After a bit of an underwhelming build-up to Ring of Honor’s Final Battle pay-per-view, we finally got a true main event at the end of AEW Dynamite on Wednesday. The Gunn Club delivered a message for the banned-from-television Briscoe Brothers, pulling a pair of dog collars out of some Christmas stockings, thus challenging FTR to a double dog collar match at Final Battle. This is the third match between the two teams this year, with the first two stealing the show at the previous two ROH PPVs. The rivalry has been renewed a bit after some back-and-forth on social media over the two teams’ placement on the recent Pro Wrestling Illustrated Tag Team 100, and it really felt like the right time to run it back again. Dog collar matches are a match type with a storied history and some true classics. Here are the greatest dog collar matches in pro wrestling history.
8. The Pitbulls vs. Raven and Stevie Richards
ECW Gangstas Paradise, September 1995
This was one of the ultimate “everything at the omelet bar in the omelet” matches in ECW history. Paul Heyman was at his caffeinated best, just ladling in booking trick after run-in after table spot all in one massive stew. This match was for Raven and Richards’s ECW World Tag titles, and if the Pitbulls lost, they would have had to disband. The match started with Raven by himself for some reason; Raven’s then valet Beulah says that because Richards had a broken arm, the match should be best two out of three falls, although I am not sure how that made it fairer for Raven. In fact, the rules switch backfired on Raven, as he won the first fall rather quickly, piledriving Pitbull No. 2 through a table as Pitbull No. 1 was dragging Richards from the back. The second fall is rather quick as well, as Pitbull No. 1 put an exsanguinated Richards through a table.
The third fall had all of the sublime nonsense you could expect from that era of ECW. The ref got bumped, and in came the Dudleys (not the Dudleys you’re familiar with, but the less acclaimed Dances With Dudley and Dudley Dudley). As the Pitbulls fought off all four opponents, Raven pulled out a bottle of ether and used it to knock out Pitbull No. 2 and sort of put him through two tables (they don’t always break cleanly). At some point Francine ran out and catfought with Beulah, only to get DDTed by Raven. Tommy Dreamer then ran out to replace Pitbull #2 and DDTed Raven to win the titles, but then out came Bill Alfonso (who was playing an evil athletic commission ref) to reverse the decision. Then there was Big Dick Dudley and 911, and so on and so on. Somehow it all worked, as the crowd got a bunch of the big cathartic moments that ECW had been teasing for months: Dreamer pinning Raven for the first time, 911 finally chokeslamming Alfonso after Alfonso got the chokeslam banned (briefly rescinding the ban so Big Dick Dudley could chokeslam Dreamer), and finally Raven getting superbombed with Richards on his shoulders and the Pitbulls winning the tiles. This kind of insane paint-splatter overbooking kind of ruined wrestling for 20 years, as bookers tried to replicate this over and over again, rarely pulling it off. Basically, all of Vince Russo’s career was a crappy version of this match, but there is a reason Heyman was a mad genius, and this was his maddest creation.
7. Mad Dog Connelly vs. Jordan Blade
PPW Heavy Hitters 4, September 2022
Connelly is the current king of the dog collar match, and this was his classic. Blade (a powerlifter and jiu-jitsu fighter) and Connelly are members of the Paradigm Pro UWFi rules division, which puts on short explosive matches inspired by the Japanese shoot style. This match had that energy, despite having dog collars and a chain; it went six minutes, and every moment felt like a possible finish. Connelly was tremendously explosive, driving in quick and landing a takedown and shot for a rear naked choke with the chain. Blade was able to escape, dumping Connelly with a German suplex and hitting some sick crossfaces with the chain. Connelly was able to land a rolling series of gutwrench suplexes with the chain wrapped around Blade’s neck, with Blade landing hard on the chain. Blade fought back with some hard chain-wrapped right hands and a spin kick to the face. Blade then put on a rear naked choke with the chain, but Connelly spun out and hit some brutal stomps to Blade’s temple and a hellacious lariat before using the chain to choke Blade out for the win. This worked pretty differently from most dog collar matches, which are normally grinding wars of attrition; Blade and Connelly was like a grueling one-round UFC fight, like Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg if they gave them a steel chain.
