The Empty Arena match had, until recently, felt like a curious vestige from Memphis and the Mid-South; Wars held behind closed doors, away from the usually rabid crowds, heavy on the claret but light on atmosphere, to the modern fan they are encounters that seem at odds with how pro wrestling is meant to be enjoyed – Live, loud and as passionately as possible.
But for the last month or so, the empty arenas have become commonplace. We fans having no option but to confine ourselves to our living rooms and bedrooms, consuming matches and promos through our televisions and laptop screens. WWE, the biggest game in town, restricted to a taped WrestleMania in a silent Performance Center in Orlando. AEW will go ahead with Double or Nothing next month, but will do so away from the bright lights of Las Vegas’ MGM Grand.
So, as we struggle to generate much enthusiasm for another week of deserted action, worrying for those independent workers who have no idea when they’ll next be stepping into a squared circle or cashing a paycheck, we must remember that, even without much in the way of live experiences to enjoy for the foreseeable future, there is still an almost infinite archive of graps out there for us to immerse ourselves in until all this shit blows over.
What we here at Wrestling Travel wish to do, every weekday until governments around the world lift their respective lockdowns, freeing us from our various anxieties and fear of the unknown like a match official unlocking a WarGames holding pen, is deliver a short, sharp curation of matches, promos and moments from wrestling history that we think you’ll appreciate during these trying times.
A new volume will be published Monday-Friday every week. We hope it helps.
NXT Takeover: Chicago: NXT Tag Team Title Ladder Match – Authors of Pain vs DIY
The curtain may have come down inside an empty arena for Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa’s three-year-long rivalry last week, but it started in front of 11,000 vociferous fans who were stunned into silence.
What played out before Ciampa’s villainous transformation was a main event that a) Further cemented DIY as one of the greatest tag teams of the modern generation and b) Certified AOP as bona fide killers in the NXT tag ranks, further reminding us of how much they’ve been squandered since their ‘promotion’ to Raw and subsequent loss of Paul Ellering as their mouthpiece.
The action here is TakeOver worthy, which is to say it’s more than worth 27 minutes of your time and, this being DIY, features numerous moments where you’re petrified that someone is leaving on a stretcher and never, ever coming back, including the final, shocking ‘after the logo’ turn of events between the fallen challengers. It may not have ended the way we wanted, but the Ciampa/Gargano story started as perfectly as we could have hoped for.
The Fink makes his WWWF debut in Madison Square Garden
We lost one of the greatest last week and it hit hard. Following a slew of WWE releases on Wednesday, the dire news just refused to relent and, this past Thursday, we were levelled by the announcement of ‘The Fink’ Howard Finkel’s passing at the age of 69.
Not just the voice of a generation, but the greatest ring announcer of all time, The Fink was beloved by all generations, transcending eras with a cadence that made even the most ice cold preliminary match feel as important as any main event.
Suitably for a talent of his stature and prestige, Fink’s WWE tenure began at Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, on 17th January, 1976. He would have the honour of announcing Bruno Sammartino that night, the greatest announcer introducing the greatest champion in the greatest arena. Throughout the next three decades he would declare “AND NEWWWWWW…” to an endless procession of enraptured crowds and grateful superstars, having some of their most important career moments crowned with one of the most iconic calls in the game.
So go back to where it all started for Fink and appreciate the work and longevity of a true master of his craft. We will never see another like him.
Oh, and as a little bonus, here’s The Fink returning to The Garden at the 2011 Survivor Series as CM Punk’s guest ring announcer for his WWE Title match against Alberto Del Rio…
NJPWG1 Climax ’92: NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Rick Rude vs Masahiro Chono
Twenty one years ago today, at just 40 years of age, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude passed away in Alpharetta, Georgia, in the midst of preparing for a return to the ring, having spent five years in retirement due to an injury suffered during a match against Sting in Japan, in 1994.
Both Rude’s life and in-ring career ended far too prematurely and one can only imagine the shenanigans he could have got up to during the Monday Night Wars had that return managed to come to fruition.
Only a couple of years before he bowed out of the squared circle as an active competitor, the ravishing one was putting on instant classic, Match Of The Year contenders, most notably in Japan with fellow icon Masahiro Chono, with whom he battled over the then vacant NWA World Heavyweight title.
That year, the G1 tournament would decide who would be crowned world champion, with the final coming down to Rude and Chono. What resulted over the next half an hour made for gripping storytelling between two of the all time greats, locked in a battle for supremacy, back-and-forth accompanied by a chorus of 11,500 ravenous fans in Tokyo, who devoured every twist, turn and near fall.
Dave Meltzer would award the match 4 1/2 stars in his Wrestling Observer newsletter. However, a little over two months later, at Halloween Havoc ’92 in Philadelphia, 7,000 fans bore witness to a rematch that somehow received * checks notes * MINUS THREE STARS. And if that doesn’t sum up WCW in a nutshell, we don’t know what does.
However, we don’t want you to remember the legacy of one of the greats with an all time dud. Instead, sit back and enjoy almost 30 minutes of almost unsurpassed heavyweight brilliance, which perfectly encapsulates every reason as to why Rude will always remain one of the most accomplished heel performers in the history of professional wrestling.
Hopefully, the above choices can help provide you all with just over an hour’s worth of blissful escapism. Stay tuned, as there’s more to come tomorrow and for as long as it takes after that until we’re back to having our tickets scanned, our money spent at countless merch tables and overpriced venue bars and our minds blown by the performers who put their bodies on the line for our own personal amusement. That might seem like a million miles away right now, but we’re hoping our little distractions can help make the journey feel a lot quicker.