Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Psychosis (1/6/97)

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Mike Tenay sums this match up incredibly well as the competitors walk to the ring: Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psychosis are lifelong rivals, dating back to their being in the same training class in Mexico. Across Mexico, Japan, ECW, WCW, and WWE, the two have had hundreds of matches, and I’m willing to bet that no two encounters are alike. There are better bouts between the two (their feud in ECW likely resulted in their best American matches), but this is a brief flash of brilliance, and I’m posting it, more than anything else, as an example of how WCW’s so-called “vanilla midget” division could, in fact, get a live crowd going.Forget about the initial springboard moonsault that Psychosis doesn’t get much spring on. For the rest of this contest, he’s on point as the cocky counterpoint to Rey Mysterio’s lucha libre heroics, using his larger size and high impact aerial attacks to keep Mysterio to the mat, where his focus isn’t just to pick up a win, but to humiliate his rival by beating him with a lackadaisical cover. He also takes the matches more harrowing spills, cracking his forehead on the guardrail hard enough to snap Tony Schiavone out of nWo-shill mode, and snapping off the top rope and landing on the back of his head after a Mysterio fakeout.

The final sixty seconds, starting with Mysterio’s sunset flip, are a breathless affair, with Mysterio’s handspring to the ring apron being one of those things that looks like it could kill him if the slightest thing went wrong. At this time, Mysterio was a master of such maneuvers, and while age, injury, and the WWE’s love of formula have stripped those away, it’s pretty clear as to how he eventually became a huge star. WCW announcers never brought this up, likely because it was part of Diamond Dallas Page’s Diamondcutter gimmick, but Mysterio’s springboard hurricanrana finishing maneuver was never applied using quite the same sequence. The unpredictability of Mysterio’s work is what drew me to him, and was ultimately the reason I ordered Halloween Havoc 1997 for his Mask vs. Title match with Eddie Guerrero, and not Starrcade 1997, with its Sting vs. Hulk Hogan main event.

Something else worth mentioning here, I think, is the referee. Mark Curtis—real name Brian Hildebrand—was one of a handful of wrestling referees who could actually add something to a match. You’re not really supposed to notice a referee until they blow a call, but Hildebrand, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 1997 and continued working through it until he couldn’t, was so exuberant in his every action that he was hard not to notice. If you look at him during a spirited cruiserweight match, he’s giving the audience cues as to what the big, death-defying moves are. More often than not, the crowd popped right along with him. Hildebrand was so popular that, before his death in 1999, all three major companies sent talent to a benefit show held for him in his hometown, even though he never refereed, managed, or competed on World Wrestling Federation television. His influence is mostly seen in the independents, where plenty of referees, most notably CHIKARA’s Bryce Remsberg, have taken on his affectations. Assuming I find enough footage, I’ll eventually get around to writing about his time as Kowabunga, the wrestling Ninja Turtle. Truly, Hildebrand was a man who could do it all.