Sports Strength

Elton’s Weekly Wrestling High Spots and Botches: October 18-October 24


High Spots: Just a few days before Crown Jewel, WWE presented a pretty mediocre edition of Raw. The show’s top ladies got to shine here tonight as Charlotte Flair and Bianca Belair donned their best drip during a fiery opening promo segment. Biana deserves all the credit in the world for pulling off a handstand flip with high heels on and not even buckling just once. The match both women had at the end of this episode was a good time, although the inconclusive finish was a mood killer. It made sense for it to end on a disqualification since Charlotte and Bianca are set for bigger things with Becky Lynch. The finish still sucked, though. Major props to Xavier Woods for getting one step closer to his dream of becoming this year’s King of the Ring. Xavier did God’s work as he managed to have a good match with Jinder “Master of 1,001 Restholds” Mahal and came out at the end of their bout as the winner. I damn near jumped through my roof when Xavier landed that tightrope elbow drop of his FTW! 

Thank God the usual 24/7 Championship garbage didn’t happen during the second meeting between Austin Theory and Jeff Hardy. It happened backstage and was an eyesore as usual, though. Austin and Jeff packed in a lot of action into their spirited rematch. Austin got a more satisfying victory this time around, but Jeff got some revenge post-match via his own selfie. Austin gets two W’s over Jeff during his second stint on Raw, while Jeff got a slight bit of revenge to not look too bad while on his way to Friday Nights. Fine by me! The WWE Champion Big E and Drew McIntyre contended with The Dirty Dawgs in a decent matchup that was meant to add a bit more fire to one of Crown Jewel’s biggest bouts. It got its point across and was a decent watch, which was fine I guess. RK-Bro and The Street Profits definitely made the most of the extended match time afforded to them! While watching them work, I couldn’t help but think that a singles match between Riddle and Montez Ford would be incredible. AJ Styles and Omos interfered to bring the good times to an end, but I wasn’t too peeved by that end result ‘cause that three-team feud looks super enticing.

Botches: Mansoor vs. Cedric Alexander was (YOU GUESSED IT!) way too damn short. Is a 10-minute match between two underutilized workers on a three-hour wrestling show too much to ask for? Mansoor won as expected since he’s heading into Crown Jewel to take on his former tag team partner Mustafa Ali. Ali’s post-match promo was pretty weak, to be honest. I just wished they wouldn’t have broken up in the first place – wouldn’t it have been a far better booking decision to have them take on either one of the tag team champs and possibly win the straps in front of a very appreciative crowd? Finn Bálor vs. Mace lasted two minutes and elicited little to no excitement for me since the winner was never in question. I really couldn’t bring myself to care too much about that one. Finn vs. Xavier should have an excellent clash at Crown Jewel, though!

John Morrison continued to search for his inner “chi.” Sigh…the Johnny I fell in love with from Lucha Underground is the one I’d really prefer watching these days. Goldberg and Bobby Lashley spoke angrily at each other to hype up a match that I wish wasn’t happening. Let’s just leave it at that. I’m really a sucker for thinking Piper Niven vs. Shayna Baszler would get the proper time it needed to actually matter as a Queen’s Crown Semifinal match, right? All I got here for my naivety was a two-minute letdown that further painted this tournament as a totally botched endeavor. At least Piper’s gonna win the whole tourney at Crown Jewel, right? RIGHT? Wait, WWE’s totally gonna swerve us all by giving it to Zelina aren’t they? Oh God…

NXT 2.0

High Spots: I never knew I wanted a Carmello Hayes vs. Johnny Gargano match until this episode of NXT 2.0! At the start of the show, “Johnny Wrestling” interrupted Carmello’s “Melo-bration” and teased a future clash between the two over the NXT North American Championship. Dexter Lumis came out to back up his bestie and scare the hell out of Carmello and his boy Trick Williams, which obviously means we’re due for a tag team match in the near future. Now that should be fun! Santos Escobar is pretty peeved with Carmello as well, so it sounds like we might be due for a singles meeting between those two or even a triple threat if Johnny is still embroiled in his beef with the new champ. Malcolm Bivens is straight jokes, fam! I love him when he’s in serious manager mode, but I just love it, even more, when he drops a one-liner or two from time to time. My man really said that the two things he does best is mind his own damn business and not get his ass molly whopped in the parking lot! Once his promo ended, his Diamond Mine duo of the Creed Brothers squared off with Imperium in a decent bout.

The Creed Bros. took the L, which was a genuine surprise since I figured they wouldn’t lose so early in their run thus far. MSK ran out afterward to deliver some comeuppance to Imperium and set up a match for the following episode’s Halloween Havoc special. I don’t really care for Imperium much, so I can’t say that match truly excites me. Ikemen Jiro was definitely wildin’ for interrupting Kushida while he was tryna take a leak! But I couldn’t be too mad at him ‘cause he gifted Kushida with his trusty Back to the Future-inspired jacket. Having those two team up might be more interesting than I initially thought. Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza did right by the rest of Legado Del Fantasma by beating Josh Briggs and Brooks Jensen. Their match was pretty interesting since it was a clash of styles between speed and power. I wouldn’t mind seeing these two go at it again with an extra 10 minutes attached to it.

LA Knight and Grayson Waller really tried to take each other’s heads off just for the right to host Halloween Havoc! While the gimmick for their match was silly, the match itself was decent for the time it was given. The fact that both men competed at a fast pace helped it retain my interest in the short time span it took place within. It sure is nice to see my man LA get back to his winning ways! Future Halloween Havoc opponents Tommaso Ciampa and Bron Breakker pulled up on the Grizzled Young Veterans for the disrespect shown to the NXT Champion the week before. Both teams easily took home Match of the Night honors thanks to a highly competitive main event that let them go to war with 10+ minutes allocated to them. When Bron pulled off a classic Steiner Recliner, a tear came to my eye! I’m really watching the offspring of Rick Steiner embrace the very best parts of one of the greatest tag teams of all time. So we’re all betting on Bron becoming the NXT Champion at Halloween Havoc, right?

Botches: NXT 2.0 has become the new home for squash matches for anyone who’s a fan of that sort of thing. I consider myself among those fans, but a few of the ones we got on this episode just didn’t grab me like I figured they would. Odyssey Jones is cool and all, but I wanna see him featured in some lengthier and more competitive matches now. Watching him demolish the incredibly unremarkable Andre Chase was kind of a bore, honestly. Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner had a bonding moment out in the good old outdoors. I didn’t really care for any of it, to be honest. Whatever shirt Kyle was wearing was pretty fire, though! Joe Gacy and his social media wokeness appeared on my screen once again to dole out his collection of tired buzzwords. Pure snore vibes as always. The second squash of the night came with another case of an odd victory taking place when Cora Jade pulled off an underdog win over Elektra Lopez. It lasted a minute & some change and really wasn’t any good, either.

Man, I hope Jacy Jayne is okay. She took a really nasty landing on her suicide dive and ended up leaving the triple threat match she was a part of with Io Shirai and Perisa Pirotta. Io and Perisa obviously had to improvise in the wake of her absence and did the best they could. You could definitely tell that Io was a bit off as the match wore on. But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, all things considered. Our third squash of the night featured Tony D’Angelo getting rid of Re Feng in less than two minutes. I know Wrestling Twitter loves the guy and his throwback gimmick, but I’m still not a believer. He’s passable in the ring and I just can’t find it in me to gravitate towards him quite yet. Duke Hudson is a wrestling gambler, huh? Don’t care. Where’s “The Con-Man” Rob Conway when you need him? Bring him and his corny-ass theme song back to embrace this gambler gimmick, I say!

Impact Wrestling

High Spots: Bound for Glory is almost here, baybee! So of course, we got the go-home show for Impact Wrestling’s marquee event of the year here. And for the most part, it was decent enough. We got a fun tag team match at the start of this episode between the Bullet Club’s Hikuleo & Chris Bey and FinJuice. The match was going well enough until a pretty puzzling ending that saw two refs count a double pin that gave us a victory for both teams. Which was a weird way to set up the triple threat match at BFG for the Impact World Tag Team Championship, but at least we finally got there. I feel like a Bullet Club victory is in the works, folks! Josh Alexander’s road to BFG was explained in full during an emotional promo segment that broke down his history in Impact and his world championship aspirations. The guy can wrestle with the best of ‘em and now we finally got a chance to hear him talk shockingly well. YOU GOT THIS ONE, JOSH!

I gotta give more props to Josh ‘cause he brought even more verbal heat during a face-to-face encounter with Christian Cage. The jaw-jacking here was off the charts – Josh hit the champ right in his soul by stating “as long as you’re cashing a check from a billionaire that owns a different company, you will never be the face of IMPACT Wrestling.” OH MY DAMN! That’s going to be one of the best matches of the year, no doubt. Mickie James came back strong during her Impact comeback match against Savannah Evans. After watching her look that good mere days before her meeting with Deonna Purrazzo, I’m way more excited to see that women’s war go down. That no-contact rule looked as if it had gotten broken, but Deonna’s guy Matthew Rehwoldt was the one who put hands on Mickie so no harm done, right? And just like I figured they would, Trey Miguel and Alex Zayne showed out during their X-Division exhibition. I was none too happy seeing Steve Maclin arrive post-match to beat them both down, but I was overjoyed when El Phantasmo came out to leave Steve laying. EL P FTW!

Botches: I can’t say I was a huge fan of the three-way mixed tag. It just felt like a jumbled mess, plus I’m never all that enthusiastic about watching Tenille Dashwood, Crazy Steve, or Fallah Bahh in the ring. It was kinda weird not seeing Rhino finally give Heath a definitive answer for their tag team grudge match against Violent by Design. Heath pleaded to the big guy in a heartfelt promo, yet it still wasn’t enough to convince him to come back to the good side. It would have been great to finally witness Rhino ditch his VBD clan members and fend off the vicious stable as a cool setup for BFG. Having Rhino walk out on Heath and leaving him alone to be assaulted by VBD was a strange path to go down before the PPV, I must say. And finally, the latest episode of “Brian Myers Presents: How to be a Professional” was kind of a bust to me – I’m just ready to see Zicky Dice move on from all the corny backstage humor and show & prove in the ring now.

