There are countless gimmick matches in WWE, and good (and bad) ways to book all of them.
At the next Smackdown-branded PPV entitled (deep sigh) Great Ba…oh, hey – It’s called Battleground! What a day to be alive. Anyway, at Battleground the WWE Championship will be decided in a Punjabi Prison match. Not seen for 10 years (because it was garbage), the match’s titular structure is essentially a two-tiered cage made of bamboo that the competitors must escape in order to win. The bout was proposed by current WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Oh, I get that the writers need to stall until Cena’s back in the world title scene and the real summer programs begin, and this being the second time they’ve had a champion of Indian descent means they can now re-run all the things they tried with the first; but the central logic of a cage match doesn’t work in Jinder’s favor here. You see, unlike the Great Khali, Mahal is a cowardly heel who wins all his matches (even those against relative scrubs like Luke Harper) via interference from his stooges, the Singh Brothers. The cage stipulation, as it is designed to do, makes it harder for others to interfere in the match, meaning the Modern Day Maharaja is going to be stuck in a rattan shack with a guy who–by all measures but novelty–is the superior wrestler. It literally hinders Jinder.
This is only the most recent example of WWE’s booking team failing to understand the entire point of a gimmick match, which got me to thinking: How do you book a proper gimmick match in the modern wrestling landscape? Fortunately, as a know-it-all smark, I have no shortage of opinions on how best to book wrestling matches. Here are the Best – and Worst – ways to book 10 Gimmick Matches.
1). The “First Ever” Match
What it is: This one is not actually a stipulation, but given the WWE’s hard-on for labeling everything they do as “the first ever ____” lately, I felt it important to touch on this one.
The Point: To create a moment of some historical significance.
Do’s: A match billed as the the first time for something should be treated with heft and significance. This means claiming something like the “first time they’ve faced each other on a Smackdown since it moved to Tuesday” shouldn’t be given the “first ever” distinction, whether it’s technically true or not. If you feel the note to highlight the fact that this is the first time we’ve ever seen this matchup, whether it’s a new title being introduced, a major superstar’s debut, or the end of a tournament it’s also important to book a finish with gravitas that will have people talking. That doesn’t mean a feel good ending is required, we just need something worth talking about the day after the event.
Don’ts: I was tempted to say the worst thing you could do is book an ordinary finish that just feels flat and uninteresting (Roman wins LOL), but after the first ever Women’s Money In the Bank ladder match, the worst thing you could do is taint the legacy you’re trying to build for this momentous occasion. It’s hard to think of booking more tone deaf than having a man win your “revolutionary women’s match,” admittedly, but if there’s anyone that can do worse, it’s the WWE creative team.
When they got it right: CM Punk Vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2013 was the first time those two mega-stars ever faced off, and it felt suitably grand. Both guys had a ton of momentum heading into the bout–Brock as the unstoppable monster, Punk as the valiant underdog looking to slay the beast–and both put on a hell of a performance. Brock got the win, but Punk looked like he could hang with the monster every step of the way.
When they got it wrong: Brock Lesnar Vs. Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX, on the other hand, had a decent enough build, only to crumble under its own execution. Now it could partly be blamed on the fact that both fellas were leaving the company after the match (which the crowd was none-too-happy about), and it could be the fact that Goldberg can’t work a match that’s longer than five minutes, but whether it was the performers or the booking, this match just couldn’t live up to the hype.
2). Squash Match
What it is: Also called an “enhancement match,” squash matches see an upper- or mid-card wrestler face off and destroy a lesser-known talent in a short, mostly inconsequential matchup. Usually these undercard schmos are local wrestlers or developmental talents who get in little to no offense against an established performer who probably doesn’t have a storyline to work with at the moment.
The Point: To give the established star a strong, convincing win on TV.
Do’s: There are basically two ways to do this kind of match. If your established star is a heel they should utterly dominate the jobber, take no offense and sneer at the crowd the whole time. They should come away looking like an absolute unbeatable monster. If the star is a face, however, they can (and should) take SOME punishment to show their resiliency in the face of adversity. That being said, they should still hit all their signature moves and beat this jabroni in short order.
