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.
Tulsa fans were a far less unruly bunch than many ticket buyers in other Mid South markets. Their reward was to receive the ideal snapshot of tag team wrestling.
July 2, 1984
Jim Cornette has spoken in the past about how when Mid-South Wrestling came to town, Tulsa, Oklahoma, attracted a more -- shall we say -- housebroken crowd than in some other major markets in the territory. Understanding this, Ernie Ladd, Bobby Eaton, and Dennis Condrey were licensed to cheat at will, secure in the knowledge that they could be total meanies to Ricky Morton without some drunk deciding to murder the manager. This doesn’t mean that Tulsa drew a docile people; they were hot for the action and in fact, the crowd reaction came easy, being that the Rock N Roll Express were the most over act in the territory. Still, Ladd and the Midnight Express didn’t take the crowd for granted.
Out of the goodness of their dark hearts, they decided to let the Rock N Rolls and Jim Duggan have the lion’s share of the match. There are many moments where you think face-in-peril -- the concept of one babyface being isolated by the heels and struggling to make the tag -- has arrived but it’s not time just yet. They tease Robert Gibson first but quickly abandoned that idea when Gibson tagged Duggan. Then they hinted briefly that it would be Duggan but despite taking a few shots, he tagged out to Morton quickly. It was only when Morton missed a dropkick that the heels took over, leaving Morton to play the role that defined his career as much as it did tag team wrestling in the era.
The contrast of the gigantic Ernie Ladd attacking the pint-sized Ricky Morton made for an awfully effective visual. Ladd was clearly winding down by this stage of his career, but he still has simple moves in his arsenal like the double legdrop and basic thrust-like strikes that got the job done. He also understood how to rile up the crowd, playing Milton Bradley’s Hide the Foreign Object to maximum effect. It’s the double-team moves combined with complete lack of moral turpitude that made the Midnights and Cornette such a credible triple threat; the duo combined legal and illegal tactics seamlessly.
At some point in the 1990s, we started thinking of the hot tag as the beginning of the end of a match -- a sign that both teams would start the finishing stretch, do at least one nearfall, and then go home. In the 1980s, the very sight of the perilous babyface was the beginning of the finishing stretch, and it’s important to watch tag matches from the era with that in mind. Think of it like the film where the villain has the hero on the ropes until the villain’s last weakness is exploited. Just like Dorothy pouring water on the Wicked Witch of the West, the hot tag signified such a moment; complementing that, “shine” -- the part of the matches where the babyfaces get the better of almost every exchange -- is often thought of as a match introduction, but can also spill into the body of the match. It was only in the last five minutes that the Morton beatdown even began. They made those minutes count, but make no mistake, that’s because they were teasing a finish at any moment. Exceptions can and will be found -- the famed “double heat” with two face-in-peril stretches and two hot tags, particularly common in the AWA, and the hot tag that’s followed by multiple nearfalls and teases before the real finish. Those matches are usually the exceptional ones, something this, while very good, is not, even while it does act as an excellent representation of the positives of tag team wrestling in 1984.
Clearly, Loss has changed, updated, and polished the new site and the PWO forums section. Or "the board" as many of it will think of it as
With this change, I want to wish him the best and say thanks for providing this awesome forum and resource. It is without a doubt, the best place for wrestling information and discussion anywhere.
With that being said, the Badger Blog (sure, let's go with that for right now) has been on a little break in order to allow all/most/some? of the updates to take place. Unfortunately, it appears that the new template has restricted or removed the search functions, my categories (80's, 90's, Women's Wrestling etc.), and tags. Also, it seems the blog section is much more difficult to find on mobile devices...well at least for me. I'm a little bummed but, it's all good
I'm such a low tech guy that, I'll find other ways to litter old and new posts with links to put eyeballs on this puppy. Additionally, I'm going to take the time and re-tag my old posts as well as have my next entry be a summary of all 80 oh wait 90 posts...well at least links to them along with the titles. That and update any old links from the old site to the new version. Otherwise, it goes nowhere but to a friendly 404 error page.
Just an update to the larger update.
