Thursday, 28 January 2010

NECW: Episode 2

The opening match is the first look at the tag champions, the Crown Jewels, against Davey Loomis and Alex Payne. This was a frustratingly bad match, and the blame is entirely the challengers. The effeminate or gay or prima donna gimmick is a staple of US wrestling, and it works. I'm not particularly comfortable with the obvious homophobia that means its great for drawing heel heat, but it doesn't stop the fact that it works. It allows the guy or guys playing the gimmick to wind up the crowd, stall, and distract or humiliate opponents. The way to build a good match out of it then relies on the babyfaces. You want, as in this match, the stalling, preening guys to get some form of come-uppance. You want your noble babyface to finally boils over in frustration and punch the guy in the face. Here, one of the champions spits on Loomis, and he does nothing. Not the slightest indication that he knows wrestling is performance. The comeback, when it comes, is lacklustre to the point of disbelief. No angry, fiery fightback, but a springboard crossbody. Like when you were at school, and some kid pushed you too far, and you saw red, leaped onto the table, and bounced back at him. There was a bunch of other annoying stuff like that, added to the fact that Alex Payne is pretty out-of-shape (and not fun in the way that old fat wrestlers can be). The only good point about this match was the referee freaking out after being kissed by the challenger, and in his embarrased rage, he disqualifies him. When the referee outperforms you, you need to re-evaluate.

Most of the show was given over to the big cage match between champion Max Bauer and rival Alex Arion. This started really promising - simple cage-based violence, with Arion bleeding early and Bauer delivering some impressive right-hands. There's a cool bit where Arion's manager chains the door to stop Bauer getting out, only for Bauer to remark that he doesn't want to escape, causing the manager to panic. However, they ran out of ideas, trying to create thirty minute epic when they probably only had enough stuff for half that time. Arion hits five frog splashes, for a two count; Bauer hits two of his Bauerbombs for the same, then two diving headbutts, then a very sloppy third Bauerbomb off the top rope for the victory. Very disappointing.

One other thing I'll note about the show is they need another commentator. This one guy hasn't got the verbal skills of, say, a Kent Walton, so he mostly just describes exactly what is happening, even when tedious ("he has him he's down") something that I already knew, given that I watch most matches rather than listen to them on my iPod.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

NECW: Episode One

Before delving deep into US independent promotions, I downloaded the first few episodes of New England Championship Wrestlings new TV show. I've watched a few of their internet shows in the past, and while nothing has seemed groundbreaking, there's a charm to the promotion. Your heels (they have heels) berate a crowd happy to jeer heels (they have a crowd that jeers heels), your babyfaces (they have babyfaces) are likeable, and no-one, anywhere, remarks that the action in the ring is, and I quote "awesome". Apart from that, I start with no prejudices.

The first few episodes are airing introductory matches and segments, which is sensible. This first episode starts with a TV title match between Kris Pyro and Chris Camaro. This was pretty by-numbers, Pyro isn't anywhere near the exciting, explosive high flyer you would think, and Camaro do a fairly perfunctory cocky heel gimmick. They do plenty of stuff but none of it really means anything, and some of it just looks like they are working through pre-arranged sequences at two-third speed. I don't expect pre-arranged sequences in my professional wrestling.

The main event is a tag match between Real Natural (Brandon Locke and Scott Osbourne) and two skinny Canadians, Twiggy and Stupefied. Twiggy was kind of a non-entity (to the point he seemingly baulked on a dive, and his partner did it instead), but Stupefied had enough personality to carry the team. He's a little annoying at the beginning, but he mostly looked good, a few suspect hot tag lariats aside. The heels are a minor revelation here, especially Scott Osbourne. They were the sort of team who devote most of their energies to making the other team look much better. They are athletic bumpers and sold for punches and dropkicks that probably didn't earn it. Scott Osborne has a couple of great bumps, a face first one first off a drop toe hold and a later on a DDT onto his. Throw ina couple of classic heel tag spots and the southern tag formula, and this came across as a solid effort all round.

The next episode has a Max Bauer title match that I'm looking forward to.