Don’ts: There are two big things this match cannot be: long and competitive. A long squash is just boring. Even if the the better-known wrestler has an exciting offense, it gets tedious to watch a completely one-sided ass kicking at a certain point. Meanwhile, if the match is too competitive it has the opposite of its intended effect. If your big name star has to struggle to beat some no-name jamoke, he/she is going to look like a chump going against your champion.
When they got it right: Braun Strowman’s destruction of James Ellsworth is the rare squash match that managed to get both guys over. For one, the size differential between these two tells all the story you need, but Ellsworth’s sheepish demeanor and feeble offense only made the beating more compelling. Watching the match, you can clearly see how much of a monster Braun is, and everything he does looks deliberate and devastating. Ellsworth, for his part, is immensely sympathetic as the most under of underdogs.
When they got it wrong: After getting his lunch eaten by Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014, John Cena rebounded by absolutely murdering Bray Wyatt on Raw. This presents the third, and least often seen (from smart bookers at least) ‘don’t’ of Squash matches – don’t squash performers you hope to push in the future. Bray Wyatt was an upper mid-card heel with long programs against major stars like Cena, the Undertaker, and Chris Jericho, and though his win/loss record (still) isn’t what you’d consider favorable, he shouldn’t be used as enhancement talent. Yes, Cena is a once-in-a-generation performer who will be at the top of the card until he decides to hang it all up, so losing to him isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Losing to him this decisively, however, drove Wyatt’s credibility into a downward spiral that the talented third-generation performer has never fully recovered from.
3). Handicap Match
What it is: Occasionally, feuds will involve a superstar taking on more than one opponent at a time. Whether it’s two-on-one or even more skewed, these matches typically are set up to flip a power dynamic between the wrestlers. Sometimes these are set up as punishment by vindictive authority figures, sometimes they’re the result of a challenge–but the end result is a purposeful mismatch.
The Point: To put over the strength/valiancy/perseverance of the outmatched party.
Do’s: Unless it’s a squash match designed to show that a monster heel is more than one man can handle, the outmanned wrestler should always be a resilient babyface. The numbers game should always keep them in peril, and though they should look strong throughout the match, they should eventually lose to the larger numbers. Oh, there should definitely be some near falls that make it look like our hero may pull off the upset, but unless you want the opposing team to look like total mooks, two trained fighters should typically be able to defeat one.
Don’ts: For the love of god, don’t have two faces go up against a non-monster heel. It becomes a lose-lose situation. If the faces win it took two of them to beat one normal guy; if they lose, then they couldn’t even win in a 2-on-1 scenario. Similarly, if you are going to make the outmanned competitor win the match, it has to be via some kind of trickery or flukey circumstance. Having a face dominate more than one opponent at the same time does more than just bury the heel team, it paves over them and puts up a parking lot. There’s virtually no coming back from that kind of defeat.
When they got it right: In 2013, there was no team hotter than The Shield. Despite being heels, these guys were pushed to the moon as an unstoppable force capable of standing toe to toe with any superstar on the roster. In September of that year, the Swat-vested trio took on 11 members of the WWE roster that they had beaten down in previous weeks. The result? An awesome Raw main event that put over all three Shield members as special talents, even in their first conclusive defeat. Through some underhanded tactics and legit teamwork, the heels managed to take out a number of their opponents before being handed their first L by overwhelming numbers. This match also marked Roman Reigns’ first pinfall defeat on the main roster, which was treated like a major accomplishment at the time, putting over Reigns, Daniel Bryan and the Usos all at the same time.
When they got it wrong: While I could cite more recent examples like Roman Reigns’ dissection of the then-tag-champs Gallows and Anderson, or Dolph Ziggler beating down the charisma-deficient duo of Apollo Crews and Kalisto, the absolute worst abuse of a handicap match stipulation comes from a 2008 Raw, where the indomitable team of John Cena and Randy Orton beat most of the active roster, heel and face alike, in a single match. Now admittedly there were a number of forgettable scrubs on the Raw team (a non-pirate Paul Burchill? The Highlanders? DH Smith?), and the match ended in a scrum instead of a defeat, but it was still the company’s two golden boys standing tall over 15 members of the Raw roster without breaking a sweat.
