Editorial Columns

The Evolution of the Ladder Match

To celebrate the Blu-Ray and DVD release of WWE Money in the Bank 2015 on Monday, 24th August at WWEDVD.co.uk, we take a moment to reflect on the evolution of the ladder match in WWE history.

To celebrate the Blu-Ray and DVD release of WWE Money in the Bank 2015 on Monday, 24th August at WWEDVD.co.uk, we take a moment to reflect on the evolution of the ladder match in WWE history. Compiled here are some of the most memorable ladder matches that have contributed to the most high-flying and career-defining moments in sports entertainment.

Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels – The Original

According to Bret Hart in his book, he pitched the idea for the Ladder Match to Vince McMahon, having seen his father invent and promote such matches in the Stampede Wrestling promotion based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Originally starting in 1972.

The first ever ladder match in the WWE saw Bret Hart defeat Shawn Michaels to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title, held in Portland, ME on July 21, 1992. The match was taped and released on several VHS video tapes, but never aired on television. Bret revealed that Vince never even saw the match at the time. It remained widely unseen until its inclusion among the bonus material on the 2011 DVD and Blu-ray collection WWE’s Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart. The two performers tell interviewer Jim Ross how the match was planned along with an intended ladder rematch at Survivor Series 1992 that never materialised.

Michaels would establish himself as a future king of ladder matches, inventing many creative ladder uses, including using it as both a battering ram and a collision pad. Hart would make a name for himself for his tenacity and resiliency, battling back from a mounted Michaels offense with retaliating bursts, including a slingshot to Michaels against a cornered ladder. In a hard fought battle, Hart would retain his Intercontinental championship with a devastating drop kick to the ladder, sending Michaels flying, landing on the top rope, and falling out of the ring.

In a gruelling sixteen minute match, the two dazzled the crowd with brutal strikes and innovate ladder-oriented offense. Punctuated by a series of desperation-fuelled strikes and reversals, both men would make a name for themselves in the moments to follow.

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Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon – WrestleMania X

Shawn Michaels appears in a number of classic ladder matches for a reason. Billed as a way to settle the score between the two Intercontinental champions, both belts were left hanging above the ring. Razor Ramon had been crowned the new Intercontinental champion, after a lengthy title run from Michaels ended with his inability to defend the title for thirty days, causing him to be stripped of the title. The vacant title would be claimed by Razor Ramon, who participated in a battle royal, defeating Rick Martel for the prize. Angered that his title had been won without him being defeated, Michaels continued to declare himself the reigning champion, forcing a clash between the two champions at WrestleMania X.

Intense pressure and expectation fell upon the two grapplers, as the crowd was electrified by the Owen Hart and Bret Hart feud, which had resulted in a surprise victory by Owen Hart, propelling him to independent stardom. As if that wasn’t a hard enough act to follow, the Intercontinental match was directly before Bret Hart vs Yokozuna, one of the most anticipated matches of the night. In addition to all of these factors, this match was only the second ladder match to have ever occurred in WWE history. Once again, in an unlikely display, the two proceeded to tear the roof off the arena, with fevered back and forth exchanges, resulting in another upset victory from Razor Ramon, who once again established himself as a crowd favourite and an entertaining wrestler.

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The Rock vs Triple H – SummerSlam 1998

 The Rock, who was a villain representing the Nation of Domination, stood in stark contrast to the more beloved Triple H, riding high on his Degeneration X movement. A clash of strong charismatic personalities, the audience was torn on whom to root for in this match. This would also be a ladder match in which the attitude of the ladder match would be shifted in the WWE. Where as the previous ladder matches had been more methodical matches showcasing the endurance of the competitors, SummerSlam’s ladder match was a testament to the power of factions and high risk exchanges.

The match itself was a savage display of human endurance, as both men tested the other’s limits, smashing each other with brutal strikes from both fist and foreign objects, culminating into a vicious battle on the ladder as both attempted to climb. A devastating exchange of finishers brought the pace to a climax, as Triple H received a People’s Elbow while draped on top of the metal rungs as well as a Rock Bottom. Triple H moved the momentum in his favour with a desperation Pedigree to the Rock, before attempting to ascend the ladder once again.

