Sunday, 7 April 2013

A (possible) Wrestlemania 28 liveblog

Saturday April 6th 2013, 9.15pm: So, here's the thing, dear readers frequently checking this un-updated blog. It is the eve before Wrestlemania 29 and I am exactly twelve months behind in WWE watching, because of this life and how it gets in the way of things. However, I have all PPVs between Wrestlemanias 28 and 29 lined up to watch. I've spent the last week rewatching the Elimination Chamber 2012 and some TV between that and 'Mania and I am READY TO GO.

9.20pm: Lilian singing the National Anthem to open the show. Shows you how it's done, Beyonce (this is an example of a reference that is both too soon in that it wasn't relevant in April 2012, and incredibly dated in that I'm actually making it April 2013).

9.27pm: Crowd inexplicably chanting "you, esse". Lots of Hispanics in Miami, of course.

9.33pm: World Heavyweight title with the Royal Rumble winning challenger is opening the show again. I suppose when you stack a card with so many big matches you need to spread them out. Keep the crowd energy high for all of them. Give them all equal chance to shine. Ensure you give the spotlight to as many guys as possible, including your future stars, on the biggest show of the ... oh, they did a nine second title switch angle masquerading as a match. No, no, don't worry. It's fine. Your idea was good too.

9.53pm: Anyway, you definitely need to leave sufficient time for the Kane-Randy Orton issue to finally be settled. Cole: "Orton says he couldn't care less about Kane's identity crisis". Randy Orton - voice of the people. I'm making myself a cup of tea, in the way you all think English people do whenever they have to deal with adversity such having to watch a Kane match.

10.15pm: Just a match with effectively nothing to be interested or excited by. Unlike the tea, which was a total crazy spotfest. The Daniel Bryan fans on the front row start a Daniel Bryan chant because they really want to see a lengthy Kane match.

10.20pm: Annual Comedy Skit actually amused me.

10.31pm: Big Show vs Cody Rhodes next. Hey, you know which match would make complete sense if it finished with one strike in less than twenty seconds?

10.39pm: Rhodes gets far too much time-filling offense here. But to make it all right, Show spears him in the groin whilst jumping off the ropes and then does it eight more times as I rewatch that moment again and again.

11.03pm: Divas tag match caps off what must be the worst first hour of any Wrestlemania ever. Cole hypes Maria Menonous as she came down the aisle by reporting her Dancing With The Stars score from the previous week. Daniel Bryan chant starts up to voice positive thoughts about seeing two wrestlers lightly cuddle a non-wrestler for about four minutes. A Daniel Bryan chant can mean almost anything (except that people want to see Daniel Bryan wrestle a proper match, of course).

11.12pm: OK, Taker vs. HHH in the Cell with guest referee Shawn Michaels is next. So that'll be the next hour of the show at least.

11.16pm: HHH enters from out of Vader's old helmet. This match is described as the end of an era, but no-one has really clarified what is potentially ending. No-one is explicitly saying there's a career-ending stipulation although I guess that's heavily implied.

11.20pm: BONG! Taker enters. JR talks about this match being the path to "everlasting mortality". Not immortality, you'll note. "Are you immortal?" "No, I'm just planning on being mortal for a really long time". Taker still entering. He pulls off his hood to reveal he's had a haircut. JR: "What has happened to the Undertaker?" as I begin to suspect that the commentators will be overhyping everything in this match.

11.22pm: Ah, the perfectly choreographed upwards stare towards the descending cage. I amuse myself by imagining the conversation between the production team and the writing team, focusing on the moment when they casually mentioned they'd need a enormous cage to descend onto the ring IN AN OPEN-ROOFED ARENA. The match then begins, as they do.

11.30pm: Slow methodical start with Taker very much in control. Cole notes that HHH has never lost a match which Shawn has been the guest referee. How many have there been? There was that Iron Man match with the Rock. And me out here? There was that match from Summerslam 1997 between Bret and Taker. I guess he technically didn't lose that one either. I think we're about twenty minutes in.

11.36pm: Trips takes control with a nasty looking spinebuster on the steps and demonstrates he does in fact know how to beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania - hit him in the skull with a sledgehammer. Jimmy Snuka's kicking himself for not thinking of that one. HBK want Triple H to stop the madness.  HBK asks Taker to give it up but he won't. It's all too much for him. Feels like we're at about the thirty five minute mark.

11.40pm: Taker stops HBK from ending the match by putting him in the Hell's Gate. This backfires because less than a minute later, he could have won the match. They do a brief second ref run-in and bump and then HBK superkicks Taker into a Pedigree. TWO COUNT and Shawn falls back into the corner battling some intense but unspecific moral dilemmas. Nearing an hour now, I'd guess.

11.53pm: Match finally drags itself to a finish with the decisive pinfall win that Taker wanted. Before that there's more chair shots and sledgehammer shots and kickouts from finishers. In a vacuum, I probably would have thought this was OK - the match is largely uninspired brawling and weapons stuff, dragged out far longer than it should have, but at least they don't fill all that time with a finisher overkill run to the same degree as last year's match (which I also disliked). It doesn't need the Cell at all, but whatever. The problem is that the more the commentators talk in terms of classics and epics and it being one for the ages, the cognitive dissonance becomes too much. The crowd is not better - there's a fucking 'this is awesome' chant for a ref bump and I don't feel like crediting them with hipster irony. Shawn's referee act was distractingly bad - the build for this match demanded these two guys battle it out until one was left standing. If it's brutal, it should look brutal to anyone watching. You don't need someone close-captioning that for you with their hammy acting. I dislike big matches that did very little with massive amounts of resources, and this match stands as the epitome of that. If that's the era that's ending, I welcome it with a hearty Daniel Bryan chant.