Well, the time has finally arrived! Thanks so much to all of you have joined us in this adventure. If you believe in the mission of PWO and want to support the site, there are many ways you can do it without spending any extra money at all that I'll talk about in this entry. I'll also talk about the content that we have up so far, along with some other content that you should expect in the coming days. There are already a lot of exciting things happening at PWO, so let's get started.
First of all, if you haven’t seen them yet, there are five match reviews posted from this day in wrestling history. Five new match reviews will be posted from this day in history seven days a week. The match reviews posted today are:
Harley Race vs Terry Funk (Houston Wrestling 07/01/77)
Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi (AJPW 07/01/89)
Toshiaki Kawada vs Masa Fuchi (AJPW 07/01/00)
Steve Corino vs Doug Williams (1PW 07/01/06)
Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin (NJPW 07/01/17)
Hopefully, there’s a little something for everyone there, as it’s always the goal to provide just that. I’ll share a list of tomorrow’s matches later in this post.
JUST ANOTHER MODERN MONDAY
If you’d like to see my take on current wrestling, Monday is going to be your favorite day of the week for a change. Starting tomorrow, we’ll do our first #PWOModernMonday, where I’ll walk through matches that have gotten buzz over the past week. I have about 10 matches lined up for tomorrow, so look for tons of new content immediately.
I’ve also posted the first episode of Pro Wrestling Lonely, a new podcast that I’ll do almost every day flying solo. It will be an opportunity to talk about whatever is catching my attention in the world of pro wrestling. #PWL is already available on Soundcloud, and it should be available on iTunes earlier in the week. The first episode is a full walk-through of the Shawn Michaels: Showstopper Unreleased 3-disc set WWE is releasing in October. You can preorder your copy on Amazon here.
We have re-posts of some old feature articles I’ve written. The first, The Story of Jerry Lawler and the Snowman, was originally posted at PlaceToBeNation.com a few years ago, and it walks through one of my favorite, most nuanced feuds in wrestling history.
The second, Wrestling on Fast Forward, is an extended look at how tape trading and hardcore fandom have had a bottom-up influence in pro wrestling. More feature articles will be coming on the site, including some submitted by guest writers. One that I think will be especially interesting is called #Wrestling7Up. I’ve asked some of the most fascinating wrestling fans I know to write about what wrestling fandom was like to them at the ages of 7, 14, and 21, continuing as far along as their birth year will allow. The first piece will be posted in the coming days. Stay tuned.
“USE ME, USE ME, CUZ YOU AIN’T THAT AVERAGE GROUPIE”
For those of you reading who host your own podcasts, if there’s a topic where you think I might add value, I’d probably love to be on your show! Please contact me to tell me what I need to do and it’s pretty unfathomable that I’ll say no. Likewise, if there’s opportunity for me to contribute a piece to your site, please let me know.
The PWO board will likely always be the lifeblood of the site. It’s what gotten us this far and that shared sense of community is something that’s still important to me that I want to continue to foster. Some recent interesting content that I would like to point out includes:
Some match reviews from December 2000 in our exhaustive Match Discussion Archive
G. Badger’s Badger Blog is back from hiatus (If you want to start a wrestling blog with a built-in wrestling audience, consider PWO as your blogging home. I'll even promote your content here, free of charge!)
Various thoughts on the NJPWxCEO and ROH shows over the weekend
Thoughts on Matt Cappotelli, who recently passed away
Tomorrow, I’ll have reviews up for these matches:
Midnight Express & Ernie Ladd vs Rock N Roll Express & Hacksaw Duggan (Mid South 07-02-84)
Midnight Express vs Rock N Roll Express (NWA World Wide Wrestling 07-02-87)
Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama vs Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue & Yoshinari Ogawa (AJPW 07-02-93)
Samoa Joe vs Kevin Steen (Marc LeGrizzly’s Midsummer Madness 07-02-04)
Mike Bailey vs Konosuke Takeshita (DDT 07-02-17)
Thanks again for your support and readership! Feel free to join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for more updates.
