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WRESTLER OF THE DAY (Series 2) - NICK BOCKWINKEL


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I debated on whether to pick Bockwinkel or not since there is already the RIP thread.

 

That being said - to paraphrase Matt as we were discussing it yesterday - "There is a difference between noting a death and celebrating a life."

 

I am not a Nick Bockwinkel zealot like some folks. My appreciation for Bock came later in life as my tastes in wrestling changed. And even with that - he became a guy who - depending on the opponent - I would say "Ooooh... this good be good" not NICK BOCKWINKEL IS MY FAVORITE WRESTLER!!!

 

I still have a lot of early memories of Bockwinkel since he was obviously all over the AWA and the Apter mags. I really liked the way he talked but I couldn't shake that feeling of "Man - he is older than my Dad. My Dad really shouldn't be World Champ."

 

Of course - I also struggle with the concept of whether I would want a sudden end to my life (like say Savage or Dusty or Piper) or the long drawn out torture of an unrelenting illness (like seems to befall the AWA folks - see Verne Gange and now Bock.)

 

Anyway - time to love the way the man looked and talked and wrestled

 

WIKI

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I still have a lot of early memories of Bockwinkel since he was obviously all over the AWA and the Apter mags. I really liked the way he talked but I couldn't shake that feeling of "Man - he is older than my Dad. My Dad really shouldn't be World Champ."

Back in the day, Dads kicked ass.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0pVscICZio

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Nick Bockwinkel is the perfect middle ground between smart and hard, between versatile and memorable, between character and work, between mastery and moments. I think often times that wrestling only reaches a fraction of its narrative potential. It should be a no-brainer: every move should be set up and paid off; every motion should build to something; everything should be sold so that it has meaning; one thing should lead to the next. It's a no brainer. It's common sense. That's one axis. The other one is that matches should be exciting, full of energy and verve; they should be visceral, with emotional stakes; they should be innovative and interesting, should draw the crowd in, should make them suspend their disbelief. You can find a wrestler who's high on one axis or another, when every wrestler should strive to score high on both. I don't think any wrestler could ever manage a higher total score, combining the head and the heart, than Nick Bockwinkel.

 

We have matches from the 50s. We have matches from the 70s, especially the late 70s. We don't have a ton from the 60s. This means we miss almost entirely his 25-40 period. Despite that, I still think he's the best wrestler ever. He had amazing cardio into his 50s, but even without that, he would have been great, because he understood how important it was to make every little moment matter and he could execute his every intention. Very few wrestlers reward close watching more than Bockwinkel.

 

There was no one better at working in and out of holds, of knowing when to try to work his way out from the bottom, to feed the babyface to get him back in, to fill the time that long matches needed, but to make it compelling and to play into the broader match's story. Give him someone like Tito Santana or Rick Martel or even someone as green as 1986 Tom Zenk and he was able to take a six minute headlock segment, working in and out, bumping and stooging and trying to cheat, only to end back in it, and make it something no one could possibly complain about. By the end, after the ups and downs, people were left wanting more almost every time. I was.

 

And then when he took over, it was with a level of unmitigated glee. So often, he'd go to the king of the mountain, dumping his opponent as a way to contain him, to slow him down, and then pick at him like a vulture, stomping, getting cheapshots in. There's this joy on his face when he was punishing an opponent that I've never seen any other wrestler have. I love his pairing with Mr. Saito, because he took that same joy in Saito dishing out the punishment and in every Southern tag trick that they did. He portrayed superiority like no one else, not in an over the top way, but as this natural thing, this obvious thing. He wasn't playing a character. He was one. He'd make comments, he'd laugh, and he'd grin just like that bastard at a country club who made his putt. 

