Old-school wrestling wasn’t just about getting into the ring and securing a submission or a one, two, three on your opponent. There were times when wrestlers had to up the ante for matches that involved championships or settling scores for long-running feuds. Frequent disqualifications, run-ins and time-limit draws served little purpose for wrestlers who wanted to put the proverbial stamp on a championship run or the finality of a bitter feud. As a result, wrestlers had no choice but to throw down both unique and unconventional stipulations and challenges. Enter the specialty match!
Professional wrestling has a long history of shaking things up from its early beginnings as long-drawn out shoot-fights to today’s television and pay-per-view extravaganzas. Specialty matches provided both promoters and fans alike a tangible mark on a wrestler’s character arc and plight as well as a break from the monotony. However, not all specialty matches were created equal. The following specialty matches are some of the ones we loved or hated during the old-school era of professional wrestling. A few of these specialty matches are still performed in today’s professional wrestling scene and still serve to spice things up for wrestler rivalries and fans alike.
15 Loved: Steel Cage Match
Surprisingly, the steel cage match has been around since the 1930s. The steel cage represented an uptick or a final chapter for a feud that could not be contained under normal circumstances. The objectives of the cage match could be different for each situation. Wrestlers could score a pin-fall, scale up and over the cage, or simply open the door and exit for the win. Sometimes, there could be combinations such as an “I Quit Match,” a chain match or a bunkhouse match. The cage would invariably be used as a weapon with one or more wrestlers being catapulted face first into or grated across the steel meshing. Whatever the case, the cage match provided—and still provides to this day—an awesome visual. Some of the most famous old-school cage matches are Jimmy Snuka versus Don Muraco, Dusty Rhodes versus Ric Flair for the NWA world title at the 1986 Great American Bash and the War Games double-cage matches between the Four Horseman, the Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff.
14 Hated: Valet for a Day (or Night) Match
Save for the Ric Flair and Jimmy Garvin angle over Garvin’s valet Precious, some of these could be corny. The aforementioned angle had it all after Flair beat Garvin for the rights to Precious in 1987: Flair accosting a scantily-clad mannequin; J.J. Dillon getting set-up for a voyeuristic view of the night’s action from a closet; and Hands of Stone Ronnie Garvin’s dressing like a woman. Admit it—you want to go look this angle up for yourself to see what happened! However, that angle is the exception. Jimmy Garvin was involved with another such angle with David Von Erich in WCCW with then valet Sunshine where both he and Sunshine were valets for a day after a defeat to Von Erich! Resultantly, Garvin and Sunshine were forced to work on the Von Erich farm. Not sexy at all! Then, there’s an angle where Scott Levy, Raven of WCW fame, was promised a date with Eddie Gilbert’s valet, Missy Hyatt, back in the late 1980s. Okay, now we’re talking! Unfortunately, Scott received a beat down and subsequent after-school special speech from Lawler about finding better friends than Gilbert. See what I mean?
13 Loved: Lumberjack Match
A lumberjack match is a regular match that has the ring surrounded by a group of wrestlers. Their aim is to keep both combatants from escaping the match by “helping” them back into the ring should they get thrown or fall out. The lumberjacks could be an even mix of good-guy and bad-guy wrestlers or comprised of mostly bad-guy wrestlers to really generate sympathy for a good-guy wrestler. It was inevitable for heel lumberjacks to rough-up the unfortunate good guy wrestler who exits the ring. Additionally, it was certain that one of the opponents would mix it up with one or more lumberjacks and or for all the lumberjacks to brawl outside the ring. Lumberjack matches were the low-hanging fruit of specialty matches—you just knew stuff was going down! Some of the most memorable old-school lumberjack matches are Bruiser Brody versus Kamala in WCCW and The Freebirds versus Kerry Von Erich and Steve Simpson taking place in WCCW during the late-1980s as well.
12 Hated: Loser Leave Town Match
As would one infer by the name, the stipulation calls for the loser of a match to leave town, namely the promotion or territory. Given the myriad of wrestling territories during the golden-age of wrestling, this match was easy to pull off. However, it didn’t carry much in the way of credibility. A loser of such a match would leave town for several months, all the while traveling to other territories and then resurfacing with another angle or loophole to get back in. Or the loser of the match would don a mask, exacting revenge until a promoter “reinstated” the alleged man behind the mask to settle the score between warring parties. Given the limited options in today’s wrestling landscape, this match would be hard to sell unless there was a sufficient angle to support it. A few notable old-school loser leave town matches are Ric Flair versus Mr. Perfect in the WWE, 1993, and Randy Savage versus Jerry Lawler in the Mid-South, 1985.
