Saturday, 11 February 2017

A New Beginning? NJPW Kick Off 2017

(All star ratings and general content of this article is of course just my opinion. I rate on a scale of 0-5. I don’t rate/watch every match on every card, and if a rating doesn’t appear it means I either did not watch it or wasn’t paying close enough attention to rate fairly.)

It’s been a while since I wrote something here, since last year’s G1 Climax actually. A lot has happened in NJPW since then: Kenny Omega built to his first January 4th Dome main event against Kazuchika Okada; Kamaitachi returned to NJPW from his various excursions to massive hype in the Junior division; NJPW and RPW connections grew closer as Katsuyori Shibata won the RPW heavyweight title and on the recent show, which we’ll be discussing to some degree today, defended it in NJPW. There’s much more of course, but what I’ll say to sum it up is that NJPW continued to play up faction warfare between CHAOS and Bullet Club to close out 2016, and the staleness of that feud led me to sour heavily on the product. A few recent injections of talent at the start of 2017, however, have been a much-needed breath of fresh air, and although the core problems continue to exist, opportunities for undercard talent to have sensational matches, like KUSHIDA and Katsuyori Shibata did last year are also plentiful.



The New Beginning in Sapporo – 05/02/2017
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. Hirai Kawato & KUSHIDA
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & Yuji Nagata def. Henare, Tomoyuki Oka & Yoshitatsu       
CHAOS (Gedo, Jado and Will Ospreay) def. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Katsuyori Shibata and Tiger Mask
YOSHI-HASHI def. Takashi Iizuka (with El Desperado)
Dragon Lee, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi, Michael Elgin & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero) (c) def. Suzuki-gun (Taichi and Taka Michinoku)
NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) def. Juice Robinson
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) (c) def. G.B.H. (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), K.E.S. (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Minoru Suzuki ***3/4

Can good offence hinder a match?
In the ying/yang that were these pair of shows, this was definitely the down swing for me personally, large swathes of the card did not interest me, and most of the matches that I wasn’t really looking forward too didn’t seem to overly impress. (Although I did hear that Juice/Goto overdelivered, and what I saw certainly warrants a full watch at some point.) The one match I though had serious potential to excite me was the main event, we haven’t seen Minoru Suzuki grace NJPW with his presence for a while, and the last few times we have we’ve seen some top-notch performances from him. His match especially with AJ Styles helped AJ become the recognised top star he was in Japan, and may well be my favorite AJ Styles match of all time, no mean feat! Suzuki is just nasty, a modern-ish incarnation of the Taue/Kawada side of the pillars, just likes to hurt people and make it look painful. His offence is up there with some of the best on planet at the moment in terms of actually looking painful, and the way he can do so much with so little puts him ahead of guys like Fred Yehi who do so much. Yehi has so many creative ways of punishing an opponent, but Minoru Suzuki kept me invested in a 40+ minute match with give or take around 3 variations of a knee submission.
That’s the main thing I can say to this matches credit, it kept me invested, and did not suffer at all really from the NJPW main event bloat. Could/should it have been half the time? Very much so. But did it keep me invested and have pretty solid content throughout the entire match? Yea, it actually did. I really do enjoy watching Minoru Suzuki wrestle, because it’s almost like a culture shock, he’s one of the few people out there that looks like he’s genuinely hurting his opponents badly, and can get you invested in it. But herein lies a problem that this match really demonstrated for me, and it’s a problem I’ve had to a lesser degree over the past few years with other matches. I had a discussion with some other wrestling folks last year surrounding the Aries/Nakamura match from an NXT show. The jist of my argument was that I didn’t mind the Nakamura selling performance on that show (I didn’t like the match, but for other reasons) because the offence Aries was putting in didn’t justify an over the top or even above average sell job. It’s something the Hero/Riddle series does well, Riddle is a world class seller, Hero’s offence is probably the best on the planet, it meshes.
In most Okada matches, while I’m not his biggest fan, the selling doesn’t really bother me. This is because most of his matches fall into the category of “fighting spirit” archetype stories. Offense is distributed pretty evenly throughout the body as both men fight to inflict as much general punishment on each other, and use their fire (or “fighting spirit”) to demonstrate them fighting through the pain to continue battling. He does these alright, like I’ve said I’m not his biggest fan, but when he’s in there with someone charismatic and over like a Naito or a Tanahashi it can really pull together into something great. This match, however, was different. Because Suzuki’s offense looks so good, so brutal, and because Suzuki was clearly trying to build a limb story, the shoddy selling really stood out to me, and that detracted from the match.
This is a really curious issue, because Tanahashi and Naito both do considerable amount of leg work in their matches, and yet I preferred their work with Okada to this. Which is why I ponder the above question, if the partner they have to work with is a little light on their selling acumen, can amazing offense, such as that of Minoru Suzuki’s legwork exhibition t New Beginning, detract from the match, because it raises the expected level of selling? It’s a question I can’t really answer in full, but I find it really interesting, all I can say is that I didn’t like this as much as many of the Okada matches from last year. Suzuki’s offense was fascinating, Okada’s finishing sequence was flashy enough, not quite up there with the Styles or Naito counter fests, but his fire was pretty enjoyable, more so than usual actually, but there wasn’t enough there for a 40 minute encounter for me personally, and I felt spots like a deadlift German suplex and a jump to the top rope took away from everything after he had done such a good job to sell the offense while it was actually occurring.
Also, on one final note, props to Gedo, for all the shit I give him, for adding a ton as a manager here. His towel-throw teases with great and the strained cries for Okada to reach the ropes really sold the bromance.