Sunday April 7th 2013, 12.20am: Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy for overall control of both shows. I liked this when Dolph was in the ring because Dolph is great and people being great is the sort of thing I like. His bumping makes a bunch of really weak offence (which is in copious supply in this match) look good. The finishing run, when its all been uncluttered and it's basically Miz and Dolph vs. Santino and Ryder makes me wish that's what the match had been because it's quite fun.

12.26am: CM Punk vs. Jericho title match is next.

12.37am: The last minute stipulation that Punk could lose the title on a disqualification really hampers the start of this match. I don't know why they through in all the personal stuff in this feud - it's enough for me that two guys are fighting over the right to call themselves the best wrestler in the world. Instead we have Punk playing a guy who's fighting to control his anger, in a very unconvincing fashion, having to stop himself from getting disqualified on a number of occasions.

12.52am: Turns out it wasn't just the stipulation that was the problem here. There was a couple of great spots (especially that nuts suplex bump to the outside) but the majority of this match just didn't click at all even after the early DQ-teasing stuff, and the crowd response was a pretty overwhelming silence which dragged the energy down even further. This is a shame because the last three minutes showed they really did have a good wrestling match in there. Jericho keeps escaping the Anaconda Vice with some stiff knees to the back of Punk's head until, on the third occasion, Punk shifts around and out of the way of Jericho's flailing legs and he has to give up. Smart story-telling through wrestling is what I want from a Punk vs. Jericho match. Jibes about alcoholic fathers and half-hearted acting - not so much.

1.01am: Last match is Cena vs. Rock. Watching the build-up over the previous month, I thought it was obvious how much better Cena was than Rock at this point despite how it's being billed. His promos were on-point and relevant and hard-hitting. Rock's were all over the place and sounded dated and infantile. This feud would have made more sense to me if they'd really pushed arrogant Hollywood heel Rock rather than trying to recreate his headlining face persona, which does nothing for me in 2013 after eight years away. Sure, people cheered, but I suspect it's more a combination of nostalgia and the in-built unwavering dislike for Cena from a certain segment of the audience.

1.10am: Just to emphasise my point, none of the crowd is cheering for Rock. They are either cheering for or against Cena but I can barely make out a 'Rock' chant.

1.40am: I thought this match was basically fine and there's some nice moments throughout (the roll-through into the Attitude Adjustment, twenty five minutes into the match was incredibly impressive) but much of it felt by-numbers. It ticked all the boxes and didn't have obvious flaws, but that's it. And be under no illusion - the positives that did exist were almost entirely due to Cena. Rock inserted his moves here and there, but his personality is entirely absent from the match. Cena was leading the way. It's his facial expressions that tell the audience what's going on while Rock looks intense and out-of-breath. You'd barely notice the times where Rock is slow to get up for the next spot as Cena filled the space talking at the crowd, the referee, himself. On offence, I like that he neither plays for cheers nor takes any shortcuts - he admirably walks the line between the heel the crowd want him to be and the good-guy company ace that he is booked as. You understand his character and that all he wants to do is win. For the purpose of this assessment, please ignore the attempted finisher theft back-firing at the end. The writers don't understand Cena like I do.

1.47am: Overall a deeply underwhelming and disappointing show. None of the big matches lived up to their hype either because they under-delivered on reasonable expectations or delivered something decent but had unrealistic expectations. If I'm going to mainline WWE PPVs over the next couple of weeks I'm going to need something more. You hear that, already-occurred events?  It's time to step up.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A (possible) WWE Night of Champions 2011 liveblog

Monday May 7th 2012, 22.45pm: I made a DECISION. I skipped over Money in the Bank and Summerslam for two reasons 1. They were basically two match cards, and I feel like I've written enough about Orton and Christian. 2. I'm writing a separate piece on CM Punk vs. John Cena (and the feud in general). It feels like I should give it a fuller treatment than the smug glibness I manage here.

22.47pm: I don't want to give anything away from that piece, of course - otherwise, you'd have no reason to check back Wednesday for my opinion a match which was as good as any done in the promotion and the style for maybe a decade. OR WAS IT?

22.48pm: (Yes, it was.)

22.50pm: So here's Night of Champions, a PPV designed to showcase title matches headlined by a non-title match. Ha, that would like if the Royal Rumble event wasn't headlined by the Royal Rumble match or the Survivor Series event wasn't headlined by a Survivor Series match or the King of the Ring wasn't headlined by the King of the Ring final or if Tuesday socks weren't worn on Tuesday. They say Tuesday on them! Why do you hate society?

23.07pm: There was a tag title match to start the show. Miz's fall down the card is quite spectacular, now doing the same comedy gimmick that R-Truth is doing, only doing it with seriousness. They do an ending where the heels get screwed three or four times and lose by DQ when they get frustrated, and I only just got how amusing it is for a professional wrestler to have a gimmick where they believe they keep losing because an unknown outsider had decided they are going to lose. They could really push it and start questioning all sort of wrestling cliches.

23.18pm: I've just noticed that the sound on this (entirely legal) DVD is about two seconds out. The sounds of Cody Rhodes vs. Ted Dibiase is next, followed by the pictures of Cody Rhodes vs. Ted Dibiase.

23.33pm: Match was standard TV match stuff. Dibiase pulls off Cody Rhodes' protective mask at the end and I add excitement to the match by shouting 'OH MY GOD IT'S CODY RHODES' as it comes off. Commentators claim Cody won by holding on to a handful of tights - replay confirms he had perhaps one-and-a-half finger tips near some tights. It's odd to me that Cody Rhodes is the one that got the push out of that tag team.

23.45pm: Fatal fourway for the United States title. Cole is doing this thing where he lists the famous holders of each belt, but it's a really predictable list. I'd like him to start pulling out obscure title holders with the same reverential tone: "Past winner of the US title have included Steve McMichael, General Rection and future Hall of Famer Orlando Jordan".

