What a difference a week makes!
I'd like to thank each of you for being so supportive and active during PWO's first week. In the first seven days the site was up and running, we posted a staggering twenty-two match reviews, two features articles, a podcast, and more! I thought I'd use today's update to talk about lessons learned and where we go from here.
My real-life background is in content management and it's something I've done a decent amount of, but what I'm aiming to do here is much, much bigger in scope and I'm working entirely within a system I'm creating myself, so it's a new world. At a certain point in the week, I realized that I was spending about 90% of my time on website tweaks, which wasn't leaving me with very much time to do what I should be doing with most of my time, which is to develop and deliver great wrestling content. After looking into it a little more, I realized the insanity of my goal to manually build an all-things-wrestling database while juggling 35 articles per week, each 500-750 words or so, and record a daily podcast, which was my initial ambition. It was a lot of work and I was never blind about that, but when I realized just how much I could automate and restructured a lot of old articles to accommodate that, and that working 18-hour days just to work on site design wasn't quite what I had in mind when I launched this, just shifting those gears alone took three days of my time. A lot of the big features I wanted to add to the site won't be here immediately, but most of them will be here relatively soon, and they'll be better than they would have been.
The big takeaways are that unexpected discoveries, challenges, and ideas will happen again and also that I can't work myself to the bone constantly when something can be automated. I've come up with a new core content schedule that is still ambitious, but also realistic and gives me some flexibility:
20 match reviews from this week in history, to be posted throughout the week
Three weekly podcasts
Regular Editor's Notes check-ins
This also gives me the time and flexibility I need to work on some of the exciting developments on their way to fruition, such as:
PWO30, our new monthly digital magazine. Each month, PWO30 will provide a fresh look at everything in wrestling 30 years ago this month. The first issue will be available on Monday, July 23, and will be FREE for download!
Wrestler, year, promotion, title, and media (e.g., podcasts, books and magazines, shoot interviews, etc) profile pages. Find the ultimate one-stop shop for wrestlers (and the other stuff) inclusive of all nationalities, genders, styles, and eras, and of people at all levels of pro wrestling stardom. These pages will also include PWO-specific stores for each wrestling entity with thoughtfully-curated listings to buy wrestling items from PWO's affiliates (Amazon, Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Highspots, eBay, WWEShop, and others).
PWO on Patreon. My goal is for PWO to have a tier system available on Patreon by August 1 with some really cool and unique offerings included. I'll keep you all posted of that progress here. While 8/1 is my goal, I will not launch on Patreon until I am confident that each tier is offering something of real value.
Feature articles. Look for the first installment of Wrestling In Sevens, a regular feature that spotlights individual wrestling fans and their lifelong journeys with pro wrestling, early this week. I'm really excited about this offering and think you'll love it!
A more interactive platform that's more fully integrated with the PWO forums. The forums are still here, but I'm exploring ways to more fully integrate that sense of community with the site itself. This is a long-term work in progress.
Thanks again to those of you who have been here all week. You have truly made this a worthwhile endeavor and I'm endlessly grateful.
Onward we go!
Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi are an all-time great babyface tag team, but because of Kobashi's subsequent singles superstardom, they aren't really talked about much at that level. This match -- and frankly, all of their 1992 matches that have made tape -- show much of an oversight that is.
July 5, 1992
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
All-Asia Tag Team Titles
The most rewarding part of navigating Kenta Kobashi's extensive body of work is the number of "Ohhh yeah, THAT match!" moments that we open ourselves up to when going back to look at his best matches. Kobashi's career was appropriately documented and appreciated, so it's not that he has a career full of hidden gems (even though those exist too) as much as it is that he has produced so many great matches at so many different phases of his career that it's difficult to remember all of them. It would be another decade before he finally had the definitive run as a world champion that his talent and popularity demanded, but in 2003, 1992 was more than ancient history -- Kobashi wasn't even in the same company anymore; nor was Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, whose career had followed a radically different trajectory than his own.
Here, Kobashi and Kikuchi defended the All-Asia Tag Team Titles. The duo was unique because in virtually every other partnership at this time, Kobashi was the subordinate junior wrestler, a status that would follow him until he was paired with Jun Akiyama in 1996. The All-Asia tag titles had their own interesting history in the company because they were usually assigned to smaller and faster-paced tag teams, while the top singles stars paired up and controlled the World Tag Team Title picture. This team might have been the only place where Kobashi exerted any authority at all in relation to his more seasoned teammates. A list of Kikuchi's strengths -- likability, fire, great offense and selling, expert charisma -- would read very similar to those of Kobashi, which made them a natural fit for each other.
The most famous match the duo had (and the one that I considered the best match of the 1990s when I did a nutso ranking at Place To Be Nation a few years ago) was against Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat about six weeks before this one. Like Kobashi and Kikuchi, the Can-Ams were great offensive wrestlers, so pitting the teams against each other made for a stellar matchup, just as it earned one of the best crowd reactions for any match -- especially a midcard one -- in AJPW history. Like the May match, this match was joined in progress when it aired on Nippon TV, but unlike that match, this never came out in full. My initial thoughts when I watched this were that it was better than the May 22 tag, although at that time I had only seen the twelve minutes or so of it that aired back in 1992. I've since reversed that opinion, but only because the tag was finally aired in full on television. If we also had this in full, I think a full comparison would be both interesting and unpredictable, because Masa Fuchi adds so many interesting touches to his performance that it's not out of the realm of possibility that they topped themselves here. This was also the type of match that has more staying power because it's more classically worked -- the May tag was an incredible spectacle of offense while this was more substantive outing focused on limb selling and mat details, joined in progress right as Kobashi was starting to masterfully sell a knee injury. I'm also not sure I'd trust Furnas and Kroffat, whom I love, to pull off the finish the way Kikuchi and Fuchi did here, with Kikuchi reversing Fuchi's rolling reverse cradle, almost like an unlucky game of Wrestling Uno.
All Japan Pro Wrestling T-Shirt - Redbubble
This also spotlights something that AJPW did exceptionally well in the early 90s that they became less expert at doing with time. Kikuchi was embroiled in a six-year chase of Fuchi (a six-year chase to win a junior heavyweight championship!) and pins in tag matches were an effective way to keep hope alive for their next meeting. This shows that the same booking philosophy and respect for the story was applied to the undercards as it was the main events, an idea that seems unimaginable in most companies with weight classes.
Most of all, this match acts as a crusader for the midcard cause, a case study in the value of promoters not treating those who aren't current headliners as afterthoughts. Kobashi and Kikuchi owned the crowd as much as anyone owned their crowd in wrestling at the time, even while taking on a subordinate role when they did participate in All Japan's hierarchy-centered main event tags and six-mans, showing that with a little forethought, wrestling really can have it both ways.
Ric Flair and Ricky Morton -- two of the most symbolic figures in wrestling -- voluntarily toss reputations aside to prove their mettle.
Jim Crockett Promotions
NWA Great American Bash
July 5, 1986
Charlotte, North Carolina
NWA World Heavyweight Title
I don't know if I'd go as far as to say he's taken a beating among hardcore wrestling fans over the last decade, but it's fair to say that a lot of wrestling fans no longer see Ric Flair as infallible. Based on years of debates and discussion at Pro Wrestling Only, I've probably written more and thought more about my own views on Flair than just about anyone alive. I've been pretty convinced that he is the greatest wrestler I've ever seen for a long time, but believe me, I have tripped over the holes in his work as much as anyone. Like anything else, some of the general points used to critique him probably have merit and some are probably off the mark.