On the first episode of Pro Wrestling Lonely, Charles walks through the match list for Shawn Michaels: Showstopper Unreleased, a three-disc set WWE is scheduled to release in October. Hope you'll listen and let us know what you think.
Wrestling DVD Network reports that six more matches have been announced for the Shawn Michaels: Unreleased set that is scheduled to hit the market in the U.S. on October 2. They are:
Shawn Michaels vs Jake Roberts (Mid South Wrestling 02-01-85)
The Rockers vs Legion of Doom (WWF Superstars 12-28-91)
Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart vs Jacob & Eli Blu (WWF Louisville, KY 07-24-95)
Shawn Michaels vs 1-2-3 Kid (WWF Superstars 04-27-96)
Shawn Michaels vs Rob Van Dam (WWF Monday Night RAW 11-25-02)
Shawn Michaels & John Cena vs Edge & Randy Orton (WWE Bakersfield, CA 02-19-07)
The Michaels-Roberts match is most likely a TV match that was listed on the old Universal Wrestling site run by Bill Watts' ex-wife Enie. While the site listed the match as airing one week later on 02-08-85, it's probable that either the site listed an errant date or that the incorrect date is listed for the new DVD release. No Michaels-Roberts house show matches were released when Ms. Watts still owned the collection; in fact, WWE has released no Mid South footage of any kind that wasn't previously sold on the Universal Wrestling site. Additionally, there are no available house show results that indicate that Shawn Michaels and Jake Roberts had a match on February 1, 1985. Based on their relative card positioning at the time, you can probably expect this to be a competitive squash.
The Rockers-Legion of Doom match aired on WWF Superstars and was near the end of the Rockers' five-year run. The match was fun but short, primarily a way to continue pushing the breakup of Michaels and Jannetty, a move that ultimately springboarded Michaels to singles superstardom.
Bret-Shawn vs the Blu Brothers is a newly available match. The novelty of Bret and Shawn teaming as babyfaces makes this match a worthy inclusion. It was a dark match at a RAW taping on July 24, 1995, in Louisville, Kentucky, the same show where Bret had a highly regarded televised match against Hakushi. Shawn also wrestled Jimmy Del Ray of the Heavenly Bodies in a good five-minute match. Del Ray's floatover DDT was one of my favorite highspots in wrestling at the time.
The 1-2-3 Kid was on his way out of the WWF by late April 1996 and the match with Shawn on the April 27, 1996, episode of Superstars was his last big showcase before returning two years later. Shawn's November 25, 2002, match against Rob Van Dam aired on television at the time and was Shawn's first televised match in five years. Shawn was still finding himself after returning from a four-year absence a few months earlier, so his performance isn't at the level Michaels fans usually expect. This was, however, the only televised defense during his last reign as World Champion. The Shawn-Cena vs Rated RKO tag match has never been released and comes right in the middle of a six-month run of WWE television that has been highly praised in many circles.
It's possible that Kenny Omega and Michael Elgin made magic on this night. However, it also seems that the spell has since been broken.
July 1, 2017
New Japan Pro Wrestling
G-1 Special in the USA
Los Angeles, California
IWGP U.S. Championship Tournament
Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, and the other stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling should be commended for creating American interest in a foreign wrestling company at a level that would have been virtually impossible at any other time in wrestling history. In the current era, Bullet Club members can show up on WWE television and get the, “Hey, we recognize you and see you as stars!” crowd reaction that used to be elusive to anyone who rose to stardom outside of the national television establishment. Omega’s cornermen, the Young Bucks, are legitimate difference makers in Ring of Honor and on the independent scene. They have a popular YouTube show and their merchandise even sells well at Hot Topic! They relied on their own intuition and creativity to forge a new path, which I deeply respect. I just wish I was as impressed with this match as I am with their ability to succeed.
That’s not to say that this was a bad match or that I didn’t like it. Power versus speed is a timeless wrestling match contrast and they executed it well, as seen in moves like Elgin’s delayed vertical suplex that showed off his strength and Omega’s surprise Rocker dropper on the floor that highlighted his craftiness.
