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  1. SmartMark15

    Joseph Montecillo Video Essays

    For anyone new to Eddie Kingston's work, I put together a five match primer to act as a sampler of his work over the years. Check it out to learn more about The Mad King.
  2. SmartMark15

    Current New Japan

    Seems dumb. Honestly, think that after WK this year, the company's taken a real turn for the worse. People will defend it because good matches are still happening on these cards but I really think New Japan is far past its peak and we've entered a time where I feel comfortable saying it's pretty bad now.
  3. SmartMark15

    Joseph Montecillo Video Essays

    A new episode of Walking the King's Road discussing every Stan Hansen vs. Mitsuharu Misawa singles match between 1990 and 1992!
  4. Are we going to sit here and pretend to talk about anything other than finish? This is an eye for an eye match where the only way to win is by gouging out an opponent’s eyeball. This match has been sanctioned by the same promotion that thought hitting someone very hard with a very big hammer during a Hell in a Cell match was going too far. It’s such a truly WWE trait to be so preoccupied with seeming interesting that they refuse to ever just be interesting. An “eye for an eye match,” for example, is something that on paper brings about a lot of provocative imagery. As soon as the stipulation that you had to remove an opponent’s eye to win was announced, it drew the baffled curiosity of fans everywhere. What would that look like? How could you even make that work within the confines of a pro wrestling match? Even if they utilized the cinematic style that they’ve been leaning on, how could it be done to match the family oriented tone that WWE often strives and fails to achieve? Rumors of CGI effects being utilized only sweetened the B-movie morbidity of this is on our minds. A CGI eyeball flopping about on the canvas is just the kind of wrestlecrap schlock that we can talk about and mock for decades to come. This match is not that. It fails because it refuses to commit to anything. Instead of going down the ridiculous path of being on a card called “The Horror Show at Extreme Rules,” these two decide to just work a match with eye psychology. That’s nice and all. Rey Mysterio is an all time great performer and Seth Rollins has demonstrated that he can be held by the hand and dragged kicking and screaming to a great match. And for most of the match, it seems that Rey might have pulled off a bit of a miracle too. The offense and spots are creative. The emphasis on evasion means that these two can swing about gruesome weapons without anyone actually having to take any damage. The focus on eye psychology is interesting enough and uncommon enough that it added a lot of substance to a Seth Rollins match–a feat truly worthy of praise. And sure, let’s give Seth Rollins some credit, why not? He took both those barricade bumps that made up the highlights of this match pretty well. But even before this match gets both deeply stupid and uninteresting all at once, Rollins reveals himself for the sham hack that he’s always been. It’s all in the trash talk. I’ve brought up the WWE’s tendencies to lean on in-ring dialogue before and it’s a habit that’s only gotten worse with COVID-19. The fact is that in-ring trash talk can work when it’s both simple and realistic. Something like Rey selling on the ground, groaning out, “You son of a bitch!” Yes, that is something a human person would say in the middle of a fight. To have Rollins immediately follow up with, “You should have listened to me, Rey”–a line so trite and cliched that even your dullest Hollywood screenwriter will at least do a double take before writing it down–exposes that Rollins really has no clue how to capture a realistic human emotion. But enough of that, we came to talk about the eyeball stuff, right? That’s this match’s greatest sin, really. There’s nothing to talk about. Seth shoves Rey’s face into the edge of the steel steps and then recoils in the horror of what he’s done. We never get a shot of a bloody eyeball. Instead, we have Rey Mysterio covering his face while palming a fake glass eye against his face that we only get brief glimpses of. Seth probably sees more than we do as he’s so aghast by his own actions that he vomits onto the ground. You got to give credit to Seth for taking the already miserable “HAVE I GONE TOO FAR” WWE trope and ramping it all the way up to eleven to actually expose how bad the trope is and has been for a long time. For that sacrifice, at least, Seth gets some credit. Commentary goes silent and the planted PC marks that earlier tried to start up an “Ole!” chant watch on in disgust. One can’t help but imagine their reaction had Seth Rollins had lost. Would they turn on Rey Mysterio as well? Let’s not forget that earlier in the night, Rey tried to stab Rollins’ eye out with the shards of a broken kendo stick. Would that have brought about jubilant celebrating from this uncanny valley facsimile of an audience? We can only wonder. Rude of WWE to deprive me even of rage. As I said, most of this was actually something approaching good. And the bad isn’t even worth laughing at. This match is cowardice on a truly impressive scale. **1/4 LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/seth-rollins-vs-rey-mysterio-the-horror-show-at-wwe-extreme-rules-7-19-20/
  5. SmartMark15