 

I like his more even matches against a technical babyface the best, but he made his living as a credible opponent for wrestlers like Verne Gagne (or Hogan or Tony Atlas or Andre or Ernie Ladd). AWA was a babyface heavy territory, and it was Bock's job to get eaten alive (by the boss, especially) but still seem credible. He did it in so many ways, accomplishing more through selling smartly than most wrestlers could do by hitting a hundred moves. There's a match with Verne, for instance, where he does get eaten alive, but thanks to Verne's bodypart work, that he loses the offense is forgivable because it's due to a damaged limb. That makes Verne look better. That makes Bock look better, even as he's getting walloped. He would have gotten him if Verne hadn't taken his leg out.

 

He could brawl. He could work the mat. He could work complex criss cross spots. He could sell and bump (his bumps into the corner or face first into the mat are a thing of beauty). He knew when to draw heat, to taunt the crowd or his opponent, to beg off, to go for an ambush, and to make it all feel part of a greater whole. More than that, his act was constantly evolving. None of his matches against someone like Martel are the same. Maybe they'd trade limb selling. Maybe he'd play more defensive against an energetic babyface. Every new Bockwinkel match that comes out is a joy because he works them all just a little different but never without purpose.

 

He was just as good as a fiery old babyface too. There's the match with Hansen where he somehow takes most of the match, and it's amazing. His feud with Zbyszko has one of the best sub-ten minute matches in wrestling history. And he reveled in it just as much as when he was a heel. So he could go short and make it matter, an energetic sprint from a 50+ year old, and could go long, with the Hennig match every bit as good as people say it is, with a story that runs through the entire match, the old king desperately trying to survive against the young lion.

 

I honestly can't think of anything Flair does better than him, for instance. Compelling early match matwork? Bock is just as good and makes it mean twice as much. Portraying a cocky heel champion? Look at the glee on his face. Bumping? Check out that corner bump? Just the way he moves, how he reacts a little different to every shot, and how he makes the selling matter so much more in the long term. Plus, he has a whole different level of versatility. He does everything Flair does, better or as good, and he does a whole bunch of stuff Flair doesn't do when it comes to the way he builds his matches and pays things off and with selling over time, both specific limb selling (even when back on offense and even better, to explain transitions) and that late match whole body selling that was so great. His promos were amazing, low key, matter-of-fact. He had Bobby Heenan at his side and yet was never outshone by him. He teamed with Rey Stevens and could keep up as a manic force in the ring.

 

He was the best in the world ten years after what had to be his physical prime. Just think about that. 

 

He's really everything I want out of wrestling all in one. I'm sad he's gone, but also excited that we've got some of his matches from Houston coming our way. I know a lot of people still haven't seen too much of him and I consider them lucky because what a great experience they have in front of them, to see his work for Lawler for the first time, or the Billy Robinson match from Japan, or the team with Saito, or the Lbyzsko sprint, or the Wahoo match that I'm not even all that high on but that people love, the stalemate with Flair, the Japanese match vs Funk where every hold is earned, the schmozz with the whole Heenan family vs Hogan and Andre. 

 

From a craft and storytelling perspective, he's what every wrestler should strive to be and what most wrestlers never end up even coming close to reaching. 

 

The. Best. 

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Nick Bockwinkel is the perfect middle ground between smart and hard, between versatile and memorable, between character and work, between mastery and moments. I think often times that wrestling only reaches a fraction of its narrative potential. It should be a no-brainer: every move should be set up and paid off; every motion should build to something; everything should be sold so that it has meaning; one thing should lead to the next. It's a no brainer. It's common sense. That's one axis. The other one is that matches should be exciting, full of energy and verve; they should be visceral, with emotional stakes; they should be innovative and interesting, should draw the crowd in, should make them suspend their disbelief. You can find a wrestler who's high on one axis or another, when every wrestler should strive to score high on both. I don't think any wrestler could ever manage a higher total score, combining the head and the heart, than Nick Bockwinkel.

 

We have matches from the 50s. We have matches from the 70s, especially the late 70s. We don't have a ton from the 60s. This means we miss almost entirely his 25-40 period. Despite that, I still think he's the best wrestler ever. He had amazing cardio into his 50s, but even without that, he would have been great, because he understood how important it was to make every little moment matter and he could execute his every intention. Very few wrestlers reward close watching more than Bockwinkel.