11 Loved: Mask Versus Mask Match
A Mask versus Mask match is not really about the winner but the loser. The loser simply removes his or her mask upon defeat. These matches worked when fans knew who the wrestler was by obvious physical makeup in popular territories. However, this particular angle had more impact in Mexico’s Lucha Libre and the Japan wrestling scene. When a wrestler lost a mask versus mask match in Mexico, he can no longer perform in the mask ever again. Mil Mascaras, the most famous of all masked wrestlers, was known for the old-school mask versus mask (and hair) matches, never losing any of them. Some masked wrestlers lost their masks due to double-teams and other nefarious means. However, an official mask versus mask event was something to behold and served as a character’s change point. On the tail-end of the old-school era, the best mask versus masks matches can be seen with both Villano III and Jushin Liger versus the Pegasus Kid—the latter being the late Chris Benoit.
10 Hated: Hair Versus Hair Match
This specialty match was either a progression or the icing on the cake for humiliation of a heel. Very rarely did a good guy get his head shaved unless it was by cheating or a mass beat down by the bad guys, whichever came first. The Mid-South area made this a recurring specialty match in the late-1970s to early 1980s with the likes of Jerry Lawler and “Superstar” Bill Dundee. The hair versus hair match later picked up steam in the NWA during the mid-1980s when Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones went back and forth with the clippers during high-visibility events such as Starrcade and the Great American Bashes. The most memorable hair versus hair match occurrences were Roddy Piper’s shaving of Adrian Adonis’ head during the WWE’s WrestleMania III as well as that of Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones back and forth shavings in the NWA. Good for a few laughs, the hair versus hair match was more sophomoric than specialty.
9 Loved: Chain Match
The chain match was a serious affair. Opponents were joined at the wrists by a long chain. The objective of the match was to win by pin-fall or by touching all four corner turnbuckles in succession. Although utilized by several notable wrestlers, the chain match gained distinction from “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff and “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff during their NWA run in the 1980s. Known then as the “Russian Chain Match,” the Koloffs would use it as their signature match to heighten or to end a feud. The Russian moniker was bolstered every time fans saw the Koloffs in interviews wearing and biting down on their chains. Some of the most entertaining chain matches of all-time are Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine (Dog Collar Match) in the NWA, the Koloffs versus the Road Warriors and Magnum T.A. versus Nikita Koloff in the best of seven series during the NWAs Great American Bash events.
8 Hated: Mix-Tag Team Match
Wow, times have changed! Old-school women’s wrestling was something of a novelty, unlike today’s women’s events that are featured angles. You would see a random match on television with the top woman star doing battle with her rival. The storyline or background was usually unbeknownst to both casual and diehard fans. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that women’s wrestling garnered attention when the Wendi Richter and Fabulous Moolah feud took off in the WWE. However, it wasn’t just women wrestlers who were mixing it up in the old-school era. There were times when a wrestler’s valet joined the fray such as the time Baby Doll joined forces with Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A. to take on Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express in the NWA. To put it bluntly, mixed tag matches, especially ones involving valets, cheapened the seriousness of matches.
7 Loved: Three or Four Way Tag Team Match
There could be some awesome combinations as well as opponents for the three or four way tag team matches! One match could have four tag-team combinations competing as seen in a 1980s Mid-South events featuring the Fabulous Freebirds, the Dirty White Boys, the Rock n’ Roll Express and the Road Warriors. Yes, that happened! Or, a match could have an entire faction such as the NWA’s Four Horseman going against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A., Manny Fernandez and Jimmy Valiant in 1985. Lastly, a match could have all random guys on one team. Whatever the case, these matches made for great dream matchups that might not have happened in the individual ranks. One of the best four-way tag team matches—that can be found online—is the Four Horseman—Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Arn and Ole Anderson—versus Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff and the Road Warriors. The 1986 match is filled with significant fan and emotional energy that serves as a reminder for us all that old-school wrestling was an art form. Take into consideration that the match is “television time remaining” and one comes away even more impressed.