4). Multi-Man match
What it is: Whether it’s a triple threat, a fatal four way, an….also…fatal five way or a six-pack challenge, multi-man matches are typically when the creative team can’t figure out how to book multiple stars but need one or two of them to be in a strong position in the coming months. It’s also a good way for the bookers to put several big names on the card without having to commit valuable screen time to underdeveloped feuds or aimless performers. Unlike tag bouts, all multi-man matches are contested under no disqualification rules.
The Point: To make one wrestler look like a world killer, and sell them as a serious threat for whatever comes next.
Do’s: The big thing you need to make a multi-man match great is stakes. Whether you’re determining a title or a number one contender, seeing multiple wrestlers beat the hell out of each other for an opportunity is the kind of thing we watch wrestling for in the first place. You’ll also want the finish to be down to the wire. It doesn’t necessarily have to come out of nowhere, but given the fact that scoring a pinfall or submission victory requires that both the loser and the other opponents be subdued long enough for a finish, timing is of the utmost importance.
Don’ts: The biggest problem with modern multi-man matches is napping. Napping is when one or more wrestler lies down on the outside to pretend that they’re incapacitated in the middle of the match while the two performers in the ring go at it. This is an easy way to keep the focus on two or three competitors at a time, while giving the rest of the wrestlers in the match some room to rest up before they run in. If you cycle the superstars in and out at a steady clip, you can keep a crowd so focused on the two in the ring that they don’t notice those competitors napping on the ground around the ring. More often than not, however, fans will notice – and it’s usually not pretty. Shoot, it’s such a trope nowadays that it’s actually built into the multi-man matches on the WWE 2K video games.
When they got it right: Sure, he’s the WWE’s version of Voldemort nowadays, but in 2004 Chris Benoit achieved his potential by beating Triple H and Shawn Michaels in potentially the best triple threat match in WWE history. Everyone’s timing was on point, the napping never felt egregious, and the ending was intense, generating a feel-good moment that would still be celebrated as a crowning achievement in professional wrestling if the guy who won didn’t turn out to be a murderous psychopath. Each guy was able to look equal parts strong, resilient and cunning, and the right man (at the time) won.
When they got it wrong: Despite having the right finish, the Six-Pack Challenge for the Smackdown Women’s Title at WrestleMania 33 was a total dud. Not only was there a ton of napping, making performers like Carmella and Natalya look weak, but the match was so short that most of the participants got little more than a single move off before being dumped to the outside to make room for the finish. This may have been a case of rush booking due to other matches going long (and a damn Pitbull concert), but it did no favors for the ladies involved.
5). Elimination Match
What it is: A specific subset of multi-man match wherein all but one wrestler needs to be pinned or submitted. There are a ton of variations on these kinds of matches, with some functioning as tag matches, others having more of a melee vibe, and others still involving some external gimmick like tables or the Elimination Chamber. There’s also the gauntlet match, which is a sort of tournament style series of 1-on-1 matches with a “make-it, take-it” progression. In any regard, a good elimination match needs at least four competitors to work.
The Point: Much like a regular multi-man match, this is designed to put one wrestler over huge, but can also be used to name a new champion without the current title holder having to look weak. In fact, the stipulation allowing for multiple pinfalls/submissions allows more than one wrestler to shine during the match.
Do’s: Again, stakes. There HAS to be a point to an elimination match, whether it’s for the title or just a shot at the title. It’s also important to let every competitor have some time to look strong. Not everyone will be able to score an elimination, but the inclusion of multiple combatants means that everyone should be able to hit some signature offense, even if it’s just a couple of weaker competitors joining forces to eliminate the stronger opponent. If you plan to switch the title in this match, it’s also a good idea to have your champion go out early. Again, it can be from everyone teaming up on them, but knowing early into the match that there will be a new champion is exciting. In gauntlet matches, specifically, there are two stories worth telling: a competitor that runs the field from start to finish and looks like a conqueror because of it, or a plucky challenger/champion that puts up a valiant fight against wave after wave of opponents only to come up short against an opportunistic foe at the last minute.
