Hello, my fellow wrestling geeks, and welcome to the inaugural edition of the Hidden Gems. My name is Paul Wishart and every Monday I’ll be reaching back into the past to bring one great match that, for whatever reason, has been lost to wrestling history. For while everyone remembers legendary matches such as Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin vs. The Rock and Melina vs. Alicia Fox, there’s also are a litany of minor classics that deserve as much attention. This column aims to unearth these hidden gems and allow you the chance to experience some classic matches you may otherwise have missed!
This week we’ll be going back to WWE 2005 for a nifty little cage match between two HOFers:
Ric Flair (c) vs. Triple H, Steel Cage Match for the Intercontinental Championship. Taboo Tuesday, November 1st 2005.
The Build Up: About four months prior, HHH had ended his feud over the World Heavyweight Championship with Dave Batista in a losing effort within Hell In The Cell. With their feud concluded, Batista got drafted to Smackdown and HHH took a 4-month hiatus to recover from some nagging injuries. In the meantime, Ric Flair had began to strike out as a singles competitor, turning face to aid HBK on RAW and managing to capture the Intercontinental Championship from Carlito the month prior.
Triple H returned on the October 3rd edition of RAW, siding with Flair to defeat Carlito Caribbean Cool and Chris Masters. Although they seemed to be on the same page, the segment ended with HHH turning on his mentor, smashing Flair over the head with a sledgehammer in a vicious, unprovoked assault. Next week, HHH came out and explained himself, claiming that while he used to respect and worship Ric Flair, he was ashamed seeing what had happened to him in his absence. Having watched Flair celebrate managing to hit a simple clothesline at Unforgiven (an awesome moment), he felt Ric had lost his magic and that he had to be the one to ‘take the old horse out behind the barn and pull the trigger.’
From there, the match was set for Taboo Tuesday with the IC championship on the line seemingly as a formality. And while the fans got to vote for the stipulation (either ‘1 fall to a finish’, submission or cage match), Flair came out on the October 24th RAW, begging the fans to vote for a cage match. And so it came to be.
The recap: The match starts with HHH on the turnbuckle, metaphorically and literally looking down at Ric Flair as he makes his entrance. The bell sounds and after some trash talking they lock up. HHH pushes Flair back into the corner, but Flair ducks a punch and lands a vicious chop. That seems to phase HHH somewhat. More trash talk from Flair and they lock up again. This time Flair blocks a punch, responds with some of his own. He chops THROUGH HHH, almost backing him into the corner. HHH punches back but Flair outfights Hunter, laying in some stiff punches before knocking him to the mat with another vicious chop. Flair adds to the “Woos” heard through the crowd. HHH manages to reverse an Irish Whip and catches Flair with a high knee to the face. HHH forces Flair back into the corner again, beating him down with shots to the head and then choking him with his boot. Another series of harsh chops from Flair out of the corner but another Irish Whip is countered into an Arn-esque spinebuster by HHH.
More punches to Flair as he hangs on the bottom rope. HHH then grabs Ric’s head and rams into the steel cage, busting him open. Flair tries to fight back with a chop but it seems to lack the strength he had before. HHH responds by ramming him into the steel cage again. Snapmare by HHH before dropping a knee right on the bloody head of Flair. HHH rakes Flair’s face against the cage wall before splashing him against it. Flair is screaming out in pain throughout all this, his hair starting to get dyed red. HHH with some hard punches, right into the forehead, before dropping another knee. “Let’s Go Flair” chant breaks out as HHH rams him into the cage a third time. HHH mockingly waves goodbye to Flair and starts to calmly climb up the corner of the cage. Flair catches him on the top rope, exchanging chops and headbutts with HHH. A double punch knocks them both off, crotching themselves on the top rope.
Flair falls to the mat but HHH composes himself and tries climbing again. Instead of escaping, he grabs a chain from the top of the cage, wraps it around his fist and climbs back onto the turnbuckle. He tries a fist drop, but Flair catches him with a foot to the face. HHH does the Flair Flop. Flair is about 0.9 Muta at this point but comes back with some more chops. Shin-breaker and Flair goes for the Figure 4 but HHH catches pops him in the head with the chain. First cover of the match gets 2 for HHH. HHH with the chain-laden fist drop to the head. “OH GOD! JESUS CHRIST!” – Flair. The referee manages to get the chain away from HHH, throwing it outside of the cage. This draws boos from the crowd, blood-thirsty animals that they are. HHH slaps Flair a few times, adding some more hard punches to the forehead. Flair tries to back off but HHH punches him down in the corner. Flair Flop now by Ric, whose head is now completely dyed blood red. Knee drop to the back of the head by HHH.
HHH mocks Flair, imitating his trademark strut before locking in the Figure 4! Flair is screaming in pain as HHH lays back in the Figure 4. A few attempts to grab Hunter are swatted away as HHH wrenches back. “I’ll kill you!” Flair shouts as he desperately tries to fight it off. HHH manages to get a few 2 counts off of this. Ric fights through the pain, “woo”ing angrily at Hunter and flipping him the bird. Flair fights to turn the Figure 4 over but HHH turns that over and they both get to the ropes. Flair is lying prone on the mat as HHH stalks him. HHH drags Flair to the middle of the ring by his leg. He does some more Flair mannerisms, looks to hook in the Figure 4 again but Flair counters, kicking HHH headfirst into the steel cage! Flair finds his second wind as we see that HHH is busted open. Flair viciously launches himself at HHH, biting at the forehead and chopping him before sending him headfirst in the cage again.
