James Storm vs. Chris Harris
TNA Sacrifice 2007
May 13, 2007

Cagematch Rating: 9.21
Wrestling Observer: ****1/4

I have a somewhat predetermined list and order in which I plan to write each ‘Unheralded’ column. So, it was very serendipitous to me when FTR drove Jay Briscoe’s head into the underside of a ringside table causing Jay to spill a glorious amount of blood adding color to their match from Supercard of Honor 2022. The match I have chosen this month features this seldom-used move as one of the many high spots in an otherwise brief match.

May 2007 was the apex of my wrestling fandom as it pertains to how most fans in my age group (late 40s) enjoy the hobby. I had a group of friends who met twice a month and we split the cost of dinner, beer and the pay-per-view fee. There would be a lot of catching up on our lives as well as discussion about the current product. Like so many others, during the Royal Rumble, we had the obligatory Rumble pool where I seemed to always draw Finlay or Festus or some other wrestler who is simply booked to fill a spot. WrestleMania was an all-day event except it was fun compared to what an all-day WrestleMania must be like in 2022. I was the only ‘online’ fan in our group at the time, unfortunately, that would change in a little over a month from when this match took place. I will save that part for later.

I read a lot of books on the history of pro wrestling. I am not so much a fan of biographical works, but a book filled with commentary on important moments throughout wrestling history, will generally be added to my Amazon cart upon discovery (RIP, NJPW Yearbook). I have not bought everything I’ve placed in that cart since I am not interested in having my wife feel about my wrestling book collection the way she likely feels about my wrestling DVD collection. She has never stated it, but I am sure she was thrilled the day I put the DVDs in a closet and no longer felt the need to display them for all to see.  One book I bought upon reading the review on VOW is “Way of the Blade” by Phil Schneider. Phil has written a timeless reference piece that I refer to constantly and have used to discover some truly amazing matches. The podcast of the same name is a must-listen for me every week as well. My only complaint about his book is the absence of the culmination of the blood feud between James Storm and Chris Harris.

This match is in my top 10 and depending on the day of the week, my top five favorite matches of all time. The beauty of pro wrestling fandom is how each match is subjective to the fan. There is not a definitive guide on how to rate the individual quality of a match. I love keeping notes and references of matches and going back in time to see if my opinion changes upon rewatch. This match never fails to keep my attention. Judging by the Observer and Cagematch ratings, I am not in the minority of people who see this as an all-time great TNA match. There may be a justifiable reason why it has been somewhat erased from the psyche of most fans, though. I will save that part for later.

Chris Harris and James Storm, known as America’s Most Wanted, were one of the pillars of early NWA-TNA tag-teams. Their matches were always, at the very least good, bordering on great more often than not. For my taste, their series of matches with Latin American Exchange were excellent throwbacks to great tag-team feuds of the 80s. AMW won many tag-team titles during their run and feuded with every team of any substance throughout the early years of the Asylum and into the Orlando years of TNA. Like all good stories, there needs to be constant movement. Be it of the upward trajectory type or moving in opposite directions, any movement will keep things fresh. The movement, in this case, came when James housed Chris Harris with a beer bottle during an unlikely losing streak by the team. A shard of glass pierced Chris Harris’s eye causing temporary blindness. This story arc was heading for disaster based on the eye injury. I am not positive of this, but it appeared the goal was to blow off this feud in a blindfold match at Lockdown 2007. Widely regarded as one of the worst matches of the year, fans ultimately were treated to an appropriate palate cleanser for this match, a Texas Death Match at May’s Sacrifice pay-per-view.

The mid-2000s is where the ‘walk and brawl’ was perfected. This match structure was a mainstay of the Attitude Era mainly out of necessity due to the condition a lot of the wrestler’s bodies were in and in some cases the wrestling acumen of the wrestlers involved. TNA utilized the walk and brawl likely due to the same reasons but they tended to look better in the smaller Orlando venue than they did in the basketball arenas of the late 90s and early 2000s WWF television. The Texas Death Match was a perfect way to blow off this feud once and for all. A Texas Death Match has relatively simple rules; no rules, no count-outs, BUT the match is only won when a competitor cannot answer the standing ten-count after a successful pinfall in the ring. Pretty easy to follow and makes for easy storytelling.

