The wrestling squash, at its heart, is an evolution of something that harkens back to the industry’s carnival sideshow roots: the strongman showing off and dazzling people with unimaginable feats. It only became natural to have a plant in the audience to toss around, and before you knew it pro wrestling was off and running.
A short, impactful bout remained useful to introduce new wrestlers, new gimmicks, or even a renewed focus on someone who was getting lost in the shuffle. Monsters were made, heroes burned bright, and shows like Saturday morning’s WWF Superstars broadcast it all right into living rooms like mine. But which ones (mostly) followed Mr. Hardy’s template while still doing their job? Which ones remained effective and memorable, even indelible, in spite of their short run-times? Here are (in no particular order)…
5 Squash Matches That Accomplished Their Mission
5) King Kong Bundy vs SD Jones (Wrestlemania 1)
This match took place at a unique time in the transition from co-existing territories to Vince McMahon’s national juggernaut. Any company looking for that big of an audience needed big attractions, and needed them fast. As a result, this match set templates that WWE and other federations have used ever since. In his first national appearance, Bundy towered over his Wrestlemania opponent, “Special Delivery” Jones.
Bundy lived up to that size disparity as he barely broke a sweat; he was slamming Jones into the corner, hitting an avalanche, and then nailing the smaller man with a splash to take the pin. This immediately announced him as the new monster on the block, someone we should take seriously and fear. WWE has continued to utilize this model to the present day (e.g. 2014 Rusev or the Viking Raiders).
Without today’s internet and instant video uploads, there could also still be some territory-style mythmaking. WWE noted the record win as occurring in 9 seconds, when it’s actually closer to 22. With squash matches, it’s all about the story around the action, so why let the details of the match get in the way? Bundy’s arrival as the ultimate Big Bad in this match carried him to the main event a year later inside a steel cage against Hulk Hogan, and kept him around as a consummate heel for decades afterward.
4) Diesel vs Bob Backlund (11/26/94) and Brock Lesnar vs John Cena (Summerslam 2014)**TIE**
Squash matches by general rule only last a few minutes. Both of these matches stood out and made us take notice for not fitting into that timeframe.
When WWE lost some of its biggest names to big-money deals with WCW, it needed a new face and settled upon Kevin Nash’s “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel. They changed Nash to a face, while a shock title win by Mr. Bob Backlund (already portraying a fantastically cranky old man in the 90’s) led to the two clashing at a house show. A kick and a Jackknife Powerbomb, and that was all she wrote. With 8 seconds and only one actual wrestling move, the match was over. This launched the “Diesel Power” push of the mid-90’s and, on that night, the point that Diesel was hitting the top couldn’t have been more clear. This was a textbook study of how squashes can be useful messengers.
Conversely, Lesnar returned to challenge John Cena and, had you heard they would go 16 minutes, it wouldn’t have sounded odd. Lesnar beating Cena down for that entire time, with no fiery comeback or offensive rally by Big Match John, was weird to watch but strangely captivating. How long could it go on? Long enough for Brock to deliver a German Suplex per minute – yes, sixteen total. This bludgeoning would set him up to “Break The Streak” and dominate WWE’s main event title scenes for many years ahead. Again, a message sent and received with maximum impact.
3) Goldberg vs La Parka (WCW Monday Nitro 6/1/98)
At first glance, this may seem like a weird choice since Goldberg had already won over 80 matches in a row and had held the US Title by the time this happened. What made the squashes of Goldberg’s Streak so great wasn’t that he became an established force before beginning to stretch out and have intricate matches, but rather the inverse. We were dying to see if he could take on bigger and better foes and still beat their ass harder and faster than ever before! Enter La Parka, not a jobber, but a regular TV presence, and one who used craftiness to score surprise wins. Did it matter? Did his signature air guitar chair matter? Not a lick.
The no-sell chair shot is perfectly accentuated by La Parka’s usual dance, leaving time for anticipation to build. And then, bah gawd, the impact. The loudest spear I can remember – no not the reaction, the spear itself and its impact on the mat was so loud you could hear it on the feed over the already excited crowd. The Jackhammer and pin were both mere formalities, and there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s done this well. Goldberg not only continued his US reign but stood out so much from the mid-card title picture, that winning the world title later that year felt natural.
2) Ultimate Warrior vs Honky Tonk Man (Summerslam 1988)
The historic Intercontinental Championship reign of The Honky Tonk Man had grated our nerves perfectly as only the best heels can do. He was all swagger with his Elvis references, then cheating to win and gloating about it afterwards. This reign was was sheer evil brilliance, but the longer it went on, the question became just who or what could end it? He didn’t even have an opponent on the books for Summerslam due to Brutus Beefcake being taken out – we desperately needed someone, SOMETHING that would put Honky in his place. It seemed like it would take something earth shattering.
Well in this match it feels like the earth is at least shaking. Surprise challenger The Ultimate Warrior (less than a year into his stint) makes perhaps his fastest run to the ring, causing everyone to lose their minds, and starts to throw some serious hands. It took just some Warrior strikes, a slam, and a splash and suddenly the title had finallychanged hands! Howard Finkel couldn’t even get Warrior’s intro out and got hurled to the floor for his trouble in a perfect summation of how this match felt: whiplash, a star emerging in a violent explosion. That rush would turn into a rocket ride, leading Warrior into his feud with Rick Rude that launched him to the brightest lights and ultimate triumph at Wrestlemania 6, less than 2 years from this bout.
1) The Undertaker vs Mankind (King of the Ring 1998)
We may not think of this legendary spectacle as a squash match, but when you look back, can you remember any offense by Mankind? There was some, but it was rare and mostly set up the big spots that went against him. The table bump off the cell, the unplanned choke slam straight through the cell, the drop flat onto a pile of thumbtacks – all were executed by the Undertaker and endured by Mick Foley. In the context of the shocking brutality of this match, it’s easy to forget the comparatively tame shots with steel steps on Foley’s dislocated shoulder and the Tombstone that actually won the match. Mankind did get the Mandible Claw on, but that just led him onto Undertaker’s back before being dropped on to the tacks. While the match is rightly remembered as a must-see event, one that lives up to re-watching, the actual action is one-sided enough to be here. Barring the stretcher stoppage spot in the middle, it’s also a much shorter run time than we remember, just like any proper squash.
It is perhaps the most brutal story WWE has ever told, but also among its most effective and enduring. Undertaker re-established himself as the one and only Phenom, a fearsome force of nature that couldn’t be denied. Meanwhile, we learned that Mankind would never stop fighting no matter the obstacle or the willpower required. He fell 20+ feet through a table and fought his way off the stretcher for more! This night endeared the formerly freakish villain to anyone with eyeballs and a heart, and he would be a popular WWE champion in less than a year’s time. Archetypes established, domination achieved, and in a short amount of time. It’s possible nobody’s done the squash match better throughout wrestling history. If that’s true, nobody should ever dare try and top this one.