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.

Monday, 25 April 2011

All Japan: Champions Carnival 2011 - Day 1

I've always really enjoyed a Japanese wrestling tournament, even when I have reservations about the quality of the Japanese wrestling. They can act as a sense-check for the worst excesses of the style, allowing me to watch guys with some fun stuff but not have to endure 25 minute overkill-fests. They can also add some much needed extra dimensions to the matches, both by adding an overall goal and also by allowing mini-stories to develop in a reasonably self-contained environment.

Anyway, it's 2011, and I have some pretty severe reservations about watching All Japan, but I am endeavouring to review all of the Champions Carnival. Outside participants are a mixed bag - Jun Akiyama is in, but so is Yuji Nagata. Akiyama is maybe the only heavyweight in Japan able to still work that style well, while I haven't cared about Nagata at all in a couple of years. Then again, it's always good to revisit assumptions, so maybe I'll be surprised. Suzuki and Funaki are both in, but no Nishimura. No Mutoh or Kojima either (has something happened there?). The rest of the lineup is the usual All Japan guys: Suwama, Kea, Hama, KENSO, Doering, KONO and Sanada.

Show opens with Seiya Sanada vs. Joe Doering. This was laid out as a pretty typical big man vs. little man match. I thought Doering was good in his role - he threw Sanada around a bunch, and thought he bumped around quite well for Sanada's comeback. I didn't like Sanada's hurricanrana reversal of the powerbomb that set-up the finish - it looked clumsy and fake. Sanada does the plucky underdog thing with fighting spirit thing, and it's very OK. He did have a tendency to alternate from selling to moving normally for the purpose of some of the exchanges, which was irksome.

Ryota Hama vs. Takao Omori was next. Any Hama match is always going to be about how he is enormous - it's all fat-man offence, avoiding fat-man offence, and offence scuppered by fat-man. It's an easy formula, and I don't find the layout of the match objectionable. Omori has some really annoying stuff though that distracts from it's execution - his two selling modes are: winded, and puzzled. Neither are good. I didn't buy his lariat as the finish either. I can't decide whether that was a bumping problem, but Omori's lariat always looks pretty low-impact against smaller guys, so it's not surprising I think much of the finish here either.

Minoru Suzuki vs. KENSO was a really weird match. I often get tired with Suzuki matches because he often seems willing to forgo the story or structure of a match in order to get his act over. Its good to see a Japanese wrestler with that level of charisma, but better wrestlers will work it into a match rather than use it to completely override it. Here, though, KENSO was giving Suzuki nothing, no-selling loads of stuff and not really bringing much on offence either, except some open-handed slaps. It seemed like Suzuki was having to try anything to keep the match going, but he isn't a patient man, and by the end, he seemed really irritated. There was a long sleeper hold where KENSO looks legitimately half-unconcious, but doesn't fight it. All pretty awkward, and a little uncomfortable too.

KONO vs Yuji Nagata really wasn't any good. It had a pretty bad case of my-turn-your-turn-itis, and nothing really went anywhere. Nagata targets KONO's leg for a while, but that gets dropped soon after. This match seemed caught between trying to establish Nagata as a major contender and playing off him being outsized. In the end, Nagata won relatively simply, but he neither seemed all-conquering, or like a gritty survivor. They both pretty much just roll through his stuff and eventually, something gets a pin. I think it was a backdrop driver, but it could have been anything, really - it's not like anything mattered.

Taiyo Kea vs. Jun Akiyama was the highlight of the show - it went to a thirty minute draw, and was really well put together. It's not on the level of Akiyama's best long match stuff from 2010, but I really liked it all the same. They start off with some really nice matwork, non-perfunctory stuff where both guys seemed to be fighting for control. The section ends with a burst of Akiyama offence and a nearfall - Kea rolls out of the ring, ultimately leading to Akiyama getting dropped on the back of his head on the mats. This feels like a Akiyama trademark in some of his better carryjobs, and gave the match (and his oppenent) something to work around. Akiyama's selling is really good, and I though his comebacks were well timed to keep the match interesting. Kea didn't quite have enough stuff to fill the middle part (there was a bit of repetition), but I didn't feel like he was being majorly carried. He certainly laid in with his chops, which looked pretty vicious. Jun's final comeback starts with some great opportunism - a drop toehold onto the rail, then a follow-up knee into the same barrier. The final stretch was well paced - Akiyama is great at this heavyweight epics because he brings the right balance of realistic fatigue and fighting-on, and Kea certainly seemed to be following suit for the most part. I would have preferred that there hadn't been a kickout from the super Exploider - that felt like it should have been a match-ender - but that was really the only complaint. The story seemed to be that Akiyama was close to victory but just ran out of time, which is much better way of finishing than these thirty minute draws where guys are just throwing out stuff and waiting for the bell.

Suwama vs. Masakatsu Funaki is the final match of the show. On one level, it's a story of powerful youngster against a crafty veteran submission fighter. On another level, it's a great satire on the state of the Japanese education system. Funaki focuses on attacking Suwama's arm, with nasty kicks and armbar submissions. Suwama, however, in the role as a young man failed by the schooling system, fights back using this arm for lariats, this arm for forearms and this arm for pretty much everything else. Every time he does so, he receives a pain in this arm, but, due to his inadequate teachers, can not connect cause and effect. You can see it baffles him - sometimes he takes a few seconds to pause and reflect on the puzzle, standing motionless until he abandons the puzzle and clutches his arm instead. Funaki's persistence and strategy ultimately pays off and ... no, sorry, my mistake, Suwama wins because he is strong and mighty. Don't stay in school, kids.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A (Possible) Wrestlemania 27 live blog

Monday 4th April, 7.43pm: Everyone on the social networks seems to be adamantly trying to lower my expectations (mostly about this Wrestlemania show, but also overall with this life), but as ever I am filled with a childish excitement and my spirits can not be dampened.