This resembles two separate matches superglued together when they started working toward a finish; everything before those few minutes was just an exchange of moves because of the lack of significant follow-through. Moves like the aforementioned Rocker Dropper on the floor seemed to have predicted an offensive run for Omega, but all was forgotten two minutes later. When Omega started throwing all of the V triggers, the drama picked up considerably, but drama without equal suspense to precede it is merely hysterics; in the best competitive matches, you might not know when the comeback is happening or how it will happen, but you know that it will come. Elgin’s crowd-thrilling German suplex on the apron worked like a charm in the moment, but doesn’t stand out as special when apron moves are so common. For all the attempts to wrestle big, the match still feels small, like it’s a B-show match that needed to keep going because one of the wrestlers in the next match hasn’t arrived at the building yet.
To deny the effectiveness or positive reception of the match would be foolish. Omega-Elgin worked in this building on this night and in this moment, but for those who place a premium on replay value, there sadly isn’t much to see here.
Steve Corino was only a World Champion on a national scale in America one time, and in a company that had a booking style pretty far from the NWA tradition. Armed with a credible and capable challenger, Corino shows what might have been with different career timing.
July 1, 2006
1 Pro Wrestling
Fight Club II
1PW World Heavyweight Championship
Steve Corino, while a great wrestler, has always seemed to me like a kid living the dream. He lucked into opportunities any aspiring wrestler who grew up on 1980s Jim Crockett Promotions would die for, whether he was getting smacked with a cowbell by Dusty Rhodes in ECW or wrestling a resurgent Barry Windham on the indie scene. He became Shinya Hashimoto’s favorite American through his work in Zero One. He also got to tour Europe as the world champion, in this particular case working his version of the Ric Flair title match.
When the territories collapsed for good in the late 1980s, NWA title defenses went out of style. Main events were much shorter for the most part, with slow build and matwork often replaced by more brawling and big spots. That change wasn’t entirely for the bad, as the worst 60-minute draws could be painful and some great matches were born from the new approach. Still, when WCW and ECW died in 2001 and the wrestling world was looking for a new path forward outside of the American monopoly, independent wrestling brought about a return to pro wrestling’s roots. Wrestlers sometimes missed the mark and occasionally had ambition above their skill level, but the focus on in-ring competition was welcomed and served as a nice contrast to the excesses of the Attitude Era and latter-day WCW. Young wrestlers displayed an experimental streak and were willing to take chances, which resulted in longer matches once again returning to favor.
It was in this setting that Steve Corino wrestled Doug Williams. Both were on the ground level for the indie boom that put Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, and numerous others on the path to stardom. Circumstance led Corino and Williams to 1PW, a UK-based promotion that opened its doors the previous year, and a two-out-of-three-falls -- air quotes -- “world” title match.
The fascinating thing about this and other matches like this during the time period is that it wasn’t worked all that different from the wrestling of previous generations, but it seemed fresh and even in some ways innovative because it lied dormant so long. There was modernization (or regression, depending on your point of view) to an extent -- chances are that the Chaos Theory and Northern Lights Bomb on the floor wouldn’t be the two most important highspots in a match thirty years earlier -- but the match layout still nods to the corpse of the old NWA.
Even though the first fall was worthy of being called a great match on its own, the match didn’t truly pick up steam until Doug Williams took liberties with the rules in the second fall. Williams might as well have been the uncrowned lead heel in the biggest company in the world. He mercilessly targeted Corino’s arm and used the armdrag to return the match to his control anytime Corino teased a comeback, an interesting choice because the armdrag is not typically a move that is used as a neutralizer during the body of a match. Here, it functions like a dragon screw leg whip -- a sudden, high-impact move that halts momentum.
The finish was in some ways too clever for its own good, even while creating some nice theater in the moment. Restarts have always seemed risky to me, especially in longer matches, and they pushed this one far; Williams was escorted nearly out of sight and the referee had already handed Corino the belt. The other issue was the apparent time shaving. It’s certainly possible that there was a masterful editing job involved when this was released commercially, but if not, this was much closer to fifty minutes than sixty. It was here that I was reminded of the best NWA title matches of years past, although probably not for the reasons the wrestlers intended. The time call from the ring announcer was not a staple in every territory, but those who used it knew they had a gimme for creating drama down the final stretch. When there is no sense that the wrestlers are racing the clock, expiration of time, neither the possibility of it nor it actually happening, means as much as it should.
