Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Six of the Best; Best of the Best

Welcome back grapple fans and in this post we have something special, my personal favourite British feud of all time. The six at their height and the most artistically interesting feud that joint promotions produced. The zenith of the British style for me. In fact looking at the date I have waited nearly thirty years to discuss this match with anyone aside from my Dad. Dave “Fit” Finlay versus Marty Jones, the feud for Joint promotions most coveted title, the World Mid Heavyweight Title and Belt. The two best regular workers in the weight division, an inspired and revolutionary managerial presence, the Crabtree's best booking ever, Kent Walton on top form. This my friends is as good as it gets.

Fit Finlay vs. Marty Jones (England 4/14/84) by ragingnoodles

This match is billed as a none title grudge match, being round-less it meant there would be more flow, that was the idea anyway, and to be fair with two artists such as this you wanted to give them as much room as possible. Marty Jones was my regular favourite, while Dynamite was away he accrued a sense of mystique that was only compounded on his infrequent return visits switching between face and heel, depending on the opponent. Marty, however, was solid and dependable, he was the man. As you have seen over previous posts Marty took a while to get into the top spot in the UK debuting in the early seventies, Finlay a little bit younger had that air of youthful arrogance about him that made him his perfect foil. The young pretender who actually dethroned the Champ. The story of this bout also belongs to the story of that red belt around Dave's waist. Stretching back to the 1940s, this title was the most prized possession in all of British wrestling thanks to one man; Mike Marino, the greatest ambassador for the pure sport of wrestling we ever had. He held the belt from 1957 till 1982 in four reigns, that included dropping the title to Vic Hessle and Lord Alfred Hayes no less. When Marino sadly passed the belt was vacant and a tournament was held for a new champion. With the passing of Marino came the passing of the torch and Marty was destined to follow in the great man's shoes. Being the ambassador for the sport much in the same way John Cena is seen as now, as an ambassador for the WWE. Jones took to the job with gusto, but the new champion faced new problems, not least of which was keeping the title picture interesting. His greatest challenger would send him home belt less four times that would be Dave Finlay.

Finlay and Jones where the perfect match, not in how different they where, English/Irish, Heel/Face. But in how alike they where, strong amateurs, from wrestling hot beds, strong club back grounds, well trained. This meant face paced, stiff in your face bouts that made everything else on the card look tame. It also made the live events, the real money of British wrestling, important again. They swapped the titles that often it could happen anywhere any time and at last the promoters where using TV as a tool to make the live gate swell. Over the space of 18 months Jones would drop the title four times. Hot shotting the belt like this got both men over and made Finlay indispensable to British promoters for the next fifteen years. Jones would stay in the title picture for the next seventeen years. To a seven year old fan like me though it made me love the game. I can remember the feeling of loss when I saw Marty lose the title just as hard today. I was invested, the feeling of elation when I would see him with the belt again made me think everything was right with the world. This was story telling at its best. The match opens with the feeling out period exclaimed by the finger pointing. The threats always made things look more antagonistic and you knew things would come to a head. The chain wrestling that opens the bout was typical of the two but the intensity and precision always gave me this impression Finlay didn't need to cheat he just did it anyway. What a despicable person.

Speaking of which I should also give Princess Paula her top billing. Paula was Dave's then wife, and a fair hand in the ring herself. Her managerial influence was great because no one had seen anything like it before. Women’s matches where never on TV, so we had no experience of her in the ring, but her actions could be just perfect. She never interfered so much as gave advice from the sidelines. But the kiss between rounds was the key tell tale sign of how well Dave was doing. Doing well kiss, doing badly no kiss. Something that Francine Fournier amped up to the max in ECW later on; belt = sex, no belt = no sex. This was an embryonic version of that, but pull heat and help tell the story it did. Bearing in mind that this match is only two minutes old and after one exchange the crowd are stomping and hollering already, this was a highly anticipated rivalry. The slaps and head butts worked for Finlay like a boxers jab, wearing down, constantly annoying and added realism to the match. In return so did Marty's crisp matt work, the ying and yang of each style fitting together. The key thing in the early exchanges is for Marty prove his superiority, Dave escapes the leg scissor once, so Marty remembers how he gets out of it and delivers the perfect drop kick to get the most out of the move. Small things like that made these bouts so watch-able and compelling. It is Marty's clear strategy as well to take Finlay apart limb by limb if he has to, the wicked arm wrenches where not his usual style preferring to head for the legs. Kent Walton again helps things along referencing back to title bouts in the past. Kent really was underrated as a commentator, I recently saw someone comparing him to Gordon Solie and that I think is about right. Both took their wrestling very seriously, not easy when you had to polish up some of the dross British wrestling and WCW produced, and managed to do it with love, care and aplomb. As the first session continues Finlay's tactics gain him a public warning, Marty unhappy but calm comes back with a series of stiff shots that lead to the folding press and pin, and a very angry Paula. The cheeky folding press from Marty sums up the whole situation, asset or liability you decide. What comes after the fall is Dave's mini comeback which leads into the Power Lock attempt. There is something great about submission manoeuvres, and particularly submission finishers that give a wrestler an aura. I loved the idea of the power lock as a kid, the hold you couldn't defend against. The move much like the very similar sharp shooter in application held sway in my memory because of the few times I saw it applied. It was saved for very special occasions against the toughest opponents. The impression of the match generally is that Marty has Fit's number and an answer to every move. Jones builds up to a Swanton Bomb (yes in 1984) and gets a public warning for his trouble and a second for arguing with the referee. Paula takes matters into her own hands by leading Dave away. The count out loss in the storyline world of British wrestling was still a loss. Mount-Evans Rules giving no favour to pins and submissions. The decisive victory for Marty means a title shot and everyone is happy, except Paul by the looks of things. This bout was one of many on TV, they seemed to be wrestling each other constantly in that two year period.

On balance though it was the last great feud of the Jones years in Joint promotions. Being the top of the tree meant international challengers, something we shall look at in future episodes, but Dave went through the weight divisions holding titles at most of them and having long interesting feuds until he switched allegiances to All Star promotions, another story for another day. At the time though this left Jones as the top of the pack, leader of the six best workers the UK who had produced and was still producing top of the line bouts with Skull Murphy, Pete Roberts (another title victor), Finlay, Dynamite, occasionally Rocco and making money. Finlay became the guy who got other guys over with a large hand in promoting rising stars such as Chic Cullen, Danny Collins and other lighter but well placed young men who where going to be the stars of the future. In the present though there where places to go and people to see. In Six of the best next time we will look at the legacies on an international scale and the places people went.

Have a good time, till next time.

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