Don’ts: Napping is again a concern, but the biggest problem with elimination matches is the power boost to transitional moves. This is especially true in matches with lower card wrestlers (or those with a workrate perceived as weak – sorry, women’s competitors of the early aughts), but people getting pinned by signature moves that wouldn’t put down Barry Horowitz in a regular match is an all-too-frequent factor in elimination matches. Sami Zayn has never beaten someone with a blue thunder bomb, but in an elimination bout, it can get the job done. Along the same lines, it’s also important to space out the eliminations. Every time a competitor is knocked out of the match, you want a crowd to react, but if you fire too many off at once, it removes all of the drama.
When they got it right: Though the event overall is a nightmare of bad wrestling and even worse booking, the flower in the pot of dirt that was Survivor Series 2003 is Team Stone Cold Vs. Team Bischoff. This one had it all. The stakes? Stone Cold’s job as co-general manager. Every competitor getting a chance to look strong? Everyone gets a chance to make an impact on the match, even Devon Dudley, and he’s basically the evolved form of Marty Jannetty. The eliminations come steadily at first, stacking the odds against a resilient (though thoroughly established) babyface in Shawn Michaels, and the finish continues the upward momentum of the Legend Killer Randy Orton – undeniably the best version of Randy Orton. The win made Orton a shitbag not only for killing HBK with the “damn numbers game,” but also sending Stone Cold Steve Austin into what has essentially been his full-time retirement as an on-screen character.
When they got it wrong: This is one set of stipulations that the WWE has done wrong way more than right. There was the terrible ECW Elimination Chamber that gaslit the involvement of fan favorites (only to switch many of them out on the night of), then buried the talent fans wanted to see to put over the company’s chosen one. There’s the 1993 Survivor Series which birthed upon popular culture the unholy mess that was Clowns R’ Us Vs. the Royal Family. Then there’s the main event of WrestleMania 2000, where two wrestlers were added last minute in order to make the Main Event seem bigger, only to then be eliminated in the opening minutes of the match to have the one-on-one title bout the company originally intended to run anyway. That was the main event. Of their biggest show of the year.
6). Multi-fall Matches
What it is: When two or more Superstars are more or less evenly matched, they are put in a grudge match, wherein the winner is decided by who scores the most pinfall, submission, countout or disqualification victories in a single matchup. These can be done as a “first to X-many falls” format, a 3 Stages of Hell match (where each round has a different stipulation), or as an Ironman match, wherein the finish comes after a pre-established time limit, rather than a specific number of falls. Though it does work best with a face-heel matchup, this is also a great showcase for two face competitors, as it allows both performers to score victories over each other without, say, a title having to change hands.
The Point: This is a match that is designed to show that the competitors are evenly matched, the implications of this being that either man/woman could have won the bout if things had gone slightly different. The wrestlers involved both get the added rub of showcasing their stamina by effectively competing in multiple matches back to back.
Do’s: The best multi-fall matches are for a title of some kind. You need to have some kind of stakes in order to sustain the crowd’s interest in the match, but you also need fast action. In an Ironman match, it’s best to have one person/team score the first fall relatively quickly. This creates an urgency around the rest of the bout, and forces the other competitor(s) to hustle to stay in the hunt. While it’s best to have the matches be competitive from start to finish so everyone gets a chance to shine, it’s also sometimes good to throw a curveball and have one competitor/team dominate the proceedings. Heels can win falls under screwy circumstances or take intentional disqualifications to hurt their opponents more, but faces need to stick to the rules unless their gimmick allows for a screwy finish.
Don’ts: A lot of the same pitfalls of elimination matches apply here as well. Transitional moves getting pins is all too frequent, as are quick falls in general. The biggest challenge in booking one of these matches is keeping the audience’s attention. Knowing that the first pinfall/submission isn’t the end of the match makes some spectators feel like the opening and middle of each match is meaningless, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. Spacing the falls too far apart will bore your crowd, but putting too many in succession will make the competitor on the losing end look weak or foolish. Another huge issue is bad selling. Multi-fall matches are grueling and demanding contests that will see all parties get beat up–and those injuries should inform the story. This isn’t just several matches glued together, it’s a continuous contest, so competitors in the second fall should still be feeling the results of the first.
