¡Olé!: Three Essential El Generico Matches

El Generico: the man, the myth, the legend. Sometimes erroneously referred to as “Sami Zayn when he was on the indies,” a statement which is clearly not true as Zayn himself has denied it, and El Generico is retired and unavailable for comment.

(More earnestly, it’s totally accurate to say “El Generico and Sami Zayn are not the same person,” for exactly the same reasons you might say “Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Xavier are not the same person,” or “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Strange are not the same person.” Wrestling is a strange beast, and Zayn often refers to experiences he and Generico seem to share in an uncanny way, but it seems likely that beyond some ironic winks and nods, the two of them will remain separate beings).

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From 2002 to 2013, El Generico wrestled all over the world, in a bewildering array of promotions, so there’s a staggering amount of great matches to choose from. There are other El Generico matches I may love and cherish even more than three I’ve selected to showcase in this piece, but I’ve focused on a set of matches that highlight his staggering range as a wrestler, both physically and emotionally. They also showcase his immense storytelling skills, because before detailing the matches, I think it’s important to mention that when you see a match with El Generico (or, tangentially, Sami Zayn) in it, the odds are very strong that what you’re seeing is a match created specifically by him.

Generico was famous—indeed, infamous—for deciding how a match would go and then insisting on it, to the point where his tag partner Kevin Steen remembered Brian Kendrick throwing up his hands in exasperation while planning a match and announcing that he would just do what Generico said and not bother trying to give any more input. In another interview, his voice both rueful and affectionate, Steen said of his time teaming with Generico, “I didn’t call my own matches for years.”

Sami Zayn is remarkably like him in this regard; on an episode of Talk is Jericho with Kevin Owens, the two of them reminisced, laughing, about how Zayn walked into the planning session for his very first main roster PPV title match and informed everyone else in the match—including WWE veterans like Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, and Wade Barrett—how it was going to go. So if you admire the pacing or storytelling in a match that includes El Generico or Sami Zayn, it’s likely it was his idea.

“I think 98.5% of the time, Generico is right,” Kevin Steen said, shrugging, when talking about the Kendrick match. I think these matches stand as proof of that.

Chikara, March 28 2009, King of Trios Night 2: Kota Ibushi vs. El Generico vs. Nick Jackson vs. Jigsaw.

The earliest match in our tour of the Generic Luchador is from 2009 and is a four-way match between El Generico, Kota Ibushi, Jigsaw and Nick Jackson. This match is a technical showcase, a dazzling display of flippy virtuosity, a spectacular spotfest. It’s just plain fun from start to finish, a wild ride of cascading moves. Despite that, there’s still storylines that arc through it: first, there’s the tense relationship between Generico and Nick Jackson, who teamed together on night one of the tournament but find themselves at odds during this four-way match where there are no allies. A second throughline is the connection between El Generico and Kota Ibushi, meeting in the ring for only the second time in 2009. The two would clash again in DDT Pro in later years—wrestling each other both in the ring and in kayaks in a legendary campground match—but this bout shows off how well-matched the two of them are in a sparkling sequence you can see here:

In short, this is a match to watch to see El Generico’s synergy with a variety of wrestlers and a fast-paced, fun match full of excitement and energy.

Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Sept. 4 2009, Guerre Sans Frontières: El Generico vs. Shingo Takagi.

El Generico had a total of 57 singles matches in PWG between 2004 and 2012 with an awe-inspiring set of opponents, including Kevin Steen, Alex Shelley, Christopher Daniels, Pac, Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Chuck Taylor, Roderick Strong, Kenny Omega, Chris Hero, Jushin Thunder Liger, Paul London, Dick Togo, Adam Cole, and Ricochet. They’re all available on Highspots.com, and every single one of them is worth watching. His 2011 matches with Kevin Steen at Battle of Los Angeles and Steen Wolf are two of my favorite wrestling matches ever, but I’m recommending this match with Shingo Takagi, future IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, as an example of flawless pacing and build.

It starts quite slow—slower, in fact, than most televised matches would ever dare to begin, for fear of people changing the channel. But PWG’s main audience has always been the people physically present for the match, people who aren’t going to walk out halfway through the show because a match starts off slow, and the pace is pitched to them. Stick with it and enjoy the crescendo as Takagi and Generico discover how evenly matched they are, growing increasingly baffled until the action is full-throttle and the crowd is hanging on every move.

Ring of Honor, December 18 2010, Final Battle: El Generico vs. Kevin Steen.

Long before there were Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, there was the team of Kevin Steen and El Generico. The two of them started off as a Ring of Honor in 2008 booked mostly as a comedy duo, playing up the constant tension between heel-leaning jerk Steen and oblivious babyface Generico, and became incredibly popular while climbing to the summit of the tag team division. When Steen finally snapped and viciously turned on his former partner, it kicked off a year-long conflict that was voted Best Feud of 2010 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. The angle was largely planned out by Steen and Generico themselves–the top brass in RoH having little interest in it–as a bid to establish themselves as serious singles stars, and as such it’s a year of high melodrama: Generico a hero sunk in the depths of despair, Steen a monster of depraved sadism.

The climax of the storyline takes place at Final Battle, and it’s every bit as messy and dramatic as a feud where the villain refers to the hero as “an addiction that had to be broken” deserves. Both combatants bleed copiously, there are brutal brainbusters and piledrivers, and the match ends with a nasty chairshot to the head that echoes the one that kicked off the feud. Underneath the gore and intensity, however, there’s a carefully-structured plot that runs with cool, clockwork precision as it carries the audience through despair to catharsis.

The feud catapulted both Steen and Generico into the singles scene: a year and a half after Final Battle, Steen would be Ring of Honor World Champion, and El Generico would be negotiating a contract with WWE. Of course, the luchador retired and vanished completely, but Sami Zayn carries on his legacy–and his gift for structuring a match–to this day.

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