The big takeaway from this match is not the little things that might have been done better, but the multitude of things that were done well. 2000s indie wrestling -- and wrestling in general, I suppose -- often seeks judgment not on execution of an idea, but in the quality of the idea itself, (“Well I could see what they were going for”) and this match exemplifies that as well as any other. When viewed without that lens, this was a four-star match that had potential to be a classic and didn’t quite hit the mark. However, when judged with the ideas themselves as the reason to get excited, Steve Corino and Doug Williams overachieved.
After Mitsuharu Misawa abandoned ship with most of the roster to form Pro Wrestling NOAH, Toshiaki Kawada and Masa Fuchi began rebuilding a company left in shambles.
July 1, 2000
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
On June 9, 2000, Mitsuharu Misawa had his last match in an All Japan Pro Wrestling ring. Sure, he returned for a one-off match four years later, but that was for an AJPW so different that it might as well not even count. After years of problems with the widowed Motoko Baba, Misawa had plans to form his own company, Pro Wrestling NOAH, which would launch in August. Much like Mrs. Baba’s deceased husband, Misawa inspired massive loyalty in other wrestlers, so when Misawa left, the entire native roster left with him. The entire native roster left, that is, with two notable exceptions: Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi.
Despite longtime personal animosity, Misawa expected Kawada, arguably his greatest rival, to come with him and ended up angered by Kawada’s decision to stay. In Misawa’s mind, he was the modern-day Biblical Noah and he was building an arc for everyone to escape AJPW, hence his new promotion’s name and navigation-based symbolism. Kawada made the calculation that AJPW would be his for the taking with Misawa and other top stars out of the way, which proved itself true in the short-term. Rumors were flying of everyone from Genichiro Tenryu to Atsushi Onita returning to the company, but they would need to be cast aside on this night, when Kawada and Fuchi needed to prove a basic credo -- that the company could still deliver great main events.
Fuchi was never anything less than a stellar pro wrestler, but he was also past his peak. It had been four years since he passed the junior heavyweight torch to the now NOAH-bound Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and it had been even longer since he was phased out of his reliable antagonist role in six-man tags at the top of the card. Fuchi never completely disappeared, but he rarely appeared alongside the top stars anymore. The mass exodus of talent and the pressure on his shoulders inspired a brief, but exceptional comeback that started with this match.
All Japan’s calling card was always the match quality of its main events, especially in the preceding decade. Misawa and Kawada, along with Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama, Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, and a select few others, set high standards -- some would say impossibly high standards -- for action-packed main events with excellent psychology. Kawada and Fuchi had a challenging path ahead of them, but they also had newfound freedom. Kawada’s longtime suggestion of interpromotional matches, which ostracized him politically when he suggested it to Mr. Baba years earlier, was suddenly a very real possibility.
Dangerous K T-Shirt - Redbubble
Despite high standards, the in-ring style had escalated in an unhealthy way in recent years, with ever-lengthening nearfall stretches and more dangerous moves happening in each marquee match. The company had also grown stale, as great as the top talent was, because of the lack of new stars. Kawada and Fuchi not only needed to demonstrate their ability to have a great match, but they’d need to have a different type of great match.
Their unfavorable position seemed to earn the sympathy of fans. Fuchi received the most heartfelt welcome he had gotten in years, (or possibly ever, considering his usual surly heel personality) making clear that All Japan fans would do their part in helping the match succeed. Rather than attempt to parallel the action quotient of the Misawa-Kobashi series, Kawada and Fuchi worked smaller and smarter with heavier focus on details, the type of match where Fuchi has always looked his best. Fuchi was totally in his element with tactics like the cold staredown off of a clean break or stepping directly on Kawada’s face. The lasting visual of the match is, of course, Fuchi’s raw and bloody chest, the result of Kawada’s brutal chops. Kawada finishing off Fuchi with one powerbomb when it had taken multiple powerbombs to bring home the win in some of his past big matches, felt right. They proved that they could dabble in greatness without dabbling in excess.
