Right, this has been sitting on my hard drive for about six months now, as I promise myself that I'll finish reviewing it. I'm midway through disk two, and publishing this is my incentive to finish it.
Cactus Jack vs. Big Van Vader, WCW, 4/17/93
Pre-match, Foley puts over the brutality, saying that the match includes his own footage of the match that WCW refused to show, because of the blood. Makes you wonder why Foley wanted to bleed when WCW had a no-blood on TV policy, but there you go.
Let's get this straight from the start – this is not a wrestling match. This is a straight up fight, and if you saw the same thing in the street, you'd buy it as legitimate any day. Strange then, that they opt to start with a lock-up, breaking it with some stiff punches, and then returning to the lock-up. So stiff are the punches that Mick's nose is broken with an audible 'crack'. This is probably a good time to point this out – next time you watch a WWE match, particularly involving any of the Attiude Era main event guys, look at the punches. There's loads of them, and they are essentially meaningless, a way to fill time and to transition from move to move. Here though, they are the essence of the match.
Foley works in the only real wrestling move of the match with a powerslam, which is just enough to take away from the brawling, but without giving a false sense of a wrestling match taking place.
Later, Foley attempts a sleeper, climbing on the back of Vader. Unimpressed, he simply falls back, in a spot that's repeated in the infamous Hell in a Cell. This move shows that wrestling is not the best option here, reminding the audience that this is a fight.
Vader then gets a short period of attempting to knock the wind out of Cactus, something that would have been more effective had it been drawn out more, and actually led to something. Foley is busted open, and maybe more effort could have been made to focus on that, than on his relatively unharmed body.
Vader accidentally knocks down his manager Harley Race, in a minor crowd pleasing moment that had no effect on the match, nor on the participants.
The ending sees Vader attempt to splash Jack on the guard rail (what is that guarding from, by the way – there are no fans in that portion of the arena) and missing. As a result, he's counted out and showing no signs of reaching the ring. As soon as the bell rings, he switches off 'selling' mode, and enters 'mental' mode, smashing up what's left of the guard rails.
Overall, a bunch of stiff, sick punches and minor brawling that isn't held together by the three wrestling moves attempted. Not a bad brawl, as brawls go, but as wrestling, it sucks a dick. An enjoyable dick nonetheless.
Maxx Payne and Cactus Jack vs. The Nasty Boys, Falls Count Anywhere WCW, 4/17/94
Exactly one year after the prior match, and what's changed? Foley doesn't attempt three wrestling moves in the whole match this time – in fact, all four participants manage zero between them.
Normally, to wear someone down, you'd expect a bunch of moves relating to a specific part of the body, leading logically to a finishing move that capitalises on that injury. Instead here, we're treated to weapon shot after weapon shot, until you are so desensitised to the idea of someone being hit with a pool cue that they have to go to extra special lengths. But those 'extra special lengths' are reached many times throughout the match – the Nastys regularly go in for unconventional uses of weapons throughout the match, including using the corner of a chair instead of hitting flat, and jamming the edge of a table into Cactus' face.
There's no build or progression with regard to the weapon shots, and no logical use for them. It's just shot after shot.
The ending has Jack thrown off of the raised ramp, then a Nasty Boy jumping feet-first onto him, and finally a shovel thrown into his face.
File this one under "and misses".
Cactus Jack vs. Sabu, ECW, 6/24/94
This is their first encounter of many. In his preamble, Mick says that it's not their best match. Why they opted to include it is beyond me.
Foley comes into the match with a sore arm, which he sells all the time by letting it hang slightly loose and free. There's other small touches that are appreciated, like lifting himself up with the other arm, and always leading with the stronger one.
The opening sees Sabu on offence, with Cactus doing nothing to defend himself, literally standing and taking the shots. Mick claims that this was to build sympathy for himself, and have people call out for him to fight back. Instead it makes him look like a dumbass. Someone didn't clue Joey Styles in on this, as he talks about how the match is for 'pride' and 'bragging rights', while Cactus stands around being kicked in the arm. Sabu doesn't make the most of it, getting in his vanilla moves before waiting to pull out the spots later on.
This period of not defending himself ends suddenly, when Mick realises that the crowd aren't really getting it, and he suddenly counters a charge to the corner. A single moment or incident that makes him snap would have made much more sense.
The injury to the arm is played up throughout, with it being the target of a lot of moves, including five or so chairshots in a row. For whatever reason, the arm doesn't factor into the finish. Shame, because the finish they chose – Cactus survives a billion blows to the head, including several self-inflicted shots with a frying pan (why would you do that, by the way, even if you can?) – only to succumb to a single shot with Paul E Dangerously's Early 90s Supersize Cellphone.