The SummerDlam match was also the first time in which the competition became more of a faction war than a one-on-one contest. Constant interference from both organizations resulted in many almost decisions ending in a blatant intervention from their opposing teams, almost to the point in which both wrestlers were fighting not only each other, but the entirety of their enemy’s forces as well. Triple H was thwarted by multiple interventions by Mark Henry, and the Rock’s defeat was not at the hands of Triple H, but a Chyna low blow from the top of the ladder. In this regard, the ladder match became not only indicative of a test of stamina, but a demonstration of allegiance strength as well. In this way, this match-up became a zeitgeist of the Attitude Era; hard-hitting, impactful, and influenced by the groups that defined the era.

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The McMahons vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – King of the Ring 1999

Ladder matches have been a historical means of settling disputes within the WWE Universe, so it comes as no surprise that, as the animosity between Stone Cold and the Corporation reached a boiling point, the future of the company would be decided in a ladder match. Due to a series of strange events, Austin was crowned as the CEO of the company, much to the chagrin of the founding family. Granting no quarter for his foil, Austin assaulted Vince as he entered the ring.

Austin proceeded to run rampant throughout the match, as he pummelled both Vince and Shane without prejudice. The brawl began to spiral out of control, as Austin threw Shane into the ring steps, in response to an attempt by Vince to assail him with the ladder. Stone Cold then wrapped his rattlesnake fangs around Vince and dragged him to the King of the Ring stage to introduce him to the fence, face first. After a brutal burial by ladders, Austin set his sights on Shane and planted him on the Spanish announcer table. Austin ripped a page from the Shane-o-Mac’s book and dropped an elbow on Shane from the top of the ladder.

Leaving Shane broken in the remains of the announcer table, Austin began climbing the ladder on the inside, only to have the ladder pushed out from under him, sending the Rattlesnake crashing through a table. Confident that he had secured his victory, Vince set up the ladder once more. Austin halted Vince’s progress and tossed him off, then set his boots and metal rungs on the recovered Shane. After a tense back and forth in which Austin’s multiple attempts to dispatch the McMahons proved unsuccessful, a matching set of Stone Cold Stunners to the owners seemed to ensure victory.

Stone Cold climbed to retrieve the briefcase, and with it, ownership of the company, but the more he ascended, the higher the briefcase rose. A distraught Austin confronted both the timekeeper and Fink, who swore ignorance about the situation. Aggravated, Austin attempted to retrieve the case once more and met Vince at the top of the ladder. Ever the opportunist, Shane knocked the ladder over and sent both wrestler and father down to the mat. Erecting the ladder for himself, Shane recovers the contract and revokes Austin’s standing as 50% owner of the company.

The Dudley Boys vs The Hardy Boyz vs Edge and Christian – TLC II

The second TLC was a definitive change in the climate of the ladder match. Yes, the stipulation was always preceded by an air of high-risk and dangerous exchanges, but it is in this particular event that the true face of its extremity came to the fore-front. What happens if you take three mentally unstable teams in the Dudley Boys, the Hardy Boyz, and Edge and Christian, add twenty feet of unrelenting steel needed to claim victory, unpadded chairs, and a small warehouse worth of tables, and add the Tag Team championship as a reward? You receive a bone-breaking career-threatening spectacle that is every bit as memorable as it is cringe-worthy.

In what could be described as total decimation to a furniture store’s inventory, the three-way exercise in brutality was a feat of a human’s ability to endure suffering. Bodies were hurled at unnatural angles into wood and metal, multiple cat-calls were made to death in 20 foot drops to the outside of the ring, and intolerance to common decency was demonstrated.

