Retro Wrestle Respawn – Mike’s Top Ten Favourite Matches of 1999

Last week I listed my Ten Favourite bouts from 1998 and had some good fun with it, so I decided to go with 1999 this week as a follow up. This was actually rather difficult due to there being a bit of a premium on decent wrestling matches in 1999 owing to WCW being so horribly mismanaged and the WWF being firmly in the grip of the Attitude Era, where the actual wrestling tended to be the least important thing on the show sometimes. Thankfully I was able to scrabble together enough matches due to ECW and Japan lending a hand, and overall I’m mostly happy with the list. As like last time, please feel free to add your own selections in the comments section below. Please enjoy Mike’s Top Ten Favourite Matches of 1999!

Number 10
Mitsuharu Misawa and Yoshinari Ogawa Vs Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama – Kyoto, Japan (20th November 1999)

These two teams had a number of great matches in 1999, with me going out of my way to try and hunt them down for the purposes of this feature. Ironically the one I liked the best was probably the one rated the lowest by the likes of Dave Meltzer, but I immediately got into this contest the minute I started watching it, as both tandems went at it hammer and tongs for 30 minutes in a gruelling time limit draw as part of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual tag team tournament.

Misawa and Ogawa were always a strange unit in some ways, as Misawa was known for being the top star of the All Japan promotion and generally kept silliness to a minimum in his matches, whilst Ogawa had such a propensity for mischief and outright cheating that he actually gained the nickname “The Rat Boy” as a result. However, chalk and cheese though the personalities of Misawa and Ogawa seemingly were, they gelled really well as a tag team and took part in plenty of great matches together as a result, both in All Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Akiyama had tagged with Misawa prior to teaming up with Kobashi, and he had wrestled Kobashi extensively prior to forming their tandem, so he not only knew his partner well but also his opponent here, meaning that the chemistry between the combatants is off the charts. The match also takes place in a smaller arena in Kyoto, with 1300 fans in attendance as opposed to the 15,000+ All Japan could sometimes get in their main Budokan Hall venue during their peak years. The more intimate setting makes each hit feel that little bit more impactful and the action that little bit more intense, especially as the smaller crowd realises they’re still going to get a great match.

What I enjoy so much about this match as well is that they wrestle for 30 minutes but there is still so much left on the table when the bout ends, which wets your appetite for even more down the line between the two teams. Ogawa is fantastic whilst on the defensive in the bout as well, taking some great bumps for his opponents and just generally being excellent as a foil for Kobashi and Akiyama. This one is a bit of an underappreciated gem and I think it deserves a bit of love.

Number 9
Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko Vs Raven and Perry Saturn – Tacoma, Washington (11th April 1999)

WCW never really got much out of the Benoit and Malenko tag team, as they only had four matches together on pay per view as a team before getting essentially split up when they joined The Revolution with Saturn and Shane Douglas. In fact, Benoit almost tagged as much with Saturn on pay per view in WCW as he did with Malenko, even holding the tag belts briefly with the bald tattooed tough guy. This bout was probably one of the best tag team contests to be held in North America in 1999, with it being possibly the best bout on an already impressive Spring Stampede pay per view card in Tacoma.

Saturn and Raven are great as an heroic team fighting from underneath, whilst Benoit and Malenko are excellent as aggressive villains, with Mike Tenay on commentary even mentioning that they feel like an old school Horsemen unit, which is probably one of the first times you could really say that was the case with this particular incarnation of the group. Arn Anderson fulfils the bad guy manager role excellently as well, taking bumps when required and making pained facial expressions whenever his team are in trouble.

Everyone just turns up ready to go here, with even Raven being motivated (Which wasn’t always guaranteed in 1999, due to the second half of the 90’s essentially being one long bender for Mr. Levy). Tony Schiavone states during the match that “tag team wrestling is back” and it would have been if they had actually kept these teams together and built the division around them, rather than splitting all of them up and sticking the belts on The Jersey Triad. The finish of Benoit head butting a chair and busting himself open has taken on somewhat more sinister connotations on future viewings owing to how things turned out for him though. Outside of that, this match still holds up and is an excellent display of tag team wrestling.