 

There was no one better at working in and out of holds, of knowing when to try to work his way out from the bottom, to feed the babyface to get him back in, to fill the time that long matches needed, but to make it compelling and to play into the broader match's story. Give him someone like Tito Santana or Rick Martel or even someone as green as 1986 Tom Zenk and he was able to take a six minute headlock segment, working in and out, bumping and stooging and trying to cheat, only to end back in it, and make it something no one could possibly complain about. By the end, after the ups and downs, people were left wanting more almost every time. I was.

 

And then when he took over, it was with a level of unmitigated glee. So often, he'd go to the king of the mountain, dumping his opponent as a way to contain him, to slow him down, and then pick at him like a vulture, stomping, getting cheapshots in. There's this joy on his face when he was punishing an opponent that I've never seen any other wrestler have. I love his pairing with Mr. Saito, because he took that same joy in Saito dishing out the punishment and in every Southern tag trick that they did. He portrayed superiority like no one else, not in an over the top way, but as this natural thing, this obvious thing. He wasn't playing a character. He was one. He'd make comments, he'd laugh, and he'd grin just like that bastard at a country club who made his putt. 

 

I like his more even matches against a technical babyface the best, but he made his living as a credible opponent for wrestlers like Verne Gagne (or Hogan or Tony Atlas or Andre or Ernie Ladd). AWA was a babyface heavy territory, and it was Bock's job to get eaten alive (by the boss, especially) but still seem credible. He did it in so many ways, accomplishing more through selling smartly than most wrestlers could do by hitting a hundred moves. There's a match with Verne, for instance, where he does get eaten alive, but thanks to Verne's bodypart work, that he loses the offense is forgivable because it's due to a damaged limb. That makes Verne look better. That makes Bock look better, even as he's getting walloped. He would have gotten him if Verne hadn't taken his leg out.

 

He could brawl. He could work the mat. He could work complex criss cross spots. He could sell and bump (his bumps into the corner or face first into the mat are a thing of beauty). He knew when to draw heat, to taunt the crowd or his opponent, to beg off, to go for an ambush, and to make it all feel part of a greater whole. More than that, his act was constantly evolving. None of his matches against someone like Martel are the same. Maybe they'd trade limb selling. Maybe he'd play more defensive against an energetic babyface. Every new Bockwinkel match that comes out is a joy because he works them all just a little different but never without purpose.

 

He was just as good as a fiery old babyface too. There's the match with Hansen where he somehow takes most of the match, and it's amazing. His feud with Zbyszko has one of the best sub-ten minute matches in wrestling history. And he reveled in it just as much as when he was a heel. So he could go short and make it matter, an energetic sprint from a 50+ year old, and could go long, with the Hennig match every bit as good as people say it is, with a story that runs through the entire match, the old king desperately trying to survive against the young lion.

 

I honestly can't think of anything Flair does better than him, for instance. Compelling early match matwork? Bock is just as good and makes it mean twice as much. Portraying a cocky heel champion? Look at the glee on his face. Bumping? Check out that corner bump? Just the way he moves, how he reacts a little different to every shot, and how he makes the selling matter so much more in the long term. Plus, he has a whole different level of versatility. He does everything Flair does, better or as good, and he does a whole bunch of stuff Flair doesn't do when it comes to the way he builds his matches and pays things off and with selling over time, both specific limb selling (even when back on offense and even better, to explain transitions) and that late match whole body selling that was so great. His promos were amazing, low key, matter-of-fact. He had Bobby Heenan at his side and yet was never outshone by him. He teamed with Rey Stevens and could keep up as a manic force in the ring.

 

He was the best in the world ten years after what had to be his physical prime. Just think about that. 

