201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #1: Billy Kidman vs. Juventud Guerrera II
In my old life as a wrestling columnist at the Lords of Pain Columns Forum, there was a fellow known as 'Plan. You could say he's pretty good. He won a grand total of 6 Columnist of the Month awards in the CF, now writes on the main page of the site, and is now attempting to push a new theory of viewing wrestling that involves taking out the sports entertainment aspect. If WWE was run by him, I'd still be watching. Still, 'Plan's greatest accomplishment (aside from second place in the LOP Grand Prix to yours truly and being an absolutely chill dude) is his 101 Matches to See Before You Die series. Yes, the dude took time to write up summaries on 101 must see matches, arguably some of the best writing on wrestling anyone has ever done. It's so good, 'Plan is/has put a book together on his columns, which should be available soon. It's quite an accomplishment.
There was just one issue I had with 'Plan's series; it was all WWE matches. Not that I have a problem with him covering those; despite my disdain towards the WWE product right now, there's been plenty of great matches over the years they've produced that I've enjoyed. That said, as someone who grew up not watching the WWE and as someone whose interest these days lie outside the WWE blanket, I thought it was kind of sad matches from other promotions didn't have some propping up of their own. So, inspired by 'Plan's series and by my feelings on wanting to give these matches some spotlight, I've decided (with 'Plan's blessing) to come up with my own series. However, this will not merely be a carbon copy of his work; I will be breaking down these matches my way, which means memes, jokes, section break downs and a little less play by play of the matches. I'll also be expanding the list. 101 matches for WWE was a good number, but with so many non WWE matches out there, I think that number would short change a lot of great match ups you should see. So, I'll be adding another 100 to this one, effectively making this series 201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die. Get it? Got it? Good. Now let's start with the first match. I take you back to 1998, for a match featuring my two favorite things; WCW and lucha libre.
201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die
WCW Cruiserweight Championship Match, WCW Monday Nitro 11/16/1998
Billy Kidman (c) vs. Juventud Guerrera
Billy Kidman: fourteen year veteran (1994-2008) who spent the majority of his career in WCW and WWE. Seven time Cruiserweight Champion (second only to Rey Mysterio), one time WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Champion with Rey Mysterio, two time WCW Tag Team Champion (with Mysterio and Konnan) and one time WWE Tag Team Champion with Paul London. Delivered the greatest shooting star press in the history of professional wrestling. Once portrayed an heroin addict while part of the legendary stable, Raven's Flock.
Juventud Guerrera: twenty three year veteran still wrestling today. Has wrestled for AAA, CMLL, WCW, WWE, TNA and Pro Wrestling Noah among others. Five time Cruiserweight Champion, one time WCW Tag Team Champion (with Rey Mysterio) and numerous other titles. I seriously can't list them all, as it would take me way, WAY too long to finish this column. Master of the 450 splash and the Juvi Driver (the mini version of Vampiro's "Nail in the Coffin"). Worked commentary for WCW for a brief time, where he coined his now famous nickname; The Juice. In addition to wrestling, currently is a super cool DJ, or so I hear.
The Set Up
The story of Juvi-Kidman actually goes back all the way to 1996; as it turns out, Guerrera's first match in WCW was against the pride of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Guerrera would win the match, and to the shock of no one would also go onto win the next several matches between these two over the next two years as Kidman labored in the midcard. Then a funny thing happened in mid 1998. The Flock, the stable Kidman had long been part of, was disbanded after Raven lost to Perry Saturn at Fall Brawl 1998. Almost immediately, Kidman was overhauled, going from the aforementioned heroin addict character (WCW committed to the gimmick so much, Kidman's shooting star press was at the time called the Seven Year Itch. Yup) to a more hygienic, normal looking young man. Not since Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That has someone gone through such a rapid, for the better transformation.
The first night of this overhaul was a complete success, as Kidman was granted a Cruiserweight title shot against Guerrera, who had won the belt a month earlier from Chris Jericho at Road Wild. It was an exceptional match (you'll read about it eventually), and to the shock (and delight) of Greenville, South Carolina, Kidman won his first ever championship with that gorgeous shooting star press of his. He defended it successfully for over two months before Guerrera and him squared off again a week before WCW's World War 3 PPV (Guerrera actually had his official rematch a few weeks prior to this bout and lost). The stakes were bigger this time around. With the LWO (Eddie Guerrero's underrated stable) lurking around the cruiserweight title, Kidman was forced to look over his shoulder at every possible moment. Guerrera, one of the few luchadores in WCW who didn't join the LWO, was also affected, as he was passed over for title shots in favor of LWO members. With Kidman scheduled to face Rey Mysterio at World War 3, this match on Nitro very well could've been Guerrera's last shot for the time being.