When they got it right: To break protocol and stray from WWE-specific examples, the best multi-fall match in recent memory is the All Night Long series from Lucha Underground. Both have been fantastic, but the second version (cleverly titled “All Night Long…Again”) is a masterclass on how to book the Ironman stipulation. The pacing never lets up, the cocky heel champion scores a lot of scummy victories early then ends up screwing himself over through his own hubris. The finish is down to the wire and the match ends in a tie without making the audience feel like they wasted the past hour of their life. The fact that this match goes an hour and managed to keep the audience on the edge of their seat the whole time is testament to how two great performers pacing themselves and telling a compelling story in (and around) the ring can make for excellent storytelling.
When they got it wrong: Though it’s treated with the utmost reverence because of its timing and two participants, have you actually watched the WrestleMania 12 Ironman match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels? It’s an hour long bout between two of the most celebrated professional wrestlers of all time ending in a tie and JESUS is it boring. There’s so much resting in the first 40 minutes that it’s just hard to sit through. On paper, seeing these two guys go for a full hour to a draw sounds like a dream. In reality, it’s just a slog to get through–and the fact that it only takes just over a minute of overtime for Michaels to land the winning pinfall shows just how clearly they were stalling for time for the finish. There have certainly been worse multi-fall matches, but for as famous as this match is, it’s not really built for excitement.
7). Hardcore Matches
What it is: Tracing roots back to the no holds barred matches made most famous by the Funk brothers (Dory and Terry), hardcore matches ostensibly have no rules. Weapons are legal, there are no disqualifications or count outs, no submissions–the only way to win is by pinfall (or occasionally a last man standing stipulation). There are several variations of this theme (from the asinine chairs matches WWE thinks people are interested in to the utterly insane deathmatches popularized in several of the seediest Japanese federations), but all boil down to the same thing–competitors beat the crap out of each other with whatever’s lying around, often in elaborate settings, and at some point there’s a pin or a performer who can’t get up for the count of 10.
The Point: With hardcore matches, the goal is to prove that one or more of the participants is so intense about their hatred for their opponent that they are willing to fight dirty (once it’s technically legal, of course). Typically, one of the competitors is viewed as more violent or ruthless (and, thus, better suited to this kind of match), giving their opponent the chance to prove that they can hang in a more aggressive situation. If the heel is hardcore it gives the babyface the opportunity to show ruthlessness in context; conversely, a hardcore face will typically use the stipulation to exact some kind of revenge on the crafty heel.
Do’s: These matches are a lot harder to do now that we know all that we do about concussions, as the biggest thing that must be included in a hardcore match is blood. It’s base and puerile and icky in any number of ways, but blood is a necessity to making any no holds barred match feel real. This means you’ll need at least one or two major sequences or high spots to sell the violence of the match. This doesn’t have to be Mankind off the cage or anything, but it has to be significant enough that the audience watching it will believe that this crazy move is enough to knock one of the performers straight the hell out. There should also be some kind of grudge between the combatants. You’re asking these performers to beat the crap out of each other with chairs and trash cans and…I dunno, staple guns. Let them fight. Also, while not entirely necessary, it’s a good idea to have some weapon or another be used to amplify one (or both) of the competitor’s finishing moves.
Don’ts: There’s only one way to mess up a hardcore match, and that’s to keep it from actually being hardcore. You can’t keep your performers on too strict of a leash with a hardcore match. If you’re booking a street fight, it can’t look like a regular match except for a single shot from a kendo stick. The hardcore element MUST play a part in the decision, otherwise, what was the point?
