If you have been a professional wrestling fan for any time, it is likely that your fandom has both evolved and had ebbs and flows. I watched a lot of NWA and WWF when I first found pro wrestling as a young child. Most of my friends gravitated to WWF’s bright lights and over-the-top production. I gravitated toward the somewhat gritty production of NWA television on TBS. I have many memories of spending the night at my grandma and grandpa’s house on Saturdays to watch the latest goings on with Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and my favorite tag team of all time, The Rock and Roll Express. I don’t want to make it seem like I was already exhibiting elitist behavior by only watching WWF TV through an irony lens. No, I liked Roddy Piper’s brashness, the British Bulldogs’ wrestling style, and almost everyone managed by Bobby Heenan. I wasn’t ever a fan of Hulk Hogan and his quasi-religious bullshit. Even at nine or ten years of age, I knew he was full of shit. This made me the black sheep amongst my circle of friends, something that would follow me for the rest of my life in ways not only concerning the professional wrestling. Reminiscing on my fandom has been fun and enlightening. Looking back, I have learned what parts of my fandom have evolved and which are foundational. I have also learned that I am more optimistic for the future of my fandom through this exercise.

I decided this time around to write about five matches from the five decades I have been a fan.

These are not necessarily all-time classics, but they mean something to me. Thank you for allowing me to share them with you.

The Rock and Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express
NWA Worldwide World Championship Wrestling
February 2, 1986

Just listen to this crowd!

There was nothing on television that could rival a hot pro wrestling program. In 1986, it didn’t get much hotter than the Rock and Roll’s vs. the Midnights. I have watched this match dozens of times, Ricky Morton is a fucking revelation in this match, but the selling by Bobby Eaton is next-level as well. Morton’s hot tag in the last few minutes of the match gave fans the hope that the titles would be staying with the Rock and Roll Express. This was not in the cards on this night. A ref bump and the infamous tennis racket finished off Morton and Gibson. To be truly memorable, wrestling feuds need to be fueled by some manner of hate. This rivalry had hatred in spades. The addition of Jim Cornette’s constant interference made the hatred even more palpable, which made the fans that much more rabid to see Morton and Gibson triumph.

Southern-style tag-team wrestling should be taught at every wrestling school in the world.

Daisuke Ikeda & Takeshi Ono vs. Yuki Ishikawa & Alexander Otsuka
October 30, 1996

Fighting Investigation Team Battlarts. That’s a mouthful. Luckily, this federation was stylized as Battlarts to cut down on the word salad. Full disclosure, I was aware of Battlarts, but did not see my first match from them until well into the early 2000s. I don’t think I will have the opportunity to write about this match or these four men again, so it makes my list.

I am not sure if there is a better example of shoot-style tag-team wrestling than this match. If there is, please send me the link. One of my favorite wrestlers of the last ten years, Daniel Makabe has referenced his admiration for Ikeda and Ishikawa many times in interviews, even wearing Ikeda-inspired gear at the Action Wrestling’s Dean~!!! show this past WrestleMania weekend. I keep a list of matches I need to see, and this one has sat unwatched for a long time. I was reminded of it via an IVP Videos Battlarts compilation I bought. I skipped right to it once the DVD came in and Christ on a cracker is it great. I had seen Ikeda and Ishikawa’s excellent singles matches, but this had somehow eluded me.

The work in this match is world-class. Every one of the participants brings something unique to the table. Otsuka is a hybrid professional wrestler who utilizes traditional work and has a lot of true MMA influence in his matches. Ono exemplifies the young gun spirit and is obviously influenced heavily by MMA. He has a muscle-buster type move in his arsenal that is anything but MMA-influenced and is one of the coolest variations of that move I have seen. Ishikawa is the founder of Battlarts and has some of the most devastating punches you will ever see in a pro wrestling setting. He completely levels Ikeda during this match in a way that would have the ‘concern trolls’ completely melting down. On that note, if you are not a fan of hard-hitting punches and kicks to the head, avoid this match and promotion altogether. Finally, Daisuke Ikeda is the focus of my attention throughout this match. I love watching him in action as well as on the apron. He never stops moving. You can virtually see his wheels turning with each second that passes by, regardless of whether he’s working a submission hold or positioning himself for a tag. Ikeda is the fucking man, Makabe is right.

The Big Show vs. JBL
WWE No Way Out
February 20, 2005

WWE is a dismal product in 2024. The last WWE-related thing I watched was CM Punk’s Chicago return at the end of Survivor Series 2023. I hate what that company has become, and their pathetic definition of what entertainment is. That said, I get it. I understand their appeal. Somewhere there is a fan in their 20s longing for the nostalgia of their youth after the complete disarray of their life has finally kicked their ass.  When they were young and carefree they watched John Cena or Stone Cold or the Rock every week and the feelings those characters gave them have become unrecognizable with time. They clock in every single day at their going-nowhere job in order to pay their mounting debt resulting from a combination of poor decisions and a rigged system built to keep them churning away on the money wheel.