    Joseph Montecillo Video Essays

    A new video about why the WWE is bad. video
  6. It’s nuance that separates kings from men. Eddie Kingston is having a fantastic year because that’s what Eddie Kingston does. Give the man the opportunity and he steals the show. He has such personality and charisma that seeps into everything that he does on a wrestling card. Even getting into the ring with a finicky set of chains instead of ring ropes becomes a spectacle. Rather than fumble into the ring to hide the awkwardness as others on the show did, Kingston makes a show of it. In the ring, the match itself plays out with a wonderfully simple structure. I’m not familiar with Brett Ison’s work from SUP so I can’t speak much to what he does here compared to his usual work. There’s not much he really has to do for this match anyway other than hit Eddie Kingston very hard and it works. Ison and Kingston start with a strong lock up, incredibly tight and filled with struggle. When that leads into the first strike exchange of the match, Kingston crumbles almost immediately. And so the stakes are set. Kingston is the battle tested veteran but he’s up against someone younger and stronger who (supposedly) hits harder too. The match plays out as Kingston looking for openings to knock Ison down. He works most of the match working from underneath as Ison maintains control with his chops, elbows, and punches. Kingston remains defiant through it all, even making sure to flip off Ison as he drops to the mat. Ison responds by grabbing the finger only for Eddie to bite at the ear. Simple stuff like that comes off so gritty and realistic to add a real sense of violence to a card that’s built around much grander displays of bodily harm than this. Kingston’s love for All Japan shines through towards the finishing stretch as we get two lovely drop out of the ring spots. Kingston himself drops after a tense strike exchange where each man gets progressively worse for wear with each blow. Then Ison himself gets knocked out of the ring after Kingston finally nails his Backfist. Little touches like that can add so much suspense to a match without having to needlessly burn nearfalls on finishes. Kingston strings together a pair of backdrops, Ison even kicking out of the second pinning hold, before finally nailing the decisive Backfist to win the match. What a great match, don’t let the somewhat subdued crowd fool you. This is substantial stuff from one of the best wrestlers in the world. We’re graced with a fantastic Eddie Kingston promo afterwards where he calls out Zack Sabre Jr, Cody, and Nick Aldis in that order. Any of those matches would be great and if they somehow get to happen in the hellscape of 2020, it’ll just be more material to back one of the greatest independent wrestlers of all time. **** LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/eddie-kingston-vs-brett-ison-icw-no-holds-barred-vol-3-deathmatch-drive-in-2-7-4-20/
  7. Two of my favorite guys on the American indies today get some time to have a strong one on one match. What’s not to love? Much of the early goings focuses on Garrini’s martial arts background coming in to play as the more unorthodox Deppen tries to whether the storm. They have some fun exchanges on the mat where Deppen doesn’t exactly match Garrini’s grapple work but instead tries to fight his way out. It adds a scrappy vibe to the match. He uses his strikes and brawling to try to get the advantage back but Garrini can always somehow work his way back into the advantage. Although this wasn’t wrestled as a deathmatch, I felt that these two guys made the most of their environment. No spot embodies this more than Deppen ramming Garrini into the chains that replace the ring ropes and Garrini selling it like absolute death and even getting a pop from the crowd that expects lighttubes and shattering vinyl. One hardcore element does come into play with Deppen bringing in a door. They use it effectively enough with Garrini taking a bump through it and the two then trading shots with the door. It’s simple and to the point stuff even though structurally the match does start to fall apart a bit when the door gets introduced. That’s swiftly remedied by the finishing stretch however where Garrini just wipes out Deppen with a series of brutal head drop suplexes. Great stuff all around even barring a few instances of visible miscommunication or awkwardness. Nothing that can’t be written off as some mild ring rust. Otherwise, I feel these two worked really well together and continue to be highlights on the independent scene. **** LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/tony-deppen-vs-dominic-garrini-icw-no-holds-barred-vol-2-deathmatch-drive-in-6-27-20/
  8. An excellent 60 minute Iron Man match between two Southern indie favorites.
  9. This is happening en masse right now. OTT and TNT stripped him of their World Titles and other companies like NORTH Wrestling have officially severed ties.