I remember a lot about the day of this pay-per-view. It was a typically beautiful mid-spring day in Middle Tennessee. The sun was still up when the show started and we grilled burgers and hot dogs for the festivities. There was nothing seemingly special about this day, I just have a gift of remembering most events no matter the size or importance. Just the other day, when doing our taxes, I gave my wife the date we made a considerable donation to a charity by remembering it was also night one of WrestleMania Pirate Ship. I have drunk Miller High Life almost exclusively since the early 2000s when I read it and Pabst Blue Ribbon were the only expressly stated UNION MADE beer in America. I do not drink nearly as much as I did back then thankfully, but when I do, Miller High Life is my elixir of choice mainly as a tribute to my Jimmy Hoffa-loving, union-scab-busting, railroad shop steward dad who left this life way too soon in 1996.

We were in our late 20s and early 30s in 2007 and drinking beer was something this group of wrestling fans had done together since high school. This made James Storm the spiritual successor to the beer-swilling Texan, Steve Austin. Cowboy Storm was a predictable wrestler for us to love to watch. Coincidentally, he was also a regular at a bar in the small town I live in and most of the guys in our group had befriended him. When I became a father in 2002, my bar days pretty much ended so I did not have the honor of meeting the Cowboy during this time. Oh, I did eventually meet him and it was not as great as I would have expected. The night I met him, we enjoyed a few buckets of beers and some laughs. The laughs ended on my part when I asked him to demonstrate, on my chest, a proper knife edge chop.

That is a story for another day but spoiler alert: I wore James’s handprint on my chest and couldn’t sleep on my side for over a week. James’s heel turn was met with a lot of positive reviews among my group. Storm is absolutely fit for the persona of the hated villain. He has a natural arrogance about him while Chris Harris exudes the underdog babyface persona excellently during this run. These men start this match off the way EVERY feud this personal should begin, by punching the shit out of each other and taking the match to the crowd. Remember my walk and brawl comment from earlier. This match is the appropriate use of the trope with the two men utilizing each of their parts with precision.

When I think of bloody matches, this one always comes to mind. Harris is bloodied by a Storm chair shot to the head. Storm is opened up early on the aforementioned underside of the table spot ala Jay Briscoe. The blood in this match is used a part of the story in a wonderful display of brutality. By the eight or nine minute of the match, Storm’s face is painted a thick, bright crimson. If you had followed the story, the payoff was glorious. If you had parachuted in, your mileage may vary on the egregious violence. I feel most people who watch this match with context or without will appreciate the work of both men. In the end Chris Harris gets his vengeance on the dastardly James Storm and his manager, ‘The Pride of Tennessee’ Ms. Jackie Moore. Speaking of Jackie Moore, her choice in headwear will likely cause this match to be removed from YouTube someday. We live in strange times. The lasting image for me will always be the bright red face of James Storm struggling to his feet and gasping for breath.

It is truly a striking way to end this feud.

James Storm would go on to be even more successful in his career forming Beer Money with Robert Roode and being heavily featured in the feud with Aces and Eights as well as holding the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Harris was not so fortunate. Without Storm, he floundered into obscurity eventually leaving TNA in early 2008. While writing this it occurred to me how uncanny the similarity between the careers of the Rockers and AMW mirror each other with each member having very similar career paths. It may have been obvious to most at the time, but sometimes I am slow to catch on to the obvious. Shawn Michaels, being the most successful of the four, but Storm saw a lot of singles success and has had a memorable career while Chris Harris and Marty Jannetty’s professional careers are virtually the same due to never really finding their footing as singles wrestlers. Upon thinking of that, I also began researching this phenomenon among other tag-teams throughout history. There is potential for another series of columns, I think.