This was even further aggravated as the teams’ respective allies joined into the carnage. Spike Dudley performed his signature Acid Drop to the arena floor on a hapless Christian dazed on the apron. Lita stormed the ring, ripped competitors off ladders and performed dazzling hurricanranas, as Rhyno proceeded to gore everything that wasn’t chained down. The line between combatant and outside interference became blurred, as Jeff Hardy executed a horrifying 20 foot Swanton Bomb to both a beaten Rhyno and Spike Dudley, as all men crashed through the unforgiving pine. The resulting scramble would cause both Bubba Ray and Matt Hardy to plummet to the outside, pushed off a ladder by a rampaging Rhyno, who had collected his senses from the horror before. The aftermath would see Edge and Christian on the top rungs, celebrating their hard-won titles.

Money in the Bank – WrestleMania 21

The Money in the Bank match is another deadly link in the ladder match’s evolution. A grim opportunity for a shot at the World Heavyweight Title, the event takes the chaos and desperation symptomatic of a traditional ladder match and raises the stakes, turning the traditional one-on-one competition into a frantic free-for-all. The first Money in the Bank match was a true invocation of ambition gone mad, a crazed presentation of human willpower, and a showcase of wrestling mastery.

The first Money in the Bank took place at Wrestlemania 21 and only featured wrestlers that were featured on Raw and highlighted a star-studded card of Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho, Christian, Edge, and the quizzically seeded Kane, who served as a monstrous force to off-set the high-flyers. Kane entered the ring to the collective pummelling of all other contestants, as Kane threw aside his assailants while entering the squared circle.

A number of scary moments accentuated the fevered atmosphere of the arena, as a series of suicide dives to the outside of the ring would level all the competitors and those that remained ring-side. Benjamin was a force of nature, catching Edge in mid-climb and performing a nightmarish T-Bone suplex off the ladder, then using the metal rungs as a springboard to take out Jericho with a flying clothesline. Benoit, in spite of his stitches, chose to throw caution to the wind, and unleashed his signature diving headbutt to the Big Red Machine, and caused his skull to be painted in red himself. In spite of his injuries, Benoit attempted to climb the ladder, stopped once again by Kane. Once again having no regard for his health, Benoit utilized a series of headbutts to fell the goliath, only to be blind-sided by an Edge chair shot. Seizing the opportunity, Edge used the sudden lack of adversity to attain the briefcase, becoming the first Mr. Money in the Bank.

Rob Van Dam vs Eddie Guerrero – WWE RAW 2002

Take two innovators of the frog splash, add twenty or so feet of unfeeling steel, and have them compete for the Intercontinental championship on a non pay-per-view event? This strange recipe served to be a sky-born spectacle as the lovable bad guy Guerrero pitted himself against an ECW legend. The anticipation was high, as the two men took to both the heavens and earth. The first few moments of the match exploded into a massive brawl, as the two tumbled out of the ring and rained lofty blows against each other.

Death defying dives echoed across the arena, as both the hardcore martial artist and the Latino fireball claimed their time in the air. Metal and bone collided, as Eddie Guerrero received a head-full of ring-post, only to to rebound and give a face-full of chair for Rob Van Dam. Despite the back and forth exhange, Rob Van Dam would soon find himself climbing the ladder, then looking down on the stunned Guerrero. The ECW madness consumed Rob Van Dam, who decided to attempt his patented Five-Star Frog Splash to the wounded warrior, only to find himself fall prey to the collapsing steel, sending him crashing to the ground, like the tragic Icarus of Greek mythology. In spite of the mishap, Rob Van Dam was able to recover, putting Eddie to the mat once again before climbing the ladder once more in order to reclaim his Intercontinental title.

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Dolph Ziggler vs John Cena – TLC 2012

Ladder matches have grown into a breeding ground for unlikely wins and shocking upsets. This could not have been more apparent than at TLC 2012, when the the self proclaimed heel Dolph Ziggler would stop the John Cena movement in its tracks, with aid from an unlikely source. Ziggler had quite the mixed luck that year, earning a Money in the Bank contract, just to have the victory contested. Through a series of unfavorable events, Ziggler would have to defend the contract against the leader of the Cenation movement.

