One of the better labels placed on the current period for wrestling that I’ve heard is the “Content Era.”
We live in a period where the vast majority of recorded wrestling history is available at the tap of a button and for a cost a fraction of what used to be standard for a single PPV. Long gone are the days of tape trading, sketchy downloads, or crossing your fingers and going to the library hoping they had a wrestling VHS you hadn’t already rented thirty times. Discovery is easier and cheaper than ever, and that’s a beautiful thing, but with it comes its own problems.
When you have the entirety of wrestling history available to you, it’s pretty daunting to figure out where to start. Compared to even ten years ago, it has been our experience that wrestling fans have far less of a shared frame of reference to draw upon. The impetus for this project was a discussion at the Voices of Wrestling offices where a contributor (who I won’t out) that really knows his stuff about wrestling confessed that he hadn’t seen the Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart WrestleMania match. Many of the more veteran members of the discussion were initially aghast, but the more we delved into the topic, the more we found that most wrestling fans who would mark pretty far up the hardcore scale but had come to wrestling more recently had what many of us would feel to be enormous holes in their watching.
“Surely you must have seen this, though?” was the initial response, but the more we thought about it, the less clear that became. There’s more easily accessible wrestling content than any human could possibly consume available to anybody the moment they enter the hobby. While many a seasoned wrestling fan might react in great disappointment at somebody not having seen what they believe to be a keystone of wrestling, how is any newer fan meant to distinguish what the keystones are amongst the thousands of other bricks which make up wrestling’s citadel?
Thus was born the Wrestling 101 project, of which you are currently reading the first entry.
It will consist of a list of 101 wrestling matches we at Voices of Wrestling feel you should have watched. As wrestling nerds, we’ve built up a base of matches that serve as touchstones for how we understand wrestling and often reference or even use as shorthand to discuss other matches. It explicitly isn’t a list of what we feel are the 101 best wrestling matches in history, that would be another project altogether. Instead, the Wrestling 101 project highlights matches we feel aid the most in engaging with wrestling discussion. This list aims to help people fill in gaps, understand why matches are important, and serve as jumping-off points for further discovery.
We hope that any fan joining us on the Wrestling 101 journey will be left with an incredibly solid base of experience, as well as enjoying the ride in and of itself.
As with any list, there’s sure to be debate over what is included, but we’ve tried our best to cast a wide net and gather good examples from all corners of wrestling. We, of course, expect and welcome any and all heated discussions on the decisions made for inclusion. One restriction we applied to ourselves was making a cut-off line at the start of the 1980s. While we would never say pre-80s wasn’t significant to wrestling’s history, at this point, we view it as somewhat of a pre-history to wrestling’s current canon. On top of that, 101 matches is a lot of matches and not many at all, so drawing a line somewhere made things far easier to parse things down. –Robin Reid
Kensuke Sasaki vs. Kenta Kobashi
NOAH Destiny 2005
The first entry into the Wrestling 101 project pits two puroresu legends against each other in their first and only singles match. Heading into this match at a packed Tokyo Dome, Kenta Kobashi was relatively recently coming off of a legendary 735-day reign with the GHC title, which had well and truly cemented himself as the ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Across the ring from him stood Kensuke Sasaki, a freelancer who, at this point, was primarily plying his trade in All Japan. However, he had built up the bulk of his reputation throughout the 90s and early 00s in New Japan where he was a multiple-time IWGP champion.
Before these two even touched, the atmosphere was electric. Once the bell rang, a glorious match unfolded worthy of the anticipation and excitement inherent when two wrestlers of this acclaim face off. It was brutally physical, wonderfully built and paced, and dramatic in all the right ways; the match was everything that makes the King’s Road style so eulogized.
What made this particular match so legendary, and made it stand out from others of its ilk, was a five-minute sequence placed in the center of the contest’s duration. During this period, just a single move was hit by each man: a chop to their opponent’s chest. They went back and forth for five minutes, ravaging each other’s torsos in the ultimate display of bullheadedness. To say they had the Tokyo Dome crowd in the palm of their hands would be a gross understatement; the crowd was utterly enraptured. Multiple times would they enter what appeared a peak of cacophony as they anticipated the sequence reaching its climax, only for the two gladiators to continue their onslaught leading to the crowd entering a period of almost disbelief. They were utterly in awe of what they were seeing, and there’s no doubt in my mind that every person in that building was instantly aware that they had borne witness to something incredibly special, as both the action and the crowd peaked after the 181st chop landed.
Augmented with just a few grunts, yells, slight backward staggers, glares directed at one another, and one or two glances towards the crowd, this sequence proved that with the right combination of physicality, charisma, and buy-in from a crowd, even the simplest of moves can produce pro wrestling magic. The promotion’s style of the era was often characterized by ever-intensifying and extreme head drops. Still, Kobashi and Sasaki went out there and produced perhaps the most memorable and compelling sequence in wrestling history with one of the most basic moves available. So momentous was this display of pro wrestling minimalistic greatness that all you need do is utter the phrase “the chop match,” and not only will anybody who has seen it know immediately which match you are referring to, but more often than not, the mere mention of it will bring a smile to their face.
- Kensuke Office vs. Burning Eight Man Survival – The two titans facing off three years later in an epic gauntlet style match between the two factions that they led.
- Kensuke Sasaki vs. Toshiaki Kawada – Another legendary Sasaki match against one of the four pillars.
- Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama – A Kobashi epic from a year earlier during his title reign.
- WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov – A match which greatly elevated the careers of two wrestlers similarly focused on the humble chop.
The Wrestling 101
- Introduction & Match #1: Kensuke Sasaki vs. Kenta Kobashi
The Wrestling 101 is a Voices of Wrestling group project headed up by Kevin Hare and Robin Reid. You can discuss the series with them on twitter @stan__hansen (Kevin) and @TheRDouble (Robin) or join the conversation over in the Voices of Wrestling Discord.