Number 8
Triple H Vs Big Show Vs Davey Boy Smith Vs Kane Vs Mankind Vs The Rock – Charlotte, North Carolina (26th September 1999)

This match would fall comfortably into the “stick enough guys into a match and you’ll usually get something good” category of Main Events. However, there are enough interesting stories and feuds woven into this match that it becomes more than just a watchable multi-man match and actually becomes a really exciting main event. It goes some way to making the Unforgiven pay per view event worthwhile as well, as prior to this match the show is a bit of a meh outing from the WWF.

Bulldog fills in for The Undertaker, who had recently begun a near eight month hiatus that ended with him coming back as “Biker Taker” for the first time, and he had freshly turned on The Rock by costing him a match with Triple H. Speaking of Rock, this was during the early days of his “Rock ‘N’ Sock” alliance with Mick Foley, and their newfound “friendship” is pushed to near breaking point as Mick does his best to avoid the inevitable conflict between them before ironically becoming the first to succumb and attack his partner when the opportunity arises.

The match eventually descends into chaos due to striking referees running down to attack “scab referee” Jimmy Korderas (It will surprise no one that this was during Vince Russo’s tenure as head writer) which leads to Troubleshooting Enforcer Stone Cold Steve Austin laying them all out before fulfilling the refereeing duties himself.

Having so many people in the match keeps the action moving, with it only really slowing down during a brief skirmish between Big Show and Kane, and we also get the mandatory section of everyone hitting each other with their finishers which is always enjoyable. Unforgiven 99 wasn’t an especially great show overall, but this was a really good main event and is still a lot of fun to watch even today.

Number 7
Shane McMahon Vs Test – Minneapolis, Minnesota (22nd August 1999)

Shane McMahon had a very good year when it came to matches on pay per view in the WWF during 1999, especially when you consider that he was, at best, a part time performer. His matches with X-Pac were genuinely entertaining contests, where the young McMahon showed some impressive athleticism and star power. Possibly Shane’s best outing in 1999 was at the SummerSlam pay per view though, as he entered into the ring with the monstrous Test in a wild weapons filled brawl.

Entitled “Lover Her Or Leave Her”, the match between Shane and Test centred around Shane’s sister Stephanie. Stephanie had begun a storyline relationship with up and coming star Test, which had infuriated the McMahon Clan and led to Shane laying down the challenger for this contest. If Shane were to win then Stephanie and Test would have to split, but if Test won then Shane would finally agree to back off and allow their love to bloom.

This match really is better than it could have reasonably been expected to be, especially when you take into consideration the fact Shane was not a regular wrestler and Test was still quite early into his career and this was by the biggest stage he had ever been on. What it benefits from though is that Shane is personally willing to take a lot of big bumps and risks, along with the match having plenty of bells and whistles attached to it in order to cover for both competitors’ individual deficiencies.

Long running story points are also paid off as well, such as Shane’s buddies The Mean Street Posse getting clobbered by Hall of Famers Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco when they keep trying to help Shane out, leading to one of the bigger reactions of the whole contest. This match might have been the peak of Test’s entire wrestling career, as he looks great in the contest itself and gets big time top star reactions when all is said and done.

At its heart though, what makes this match so good is that it’s a story anyone can understand. Whenever I hear this match brought up it often leads to someone saying “oh yeah, my non-wrestling fan friends/parents/partners really got into that match when I happened to have it on when they were in the room because they wanted Test to win by the end”. And that more than anything else is a testament to just how good this match is. If you can hook the same people who often don’t even like wrestling then you can hook anyone. That’s the ultimate success when it comes to wrestling as a storytelling medium!