  10. There are many ways to have a great match in the COVID-era. The best approach, of course, is not to try and remind all promoters out there that holding shows anywhere in the world even now is grossly irresponsible. That’s #1 which probably makes Roman Reigns the actual Wrestler of the Year with Sami Zayn at a close #2. Barring that, workers can try to focus on a more technical matbased approach. Daniel Bryan, Drew Gulak, and Timothy Thatcher have shown how effective this can be. Matwork is something that requires so much focus and attention to begin with that it often drowns in lively crowds. Played to a mostly empty arena, a viewer at home has the chance to zone in on the action. Truly elite level workers can combine this kind of detailed oriented work with the larger, more bombastic spots that can dazzle people into forgetting the emptiness. Ishii and Desperado don’t do that here. Instead, they just brute force their way into greatness. Early on, it’s exceedingly clear that neither Ishii nor Desperado have made any adjustments to their style. It’s pretty clear that this is the match they would have worked if they were in front of an audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but there are some things exposed by that choice. Desperado’s early heat segments lose a lot of steam because he’s preoccupied with taunting and posing for a crowd that isn’t there. He works a much slower and methodical heat segment than befits the empty arena. It doesn’t work because no one’s in the room to fill the dead air with boos. Luckily Desperado’s in there with Ishii and that guy will just beat four stars out of anybody. Ishii brings his usual fire and brutal offense to this but this time gets to add limb selling to the work. Where I know Ishii much more for his ability to subtly portray cumulative damage, I thought his limb selling was done exceedingly well here. Hell, we even get a mid-powerbomb crumble spot which might be one of the best things I’ve seen in wrestling all year. The real meat of this match is the lengthy extended finishing stretch where Desperado pulls out every trick he knows to try to put Ishii down. It’s incredibly convincing too. There’s exposed turnbuckles, low blows, and of course the bad knee. But the big man just won’t stay down. Ishii is a force of nature and it’s always a wonder to see him work when the gears are switched on. Stiff strikes and brainbusters. I loved it.
  11. A lot of knee work going around this past week, huh? The main takeaway from this match is going to be the really excellent leg selling that ASUKA did through most of the second act and into the third. It comes off the heels of a great comeback sequence from Nakajima that culminated in her hitting a missile dropkick to the knee. Gorgeous offensive move that she did well to follow up on with a Stretch Muffler exchange down on the mat. ASUKA pulls out a really great defensive performance in this section, really doing well to sell the damage to her leg. It’s a really balanced performance as well. Not nearly as expressive as Endo but also not quite as nuanced and interesting as Bryan’s. It’s a happy medium that is its own achievement for being restrained yet also crystal clear. Where I mentioned in my review of her match at Wrestle Peter Pan that I wasn’t quite convinced by ASUKA’s offense, that wasn’t much of a problem for me here. In the early control segment especially, I finally grasped her appeal. She brings a lot of charisma and personality to her matches and that’s great to stuff to really carry her singles performances. There’s a real magnetism to her that’s incredibly compelling without being too overt or blatant. She comes across as a more subdued version of the traditional joshi wrestler, aided by her raspier voice and larger build. It makes her stand out and combined with some really solid ring work and you’ve got a great performance like this. Nakajima was very good in this match as well. There was the aforementioned leg work but also just her general determination as a fighting champion. She was able to drop the big bombs but when those didn’t work, she diversified to go for creative pinning situations instead. Love the finish of her shifting her weight just in time to put the pressure on ASUKA’s bad leg to get the victory. Subtle stuff that can go a long way. Really great joshi title match here from both these ladies. Perfectly timed at roughly 18-20 minutes with each section of the match being well-worked and compelling. Absolutely worth checking out. LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/arisa-nakajima-vs-asuka-seadlinnng-delivered-to-you-6-13-20/