For years, Flair was regarded as the Greatest Wrestler Ever. (He was surprisingly voted as such a couple of years ago by PWO members.) It only becomes harder for anyone to maintain that type of reputation over time no matter who they are or what they've done. We saw it in wrestling before Flair, when Lou Thesz presumably transformed from professional wrestler to black-and-white museum painting, even while still alive. For Flair, that process has been slowed by continued relevance -- both in and out of wrestling -- as his best wrestling days became a smaller part of the rearview mirror. However, if you are someone whose prime was three decades ago and most fans started watching when you were already -- at a minimum -- in your 40s, it's a battle that is destined to end in loss.
For at least a generation, Ric Flair was the wrestler nearly everyone in the business talked about both in out of WWE canon as the guy against whom they had their greatest matches. He was the consummate champion; in fact, I think it's arguable that the simple gesture of allies and announcers calling him "champ" regardless of his title status went a long way in preserving his legacy. He became memorialized as the greatest world champion ever -- the model heel, the greatest at portraying greatness in others, and the guy who had unrivaled stamina. Like being champion of two companies at the same, it's difficult to be considered the greatest both in myth and in actual personal discoveries, which hits on the difference between being the greatest and being the best. Still, being the guy who had the greatest body of in-ring work, the best interviews, and the most charisma meant Flair owned every superlative in wrestling folklore. Watch his classics with Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk, we'd both say and hear, to see wrestling at its finest.
Much of what can be said about Flair can also be said about Ricky Morton, although on a smaller scale. Morton has had tenured standing as the greatest tag team wrestler of all time. Poke around long enough and it's unlikely that you won't see Morton called the greatest tag team wrestler of all time, the greatest babyface of all time, the most sympathetic wrestler of all time, and plenty of other labels. When wrestlers are isolated in tag team matches to build to a hot tag, they're "playing Ricky Morton".
Ric Flair fans found Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Jumbo Tsuruta, Kenta Kobashi, Jushin Liger, Toshiaki Kawada, El Hijo del Santo, Negro Casas, and Mitsuharu Misawa (and in more recent years, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi) and Flair wasn't as peerless anymore. It became easier to point to criticisms of how he wrestled. He was overly reliant on a formula. He didn't have the range of offense of Kobashi. He didn't work his signature spots into the match as logically as Bret. He didn't age as gracefully or adapt to new opponents as well as Jumbo. Likewise, Morton fans found Tommy Rogers and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. They sold extremely well too, and they had cooler looking moves to boot. In my mind, those were valid reasons Flair shouldn't be regarded as the best wrestler -- meaning on the merits, the best at the mechanics, actions, and reactions of being a pro wrestler -- than they are that he shouldn't be the greatest wrestler -- meaning, the people who add excellence in skill and style to importance in wrestling and go on to carry the torch -- but those distinctions have only faded with time. This blurred distinction was never more the case than when there was even an argument with brief momentum that the whole idea of Ricky Morton being attacked to build to a hot tag was a facade, based on skewed footage samplings that circulated in the pre-YouTube days where Robert Gibson happened to be playing Ricky Morton for a night. If Flair became a name on a list of other great wrestlers -- ironically, the same way he portrayed his predecessors like Harley Race, Gene Kiniski, and Jack Brisco in interviews -- Morton became something worse: he became someone who didn't actually have the run we thought he did. We just imagined that he did.
One of the biggest problems with high praise is that at a certain point, there's nowhere to go but down. Flair's untouchable matches with Steamboat from their '89 series could suddenly not only be touched, but also be poked and prodded. In some circles, people would watch those matches and be underwhelmed, think based on praise that's out there that the match has to be the best American wrestling has to offer because of how it's been talked about, and start seeking out matches from Japan and Mexico that they hope will prove a little more exciting. Most of the time, they would fulfill the prophecy they set for themselves, and hey, in the days when wrestling bootlegs cost $20 a pop, can you blame them?
The second problem with overwhelming praise comes when people praise the wrong matches. The Flair-Steamboat matches are awesome in my mind and fully deserving of their status, but for someone trying to find wrestling they really enjoy who's still discovering new styles, it's not the most daring recommendation one could make. There's a time for watching epic matches, and I love epic matches myself. I think this is true for most wrestling fans. However, I think we would all get bored if all matches attempted to be epics. It again goes back to that distinction between best matches, the matches that most effectively combine performance elements to create something enjoyable to watch, and the greatest matches, those that do a serviceably great job of this but do it with great storyline development, over performers, and strong card positioning. Imagine the best matches as cars that start at 10mph or 20mph and go to 70mph, while the greatest matches start at 60mph and go to 90mph. Flair and Steamboat probably didn't have the best matches of time, even if they're in the conversation, but it's a more convincing argument that as respected NWA champs working at a really high level, they had the greatest matches of all time.
There's really no reason for anyone to see Flair-Steamboat from Wrestle War '89 if they haven't seen the video set to Europe's "The Final Countdown" that preceded it. There's really no reason for anyone to see a Ric Flair-Terry Funk match if they haven't seen Flair swing a branding iron and put Funk in the hospital, or Funk suffocate Flair with a plastic bag and bring out a jobber dressed like him in a cheap robe with a yellow stripe down his back. If you don't feel it and see it, these matches will be a bit hollow, which should go without saying, but based on the length of time I'm taking just to set up this review, doesn't.
This match and the Barry Windham match from Worldwide that was on the first Flair DVD set back in 2000 are probably the two matches I'm most proud of WWE for putting out there. It shows that there is more than Flair-Steamboat and Flair-Funk and that it is worth digging a little deeper to find them. I'd go as far to say that Flair looks as good as or better than I've ever seen him here. This is a world title match that is about revenge, as opposed to being a stoic encounter between two respected legends. Ric Flair rubbed Ricky Morton's face into a concrete floor until blood was smearing all over the floor, and he broke his nose. Morton was wearing a face guard here. He came in full of piss and vinegar, attempting to give Flair a dose of his own medicine. He tried to break Flair's nose and smear his face on the mat as a form of retribution. He leveled him with some tremendous punches. He had Flair begging off. Yes, Ricky Morton came into the match so angry and possessed that he managed to scare Ric Flair. Flair begs off a lot, because he always tries to bring his opponent to his level. Sadly, sometimes instead of his opponent coming up a notch, he falls down a notch. That didn't happen with Morton. When he begged off, it felt more organic because it was believable. He wasn't working with a Sting or Lex Luger that he had to get over before they could even really take the rivalry anywhere. Morton was already a red hot challenger.
When Flair takes control of the match, we see him at his most brash and violent. He's talking trash constantly, rubbing Morton's face into the cage in front of the Apter mag photographers, screaming "So you wanna be the world champ?" at him. Flair rips off Morton's face gear and throws it out of the cage so Morton can't even put it back on. He then starts punching him Ricky squarely in the nose as hard as he can. The crowd winces, because they feel Morton's pain. He convincingly beats the shit out of poor Ricky for a long time without giving him any openings at all.
