Vader vs. Ken Shamrock (5/11/97)
Big Van Vader has long been one of my absolute favorite professional wrestlers, and this, believe it or not, is one of his finest moments in the WWF, if not his very best. If it seems strange that Shamrock’s first match would be against a guy so vastly different than him in both size and skillset, Vader was actually something of the WWF’s secret weapon, as he was formerly the World Champion of Nobuhiku Takada’s UWF-I, a precursor to promotions like PRIDE-FC, which utilized a shootfighting style. Shamrock, the king of Ultimate Fighting Championship at the time, needed somebody with the skills Vader possessed to ease him into an entirely different sort of combat sport, and Vader wound up being perfect. The word “brutal” is often tossed around in professional wrestling (it’s a word I’m guilty of overusing in press releases), but Shamrock not only broke Vader’s nose during this contest, but kicked his leg hard and often enough that the big man from Boulder, Colorado was unable to walk for several days. Not that Vader didn’t give as good as he got, as this clip from the end of the match demonstrates:
As a matter of fact, with the WWE’s courtship and resigning of Brock Lesnar, its possible to make the argument that the WWE understands that and is trying to win those fans back. Both of Lesnar’s matches have, to varying degrees of success, emulated the MMA-meets-wrestling Frankenstein offered here by Shamrock and Vader, and I suspect part of Lesnar’s success (at least popularly, as I’m not aware of the critical consensus surrounding his matches with Triple H and John Cena) since his return is that the now-sanitized WWE allows, at least for the twenty minutes Lesnar’s working, a bit of blood here and a stiff shot there. No matter how unreal the world of wrestling is, it’s that little taste of reality that keeps fans coming back. Were Shamrock able to maintain the big fight feel of this match throughout his WWF carrer, there’s a good chance he’d have been the WWF Champion. Instead, he became a cartoon shootfighter; someone with the ability to be great, but who never quite broke through.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.