23.50pm: They're doing a escalating row between Vicky and Dolph, with Jack Swagger in the middle of it. Vicky puts Swagger's foot on the ropes to save a pinfall, then Dolph comes over and gets annoyed with Vicky for saving Swagger and asking if she cost him the match. The match is still ongoing. This makes absolutely no sense. Then Lawler says, "What do you think? Did Vicky just cost Dolph the match?" Seriously, the match is still ongoing.

Tuesday May 8th 2012, 12.02am: This was quite fun with some nice spots. Dolph looked really good (nice dropkick, great bumps off some of Morrisons more flippy offence). Said flippy offence is fine by me in this sort of sprint.

12.10am: Henry vs. Orton. Henry has been booked really well over the few months leading up to this match and I secretly have Sting-Vader type expectations.

12.11am: I'm also a child and I'm laughing to myself about figuring out that Apex Predator is exactly one letter away from A Sex Predator, which I've always thought would be a gimmick that suited Randy's creepy  creepy face.

12.13am: Cole fails to mention Vince Russo and David Arquette among the notable holders of the big gold belt.

12.26am: Totally great match. It opens with Henry being surprised to be caught out by Orton dodging his offence and tumbling to the floor. Henry's obviously in control for most of the match, and he has some great  offence - there's a great moment where he that knocks Orton off the top to the outside with a single right hand, and another where he does a backbreaker around the post. The measure of Henry as a big-man wrestler is how good his selling is of when his opponent is on offence - watch how he rocks and flails around as Ortonf fires off punches and uppercuts. Orton times all his big hope spots well, but gets caught with what almost looks like a frustrated fluke kick and takes out one of his legs. This leads to a great ending where Orton, like a champion, tried battling on defiantly and stands right up in Henry's face. He almost sneaks in an RKO, misses and gets slammed for the victory. Perfectly executed story with really great character depth on both sides.

12.30am: Belt looks good on Henry.

12.45am: There was a Divas title match and then we moved on to the WWE title match. I'm a sucker for John Cena's overly grandiose promos about integrity and honour and the fans and what it means to be alive. It's the sort of thing that should probably come across as trying too hard, but he somehow makes it work

1.08am: Not a spectacular match, but pretty good stuff. I thought Del Rio came across as pretty dominant here, as Cena does such a good job of timing his comebacks, only to be cutoff quite soon afterwards. Del Rio has quite a lot of really good-looking offence that I don't remember seeing before (top rope senton, bridging German suplex, jumping enziguri whilst Cena was sat on the turnbuckle). Cena wins feels decisive, like a true champion surviving everything and finally getting his biggest offence in - I particularly liked how much he was cranking up the STFU.

1.33am: It's getting late, so I've stopped typing much. I thought the main event was overbooked to the point of collapse. The majority of the match was absolutely fine - the brawling was at the upper end of WWE brawling, and their were some fun bumps (the announce desk elbow was a clear highlight, and really felt like the climax of the match before all the other stuff happened). The result of all the run-ins and finisher kickouts was to make the actual outcome meaningless, but maybe that was intentional. Based on this match, I'm not convinced the WWE can continually write for a character as nuanced and different as Punk was from June to August - the storyline of the feud and the match were both less well-defined (in that Punk motivations and ambitions weren't as clear as during the Cena-McMahon), and consequently it felt a bit more ordinary (two guys don't like each other; have a match).

1.37am: Fun show, with one absolutely standout match in Orton-Henry, and a bunch of other things I enjoyed. Demonstrably less good than the previous two PPVs.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: 5th May 1993

I have acquired (legally) some 1993 FMW shows from Tim up via Top seller. Anyway, this is the first one, and it's the annual big outdoors May show for FMW at the Kawasaki Stadium. It's also freely available to watch online.

There's a whole load of clipped matches to open the tape. The only thing I'm disappointed not to see a full version of is the M-Pro six man pitting The Great Sasuke, Kendo and Battle Ranger against Super Delfin, Espanto 4 and Espanto 5. What's shown three minutes of some beautiful lucha and Kendo doing his awesome comedy spots with the rudos and a magnificent Sasuke quebrada. I need to find more Kendo from this time period.

The joshi tag title match (Kudo and Combat vs. Toyota and Yamada) was heavy on workrate and low on smarts and personality. I lost count of how many times momentum changed in the last fifteen minutes of what I would laughably refer to as the finishing stretch (the match was 22 minutes), and thinking back now, I can't really remember any specific moments that happened for about 90% of this. It's all blurring into one and I didn't care it. I did like Combat's lariat, and the Doomsday Device was pretty nasty (but even that wasn't allowed to be the finish). Oh, and Toyota's shrieking really grates after about seven seconds, and I don't know what to do about that except for sit here and engage in casual chauvinism.

The worked shoot between judo guy Gregory Veritchev and boxer Leon Spinks is this weird thing where I thought pretty much everything they did looked kind of lousy, but I found it oddly compelling. Partly, I though that what they started off doing was so unentertaining it built up this perverse expectation that it was going somewhere. Spinks just keeps punching Veritchev for the first few rounds and knocking him down and then he'd just beat the ten count. After about eight minutes of this, Veritchev gets close enough to manage a takedown, and from there on in he gains more and more advantages, manages a couple of throws and submissions, and finally wears down Spinks enough to get a tapout. I really got into this as a story of a grappler surviving and overcoming a striker. If the striking had actually looked better and they hadn't stretched out the stuff up front, this might have been pretty cool.

The main is the pretty famous exploding ring barbed wire match between Terry Funk and Atsushi Onita. I'm not sure, when watching something like this, where the line between wrestling match and performance art really is. The actual elements of a contest are not exactly front and centre - the core of this is about survival and endurance, while the actual finish is almost throwaway, and the biggest moment of drama (Onita attempting and failing to save Funk from the imminent ring explosion) comes two minutes after the bell has rung.