Morton finally has enough and tears into Flair yet again. Flair is now scared yet again, and is now getting exactly what he deserves. He's now bleeding just like Morton and he's now on the defensive. With a flying bodypress from the top rope, Morton comes about a half a second away from winning the world title, and the fans appeared to be convinced. The best thing about this nearfall -- and nearfalls of this generation, really -- is that they didn't have to cheapen a finishing move to get the reaction. Nearfalls based on the split-second timing of the kickout are far more compelling than nearfalls based on what move a wrestler has kicked out of. Morton tries covering Flair again, but this time, Morton ends up falling on the ref during Flair's kickout. Sensing that it's now or never and that there's no referee present to tell him he can't, Flair crotches Mortons on the top rope and pins him with his feet on the ropes to escape by the skin of his teeth with the world title. (I'm convinced that he gave him such a strong out with that finish because of the respect he had for him as an opponent.)
Ric Flair was rarely about somber gatherings, clean wrestling matches, and handshakes. His usual routine was to enrage fans who were dying to see someone take him down a notch because he wasn't modest and loved to play on class resentment in his promos, pointing to himself as the guy you'd run into from your past only to find that he had more life success, more money, and a bigger house. Flair had dual-layer heat -- beating him was fine, but lots of guys did that so Flair could get them over as worthy challengers. Put him on TV to gloat in a Hugo Boss sports coat the next day and it was like he won. The real heat was in taking the title from him, which the best moments of this match made clear were the source of real intrigue. That they pulled that off with an undersized tag team wrestler, even a great one, explains why they had the reputations they had in the first place. What makes this particular outing so noteworthy is not that they continued to expand on their reputations as the greatest, even if they did; but rather, that they made a case for being the best.
La Parka and La Parka Classic fight over the rights to the name in a real yawner.
July 4, 2010
AAA Lucha Libre Worldwide
This was a bit hard to follow much of the time, mostly because they were dressed so similarly. I've seen Super Parka wear the yellow skeleton gimmick and Undertaker-Underfaker at least had purple and gray gloves to distinguish the two of them. It's even harder to follow when Konnan shows up and the RUN-INS commence. I don't even know if Konnan was booking, but I've decided to blame him anyway since I groaned when he showed up, knowing this was about to become the Over The Edge '98 main event of lucha libre. Don't waste your time.
Based on personalities alone, you might think Suzuki and Murakami could have a delightfully entertaining match. That theory was put to the test here when that was about all we got -- personalities alone.
Minoru Suzuki vs Kazunari Murakami
July 4, 2004
New Japan Pro Wrestling
The words are barely there because the inspiration is barely there. This match intrigued me on paper because Minoru Suzuki is a bonafide legend and Kazunari Murakami is the greatest Little Snot of his generation. I could watch Shinya Hashimoto kick him away at the Tokyo Dome all day and still want to see it again. Neither seemed particularly inspired here, which could have been a case of time constraints or it could have been a lack of genuine motivation. I would have even been happy with the two of the standing around making funny faces at each other since they're both so great at it, but they managed the virtually impossible here in creative a bland, grave disappointment.
Let the War Games, and the story of World Championship Wrestling, prologue and all, begin.
July 4, 1987
Jim Crockett Promotions
Great American Bash
In the Jim Crockett era, there was an outlook on the relationships between wrestlers that wasn't entirely unique, but it was definitely distinct from the WWF's approach. Dusty Rhodes booked a more tribalist wrestling offering than that of the WWF, one where feuds overlapped and the locker room was clearly divided into two warring camps.
Each side looked out for its fellow soldiers instead of focusing only on their own issues. If Dusty was attacked by the Four Horsemen, even if they were too little too late, other babyfaces at least attempted to make the save and stop the carnage. If Ric Flair and Ricky Morton ended up in an impromptu brawl, for example, the other Horsemen would quickly be there to put the numbers on Ric's side and aide in an attack. The big pop usually came when other babyfaces finally hit the ring to make the save. One of two things happened at this point -- either the heels immediately retreated or we had a pier-six brawl on our hands, often as the show was going off the air.
War Games as a concept was a way to shift the drama from angles and finishes with saves and counter-saves into a match all its own. By a simple coin toss, two heels could beat on one babyface, then the babyface would make the save. Then another heel would do the same, only for the babyface to come in yet again. Suddenly, a match was filled with what would have previously just been a really long hot angle, and 25 minutes had passed. It was the last hurrah for JCP, as War Games led to a summer run of house shows where they were outdrawing the WWF in many of the same markets, and it was probably Dusty Rhodes' last truly transcendent booking idea.
Without the time intervals, we'd merely have ourselves a Bunkhouse Stampede, which had many of the same brawling elements but never carried close to the same excitement. Outside of a company that prioritized double and triple-team angles building to a hot babyface save, War Games could never garner the heat it was capable of getting. In a company where all programs exist in their own silos, it's just another match.
Like most of wrestling's best ideas, this one was born from necessity. The previous year's Great American Bash tour was defined by Ric Flair's classic title defenses in every major market, but in 1987, Flair had a broken neck. The break wasn't severe to the point that he couldn't work, but he couldn't deliver a long series of world title defenses at the usual Ric Flair Standard, so they had to come up with a different selling point this time around. As hot as JCP was that summer, the WWF never panicked and was already looking ahead to their fall plans. JCP had none, and their own decline escalated rapidly with television ratings tanking when they changed the format of the Saturday evening TBS show (all 30-second squashes and 90-second promos), crowds rejecting Ron Garvin as champion, and the WWF sabotaging Starrcade '87.
The continued story of War Games over the next decade is the story of World Championship Wrestling itself. In 1989, they tried a fresher talent mix to recapture the magic of the glory years, and it worked on some level but ultimately fell short. In 1991, Dusty Rhodes was back in the driver's seat as booker and they went back to familiar territory, but it didn't work. By July's War Games at the Meadowlands, Flair was gone from the company and fans didn't respond well to the departure at all. In 1992, they were delivering their best in-ring action ever, but the promotional piece was missing to put it over the top. 1993 was downright embarrassing, but they rebounded briefly in 1994 until Hulk Hogan ruined everything. Suddenly, the NWO was red hot while Flair was being phased down, and 1998's drug-induced ideas were something else altogether. Hang on tight, though, because Vince Russo's ideas were even more out there. It's all there, the key points of WCW's history presented through one match type alone. Cries for WWE to bring back War Games (as they eventually did) failed to consider why the match worked in a specific time and place, as even more traditional wrestling companies didn't nail War Games when they tried it (these matches aren't supposed to have a lot of coming and going, as that's the whole point of the cage), despite the match being great otherwise.
The Crockett years of 1985-1988 are heavily romanticized, and rightfully so, because they were arguably the most formidable vision presented to a national American audience of what pro wrestling could be without using the WWF as a compass, something that even late 1990s WCW in all its popularity couldn't truly boast. To put in terms WWE producers might understand, the legacy of this gimmick match truly is a case where it's best to Leave The Memories Alone.
Even if you weren't watching World Class in 1984, it's hard for this type of intense brawling to not make you nostalgic for the brawls of wrestling's past.
July 4, 1984
World Class Championship Wrestling
Independence Day Star Wars
Fort Worth, Texas
It's pretty clear what we're getting when a match is billed as a street fight or any type of brawl in modern wrestling. Ultimately, the match will build to a huge spot with someone going through a table, landing on thumbtacks, or being set on fire, the crowd will chant, "Holy shit!", and we'll all go about our evening. It wasn't always this way, but when so much of the "personal issues" used to hype matches are so clearly just a way to fill time and are so transparently phony to even the least cynical among us, maybe it's hard for it to not be this way. It's hard to fault the wrestlers for this regression too much. When they aren't booked in meaningful, relatable situations, they have to go farther to manufacture the excitement they create by trade, working against the booking tide just as much as they work without it.