Indie-cision 2010: Statement of Mission

I'm someone who likes following a promotion, to the extent that I will sacrifice time watching heavily pimped matches to watch the latest DVD from a group I know well. It's why Big Japan and Kaientai Dojo and Michinoku Pro wrestlers will appear on my ballot for top 100 workers of the year, and why I may overrate matches from those promotions, or at least underplay the mediocrity of some undercard tag match with a couple of guys I have come to like. That's not to say I'm deluded - such things genuinely bring me a great deal of joy. But I acknowledge familiarity and context play a role in that perspective.

I would, however, like a US or English-speaking promotion to watch on a regular basis (other than WWE), not least because in a foreign language, you miss all the talk that goes with an ongoing angle or feud. The problem is, however, that the style (call it the workrate style or, more accurately/less catchily, the no-selling, no personality, thousand finishers style) that has come to dominate US independent wrestling is, well, awful. I am frequently baffled that when it comes to non-deathmatch US wrestling, the basterdised junior heavyweight style of Ring of Honor, CZW and other east coast indies superceded the sheer majesty of what I think of as Southern wrestling. Sure, there is XCW-Midwest, but that sometimes seems like the only champion, and as a UK resident, getting DVDs is difficult and relying on uploads fills me with a huge guilt. What's worse is that if I look closer to home, all your British wrestling promotions have lost all their World of Sport era heritage, in favour of shipping in flippy Americans.

Amongst all that, however, I am convinced there is some good, maybe even something better. So, I'm making it an ambition for this year to check out as many independent promotions as possible and uncover the proverbial hidden gems. If I can find one or two to really get behind, I'll feel vindicated, and if I can turn others on to something new and exciting, I'll feel like a leader of men.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Kaientai Dojo: 12th April 2009

There was a four month gap between taped K-Dojo shows, I have the first three of 2009, and there's four more to come.

There's a couple of clipped openers to start, before the three-way UWA Middleweight Title match. This was about eight minutes of spots, some of which were kind of fun using all three guys, and some of the timing was pretty impressive. I don't know how to do a well-worked three way, they often become sprints. This was a sprint, it was fine. Quiet Storm shouts his name out a lot, putting me in mind of Matt Damon in Team American, but I think he could be a fun, short bruiser in the Dick Togo mold. He throws nice punches and lariats at least.

The WEW Hardcore tag title match was a bit sloppy. They brawl out into the crowd at one point, and Kojiro leaps off a ladder which is on an elevated bit, with the ladder slipping as he jumped and him basically hitting nothing but floor - this was stupid, and not in a good way. First time I've seen Inematsu post-heel turn, but this wasn't really a match that allowed him to standout.

The Yuji Hino-KAZMA match was pretty slow paced. I'm not someone who gets particularly excited by your-turn-my-turn strike battles, which this did have, partly, I would assume, to play out the grudge match aspect of the match. This wasn't the semi-comedic heel Hino that you often get with him against smaller guys, but he's still plenty expressive throughout. KAZMA, by comparison, is incredibly bland, both facially and through his moveset. I thought they did a decent job with the fatigue, nearer the end, and overall this was perfectly decent power-based match.

The bit that I liked about the tag title match was right at the beginning, with Tonai doing some arm-based mat stuff that I wasn't expecting. It became a footnote, but Hiro Tonai is not a wrestler I've ever been interested in before, and now I am. While Takizawa is your standard crowd-rallying indie junior with shiny trousers, I feel like Tonai might actually be pretty useful in a more understated way, and want to see him in some singles. Champions do less schtick (in Oishi's case, less stick) and more jumpy-kicky stuff, and this was largely forgettable.

