Welcome to the third installment of WWE Through the Cracks, a weekly look at the superstars, matches and moments that deserve a second look.
This week's focus is on a match that every match since should aspire to emulate, featuring two superstars who left way too soon.
A Match that Fell Through the Cracks: Owen Hart vs. The British Bulldog for the WWF European Championship in Berlin, Germany (March 3, 1997)
To be fair, this match has received much critical acclaim; it is considered to be one of the greatest RAW matches of all time by many diehards and Internet wrestling fans, and rightly so. As easy as it can be to look back at the work of a deceased talent through rose-colored glasses, this match warrants no sympathy and no charity. Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith deserve all the accolades based on their performance alone. Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to include this match as a part of this series, not so much because it is underrated necessarily, but because it is easy for the incredible performances here to be overshadowed by the knowledge of these two men's tragic fates.
If there exists some form of "wrestling orientation," where young guys who have finally made it to the big leagues must learn the ropes, I am confident that this match is screened, and the aspiring superstars are given one instruction: take notes.
With the allure of becoming the WWF's first-ever European Champion, Owen Hart and The British Bulldog squared off in an absolute wrestling clinic, demonstrating incredible technique, flash, charisma as well as the lost art of using a match to tell a story.
The two combatants were reigning tag team champions, as well as public brothers-in-law, and this factor is demonstrated beautifully and effortlessly throughout, as the two perform numerous counters and reversals. The back-and-forth action is highlighted by incredible feats of athleticism and agility as Owen and Davey trade wrist-lock reversals. Without saying a word, the two men are able to convey the familiarity with each other while slowly allowing their competitive natures to creep in, as what starts off as a fun showcase turns to an intense encounter.
At the time, both men were working as heels, yet they slipped effortlessly into their roles, with Davey taking the part of the face, the German crowd recognizing his European roots, and Owen playing the villain. Nothing was heavy-handed, nothing was forced or awkward. The two men were able to convey so many important pieces of information, using nothing more than their bodies, their wrestling skill and their charisma.
The pacing is fluid and engrossing. There exists few matches that are more fun to watch and re-watch while providing no cheap thrills, no weapons, no blood, no backflips, etc. This is a testament to the crispness of each man's movement. There is no wasted motion, no lazy execution. In this battle of speed vs. power, Owen brings the snap while Davey Boy brings the commanding presence, and the mixing of styles is a treat to watch. Things like a crucifix pin attempt by Davey Boy are made to look so textbook simple.
Keep an eye on the pop in every move that Owen makes, including his picture perfect German suplex. And is it just me, or is that not the greatest sounding mat of all time? Can we find a way to go back to the time where mats sounded like that? Please?
All in all, a truly professional match. As sad as it is to see two guys who lost their lives so prematurely, the quality makes it all the more difficult to stomach, seeing the talent that was lost along with them.