If we look at Duggan-DiBiase, the Doom-Horsemen match at Starrcade '90, or the Cactus-Sullivan vs Nasty Boys match at Slamboree '94, to name only a few, the best brawls of previous generations had a few things in common. The wrestlers dressed for a fight instead of dressing for a match to get it over as a departure from the norm. They also kept the match relatively short. The highspots were derived from taking actions that would normally result in a disqualification -- and the match continuing! -- or for the babyfaces finding ways to do unto the heels what is normally done unto them on a level playing field. So the best moments ended up as low blows, babyfaces using weapons, heels being isolated for babyface double-teaming, and all of that. Call it Wrestling Ice Cream for the fans that usually try to eat healthy, topped with plasma syrup to boot.
The best thing about this match is the short duration. It's not the least bit convincing for a brawl with such ramped-up intensity to last thirty minutes. The longest matches in the classic view of what professional wrestling is are typically the most sportsmanlike wrestling encounters pitting evenly matched wrestlers with great stamina against each other. This is why brawling and cheating are called "shortcuts". Such things seem like Basic Wrestling Psychology 101, but they get lost when wrestlers, and those who produce them, stop thinking about wrestling with the "What if it was all a shoot?" mentality. To paraphrase Bret Hart, isn't it so much more fun to pretend that something as ridiculous as pro wrestling is deathly serious?
It's so much easier for wrestlers to have a great brawl when they are complimented by the aesthetics and setting. When most matches are somewhat scientific, a brawl is a big deal. When the wrestlers can avoid cheesy in-house productions in favor of popular music that everyone knows, as the Von Erichs did with their "La Grange" entrance here, the mood is more inviting and has more widespread appeal. When the wrestlers wear street clothes when they aren't wrestling, wrestling gear to traditional matches, and bandanas, jeans, and boots to a fight, it all means more and is more distinct. When weapons aren't conveniently placed around the ring, it's easier to buy the action. And when the brawl is over quickly, it's easy enough to suspend disbelief and question if we might have seen something legitimate.
The idea that most fans ever thought wrestling was real was something I never took seriously, but I do think most fans, both then and now, want to at least find the possibility that this rivalry is real to be plausible because it creates a more fun viewing experience. Wrestling fans want to follow along, and they will, but those in wrestling have to lead them somewhere. The Freebirds and Von Erichs took fans on a five-year journey that certainly had good and bad qualities, hot periods and cold periods, but it was also a rivalry that defined pro wrestling in Texas for a generation of fans. This match, its setting, its action level, and its respect for its own mythology, is one of the reasons why.
Johnny Saint and Ken Joyce delivered an all-time classic without even getting too competitive or heated. All they needed was an overabundance of joy.
June 24, 1981
Wrestling is fun.
It's true. I love watching wrestling, talking about wrestling, writing about wrestling, and thinking about wrestling. It's a wonderful combination of absurdism, emotion, excess, and demonstrated skill. There's nothing quite like it. I love wrestling so much that I started ProWrestlingOnly.com. I've loved it enough to follow it closely for more than thirty years. I've loved it enough to have spent a borderline shameful amount of time and money on the hobby. That said, I could never love wrestling as much as Johnny Saint or Ken Joyce. I simply don't have the capacity, even if in that failure, I've salvaged an endlessly rewarding journey as a wrestling fan.
By merely embracing the purest parts of the craft, Saint and Joyce defiantly had an all-time classic bout, forgoing the things that are typically necessary to make that happen. This was a friendly trading of holds and little more, yet it somehow never felt remotely like an exhibition. They clearly had the desire to win, but they were both babyfaces and they weren't going to stray from that. There was no subtle heel work from either guy. There was also no anger. I think the average person gets more upset when some idiot on television buys a vowel.
Johnny Saint and Ken Joyce took a pretty straightforward approach, attempting to best each other in one incredible mat exchange after another. Both had moments of triumph, and all of them were celebrated. Joyce in particular cheered both his own successes and Saint's successes equally, just happy to be in the ring with someone who could challenge him to be at his best.
The best thing about being a wrestling fan is that just when I think I have it all figured out, wrestlers show me some new path to greatness that I haven't seen, proving that I'll never completely solve the riddle and neither will anyone else. As a perfectionist, it's something that has driven me nuts at times because I've had an innate desire to watch it all and see it all. With time, however, in the same way that scientists love being proven wrong, I've grown to love having any prejudgments that I have about professional wrestling tossed in the garbage. It's a medium where with enough skill and courage of convictions, virtually any approach can work. I now know that it's possible to have a classic match without the wrestlers involved showing any anger and I'm better for it.
Dragon Gate USA has been a bit of a blind spot for me as I was losing interest in American wrestling (ROH & TNA) and exclusively watching puro in 2009, the year it took off. Certainly, I was interested as it featured Japanese wrestlers along with guys that I liked at the time like Bryan Danielson and Davey Richards. The problem was that I didn't really care for the style of wrestling. My cable company would have previews of the PPVs and I thought the ring, venues, and wrestling looked rinky dink. Now, I cut my teenage wrestling teeth on ECW, grew to love ROH after college, and adore 90's Michinoku Pro but, DGUSA looked like my local wrestling promotion passing itself off as something more.
So, that being said it didn't surprise or please me to see Johnny Gargano or Chuck Taylor on their roster. These were dudes wrestling on Sportstime Ohio at midnight...and rightfully so. What were they doing up against the Dragon Gate talent? It seemed very budget. This was especially true when I was in my cult like devotion to AJPW and AJW at the time. It probably got even worse when I saw Tommy Dreamer was working there. I love me some Dreamer but, what the hell does he have to do with lucharesu? It really looked like Gabe S. was trying to grab at whatever he could from the ROH fallout. It just wasn't for me.
Skip ahead 9 years to now, and I have only a slightly better understanding of what was DGUSA. The fact that Evolve & DGUSA were being run akin to RAW and Smackdown does not do it any favors. Its messy...like a little kid with chocolate ice cream.
To get to the point, Gargano surprised the hell outta me at NXT New Orleans. The guys of 205 Live surprised the hell out of me. Tapes were on sale (DVDs) and these dudes were on them, let's give it a shot I thought! I got Revolt & Heat 2013. Sat. & Sunday shows held in Socal for Royal Rumble weekend in the Pappy Pavalion. It's a local promotion's space. It probably serves as their gym and a club/music venue by the looks of the space and bar.
Skipping the first 2 matches, they were OK I suppose.
Rich Swann vs EITA: A few flubs, probably did more than they needed to but, it was fun.
Samurai del Sol vs AR Fox: Very good match but, orchestrated. But fuck it, there's 50 people so, it hyped them up. It looks like it would be a blast to see in person. There is a tremendously obese guy in the front that is distracting. Um, Lenny Leonard is calling the match which does give this some prestige. He calls this a classic match but, it's not that good. It is a 205 Live main event level match though so, I'd highly recommend it. Kalisto fans, check it out
Sami Callihan vs Akira Tozawa: Again, 205 Live talent in Tozawa but, more Tozawa-y since he's not in WWE. Anyhow, this was a very physical and intense match. The 205 shit goes out the window here. This felt like a fight and was more appropriate for WAR or '90 FMW. Sami was shouting curses at Akira, they were stiffing each other, and people in the crowd were uncomfortable. They came for flip dives and got a melee. They dug it though. What else? Good leg focus and selling of fatigue and the desire to win the contest. This was Champion Carnival level wrestling and a great match. Fans of either should definite see this. Match of the night 1000%
Young Bucks vs Ryo Saito & Jimmy Susumu: This was pretty good as a filler between Sami/Tozawa and the Gargano/Davis main. The beginning was dry as fucking wheat toast but, the middle and end added a bit of butter and jam in typical Jackson Bros. fashion. I'd still give it a recommendation. The Bucks really deliver every match they're in. I left them off my mid year BMW list but, they are def in the running for my wrestler(s) of the year (or whatever the fudge I called that category!).