When they got it right: While there are a million examples of amazing hardcore matches from ECW (Tazz Vs. Bam Bam Bigelow and Mike Awesome Vs. Masato Tanaka being my favorites), the beloved underground promotion was CRAZY unsafe and can make viewers pretty uncomfortable upon rewatches. The Cactus Jack Vs. Randy Orton no holds barred match from 2004’s Backlash event, however, is probably the best modern example of a hardcore bout in the post-Attitude Era. The match had a great dynamic, with the old pro (Foley) looking to get one up on the young up-and-comer (Orton) who had been running roughshod on established superstars throughout the company. The match was suitably violent, with both men getting busted open the hard way, both get hit with their opponents craziest shots–shoot, both get slammed on a pile of thumbtacks. The match made a star out of Orton, providing him the momentum he would need to win the WWE Championship later that year. For Foley, it proved that he could still go in the ring, and would be one of his last great performances before his (first) retirement from the WWE.
When they got it wrong: At this year’s Extreme Rules PPV, Bayley and Alexa Bliss competed in a kendo stick on a pole match, and MAN was it bad. The two women tried, but were just booked to look silly. Bayley, in particular, looked like someone who couldn’t hang in the more serious world of wrestling, being unwilling or unable to use a weapon–even in a match built around that exact item. It’s not just that there were no big spots to speak of, it’s that their attempt at a big spot (Bliss driving Bayley into a kendo stick propped up in the corner) was a really weak attempt. I know that WWE is operating under PG guidelines at this point so blood is rare and I also recognize that the WWE has never booked a blood angle in a women’s match at all, but if the company is committed to non-violence, maybe they shouldn’t have an entire event built around no holds barred matches.
8). Cage Match
What it is: Wrestling heels tend to be kind of s----y people, and that shittiness most often comes out in two specific forms of cowardice: utilizing an entourage to help them cheat to win, and running away when things get hard for them. How can a babyface remedy this? Challenge the heel to a match where the ring will be surrounded by a cage made of steel mesh, naturally. Sometimes you put a roof on it. Sometimes you swap out the steel for bamboo for whatever reason, and then add a second bamboo cage around that first one. With the many variations come various sets of rules, but most will share the concession that the winner will be the first person/team to escape the cage and put both feet on the floor.
The Point: Cage matches have actually transcended wrestling to be a part of the larger English lexicon for a fight to the finish. These bouts are supposed to be a knock-down, drag-out fight that will definitely have an end. One way or another there will be a finish to the match, which is why they are typically used to end feuds.
Do’s: Like hardcore matches, cage matches need a little bit of violence to really land with the audience. Blood isn’t entirely necessary, but there should be at least some interaction between the wrestlers and the steel. If this is a traditional cage and there’s a high-flyer in the match, (s)he should leap from the top of the cage at one point or another. If this is a Hell in a Cell, the competitors should head to the roof of the cage at some point. If it’s a Punjabi Prison match then there needs to be some brawling between the two cages – or one competitor has to literally leap from the first cage to the second. If it’s a Kennel from Hell match you should fast forward the video, because that mess was unsalvageable.
Don’ts: Again, same as the hardcore bouts, these matches need to be violent enough to warrant the stipulation. It can’t just be a regular match in a cage. It’s also important to subscribe to your own logic. What I mean by that is keeping to your own rules. Some cage matches allow pinfalls and submissions, as well as escapes, to end the fight, and some don’t. For the love of god, remember which one you are and make sure your performers (including the announcers) know. Don’t just spring rule changes on us at the 11th hour to suit your narrative–even when that’s part of the story, it sucks.
When they got it right: The most iconic cage match is probably Superfly Jimmy Snuka vs. Don Muraco at Madison Square Garden in 1983, but it’s actually a rather dull affair until the murderer, I mean Snuka dives from atop the cage onto a prone Muraco. Instead, let’s look to the Undertaker, who has featured in many of the best cage matches of the past two decades. Now his Hell in a Cell tiff with Mankind is a glorious spot fest, but not a great match per se. His fight with Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood 1997 is a fantastic feat for both men, but is probably better known for its ending angle that introduced future Tennessee mayor, Kane. I don’t know if it’s my favorite Taker match altogether, but we have to mention his phenomenal "End of an Era” match with Triple H. It was so well paced and plotted, a true physical display, and probably should have been Taker’s last match, as he hasn’t really done anything to compete with it since.