None of this to say that it doesn't work. It completely works. Onita, wrestling as the underdog, takes a bunch of barbed wire bumps and bleeds a lot while Funk yells "get that son-of-a-bitch up" at, well, no-one really. When the tables finally get turned and Funk hits the wire, it's hard to imagine a better time for his wobbly legged, glassy-eyed selling. Sidenote: his spacial awareness is amazing - there's about five times where he stumbles and teeters on the end of the wire, just to mess with the crowd, and that could easily go wrong. There's also a brutal flurry of punches that are really ugly and unrestrained, in a way that is completely appropriate for the setting. Post-match heroics, Onita breaking down on the mic, and Funk's interview where he thanks Onita for saving him but won't accept he's been bested (complete with sad Bambi eyes from Onita as Funk walks off) is all icing.

Monday, 30 April 2012

A (possible) WWE Capitol Punishment 2011 liveblog

Sunday 29th April, 2012, 11.06am: Sitting in bed with nothing to do today EQUALS I write about some wrestling. I have a stack of WWE DVDs from when I last watched (Extreme Rules) to the present so that's what I'm doing for the next few weeks. I watched Over the Limit before this, and actually enjoyed it quite a lot. I thought the Punk/Mason vs. Show/Kane tag was a lot of fun and that Orton vs. Christian match was really a very good face vs. face WWE heavyweight match (with a particularly well-paced finishing stretch and some nice spots that played off the knowledge each man had of the others moveset). The I Quit main event was sort of worth watching for Cena doing his performance art limits of human endurance act, although that idea dragged on way too long and I didn't like recorded voice false finish.

11.13am:  So, next up is Capitol Punishment, from June 2011. PLAY.

11.20am: I don't know what they do with R-Truth after this title match, because his title shot feels like what the character is really all about, but I'm enjoying how insane-looking he is in this gimmick. He's got some impressive mic skills that haven't seen much play in recent years.

11.23am: First up, a match to determine: (a) whether Dolph Ziggler can drag anything worthwhile out of Kofi Kingston, and (b) the US championship. In the meantime, there's some borderline intolerable misogyny going on as the commentators discuss Vicky Guerrero's weight. "Want to be of value, ladies? Don't forget to be thin and attractive. And even if you do make yourself more thin and more attractive, old overweight men who decide these things will probably still determine that it's not enough." Someone put that on the side of a bus.

11.40am: Cole says Kingston takes inspiration from Shawn Michaels. Kingston does some weak chops and pointlessly jumps around a bit in lieu of doing anything with any impact. I mention these things together for you to draw your own conclusions.

11.54am: Look, I'm glad they gave the belt to Dolph, and he was really good in the match, especially the way he bumped around and made Kofi's stuff look actually dangerous (he absolutely jumps into the crossbody which was, like, well good), but that ending was really rubbish. Firstly, I'm not sure if Kofi fell over while Dolph was going for the Zig-Zag (a much tidier ending), but if so, Dolph salvage it by making it a sleeper hold. Then, the ref is clearly able to see the rope break, whereas he should have been facing away. Thirdly, what happened to the old 'arm drops three time' finish for a KO victory? Lastly (and this is a bit pedantic, I grant you), Booker's going on about it being a DQ because of the use of ropes, which doesn't make any sense. I generally like how unpolished he is on commentary, it feels more real when events are surprising, but sometimes he needs to keep on-script more to get over the actual story points.

12.03pm: Alex Riley vs. The Miz next. Got to say, it's a smart move them doing this turn with his first big match in his billed hometown. I mean, I don't think he's getting that ovation on his own merits (yet) (maybe ever), but it should play well.

12.21pm: That was what it was. Riley has some terrible punches and they featured heavily, so that's not good. Miz played his role fine (I liked him taunting Riley then acting shocked when he actually got slapped), and the ending was a bit of a surprise. I hope they are not banking on Riley being a potential star, because I didn't see much here.

12.32pm: I'm going to make a potato rosti and bacon and eggs, because HELLO, it's a Sunday and I'm not dead yet.

1.34pm: Back now. This Obama skit is ridiculous. Remember: satire isn't funny if it takes a political position. Obviously, that doesn't include left-wing positions.

1.40pm: Big Show vs. Alberto Del Rios is next. Big Show interrupts Del Rios' entrance from behind, and I'll be honest: I would not look quite some comfortable waiting for the Big Show to run into me from behind as he did.

1.51pm: I really liked that as a half-angle half-match. The Mark Henry run-in and slam through the table was impressive, and the leg injury finish lets both men leave looking good. Show's sell job of the leg was really great.

1.55pm: Oh, come on. I've already sat through one Big Zeke vs. Wade Barrett match this week. Why is this happening again? Barrett runs through the usual heat-generating heel promo tactics: mentioning the national debt, rubbishing the education system, recommending the establishment of a monarchy. Standard.

2.04pm: Well, they kept it short at least. Nothing actually to be offended by, just nothing very interesting. NEXT.

2.06pm: This anti-bullying campaign is basically commendable but pretty incredible given the Vicky Guerrero stuff at the beginning. "Don't bully people. Except if they're full figured and slightly less attractive. They don't count. They're barely people."

2.09pm: CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio is more like it. I can not believe they ever booked Punk as a face for the first couple of years in the WWE. Is there a more naturally gifted heel out there at the moment (where the moment was, admittedly, 10 months ago)?

2.24pm: Really nice match with lots of cool spots. Obviously, Rey and Punk work really well together, as seen in the past. I liked the avoidance of each others stuff - the sequence where Punk avoided Rey's kick twice before getting kicked was really cool. Punk avoiding three 619s, with the third one transitioned into the GTS, completed that theme in a convincing ending. And if Punk wasn't actually nursing both an arm and leg injury, his selling had me convinced otherwise.