Johnny Gargano vs Jon Davis: It's funny that people still call Gargano "Johnny Wrestling" long after "Johnny Football" evaporated from the Browns and the NFL. It's cool though...it's like Tenryu's Mr. Puroresu nickname. Anyhow, St. Ed's own is charismatic enough to get this semi interested crowd into this. Trust me, for most of the show it looks like Calling Hours with a ring. *rimshot* OK thank you, thank you! But seriously folks- this was a good match. The spots were unnecessarily dangerous (which is fine) and Davis' stiffness was appreciated but, the fans didn't really seem to care to the extent that they should have. It's a blood feud blow off in front of an AA meeting. Mute the TV and I think you'll enjoy it more. The quietness is uncomfortable with the level of violence.
Overall a good show despite the crowd. Certainly worth the $5 paid. Let's see how the Sunday Afternoon show (!?) does.
Yes, a January show called Heat. Maybe it's wishful thinking? In DGUSA's case, they probably should have called it Money...
Arik Cannon vs Rich Swann: Very small time Indy feel match but, the crowd is much better. Probably did too much for an opener but, it got people pumped.
Jon Davis vs Drake Younger: Also, very weird to see WWE ref Drake Younger after seeing Psycho Shooter Drake Younger. Case in point here. The man is nuts but, athletic and got heart. Frankly, I think this bout is equal to or better than Davis' match with Johnny. Good pace from the start, stiff and brutal offense, and intense throughout. These guys clicked better and Drake was willing to take sick bumps to make Davis look like a monster. Johnny's a little too pretty for that. Where's Davis now? He seems like he'd be a good fit for the Indy Big man explosion.
EITA vs Chuck Taylor: A more technically advanced version of Cannon vs Swann. No rhyme or reason wrestling. The Awful Waffle is a extremely dangerous and brutal move for a wrestler of this low standing. Let alone, it has a stupid name. It's like naming your finisher, Pattycake and then you shoot the guy in the face with a magnum...and you have the physique of a high school soccer coach and your name is synonymous with a thin soled canvas sneaker.
Johhny Gargano vs Brian Kendrick: This is for the Open the Whatever Gate title. This definitely has a slower title match feel to it. The focus early on is the wrestling. Kendrick truly looks like a professional by picking the younger Gargano apart. Gargano's moveset is very WWE/signature move based already which is a bit undesirable in this style of match. He goes for flash when he should go for utility. There was a ref bump and it was well played. The finish was sorta flat but, fug it! It worked and this was probably the best match thus far. Definitely recommend this bout. Again, 205 Live main event feel.
Jimmy Susumu vs Sami Callihan: I'm guessing this went after the title match because of the ref bumping? Small show match from both but, the closing stretch was nice and the fans were digging it.
Young Bucks vs AR Fox & Akira Tozawa: Special Dream match. I would have preferred Sami & Tozawa vs the Bucks. That would have been my dream but, this will work Typically solid Bucks heel control and cutoffs. Very nice babyface comeback sequences although spot-fu cheesy at times. But, the fans are pretty awesome at this show. So, Gabe said "give 'em what they want fellas!" Cardio dive sequence combo orgy is a go!
Match of the night and a great Bucks style match. Everyone looked great and the crowd was pumped. Nice close and another feather in the Bucks cap of good stuff. The real honor is to Akira Tozawa who had the best matches on both cards. This was another very fun show and worth the time and money.
All that said, DGUSA at this stage does not look long for the world and history will show that to be true. The talent is clearly there but, the fanbase is not. I've got one more 2013 DVD which features Gargano vs SHINGO (another reason I decided to look into this- based off SHINGO's awesome 'resurgence' at the 2018 Champ Carny). Depending on how that show goes, I may just go back to the early classics in the DGUSA library. Right now, the show quality are fairly priced at $5. WWN doesn't discount so deeply so, we'll see if I wanna spend the dough.
Forget everything you think you know about the effort level on WWE house shows, as these two tore the house down in Tokyo.
July 3, 2015
World Wrestling Entertainment
As much as we hear from wrestlers about how fun it is to work house shows, this seems to be pretty much what you would expect from a television or pay-per-view match around this time. In fact, it greatly mirrors the two matches they had on pay-per-view, with John Cena busting out the Code Red and lots of finisher kickouts. They also protected Kevin Owens, who Cena still hadn't beaten with the cameras on where it "counts", by doing a low blow DQ finish.
I have no qualms with any of this, and my thoughts pretty much fall with where they would for the more high-profile matches from this feud. If you like those, you'll like this, even if it doesn't really bring much of anything new to the table. The more interesting part is that a kid on smartphone captured the match and might have in the process exposed that everything we're told about how WWE thinks about house shows is wrong.
"WWE likes to send fans home happy on house shows with a babyface win."
"What happens when the cameras aren't on doesn't really 'count'."
"Wrestlers do more schtick instead of taking big bumps or working too hard because they need to prolong their careers."
We've heard it all a million times. Have we been living in a vast web of deceit? In wrestling? I do think this was a great match, but it's the kind of great match that only works once because of all the kickouts. This feud gave it to us twice, and I suppose we got it three times if this match truly does "count". (It apparently does or Cena would have won, right?)
Now, to go ponder everything I've been told about everything since childhood, being that I'm suddenly skeptical of everything we're told about what WWE does and why they do it.
Old ARSION and new ARSION collided when Lioness Asuka and Mariko Yoshida used the ring - and ringside area - as a battlefield of ideas.
July 3, 2001
Hyper Visual Fighting ARSION
When ARSION debuted in 1998, it was a huge breath of fresh air on both the Joshi landscape and the overall pro wrestling landscape. In the late 90s, wrestling all over the world was starting to drown in its own excess with ever-lengthening finishing stretches, bigger bumps, and unnecessarily long matches. This was every bit as true, possibly even more true, for women's wrestling in Japan. Suddenly, ARSION showed up to suggest return to basics -- similar to how the late 70s punk rock movement made restraint something radical.
If ARSION was 1970s punk, they turned Korakuen Hall into CBGB's and the cards were like Ramones set lists. The wrestlers weren't getting paid by the hour and they were in and out quickly, which felt like a return to early JWP in many ways, a Joshi promotion that was a misfit congregation for women who dared to be older than 25 years old (and thus, were required to retire under All Japan Women rules) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara trainees. One of the most dramatic reinventions came from Mariko Yoshida.
Yoshida was always a very good worker, and she was a midcard mainstay in AJW during the glory years of the 1990s interpromotional era. She worked the house style in AJW, but in ARSION, she would create it herself, transforming into one of the greatest mat wizards in wrestling history. Others followed suit and we saw an interesting and sometimes new side of wrestlers working the mat. If you can imagine an all women's promotion of nothing but Steven Regal WCW TV title defenses from TBS up and down the card, you can probably get pretty close to what ARSION was.