To ask if All Japan ended up okay in the long run is to ask a loaded question. The glory days of the Baba era were long gone, but the company itself remained a staple under new ownership with different stars. They never reached the same heights of match quality or popularity after the formation of NOAH, and it’s probable that they never will. However, that’s only a loaded question with the benefit of hindsight. On July 1, 2000, after the show was over and fans had left the building, the answer of the moment was clearly that yes, All Japan would be just fine, even if they had become the Little Promotion That Could overnight.
Before either man reached solo superstardom, the 1989 Tomorrow League saw Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi lay claim to the decade ahead.
July 1, 1989
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
Tomorrow League '89
Imagine that a new wrestler debuts on WWE television with seemingly endless promise. This wrestler is adored within the company because of his attitude and drive, and virtually everyone sees him as a future superstar. Now imagine that guy losing every singles match for the first 15 months of his career. It’s likely that WWE would face a fanbase revolt played out by live crowds booing the company’s chosen ones in an attempt to force their own preferred booking direction. It didn’t happen in 1988 when Kenta Kobashi debuted, nor did it happen at any point over the next 15 months, even while it was clear that Kobashi had something special.
While it’s true that culture and technology have had a major impact on wrestling fan mentality over the last thirty years, Shohei “Giant” Baba’s booking rewarded fan patience above all. This measured approach to superstardom was uniquely possible in All Japan Pro Wrestling, as other wrestling companies usually had too many ups and downs. Reserved goodwill during a hot period usually results in most fans assuming the best, just as creative transgressions minor and major are immortalized during a decline. After all, which do you remember more -- HHH accusing Kane of murdering Katie Vick and raping her dead corpse in the downturn of 2002 or Chaz’s girlfriend Marianna making domestic violence accusations during the boom of 1999?
On this evening, Kobashi would wrestle Toshiaki Kawada, a future singles star in his own right, in the Tomorrow League, a tournament where the name itself suggested some degree of long-term commitment. It was a promise fulfilled when the two had more than a few classic matches against each other over the following decade, even if on this night, they wouldn’t provide the same type of match that we would see between 1993 and 2000. They didn’t even look the way that most of us think of them in our heads -- Kobashi still wore red trunks and white boots while Kawada hadn’t turned into much of a Genichiro Tenryu clone just yet. They weren’t yet torchbearers, so they stayed within the framework created by those who were.
In the late 80s, the upstart Universal Wrestling Federation was the hottest company in Japan, powered by the naive belief that they presented “real wrestling”. The key to the facade was in the working style. Mixed martial arts wasn’t a thriving sport yet so fans had no concept of what real combat sports looked like, and UWF matches were mostly exciting but no-frills, mat-based affairs. The UWF drew massive crowds even without television exposure, which changed the course of pro wrestling in Japan. Just as four years earlier, the traditional style that dominated All Japan bit the dust when incoming New Japan star Riki Choshu and friends jumped ship and challenged the top stars to pick up the pace, the UWF’s emphasis on clean finishes demanded the abolition of the double countout, a long-time All Japan fallback finish.
Kawada and Kobashi represented a hybrid of the UWF emphasis on matwork and the freshly-elevated All Japan pace. Even in moments of brilliance, they also exposed their lack of ring time -- Kobashi expertly attacking Kawada’s leg for the body of the match only for Kawada to completely stop selling it during his comeback will drive the purists among us nuts -- but admittedly, that criticism ignores the spirit of the moment. It was the Tomorrow League, something far more about youthful idealism and future potential than seasoned work. The match succeeded on its own terms in that regard, and the overall impression is the desired one: that one day, these guys are going to carry the company and be great doing it. For those only interested in the top matches in each style, this provides little value, but for those who enjoy watching formative wrestling, even when it isn’t quite great, this hits the spot.