6 Hated: I Quit Match
The “I Quit Match” entailed beating the hell out of your opponent, jamming a microphone or referee’s ear up to his mouth and forcing him to say “I quit.” This was a good concept on paper; however, seeing it carried out to fruition was sporadic at best. What was even crazier was the back and forth that ensued after the match between the opponents during subsequent promos: “I didn’t say that,” “Yes you did,” “No I didn’t.” If fans truly looked into this match they would have surmised a tap-out would have sufficed. However, having someone say “I quit,” especially a heel wrestler only added to their perceived and inherent deviousness and delusion. Although the “I Quit” match between Magnum T.A. and Tully Blanchard for the U.S. title sticks out as an exception, there are few other “I Quit” matches that compare.
5 Loved: No Disqualification Match
Simply put, anything goes! These matches were usually the signal that a standard match could no longer contain a feud and that it had to be settled by any means possible. The use of foreign objects, taped fists and even outside interference by other wrestlers was commonplace. What made such matches intriguing was there was to be a sure winner. However that means came about was anyone’s guess given the match’s nature. Nevertheless, there was always a feeling that no disqualification matches was at a heel wrestler’s advantage. At the same time, watching a face wrestler break rules—sort of—was an interesting psychological dynamic and showed the indirect hypocrisy by which fans exercised during such matches.
4 Hated: Handicap Match
These were usually tune-up matches for a big bad guy. Seldom were handicap matches set up for a good guy wrestler to showcase his prowess. The spots where it worked for good guys were when one or members of a tag-team were attacked before a match and only one of them makes it to the ring. The lone member who makes it to the ring in turn battles it out until saved by someone else, the other injured partner or is just beat down altogether to generate serious heat for the opposing heels. It worked well to drum up empathy for the wrestler who was battling against the odds. Although this was a recurring angle employed in the old-school era, probably the most notable and significant handicap match to ever transpire was Hulk Hogan’s heel turn at WCW’s Bash at the Beach in 1996. However, that is a shade outside the old-school era.
3 Loved: Scaffold Match
Holy moley! Before the age of Hardcore and Extreme, the scaffold match was an unheard of way to settle a score. Won’t someone suffer serious injury or die? Yeah, that was the selling point! The scaffold match entailed “throwing” your opponent off the scaffold. If there were tag-teams on the scaffold, then both members of a team had to be tossed from the scaffold. The majority of defeats came by way of falling from the bottom of the scaffold, a shorter albeit still significant drop. The scaffold match was a novelty match born in the Mid-South territory where wrestlers such as Bill Dundee, Sweet Brown Sugar and Dutch Mantel used it to settle scores. However, the matches gained popularity when the Rock n’ Roll Express and Midnight Express feuded in the Mid-South. Then in 1986, the scaffold match gained even more visibility with the Road Warriors and Midnight Express during the NWA’s Starrcade event. This one took balls!
2 Hated: Best of Three Falls Match
These matches could be so predictable. As stated, the objective was to score two falls out of three. Either the good guy—the face—or the heel would win the first fall. Whoever won the first fall would not win the second, thus, setting up for a third and final nail-biter of a match. Depending on the championship makeup of the match and other stipulations, it would be rather anticlimactic for someone to win two straight matches—wouldn’t it? We fans would’ve felt cheated! There was always a feeling that if Ricky Morton or Brad Armstrong could pin Ric Flair once, then why not just take the chance and wrestle him straight up? It’s still real to me dammit! However, that was the point—to prop up another guy as being a legit threat to the champion or top-draw. Nonetheless, best of three falls matches had an air of inevitability about them.
1 Loved: Battle Royal and the Bunkhouse Stampede
Absolute utter mayhem would be a great way to define a battle royal! Wrestlers begin by either all being in the ring at once or entering the ring in a certain order. To win a battle royal a wrestler must avoid being eliminated and being the last man or woman standing in the ring. A wrestler is officially eliminated by being thrown over the top rope to the floor. Although wrestlers seemed to walk in molasses during a battle royal, the event prompted intriguing entanglements and partnerships with regard to wrestler eliminations. Expanding on the standard battle royal, Dusty Rhodes introduced the Bunkhouse Stampede in the NWA during the mid- to late 1980s. These matches featured wrestlers battling it out in bunkhouse attire while following the rules of a battle royal. What made the Bunkhouse Stampede different was that it was no holds barred with foreign objects being allowed in the ring. The winner—Dusty Rhodes won all of them from 1985 to 1988—would win a boot filled with money. Interestingly, the WWE’s first Royal Rumble was in 1988, the last year of the Bunkhouse Stampede.