Like any big attempt at change, there was resistance. It came in large part from Etsuko Mita and Mima Shimoda, who teamed as Las Cacharros Orientales, usually called the LCO for short. The LCO had a reputation as an all-time great tag team, and rightfully so, but they also popularized around-the-arena brawling and long bloated matches to a fault wherever they went, which was pretty much everywhere. Phil Schneider of Death Valley Driver once called them "the Public Enemy of Joshi" in a scathing review.
Lioness Asuka had success in wrestling as both a minimalist and maximalist, but on the issue of the day, she sided with the LCO. She was brought in as company booker and reformed everything in her image. As arguable the number two star of 1980s AJW, Asuka had some capital as one of the biggest draws on the scene, and suddenly ARSION, while still producing good matches, was more conventional.
That struggle played out in how the match was worked, with Yoshida repeatedly taking Lioness to the mat, only to be countered by brawling on the outside. Art further imitated life when Asuka won the match, just as she won the battle. Call it a pyrrhic victory, as ARSION sadly only lasted a couple more years, which made the whole scene Pretty Vacant.
Wrestling fans can spend a heavy amount of time seeking hidden gems, which is great because it leads us to matches like this. However, sometimes, what we would benefit from seeing most has been right in front of us all along.
July 3, 1992
Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre
Mexico City, Mexico
CMLL World Middleweight Championship Tournament Final
In pro wrestling, basics can go a long way. Sometimes we think about wrestling through the lens that we have to temper our expectations on smaller shows because wrestlers can't go "all out" every night and have sustainable careers. This is true, but it's also narrow thinking, as if the only way to have a great match in the first place is to go all out. In some ways, what's most remarkable about El Dandy vs Negro Casas is how much of it is unremarkable. Most of the holds are pretty basic, to the point that any wrestler with semi-competent training could execute them. That could be why they're overlooked so much of the time. We tell ourselves that greatness should never come easy, but maybe the real secret to greatness is the inner wherewithal to embrace the obvious.
El Dandy and Negro Casas proved on this night that what happens in a match is far less important than how it happens. Casas forcing Dandy to do the splits from a sitting position looked legitimately painful, had low difficulty in execution, was sold believably, and looked great. The gorgeous spinning toehold and bridge combo that Dandy used to take the second fall is a more common move, but it's hardly a staple move in any style. This match is filled with the type of grappling that would ideally be a staple of all pro wrestling. It's logical. It's easy. However, for some reason, it's hard.
It's possible, even probable, that this match would not have looked at home on a UWF, PWFG, or RINGS card during the era of worked shoots, more because it's a different style than because it's something less sophisticated. Beyond that, I struggle to come up with any environment where this match would be woefully out of place. It's just easy to imagine this match, hold-for-hold, showing up on an episode of All Japan Classics as it is to picture it as an NWA World Title defense from any decade. It would easily engage a crowd at virtually any U.S. indie show during the last twenty years.
Plenty of great pro wrestling requires you to accept or ignore some things about the style, the promotion, or the culture of which it's a product. The beauty of this is that no such viewer shift is required. This is wrestled in a great tradition with both men at their zenith, and it's elevated by its universal appeal. There aren't many matches you'll see that are more true to what classic lucha libre is, but it's also not as hard to grasp for those who are born and bred on American or Japanese wrestling as some argue that lucha can be. The crowd pops when you expect them to pop. The pacing is similar to what you've seen in classic world title matches. The referee's pin counts are slow indeed, but not so slow that they require a parameters shift.
For many years, the only known copy of this match was grainy as hell and existed from one source. While Dave Meltzer gave the match four stars in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter when his lucha coverage was still in its infancy, this was never really talked up much prior to the last decade or so. In itself, it serves as a reminder that there are boatloads of great CMLL matches, both that aired on television and that never did, that we know are collecting dust at Televisa headquarters when they could be influencing a generation of fans and performers in much the same way that the World of Sport revival of the 2000s that highlighted ITV matches from 1970s and 1980s Joint Promotions and All Star Wrestling had a lasting impact on independent wrestling. In the meantime, I long for the day when most of us care more about such masterpieces as this inspiring more great wrestling than about who has locker room heat or what this week's television ratings were. However, as Casas and Dandy proved nearly three decades ago, just because something is obvious does not mean that it's apparent.
Rick Martel played the role of the champion just as well as anyone, which is impossible to deny in this AWA title defense in the Great White North.
July 3, 1984
Halifax, Nova Scotia
AWA World Heavyweight Championship
While the NWA World Title was the pinnacle achievement in wrestling for decades, I definitely have time for an argument that the AWA title was the next best thing. Sure, the WWF title was defended outside of the home territory occasionally, but the AWA champ was probably more omnipresent, whether that meant Nick Bockwinkel and Jerry Lawler were squaring off in Memphis, the title was changing hands on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, or, in this case, Rick Martel was defending the gold against Leo Burke in Montreal's International Wrestling.
Rick Martel's career had quite the odd trajectory. There aren't many wrestlers who were young babyfaces that became world champs before becoming middle-of-the-card tag wrestlers, only to turn heel and gain fame with a male model gimmick -- remember, a male who models can never simply be called a model -- before ending their careers in a series for the WCW TV title, but Martel certainly fits the bill, and this match is an awesome showcase for the best phase of his career. At forty-five minutes and change (of a sixty-minute draw, mind you), I won't say that this match never tested my patience, but the journey was paid off, and Martel only became a better heel the longer the match went. Leo Burke was there, had an interesting career trajectory of his own, and delivered a perfectly fine performance, but this was really a platform for Martel's talents.
As much as we talk about the devaluing of world championships by WWE having two of them, the real issue isn't that wrestling having too many world champions as much as it is a wrestling company having too many world champions. The NWA and AWA champs didn't cross paths all that much, with some notable exceptions, but they existed in a wrestling landscape that gave them both plenty of space to play the role. Here, Martel looks every bit the peer to his contemporary in the role Ric Flair, and all I can wonder is how great Martel's career might have been had he reached the top ten years earlier instead of on the cusp of some transformational changes to wrestling itself.
Portland Wrestling has some really high-quality matches, especially featuring these two. But even the best of us have off nights.
July 3, 1982
Pacific Northwest Wrestling
Buddy Rose. More than Nick Bockwinkel, Jerry Lawler, or even Ric Flair, it's hard to think of a single wrestler who made a career out of doing so much with so little on the opposite side of the ring. All three of these wrestlers are considered shining examples of wrestlers who can get a good match out of the proverbial broomstick, and rightfully so. Still, Flair had Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, and Jumbo Tsuruta. Lawler had Bill Dundee and Austin Idol. Bockwinkel had Rick Martel and Billy Robinson. Who did Buddy Rose have?
The Pro Wrestling Only forums was home to a renewed love for Buddy Rose a few years back, a love that only seemed to strengthen the more that everyone involved watched more matches. I remember an offline conversation where I asked one of the most prominent members of that discussion, "Who's his [Jerry Lawler career rival Bill] Dundee?"
"He doesn't have one," this person replied.
Looking at match lists, that seems to be true. It's not that Rose never had quality opposition. He faced Rick Martel, Roddy Piper, Matt Borne, and Dynamite Kid. The problem he ran into, however, was one of timing. We usually refer to great wrestlers as mechanics. Buddy Rose was more of a gardener.
Curt Hennig became an excellent wrestler, and quickly so at that. When this match happened, Hennig was probably only six months away from being a really great performer. He was so great at a young age that Ric Flair once opined that as great of a worker as Hennig was, he was never as good as he was when he was young. Hennig also idolized Rose and grew to see him as his own compass. When dismissing booking or match ideas, Hennig argued many times that "Buddy Rose would never do that" when providing his reasoning.