When they got it wrong: There are some boring cage matches out there (the first Punjabi Prison bout for one), but when it comes to abject badness, it’s hard to compete with the notorious Kennel from Hell match. The Big Bossman and Al Snow are capable wrestlers (even if Bossman was past his prime at this point), but there was just no urgency to this match. The use of weapons felt useless and lethargic, and the addition of several “bloodthirsty” dogs around the ring (which were more content to hump each other and poop all over the ringside area than snarl and snap) made the entire proceeding feel more like a joke than a dangerous grudge match. The WWE has kind of disavowed this match in the ensuing years, preferring to keep it in the same conversation as ridiculous schlock like “the Shockmaster,” but there’s little escaping that it’s one of the worst cage matches of all time.
9). Tables Match
What it is: Not a lot of dressings with this one. This is essentially a hardcore match where the only way to win is by putting your opponent through one of the many particle-board tables that are left lying around the ringside for whatever reason.
The Point: Though these are basically hardcore matches with an added gimmick, that little extra step changes the purpose of the bout ever so slightly. Yes, we’re still trying to get one guy over in a violent exchange, but the unique stipulation as to how one actually wins these matches opens up numerous possibilities for the finish. You can have the underdog win in a flukey manner that keeps the opponent looking strong, or give one competitor a dominant victory that has a satisfyingly violent finish.
Do’s: You can book these matches any number of ways, but the only requirements to make these matches mean anything are false finishes. Like any good match, there need to be several near falls–of course, given the unique stipulation of these matches, that means there’s a chance that one competitor may send his or her self through a table or two. Since the rules state that one must be driven through a table to lose (thus can’t be eliminated if they do it themselves), this can make for some dramatic close calls. This also means the refs will have to adhere to these rules, something they don’t always do. It’s also important to find a workaround in the event that things go awry. As the long-running Botchamania series has taught us, not every table spot goes as planned.
Don’ts: The only real problem that pops up in tables matches is either ignoring the rules or ignoring a broken table. Again, not every table will crumble when it’s supposed to, and some will crumble far too easily. Having one of the wrestlers go through the table during the setup for a big move (something that happens reasonably often with larger competitors) should technically be a loss, but is often overlooked because it’s not the booked finish. It definitely requires some forethought, but it’s something to plan for. Oh also, you probably shouldn’t book women in these matches. It’s not a matter of skill, mind you, but size. While performers like Lei’D Tapa, Awesome Kong or Nia Jax have the necessary weight to go through a gimmicked table with the appropriate explosion, wrestlers like Sasha Banks, Bayley and Alexa Bliss simply don’t weigh enough to break the table without putting the performers in serious danger. I’m all for equality for female performers, but knowing that Sasha needs to fall like 10 feet to go through a table that even Finn Balor could bust through with relative ease just makes the risk not seem worth it.
When they got it right: These matches aren’t usually show stealers unless the ending is memorable, and few pulled off a better finish than the Cena Vs. Sheamus match from TLC 2009. Going into it, Sheamus hadn’t really been tested, and was expected to be an easy route for Cena. Instead, Sheamus knocked Big Match John off the top rope, sending him toppling through a table in a shock win for the Celtic Warrior, earning him his first title in the company and cementing him as a bona fide main eventer…until his limited charisma shunted him back down to the midcard where he belongs. You may have expected a Dudley Boyz match here, but if we’re honest, their best work is in TLC matches – which are ladder matches, not tables matches. Still, they put on a pretty decent tables match against the Hardys at Royal Rumble 2000.
When they got it wrong: Though a mostly unremarkable match, the finish of the Big Show Vs. Cody Rhodes tables match at Extreme Rules 2012 takes the whole “flukey finish” thing a bit too far. Show controlled the match for most of the proceedings, only for Rhodes to dropkick the big man’s leg off the apron and send him stumbling through a nearby table. It seemed more like an accident than a win, and ended the storyline between the two competitors in an unsatisfactory way. Not to imply that this rivalry was ever any good, but you know.
