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Monday, January 19, 2009

MY 100 UNAPOLOGETIC FAVORITE WRESTLING MATCHES

#99: STORYTELLING MADE SIMPLE


#99: Raven vs. C.M. Punk (Dog-Collar Match)

I could almost count on one hand the heels more fun to watch than ROH-era C.M. Punk. I would barely need two to count the wrestlers, heel or face, I enjoy watching more than Raven.

You surely see why this match holds a special place in my heart.

This feud exemplified Punk’s gift for adapting his straight-edge gimmick to whatever direction the wind may blow him. It makes an ideal tool for getting under anyone’s skin as an elitist, moralistic, high-and-mighty blowhard. The same gimmick – which, for the uninitiated, he lived before he ever set foot in a wrestling ring – can make him an ideal white-meat babyface that couldn’t be easier to market, with a colorful look, charisma to spare and a positive code of living.

Then there’s Raven.

What Punk is to clean-living, Raven is to the fabled excesses and debauchery behind wrestling’s curtain. However, like so many, he also eventually showed himself to be an underestimated genius of creating a character and telling an engaging story in and out of the ring. He was on par, unfortunately in many ways, with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Rowdy Roddy Piper. Those clashing, polarized personalities set the stage for a feud that wrote itself before audiences’ very eyes. And as workers, these two men nailed the psychology, the story-telling, so well that you forgot you were watching something scripted.

From the time Raven came into ROH, Punk obsessed over running him out. This was HIS house, he believed. Not only did ROH not need Raven’s hardcore circus and debaucherous background – Punk’s personal code and Raven’s rules could not coexist. They had wars. They chased one another up and down ROH’s home turf.

Then came this match. This is how to let a gimmick or stipulation enhance the storytelling. The two eschewed ROH’s signature high-flying, innovative, strong-style offense and took wrestling back to Greg Valentine-Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes-Billy Graham territory.

Two men chained together. Can’t run, can’t hide. The length of chain between them, practically all they could ever need to do unholy degrees of damage to one another. It was the science of simplicity.

Punk came out on top after a sequence that saw ECW alum Danny Doring rush the ring after Punk cut yet ANOTHER scathing pre-match promo, this time calling out Doring, who was “in attendance” (see: plant). In the midst of the fray, in came Punk’s fellow Second City Saint, Colt Cabana, to DDT Raven.

There’s the injury. Here comes the insult.

Punk then tied Raven in the ropes and desecrated Raven’s new-found sobriety by pouring a beer down his throat. One man emerged to aid Raven. Of ALL people, Raven’s oldest and most storied rival . . . . TOMMY DREAMER. Dreamer took down Punk with a DDT of his own, untied Raven, stared him down . . . . and hugged the man like a brother.

Here was the icing on the cake, though. Punk so loved this feud, he allowed Dreamer and Raven to tie him in the ropes and pour a beer down his straight-edge gullet, followed by Dreamer and Raven celebrated to “Man In The Box.” Truly, it was a moment.


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