultimately lead to ROH becoming the premiere independent promotion in the US. But the real greatness in Paul London vs. Michael Shane isn’t how it helped everyone involved or even the great story it told of two former friends overcome with hatred for each other; it’s the places they went to tell that story and make their careers. On that night Paul London and Michael Shane proved they were part of that dying breed of wrestling who would do anything and everything to send the fans home happy. I’m no expert, but I think that Philly crowd went home happy that night. And yeah, maybe in the end Michael Shane crushing Paul London’s head against a chair with a flying senton or London’s two amazing dives don’t quite inspire the same sort of fear we had when Foley crashed and burned or when Angelico flew like Superman. Then again I also don’t recall hearing the fans chanting “please don’t die!” at either of those two men. But they did here.
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