Sabu attempts a bunch of risky manoeuvres. While Cactus is standing on the outside, still not defending himself, Sabu hits a suicide dive onto both Jack and the guard rail, causing more damage to himself than Cactus had. He doesn't learn from this, though, and attempts a legdrop from the very shaky guardrail through a table. Cactus is down, dazed and not in a position to fight back, so why the hell would you go to the risk of killing yourself, just for a legdrop? Another risk backfires, as Sabu charges on the outside, and is thrown onto the metal barrier. The unwillingness to progress is a real black mark on the match, as the risks get greater and not toned down.
A bunch of spots held together by Foley's willingness to get hit with things, and Sabu not caring about his body do not make a good match.
Cactus Jack vs. Chris Candido, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, 11/18/94
From the start, commentator Jim Ross puts over how Candido is out there without the assistance of tag partner Boo Bradley. I'm not sure why he's out there alone, as Bradley joins him at ringside later on, with no problems. Unfortunately JR makes a comment about Candido being on his own (without Bradley), exactly at the point where Cactus gets into an argument with Candido's manager Tammy Fytch.
Candido acts scared of Cactus early on, taking every opportunity that he can to run away, attempting to get into the crowd. This works well, putting over Cactus' much vaunted unpredictable and dangerous nature, while getting the crowd involved. There's another nice touch, where Candido walks past a fan (who doesn't appear planted, although that may well be the case) and hits Cactus with their cane. Little things like that are missing these days, along with most direct crowd interactions.
Candido's real strength comes from finding Cactus' (I really want to write Cacti there) weaknesses. There's several points where Jack does something slowly, or lumbers into a position, and Candido is already there waiting to capitalise. For example, Cactus gets up on the apron, and is immediately choked on the top rope. A running charge to the corner is easily avoided, but Cactus does something incredible – he learns from this, and doesn't give Candido a chance. Fantastic, but this should be the expectation, and not have exceeded it.
After the running charge is missed, Foley hurts his shoulder on the ringpost. Candido goes to work on it immediately, again showing his smartness. After a couple of moves, it's forgotten by both of them, and in direct contrast to the Sabu match, Cactus uses the 'sore' arm for support when lifting himself, and also punches with it.
The finish seems to come from nowhere, with Tammy bringing out Boo for no reason. A strange miscommunication has Boo on the apron, and Candido runs into him before being hit with the double arm DDT for the win. The hurried finish hurt the match, as it did seem to be going places.
Cactus Jack vs. The Sandman, Texas Death Match, ECW, 2/4/95
Texas Death Match equates to the WWE's current "Last Man Standing" match, but with a pinfall before each 10 count. The pinfall before the 10 count inhibits the match, as there are many moves that would not usually get a three count, but in context are required to allow the 10 count to begin.
This is an ugly fight, and like the Vader match, there's no pretence of wrestling. Cactus immediately goes for a chair, and hits three unprotected chairshots to Sandman's head. That moment is the one that ruins the match, as one of them knocks Sandman out, and from then on he has no idea what's going on. The result is an ugly, silly match with Foley desperate to keep Sandman down for a 10 count. The Sandman can barely even stand to begin with, and manages to botch taking a simple hiptoss. Most of his offensive moves come from simply "get out of the way when Cactus runs at me, and let him hit the guardrail". Eventually he graduates to punching and kicking, even managing a suplex.
A nice early moment sees a chairshot and legdrop on Sandman getting a very small count, so Cactus tries again, this time adding a chair to the legdrop, getting 6. However this is just about the only psychology or intelligence shown, and is a rare brightspot.
Cactus injures his leg, initiated when he misses another charge on Sandman and hits the guardrail. The pain is so bad that he hobbles, and can't even use it to kick. However, minutes later, there's no sign that there was ever a problem, as he casually legdrops on the concrete.
Sandman clearly can't remember the match stipulations, which leads to him kicking out of several pins. This works logically, as the moves wouldn't end a normal match, but it goes completely against the logic established earlier in the match, which says that three counts should come from most big moves. He even refuses to pin Cactus for three, releasing him after two counts, even when it's clear that there was no attempt at a kickout.
Scarily, even in this state, Cactus takes a piledriver from him. A piledriver onto a chair. His head lands at an awkward angle, and is enough to injure him. A silly, needless move, that was far riskier than falling off the Cell, with a far smaller return.
By the end of the match, Foley is repeating the same move over and over in an attempt to get the Sandman to stay down. The frustration in his face is apparent, and even commentator Joey Styles seems to be getting fed up. The finish, with three DDTs onto the concrete is brutal enough to work, but is spoiled by the failed 10 count between each one.
Foley himself calls it a 'trainwreck', and insinuates that he would not have put it on the DVD. Can't say that I disagree, the whole match is horribly slow and has to be dumbed down even more than the average Sandman match to accommodate him. The last couple of minutes are pretty damn funny, though.