  12. I missed Yuji Nagata. The word missed in this sentence meaning that he passed me by. At the peak of his powers in New Japan, I was still under the impression that Shawn Michaels should have beat John Cena at WrestleMania 23. By the time I discovered Japanese wrestling years ago, I skipped the 2000s right into the 90s. New Japan didn’t enter my view until the mid-2010s by the time that Nagata’s run at the top was long done. On forums I frequented, Nagata was never greeted with much love so I never thought to seek him out. By the time I watched Yuji Nagata for myself, it was a banger against Tomohiro Ishii from last year’s New Japan Cup. The man could hit hard and he put on a great match but there’s not much more I could tell you as he didn’t advance that year. Occasionally, I’ll catch him on the New Japan undercards in one of the plentiful dad tags. So yeah, I missed out on Yuji Nagata. Despite all that, I was excited for this match. I’d tuned in for the Together Project Special and Suzuki and Nagata’s interactions on that show made me incredibly optimistic. They nicely telegraphed what they were planning to do on the show tonight. Just beat the shit out of each other for a while. That’s absolutely something I can get behind especially coming from a master like Minoru Suzuki. Even with his limited mobility, the man continues to be one of the best in ring performers in the world. He put on a classic last year against Jushin Liger and then another classic against one of the best wrestlers in the world this year in Jon Moxley. He is endlessly charismatic in the ring and he can hit hard. Perfect combination. For the first few minutes in the ring, the match pays off on its early promises. Suzuki and Nagata waste no time getting into the meat and bones of this match. No perfunctory mat exchanges for these two. Straight to the striking. They spend a solid ten minutes just exchanging blows and though it’s simple, it’s never repetitive and it hardly feels redundant. Suzuki still hits with a lot of vicious force in his old age and Nagata more than gave as good as he got. Matches like this are tailor made for the empty arena setting of the COVID-era as you can be sure to hear every blow. No thigh slapping here, no sir. When the fight starts to spill to the floor, I thought that they had begun to lose me. It was some silly shenanigans with Suzuki bumping the ref and going after Nagata with a chair. Fair enough, it was fun while it lasted but this will definitely not be anything less than good. It got so much better. Suzuki’s attack on the outside allows him to establish control. Where Nagata had been meeting him blow for blow, now Suzuki had stolen the advantage through nefarious means. He corners Nagata and bullies him with strikes. He even hits a short knee strike right to the head that we get to see up close. All the while, we get some wonderful close up shots of Nagata’s face. He’s selling his ass off but not in a way that makes him look pathetic, overdramatic, or even beaten. He looks weathered instead, worn down to the edge but still holding on. Nagata has some fight left in him. He can still hit Suzuki as hard as Suzuki can hit him. But Suzuki’s a madman. We know this about him. He’s laughed in the face of every blow through the entire match. He grins with sadistic glee any time someone dares to take the fight to him. It fuels him and eggs him on. By the time they return to exchanging blows, Nagata sells like he’s on the verge of dropping. It might be one of the best examples of spaghetti legged unsteadiness since the likes of someone like Kawada. But the man stands his ground. The fight continues as Suzuki starts to panic, as he always does. He’s impatient and rushes through the sequence he needs to put Nagata away. He grabs him in a choke but refuses to hold on long enough to make Nagata pass out. He goes for the Gotch Piledriver but Nagata is able to power out. Even with a busted lip, the son of a bitch just won’t go down. As Nagata continues to fight, bleeding from the mouth, and crashing headlong into the maniac in the ring with him, I couldn’t help but root for the guy. He and I have no history. He’s only a name in the long story of New Japan, a match on a to-be-watched list, someone to be evaluated down the line with a more clinical eye than a feeling one. I felt for Yuji Nagata here. By the time he starts dropping Suzuki on his head, I was so invested. Neither man had bumped all match long that by the time it happened, it was the highest of high spots. The grandest of moments. Another crushing back suplex and the unthinkable happens. Nagata wins. And that’s what makes this match so great. I missed out on Yuji Nagata. But through this match, through this win, I have the tiniest reason to care. I have the sliver of hope for progression, advancement. I have something to hold onto, now, here, in the present where we’re together in this time. Will he get past Okada in the second round? Probably not. But we can hope. And sometimes that’s enough. LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/minoru-suzuki-vs-yuji-nagata-njpw-new-japan-cup-n2-6-17-20/
  13. SmartMark15

