Stiff, frightening, and memorable.
While all of those words could describe Luke Harper’s trademark tank top, they have become increasingly applicable to his in-ring style as well. Harper made his mark on WWE in the last week- not in the sense of a sweat stain down the middle- with a fantastic match against Chris Jericho on Smackdown and a show-stealing performance in the match to open the Battleground PPV. Paul Heyman dominated Raw with a promo for the ages that did not need any physicality to hit hard. Harper rarely gets a chance to talk, but he conveys just as much emotion and personality with his unforgettable style and character in the ring.
It might be inappropriate to give a wrestler credit for having a good match with Jericho because it’s hard to have anything less than a great match with him at this point in his career. Nonetheless, Harper helped set the table for Jericho’s showdown with Bray Wyatt at Battleground with their singles match on Smackdown. One positive characteristic of both Jericho and Harper is that they are unpredictable in the ring. Sure enough, they defied expectations in this match as Jericho stayed on offense for a surprising portion of the time. When Harper did get a chance to deliver some offense, he made it count. His big boot and sit-down powerbomb look like they could end matches against almost every opponent. They did not accomplish that in this match, but I hope WWE lets him when some matches with those moves because they are believable finishers and the possibility that they will end matches introduces more drama. Jericho ended up winning the match when Harper whiffed on a discus clothesline (another great, high-impact move in his arsenal) and Jericho successfully cradled him for the pin.
The match between Harper and Erick Rowan and The Usos at Battleground was a show stealer that nobody expected to be a show stealer. The two-out-of-three falls stipulation gave the match and old-school feel and created more tension as they built toward the third pin. The first two falls were relatively uneventful- Harper got the first with a big boot and Jimmy Uso evened it up with a roll-up on Harper. With Rowan still relatively green as a wrestler, Harper carried his team while the intensity shot through the roof on the third fall. Both teams hit some crazy offense- from suicide dives to splashes off the barricades- and mixed in convincing near falls. I thought Harper had the match won when he no-sold a superkick from Jimmy and responded with a sudden discus clothesline, but Jey broke up the pin just in time. It took double-team superkicks and a double-team Superfly Splash to finally put Harper down for the three count. Despite the clean loss, Harper looked so good in defeat that he ultimately came out of the match as a more respected and over wrestler than when he started it.
Despite an amateur career that saw him become as big a star as one can reasonably hope outside of a national wrestling company, Harper has had to work his way through the ranks in WWE. Some wrestlers might have bristled at being put in a tag team with an inexperienced partner to play backup to a wrestler who gets more time on the mic and more attention in storylines. Harper has used the situation as an opportunity to seize the spotlight that he does receive. While I am sure he would love to be a bigger star than Wyatt, the silver lining is that he gets a near guarantee to be on television every week as long as he is with Wyatt. I have no doubt that his hard work in that role will pay off in the long run. Even in the short-term, Wyatt has distinguished himself as a surprising source of high entertainment in the middle of the card.