July 24, 2005
Charles Williams

WWF World Championship
Bob Backlund vs. Stan Hansen
New Japan Pro Wrestling
September 30, 1980
Tokyo, Japan

Stan Hansen is the perfect opponent for a whitebread champ like Bob Backlund -- he's chaotic and marches to his own drum, and in some ways, he's even more of a daring heel than Dusty Rhodes was in Backlund's May title defense, which is reflected in his refusing to shake Bob's hand at the outset. The match starts out with Backlund using what one might now refer to as "shock-and-awe" tactics -- he outmaneuvers Hansen at every turn. Hansen tries to take it to the mat and Backlund has his number. Hansen tries to take a swing and Backlund has his number. A very simple, yet very clear pattern is developing -- regardless of what Hansen does, Backlund is a step ahead of him constantly.

This works well for multiple reasons, perhaps the most important of which is that Backlund looks, wrestles and acts like a champ all the way. Too often, I've seen world champions sacrifice their own credibility for the sake of making their opponents look credible. To Hansen's credit, it's not that he needs a champ to bend over backwards for him -- the very essence of his character is that he takes what he wants, and he makes himself look formidable because he's Stan Hansen and he demands it. In this case, you have two wrestlers who know how to protect themselves and make their opponents look like world beaters without shortchanging either part of the story, and it's refreshing. Another reason the "one step ahead" mentality works is because of the opportunities it provides to do something different with a normally very ordinary spot. They work a headlock extremely well with one especially good spot where Hansen powers out of the headlock and tries to drop an elbow, but before Stan can even drop all the way to the ground, Backlund catches him mid-stream with a kick to the face, which one might refer to as insult without injury. There's an interesting little story with the elbow drop, which doubles as an advancement of the match and a comedy spot, as every time Hansen tries an elbow, Backlund moves out of the way. That's the one move Hansen can't seem to successfully execute, despite having flashes of success in other areas.

The aforementioned "insult without injury" theme is another theme that sees itself manifest in this match. A personal favorite sequence sees Backlund power out of a Hansen bodyscissors by carrying Hansen to the corner turnbuckle, setting him on the top rope and slapping him in the face. This ends up setting off a great brawl, which gets great heat, because it's two great wrestlers in a great match in front of a great crowd. Hansen finally ends up turning the tide by largely using the same mind game, as he controls Backlund with an armbar and repeatedly pulls the champ's hair behind the ref's back, until Backlund is able to bring the offense and he's no longer willing to play child's games. It's Bob's fantastic high knee that turns the tide and transitions the match into the final stretch, which sees some really hot nearfalls with an interesting twist off of a piledriver, sunset flip, inside cradle and vertical suplex. The interesting twist is that both are selling fatigue so well that they're able to work two nearfall attempts off of every offensive move, no matter who executes it. To explain, one would hit a vertical suplex and attempt a cover, the other would kick out and then he'd roll himself over into another pin attempt.

This match is one of logical extensions, and in that sense it's worth seeing. It's not that they're doing anything especially advanced, but they're taking the basics and expanding upon them with a fresh perspective, adding something new to something borrowed or something old, so to speak. There is hesitance to call this a classic, if only because as good as it is, the one thing missing here most is a strong sense of urgency. For all the smart work and great reversals, the outcome is never really in doubt and at times, they do seem to be having so much fun wrestling that they forget they're in a contest. It's admittedly a minor flaw, but not bringing it to light wouldn't be honest. It's the one thing this match was missing, but the fact that it's really the only thing this match is missing a huge compliment. One could also point out the brawl outside the ring and the DCOR finish, which was en vogue at the time, but despite that ending, one doesn't leave this match feeling ripped off, but rather very satisfied.

***1/2, 15:41

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