Oliver John vs. Timothy Thatcher from All Pro Wrestling 2013
Post Bill Thompson:
I came away from this match feeling conflicted, or perhaps a more accurate word would be introspective. I’m human, and that means that like any pro wrestling fan I have formed certain biases when it comes to what I like in pro wrestling. There’s a reason that Timothy Thatcher has risen to be perhaps my favorite wrestler of all time. He does all the little things that I look for in a pro wrestling match and in a professional wrestler. That being said, his match against Oliver John called into question just what it is I look for in a pro wrestling match.
The opening two or so minutes are classic build stuff, the sort that comes straight out of Memphis. John and Thatcher circle one another and tease locking up multiple times. They build to the moment when they truly lock up, and John even uses old school Memphis stalling to get the crowd more heated than they already are. The false lockups are so freaking great, as they play into the personas of both wrestlers while at the same time manipulating the audience to the nth degree. When the lockup finally comes I couldn’t wait for what I was about to see. But, a wrench was tossed into the mix as I got the opposite of what I expected.
When you tell me that Timothy Thatcher is wrestling Oliver John I have this idea in my head of tremendous hold for hold wrestling, a catch-as-catch can masterpiece if you will. Transitions galore and back and forth counter wrestling race through my mind. Imagine my surprise when John latched into a Side Headlock and refused to let go for neigh on twelve minutes. You read that right, it’s not a typo. John grabbed a Side Headlock and he refused to let go of said Side Headlock for nearly twelve minutes. When the hold was finally broken the match ended on a Backslide mere seconds later.
How am I supposed to read such a match? What should my takeaway be from a match that is all about a Side Headlock and a flash finish? I wasn’t sure how to answer those questions so I took some time to think about this match. The more my crazy brain worked the more I realized that what I had watched was simple perfection. John grabbed a hold, Thatcher struggled to get out of the hold, and the audience, as well as myself, was captivated the entire time. Every attempted counter from Thatcher appeared as if it would be the one. The struggle to get free and the struggle to maintain the hold came across crystal clear. From a technical standpoint I’m not sure if I have ever seen a better match than John versus Thatcher.
That brings us to the issue of story, because really, how much story can be told in a match where twelve of the fifteen minutes are spent in a Side Headlock? The answer is more story than one can shake a stick at, which happens to be a lot of story. Will power is at play in this match, the battle of wills being that of John keeping the Side Headlock locked in and Thatcher escaping from the hold. Within that easy framework both men craft a highly compelling story. Thatcher really makes John work to keep the Side Headlock in place. Conversely John makes Thatcher put in lots of effort to try and break free. There is a massive struggle taking place in this match, so much so that a Side Headlock comes to be more than just a Side Headlock. It’s the fulcrum by which the power in the match will swing. It’s very simple really, if John maintains the Side Headlock he will win, if he doesn’t, he will lose and rather quickly.
The key to the way they work the Side Headlock is that Thatcher doesn’t simply sit in a Side Headlock for twelve minutes. He’s constantly in motion, trying Forearm shots to the ribs, Backdrop Suplexes, leg based reversals, and so on and so forth. John is just as active, switching up his positioning, using his weight, rotating to stop counter attempts, etc. John and Thatcher manage to make a Side Headlock into an action move, and I applaud their efforts in that regard.
People’s mileage will vary when it comes to this match. I have no issue touting it as pretty much a perfect wrestling match. All the same there are those who will find the extended use of a Side Headlock boring. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but I say phooey to thinking that way. John and Thatcher manage to make a twelve minute Side Headlock sequence compelling, engaging, action packed, and a strong storytelling device. I know what I like in my pro wrestling, and I’m always adding new things that I like. This match is pro wrestling that I like, in fact love, and it’s pro wrestling that every pro wrestling fan should take the time to seek out and like.