WWE SmackDown

High Spots: Sami Zayn got new theme music! And it’s not half bad, either. It’s just too bad that Sami’s brand new entrance tune debut came on the same night that he got bodied by Drew McIntyre. Drew established himself as one of the newest pillars of SmackDown thanks to his impressive domination of his post-WWE Draft opponent. Nice work establishing Drew on his new home here. ALL HAIL, KING WOODS! Xavier Woods made good on his promise of winning this year’s King of the Ring and made sure to bask in his regal awesomeness during his official coronation as wrestling royalty. It was so dope watching Kofi Kingston bestow Woods with his kingly gear and do it all in front of a very appreciative crowd. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that no one came out to interrupt all the good tidings for King Woods, too! I hope to see The New Day member go on to even bigger and better things in the coming months.

Mansoor and Mustafa Ali had an immediate rematch on this episode of SmackDown just 24 hours after their Crown Jewel war. This match was a fun sprint that showcased Mansoor’s immense potential once again. The short runtime for this rematch was a bit of a letdown, but both men filled all that time with enough exciting action to keep me entertained from start to finish. The strong chemistry between Shinsuke Nakamura and Happy Corban has to be one of the biggest in-ring surprises of the year. I usually tune out during any Corbin match, but that’s never the case whenever he’s in the ring with Shinsuke. The match they had here was pretty good, plus Rick Boogs’ guitar upliftment for Shinsuke was an entertaining gimmick.

Botches: The first time Brock Lesnar got “suspended indefinitely,” it was pretty exciting since it came as a genuine shock when he assaulted non-wrestlers. When he did it on this episode of SmackDown, I saw it coming from a mile away. Which in turn made me not as hype for all the damage “The Beast” did this time around. Watching Roman Reigns goad him into coming out was cool and all, but the destruction Brock caused when he finally came out didn’t really land with me. Watching Michael Cole catch an F5 from the rampaging monster was much better than watching him do the same to Adam Pearce is all I’m saying. (S)Hit Row’s era of mediocrity sadly began here with a super corny pre-match promo that made my skin crawl. I can watch Isaiah “Swerve” Scott wrestle all day. Top Dollah, though? Not feeling him whatsoever.

I thought it was lame when the tag team titles for both Raw and SmackDown were simply swapped during last year’s draft, so you can probably guess how I felt about the idiotic women’s title exchange that took place between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch here. Simply relinquishing one’s belt just so you can grab the other one as you take over the new brand’s division is just so underwhelming to me. The constant childish games between the two ladies were annoying as hell, too. I’m really burnt out on different combinations of the Four Horsewomen feuding, so I’m not at all excited about yet another Banks vs. Charlotte feud.

AEW Rampage

High Spots: If Tony Khan asked me to empty out my savings account just so I could get constant rematches between Andrade El Idolo and Pac, I’d pay up immediately! This episode saw the second meeting between the two and it was even better than that awesome encounter they had on a previous episode of Rampage. It started out hot with Pac getting the better of Andrade, then it evolved into Andrade brutalizing his opponent with stiff kicks and a death-defying apron DDT. Pac responded in kind with some vicious kicks of his own and a devastating Sheerdrop Brainbuster off of the top rope! The ending for this 2021 MOTYC came as a shock as Pac rolled up Andrade out of nowhere for the win. 

Then suddenly, the lights went dark and came back on to reveal Malakai Black brooding in the ring. Seemingly as a favor to Andrade, Malakai blasted Pac with his trademark black mist and began kicking him while he was down. Andrade and his new associate almost did far worse to Pac, but then Arn Anderson emerged to distract them with his terrifying “Armed Anderson” finger pistol. This resulted in Cody Rhodes (who actually got cheered this time!) coming out to assault both men and build up some excitement for his third match with Malakai. This episode’s main event and post-match angle were some damn good wrestling TV!

It looks like the Lucha Bros. vs FTR for the AEW World Tag Team Championship is definitely a go for Full Gear! The brief segment that happened between the two teams made that abundantly clear as Tully Blanchard clobbered Penta El Zero M’s manager and even left the masked one laying. Based on their previous contests, I can’t wait to see those two tandems run it back on PPV. And lemme give some props to Anna Jay – I might not be a huge fan of hers, but she proved she could go with the best of ‘em during her clash with Britt Baker. Their match saw unique counter grappling, stiff elbow shots, and some surprisingly good back & forth offense. That was clearly Anna’s best AEW match to date and it pointed to someone that could be even better as the years go on.

Botches: As soon as I read the full bracket for the World Title Eliminator tournament, I just knew Orange Cassidy would find a way to get past the much larger Powerhouse Hobbs. I wished Hobbs would have gotten pitted against someone else so he had a higher chance of winning and moving on in the tourney, but that sadly wasn’t the case. Orange got the unsurprising win thanks to a huge screw-up on Hobbs’ part, which made sense considering the hot-headedness of Taz’s big boy. But the match itself was practically a squash before the disappointing “slip on a banana peel” finish. That entire opening segment just didn’t sit right with me, honestly…

AEW Dynamite

High Spots: Man, these Saturday Night Dynamite episodes be hitttin’! We started off this edition of the weekend series with a highly competitive matchup between Daniel Bryan and Dustin Rhodes, which is the sort of encounter I never knew I even wanted until it finally took place. Dustin hasn’t lost a step at his old age – it was awesome watching him keep up with Daniel and take it to him with a sick superplex. I loved what I saw from both men and hope to see Dustin continue showing these AEW young bucks (no pun intended) how it’s done. Kenny Omega delivered a fire line during his backstage promo that needs to be a T-Shirt ASAP – “Coward Shit.” And shout out to FTR and Penta El Zero M for delivering another heated promo against each other – I hope and pray that The Lucha Bros and FTR get 20 minutes to produce absolute in-ring perfection at Full Gear. Tony Nese got the “incoming talent in the front row at NXT” crowd treatment, which leads me to believe that he’s already #AllElite.

MJF continued to be incredibly out of pocket as he verbally accosted Florida and brought up Sting’s best buddy, Lex Luger. Sting put hands all over MJF once he entered the ring, but Shawn Spears and Wardlow ran out to put that beatdown to a quick end. Sting got put down via some vicious chair shots, which led to MJF continuing his campaign to mentally break down Darby Allin even more. Man when Darby pops back up, the live audience is going to lose its shit! And so will I. MJF vs. Darby is clearly going down at Full Gear with some sort of specialty attached to it – I can’t wait! Side note – Wardlow having an “Accountability Buddy” in Spears is actually pretty hilarious. The ladies division shined tonight thanks to a strong promo from Britt Baker that hyped up her Full Gear meeting with Tay Conti (that should be an exciting matchup!) and a surprisingly solid TBS Championship tournament bout between Penelope Ford & Ruby Soho. There were some obvious slip-ups here and there, but both women looked equally strong throughout the majority of their clash. The rest of the TBS Championship tourney looks like it’s gonna be a fun one.

Bobby Fish is out here prospering as a brutal heel that loves kicking out people’s legs out from under their legs (shout out to Owen Hart for that wonderful promo botch!). He squashed Anthony Greene with ease and even landed some extra stiff shots on the poor guy post-match. This brought out CM Punk, who clearly has Bobby in his sights and doesn’t appreciate his unsportsmanlike conduct. I’m definitely getting ROH circa early to mid-2000s vibes from a match between those two indy greats. Lio “The King of PPP Loan Scams” Rush got him and Dante Martin booked for a pretty dope exhibition on the next episode of Rampage against The Sydal Brothers. I’m watching that one just to see Lio in his new Power Rangers-inspired getup. Man, I feel so bad for Lance Archer. He and Eddie Kingston were having a damn good match until Lance landed on his head during a moonsault attempt. I appreciate both men for going straight to a quick finish just so Lance could get to the back and get checked out. I love the big lug, so here’s hoping he’s okay and comes back to wreak more havoc on random ringside “fans” real soon.

I was pretty damned happy to see Ethan Page get a lot of promo time here – he’s always been one of the more underrated mic men in wrestling. Sammy Guevara came out to deliver some verbal bars of his own against him and the manager with the most heat in modern-day wrestling, Dan Lambert. We got a TNT Championship match booked between Sammy and Ethan for the Wednesday night return of Dynamite out of that promo exchange, so fine work from everyone involved there. Jon Moxley provided the promo of the night when he spoke on the one thing he cares about over everything else – his daughter. He’s doing everything he can to win the World Title Eliminator tourney in a bid to support his family. A Moxley that’s out to do damage in order to keep the food on the table for his family and his first child is a very scary man indeed. Seeing Adam Page reunite with The Dark Order was so wholesome – I’m dying to know what Halloween costumes they’ll wear during their six-man tag against The Elite!

Jungle Boy made short work of Brandon Cutler and proceeded to cut a pretty decent promo against The Elite. Adam Cole came out to lambast him and caught a stiff elbow shot for his troubles, which resulted in The Young Bucks running out to superkick the hell out of Jungle Boy. At the end of that segment, Jungle Boy got viciously thrown off the stage and right through two nearby tables. It’s looking like Christian Cage will soon make his return to gain revenge for that despicable (yet wholly entertaining!) act. If you would have told me that Miro would be one of the best promos of 2021, I would have told you to seek professional mental health assistance. Miro’s post-TNT Championship run has seen him produce some passionate diatribes about his God forsaking him and forcing him to be even more destructive than ever before. HIS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HAND, MIRO’S GOD!