7.45pm: The Rock! Is here! And his music!

7.54pm: He talks and leads the crowd in some chanting. Meanwhile, someone in the crowd has a Wrestle Maina sign. I am excited by near-impossible illiteracy.

8.00pm: Atlanta! Wrestlemania! Rock! The People! (and repeat)

8.04pm: The world heavyweight title match with the Royal Rumble winner is the opening match and Christian is booked to stand in a corner. Many people would have their spirits dampened by these decisions. Not me. I am just looking forward to an Edge match.

8.23pm: There's a lot of Edge criticism in the parts of the Internet I frequent, but really there are just two problems with his work - his offence, and all the things he does when he's not on offence. Meanwhile, Alberto Del Rios works a very smart, simple match around these limitations, and I end up enjoying what he does. The last few minutes with the Christian-Brodus Clay exchange were the best part. I'd quite like to see that match. I didn't like Edge coming close to a submission victory without any build-up to it, nor the business-exposing escape from it.

8.27pm: The Rolls Royce no-sells Edge's terrible offence.

8.35pm: Michael Cole's special protective booth is hilarious. Cole taunting King from behind it is hilarious. King calling Cole a moron is hilarious.

8.37pm: My guess for Rey's superhero costume is Hit Girl.

8.52pm: Sort of a weird match. It felt kind of disjointed for most of it, with each guy doing some nice stuff, but not much flow. They trade protective medical gear - Rey headbutts Cody Rhodes with the face mask, then Cody clocks Rey with the knee brace, which is an interesting finish because it feels like justifiable rule-breaking after Rey went there first. I wasn't sure how they were supposed to be playing Cody's injury - he loses the mask, but doesn't sell the kicks to the face like the major damage you might expect. Of course, they could be doing an Eddy Guererro arm injury thing, but that would be weird given that Cody is supposed to be narcissist who presumably wouldn't wear that ugly mask just to gain an advantage.

8.53pm: Of course, it is theoretically possible to overthink professional wrestling.

8.54pm: And it's time for the annual frustrated comedy writers segment, with Snoop Dogg and Teddy Long auditioning talent for Snoop's tour. It's always embarrassing when black guys pretend to be black. OK, Zack Ryder singing 'Friday' makes me actually laugh out loud, but then I'm very into the Zack Ryder character.

9.10pm: Eight man tag is quick. Big Show looked great, charging around and bumping and punched a guy out, so that'll do me.

9.15pm: Ah, time for a break because the wife wants to finish this season of 30 Rock.

11.34pm: Randy Orton (with giant meaningless cube) vs. CM Punk is next.

11.54pm: Yeah, I really kind of liked that. Borders on being a one-man show, Punk demolishes Orton's leg and does Punk stuff (awesome laughing at Orton when his leg buckles on the run up to the punt, and the look of his face after he dodges the RKO is perfect - a mix of shock and delight at his own quick thinking), but Orton sold it all well and held up his end. Finish was predictable, but other than that, a good match.

Tuesday 5th April, 12.05pm: Cole looks like such a faggoty homosexual gay in his ring gear, but obviously I don't mean that in the way you might take it.

12.22pm: I was kind of hoping Lawler's first Mania match might have been a bit better - it's starts really good, watching Cole being pulled face first into his protective glass booth over and over had me giggling in delight, but the middle was too long and Lawler didn't need to sell for Cole that much. I was hoping for a piledriver, but the dropkick absolutely connected. Austin's involvement added to the fun - there's a moment where Swagger touches him, and you hear the whole crowd, as one, say 'stunner'.

12.44am: This Mark Collie song is so cool.

12.49am: This Triple H entrance is so absurd.

12.53am: This Johnny Cash song is so cool. However, with all this buildup, it now feel's like there hasn't been any wrestling since, I think, when Taker was 14-0.

1.26am: There were parts of this match that I liked. The story of Taker refusing to lose and his selljob and HHH's frustration were well done. It was also far too long, and the finisher series was not exactly imaginative - ten minutes of a move, a near fall, and surprised look, and repeat doesn't really inspire me. I've said it before, and I stick to it - I like a match that does a lot with very little than a match that does just enough when the wrestlers are given so many extra resources (table bumps, no DQ, finisher theft spots, almost an hour of air time).

1.37am: What the fuck is a Snooki?

1.45am: The main event does not have the big match feel. Actually, it kind of has the SD main event feel. It was mostly fine and all, with a tendency towards overbooking at the end. Miz wasn't even benefitting from Cena's usual PPV heat, it basically feels like the crowd don't like Cena, but also don't like Miz, and as a result don't really get into anything. I just about convinced myself that the finish makes sense. I mean, I don't really know what Rock would have done to stop Cena winning if there hadn't been a restart for him to introduce the no DQ rule, but whatever.

1.49am: It's late and I have tired of typing and, to an extent this show. But yet I am still filled with childish excitement. I win, expectation lowerers.

1.50am: The Rock! Poses to close the show! And his music!