Number 6
Diamond Dallas Page Vs Sting – Fargo, North Dakota (26th April 1999)

Diamond Dallas Page was a somewhat controversial choice as WCW Champion in the spring of 1999. It wasn’t because he was a bad wrestler in the ring, because as this match shows he was very good in between the ropes. However, at the time of DDP’s win he wasn’t really a World Title level guy, and rather than his winning raising his own stock it ended up bringing the prestige of the Title itself down. DDP still mostly delivered when it came to lacing up the boots, but he just never “felt” like a World Champion and his comparative lack of star power was laid bare when he was put up against someone like The Rock or Steve Austin on the WWF side.

DDP and Sting had actually had a very good match on WCW’s Monday Nitro show back in the spring of 1998, but this one the following year was somehow even better! DDP and Sting clearly had really good chemistry together and that was made clear in this excellent contest, where the crowd loses it’s mind more than once at the false finishes that take place. At the time the WWF was really starting to break away in the ratings war, so having good quality matches like this helped with keeping WCW’s offerings relevant to wrestling fans.

Sadly this match also highlighted how WCW would often take one step forward only to take two back, as Sting’s great moment is almost immediately undone due to him losing the belt back to DDP later in the evening in a four corners match also involving Goldberg and Kevin Nash. This sort of hot-shot booking did WCW little good and only served to reverse great moments, but at least we got to see a great match first I guess.

Number 5
Taz Vs Mike Awesome Vs Masato Tanaka – Villa Park, Illinois (19th September 1999)

Taz had been a dominant ECW World Champion throughout most of 1999 and ECW was hoping that he would remain at the helm when the company made it’s National Television debut on TNN. However, Taz decided that he would instead take up a job offer with the WWF, meaning that he had to lose the belt. ECW head honcho Paul Heyman came up with a creative way of doing this. Firstly, Mike Awesome came out of the crowd at the Anarchy Rulz pay per view event demanding to get a piece of both Taz and the Japanese sensation Tanaka prior to their bout. Taz demanded Awesome be added to the match, at which point Awesome and Tanaka quickly piled on top of Taz to eliminate him.

With Taz now out of the running, he instead retreated to the ramp and encouraged the fans to get behind both Awesome and Tanaka as they went hammer and tongs in a truly exceptional closing stretch of the bout, before handing the Title belt to his successor once the battle was over. This match not only has great wrestling between Awesome and Tankaka but it also has a strong emotional hook with the Taz narrative and it ends up being quite a nice feelgood moment. The only downside is that they didn’t close the show with this match as Heyman was worried the fans might not buy-in and didn’t want to risk the fans booing at the shows conclusion. He should have had more faith in himself.

Number 4
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock – Providence, Rhode Island (25th April 1999)

I absolutely love the video package that is played at the start of this pay per view, as it tells a great story about how Austin and Rock are the two biggest stars of their generation but only one can be the best. It really makes their rivalry feel special, and best of all it stresses how important the WWF Title is to both of them. WWE almost never tries to make Titles seem as important as this anymore. It’s interesting that writer Vince Russo always just referred to belts as props in a derogatory manner, when the reality is that the Title being so important to both men is what made this feud itself so memorable in the first place. It was far more than just a mere prop in a TV show or stage play. It was the reason for both men’s very existence, as well as the reason for them to fight so hard, because the quest to attain that Title meant everything to them.

The match itself is a fantastic brawl, with memorable moments such as Rock filming Austin with a camera whilst talking trash to him, only for Austin to in turn give him a Stunner whilst the camera is still in his hands, in one of the greatest spots of the whole Attitude Era. Like Hogan and Savage before them, Austin and Rock just had that instant main event chemistry together, with their ring styles complimenting each other well and their overwhelming charisma giving their matches the sort of epic and dramatic feel that few others in the WWF at the time could match. The added story of guest referee Shane swearing on his grandfather’s memory that he will ref the match fairly, only to then go back on it actually gives Vince McMahon a valid story line reason to help Stone Cold out for once, as Shane crosses the line even by the duplicitous standards of the McMahon family.

