Nick Bockwinkel v Rick Martel (AWA, 8/16/84)
The Martel/Bock series was almost entirely new to me when going through the DVDVR AWA set. I might've seen one or two of their matches years and years ago, but if I had I'd completely forgotten everything about them. Bock had also been a guy that, until about 2011, I really didn't have much interest in watching, and I never had any idea how incredible Rick Martel was at the pro-wrestling. So going through their matches on the AWA set I was pretty much in shock at how great a match-up it was. A friend of mine said it might be the best in-ring feud in US wrestling history behind Lawler/Dundee. That's awfully high praise, and I'd probably have more than just Lawler/Dundee ahead of it, but I also don't think it's a crazy opinion whatsoever. I mean, this might only be their third best match together, but of course it's completely awesome. Martel has only been champion for three months at this point, but he knows fine well what Bock will do to get the belt back, and this really feels like Martel taking a stand and letting everyone know that he's here to stay. He refuses to put up with any of Bock's shit here. Match lasts about fifteen minutes, and it's largely Martel working on top. Bock can't get anything going and it kind of feels like he's actually underestimated Martel a little. He knew he was good, but this is just next level, 2014/15 season Golden State Warriors shit, and for the first time in a long time Nick Bockwinkel might actually be in over his head. "Fuck sake, I knew he was good, but they told me he'd struggle in a best of 7 series!" (watch Golden State lose in 5 against fucking Westbrook and the Thunder now). Best representation of this is when Bock tries to grab a breather by throwing Martel out to the floor, and you're thinking he's going to do the King of the Mountain spot. Nope, Martel isn't having it. He pumps his fists like there is no way this shit is happening, then jumps back in and rolls around the ring while Bock falls over himself trying to grab him. I'd seen Bock do the KotM spot a ton of times on the set up to that point, and I thought Martel being able to ram it straight down his throat was so awesome. Martel was really great on offence in this. He goes from working the arm to working the leg to beating Bock about the head, but it was never like you were watching Ultimo Dragon work over a bunch of body parts because he couldn't make his mind up what he actually wanted to do. With Martel it was like a guy just going full assault mode, picking apart Bockwinkel body part by body part. And every time he shifted focus it felt totally organic. When he went after Bock's arm it was because Bock ran shoulder-first into the post. When he went after the leg it was because that leg happened to be draped over the bottom rope, so Martel took the opportunity to jump on it. Bock's offence for the most part was limited to rabbit punches and taking cheapshots, but they were some great rabbit punches and cheapshots, and it really felt like that was what Martel had reduced him to. There's one spot that I've always remembered since watching this match for the first time over two years ago. Martel is working over Bock's arm on the mat, so he holds it out flat and goes to drop the knee across it, but as he's in the air Bock just digs him in the ribs with a nasty right hand. It's such a minuscule moment, but I loved it. Finish is really good as well, and easily one of the best of its ilk that I've seen in ages (probably ever). Just an awesome piece of pro-wrestling.
Nick Bockwinkel v Rick Martel (AWA, 9/20/84)
I don't know, man. This was #5 on my working AWA ballot. I mean, I LOVED the four matches ahead of it. Loved them. But I watch this and I can't help but think #5 was about four spots too low. If you ever wonder what the fuss is all about with Bockwinkel and why people are talking about Martel being better than Steamboat, watch this match. You know how you sometimes watch a match where both guys are just completely on point and everything comes together to make something amazing? Well, that was this. It's not often that happens, so when it does it's like...this whole pro-wrestling nonsense can be really fun, you know? Match is sort of split into two halves. First half is mostly built around Martel working Bock's arm and Bock working Martel's side/ribs, and it's honestly some of the best dueling body part work I've ever seen. The selling is just off the charts great in that first fifteen minutes. So many awesome moments. Martel stretches Bock's leg out and twists the ankle at a really awkward angle, then he drops a knee right into the hamstring. Bock kicks him off and does some JYD-style crawling headbutts to the ribs, and it felt so frenzied and last resort. Like, this is suave and sophisticated Nick Bockwinkel aping the fucking Junkyard Dog! Bock whips Martel into the ropes and drives the knee into the ribs, so Martel is left writhing around on the mat like he's about to puke while Bock crumples in a heap because he used the bad knee and it's really the first half of the match in a microcosm. This also has one of the best King of the Mountain segments ever. Bock doesn't throw Martel out to the floor so much as force him out, using his shoulder to basically shove him along the mat until Martel slides out the ring, then every time Martel tries to come back in Bock just kicks him in the ribs again. He's resting up and Martel is having to expend energy to even climb onto the apron, but then Bock gets ahead of himself and Martel grabs the leg and drags him over to the corner to wrap it around the post. The collision spot around halfway works as a reset of sorts, and the second half is a frantic run to the finish with both guys running on fumes. I've been writing a bunch on a forum recently about how Bockwinkel, Flair and Buddy Rose all compare, what they do well, don't do well, do similarly, etc. I've praised Flair and his matches for capturing a sense of "epic" during finishing stretches. You have a pretty good idea how the match is going to end, but everything at least has a sense of escalation and desperation, and it feels like the match could be over at any second. This was that, but even more desperate. Like, Bock moves out the way of a Martel cross body at the VERY last second, then the just collapses in the ropes while Martel crashes and burns, and you buy that if Bock had been a split second too late it would've been over for him. Martel lowers his head as Bock is coming off the ropes, and when Bock kicks him in the face he has to cling onto the ropes at the same time just to hold himself up. I'm not sure what my favourite spot in the second half was, but it was probably between the double knockout punch (Bock's sell of it, btw. God damn fuckin awesome) or Martel eating knees to the bad ribs off the hail Mary slingshot splash. If there's one thing I wish they'd done in this it would've been to play up the body part work a little more in the second half, but that's really a tiny bit of nitpicking. Actually the finish wasn't amazing, but Martel swinging the title belt around like a flail in the post-match was. Man, this might be a top 20 match of the 80s.