I'd watched the main event before, on download when it first aired, and didn't think much of it, so I was surprised to give it a rewatch and discover I actually did. I mean, the body part stuff, particularly TAKA's leg selling goes nowhere (or more specifically, it goes elsewhere), but aside from that annoyance, they actually put together a very focused match, built around each man looking for his biggest moves, and returning to them where possible. I thought there were some nice touches here. I liked the bit where Mashimo reaches the ropes after a crossface, only to end up in a similar position a few moments later - however, when Mashimo reaches for the ropes as before, TAKA grabs the arm and locks it up, forcing his opponent to shuffle much close to the ropes and grab them with his teeth. We got 22 minutes out of the 38, and I have no earthly idea how it was clipped that much without me noticing. The finish reflected the length of the match - the Michinoku Driver II almost a collapse and a slam rather than a deadly head-drop. Certainly more good than bad in this, and a pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Big Japan: 12th July 2009

I watched the tag league final from the May show, but decided as it was a one match show not to post a review. The final itself was a less good version of the group match, and I have to question the necessity of booking a thirty minute draw and a six minute overtime - as a result, it was necessarily overdone. The nearfalls in the last few minutes were just too much. Also, the problem with Isami and Takeda taking that much punishment, then turning the match around in a few minutes is it really lack credibility. That said, for all the structural defects, its hard to fault the effort, and the level of carnage, and at least, for the most part, the nearfalls were partner assisted, which is better than continual kickouts.

To this show - I appear not to have the June card. The Isami vs. Sasaki ladder death match was simple and effective. I like Sasaki against the younger guys - he maintains a kind of barely restrained contempt for them. Crazy spot of the match was the fishermans neckbreaker rights on the ladder, but ladder assisted violence was plentiful here, and I liked a couple of other features - the leg work, while it lasted, was kind of novel, and I liked the finish (or more specifically, I liked how, in the aftermath of Sasaki kicking a ladder into Isami's head, he rolled around liked he'd just kicked a ladder).

I also found myself enjoying the Dradition six man with Fujinami, Sekimoto and Okabayashi on one side, and Saito, Sasaki and Shinya Ishikawa on the other side. It felt like the prescence of older guys forced the younger guys to drop endless strike exchanges and no-selling, and actually wrestle - there's plenty of decent mat work to start, they use a lot more submissions, and the power moves are minimised, making those that are used seem that much more impactful. The match is built around the two older guys and the two higher ranked heavyweights alternating control of the match, at the expense of the two rookies. Ishikawa is good for bumping and selling - a little too textbook, perhaps, the sort of bumping that can remind you its a bump rather than make the other guys offence look nasty, but you can tell he's trying. The old guys were fun, and I wish they'd always stick around.

The title match is difficult. If you are going to do over-the-top spotfest, that's fine - I can enjoy that, and am not going to get all serious about a match that clearly isnt. It's why I like Abby Jr matches. There were elements of that here - spots where they challenge each other to climb the scaffold just to hit each other with tubes and do a highspot don't make you think of anything other than a (quite violent) exhibition. But then the middle of this felt much more like an actual competetive war, for all the violence, I felt like they were selling the buildup of the damage. In fact, I was with it until the completely unnecessary ending sequence. A Yankee Driver off a scaffold should finish a match. If you want to do more stuff, do it beforehand. My basic defence of deathmatches to non-fans is that when done well, they conform to a basic story common to most wrestling - that opponents are fighting towards what they consider a match-winner, be it an established finisher, a submission hold on a weakened limb, or anything else which the story of the match dictates. In this environment, the scaffold if the match winner (just as the lighttubes equate to your basic strikes in a non-deathmatch environment). I would have just accepted a kickout of the driver off the top, followed with the moosault off the top, with Takeda barely moving . The run of moves between those two points though are the sort of mindless nonsense I'd expect from guys like Kasai and Numazawa.

Maybe that's the reason for the frustration. In a promotion like BattlArts, the best the young guys can do is match up with the older generation who, to my eyes at least, regularly turn out great examples of their style. In Big Japan, the new generation has a chance to take the deathmatch style beyond where it stagnated with the older generation by 2008. We saw in the tag league the three top young guys, guided by Sasaki, deliver the same level of violence of a Kasai, but combined with better selling, better execution of transition moves, better brawling, and most importantly, more dramatic and exciting stories in the ring. The 2007 Sasaki-Miyamoto title match really set out a template for that, but its taken a while to find more than two guys able to consistently deliver this. This title match, ultimately, felt like a massive step back from this.