What Makes It Special/Why You Should See It
Here's the thing about cruiserweight/lucha libre matches; there's a very vocal section of the wrestling fan base that doesn't like these bouts. The reason is simple; consider the lot of these bouts to be spot fests, matches that have a lot of pretty moves, but little meaning and no psychological basis behind them. This is where I strongly disagree. Certainly, I'm never going to come out and say that a match like Juvi-Kidman had the psychology of some of Jake Roberts' work. But that doesn't mean there isn't psychology or meaning to the match, because there is. You want to know what the psychology is to a cruiserweight match, why they do all the flips, bumps, high risks moves? It's to win. It's as simple as that. It's not flashy, hell it's not even that deep. But it's true; the cruiserweights did those moves (and still do to this day) because, kayfabe wise, it was the best chance of victory. And all these guys had was victory. Victory was the only way to rise up the card. Victory was the only way to get noticed. From that need to win came desperation, and from that desperation came the need to risk everything and to keep going where others couldn't.
Juventud Guerrera vs. Billy Kidman II (and for that matter the other two matches themselves) is the tale of two men desperate for victory. Look at the character Billy Kidman. This was a man who had literally gone past rock bottom. He was a jobber, then he was a brainwashed drug addict. Sure, he overcame all of that, but one slip up, one loss, and who's to say all the success wouldn't go all away? Winning guaranteed his new life, winning continued his second chance. And as for Juvi, here was a man who had faced hardship himself. He'd constantly been overshadowed by Rey Mysterio Jr, Dean Malenko and others over the years. He lost his mask early in 1998, sometimes a death sentence in the world of lucha libre. And by the time this match began, it looked as if it would be his last chance at gold for awhile. Winning was the only way to keep his spot, winning was the only way to not get lost in the shuffle. All of that translated into this match.
The moves from both competitors are quick in succession, high impact in nature, each man trying to hit a home run in order to get the match over quickly. Each time, the other finds a way to kick out, for losing just simply isn't an option. With each kick out comes another high risk move, with each high risk move comes a counter, and with each counter comes another pinfall attempt. Let's talk about those pinfall attempts. As the match progresses, the attempted pins become as drastic as the moves. There are no mere lateral presses, there are no mere hooks of the leg. The two men press down on each other, hook legs while using their elbow to apply pressure to the other's face, at some points even seem like they're willing to stand on the other to get the win. It gets to the point where they make mistakes, most notably when Juvi hits a Juvi Driver, tries to pull Kidman's legs back for leverage and pulls him right out of the pinfall. This moment is a brilliant touch of how this match was wanted, that one of the competitors would try so hard to get a pin that he would actually mess up the pin. It's a great touch.
So is the ending. Kidman, perched on the top rope by Juvi, nails a low blow on Juvi before planting him with a top rope, sit down spinebuster. The low blow is normally a heel tactic, but the match means so much to Kidman and to who he's reinvented himself into that no one pays it mind, neither fans nor commentators (Mike Tenay is great in this match by the way, consistently being sure to highlight how important the match is for either guy). However, it's not enough, as Juvi just gets a shoulder up, forcing Kidman to go upstairs for that shooting star press. Juvi manages to get up in time, knocks Kidman off, and goes up himself for the 450. He connects. Juvi goes for the cover, and here's where brilliance happens. Juvi doesn't just hook the leg. He uses his free arm to press down on one of Kidman's shoulders. He places his right leg around Kidman's chest/head, applying pressure both there and on the other arm. Even after hitting his finisher, Juvi is so desperate to win and so mindful of Kidman's resiliency that he goes to that length to get the cover, doing everything but placing a weight on his opponent. It works, and Juvi gets the pin and his final WCW Cruiserweight Championship. In a classy move, Kidman hands him the belt, they embrace, and the crowd applauds both men. Even though he's lost, Kidman cannot help but respect Juvi, perhaps even understand him.
Now, perhaps you're going to end up watching this match and think, damn this guy is over thinking things way too much. And that may be right; blame my predecessor for that. But even if you take out all the story stuff and just watch it as a match, this is fun. The timing of both men is excellent. The moves are spectacular. The crowd is energized and engaged throughout the whole match. Hell, the announcing is great and, aside from a few outside mentions, keeps its focus squarely on the action. There's a lot to like here without going deeper, and if I wanted to, I probably didn't even have to argue those story points. But they're there, and they are worth mentioning, because (intentionally or not) it takes this already excellent contest and takes it to a higher level. Watch it. Drink it in for the love of all things. Because this match, and the other two excellent bouts Kidman and Juvi had that year are prime examples of what made them such underrated wrestlers and what made the cruiserweight division so unbelievably watchable.
That's it guys! What you think? Too serious? Too long? Just right? It's the first time, so the kinks will be worked out the further along I go I suppose. I'll be back later today, hopefully with a preview of tomorrow's Champions League Final with a couple of friends. Till then, WHAT A LOVELY DAY!!!'