6. Junkyard Dog vs. Butch Reed
Mid-South Wrestling, November 1983
This was big-superstar main-event wrestling with a dog collar involved. Junkyard Dog in Mid-South in the early ’80s was as over as Hulk Hogan or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and the rabid partisan crowd was a big part of what made this match special. Butch Reed came into Mid-South as JYD’s tag partner but soon turned on him, and they became huge money-drawing rivals. This was a battle between a pair of thick-chested football players and powerlifters, and each clash felt like a pair of linemen in a goal-line stand. JYD put such force behind each of his punches; a JYD right hand felt like a right from George Foreman, and when you added a big chain around his fist it got even more explosive. Reed was also a huge hitter but was a bit more agile and used that speed to his advantage; there was a great spot where JYD went for a big headbutt and Reed blocked it with a chain shot to the forehead. JYD eventually wore down Reed with big shots and went for his powerslam, only to see Reed’s partner Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart run in, JYD’s partner “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan even the odds, and JYD land another powerslam for the win. Simple stuff—the simplest match on this list—but the atmosphere was unparalleled. It is hard to find crowds this invested in wrestling anymore, and a beloved hero triumphing over his hated rival will never go out of style.
5. Mr. Brodie Lee vs. Cody
AEW Dynamite, October 2020
This is a bittersweet entry on this list, as this ended up being Brodie Lee’s final match before his tragic death, and it was a hell of a coda to his great career. This match was during the pandemic and happened in front of a socially distanced crowd outdoors at Daily’s Place. It was an odd period for professional wrestling as a whole, and this match may have been the highlight of that odd era. Lee was an intensely scary performer, and in their previous match, he had beaten Cody soundly. The story of the match was Cody overcoming that self-doubt and beating someone who seemed unbeatable. The first blood in the match actually came from John Silver at ringside, who ate a chain shot from Cody and came up leaking, but a DDT on the chain would soon cut Cody as well, showing the Rhodes family gift for bleeding. The match had several dramatic moments, including Arn Anderson hitting the spinebuster to cut off an Alex Reynolds run-in and Cody hitting a package piledriver through a table. Little things made this match stand out, though, like Cody whipping Brodie with the chain or wrapping his face in it and Brodie hanging him over the top rope. Cody spoke after Brodie’s death about how great Lee was at doing dangerous things in a safe way, and this match felt dangerous.
4. CM Punk vs. Raven
ROH Death Before Dishonor, July 2003
This dog collar match was the highlight of the feud that really launched CM Punk. Punk was leaning into his straight-edge persona, and before this match Punk gave his first real legendary promo, comparing the substance enthusiast Raven to Punk’s own alcoholic father. Punk also served as a representative of his generation of wrestlers, who repudiated the ECW era that preceded them. This was a really intense brawl, with a newly out-of-rehab Raven eager to prove he still could perform at a top level. It had great-looking back-and-forth strikes, a bunch of blood from Punk, and Raven even getting yanked down the stairs by a chain. The finish had a bunch of ECW-style booking but done well. Colt Cabana came out to interfere for Punk and DDTed Raven, allowing Punk to get the win, only to have ECW original Danny Doring run him to the back. Punk then grabbed athletic tape and taped Raven to the ropes. He then poured a beer down Raven’s throat after telling him, “It’s another trip to rehab, you drunk.” The save was then made by Raven’s old rival Tommy Dreamer, who tied Punk to the ropes and paid him back by dumping a beer down his previously unsullied throat. ROH initially made its rep for putting on long technical matches with the best independent wrestlers of the time, but the Punk vs. Raven feud showed they could do violent brawls at a really high level as well. It also really allowed Punk to shine, shifting him from a skinny tatted-up kid in basketball shorts to a legitimate wrestling star.