Flair chops HHH down again before grabbing a headlock and punching HHH right on the forehead cut. More biting by Flair and he sends HHH into the cage for a third time. Flair rakes HHH’s face into the cage before repeatedly bouncing Hunter’s head off of it. Flair fishhooks HHH as this has broken down into a dirty fight. Another deep chop knocks HHH to the canvas. Flair hits a rough stalling vertical suplex and a knee drop to the head. And another as HHH’s face becomes a crimson mess. Flair adds some more chops and punches, holding onto HHH’s arm to keep him upright. Flair starts to target the knee, first with a chop block and then a few stiff kicks. Flair drops HHH’s kneepad and starts punching at it. Flair drags HHH off the ropes by the knee pad and chops him down once again. Another chop block as HHH is finding it difficult to stand. More elbow drops and kicks to knee.
At this point, both men are absolutely saturated in blood. Flair hits a few more shots to the knee before locking in the Figure 4! The fans erupt as HHH frantically writhes around in pain! Like earlier, Flair manages to get a 2 count as Hunter desperately tries to fight off the Figure 4. Flair flips him off a few more times and pulls him back into the centre of the ring. Flair keeps trash talking HHH as punches at the bad knee. HHH is finally able to break the hold by grabbing the referee and throwing him over Flair. HHH looks severely beaten down here. Flair manages to get to his feet and drops another knee, this time onto HHH’s bad knee. Flair looks to escape the cage via the corner but HHH catches him on the top rope. Flair with the eye-rake and hit his now patented flying clothesline from the top! Cover by Flair gets a very close 2.
Flair woos, drops to his knees and nails the Greco-Roman nut shot. About 48% of the audience get sympathy pains. Flair looks to escape the cage but HHH catches him by the legs. HHH drags him back in, along with a steel chair Ric grabbed on the outside. HHH stomps on the chair, injuring Flair’s hand. HHH has the chair now and stalks Ric but Flair counters with the Testicular Claw! Flair wrenches in the hold onto HHH’s meat and two veg, using that to hold him up while chopping away at his chest. Flair sends HHH into the ropes, ducks down for the backdrop. HHH tries to catch him with the Pedigree but Flair counters into the Back Body Drop, right onto the steel chair! Flair with the chair and nearly drives it through HHH’s head! Flair smacks HHH in the head again, dropping Hunter to his knees. A third one and HHH just crumples into a bloody mess on the canvas. It’s academic from there as Flair crawls towards the door and out to the floor!
Ric Flair (c) defeats HHH via escaping the cage @ 23:47.
Why has this been forgotten?: There’s a few reasons I believe this match has flown under the radar. Firstly, considering there’s about 50-60 years worth of in-ring action between the two of them there will always be some feuds and matches that get neglected. I mean, the list of classic matches and rivalries that Ric Flair alone has had would take up several columns, never mind the forgotten ones. Secondly, this feud was sandwiched between two more significant milestones for HHH: The breakup of Evolution (earlier in 2005) and the reformation of DX (mid-2006), meaning his work between then is overlooked. Thirdly, Flair’s post-Monday Night War career seems to be taken for granted these days. Everyone remembers the classic retirement match with HBK but his work in Evolution and beyond seems to get ignored when referencing Flair’s in-ring career. True, he wasn’t quite the Flair of old, but he knew how to play to his strengths and put on an entertaining performance more often than not. No 5-star classics, but you rarely came away disappointed from a Flair match around that time. That counts doubly for his IC title run, one of the highlights of the title’s history in the mid-naughties, though the importance of the title was clearly a distant 2nd to the rivalry between the two.
Why shouldn’t it be forgotten?: It’s a textbook example of old school booking for a modern audience. As you can see from the recap, there was hardly any wrestling moves to call, outside of the occasional Figure 4. Just two men, in a cage, punching, clawing and chopping the holy hell out of each other in order to gain a victory. HHH arrogantly wanting to put Flair out of his misery, Flair fighting for his pride and to prove he’s still the man. It feels like you are watching two people genuinely fight each other, adding an immersion that’s often missing with the overly-choreographed nature of modern wrestling. This is encapsulated perfectly with the ending: There was no fancy finish, there were no clever counters or a catch-as-catch-can style dash at the end, there wasn’t even an escalation in the violence. It was just Flair, having gutted it out through all the punishment Hunter could dish out, out-fighting his younger rival. He clobbered Triple H about the head with a steel chair then simply walked out, his point proven. HHH went in thinking he was going to quickly and easily bury his idol, but this allowed Flair to catch him unaware and beat him down. A classic story, executed perfectly and one that every fan should see.
And, frankly, if you can’t appreciate a bloodied man grabbing another bloodied man by the balls and chopping him to death in a steel cage, maybe professional wrestling isn’t for you.
So, that’s the first edition of The Hidden Gems, thanks very much for reading! Be sure to check out this match and leave a comment, send me a Tweet or email me your compliments, criticisms, hopes and/or dreams at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any suggestions for matches you think deserve more recognition, please send them on. I’ve got a shortlist of matches I’m looking to work through in the next little while but am happy to sidetrack for any interesting suggestions.
Until next week, I’ve been Paul Wishart.