Today I'll be discussing one of the oldest, time-honored wrestling match types, the 2-out-of-3 Falls match! Back in the olden days 2/3 Falls was a common format for Championship matches, as a way to truly determine the better competitor and rule out fluke victories. In the old NWA system, all World Title matches were required to be contested under these rules, and quite often the match would go to a time limit draw in the third fall, which protected both guys for future bouts. I've always enjoyed this type of match as it lends itself to longer, more epic matches with a heavy emphasis on good old mat wrestling. During the Attitude Era the WWF added a wrinkle to the 2/3 Falls match by giving each fall a different set of rules (i.e. traditional rules for the first fall, No DQ for the second, etc.), calling it Three Stages of Hell. Regardless though, there's something epic about a 2/3 Falls match when done well.
Let's take a look at what I consider the ten best examples of 2/3 Falls....
HM - Angle/Benoit vs. Edge/Mysterio - Smackdown - 11.7.02
In the fall of 2002 the RAW and Smackdown shows each had exclusive rosters, and Paul Heyman's Smackdown was crushing RAW on a weekly basis, both creatively and in the ratings. Much of SD's success can be attributed to these four competitors, who made up two-thirds of the revered Smackdown Six (Los Guerreros were the other two). The World Tag Championship had been made a RAW-exclusive Title during the roster split, and Smackdown GM Stephanie McMahon decided to create a separate set of belts for her show. Hence a tournament was assembled which boiled down to Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Edge & Rey Mysterio at No Mercy, in a 22-minute classic. The rematch took place only a few weeks later on Smackdown, and it was a 2/3 Falls match. While not quite as good as the PPV bout, this featured incredible action and palpable suspense, as Edge & Mysterio played the underdogs to perfection on their way to a Title victory.
HM: Demolition vs. Hart Foundation - SummerSlam - 8.27.90
In early 1990 the WWF's tag team division essentially consisted of three top babyface tandems - Demolition, The Hart Foundation, and The Rockers. Sure there were a few heel teams such as The Bolsheviks and The Orient Express, but they were all booked as jobbers to the stars, and the Harts and Rockers were presented as the only credible threats to the Champions Demolition. Just after WrestleMania VI it looked like the Harts were slowly turning heel, adopting some underhanded tactics and referring to Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty as "tumbling teenyboppers." It seemed like Bret and Jim would be positioned as villain challengers to the popular facepainted duo of Ax & Smash. But two factors caused a change of plans. The first was that the Harts were still extremely popular and the fans didn't really want to boo them. The second was that the aging Bill Eadie (Ax) was no longer able to wrestle a full schedule and needed to take more of a managerial role in Demolition, necessitating the introduction of a younger third member, Crush. With Demolition now working as a three-man team it made more sense to turn them heel and invoke the "Freebird Rule," where any two members of a Championship team could defend the Titles (I love this gimmick, by the way). So at SummerSlam, the Hart Foundation were positioned as babyface underdogs facing a dastardly powerhouse team who frequently pulled the old "switcheroo" during their matches, subbing in a fresh man for an injured one. The result was a very strong 2/3 Falls match that saw Hart and Neidhart overcome the odds (with an assist from WWF newcomers Hawk & Animal) to regain the Tag belts. After a brief, disappointingly one-sided feud with the Legion of Doom, Demolition were sadly phased out less than a year later, while the Harts enjoyed a strong run with the belts.
10. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho - SummerSlam - 8.27.00
The year 2000 was an amazing one for the WWF. With the influx of almost all of WCW's best workers, the WWF roster was now loaded with tremendous in-ring talent creating fresh matchups and feuds galore, possibly the best of which involved the two Chrises. Jericho and Benoit had worked together for years, both in Japan and in Atlanta, and in the spring/summer of 2000 they resumed their feud, facing each other three times on PPV and several more times on RAW and Smackdown. The rivalry reached a fever pitch at SummerSlam, in a 2/3 Falls match. While not quite given enough time to fully steal the show, Jericho and Benoit nevertheless delivered a forgotten near-classic that ended the feud for the time being.