In a lot of ways this is the archetypal Attitude Era Main Event Brawl, as both men go all over the building, destroying anything that isn’t nailed down in the process, and just generally leaving the arena looking like a tornado went straight through it. Funnily enough, the sentiment in some areas of the internet back when these matches were happening was that they weren’t any good because of all the brawling and weapon shots. Indeed, some people would actually keep tallies of how many punches were thrown, as if that made the matches inherently bad. This of course ignores the fact that what made these matches great was the drama and storytelling as much as it was the wrestling itself. People weren’t tuning in to watch Austin and Rock do crisply executed chain wrestling, they were tuning in to see two larger than life characters, and bitter foes, do battle with one another. They certainly got what they wanted with this one!

Number 3
Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy Vs Edge and Christian – Cleveland, Ohio (17th October 1999)

This was the final of the Terri Invitational Tournament, where the winning team would earn both $100,000 and also the managerial “services” of Terri Runnels. During the five match series that led up to this climatic sixth contest (The original rubber match had ended in a draw) both teams had gelled really well together as opponents and this was the logical next step in which to take the rivalry.

This was the first ever tag team ladder match in the WWF, and was incredibly innovative for its time. Both of these teams would go on to raise the bar sufficiently in future clashes (Especially once The Dudley Boyz were added to the mix) but some of the stuff in this match had never been seen before when these four took to the ring. It’s interesting as well how it still has a contemporary feeling to it. You can watch older matches sometimes and they feel like they took place in a time capsule, but you could put this match on a show today and I still think it would get a great reaction.

What I like about it is how the match builds, with every move or spot being one step above the one that came previously. The fan anticipation builds as well, as they start out kind of quiet but are roaring the house down by the bouts conclusion. This is a revolutionary match that was the impetus for a renewed focus on tag team wrestling in the WWF and still holds up as a fun match to watch.

Number 2
Chris Benoit Vs Bret Hart – Kansas City, Missouri (4th October 1999)

This match carries a sad connotation to it, as it took place as a tribute for Bret’s brother Owen who had tragically fallen to his death in the same venue. Wrestling is often quite a sleazy business, to the point that sometimes you feel like you need to have a bath after watching some of it, but sometimes the wrestling business can do something genuinely nice and classy, with this match being an example. Benoit, Hart and WCW didn’t turn this bout into a salacious storyline or a tasteless cash grab. Instead WCW allowed both men to just go out there and wrestle one another in a classic display of technical grappling.

Benoit and Hart’s propensity for sublime technical skills makes this match an engrossing effort, especially as a large part of it is spent on the mat with the two men working holds. It wasn’t the sort of match most fans were used to getting during this bombastic age of frantic action, so it really stood out for being a more classical wrestling battle and I remember really taking notice of that style of wrestling more than I previously had once I’d watched the contest. This really is a great match for many reasons and it certainly deserves to be this high up in the rankings for 1999 in my humble opinion.

Number 1
Rob Van Dam Vs Jerry Lynn – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (28th August 1999)

Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn had a fantastic series of matches in 1999, with the contests featuring the sort of exciting action and slick counters that normally were more prevalent in places like Japan and Mexico as opposed to the USA. Seeing RVD and Lynn do their thing was certainly where I was first exposed to this style of wrestling and I quickly became a fan of it. RVD and Lynn made natural foils for one another, with RVD’s brash and cocky character juxtaposing nicely with the more straight laced and serious Lynn. Indeed Lynn would often look like the world’s most dangerous science teacher when he would wear a death metal themed t-shirt and glasses during his interviews, which set him apart from the more braggadocios RVD.

This match would end up being the climactic battle between the two in their 1999 feud, as they would face off in the famed ECW Arena on an episode of ECW’s TNN show. Lynn entered the bout with injured ribs and RVD was not shy of targeting the damaged section of the body. Lynn does a fantastic job of getting across the pain he is suffering in this match, with his brave attempts to win eliciting gasps and cheers from the ECW fans who are tricked numerous times into thinking that RVD might go down in defeat. It’s a notably different match between the two, as this one is all about storytelling and drama above all else and really highlights how both men were more versatile than they were perhaps given credit for in some circles.

Few matches in 1999 managed to combine great wrestling with equally great drama and storytelling as these two were in this contest, which is why it gets the coveted #1 slot from me.

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