And in the main event, Malakai Black and Cody Rhodes had an insane third meeting that came off like a TNA Jeff Jarrett PPV main event. But this example of that sort of match was one of the good ones. The crowd’s excitement levels were through the roof for this one as they booed Cody relentlessly, cheered Malakai every time he got on offense, and chanted “GET THE GLOCK!” when Arn Anderson hopped into the ring. This match also featured a classic “Double A” spinebuster, Pac & Andrade El Idolo brawling on the ramp, and a ringside table Cross Roads bump. This match was pure madness, yet I enjoyed every minute of it. Cody finally got one over on the leader of the “House of Black,” which I’m sure infuriated a ton of people. I’m not even gon lie – I really thought Cody was gonna end Malakai with a Pedigree! He ended up finishing Malakai off with a nasty Underhook Piledriver instead. Another wild ending to another great episode of Dynamite!

Botches: None to speak of, honestly…

Random Rumblings Around the Squared Circle

High Spots: If you’ve been watching WWE’s Saudi Arabia specials since the very beginning, then you know they’re usually forgettable events that are filled with underwhelming matches. But to my surprise, this year’s Crown Jewel easily surpassed all those past events and ended up being a great show overall. Every match (AND I MEAN, EVERY MATCH!) ranged in quality from shockingly good to expectedly great. I figured Goldberg vs. Bobby Lashley and Zalina Vega vs. Piper Niven wouldn’t amount to much of anything, but they ended up being far better than they had any right to be. 

Edge vs. Seth Rollins in Hell in a Cell was amazing, Mansoor vs. Mustafa Ali was a great showing for the hometown star, Xavier Woods finally realized his dream of becoming King of the Ring, Big E successfully defended his WWE Championship against Drew McIntyre in a damn good match, and the triple threat for the SmackDown Women’s Championship was pure poetry in motion. And in the main event, we actually got a much better rendition of that corny-ass title belt tug of war from 2015 between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Paul Heyman’s loyalty was definitely in question. But in the end, Roman’s advocate stood by him and helped him leave Crown Jewel with his Universal Championship intact. Crown Jewel 2021 has to be considered as one of the best shows of the year.

MOOSE! MOOSE! MOOSE! Mere moments after Josh Alexander claimed the Impact World Championship from Christian Cage, Moose cashed in his “Call Your Shot” opportunity for a title shot and captured the belt after landing a devastating Spear FTW! And Moose did all of this right in front of Josh’s family! That was a hell of an ending to a pretty good Bound For Glory PPV. Jordynne Grace became the first-ever Digital Media Champion, The IInspiration made their debut & captured the Knockouts Tag Team Championship, Trey Miguel won his first-ever X-Division Championship, and Mickie James claimed the Knockouts Championship. The main event between Josh and Christian was a strong showcase of two Canadian greats, plus we got a hell of a post-match shocking ending to bring the show to a shocking close. And hey, we also got to see WCW’s “The Demon” show up just for the hell of it!

Botches: I had no clue how much of a madman Rob Black was during his run as the owner of Xtreme Pro Wrestling back in the day. I certainly found out about his wild nature during the latest episode of Dark Side of the Ring. It focused on the rise and fall of XPW – I got a deeper insight into the company’s rivalry with Paul Heyman & ECW, Rob’s porno empire, the shocking affair between Lizzie Borden & Messiah, and the brutal attack brought upon Messiah by two nameless thugs. XPW was one of those companies I didn’t follow too much during my younger days, so this episode of DSOTR made me fully aware of just how tumultuous its run turned out to be. It really sucks how Messiah lost his thumb and the sacrifices a lot of XPW’s talent took during their over-the-top hardcore bouts.

Sports Strength

Oregon Tops UCLA in PAC 12 Showdown

On Saturday October 23, the Oregon Ducks traveled to Pasadena to take on the UCLA Bruins in a PAC12 showdown. Coming into the game Oregon stood at 6-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play, while UCLA came in at 5-2 and 3-1 in conference play. Conference championship implications.

The first quarter was pretty much all UCLA as the Bruins took a 14-0 lead. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson led the charge, driving straight down the field on the first possession of the game and running back Brittain Brown finished it off with a one-yard touchdown run. Although Thompson-Robinson threw an interception on the Bruins’ second possession, he bounced back to toss a four-yard touchdown strike with 4:08 left in the first quarter to put UCLA up two possessions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, it was pretty much all Oregon from that point on.

In the second quarter, UCLA was plagued by sloppiness and self-sabotage, costing themselves points by missing a 35-yard field goal on one possession and losing a fumble in the red zone to end another. Conversely, Oregon shook off their first quarter malaise and evened the score with a 12 play, 80 yard touchdown drive with 5:17 left in the first half.

To start the third quarter, Oregon running back Travis Dye added his third and fourth touchdowns of the game as the Ducks raced to a 27-17 lead. In the fourth quarter, though, UCLA mustered some late momentum, but the damage done in the third quarter was just too much for the Bruins to overcome as Oregon went on to win 34-31.

Over the course of the game, each team turned the ball over three times, however two of the Bruins turnovers came at the absolute worst times. After halftime they gave up a touchdown to Oregon, then fumbled on their next possession. As they were mounting their comeback, Thompson-Robinson threw an interception that essentially ended the game.

Dye was in beast mode as he ended the game a ridiculous four touchdowns. Similarly, All-American pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux proved why he’s the best defensive player in the country, finishing the game with 8 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Thanks to Thibodeaux, Oregon’s defensive line controlled the trenches, holding the Bruins to a paltry 2.4 yards per carry.

Oregon hasn’t been perfect at all this season, but they continue to win the games they need to win, after an uncharacteristic loss to Stanford earlier in the season. Oregon remains in the thick of things as they still have a great chance to run the table and make the playoffs. Next up for Oregon: a home date against the 2-5 Colorado Buffalo next Saturday at 3:30.

UCLA is now 5-3 and their chances of playing for the Pac-12 championship have all but evaporated after this loss. However their chances of playing in a solid bowl game remains high, if they can continue to put some good wins together. UCLA travels to Utah to face the Utes in another conference game.

Sports Strength

NASCAR Xfinity Series Team Kaulig Racing Is On The Rise

If you have ever attended or watched a NASCAR race, then you know just how intriguing and infectious the event is. It’s hard not to get heavily invested as you root for your favorite drivers competing for the ultimate prize, and it’s been that way ever since its 1948 founding in Daytona Beach. The game has continued to grow over the decades, and among that growth is The NASCAR Xfinity Series which was developed in 1982.

We had the opportunity to speak with next generation NASCAR owner, Matt Kaulig–owner of NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) team, Kaulig Racing for a conversation on Kaulig’s exciting year winning the regular season championship, along with two Xfinity Series wins and one Cup Series. With this success, Matt Kaulig has also announced that Kaulig Racing will move up to the NASCAR Cup series in 2022. 

Matt Kaulig
Matt Kaulig

In the midst of a successful start to the playoffs, Kaulig Racing has experienced a great amount of success in a relatively short amount of time since their 2016 inception. Kaulig, alongside other new team owners such as Justin Marks and Denny Hamilin are leading the charge in keeping the competition alive for the foreseeable future through building up the hottest drivers, and creating a brand new industry fan base.

We checked in with Kaulig last week to talk about all things Kaulig Racing, the current playoffs, and expectations for the future.

Matt Kaulig
Matt Kaulig

ONE37pm: Kaulig Racing has had a great year so far. What has this season been like for you guys as a whole?

Kaulig: It’s been a great season so far! It’s our sixth year in NASCAR Xfinity and we’ve had an awesome year. We have A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Haley, and Jeb Burton as our drivers, and all three are capable of winning. A.J. is leading in points, and was the 2021 Xfinity Regular Season Champion. He has really done a great job leading the team!

ONE37pm: You recently announced that Kaulig Racing will move up to the NASCAR Cup series in 2022. Could you expand a bit more on that?

Kaulig: Yes! We purchased two charters a few months ago. For those that don’t know, in NASCAR a charter is a franchise, and you have to own a franchise to play. We will have two full-time racers participating in the Cup Series. The first is Justin Haley, and the second will be announced soon. We are one of the fastest teams to ever win a Cup Race which is something we are very proud of. Right now we have two Cup drivers, and we’re going to add three full-time Xfinity cars to get to five total. So we’re expanding!

ONE37pm: How do you manage all of your other entrepreneurial endeavors alongside having your own NASCAR team?

Kaulig: We’ve got great people and have developed a culture of gems that really get things done. In addition to Kaulig Racing I also have other businesses such as LeafFilter and Leaf Home, and again that goes back to having dedicated people. What I’m most proud of though is our philanthropy. We get things done and focus on helping others. Our motto is “Continue to grow, or begin to die.” We are very much always learning how to grow.

ONE37pm: We may have some first-time readers who are interested in learning more. Can you break down the NASCAR Xfinity Playoffs just a little deeper?

Kaulig: Sure thing! There’s 33 races in the Xfinity series. The first 26 are regular season matches where you are accumulating points for the playoffs. The top 12 cars in points qualify for the first round of the playoffs. Every car is a part of the race which has seven races total, but only those top 12 are counted. We just advanced to the second round which is a round of eight cars. Those eight will eventually be cut down to four, and those four will head to the championship in Phoenix where one will take the whole thing. Right now we have two cars in there–Justin Haley and the regular season champ A.J. Allmendinger.

ONE37pm: Lastly, what can we expect in the future?

Kaulig: Continued growth to get into full-time Cup Racing which is the highest level of motor sports. It’s super exciting and a big challenge! We feel we dominate on the Xfinity level and we are excited for the future there as well. It’s been fun building a team from scratch and we are looking forward to doing more!

Exciting indeed. You can keep up with all of Kaulig Racing’s latest updates on Instagram and via their official website.  

Sports Strength

The History of El Clasico

El Clasico has been one of the biggest spectacles not only in the European football landscape, but in all of sports.

It is a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, two teams in the top Spanish football league known as La Liga, and two of the most successful clubs in all of Europe.

Leading up to match day between Real Madrid and Barcelona, fans are given the opportunity to reminisce the greatest matchups between the two historic Spanish clubs, like in 2014, when Gareth Bale turned into the human flash and dusted Barcelona at their Camp Nou, or in 2017, when Lionel Messi sent his flaming spear into the heart of Real Madrid at their Santiago Bernabeu.

