If you only know Ultimo Dragon and Dean Malenko from their WWF/E runs, then you have been sadly deprived of the true abilities of two excellent in-ring talents. This match depicts both wrestlers at their best; each determined to outdo the other. It’s a great wrestling contest, hosting high-risk moves, chain wrestling, reversals into reversals, innovation by the bucket load. Malenko and Dragon never really got a chance to show WWF/E fans their talent, but thanks to the WWE Network, every subscriber has a chance to view their WCW matches. And there’s no better place to start than this match, held at Starrcade 1996.
Malenko was an atypical Cruiserweight champion; instead of flashy moves and top rope shenanigans, Malenko fine-tuned his ‘ground and pound’ approach. He could pull off traditional cruiserweight moves, but was more comfortable with a wrestling approach to matches. Ultimo Dragon was a typical Cruiserweight competitor, but was one of the best. They brought the best out of each other. Both wrestlers come out of this contest looking awesome.
In the opening and closing moments, reversals and counters happen so quickly that it’s a shame to blink and miss anything. In between, the match is almost perfectly paced, to bring a natural and thoroughly exciting end to the contest. Malenko knew how to wear an opponent down with submissions without losing the interest of the crowd. His talent at keeping the crowd involved is highlighted through the match. He mixes up the ground and pound with suplexes and back body drops. He focuses on Dragon’s leg, building up to Dragon’s comebacks. And when Dragon makes a comeback, he does it in style, pulling of tope feints, handsprings, and an Asai Moonsault with grace and precision.
In particular, the closing minutes of the bout see some of the best reversal and counter wrestling in the world. It’s one of those matches that you don’t want to end; these two could wrestle an Iron Man match and not repeat the same move twice. The outside interference does spoil things a little at the end, but not enough to dampen proceedings. As a snapshot of mid-90s WCW Cruiserweight contests at their finest, look no further than Dean Malenko vs Ultimo Dragon.
VERDICT: 9/10. Malenko and Ultimo Dragon assemble a peerless display of counters, reversals, submissions, aerial ability, and devastating moves in an almost flawless Cruiserweight bout.
(Click here for my review of #82 Steve Austin vs Dude Love, WWE Over The Edge 1998)
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