Replace the dates and change the wrestlers’ names, and you would have exactly how I was feeling and what I was looking for in the early to mid-2000s. I had stopped watching wrestling for a time and on a whim I bought a copy of WrestleMania 20 at Circuit City (don’t ask). I watched that show and some of the feeling was coming back. Many of the faces from the Attitude Era were still there but the product felt different. Kind of like how different Master of Puppets feels from Death Magnetic. You know it’s Metallica, but it’s tough to recognize whether you truly like it or not. After a few listens, I put Death Magnetic on my shelf and haven’t listened to it since. With this new era of WWE, I was more interested in really giving it a chance. The DVD era of pro wrestling was a lot of fun for me. I have an entire closet in my basement filled with commercial DVDs, pro wrestling magazines from the last 30 years, and stacks of mid-2010s Observer and Torch newsletters. I cherish these things and owning them well into my 40’s does not embarrass me in the least. For WrestleMania 22, WWE had an internet contest where you visited the site everyday for a chance at different prizes. I checked in every day, and lo and behold, I won the entire 2005 pay-per-view DVD set.

I discovered this match from that set. JBL is a real-life motherfucker who was very good at playing the role of a real motherfucker. His gimmick at this time put me in the mind of the aloofness of George W. Bush and the ridiculous wealth of Jerry Jones. He was a guy I loved to hate and he kept me interested in the product along with Booker T, Eddie Guerrero and ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’. I have never cared for the Big Show. Sure, he’s a spectacle. I am a wrestling fan for the wrestling that takes place in the ring first and foremost. By no fault of his own, Big Show was physically incapable of doing this. This match was a pro wrestling spectacle that I do like. A cage topped by concertina wire and a PPV named No Way Out definitely piqued my curiosity. Ruthless Aggression Era WWE didn’t squirm at the site of blood as evidenced by the first few minutes of this match. Both wrestlers are bloodied early on, the wire comes into play in a satisfying way. JBL’s troupe of idiots attempt to break him out, the ref throws them out. You have seen this all before, probably even executed better. But, for me this match represents an important time in my fandom and life. The same way Bron Breaker is probably captivating some downtrodden 20-something-year-old right now.

Kevin Steen vs. El Generico
PWG Steen Wolf
October 22, 2011

Oh, how I long for the ‘heady’ days of the 2010s. My life finally started kicking real ass. I found my groove as a dad and husband. I changed careers and haven’t looked back. My fandom kicked into a whole new gear. I placed regular orders for DVD’s from Highspots and Smart Mark Video. I read the Observer and listened to the Torch daily. I stumbled upon the Death Valley Driver Video Review archives. I found Voices of Wrestling. Looking back, it really was a great time for me to be a fan. The independent scene was exploding with talent. CM Punk made Colt Cabana and Ring of Honor famous with one sentence uttered on national television. Bryan Danielson was unceremoniously fired from WWE for some dumb shit. He then went on a tour of the indies that may have been an inspiration for a certain blond with a terrible neck tattoo some years later.

During this time, independent federations across the country had national credibility, but none had the buzz of Southern California’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Their cards always seem stacked and because of that, it was tough to find a good point to parachute in. Little did I know, I could have picked any point to start and would have been just fine. I bought a used copy of PWG’s first compilation at a local used bookstore. What I saw was revelatory for me at this time in my life. The matches were all great in one way or another. There was high flying, mat work, plunder and any other type of pro wrestling you could desire. I immediately started paying attention to them. At a marathon ROH TV taping at the Nashville Fairgrounds, I visited the Highspots table and bought two DVDs: PWG Steen Wolf and ROH’s Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk collection. Two of my favorite releases of all time. This purchase made up for the three Romantic Touch matches I had to sit through that night.

Watching El Generico and Steen work baffles the mind. Styles make fights, they say. But this works in a way that only happens when two guys trust each other inherently. Much like Ikeda and Ishikawa from earlier, these guys are best friends and must trust each other implicitly. The spots in this match are some of the most treacherous you will ever see. There is a top rope brain buster (I don’t know the names of the moves) that is seared in my brain. I don’t know how these guys are functioning as members of society in 2024 let alone two of the best wrestlers on the Planet. The 2010’s gave us endless streaming capabilities, playful Twitter discourse and the end of brick-and-mortar media stores. It gave us great things too, though. This match is just the tip of the iceberg of all the great stuff the 2010’s has to offer.

Eddie Kingston vs. Jun Akiyama
AEW Full Gear 2022 Zero Hour
November 19, 2022

Eddie Kingston is my favorite wrestler to watch. Not bell to bell, whatever that means. I mean from the moment he enters the arena he needs a separate feed that follows him. His charisma is one of a kind. He wears his influences literally on his straps. The true emotion that exudes from this man does nothing but help with the necessary suspension of disbelief when immersing yourself in this hobby. The King’s Road style fits him like a glove and Tony Khan has given this man the opportunity to live out his dream of wrestling some of his idols.

I believe Jun Akiyama would be the Fifth Pillar of Heaven if there was such a thing. He is the living, breathing manifestation of a bygone era. Watching Kingston cry his way through this match is so relatable. The real reverence he shows throughout the match and especially after is a sight to behold. As I have aged, I find myself taking Coach Valvano’s advice whenever the opportunity presents itself. Not being fearful of showing true emotion, not just the extremes, is something that I have had to work on. Being vulnerable is not easy, it requires more guts I ever thought. Eddie is one of the gutsiest motherfuckers in the history of professional wrestling and watching him work with Akiyama is a joyful experience. When I voted for match of the year in 2022, this match made my list with ease, it has stuck with me since the day it happened.

And it happened on a pre-show! Let that sink in.

What a time to be alive!