Around the Loop: All the Small Things

And then, Jon Moxley brought out the bricks.

Dateline: San Francisco, March 5, 2023 at the AEW Revolution pay-per-view. One of the main selling points for the show was a Texas Death Match between Mox, a brawling hellhound who seems to live for bloodshed and the wild-eyed, vengeance-driven Hangman Adam Page. There was blood, oh yes, ever so much. Mox repeatedly drove a fork into Page’s forehead. Barbed wire covered wrists, torsos, and the holy icon of violent wrestling matches, the table.

And then, Jon Moxley brought out the bricks.

If you’ve read Moxley’s book, then you know that Mox has an affinity for making sandwiches. That is precisely what Mox did to Hangman Adam Page’s right hand. Place one brick on the mat. Lay Page’s hand on top of that brick. Cover the hand with a second brick. Stomp on the brick/hand sandwich as hard as you can. Bon appetit.

On the grand scheme of things, it’s a negligible moment. And yet, in an agonizing match filled with gore, that was my takeaway image. Mox crashing down on Adam Page’s hand. It’s possible, even probable, that the bricks were false or gimmicked. In that moment, it didn’t matter. That brick/hand slider was enough to make even a seasoned fan avert their eyes.

Pure spectacle. Bread and circuses. Matches like that are designed to slake the bloodlust of the ravenous crowd and, truth be told, I am no better.

Look: I enjoy technical wrestling. I love sitting in front of the television and trying to call out the names of moves before the commentators. As of this writing, I’m considering naming my little grey-and-white kitten Canadian Destroyer. But to me, there’s nothing like two humans going at each other tooth-and-nail until the red, red kroovy flows like milk. It’s a vicarious thrill.

That two-bricks-one-hand spot, as much as it lives rent-free in my head, was not bloody. Yeah, it happened during a juicy Texas Death Match, but we didn’t see blood shooting from Page’s shattered fingers. We didn’t hear the sound of small bones being ground into a fine powder. It was like a clean area on the metal walls of a slaughterhouse. A small piece of brutal grace. It reminded me that wrestling is an art, a rough half-pantomimed dance with destruction where, despite the size of the stage, the small things matter.

Dateline: the Florida Citrus Bowl, March 30, 2008 at WrestleMania XXIV. It was the first of Ric Flair’s multiple retirement matches, and he was in the ring with his greatest fan and most blatant imitator, Shawn Michaels. There was no way Flair was going to win that bout. Fans also figured, and rightly so, that Flair would return to the ring in some way. Michaels laid Flair out with a well-placed Sweet Chin Music, as everyone anticipated. The torch was passed and HBK became Flair’s rightful successor. It was what Michaels did before his infamous superkick that made the ending of that match memorable.

Five words from the Heartbroken Kid, barely audible, made that match go down in history. They added gravitas and something akin to real emotion to the bout and its inevitable conclusion. I’m not normally a fan of Michaels, but that’s one of the best pieces of small business in wrestling history.

Dateline: the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, January 27, 2018 at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia. Adam Cole (go ahead and say it, we’ll) met the mysterious Aleister Black in an Extreme Rules match. Cole arranged two chairs back to back with plans to throw Black onto them. Black flipped the script, however, and Death Valley Drove Cole into those steel chairs with controlled fury and precision.

I’ve written about this chair spot before because it is My All-Time Favorite Spot in the History of Everything. It happened about 15 minutes into the match, but it served a purpose besides Bay-Bay Got Another Ouchie. That one spot emphasized Black as not only ring-smart, but almost preternaturally aware of his surroundings. Black was not a man to be trifled with. Cole sold that move like he was trying to fence a pair of dead man’s shoes. I thought Cole was dead after Black’s Death Valley Driver and was stunned that he got up to continue the match.

No blood. No barbed wire or chainsaws or firecrackers rammed up someone’s butt. It was just one single move that solidified both of those guys as two of my favorite wrestlers.

And then, Jon Moxley brought out the bricks.

Spectacle. Bread and circuses. The sacrificing of blood to the wrestling gods. Those things have their place in the wrestling ring, a platform built for madness. But even within the gory glory of some of those bouts, where the crimson mask is donned with aspirin-fueled insanity, you’ll find tiny pieces of brilliance. A word, a look, a move. Even something as small as Greg “The Hammer” Valentine refusing to take an Irish Whip from Rowdy Roddy Piper, laughing and waggling his finger at the crowd. They seem like throwaways, but those are the moments that make mediocre matches great and great matches unforgettable.

There’s always more than meets the eye in wrestling, even when that eye is getting popped out of Rey Mysterio’s skull by Seth Rollins.

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