2.29pm: Christian vs. Randy Orton is next. I've liked both their prior matches, but this is the first with Christian working heel. For the record, Orton as face and Christian as a heel is really not playing to anyone's strengths. On the other hand, they've made it work in storyline terms. So much so that Booker T has geesebumps, which I believe is where your goosebumps have goosebumps.

2.50pm: I enjoyed this as well. The match was built around Orton's concussion, so that gave it a nice storyline. Orton does some stupid things that would obviously aggrevate a head injury, and I have this internal debate about whether that's acceptable. On the one hand, he sells it, so it is consistent. On the other hand, he KEEPS HEADBUTTING Christian and basic common sense screams at him to find another move. Has he even done headbutts before? King is explaining that he's probably not thinking straight, but even the most brain-addled can understand, on a primitive level: 'Head hurts, stop hitting things with head'. Christian doesn't actually stand out for me much here, although I do like that last month Christian does Edge's spear to a big cheer, and this month it comes off as a complete douchebag move. I should probably give them more credit for a storyline that has turned the fans so effectively.

2.58pm: Evan Bourne and Jack Swagger have been sent out to fill some time between title matches. Swagger tries to get heel heat by the standard trick of raising his arms, but no-one responds. They are ambivalent to his arms. He is saying to them 'Look at my arms, evil and raised' and the crowd collectively shurg and say 'S'just arms, man'. One guy at the back boos a little. It was a bit like my graduation, except almost everyone hated my arms.

3.10pm: I'll give the Obama impersonator credit for the quality of the impression. He absolutely nails the mannerisms. But this is still beyond stupid. I don't care that someone who is playing the part of someone else can do something that you wouldn't expect the person he is playing to be able to do, because IT'S A DIFFERENT PERSON.

3.30pm: And that was the Cena vs. R-Truth main event right there. Match was passable and inoffensive and I'm struggling to think of any real highlights. The commentators spend most of the match picking minor faults with the things other commentators say (although some of them were spot on, like Booker saying Cena always finds a way to pull victories out, and Cole saying that a day will come when he doesn't, and Booker saying that of course such a day always comes, and Cole then questioning what his point actually was). Booker also asks for the name of moves  It occurs that Truth hasn't worked out how to turn crazy heel interview persona into crazy heel in-ring persona, and he mostly does his moves and mouths off a little bit. Finish is a nice little pay-off, and it doesn't feel like they'll be running a longer feud here.

3.36pm: So, you know, this was an actually good show. The main event wasn't really anything special, but the other title match and the Rey-Punk match was definitely worth the time, and the other stuff had some nice moments and didn't last too long if it didn't need to. Plus the next month is all about Punk, so I'm in a pretty positive-about-the-WWE place right now

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

How Great is Sasuke (Part 8 of Oh, Hai, Long Neglected Sasuke Project)

Great Sasuke and Dick Togo vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Genba Hirayanagi, NOAH, 30th October 2010

This came of like the Sasuke and Togo Show. For twelve minutes of wrestling, I absolutely don't mind watching two of my favourite guys show off their stuff, but I really got no sense of a sustained comeback from the NOAH guys, which was odd. Sasuke and Togo come off like two twenty years veterans absolutely in control, which is exactly appropriate. Togo leads the way through a series of lightening fast takedowns early on, at a speed that suggests his imminent retirement is not due to physical breakdown. Togo always works tight, but I got the impression that Sasuke was putting a little bit extra into his kicks and stomach jabs.. There's also slight suggestion of rudo Togo, a sneering smile on occassion, but it isn't overt. The combination of this, a quick efficient pace and some nice offence drives the heat section along nicely before the finishing stretch which had enough stuff, but little nearfall overkill. Even when on defence, I find myself watching Sasuke and Togo - Sasuke's sell of the elbow to the groin was the sort of slightly absurd oversell I love him for. Somersault plancha out of nowhere, senton, top rope dropkick to the ground rounded off a decent little match in highspotty fashion.

KENTA and Atsushi Aoki vs. The Great Sasuke and Kenbai, NOAH, 10th October 2010

This match has quite a gradual build. It opens with some sensible, non-flashy matwork and submissions and everyone looks pretty even, even tiny Kenbai. KENTA and Aoki really didn't seem interested in doing anything noteworthy during the whole section beating down Kenbai (who, I think, is a masked Yuki Sato). Then it gets going more when Sasuke tags back in, and he introduces a chair which backfires twice (including a somersault senton bump right on it). This introduces a second heat section and finally Aoki and KENTA step up the pace a bit. Kenbai hits a bunch of nice spots and Sasuke does his apron somersault bump which misses (naturally) and there's a couple of really close falls that I sort of bought at the time, before KENTA levels Kenbai with a lariat and they finish him off about four times over before the pinfall.

The whole match was fine, and I enjoyed it, but KENTA and Aoki often don't give me much to write about other than variations of the theme: 'Ooo, KENTA just did a stiff kick' or 'Ooo, KENTA just did a stiff forearm' or 'Ooo, similar things about Aoki'. They seem so obsessed with being intense and stoic that they never really perform, they just do hard hitting stuff at pace, and sometimes I want more. Sasuke, on the other hand, is all about the performance. Watch him during the strike exchange with KENTA - you get the sense of the impact and increasing damage from each of KENTA's forearms, while KENTA robotically takes a shot and carries on regardless. And he shows here that it is not a choice between seriousness and performance. His early matwork looks as fluid as Aoki (who has a technical gimmick), and I liked the look and gestures he made when caught between Aoki and KENTA early on, trying to make sure he got out without taking a sneeky double team. Above everything, he's pretty unpredictable which you can't say of someone like KENTA. And only he has an ongoing career retrospective on a well-respected wrestling review blog, so the rewards are fairly clear.