The show off Ziggler took out his frustrations on Cena with steel chairs and a ladder shot that almost cost John his eye. An enraged Cena returned fire, almost beheading Ziggler with a savage shot with the steel steps. Secure in his belief that Ziggler was out cold, Cena began climbing the ladder. Animated by willpower alone, Ziggler lept at the ascending Cena, clamping on a sleeper hold that sent both men crashing through a table. Ziggler sprung to his feet and began the climb to the contract, as Cena exploded from the wreckage like a re-animated horror, and used his monstrous strength to lift the ladder with Ziggler on it onto his shoulders. Zigger, working off a combination of fear and instinct, managed to wriggle free, though visibly shaken from the display.

Both wrestlers continued to struggle for an upper hand, as Ziggler wormed his way out of a number of Attitude Adjustment attempts. Cena would remain unmoved, even after a Zig Zag found its mark, and even landed a standing hurricanrana to the surprised Ziggler, who was sent into another table, which shattered on impact. In spite of this, it still took a thunderous Attitude Adjustment to dispatch the king of heels, which left Ziggler breathless on the canvas as Cena rose to opportunity. Victory was assured for the Cenation, or was it?

Vickie Guerrero stormed the ring, chair in hand, and attempted to assail the superstar with steel, only to be stopped by AJ Lee, wearing full John Cena attire. Apparently fueled by the virtues of Hustle, Loyalty and Respect, AJ would unleash a beating on Vickie, including her own rendition of the Five Knuckle Shuffle, before turning to John Cena and cheering him on. Confused, yet grateful for the intervention, Cena continued to ascend, the contract owner’s future assured. A moment later, Cena would find himself flung off the ladder and landing on the ropes, as AJ turned towards Ziggler, smiled and left the ring, leaving a baffled Ziggler uncontested to retain his contract.

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Randy Orton vs John Cena – TLC 2013

The modern ladder match is one that is used to settle a contention between superstars and status, a brutal display used as a means of clarifying the pecking order in the squared circle. It comes as no surprise that two clashing champions would find themselves looking above the ring, staring up at their precious titles. Nor is it any surprise that two larger-than-life personalities would come to blows resolving the unification of the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight championship.

Randy Orton, true to his merciless moniker, went right for the throat, and introduced the ladder within minutes of the match, as well as a thunderous chair shot to John Cena’s skull, which echoed throughout the Houston arena. The Viper continued to bite down on his prey with a series of vicious follow up chair shots and stomps to Cena’s hapless limbs. Orton was always one step ahead of the Champ, ensuring that he never gained a foothold, reversing Cena’s signature move attempts with direct and effective strikes.

By his trademark tenacity alone, Cena managed to fend off the onslaught off Orton’s assault and knocked Orton on his back, and began to ascend the ladder. In a surprising display, Cena jumped off the ladder and drove a fist into Orton, a declaration of war against the Authority’s pet. Stalking the Viper, Cena waited for him to rise, before slamming the ladder into Orton, sending him sprawling off the apron and into a table.

As Cena made his way up the metal rungs, Orton rose from the dead, pulled Cena from the ladder and unleashed an RKO that would shake the Houston arena. What unfurled next was nothing less than chaos. Microphones and steel flew in the air and crashed against the two rivals’ heads, as desperation filled the air. A final burst of strength came from Orton, who attempted his murderous punt kick to Cena, who reversed the attempt into an Attitude Adjustment through the Spanish announcer table.

Assured of his victory, Cena once again attempted to climb the ladder, the toll of war heavy on his frame. Orton rose to his feet once more and knocked Cena off the ladder, as a series of exchanges ended up with the leader of the Cenation handcuffed to the bottom turnbuckle. Cena managed to gain some level of mobility after he unlatched he bottom turnbuckle and thwarted Orton’s plans for glory, until a malicious Orton yanked the rope to which Cena was attached, which slammed Cena’s face into the edge of a wooden table. The Champ unconscious, Orton climbed the ladder and seized his place in history as the man that united the two most prestigious titles in sports entertainment.

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