When this match happened, Hennig still didn't quite understand what it was that Buddy Rose would never do. The match is focused on knee injuries that both men have suffered in pre-match angles and it's an explicit storyline point that both men are expected to target each other's knees. At one point, babyface Hennig goes after Rose with a chair in a moment of retribution and just completely obliterates him, but he uses so many chairshots that they quickly lose meaning? There's no logic underpining the weapon shots. Instead of hitting a guy with a chair ten times in a row, why not get him with one shot and make it count? It makes the rest of the match a bit preposterous, especially in an environment where wrestling holds are put over as devastating and are legal and weapons shots are considered beyond the pale and are illegal.
In most cases, a no-disqualification match between two well-regarded wrestlers with both coming in with knee injuries, one where the crowd is so excited that they're specifically chanting for Curt to break Buddy's leg, would be great before it even begins. This match never came close to being something at that level, but for those of us who enjoy following patterns over time, we got something even better. The great matches would come with time. For the better part of a half hour, we saw Curt Hennig sit under the learning tree.
This is unique in that Daniel Bryan carries the offense in most of his matches, but here, he has someone who's on his level in that category, so he puts on more of a selling performance. WWE often talks about Daniel Bryan as this big underdog, which is not what got him over. In fact, he was presented as more of a pitbull. This was an okay match. Nothing really wrong with it, but these are two of the best wrestlers in the company and they obviously have more in them when they aren't doing a short TV main event with a non-finish.
This had tremendous heat, and was pretty much WWE fast-paced wrestling putting its best foot forward. It's a bit weird watching Dolph Ziggler in main events now, four years after most people were clamoring for it but are now sort of over him. Has he changed or have we? Anyway, I guess it's possible he could reverse his momentum. Stranger things have happened. I'm all about Roman Reigns-Drew McIntyre being set up with the post-match angle with Reigns adding a third current program to his workload. One of the best (and longest) TV main events in a while. ***3/4
A good match that tried to tell an interesting in-match story, but a little too much comedy at times for a title match from my view. This is almost a competitive squash for a big part of this, but then it kicks into high gear in the last few minutes when AR Fox stops trying to out-Riddle Matt Riddle and starts wrestling more as himself. The ringside seconds added a lot to the nearfalls by getting so excited after all of the big moves, which I am convinced played a big part in getting the crowd to bite so hard on those. This didn't really come across like a main event-level match to me, but it also seemed like an early chapter in a long series between these two, so maybe that's okay for now. ***
This is my first time to see Austin Theory, but I have to say I don't get guys cutting promos with that scripted WWE cadence when no one is making them do it. (At least I hope no one is.) I have no desire to return to the rape culture days of early 2000s indie wrestling at all, but calling an opponent an "indie piece of trash" just might be too far in the other direction. I loved DJ Z here and think he has a bright future. I hear he's working BOLA this year, so I hope he gets a lot of matches and has a breakout weekend because he seems on the verge of something cool. I'm not a huge fan of three way matches, but they do execute some of the necessities of that really well here. I thought it was cool how DJ Z wanted to do the big move from up top, but it was presented as him countering something else when they were actually setting up his own move. Pretty cool way to structure that so it's not obvious what they're doing. Good match. DJ Z looks ready to conquer the world. ***1/2
This will be a shorter version of the daily match reviews I do for older wrestling. The matches I enjoy the most will get a longer look and a more detailed match review on this date next year.
The storytelling here was awesome. Much of it was built on technical precision. Anthony Henry wasn't as skilled as Timothy Thatcher in the story that they were telling, so he tried to make up for it with as much aggression as he could muster. We saw it at the beginning of the match when he charged at Thatcher and went for an early victory, and we saw it again when he finally found a way to deal with Thatcher's ability to counter just about anything from just about any position. In the early stages, Henry's anklelock was noticeably loose compared to Thatcher's, but that was by design. Henry's dragon screw leg whip being countered by Thatcher's cross armbreaker, only for that to be countered by an anklelock from Henry, was the best part of the match. It seems like most of the time, this dynamic isn't really paid off. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi never beat Jumbo Tsuruta. Ricky Morton never took the title from Ric Flair. Rey Mysterio I guess beat Kevin Nash on a fluke once, but Nash got the last laugh. This time, it did. That makes this not only something cool, but also something special. ****
The individual parts of a great match between Konosuke Takeshita and "Speedball" Mike Bailey were all there. However, they never really joined together.
July 2, 2017
Dramatic Dream Team
Hello From Shinjuku Village
KO-D Openweight Championship
For whatever else one might say about this match, it was not a victim of bad ideas. In fact, most of the ideas were very good or great. It also wasn’t a victim of bad execution. Mike Bailey and to an even greater extent Konosuke Takeshita have quite the arsenal of crisp, impressive moves. What the match lacked was a lack of stakes in the work, some of which was admittedly a byproduct of a growth story for “Speedball” Mike Bailey.
Bailey had undeniable personality, but he also undermined the match in ways that I don’t think he specifically wanted to happen. The smarmy applause at the beginning of the match was awesome, especially in using the Seth MacFarlane technique of continuing the joke long past the point that we would expect them to stop, thus creating its own meta-humor. On one level, it was funny, but on the more important level, he established himself as an insincere heel. The problem was that he didn’t wrestle the rest of the match that way at all, going so over the top with his facial expressions that heat-seeking heel gestures were instead played for comedy, which might be okay if this wasn’t a championship match.
As a result, Bailey came across as a guy playing pro wrestler instead of being pro wrestler. It’s a shame, because he seems to be a supremely talented guy with a lot to offer, and I think if his facial expressions weren’t so goofy, he might have been a more credible challenger. At the same time, in Bailey’s overall DDT arc, that seemed to be exactly the point, and many of the problems that plagued his work aren’t unique to him in current day wrestling -- does anyone actually struggle to get in a vertical suplex position anymore or does everyone just voluntarily put their body in position for it? Still, it’s a character not yet realized and match cliches that have spread everywhere that bring down the match despite anything else.
Luckily, Takeshita was in the match as well and he carried himself like a superstar, and had he not, this would have gone from a low-stakes match to a no-stakes match. I absolutely got the sense that Takeshita cared deeply about staying champion. Bailey seemed to be there more to humor himself than win, and to his credit, the post-match interviews make clear that this was an intentional character failing and that this is part of a longer booking journey. Still, this is the type of journey where there isn’t much reason to wake the sleeping wrestling fan until it’s over. As it stands, Takeshita beat a talented guy who challenged him with the brute force of bad comedy and came out champion. Yay him, I guess?
At a spot show in Montreal, Samoa Joe, already one of the best wrestlers in the world, met up with Kevin Steen, who had the somehow likable jerk persona down to a science from day one.
July 2, 2004
Marc LeGrizzly Presents
In 2004, Samoa Joe was the greatest-working world champion in the United States. It was quite the accomplishment in the year where WWE decided to coronate Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Whether Joe was a better worker than either of them is a matter of debate, but his understanding of what the champion should do and convey showed the understanding of a veteran, even with his career starting only four years earlier.
Joe was not taking on the world champion role in the literal sense in this match. He was outside of Ring of Honor, his home promotion, and working a spot show in Canada. Still, fans were hip to Joe as the indie scene was growing while he was the top guy in the most high-profile indie in North America, so it made sense for Joe to take on the role, even if it was only implicitly so, when he faced local star Kevin Steen.