    Best worker of the last 20 years

    I don't know how one can say there was no depth. He consistently made much more of angles given to him than anyone expected, never faltered in the ring, and when given the opportunity always rose to the occasion as a top level main eventer. If anything, the outstanding circumstances of his career make him more impressive as he's somehow managed to rise above absurd obstacles.
  14. I’m kind of running out of ways to talk about how the Greatest Wrestler of All Time and the unofficial Wrestler of the Year is incredibly good at his job. This match rules because of course it does. These two have been having bangers against each other for nearly two decades now. The last time we saw this pairing put on a great championship match was at TLC 2018 when the roles were reversed. Bryan came in as the malevolent heel champion whereas AJ played the standup babyface. Here in the finals of a tournament for the vacant Intercontinental Championship, Bryan took the longer route—refusing a bye and fighting an extra match in the semi-finals–whereas AJ took advantage of circumstance to slip right into the final. One blemish we can find on this match comes from before the bell even rings. AJ’s quick loss to Gulak last week pretty much telegraphs the result that we’ll be getting here tonight. It is, decidedly, the worse possible result so that puts a damper on proceedings. But luckily, the greatest wrestler of all time is at work and his magic can often surpass something as trivial as bad booking. This was a pretty lengthy match extending over multiple commercial segments on Smackdown. This is the first time in a while that Bryan’s been able to stretch his legs in an extended setting instead of working the incredibly efficient and concise television matches that have made up the bulk of his case for 2020. But here we see that his instincts for pacing and structure are as strong as ever. Much of this match builds itself around dueling limb psychology. In the opening goings, both men target each other’s arms. While AJ makes a decent show of it to start, his offense doesn’t really have the kind of nuance to make that kind of extended arm work interesting. AJ gives up on it pretty fast which allows Bryan to take the lead and show him how it’s done. There’s a lot of great work by Bryan on the arm ranging from the blatant like ramming AJ’s shoulder into the ringpost to the more subtle of jamming his knuckles into the elbow. AJ does well enough selling it for the second act of the match but it’s a thread that gets lost towards the finishing stretch. AJ responds in kind however by moving to some leg work on Bryan. It’s nothing nearly so intricate but there’s strong moments of brutality here. The best spot comes from AJ tying up Bryan’s legs in the ropes and just going after it before leaving Bryan to hang there and overextend his knee. It’s good stuff and while this is mostly done in service of a Calf Crusher submission tease, the GOAT makes the most of his limb selling here. Again, Bryan displays the range of subtle work before moving to the very edges of overblown vanity selling here. There’s the difficulty keeping his weight while laying in the YES Kicks. Then there’s the straight up crumble spot from his flip off the top ropes. Delightful to see a master at work. The finishing stretch was incredibly effective at playing off of the really big offense that these guys can bring. AJ busts out a nasty brainbuster and they follow that up with a wonderful exchange of bridging German Suplexes. There’s a small moment amidst all that big offense of Bryan busting out the same pinning combination that Gulak used to beat AJ last week to only get a nearfall here. It’s that kind of subtle nod to the character dynamics outside of the match that display what makes someone like Bryan a true master of the craft. But probably Bryan’s best work in the finishing stretch is just his body language. He’s spent a decade refining the physical manifestation of his babyface fire and it again displays such a wide range of dynamics. For me, it’s at its best when the determination is merely bubbling up on the surface. It feels like a powerful force that Bryan might actually be trying to restrain but it’s growing more powerful every moment. It’s near impossible not to be swept away and root for this man to cave in a flat earther’s face. The finish is a shame as the wrong man wins here. But that’s fine. It’s at least accompanied by the beautiful Running Knee into a Styles Clash counter that probably should have ended things but they at least didn’t waste it by burning a nearfall on it. Another excellent outing on the resume of the greatest performer in the sport’s history. Not that he needed it. LINK: https://josephmontecillo.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/daniel-bryan-vs-aj-styles-wwe-smackdown-6-12-20/
  15. SmartMark15

    Best worker of the last 20 years

    Gonna just chime in to say it's probably Daniel Bryan by a pretty wide margin for me. No one really built up the level of quality he did across incredibly varied settings and roles and pretty consistently so over an eighteen year period. He's the greatest to ever do it.