I began this column by stating this match and this show was the peak of my fandom as I knew it. There are a couple of reasons for this. One of which may also be why this match does not garner a lot of attention or memories for most wrestling fans. On June 24, 2007, my group of friends gathered for our bi-monthly pay-per-view party. WWE’s gimmick of the month was a card full of Championship matches called Vengeance: Night of Champions. Every title on the line; an easy hook for me. I was a huge fan of much of what 2007 WWE was producing. Upon rewatch, a lot of it stands up today for my taste. Losing Eddie Guerrero in 2006 had an instant impact on the product, but they found their footing and told a few compelling stories to boot. My personal favorites from that period were Edge, CM Punk, King Booker (I know) and Chris Benoit.

Chris Benoit was easily my favorite wrestler from 2004 until this night in June of 2007. When it came time for Benoit’s match versus CM Punk, the ringside announcers spoke of his no-showing the event perhaps due to illness or travel issues. What unfolded 24 hours later changed pro wrestling for me and thousands, maybe millions more, forever. Upon rewatch of the DVR recording of the show, you can almost hear it in the voices of the commentators that they feared something was wrong. Maybe I am projecting or hearing something not there, but it seems that way to me.

I can remember spending the next Monday afternoon on the Observer and Torch websites trying to figure out what the fuck had happened. Then, Monday Night Raw came on and it all became very clear. Benoit had done the unthinkable; murdered his wife, his son and ended his own life in a horrific display of real, unscripted violence. I was numb for several days after that. I felt a similar numbness when Owen Hart fell from the ceiling on live television in Kansas City nearly ten years prior. That numbness faded as my interest level in Attitude Era wrestling faded. This numbness nearly broke me for good as a fan. The next month was The Great American Bash featuring the Smackdown brand. I remember meeting at Terry’s house this month instead of Doug’s. We had always met at Doug’s house prior to this. Doug no showed. A few weeks later, Doug AND Michael were absent. The month after, only three of the six remained.

By the late fall of 2007, I was watching by myself at home where I could only afford one of the two (or three, some months) shows. I would eventually wind up not watching any televised pro wrestling for a year or so, focusing on my way too big DVD collection, renting DVDs from my local mom and pop video store or if money was good, ordering independent shows from Smart Mark Video. I think my story of what happened after Benoit is more common than not. It may also be why this match fell by the wayside.

After June of 2007, pro wrestling was no longer the athletic, entertaining spectacle I had made it out to be in my mind. No, it had morphed into the athletic, irresponsible spectacle which seemingly devoured the minds and bodies of its’ stars in the name of maximizing profits over human life. Watching someone take a chair shot to the head was not something I could watch in real-time anymore. My sensitivity to it has absolutely evolved over the years and I am so glad it is not a common practice in major and most minor promotions. Additionally, I had to grow as an adult and realize it may not have been anyone entities fault for what happened to Chris Benoit. He had his idols like the Dynamite Kid whose style he mimicked. His decisions were his to make and in the end the responsibility rests on him. 2007 exposed wrestling and its’ ills to America at large. Those ills had been exposed through sex scandals, drug busts, overdoses and questionable marketing ploys in the past, but this was different. The collective bitterness remains today, the proof is in how far the bar has fallen when it comes to judging the success of a promotion. In doing so, a lot has changed to care for the performers and to protect them from themselves in some way, my hope is we never have to experience anything remotely like the Benoit incident ever again.

I realize the juxtaposition of writing a column singing the praises of a brutal bloodbath of a pro wrestling match while concluding with a commentary of what the Benoit tragedy brought to the industry is unconventional. As I have aged, I have learned that in order to evolve as a human, it is imperative to be able to ‘walk and chew gum’ at the same time. Not everything in our lives is black and white. Moreover, I have learned most of life is not unlike the hair on my head, mostly gray with flashes of color sprinkled in.

I can love the spectacle and beauty of the story of James Storm and Chris Harris while also lamenting the intense sadness of what the effects of this hobby can have on people and the tragedies resulting because of them.

That is Unheralded.

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