Daniel Makabe vs Timothy Thatcher
The Battle Palace, Seattle, Washington, United States
(reviewed 07/14/2018) What a difference a year makes.
Back in June, after successfully defending his Solid Steel Championship yet again, Makabe claimed dominance over everyone in 3-2-1 BATTLE! and demanded stiffer competition from the booking office. Commissioner Diva le Déviant came back with a single name, someone Makabe had faced before in a grueling match at last year’s Wet Hot Seattle Summer: Timothy Thatcher.
Everything about the beginning of this match feels wrong. In the year since he last met Thatcher, Dan has changed. No longer is he a bright, hopeful young man stomping out to the ring to the tunes of Northern Ireland’s finest. Now he’s sullen, dour, hateful. He exploits injuries to win matches. Despite representing the company as its champion, he despises everything that 3-2-1 is about. In a mirror of Thatcher’s introduction to the promotion last year, he sizes up the official announced for this match, a masked man sporting a lifeguard’s uniform and an inflatable donut around his middle. Makabe’s not impressed. He wants a “real referee”. When Thatcher makes his way to the ring, Makabe clutches the scarf his opponent gave him after his upset victory last year. He still holds a reverence for this object, for what it represents, but there’s no joy in it anymore.
What sets this match apart, for me, is its nuance. In 2017 the dynamic was clearly set: Makabe was the plucky, talented local babyface representing all that 3-2-1 has to offer while Thatcher was the cocky, self-serious outsider looking for an easy win. Here the waters are muddier and much more interesting. While Makabe’s been a real prick of a man for months as the bane of the 3-2-1 Battalion, he’s sort of wary and unsteady here in the early moments. A lot of that comes down to Thatcher’s approach. Thatcher’s always an aggressive guy but he comes into this match with a chip on his shoulder having tapped out to Makabe last year. Despite the fact that his opponent’s only dropped a single fall so far in 2018 Thatcher fairly easily dominates him early on in this match, wrenching his limbs this way and that, shoving him back into the corner when Makabe tries to force a break. Makabe’s spent six months stretching no name local talent and now, when presented with a tough challenge, he nearly wilts in the heat brought by a world class wrestler.
Still, an opportunity presents itself and it allows Thatcher to display his own nuance. The big Californian clutches his neck after hitting a textbook snap suplex, feeling the sting of one of the million little injuries suffered in the act of smashing your body against a taut structure of wood and steel. It’s not a debilitating injury but it gives Thatcher pause and Makabe notices it. A minute or so later he finds his opening and shoves Thatcher face-first into the top turnbuckle pad, cracking a rough forearm shot against the back of his head afterward. He applies a cravate as Thatcher tries to slap feeling back into his left arm. He bends the man in half over his own neck with a backdrop driver that, in another life, was once known as “Jumbo Tsuruta FUCK YOU”. In a matter of a few moments Makabe has completely reversed the momentum of the match and Thatcher has become vulnerable in a way he so rarely ever is.
But he’s not become defenseless and that’s the beauty of it. He’s still Timothy Thatcher. Whenever he can manage it he fires off a few uppercuts or connects with a belly to belly suplex. He picks away at his opponent’s arm to continue a strategy he started to explore before his neck took a turn for the worse. The thing is, Makabe can always go right back to that injury to force a stop and it’s what allows him to stay on top. Most of the match flies by this way, with Thatcher finding his brief openings before Makabe cuts him down again. It’s a simple pattern but one that’s so fulfilling because hey, these two fucking rock at what they do. Their work last year was great but here they’re sinking holds tighter, throwing strikes harder, putting more into their selling and bumping. Makabe’s title might not be on the line but pride certainly is and you can tell just how much a win here would mean for these two men.
I’ve talked a lot recently about what humanity looks like in a wrestling ring, with so many recent popular matches leaving me cold and alienated. Here, even though they are switching roles frequently as aggressor and victim, these men feel very grounded in the reality of their characters. It makes sense for the formerly arrogant and pretentious Makabe to be easily intimidated by Thatcher, even as he writhes from the pain of a recent injury. It makes sense for the capable and dangerous Thatcher to almost completely buckle under the weight of that physical trauma. They might both be mean-spirited technicians looking to put the hurt on another human being, but the experiences these two men have had—whether it be immediate or decades in the past—have led them to wildly different places that shift throughout the course of this match.
As with last year’s bout, Thatcher is more animated and frantic here than usual. There’s something about this foppish Canadian. He brings the best out of him. He pushes him to his limits.
Bum neck and all, Thatcher finds the will to fight back. He manages to avoid a flurry of Makabe’s signature moves but goes down to a tight straitjacket German suplex, a rare flash of fear crossing over the man’s face as he finds himself flung backwards. Yet he kicks out. Makabe, ever the clever competitor, returns to the move that won them their last match: a high angle variation of the Cattle Mutilation. Thatcher somehow is able to free himself and unload a bevy of strikes to Makabe’s head and face. When Makabe flees to the ropes and Thatcher doesn’t relent, the referee interjects herself and gives the local villain time to recover. He blasts Thatcher with a Rutten kidney shot as the man turns, following it up with a trio of brutal dropkicks that send Thatcher sinking closer and closer to the mat, limply hanging onto the ropes. When Makabe hits his signature fastball punch it looks like Thatcher’s completely done for, crumpled face down against the structure that orchestrated his downfall so many painful minutes ago.
If the last year has taught these two men anything, it’s that a match can be won in a single moment. All it takes is one hold to turn everything around. Makabe, exhausted but assured of his victory, simply flops over the lifeless corpse of his opponent for the pinfall. With the last bit of fight he has left in him Thatcher kicks out, using the momentum of the act to shift his weight onto Makabe’s shoulder, wrenching the man’s limb back against itself with the Fujiwara armbar. In a single moment, Makabe’s strategy and domination are entirely out the window, upended by one simple reversal. After a single moment, Makabe’s submitting as Thatcher screams valiantly into the air.
Timothy Thatcher is a pretty stoic guy. He’s quiet, bookish, a self-contained enigma of a time gone by. In the ring his emotions rarely stray from the spectrum between pain and hostility. Here, after the match, after his hand has been raised as he gingerly clutches what remains of his neck, he’s damn near jubilant. He spins on his heels and roars, fists clutched and lifted in celebration. He hasn’t really won all that much in the grand scheme of professional wrestling; he’s defeated a near-unknown main eventer from a tiny PNW indie. But he’s emerged triumphant from the mire with his pride between his teeth. That’s victory enough for now.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: Once you really get down to it, Shawn/Taker is about pride. Wash away all the baffling Biblical implications and the blubbering inner turmoil and you’ve got a fairly simple story about two men fighting for bragging rights. Somewhere in there, buried beneath heaps of horseshit, there’s a kernel of an interesting, honest story. Makabe/Thatcher II presents a similar tale, avoids all the pretension of its competition, and provides with it a hard-hitting, technically-based clinic of a match. This shit isn’t even close.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25