 

He's really everything I want out of wrestling all in one. I'm sad he's gone, but also excited that we've got some of his matches from Houston coming our way. I know a lot of people still haven't seen too much of him and I consider them lucky because what a great experience they have in front of them, to see his work for Lawler for the first time, or the Billy Robinson match from Japan, or the team with Saito, or the Lbyzsko sprint, or the Wahoo match that I'm not even all that high on but that people love, the stalemate with Flair, the Japanese match vs Funk where every hold is earned, the schmozz with the whole Heenan family vs Hogan and Andre. 

 

From a craft and storytelling perspective, he's what every wrestler should strive to be and what most wrestlers never end up even coming close to reaching. 

 

The. Best. 

This was fantastic. Always cool to read something who held Bock in the same high esteem that I did. Had Nick gone to the NWA as opposed to camping out in Minnesota, he'd be in the same discussions as Flair, Race, the Funks, and Brisco. I'd also wager he would have gotten a run with the NWA strap.

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The Wahoo match is always going to stand out because two guys with a combined age of near a century decide to just bludgeon the fuck out of each other and I went crazy watching it during the AWA set.

 

He has a claim to being in the best tag team of all time, too. Him and Ray Stevens were remarkable.

 

Just so sad. I feel terrible for Bobby, as he mentioned that working with him was his favorite time in the business, basically.

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The Wahoo match is always going to stand out because two guys with a combined age of near a century decide to just bludgeon the fuck out of each other and I went crazy watching it during the AWA set.

 

He has a claim to being in the best tag team of all time, too. Him and Ray Stevens were remarkable.

 

Just so sad. I feel terrible for Bobby, as he mentioned that working with him was his favorite time in the business, basically.

Bock/Stevens vs Patterson/Stevens ?

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  I love his pairing with Mr. Saito, because he took that same joy in Saito dishing out the punishment and in every Southern tag trick that they did.

Other than seeing Flair pin Sting, my all-time favorite live match was Bock/Saito - Road Warriors at the Showboat in Vegas. Man I wish there was a good version of that on video. I've seen brief clips, but thats it.

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I had an innate respect for Bockwinkel despite not having watched his stuff prior to his passing. I went so far as to create one of those EWR pictures for him in the game I had, just to say I had Bockwinkel in it.

But I really got a chance to immerse myself in Bockwinkel this past Sunday when I added as many Bockwinkel clips as I could find to the GWE Marathon stream, and watched nothing but Bockwinkel for at least 12 hrs. Boy am I glad I did that.

Getting to see him with such a wide variety of opponents and environments was really something extraordinary. Matt D has done a far better job than I of articulating all the things that made Bockwinkel great. Watching Andre/Hogan vs Hernan Family handicap in AWA was so much fun. As I said in the GWE chat, "I am happier for having seen that match." And as a wrestling fan, I am happier for having seen Nick Bockwinkel do his thing.

He was a very underrated promo, as the build for his death match vs Larry Z and the promo leading up to his $500/punch match with Lawler were extraordinary. He could be an ass-kicker, Matt technician, brawler, stooging heel. He could do it all. He will be missed. I'm just sad I wasn't immersed in Bockwinkel sooner than I was.

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^^^ The match didn't satisfy the crowd much, but it did me. That's a master class in working holds on the mat and selling them. The sheer joy Bock has in trying to wrench Riki's foot from his leg early on is the best. You can guess the finish but I dug the duck under the lariat leading up to it, even if they blew off all the matwork to go home.

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^^^ The match didn't satisfy the crowd much, but it did me. That's a master class in working holds on the mat and selling them. The sheer joy Bock has in trying to wrench Riki's foot from his leg early on is the best. You can guess the finish but I dug the duck under the lariat leading up to it, even if they blew off all the matwork to go home.

 

Odd because that is my main issue with the match.   I love matches where the finish is built on selling the matwork.  Nothing beats a go home spot where a guy is unable to kick out of a pin because he's selling the effects of the Figure Four he spent five minutes trying to reverse.

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