Getty Images
VALENCIA, SPAIN – APRIL 16: Gareth Bale (L) of Real Madrid celebrates beside Xabi Alonso after scoring Real’s 2nd goal during the Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on April 16, 2014 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Throughout the past decade, the intense rivalry of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi doubled the attraction that is already garnered for arguably the biggest soccer match on the planet. Even without two of the games greatest stars, the historic rivalry between the two teams and hatred amongst the fans should be enough to make this weekend’s El Clasico one to remember.

How did El Clasico Begin?
Getty Images
Barcelona striker Gary Lineker (r) gets in a shot as Hugo Sanchez of Real Madrid looks on during the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on January 31, 1987 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images)

Football analysts and minds alike point to the 1940s as the timeframe for which El Clasico became what it is today. One of the more memorable matches from that decade happened in 1943. Barcelona were up 5-3 in the 73rd minute against Real Madrid during a La Liga match at Les Cortes, Barcelona’s home stadium. In a hostile environment, Madrid would proceed to score two unanswered goals to tie the score, salvaging a draw in a 5-5 result for the record books.

Who has the most goals in El Clasico?
Getty Images
Alfredo Di Stefano entertaining in Real Madrid during September of 1963 / Getty Images

Argentinean striker Alredo Di Stefano was at the forefront of Real Madrid’s dominance against Barcelona during the 1960s. Di Stefano is the all-time leading goal scorer in El Clasico with 26 goals, and was known for playing some of his best football against arch rival Barcelona.

Most Memorable El Clasico Moment
Getty Images
Barcelona’s Brazilian Ronaldinho (L) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid with teammate Cameroonese Samuel Eto’o during their Spanish Liga football match in Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, 19 November 2005. AFP PHOTO/ Pierre-Philippe MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Imagine Alex Rodriguez earning a standing ovation at Fenway Park, or J.J Redick receiving love from UNC fans at the Dean Dome. Both of those inconceivable scenarios equate to what Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabau did for Barcelona’s Ronaldinho in 2005.

Ronaldinho was the reigning world footballer of the year. The golden boot winner (awarded to the player with the most goals in a league) was a stalwart on a Barcelona team full of such. Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi were forces to be reckon with as well during that year. Against Real Madrid in 2005 though, Ronaldinho put on a solo exhibit of greatness, and did it all with a big smile on his face. Among displaying his outstanding dribbling and playmaking to the Madrid fans during the match, he scored two spectacular goals to seal a comfortable Barcelona victory.

After his second goal, around half of the supporters in the stadium were standing up and cheering on the Barcelona superstar, just as he tormented their team.

What’s Next?
Getty Images
Barcelona’s Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati (R) kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on February 2, 2020

This will be the first time in over a decade that we’ll see these two teams play without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on the team.

While there won’t be any players on the pitch that have half of the quality of those mentioned above, there are reasons to be as excited as ever for this weekend’s El Clasico.

There are young stars in both squads, including 18 year-old Ansu Fati for Barcelona and 21 year-old Vincius Junior for Real Madrid, that will vie to become the next El Clasico hero. After all, there was a point in time when a 20 year-old Lionel Messi wasn’t even considered the best player on his team, but nonetheless, burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in El Clasico in 2007.

Considering the amazing moments we’ve seen between these clubs, expect to see the birth of a new hero, and maybe even a world superstar, when the two teams play this Sunday. After all, it always delivers.

Sports Strength

Who Should LSU Target as Their Next Head Coach in 2022?

Let’s hop in the time machine: It’s 2019, Ed Orgeron, Quarterback Joe Burrow, and the LSU Tigers are running through each and every team in their path. The Tigers’ defense is improving weekly, and all is well in Baton Rouge. 

Fast forward to 2021, and Coach Ed Orgeron is on his way out. Saturday, October 16 the team announced Orgeron would finish out the season but would not be returning next year. LSU consistently finishes among the best in recruiting, has top-tier training facilities, and has three championships in the past 20 years. LSU is as enticing of a job as ever. Coaches would come running for an opportunity at LSU. Who should LSU go after?

Jimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka / Staff

Yes, the rumors have begun and Jimbo Fisher’s name is at the top of the list. Fisher has shown in the past, he’s always open to a change of scenery. In 2017, just four years removed from a championship at Florida State, Fisher bailed on the Seminoles and took over at Texas A&M. Over ten seasons as a head coach, He holds a 114-35 record(76 percent) and a sterling  8-2 bowl record. Being at Florida State and Texas A&M, Fisher has experience being the head guy of a big program. However, there’s no telling what the real odds are of Fisher making the move. On one hand, LSU’s prestige and endless cycle of athletes would be enticing for any coach. On the other hand, Texas A&M has been pretty solid over the years, as they handed Bama their only loss of the season so far. Fisher stated he’s happy at A&M, but that doesn’t mean LSU shouldn’t shoot their shot.

Lane Kiffin
Kevin C. Cox / Staff

Kiffin, like Fisher, has consistently shown he won’t shy away from a change of scenery. Kiffin’s career has been nothing short of a roller coaster until recently. Kiffin has had a host of head coaching jobs including USC, Tennessee and he even coached the Oakland Raiders for the 2007-2008 season. Outside of his peripatetic nature, Kiffin is mainly known for his imaginative offensive mind and creative, aggressive play calling. After getting fired by USC way back in 2013, Kiffin took the offensive coordinator job with Alabama in 2014 and stayed until 2016. During his tenure at ‘Bama, Kiffin had the offense on all cylinders; the same can be said for Florida Atlantic once he took over as head coach in 2017. Kiffin, now at Ole Miss, has experienced a good deal of early success, as the Rebels sit at 5-1 and are in second place in the SEC West. What could possibly lead Kiffin to LSU even though he’s having success at Ole Miss? The difference in recruits and overall talent. Currently, LSU ranks 11th in recruiting rankings for the 2022 class, while Ole Miss is down at 29th. Imagine Kiffin getting his hands on a group that has elite talent not only at the skill positions but on defense and upfront too? Whew.

Joe Brady
Jacob Kupferman / Stringer

Why not? Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady was the offensive coordinator at LSU during their 2019 championship run. Brady’s play-calling played a major role in LSU’s offense being historically great and had a hand in the evolution of Joe Burrow. Since then, Brady has been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and has been every bit as amazing. Quarterback Sam Darnold has looked much better than he did in a Jets uniform, and even with the absence of Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers’ offense has been solid. Between Brady’s roots at LSU, and his dynamic play-calling, Brady to LSU would be a match made in heaven. 

Luckily for LSU, they will have plenty of time to choose the right candidate, since Coach O is slated to finish the season. LSU’s prestige has consistently revolved around winning, and the new coach had better be prepared to step up to the plate and continue on that tradition. Fisher and Kiffin have proven to have the ability to walk in and build a winning culture. Brady has proven his schemes and philosophies work at both the college and pro level. Fortunately, for LSU there isn’t a shortage of good football coaches around the country, but these three should definitely be atop the list.

Sports Strength

The 30 Best Bret “The Hitman” Hart Matches of All Time

Hey everyone! It’s The Wrestling Classic here with another list for One37PM. This time I’ll be ranking the 30 best matches of the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. I thought it was appropriate to work on an article on Bret Hart due to him being announced as an inductee for the 2021 Canadian Walk of Fame. Outside of that though, the Hitman was my childhood hero and arguably the greatest wrestler in the history of the business. I grew up idolizing Bret Hart and as a kid from Canada, he was representing our country. Many wrestlers of today would say Bret Hart was an influence of theirs and everyone has a favorite Hitman match. He wasn’t dubbed the “Excellence of Execution” for no reason. I could watch Bret Hart matches all day and to be honest I did exactly that for a couple of days preparing for this article. Shoutout to everyone on my Instagram and Twitter who gave me suggestions including All Elite Wrestling’s very own Dax Harwood of FTR.

This will be a catalog of Bret Hart matches that I think are must-watch matches. This list will be focusing on his single matches and not incorporate his classic matches as one half of the Hart Foundation tag team or major multi-man matches like the “In Your House: Canadian Stampede” ten-man tag match which was also a classic. Bret Hart was an extraordinary in-ring competitor so I am sure I might be missing matches you remember fondly so let me know on @thewrestlingclassic after you read this article. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

MSG – 03/19/90

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Rick Martel

Saturday Nights Main Event – 04/27/91

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase

Wrestlemania 9 – 12/05/93

WWE Championship

Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. Yokozuna w/ Mr. Fuji

Raw – 02/21/94

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Dr. Tom Prichard

Wrestlemania X – 03/20/94

WWE Championship

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Yokozuna (C) w/ Mr. Fuji

King of the Ring – 06/19/94

WWE Championship

Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) w/ Jim Neidhart vs. Diesel w/Shawn Michaels

Royal Rumble – 01/21/96

WWE Championship

Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer

In Your House 6 – 02/18/96

WWE Championship – Steel Cage Match

Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. Diesel

Shotgun Saturday Night – 01/25/97

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Mankind

Raw – 02/17/97

WWE Championship – Steel Cage

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Sycho Sid (C)

Raw – 03/31/97

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Rocky Maivia

In Your House 14 – 04/20/97

Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

Raw – 08/09/97

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Vader

ECW Wrestlefest – 11/09/97

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Terry Funk

Nitro – 06/22/98

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Chris Benoit

Mayhem – 12/05/99

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Chris Benoit

30. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Jean Pierre Lafitte
In Your House 3 – 09/24/95

The angle was silly. Lafitte was a pirate and pirates are known to steal so the whole angle was built around Jean Pierre stealing Bret Hart’s leather jacket. I just remember watching this match a bunch of times on a VHS tape I had as a kid. I was a Bret Hart fan of course but also really liked pirates growing up so this worked for me. Many people might know Pierre better as PCO these days as he’s been prominent in the independent scene these last few years. He was better remembered as one half of the Quebecers tag team in the WWE but for me, it was this match. The fans were into it and it just proved Bret could have a good match with anyone. I just have fond childhood memories of this match.

29. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Ric Flair
Superstars – 10/12/92 (WWE Championship)

This may not be one of his best matches but it was definitely one of the most significant. This was the match where Bret Hart won his first-ever WWE Championship title. Bret Hart had been getting popular with the fans as a singles wrestler over the past year and a half. He had won and lost the Intercontinental Championship so it was time for the next step. I don’t think many people expected Bret to win his first World Championship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. This match against Ric Flair was not televised live but the match aired exclusively on the other syndicated shows and coliseum video releases. It seemed as if WWE was moving into a movement of pushing the younger generation and the Hitman was going to lead that push. Ric Flair gave his notice to leave the company soon after and all of this was unpredictable. The promo Bret Hart gave after this match was memorable too, reminding us that the biggest dreams could still come true.

28. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Slamboree – 05/17/98 (Special Referee – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper)

Bret Hart isn’t very fond of his time in World Championship Wrestling so a lot of younger fans are quick to write it off. However, the Hitman had a handful of memorable and solid matches that you’ll find on this list. If you never took the time to watch these matches, definitely do so. The first one that makes the list is Randy Savage versus the Hitman at Slamboree with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as the special referee. It’s crazy how many times and for how long Savage and Hart were in the same company together but yet they have very few matches against each other. Out of that handful of matches, only two of them were televised. At this point of their careers, they were both larger-than-life names, multiple-time World Champions, and even though this match wasn’t as technically sound as their other matches on this list, it showcased just how good they both were at telling stories in the ring. The finish was overbooked in typical WCW fashion with shenanigans but the work between my two all-time favorites and the addition of Hot Rod make this a memorable one.

27. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Hakushi
Raw – 07/24/95

This is one of those hidden gem matches. Most fans remember Bret Hart versus Hakushi from the very first In Your House event but they had a rematch later in the year on Monday Night Raw. This was a shorter match and different from their first encounter as Bret Hart seemed more confident against Hakushi. These two worked a faster pace here pulling out ahead of their time aerial moves mid-match. Hakushi did a moonsault over the top rope while The Hitman sprung off the middle rope to splash onto his opponent outside the ring. Another big difference between this match and the one at In Your House was that Bret picked up a definitive victory here where he felt like he just snuck away with the victory in their previous match.

26. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Booker T
Nitro – 02/22/99

This is another one of those classic WCW matches that Bret “The Hitman” Hart had. After years of teaming with his brother Stevie Ray as one half of Harlem Heat, Booker T was focusing on his singles career. The Hitman was embroiled in a short feud with Booker in the Summer of 98 that accumulated at Bash at the Beach. Bret Hart seemingly injured Booker’s knee which would sideline Booker for a handful of months. Therefore when they met again in 1999 to become the number one contender for the United States Championship, Booker T made it clear that his knee was all better and he was ready for the opportunity. This was a really good match and Hart made Booker T look like a star. The finish even saw Booker T pick up the win when he reversed a sunset flip into a quick pinfall victory. Definitely a hidden gem for you younger fans.

25. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
King of the Ring – 06/13/93 (Finals)

I always enjoyed it when the Hitman would face off against larger opponents. It reminded me why Bret Hart is one of the greatest storytellers in the ring because he told a different story with every opponent. This was the finals of the King of the Ring tournament and the Hitman was selling the injuries he carried over from his previous two matches from the same night. It really added to the drama. We wanted to see if Bret was going to be able to beat Bam Bam Bigelow who was still relatively fresh since he got a bye in one of his previous matches. Bigelow almost picked up the victory by cheating when Luna came to the ring and hit Bret Hart with a chair. However, the match was restarted by the officials and the Hitman was able to secure the victory becoming the 1993 King of the Ring.

24. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Diamond Dallas Page
Nitro – 10/26/98 (United States Championship)

Diamond Dallas Page really found his stride in 1997. Dallas’ feuds against the New World Order and Randy Savage really elevated his career as a top star in the company. Therefore it wasn’t shocking that Bret Hart and Dallas Page would cross paths. On the last episode that Nitro would beat Raw in the head-to-head war, the Hitman defended his United States Championship against DDP. Diamond Dallas Page was just off an unsuccessful attempt of winning the World Championship from Goldberg and Bret Hart just successfully defended the US Title against Sting 24 hours earlier at Halloween Havoc. They still had a solid match where Bret Hart would put Diamond Dallas Page over.

23. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Razor Ramon
Royal Rumble – 01/24/93 (WWE Championship)

This is one of the best matches that took place at the Royal Rumble that wasn’t the Royal Rumble match itself. Usually the Royal Rumble matches overshadow any other matches that happened on the same show especially in the 90s. This was also Razor Ramon’s only WWE Championship opportunity on PPV. Although Razor was the bad guy in this match, as a kid I was a fan of both men. The story here was that Razor Ramon would be too tall for Hart to be locked in the sharpshooter. Bret still continued to work the legs while Ramon worked his ribs. In the end the Excellence of Execution was able to lock on his finisher while they were both laying on the mat which I had never seen before this match. It was excellent.

22. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Sould Out – 01/24/98

This was Bret Hart’s first match in World Championship Wrestling and it was against none other than the person he won his first World Championship against, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Ric Flair and Bret Hart had not crossed paths since 1992. Since then the “Dirtiest Player in the Game” was not fond of Bret Hart’s phrase about being “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.” In Flair’s mind, the Hitman had to beat him to live up to that moniker because to be the man you have to beat the man right? Flair and Hart would have an old-school back and forth match at Souled Out with the Hitman picking up the victory. This was a masterclass in psychology between two seasoned veterans.

21. Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
Coliseum Video Exclusive – 07/21/92 (Intercontinental Championship / Ladder Match)

This was the real first-ever ladder match in the WWE. The company likes the narrative that the first one took place at WrestleMania X between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels because it sounds better that it took place on the bigger stage under a larger spotlight. Also, this ladder match wasn’t aired live on television but became a Coliseum Video Exclusive. In this ladder match, Bret Hart defended his Intercontinental Championship against Shawn Michaels which actually took place two years before WrestleMania X. They were really testing out the concept here and it led to a pretty good match. Sensational Sherri was in HBK’s corner which also added to the match. The Hitman who wrestled in a ladder match back during his days in Stampede Wrestling won the first-ever ladder match in the WWE. The match would become a staple in the company to this day. Check it out if you’ve never seen it.

20. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Hakushi
In Your House 1 – 05/14/95

The first encounter between Bret Hart and Hakushi took place at the very first In Your House event. Hakushi aka Jinsei Shinzaki had already made a name for himself in Japan for Michinoku Pro Wrestling. When he worked on the card for the WWE tour in Japan, he was offered a contract to the company. Hakushi introduced a newer, more aerial style to the WWE fanbase. Hakushi along with his manager Shinja would soon get into a feud with Bret Hart which led to this match at In Your House. They had a competitive battle with some spots from Hakushi that were truly ahead of its time such as the moonsault off the middle rope to the outside. The story here was Bret trying to find a way to compete against this unique offence but eventually found a way to capture the victory.

19. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
Survivor Series – 12/05/92 (WWE Championship)

There was this instant chemistry between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. They both excelled in the tag team division and began focusing on their singles careers around the period. By Survivor Series 1992 they were both champions and succeeding as singles stars. Bret Hart was a former Intercontinental Champion and now WWE Champion while Shawn Michaels was the current Intercontinental Champion. This match was only contested over the WWE Championship though. Shawn Michaels worked at a much faster pace, could sell better than most others and wanted to prove he belonged since this was his first major main event at a PPV. Bret Hart was an already proven technician in the squared circle and was able to elevate Michaels strengths in this match while still picking up the victory. If only they had the same level of respect for each other five years later at the same event.

18. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
In Your House 5 – 12/17/95 (WWE Championship)

The SummerSlam 1992 main event between British Bulldog and Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Championship is the more memorable match between the two but this encounter from In Your House 5 was awesome as well. It really gets forgotten or overshadowed due to the significance of their SummerSlam match and it took place in a year that was really weird for the business overall. If I did a list of the top ten In Your House matches, this match would definitely make the list. Davey Boy Smith was a bad guy here with Jim Cornette in his corner so he was more aggressive and violent towards his brother-in-law. Bret’s sister and Smith’s wife Diana was in the crowd for this as they would show her reactions to things throughout the match. The Hitman got busted open here and was bleeding quite a bit which really added to the story that he had a lot to overcome here. Bret ended up retaining but it came off as if he barely did.

17. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Diesel (C)
Survivor Series – 11/19/95 (WWE Championship)

Diesel and Bret Hart had wrestled before at King of the Ring 1994 and Royal Rumble 1995 which were both good matches in their own right. This match was different for a few different reasons. They both came in as good guys, there was no disqualification and there were no count-outs. Diesel had been the champion for over a year but it wasn’t till this match that we started seeing him get frustrated with an opponent. Diesel began working a more heel like style to get the fans more behind The Hitman throughout the match. Big Daddy Cool even sent Bret Hart through the Spanish announce table which was a big spot at the time for the WWE because we rarely saw table spots back then. In the end, Diesel’s over confidence would cost him the match as Hart who took a beating for majority of the match played possum to catch Diesel with small package to win the WWE Championship. Diesel would attack The Hitman after the match officially turning heel.

16. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. Undertaker
One Night Only – 09/18/97 (WWE Championship)

This is another one of those matches younger fans might not know about and other fans might have forgotten about but I had always enjoyed it. Bret Hart and Undertaker are two of my all-time favorites so I was always conflicted when they wrestled each other growing up. This was the rematch from their Summerslam encounter where Bret Hart had won the championship from the Phenom. The time around Bret Hart wasn’t trying to defeat the Undertaker but rather survive him to keep his title. It took place in the UK so the fans were actually split down the middle even though The Hitman was a heel at this point. It was a simple story of where Hart targeted Undertaker’s knee to keep the advantage. Bret would go back to attack it every time Undertaker got the upper hand. Undertaker would not stop his attack to the point that the match ended in DQ which was an underwhelming finish to a solid match.

15. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Ricky Steamboat
Boston Garden – 03/08/86

I remember when I read Bret Hart’s autobiography, he talked very highly about this match and it made me go find it on the internet. This was early Hitman while he was still one-half of the Hart Foundation tag team. Ricky Steamboat was one of the best in-ring performers and he reportedly really pushed for working with Bret Hart on the Wrestlemania 2 card but it never happened. Instead they ended up having the match in the Boston Garden and it was phenomenal. Every move had a purpose and it really showcased the potential Bret Hart would one day have as a singles star if they ever decided to go that route one day in the future. There was nothing at stake here but it felt like both guys were fighting for pride and to be able to call themselves the better wrestler. It was a technical masterpiece in an era where there were very few in the WWE.

14. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Saturday Nights Main Event Main Event – 11/28/87

As I mentioned earlier, it blows my mind how these two didn’t have more matches against each other while being in the same company at the same time so much of their careers. Both Randy Savage and Bret Hart were great storytellers in the ring and second-generation superstars who had a different level of respect for this business. The “Macho Man” Randy Savage was on his first babyface run in the WWE and Bret Hart was aligned with Savage’s rival at the time, the Honky Tonk Man. The Hitman had his Hart Foundation tag team partner Jim Neidhart and his manager Jimmy Hart in his corner which stacked the odds against the Macho Man who just had his valet, Miss Elizabeth, with him. Savage began to sell a leg injury after a bump to the outside which allowed him to work as the underdog against a talented technician like Bret Hart. Savage would overcome the odds by sneaking away with the victory from a quick roll up but these two told a great story through ring psychology and drama. I wish we got more from these two against each other.

13. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Mr. Perfect
King of the Ring – 06/13/93 (Semi-Finals)

In another match between second-generation superstars, we got a classic between Mr. Perfect and Bret Hart. It was the King of the Ring semi-finals and unlike their last popular encounter, they both were babyface’s here. This meant it became more of a competition of pride rather than anything personal or over a championship. The promo between the two before the match really set the tone and Perfect made it clear that he would do anything to win. These two were familiar with each other, there were tremendous counters, they kept a great pace and it felt even all the way through. Perfect resorted to some heel tactics like faking a knee injury only for The Hitman to show that he couldn’t be outsmarted still picking up the victory in the end. Lastly, factoring in that you had Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Jim Ross on commentary for this match just added to it even more.

12. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. The Undertaker (C)
SummerSlam – 08/03/97 (WWE Championship)

This match was surrounded by drama due to the people involved and stipulations in place which really added suspense to every minute of it. The Undertaker was defending his WWE Championship against Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Bret Hart said he would never wrestle on American soil again if he didn’t win the championship. Shawn Michaels somehow weaseled himself into being the special referee. Bret Hart got paranoid about Shawn screwing him over so the bosses made a rule that if he intentionally cost Bret Hart the match that he also would no longer be allowed to wrestle on American soil. If all of that doesn’t already make you want to see how this match plays out, how about the fact that it was actually a really good match itself. Bret kept finding ways to gain the upper hand even if it was borderline cheating. Shawn Michaels was conflicted the entire match, holding himself back from slipping and The Undertaker wouldn’t stay down even breaking out of the sharpshooter at one point which nobody has done before. The finish was controversial but the results of this match planted the seeds for everything that would happen for the next seven months till WrestleMania 14.

11. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. “King of Harts” Owen Hart
SummerSlam – 08/29/94 (WWE Championship / Steel Cage Match)

This was the final match of the brother versus brother feud in 1994 between Bret Hart and his younger brother Owen Hart. The feud really kicked off in January and by the Summer it had come to its climax. In that time, Owen had successfully defeated his brother at WrestleMania but the Hitman would still win the WWE Championship by the end of the night. This never sat well with Owen as he felt like his older brother had to outshined his victory from earlier in the night and was still in the spotlight when it should have been him. They settled this feud inside of a steel cage where the WWE Championship would be on the line and the only way to win would be escaping the cage. The entire Hart Family were at ringside for this match too. This match was technical, filled with drama and they had some big spots like the suplex off the top of the cage which was a bigger deal back then. In the end, Owen got hung up on the cage and the Hitman was able to escape. If you have never seen this match, definitely go check it out.

10. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
WrestleMania – 03/31/96 (WWE Championship / 60 Minute Iron Man)

The night the boyhood dream came true for Shawn Michaels but it took him 60 minutes to make it happen against Bret “The Hitman” Hart. By 1996, Bret Hart was an established top guy with multiple WWE title runs whereas Shawn Michaels was finally catching his break to win his first WWE Championship. It only made sense that Michaels would have to beat someone at Bret Hart’s caliber for it to feel legitimate. Considering the ability and talent of both men, the company went ahead to make it a 60-minute Iron Man Match. This meant the match would go 60 minutes no matter what and the competitor with the most falls at the end of the due time would be victorious. The Hitman and the Heartbreak Kid went the entire time with no falls forcing them to go into over-time only for Bret Hart to drop the title HBK after a Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. If you have the time, definitely check this match out.

9. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Chris Benoit
Monday Nitro – 10/04/99

On May 23, 1999 the world unfortunately lost Owen Hart when he passed away in tragic accident while performing a stunt for his entrance on a WWE pay-per-view. Later that year on Monday Nitro, Bret “The Hitman” Hart would wrestle Chris Benoit in a tribute match to his later brother. It was a technically sound match really focusing on the essence of wrestling. These two were trying to out wrestle each other. Each counter and block made complete sense. There was no movement in this match that felt illogical. The way wrestling has evolved, I know this match might not be for everyone but if you enjoy some good old classic wrestling and can still stomach watching Chris Benoit matches, definitely check this match out.

8. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. 1-2-3 Kid
Raw – 07/11/94 (WWE Championship)

As the years go by this match gets more and more praised and rightfully so. Bret Hart was the WWE Championship and 123 Kid was this new kid on the block who picked up some surprising victories in his time with the company. I don’t think anybody thought Kid was going to beat The Hitman but he surely gave him a run for his money. Early on The Hitman realized he might be taking Kid too lightly and from that point forward it was a great encounter. Bret Hart knew how to let Kid shine without making himself look weak at all. Bret was super gracious allowing Kid to work on top for a good bit of the match. There were times where it seemed as if Kid almost had Hart but in the end the Hitman won with the sharpshooter. This is a match that every fan should watch at least once…I could say that for every match on this list though but trust me.

7. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Survivor Series – 11/17/96

The Hitman took a hiatus following WrestleMania 12 when he lost the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels. When he returned the first person he wanted to work with was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Austin entered the WWE as the Ringmaster the year before and only recently started portraying the more brash Stone Cold character. This was also five months after the legendary Austin 3:16 promo that Austin cut after winning the King of the Ring. The winner of this match would get a shot at the WWE Championship at the December PPV. This was Hart’s first match back since Wrestlemania and he was met with two middle fingers from Stone Cold. The match started off slow but picked up slowly as it continued. These two had a really good technical match here that would break out into a brawl before getting back to wrestling holds. Austin only lost because he would not release the Million Dollar Dream hold allowing Hart to get Stone Cold’s shoulders on the mat for the three count. The Hitman proved he didn’t have any ring rust and that he didn’t lose a step. Austin proved that he could hang with the Hitman only losing by making one single error.

6. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Dynamite Kid
Capitol Wrestling – 09/14/85

I was reminded of this match from Dax Harwood and Kid Chocolate on my Instagram page. I had definitely watched it before but haven’t watched it in years with the perspective I have towards wrestling today. This was a wrestling clinic between two of the best technicians of the time. Both men were firmly in the tag division at the time and not singles wrestlers at the time. Bret Hart was one-half of the Hart Foundation at the time and Dynamite Kid was one-half of the British Bulldogs at the time. In a time where larger-than-life characters, showmanship, and quick squash matches were the norms in the WWE, these two had a technical wrestling match. It ran fluid, crisp, and clean between two highly skilled wrestlers. The counters and sequences between the two told a great story in only 12 minutes. They aired this match on Prime Time Wrestling in 1987 even though the match took place two years earlier so it is on the WWE Network if you still have access.

5. Bret “The Hitman” Hart (C) vs. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
SummerSlam – 08/29/92 (Intercontinental Championship)

This is the Davey Boy Smith versus Bret Hart match that is held in such high regard and talked about more regularly. It took place in the United Kingdom at Wembley Stadium. Due to it taking place in the British Bulldog’s home country this match was able to main event the 1992 SummerSlam event. It was the only time the Intercontinental Championship match was the main event of one of the big four PPVs outside of the main event of Wrestlemania 6 where the World Title was on the line too. Davey Boy is Bret Hart’s real-life brother-in-law since Davey married his sister Diana Hart. Diana played a role at ringside being conflicted over her husband and brother fighting each other. These two gave us a classic where it seemed it could go either way. In the end though, Davey Boy caught the Hitman with a three count after countering a sunset flip attempt. The two would embrace after the match to the delight of the fans in England.

4. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (C)
SummerSlam – 08/26/91 (Intercontinental Championship)

Bret “The Hitman” Hart was kicking off his singles run after Wrestlemania 7 when the Hart Foundation disbanded. By SummerSlam time he became the number one contender for the Intercontinental Championship. Mr. Perfect, who was managed by The Coach, was the champion at the time. Low-key, Perfect was already injured but still decided to go through with the match. This match was action-packed for the entire 18 minutes. They had mat wrestling, high-impact moves, great counters, and the great commentary team of Heenan and Monsoon. The Hitman kicked out of a Perfect Plex which was a big deal since finishers weren’t kicked out of that often. While on his back, Bret caught the leg, got back up, and slapped on the Sharpshooter for one of the best counters I’ve ever seen. Although it launched Bret Hart’s career to another level, it was only possible because Perfect had been such a dominant champion. Madison Square Garden exploded when Hart won. It was a memorable match for both men.

3. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (C)
Wrestlemania 8 – 04/05/92 (Intercontinental Championship)

This match isn’t talked about enough in my mind. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper won the Intercontinental Championship at the Royal Rumble from The Mountie. This was Roddy’s first and only singles title run in the WWE. Bret Hart set his focus on getting the championship back and this led to the Piper and Hart rivalry. During the build-up, Roddy spoke about his close relationship with the Hart family and how he knew Bret since he was a little Hitman. This would play a part in the match as Piper would have an internal conflict due to his respect for Bret in a pivotal moment of the match. This match overall was fantastic and might be Piper’s best match in his WWE career. It started off slow but picked up along the way and it looked as if either man could win. The blood on Bret really added to the intensity of the match. When Piper had the opportunity to cheat when the referee was down, he ultimately chose not to, which showed the growth in Piper’s character because years prior he wouldn’t have thought twice. In the end, Hart picked up the victory the same way he beat Austin at Survivor Series 1996. Roddy Piper rarely got pinned clean so this was a big win for Bret Hart early in his singles run on the biggest stage of the year.

2. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “The Rocket” Owen Hart
WrestleMania X – 03/10/94

I still think this match stands as the greatest opening match for WrestleMania. Owen Hart started off 1994 by being sick of being in his brother’s shadow after some controversy between the two in the end half of 1993. Finally, The Rocket got his brother to agree to face him in a match at the grandest stage of them all, Wrestlemania. It was a battle between older brother versus younger brother. Bret was going to wrestle two matches this night since he was the co-winner of the Royal Rumble so it made sense that his matches would be kept apart. Also as the top babyface, it made sense that he would both open and close the show. Nobody expected that Bret Hart would lose with a big WWE Championship match later in the night. The match was perfect from the jump. Owen Hart was celebrating every little successful move he did while Bret Hart was being more reserved and smart about the bout. The spots in the match, the pacing, the purpose behind every move, and just the work they put in were perfection. These two told a great story and used the canvas to portray their art. Owen ended up having one last lucky counter that earned him the victory. As a younger brother myself, it was awesome to see the younger brother outsmart the older brother with a slick victory. This is one of the greatest matches of all time. Don’t @ me.

1. Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
WrestleMania 13 – 03/23/97

This match. This is my personal favorite match of all time. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched Bret “The Hitman ” Hart versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13. This match literally saved WrestleMania from being one of the most lackluster additions of the annual event. It wasn’t even supposed to happen either. The plans were to have Bret Hart face Shawn Michaels in a WrestleMania 12 rematch but HBK lost his smile which changed everything. Instead, they continued the feud between Steve Austin and Bret Hart which linked back to Survivor Series 1996. Austin continued to be a thorn in Hart’s side ever since that event by stealing the Royal Rumble win from him, costing him his WWE Championship against Sid, and constantly screwing Bret Hart from his opportunities. I really have no idea where Austin would have been penciled in if Shawn didn’t get hurt because it really seemed as if Bret was his target the entire time. I always say Austin’s rivalry with Bret Hart is what really solidified Steve as a top guy and really made him into the star he would become. The seeds were planted so well heading into the match with Bret growing more frustrated with getting screwed and Austin gaining more popularity for his brash yet badass attitude. Society was changing and this match was symbolic of that change. This was the match where “Stone Cold ” Steve Austin truly got over.

The match was booked to be a submission match which was seemingly more favorable to Bret Hart since he had more submission moves in his arsenal. Stone Cold had become more of a brawler at this time even though he was still an excellent in-ring technician. Ken Shamrock was booked as the special referee to make sure things were called down the middle and was dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Man” after success in the MMA world. Things had gotten so personal between these two it was a fight right off the bat. This match had a little bit of everything. It’s my go-to match when I need a solid wrestling fix. It was the perfect mixture of technical wrestling, brawling, and the hardcore style of wrestling blend with brilliant storytelling filled with drama. The match ended with Austin in a pool of his own blood fading away while locked in the sharpshooter. It’s one of the most iconic images in professional wrestling.

The finish of this match confirmed the double turn where Austin became the fan favorite and the Hitman officially became heel again after 6-7 years as one of the top babyfaces in the company. Austin never surrendered but the match ended because he passed out in the hold. This earned him the fans’ respect for his toughness and heart. Bret Hart was victorious but still wanted to continue to injure an unconscious Steve Austin but was stopped by Shamrock who he backed down from thus losing the respect of the fans. Austin refused to not walk out of the arena on his own even though he was a bloody mess and just knocked out. This proved that you didn’t necessarily have to win the match to get over if you’re able to tell a great story and work with a genius in the ring like Bret “The Hitman” Hart. If you have never seen this match, please go watch it RIGHT NOW. The best match…period.

I hope you all enjoyed this list of the legendary Bret “The Hitman” Hart matches. Let me know if I missed any matches you think should have made this list but didn’t.

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Sports Strength

Meet Shawn McIntosh, Charlotte FC’s Chief Fan Officer

Shawn McIntosh has one of the most unique roles in North American proper football, and he’ll be tasked with growing the newest market in Major League Soccer.

Charlotte FC announced a first-of-its-kind job listing back in June for a position described as “Chief Fan Officer.” 

But what exactly does that mean?

The landscape of football, and sports in general, has changed drastically during the social media era, where supporters are capable of having their voices heard in bunches with the click of a button on Twitter.

Charlotte’s unique plan was to bring in a candidate that could help cultivate those voices and channel the discussion into something positive and provide an opportunity for fans to bring their ideas directly to the club.

That’s where McIntosh comes in. Despite only being on the job for a brief period of time, McIntosh has already begun to dive in and meet with club supporters to gauge their thoughts on Charlotte’s debut season in 2022.

“I think my experiences living in Italy and seeing Serie A firsthand really gave me perspective on how important fan culture is,” McIntosh told ONE37pm. “We’re trying to grow something significant here in the Carolinas and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how receptive our fanbase has been so far.

“There’s a lot of work left for us to do and roughly five months until kicking off in MLS, but I’m confident we’ll be able to provide a complete matchday experience to our supporters.”

Despite being born in the U.S, McIntosh spent a portion of his youth in Italy and grew up a diehard Lazio fan.

McIntosh says that he’s been able to travel the country with several members of the club’s Supporters’ group to see how other MLS fan bases interact with their organizations. 

Clubs like the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers regularly have highly-attended matches, but the success of the clubs on the pitch certainly has a role in that as well.

“For us, it’s about being proactive, right?” McIntosh said. “The supporters are your consumer, so not only do you have to put on a great show in terms of what you can offer the fans in the lead up to matches, but also put out a quality team that can compete for titles.

“We’ve had a really good start building out our squad, and our organization is excited to see the rest of the team come together in these next few months.”

Charlotte certainly made a significant wave early on in its roster-building process by signing Christian Fuchs — the well-recognized outside back who helped play a role in Leicester City’s stunning Premier League title in 2015/16.

Fuchs has quickly embraced the culture of Charlotte, spending this year living in North Carolina and competing with USL Championship side Charlotte Independence as a way to get acclimated to the local football scene.

With Fuchs’ years of experience at some of the top clubs in Europe, as well as playing for the Austria national team, Charlotte considers itself extremely lucky to have the 35-year-old along for the ride.

“Whenever you can bring in a player like Christian [Fuchs] it’s almost a given that the move needs to be made,” McIntosh said. “His experiences as a player are obviously massive for this club, but we’re also excited about how he can shape what we’re building by offering his views as well.

“There are a lot of great things about the Premier League, so perhaps we can take some of those ideas and implement them in what this team is going to do.”

Sports Strength

Cody and Brandi Rhodes Talk AEW, ‘Rhodes to the Top,’ and More

Life certainly comes at you fast, especially when you and your significant other are a part of the day-to-day operations behind one of the largest wrestling organizations in the world – All Elite Wrestling.

Speaking of AEW, the company’s main show Dynamite has been the #1 cable program on Wednesdays for the past six straight weeks. Wrestling fans have flocked to AEW’s unique presentation, which is something that the Rhodes’ have been extremely pleased with thus far. Cody Rhodes (the blonde-haired son of a bonafide wrestling legend) and his lovely wife Brandi Rhodes (the Chief Brand Officer of AEW) got married in 2013. And now, they’re ready to accept the challenge of being first-time parents. Cody and Brandi lead busy lives that mostly revolve around the wild and wonderful world of professional wrestling. And now, fans have a chance to take a first-hand look at what goes into their exciting business and home lives through the TNT reality series Rhodes to the Top.

Just one day ahead of the season finale on Saturday, October 23 at 10/9c, Cody and Brandi spent some time with ONE37pm to have a chat about the show, guilty pleasure reality shows, and so much more.

Cody Rhodes

ONE37pm: You’ve come such a long way from your days as a WWE blue-chipper, Cody. It’s amazing to witness your growth and see your position within AEW today. What comes to mind when you reflect on the biggest moments of your career?

Cody: Fate meets hard work. To have this lauded position in our sport, to have it on Turner Networks is full circle with my family.

ONE37pm: What’s the most difficult part about your role within AEW? And what would you say is the easiest?

Cody: Hardest part is likely the tough love or more stern direction I might deliver to a younger talent. Easiest thing is my match on the card…that’s been in my bones since I was a baby…it’s like gliding. It’s the best.

ONE37pm: How did the concept of Rhodes to the Top come to be?

Cody: The good folks at Shed Media sought to capture us in our peak professional time…entering our peak personal time with the coming of our first child. Roll the cameras and it’s quite a life.

ONE37pm: Was there any pushback regarding parts of the show giving viewers a peek at AEW’s backstage happenings?

Cody: No pushback internally. It’s a specific flavor and I think the super fans in our audience love the fact they get more of the brand. It was tough for me being raised and trained “old school”…to share that side with folks, but this was a reality show and it would be an insult not to give those tuning in that reality.