Great Sasuke and Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. El Samurai and TAKA, PWFG, 22nd January 95

The most interesting part of the match's layout is how Fujiwara moves from a supporting role to the main focus of the match, which is a nice example of a match evolving from its initial premise. The early part of the match is an extension of the TAKA-Sasuke feud, and you really get the sense those guys were unleashing on each other. There's a great spot in the first half where when both Sasuke and Fujiwara runs off the ropes (which looks like Sasuke taking a cue from Fujiwara), but Fujiwara fakes out a dive while Sasuke goes flying. He then stomps around with mock disappointment in being outpaced by Sasuke.

Fujiwara spends most of the first half breaking up every pinfall or submission attempt on Sasuke. This pleased me - I never quite understand the logic of a team partner not trying to break-up every pin attempt if they could. After Sasuke finally gets out, Fujiwara takes over. As it gets closer to the end, he mostly squares off with a very game TAKA who surprises him a few times and who seems difficult to finish off. The finish finally comes when Sasuke hits perhaps three big aerial moves to keep Samurai out of the way before Fujiwara finally gets the armbar, catching TAKA mid-air in a cool-looking spot.

The match is packed for of really fun moments. I'm not sure how I felt about how it flowed together, but it's definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Michinoku Pro: 15th December 1994

This Champs Forum episode opens with the earliest Ikeda-Ishikawa match I've seen. It's not of epic length or anything, but it's a really great eight minute match. It's violent at times, with some particularly nasty knee strikes and headkicks, and Ishikawa punching Ikeda in the kidneys. There's also some really neat mat transitions going on. Most importantly, it excels as a well-told, self-contained story. I watched it a few times to pull out all the things going on, because it goes at a relentless pace. It starts with Ishikawa trying for the armbar early, but Ikeda manages to avoid it. Ikeda starts off on the mat too, then turns to the headkicks after one gets a near standing ten-count. Ishikawa avoids more kicks and turns them into leg bars, but Ikeda manages to land another, then continue with the head attacks and shifts to the german suplex. A second one is blocked by Ishikawa going deadweight and rolling through, but his armbar attempt is again blocked. Ishikawa holds on, takes Ikeda down again, and this time he can't block the submission hold.

The main event is Great Sasuke vs. TAKA. Coincidentally, it's also the earliest version I've seen of a now familiar match-up. I liked this a good deal. There's a clear distinction between the 1994 NJ junior style and what was coming out of big singles matches in M-Pro at this time, which were faster and had very little in the way of long early matwork sections.Throw in the FMW garbage matches and you really can make a case for the Sasuke's impressive versatility even this early in his career. I liked the pacing of the big spots, and the sense of escalation in them - to take one example, TAKA one-ups Sasuke's quebrada with a top rope version. As you might guess, it's an ace vs. young upstart type of a match, but TAKA looks really strong throughout, like he might pull off the win. I actually bought into one of the near falls off a cross-arm powerbomb. Aside for all the impressive spots, it's Sasuke's reaction to his near-defeat that is crucial to the match, the way he's stunned and slapping his own face the shake himself out of it. His victory comes across as opportunistic and fortunate, like it was a solitary lapse in TAKA's concentration being the deciding factor. There's some slightly intermittent clutching of an injured arm that keeps trying to distract me from enjoying the whole match, but that's the only obvious flaw.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Michinoku Pro: 30th October 1994

This is a commercial release, rather than an eight-generation taping from an old VHS, so I'll be enjoying the sight of wrestlers with definitive edges. Unfortunately, a number of this unfuzzy wrestlers have very forgettable matches, prompting me to wonder why the video quality people did not co-ordinate better with the wrestling quality team. Why am I straining to watch awesome Super Boy matches, but I can see Wellington Wilkins Jr take some lousy bumps in near-HD quality (This may be an exaggeration)?

Anyway, that deals with the two first singles matches (Masato Yakushiji vs. Wellington Wilkins Jr, and HANZO Nakajima vs. Naohiro Hoshikawa, for those who need to know). Then there's a La Pantera vs. Super Delfin match that I was excited for, but never really gets going after a promising opening of lucha takedowns and submission. This had a whole run of real awkward-looking Pantera spots which look like botches that just kills any latent momentum that they had. Delfin is really into short comeback in his matches at this time. This was basically Tornado DDT, Delfin Clutch and we're done.

The trios (TAKA, Jinsei Shinzaki and Gran Naniwa vs. SATO, Shiryu and Terry Boy) is maybe the first Kaientai trios, and it is really fun. The show is outdoors and the opening brawl is absolutely not afraid to give the video producer a headache (the whole thing is nicely put together so that get a sense of the three separate exchanges all happening together). Then they reset and hit the ring, which gives the Kaientai guys a chance to show off all there new triple team stuff. There's a super-intense Terry Boy-TAKA staredown before they match up, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how TAKA ends up changing allegiance. The other team does mount a comeback, but the focus is still on the rudos - their dives were spectacular (SATO and Shiryu do stereo somersault topes, causing me to rewind twice so I could watch each one individually) and their team mentality finally isolates Naniwa for an awesome SATO senton. I'm aware that when the KDX feud really gets going, I'm going to be spoilt with great trios and eight-man tags, but I did enjoy a whole bunch of this.