The Kevin Steen of 2004 was not terribly different from the Kevin Owens of today -- his brashness and quick wit already front and center, as was his tendency to be wrestling’s most easy-to-like asshole. But if Steen was an asshole, he was Montreal’s asshole, which made him the sentimental favorite of the crowd even if they were more likely to cheer the action than any particular guy. Steen was still true to himself anytime he got cheered, flipping the bird to the parts of the crowd who wanted him to come to their side of the ring to deliver offense on the floor. Steen even dared to get into a striking contest with Joe, arguably the best striker on the continent by this time; he might have paid a price for that arrogance, but he earned it back in fan reputation, valuable currency for an indie wrestler. In fact, the more Joe beats the Hell out of Steen, the better Steen looks for withstanding the beating. Joe brutalized Steen with strikes, but the highlight was the release German suplex on the entrance ramp, which was as brutal a flat-back bump as it gets.
I’m not a fan of Franky the Mobster and Chase Ironside running in, which results in the ref throwing out the match and setting up an immediate impromptu tag where they faced Steen and Joe together. It wasn’t that the booking was bad, as I can see the merits of Steen earning Joe’s respect by always fighting back before they end up as unlikely partners, but that's a lot of long-term booking for what wasn't even a full-time wrestling promotion. The match overachieved in a way that it deserved a more decisive finish. Kevin Owens has since become a WWE headliner, but the contrast between the compassionate and caring family man and the sarcastic instigator shows that he never stopped being a walking character contradiction. Maybe the same is true for all of us, but claiming the gray area in a way that doesn’t undermine opponents or treat everything around it like a joke is impressive and rare in pro wrestling.
With Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada at odds during the peak of their rivalry, All Japan did something rare -- they produced a memorable six-man tag.
July 2, 1993
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
In classic All Japan Pro Wrestling, six-man tags were likely the most interesting matches the company produced. There were so many of them that it took something remarkable for the match to stand out as great (even when it was), but in such a hierarchy-based company, it was a great peek at the pecking order, a flashlight into the back of All Japan’s booking office that resolved most questions about card positioning. Because the layout was usually geared to ensure that everyone involved had something notable to contribute, six-mans were also an effective showcase of All Japan’s top shelf at a given point in time, letting everyone demonstrate what they could do before, generally speaking, getting out of dodge. This resulted in offense-heavy, action packed matches that doubled as a great introduction to the style for novices.
This time around, the setting alone solved at least part of the difficulty standing out. Just six weeks earlier, Toshiaki Kawada, the long-time second lieutenant to Mitsuharu Misawa in these types of matches, announced in understated fashion that he was leaving Misawa’s side; nine months earlier, Misawa bested Kawada in his first Triple Crown defense and their team was clearly drowning in debt from massively-borrowed time. In becoming Misawa’s top rival, Kawada quickly moved from tag-along to top rival and peer.
Jun Akiyama and Yoshinari Ogawa were there to represent the undercard; in Akiyama’s case, a wrestler who would only close out his rookie year two months after this but had gotten off to an incredible start with one of the best rookie years in history. Kenta Kobashi and Akira Taue took a mostly background role by design. They impressed when they were in the ring, but it was clear they were sandwiched between the top two priorities of the match -- get over the younger Akiyama-Ogawa pairing and get over the Misawa-Kawada rivalry, which would headline the next tour when Kawada would challenge for the Triple Crown one more time.
Much like Kobashi and Taue before them, as the least experienced person on his side, Akiyama would now work the lion’s share of the match. As awesome as Akiyama was, Ogawa was serviceable but not really spectacular, someone who was still about five years away from finding himself. The spectacular belonged to Misawa and Kawada, to the point their intensity swallowed the match whole.
If the goal was to get Misawa-Kawada over as a deeply personal rivalry, which was not really a huge stretch, the match wildly succeeded. Some have debated whether the right person was the ace of All Japan during these years; Kawada and Kobashi had huge positives, but it’s clear watching this match that neither could have assumed the mantle quite like Misawa, who alternated between stoic and fiery with seemingly near the same ease that most of us put on our shoes. The end result does less to advance the plot than continue it, which is the biggest part of what makes All Japan six-mans the most disposable great matches of all time. This one wasn’t disposable, but it doesn’t quite earn all of the shelf space it takes either, landing in a spot where you know a match is great and can’t deny its virtues, but find it hard to care. The match’s greatest drawback is the lack of emotional hook or importance, meaning that it’s easier to admire than love.
Wrestling fandom requires a sense of eternal optimism, although sometimes when we think back fondly on great feuds, we forget that even the best rivalries had an expiration date.
July 2, 1987
Jim Crockett Promotions
NWA World Wide Wrestling 07-04-87
NWA World Tag Team Championship
If any headline act suffered the most from the decline of the territories, it just might have been the Rock N Roll Express. Just like heartthrobs marketed to teenagers in all forms of entertainment, they can be wildly successful, but Tiger Beat usually closes its window before the hormones can escape. Before coming to Jim Crockett Promotions in 1985, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson worked in Mid-South Wrestling. They “popped the territory”, as the old-timers would put it, but they were also careful not to overstay their welcome.
By the summer of 1987, Crockett fans were growing tired of the Rock N Roll Express, a trend that had only been confined to the heel-friendly Philadelphia market earlier in their Crockett run. The duo peaked both as team acts and a solo acts during the previous year’s Great American Bash tour, with Morton as a hot challenger to NWA World Champion Ric Flair and most of their matches on the tour happening against the Four Horsemen. There was anything but shame in working with the Midnight Express, but it was the second version of the feud in JCP alone and they had already traded the World Tag Team Titles the previous year.
It seemed like they had no idea where to go next. The Rock N Rolls were still very well-received in lots of places, even in this match, but it was clear the act had gotten colder in the previous twelve months. Less than three months earlier, the two were mercilessly booed in Baltimore when ring announcer Gary Cappetta told the Baltimore crowd that they would not participate in the annual Crockett Cup tournament because of Morton’s eye injury. The idea was floated in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter of a heel turn and feud with The Fantastics, while booker Dusty Rhodes pitched a program with The Sheepherders where Morton would have his head shaved, an offer perhaps made specifically so the Express would leave town.
In spite of this, the Capital Centre crowd were receptive to the Rock N Rolls and they might have had a good match that kept the people; however, a television match that spanned 30 minutes with commercial breaks was enough to remind any viewer how played out the team was becoming, which meant this sputtered to a conclusion instead of building to a hot finish. Stan Lane had also replaced Dennis Condrey in the Midnight Express since the previous summer, a change that in theory might have freshened up the rivalry, but didn’t get there in practice. The work is good at times and floundering at times; the teams seemed at least a little off their game because of the growing apathy from the crowd, but haven’t stopped providing the reliably great sequences. Who doesn’t love Ricky Morton literally climbing Bobby Eaton during a simple knucklelock, for example? But more than anything, perhaps the biggest problem they faced was the absence of Jim Cornette. There were a few times in the MX’s run other than this where we saw Cornette not at ringside, and each time, the match had trouble garnering heat. This match made a strong case for Cornette as a difference maker, and as a key component for why this classic series worked so well.
When the Rock N Roll Express returned to the company in 1990, many still weren’t thrilled to see them return, but they won fans over again with their in-ring work even if their days as company main eventers were over. In 1987, they hadn’t been absent, so the hearts of fans hadn’t had time to grow fonder, which showed in how it made even the good moments seem lesser than they deserved.