3. Buzz Sawyer vs. Jim Duggan
Mid-South Wrestling, December 27, 1985
Just an old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes brawl. Nothing really fancy, just a pair of oil rig workers in the midst of an off-week bender, pushing over their barstools and squaring off in the sawdust. Sawyer came into Mid-South Wrestling billed as the master of the dog collar match and just started rumbling with the tough guy Duggan—no layered story lines or deep callbacks, just fists. Sawyer had a big wrestling magazine reputation coming off his iconic feud with Tommy Rich and was the perfect guy for a promotion to bring in to match up with the local roughneck. Duggan is best known as a sort of cartoonish oaf from WWF and WCW, but he was a bad motherfucker in his prime. Duggan unloaded huge, meaty, chain-wrapped fists to the side of Sawyer’s head, while Sawyer used his traditional pressure fighter approach; Duggan was the harder hitter, although Mad Dog kept it coming. There is a great moment where Duggan drops Sawyer with a huge right and yells out “I got him now,” and Sawyer responds with a chain shot right to the little Duggans. Buzz Sawyer was one of the great meteorites in wrestling history; his career lasted 11 years, and he died at 32 but lived and wrestled every one of those 11 years at full throttle.
2. Slim J vs. Corey Hollis
Anarchy Wrestling, May 2018
Slim J has been the most underseen great wrestler of the last 20 years. He has had a wide variety of tremendous matches, including high-flying spot fests, technical wrestling battles, and wild brawls, but almost entirely in the Southeast and away from the spotlight that other indie wrestlers have shining on them. This match was part of a nasty feud with fellow southern standout Corey Hollis and was the rare modern match that approached the harrowing ugly violence of the iconic dog collar match we haven’t mentioned yet. Most 21st-century dog collar matches layer on a bunch of other bells and whistles—chairs and tables, run-ins, etc. This was just two men, a chain, and the greatness of simplicity. Hollis dominated early, taking the advantage with a punt to the balls before beating on Slim with the chain, grating his forehead with the sharp links. Slim was able to take over by crotching Hollis on the chain and wrapping it around his leg, throat, and face while locking in an STF. It is pretty hard to successfully work a punch with a logger chain around your fist, but the punches in this match looked tremendous; either they are masters of that kind of close-up magic or they were just pounding each other in the face with a chain.
Slim and Hollis did a great job of using the dog collar as well, with Hollis yanking Slim multiple times by the neck, making Slim jerk like a marionette with his strings cut. The finish was basically a nightmare, with Hollis wrapping the chain around Slim’s neck and hanging him over the top rope. Slim’s face turned the shade of eggplant and his tongue swelled out of his mouth; it was almost too realistic. It was gruesome stuff and the kind of match that makes you question what it says about you as a person that you like this kind of entertainment.
1. Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine
NWA Starrcade ’83: A Flare for the Gold, November 1983
This match was the blood-and-guts feature match of Starrcade ’83, one of the first supershows in pro wrestling history. The promotional war between WWF and NWA promotions was really starting to heat up, and the promoters decided to simulcast this show closed circuit throughout the territory, running this match as a huge selling point to the audience. Valentine had smashed the U.S. title into the side of Piper’s head earlier in the year, and Piper went overboard with the blade, painting the side of his face red. This was the climax of the “Year of the Ear,” where Valentine bragged about damaging Piper’s hearing, and they brawled throughout the Mid-Atlantic era. They ran several rematches after Starrcade, and the toll they took on their bodies led both of them to decamp to the relatively less punishing shores of the WWF.
This was a great contrast of brawling styles: Piper was electric, a whirling dervish of violence and intensity, while Valentine was a methodical, plodding striker, focused and punishing. Piper started the match with a bunch of unique uses of the chain, tying it around Valentine’s face, using it like a winch to tie him into the corner, smacking him in the eyes. Valentine then attacked Piper’s bad ear, and it is one of the most focused, vicious attacks on a body part in wrestling history—sadistic stuff, with Valentine just pounding Piper’s oozing ear with the length of a chain. Piper’s comeback is just him throwing wildly, missing three to land one, a rabid honey badger looking to tear off chunks of flesh. My only quibble (which is maybe the only thing that keeps this from being my favorite match of all time) is that I would have liked a better finish. Piper just pulling Valentine off the top rope isn’t as wild as a finish in a match like this really should be. Still, it’s an all-timer, the match all dog collar matches aspire to be but are doomed to fall short of.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.