I also liked the main event between Sasuke and Onita, in a No Rope Exploding Barbed Wire Double Hell Exploding Ring Death Match. First of all, the pre-match build was great. Sasuke is flown by helicopter to the venue, with a camera pointing straight at his face, jaw-set, looking ominous. When they come back, it's dark, and the atmosphere makes it seem like An Event is about to happen. The match itself stuck with a simple deathmatch psychology - use the nasty things before you opponent uses them on you. The build to the first big spot had loads of teases, and when it comes, it is unexpected, with Onita suddenly charging Sasuke into the wire from what looked like a standing stalemate. Onita takes a couple of bumps onto the barbed wire and explosion boards, before Sasuke pulls out the space flying tiger drop over the electrified wire, in what critics (me) are calling a completely ridiculous but awesome decision. Onita regains the advantage, firstly with a throw that used Sasuke's momentum out of the ring onto the boards, and then basically powerbombs Sasuke until he gets a three count just before the time-limit. I don't quite understand the exploding ring gimmick - is the point to finish the match before it detonates, or to keep out of the way when it detonates (hopefully with your opponent in the blast zone)? - but there's little doubt its a visually impressive finale. It leads to some deeply melodramatic post-match activities where Sasuke plays actually dead and Onita trys to revive him. Quite the enjoyable spectacle from start to finish.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Michinoku Pro: 29th September 1994

Right, here we go again.

This show was spread over two Champ Forums, and is a pretty stacked card, with two NJPW juniors dropping in and four singles matches on it. This is a bit unusual, and also presents a little bit of a problem for reviewing. I have liked Michinoku Pro singles matches, but like lots of juniors wrestling they tend to follow a certain predictable path, apart from on rare occasions. As a result, they don't always present a huge amount to write about. That said, watching the show was sort of instructive about when singles matches work well, and when they are missing something.

Before that, the show opens with Terry Boy and SATO vs. Hanzo Nakajima and Naohiro Hoshikawa. This was a fun TV-show tag match, mostly serving as an opportunity for the newly-formed Kai En Tai team to show off theit cool double teams. From the stuff I watched before, it was obvious how much personality Terry Boy had, and how much he could connect with the crowd. Here, it's channelled into rudoism, and it works just as well as when he was the plucky underdog crowd-favourite brawling with Shinzaki. SATO is such a bruiser here - he keeps more grounded than in his pre-KDX days, but all of his stuff looks great. They finish with an assisted powerbomb that looks absolutely brutal. The other team has their brief comeback and does some dives and it all serves its purpose very nicely.

The TAKA vs. Gran Naniwa match was really interesting. Both guys were fired up at the beginning - the sort of pre-match activities that usually go before a grudge match - and the first few exchanges in and around the ring were really heated. The match itself then had a lot of submission matwork, often with one guy copying the other or trying to top the previous move. All good so far. Where I think the match starting lacking was in the finish stretch, which, despite the impact going up, was just less intense than when they were just slapping each other. The high-risk stuff was good, but felt a little bit like it was included because it MUST BE INCLUDED. TAKA even misses his first no hand plancha, but then does it successfully about 60 seconds later in a spot that is not as impressive to watch second time around.

Super Delfin vs. El Samurai was fine, but gave little to write about. Although not ground-breaking or anything, I liked the early lucha exchanges. Delfin (and in particular his head and neck) was on the receiving end of most of the offence until the right at the end, where he stage a comeback - a couple of big DDTs and the Delfin Clutch. I have no problem with this - I think my opinion on overly long finishing stretches is pretty clear, and I also have no problem with the finish (it's wrestling, stop worrying about things looking absurd). The match just didn't have much else to say about it. One thing that is obvious: Delfin as crowd-favourite is nowhere near as fun as Delfin as a rudo. Shiryu vs. Jinsei Shinzaki is a mismatch, but it was cleverly put together. Shiryu has some really great looking offence that was credible against his much larger opponent. The in-ring tope landed with head unprotected squarely into Shinzaki's chest.

I really liked the Great Sasuke vs. Shinjiro Otani main event. In terms of 1994 junior matches (and this sticks very much to the New Japan juniors style) I'd place it below the second Liger vs. Sasuke match, but above the Super J Cup matches (from memory, I'm due to rewatch them). In 1994, Otani is basically the most expressive human being on the planet. There's a moment after the bell when Otani jumps Sasuke from behind and takes control for a minute or so where Sasuke has the opportunity to land a spinning kick. His face, as he falls outside of the ring and stands back up, is one of bafflement and shock. They spend most of the first two thirds of the match on the mat, with Otani targetting Sasuke's arm. Sasuke is a similarly expressive wrestler, although he does so in body-language, so these mat exchanges come across as really competitive struggles, with Sasuke grappling to avoid armbars and Otani finding different ways to return back to it. Then they hit the highspots and the finishing stretch, which was roughly the right length and finishes with the usual collection of german suplexes and powerbombs that we've all seen before (in a good way, though - the textbook is a the textbook for a reason).

Epilogue: Having a bit of a break causes me to re-evaluate some of my more strident assumptions about good and bad examples of wrestling. What is different between this sort of juniors match and a stereotypical Dragon Gate match, which similarly has limbwork that doesn't factor into the finish? Firstly, I conclude, the matwork is better. It stands alone as part of the story of the contest, rather than the way you fill up the first fifteen minutes of your forty minutes super epic. The second difference is the balance - with these high-end 90s junior matches, the length of the finish stretch indicates that the matwork was really just time-wasting, whereas a twenty minute match with twelve minutes grounded, you can reasonably consider it to be where both guys try and wear down their opponent before turning to their match winning moves. Thirdly, there is definitely a difference in the portrayal of long-term effects. Current juniors go from one extreme to another - from limping horribly to jumping around in five seconds. Here there are times where Sasuke favours the arm, and times where he uses the same arm, but there aren't the wild inconsistencies. There isn't the cliched "look at me battle through the pain" moments that people mistake for intensity. By the end, both guys seem exhausted, and their is a sense of cumulative damage throughout the match. That is what I think selling is really all about.