10). Battle Royal
What it is: When you have a ton of talent but not enough time or creative direction to keep them all on the show, you go for a battle royal. These multi-man matches have the unique stipulation that the only way to eliminate your opponent(s) is to send them over the top rope and have both of their feet touch the floor. You can have all participants start in the ring at the same time (as in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal) or have them enter the ring separately at timed intervals (like the Royal Rumble), though the latter makes for a rather long match, so it’s used pretty sparingly.
The Point: This stipulation was created to get as many wrestlers on the card as possible, all while giving several lower- and mid-card performers a chance to shine. The pacing of the match is designed to showcase the strengths of most of the wrestlers, creating new stars and further establishing existing talents as credible threats even if they don’t win.
Do’s: First, and most important, battle royals need stakes. Whether it makes you the number one contender for a title or just gives you a trophy, there needs to be a reason why these wrestlers would agree to fight like 20 other guys all at once. You’ll definitely want to let a few of your lower- and mid-carders have the chance to look awesome in the middle of the bout. This can be hitting a series of signature moves against multiple opponents, eliminating a number of weaker competitors, or even getting one over on their storyline rival. It’s also a good idea to let one of these developing wrestlers eliminate one (or more) of the bigger names in the match in order to give them a huge rub. For the end of the match, you want the sequence to be between two competitors who are both likely to win. There’s nothing worse than being able to telegraph the end of a match because the final two competitors are a once and future champion and a total jobber.
Don’ts: Battle royals, especially the Royal Rumble, tend to have obvious winners because of their stakes. Not everyone can be champion/headline WrestleMania, so savvy fans typically have some idea of who’s walking out the winner. As such, bookers have to avoid telegraphing the result by putting one big name against a sea of jabronis. It’s a little clear that AJ Styles will win when his biggest competition (literally and figuratively) is Luke Harper. It’s also important to remember how you’re booking you winner, as it’s okay for heels to win through shady methods (having outside interference, hiding around the ring until the end, etc.) but not for faces. Also remember your audience. No match has been more contentious in recent years than the Royal Rumble, as the last several have opted to bury new and emerging talent in favor of more established stars that don’t need the rub. Orton, Reigns, Triple H, Batista, Cena–none of these guys needed an excuse to challenge for a title, so why not subvert expectations by letting an up-and-comer win the damn thing?
When they got it right: Most people believe that the 1992 Royal Rumble match is the best battle royal of all time, and it’s not hard to see why. The roster featured a number of potential winners, they let the ring fill up at times, and a fairly dark horse competitor (in context at least) won the match. That Ric Flair capped it off with what is definitely the best promo he cut after leaving the NWA is just icing on the cake. Elsewhere, the 2008 Royal Rumble that saw the surprise return of John Cena (and kicked off the era of “Super Cena,” unfortunately) is a perfectly booked battle royal. The star power was great, the action was consistent, and the return of Cena was a genuine surprise, making it a serious mark out moment for casual and hardcore fans alike.
When they got it wrong: Though I could just say “the last five Royal Rumbles” and not be wrong, I’ll simply highlight the 2015 edition – where the WWE sacrificed all of its midcard and main event talent (at least those not named Reigns, Cena or Rollins) to make the aging Big Show and Kane look strong. The two giants (each of whom was in their mid- to late-40s) decimated top names like Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler and more, en route to a Roman Reigns victory that no one asked for. Big Show factors into the finish of another s----y battle royal where the wrong man won–the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal of WrestleMania 31. To say the match lacked star power is an understatement (and honestly, it’s hard to say there’s been a good version of the event since its inception), but there was the promise of the simmering Miz/Mizdow feud that should have taken center stage during the bout–and it did. For about 25 seconds before Big Show eliminated Mizdow to win the match. Not only did this effectively kill any heat the stunt double had earned by turning on his jerk of a boss, it was all to add another unneeded accolade in what was already a hall of fame career. Show didn’t need the rub, and indeed it didn’t do anything for him, making it a huge waste of time and potential for all involved.