Cactus Jack and Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer and Terry Funk, ECW, 11/18/95
Another wrestling match with no pretence of wrestling. Oxymoronic, perhaps, but leaning more towards just 'moronic'. This is literally (and I actually do mean 'literally', and not just 'there's a lot of weapon shots') 15 minutes of weapon shot after weapon shot. There's no build up to anything, and there's not even a focus on the more brutal moments. There's one notable point where the camera is showing the whole ring, while Funk is hitting Foley with a shovel (something I'll come back to), while Dreamer and Raven are hitting each other at the front.
Cactus and Raven are the heels here, but the only difference between them and the faces are that Cactus is wearing an Eric Bischoff shirt. Both teams act the same way, using a variety of brutal, and some not so brutal, weapons. If Cactus hadn't been wearing the shirt, then there'd be no indication at all of any dynamic. This is a big strike against a match that is already just a meaningless sequence of blows to the head.
Funk takes a shovel from somewhere, and hits Cactus over the head with it several times in quick succession. Mere moments later, Cactus hasn't even sold it a little bit. Contrast this with the ending to the Mankind and Rock 'I Quit' match. Foley took around the same number of shots to the head, and the result was sold, as it should be, as almost killing him. Here, it was blown off and forgotten about almost immediately.
Terry Funk knocks out the referee for no reason. The first rule of wrestling states that when the referee is out, someone will interfere, or there will be a pin that should have won the match. A DDT onto a chair from Cactus is enough to put the Funker down for an eternity, Cactus counts Raven's pin, and bizarrely the timekeeper's bell rings. The match still continues, which is odd. Let's take a closer look at this. Terry Funk, the face, deliberately knocks down the referee with a weapon for no reason. Because he does this, he is able to benefit from the referee not seeing a pin. Social commentary on how it is sometimes better to cheat, or a badly booked moment? I'll leave it to you to decide.
One problem when booking a match like this, which features so much violence, is how to book the finish. Having someone go down to a chairshot, when they've taken many already is silly, especially with the lack of build proffered in this match. This is one of the better booked parts, as Raven, clearly the weaker link of the team, is isolated and dropped on his head, while Foley is held back from making the save. The finish is the only time you get a feeling that there was some discussion about the match beforehand, other than "just hit each other".
God awful match, if your DVD player has a "play at quadruple speed" option, then you should probably use it.
Cactus Jack vs. Mikey Whipwreck, ECW, 3/9/96
This is included for nostalgia, as it's Mick's last match in ECW before heading off to the WWF as Mankind. He's the heel, but receives a standing ovation before and after the match. Respect is good.
Whipwreck has an injured neck, signified by a neck brace. This is a neat touch, and gives them a lot more to work with. It's also a clear visual indicator of the injury, meaning Mikey doesn't have to sell as much for the pain to be obvious. However, he does sell, and boy does he sell everything like death. Cactus targets all his early moves on the neck, and Mikey drops after each one. This adds so much more to even the most basic of forearm shots, and builds some great sympathetic heat on Mikey.
Foley works in all of his favourite spots, the Cactus Clothesline, running knee to the corner and so on. It's a nice way of retiring (or so he thought at the time) the Cactus Jack character, and he even busts out the Mandible Claw for what must be the first time.
In the middle, there's a long period where the neck work is forgotten, with Mikey somersaulting from the top rope onto Foley in the crowd. This kills all the build up on the neck, which is surprising as they return to it for the finish.
A strange near-fall that everyone in the world buys as the finish occurs. Cactus tears off the neckbrace, and hits the double-arm DDT for a long, long two count. This would have been an effective finish, playing off of the neck work and Cactus' established finisher, but instead it's used for a cheap pop. With Cactus not coming back, and him going over anyway, they may as well kill his finisher. The finish is fairly similar, with a piledriver on a chair – normally something that would be shrugged off in ECW, but the neck pain makes it work.
There's one point that exemplifies ECW and what it stands for. Cactus stands on the outside of the middle rope, and jumps backwards onto Mikey, who moves out of the way, leaving him to hit his head on the guardrail. Within seconds though, he's back up and punching Mikey, with barely a hint of pain. All the 'Extreme' in ECW came from people just selling less.
At one point, we have a long drawn out bit, where Mikey drags Foley through the crowd, and climbs the bleachers, just to jump into Cactus, with seemingly no effect, before having to drag him all the way back. But OMG HE JUMPED 1,000,000 FEET ONTO FOLEY WHAT A MATCH. Or not.
A fun match, which tails off when they forget about the neck work and resort to brawling outside the ring and in the crowd.
A disappointing disk overall, but I'll print conclusions as a whole with disk two.
Send any comments or feedback to [email protected], and I'll post disk two at some point.
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