BLOG UPDATE: Where we are now

So, a strange thing happened last night. I watched a wrestling DVD for the first time in about ten months. The recent hiatus has been a combination of work and study taking up more and more time, combined with a degree of wrestling burnout at the beginning of 2011. I felt sure I would come back to it, soon, one day, maybe tomorrow, but for a long time, I was lazy. Too lazy to sit on a bed and watch fake sport on a laptop (Note to biographers: omit this)

I suspect missing Wrestlemania was probably the deciding factor (more on that in a moment). So I went home last night, and sorted out which DVDs I hadn't yet watched into a pile. Afterwards, I watched a DVD, and I enjoyed it a great deal, and now I'm writing some words about it. It's a bit like the old days, in 2011, when I watched a DVD and then wrote words about it. Part of me was tempted to just start writing a review without even acknowledging the break. I'd be all "What absence? I've actually been here the whole time, watching and reviewing inside my brain." But I RESPECT YOU ALL TOO MUCH to do that. I hope you feel that.

So what's the plan? Good question, self. Firstly, there is the pile to deal with. This consists mostly of 1994 M-Pro, 1993 FMW and some 2010 Japanese indie stuff like the sort that I still like (M-Pro, K-Dojo, possibly some FREEDOMS). Then, I'm expecting an order of WWE DVDs from 2011-12, which I will be starting on over the weekend. I'm going to do a Possible Live Blog for each PPV, and maybe some stuff on the TV shows. Then I need to catch up with the big things of 2011. 2011 is basically a lost year at this point. I watched maybe a bit of Lawler indie stuff, and a couple of IWRG handhelds, and WWE and (apparently) two days worth of Champions Carnival and that's it. Maybe I'll finish off the Carnival, if I still have the files but I'm on the hunt for a best of 2011 comp. Does goodhelmet still do these?

I did decide, however, not to try to be as all-watching as before. In 2009 and 2010 I watched loads of stuff from everywhere to contribute to the WKO 100 and the DVDVR ballots. It apparently leads to the burnout. From now on, it's going to be stuff I enjoy and stuff I think I will enjoy and occasionally things I know I'm going to hate but will enjoy writing about. And then other things that I think I should be watching. Oh, it's happening again.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

All Japan: Champions Carnival 2011 - Day 2

So, KENSO apparently has a concussion, and will miss the rest of the tournament. I don't know when that happened, but it possibly explains his weird match with Suzuki. Unless he got the concussion after Suzuki got annoyed with him.

Show opens with Hama vs KONO, and I am deeply surprised how much I like this - I have no real priors on either go, even after the first night, expected nothing, and got something good. Hama is enormous, and if you are that big and you steal Vader strikes and Abdullah elbow drops for a moveset, your offence is bound to look great. Hama's bodyshots and Vader forearm shots in the corner looked particularly nice. KONO struggles at first, so opts for a cheapshot with a chair. This mostly seems to anger Hama, who spends the next eight minutes clubbing the life out of KONO, who manages to hang on. You almost get the sense that Hama punches himself out, and when he does, KONO works out that his kneestrikes are managing to have an effect, and he sticks with it until Hama stays down. The pace is a bit slow at times - there's a few moments where Hama stands around a bit, and you want him to push on faster, but that's my only problem with this. Good stuff.

Funaki vs. Omori had a bunch of stuff I liked. I'm not sure it hung together as a match particularly - it felt like matwork, some spots on the outside, some finishers, without a sense of build, but there was definitely individual parts worth watching. As with the Suwama match, I liked Funaki's arm work, particularly the way he fought into position for the attempted armbreaker. I was surprised, and hence enjoyed, the couple of highspots thrown in - the pescado almost went to far, meaning Omoro came down right on his head, which looked nasty. Funaki also unleashed a bunch of really stiff kicks - these were perhaps most effective when used to escape the Axe Driver. I still don't like Omori's weak lariat, but Funaki ducking it for a KO head kick was a great finish out-of-nowhere. Match was objectionable at all really, just felt lacking as a whole.

Doering vs. Akiyama was decent, but no more than that. It's a short match, felt like it could have open a episode of Superstars, with a simple layout, no real back and forth, and both guys working in quite a bit of their moveset. Doering takes an early advantage with more work on Akiyama's neck, dropping him over the ropes and the rail. It doesn't lead to an epic Akiyama selljob, given the time constraints. Both Akiyama and Doering transition to being on the attack with a burst of unexpected offence. I think both cases managed to come across as opportunism - their opponent created a bit of space, which was promptly seized upon - but it's not far away from the sort of Japanese wrestling cliches I certainly don't expect from Akiyama at least. One thing I did quite like is the emerging story of Doering's vunerability to flash roll-up pins: twice in two nights.

I had mixed thoughts about Kea vs Suzuki. Early on, it felt like they were playing off the fact that they knew each other well by trying find ways to surprise the other. There was a nice spot when Kea catches Suzuki with a death valley driver when he looked like he was about to run onto the ropes. Suzuki capitalises on a missed yakuza kick and spends most of the match ripping up Kea's leg. Therein lies the problem with the match - Kea's selling of the leg was absolutely dire. He'd go from hobbling around to running ropes within a couple of seconds. Whatever they were building with Suzuki's submission work (some of which was pretty fun, especially the spot where he played dead, then kicked Kea's leg out from under him) was pretty much ruined by that.

Suwama vs. Nagata is the sort of match that I see people write about, where they basically add their own storyline to give it some importance. Nagata is the deadly outsider. Suwama is the young behemoth trying to hang with him, battling for the honour of his home promotion. Sure, you can make anything look like Tenryu vs. New Japan in 1993 if you squint at it enough. It's nonsense really, because none of that is reflected in the wrestling. What you do have is two guys, working really hard, but without any real sense of story. There's some arm stuff that sort of fluctuates in importance and lots of big moves and near falls and clearly the crowd are into it. It's too back-and-forth, and not nearly dramatic enough at the end. It's just a heavyweight match in Japan, circa 2011, and nothing more.