ONE37pm: Out of all the contracted talent within AEW, which ones do you think would make for a great starring role on their own reality show?

Cody: Taz or our lead seamstress Sandra…I don’t know why. They’re just so unique and both see it all.

Brandi Rhodes

ONE37pm: Congratulations on your and Cody’s newest addition to the family. How did you mentally prepare yourself for the arrival of your first bundle of joy?

Brandi: There’s no way to mentally prepare. I did everything I could to physically prepare by being diligent with my medical appointments and continuing to train in the gym daily. I trained the day that I went into labor!

ONE37pm: What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten on being a mother?

Brandi: The best advice has been NOT TO listen to anyone’s unsolicited advice. Let your instincts be your guide and ask for help when you need it.

ONE37pm: A Shot of Brandi is a pretty dope interview series. Who are some of your most memorable guests? And who are some fantasy guests that you’d love to have on the show?

Brandi: Most memorable have been Jon Moxley, Orange Cassidy, Chris Jericho, and most recently, Stephen Amell. I would love to have more chefs and foodies on the show. Looking at you Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri!

ONE37pm: What’s been your biggest takeaway from filming Rhodes to the Top?

Brandi: It’s a lot of work. Months and months of shooting and the episodes just fly by. So much amazing content doesn’t get to make it to air. That’s the hard part. You want people to see so much more but there just isn’t time.  

ONE37pm: Are there any reality shows you watch and regard as a guilty pleasure?

Brandi: I’m a big fan of Selling Sunset. Really looking forward to their next season. Otherwise, I watch Food Network and HGTV, which I think falls in unscripted and I love everything from Chopped to Love It or List It.

Sports Strength

Warning to the Rest of the Knicks’ Schedule: The Knicks Are Back

After years of the Knicks’ schedule just representing a list of future losses, the New York Knicks are back and the haters are sick about it. During their season-opening 138-134 double-overtime win against the Boston Celtics, the Knicks asserted not only that they’re no longer the accursed rat-king of gloom of recent vintage, but that they’re a legitimately good team. 

In fact, it’s this legitimate goodness that defines them; the Knicks play within a remarkably constrained sliver of imagination that leaves no room for utopian, Golden State-style ball movement or a Lebron James-induced gravitational pull. Instead, the Knicks sturdily toggle through their four-ish plays on offense and try on defense. If there’s some kind of extra pressure or scrutiny or profundity that’s imparted by playing in New York, it’s seemingly been put on [extremely Tom Thibodeau voice] ice. All that extra stuff—the rapturous fanbase that’s permanently caught somewhere between crying, hugging and fighting; the bold-type tabloid headlines; the dead-eyed owner who sulks on the baseline like a water-logged Kendall Roy—is irrelevant once there’s serious basketball to be played. 

On the court, the Knicks are the archetypal Tom Thibodeau team—which makes sense because they’re coached by Tom Thibodeau. Even if Mitchell Robinson is a stalwart shot-blocker (the Celtics effective field goal percentage was 13.4 percentage points lower when Robinson was in the game than when he was on the bench) and RJ Barrett held Jayson Tatum to 7-30 in the first game, the Knicks’ greatest strength is their schematic cohesion. While most modern NBA defenses avoid bringing help from the strong side of the court and labor to limit rotation as much as possible, the Knicks flout conventional wisdom. 

This is controlled burn defense—NBA offenses are so good that there’s always going to be a fire, so the key is to know and control where it’s going. To be fair, defense is often a futile endeavor (Jaylen Brown torched the Knicks for 46 points), but the Knicks scrabble to reclaim whatever bits of agency they can.  Accordingly, the Knicks intentionally bring help early—particularly from the wings—to discourage drives and force kick-out passes, trusting that they can rotate quick enough to cover perimeter shooters. By doing so, they practically script possessions for the other team, goading opponents into passes to shooters that the Knicks know they can defend. In this sense, the Knicks play almost defender-agnostic defense—per Cleaning the Glass, they held the Celtics to a mere 82.5 points per 100 possessions in the half-court despite relying heavily on bad defenders such as Kemba Walker, Obi Toppin and Evan Fournier. The athletic gifts or talents of any one player don’t matter as much as their ability to be in the right place. 

Offensively, the Knicks are competent and utterly uninspiring. They’re functional in a prosaic, workaday way—odes are written about fancy Grecian urns or intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood, not undelayed bus routes or mid-range jump shots. Still, Julius Randle has miraculously mutated into one of the world’s 20 best basketball players, scoring 35 points in the opener while adding nine assists and eight rebounds. Never mind that he moves awkwardly—he dribbles with chopped steps like he’s running down a steep hill—or that he lacks the elasticity or burst of other star players, he’s evolved into the unlikeliest primary ball-handler in the NBA all the same; no player has assisted on more corner threes than Randle since the start of last season. The reason for his rise is simple yet confounding: he’s stopped missing shots. During his breakout All-NBA Second Team campaign last year, he shot over 40 percent from three, after only topping 30 percent once in his previous five seasons. 

After last year’s offense was short-circuited by a Hawks team that made the radical and genius choice to, uh, guard Randle, the Knicks spent the summer revamping their backcourt by signing Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. Although the same menu of pistol actions, double drags and Spain pick-and-rolls remains, the early returns point to a considerably more potent offense; Kemba Walker can presumably make good stuff happen out of a double drag, but Elfrid Payton was a drag. Notably, the Knicks can now play lineups in which every player is a threat to pass, dribble and shoot—against the Celtics, Fournier  (32 points) and Barrett (19 points) racked up the bulk of their points by attacking tilted defenses that were scrambling to rotate in time.  

All of this is to say that the New York Knicks are a real NBA basketball team. Whereas last year’s team felt like a bunch of veteran hardos hardo-ing their way into a rickety, joyous accident, these Knicks are serious. This isn’t to say they’re going to win a championship—the Bucks, Nets, and Lakers occupy some Secret Beef Room of eliteness that’s inaccessible to any team without multiple Hall-of-Famers in their prime. But there’s still virtue in being good and trying to be good. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks offer a reason to care about them that isn’t masochism or being one of their moms. At the very least, if their first game is any indication, the Knicks will be fun and competitive. Histories and legacies are built on years, but happiness is built on days.

Sports Strength

Is Malik Willis the Best Quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Name: Malik Willis

College: Liberty University

Position: Quarterback 

Height: 6’1

Weight: 215

(Stats through seven games)

Passing yards: 1,462

Touchdowns: 14

Comp %: 66.1

Rushing yards: 665

Rushing Touchdowns: 9

Liberty University Quarterback Malik Willis is a certified baller. He seems to play the game at a different speed than everyone else on the field. His arm talent and electric run-style have caught the eyes of many NFL draft analysts and NFL teams. Is he the best QB in the 2022 Class? Let’s dig into it. 

Pocket presence– Liberty’s offense is mainly built off of Willis’s athleticism. In other words, most plays are Run-Pass options, quick passes or play-action passes. Rarely is Willis asked to drop back and play from the pocket, but he’s looked okay when he’s been asked to do it. Although Willis’s dynamism is what makes him such an intriguing prospect, he still has to improve in the pocket; on multiple occasions, he’s unnecessarily bailed from a clean pocket and tried to force plays on the move. At the next level, though, opposing defensive linemen will be disciplined enough to keep him in the pocket and athletic enough to pressure him outside of it. Still, because of the way that Liberty’s spread offense is structured, it’s possible that Willis’s lack of pocket presence is simply the result of a lack of experience and that he will improve it over time.

Accuracy/anticipation– Last season Willis’s accuracy appeared to be about average, but so far this season he’s shown solid improvement. As is the case for most quarterbacks, the majority of Willis’s passes are to targets within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, and he’s been spot-on on these short throws thus far. With Run-pass options, there are a host short quick routes, in-breaking route, stop routes, and swing passes; he consistently hits them for the most part. However the issue is, in the NFL quarterbacks have to consistently hit passes outside the numbers, and passes in the middle of the field. Through six games, Willis is only completing 59% of his passes outside the numbers, and an underwhelming 50% on passes in the middle of the field (@realcoryKinnan Quarterback charting). Willis’s accuracy has been improved, but his success in the NFL will partially hinge on his ability to become an even more accurate passer.

Arm strength– Outside of mobility, arm-strength is considered his bread and butter. He possesses elite arm strength; Willis’s deep ball is a thing of beauty. So far, he’s been on the money with his deep passes, as he’s completing them at a ridiculous 81.25 percent rate. With only a ‘flick of the wrist’, Willis can make every throw, even if his placement isn’t always the best. To his credit, velocity and strength aren’t the issue. He has one of the strongest arms out there.

Mobility– Willis is easily the most athletic quarterback in this class. Besides  Lamar Jackson, there hasn’t been a Quarterback in recent history with the athletic gifts Willis has been blessed with. He’s electric in the open field, has elite short area quickness, and can flat out make something out of nothing.

Most impressive is his decisiveness when it’s time to run. He spends zero time thinking or second guessing about escaping, he’s outta there. On the other hand, at the next level, he may benefit by being a bit more reluctant to run. NFL defenses are a lot bigger and faster, and the schemes often get run-happy quarterbacks into trouble.

  Decision making– Liberty’s offense is essentially built for Willis to make quick decisions and to often just take what the defense gives. Though Willis possesses a big arm, he doesn’t play hero ball often. Forcing the ball isn’t in his nature. On the other hand, he’ll take a deep pass at any point if it’s 1on1 which should be viewed as a positive. All in all, he’s a solid decision maker. 

As a whole, Willis has been pretty good this season. Although he has a few flaws to clean up as a passer, he’s perfectly suited for the direction in which the NFL is headed. Athletic quarterbacks like Willis are being deployed in progressively more creative ways, taking full advantage of their ability to get out to the perimeter and make plays. Willis still has six more games to go, which is more than enough time to up his stock and solidify his case to be the first quarterback off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.