The New Beginning in Osaka – 11/02/2017
Osaka, Japan

Taka Michinoku def. Henare
Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) def. KUSHIDA & Yoshitatsu
Juice Robinson, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Yuji Nagata def. CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Jado & Yoshi-Hashi)
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (with Taka Michinoku) def. CHAOS (Beretta, Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero)
NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil & Sanada) def. Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi) (c)
RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) def. Will Ospreay ***3/4
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (c) def. G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma), Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Takashi Iizuka)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi (c) def. Dragon Lee ****1/2
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) def. Michael Elgin ****

New friends, old problems
This show was great. I caught most of the undercard on this one and even those throwaway tag matches had some really fun stuff in them. For example, Taguchi Japan being a knock off cosplay stable of LIdJ, and then the ensuing match containing some pretty great work as the LIdJ tags tend to do. Where it really shone, though, were those top 3 singles matches that showcased exactly what there is to be really excited about with NJPW in 2017: new talent in positions where they deserve to be, great wrestlers being given chance to have great matches, and previously wrote off talent benefiting from a post gaijin-glass ceiling Japan. The Osaka show is usually the bigger of the two, and often gets the IWGP Heavyweight title match, not this year. We got Tetsuya Naito, hugely successful last year despite the brass not getting behind him as heavily as they probably should, taking on a hugely talented foreign star in Michael Elgin, doing absolutely the best work of his career in Japan. It’s a good sign for NJPW business wise, because LIdJ are taking off in a big way and have been for quite some time, and while a lack of real main event spotlight for Naito might eventually lead to them cooling, it’s obvious with spots light this that his success is forcing their hand in some ways.
Hiromu Takahashi, the former Kamaitachi, has been a revelation in NJPW, the man is one of the biggest potential stars on the planet right now, there’s no doubt in my mind. He’s got the looks, the star quality and the presence that makes him noticed in absolutely every company he’s been a part of. Add that to the ability to have crazy, fast paced, ridiculously over the top matches that do not lose sight of the story and heart they convey, and you’ve got my early pick for Most Outstanding Wrestler front runner. His rivalry with Dragon Lee last year and the year before are contenders for feud of the decade, and this match proved why. They escalate like nobody else can, continuing to do more and more crazy spots while still retaining what makes the feud work: they really convey hatred. When you look at Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi it is obvious that these characters absolutely hate each other. Thus, when they throw crazy move after crazy move, and occasionally ignore the previous one so that they can keep up a high pace, it feels like two people willing to die to defeat the other one, rather than two people doing nonsense for no reason. They also for the most part keep the pace pretty good, some selling mixed in after every series of spots with the spots getting faster and faster as the match goes on. This one may be my favourite in the series, it’s absolutely up there, Kama finally getting revenge for Lee taking his mask a few years ago by ripping it off was a great moment, and put him across as a true rudo in typical Kama style, and some of the crazy spots like the sick apron powerbomb and senton to the outside into the guard rail rank up there with some of my favourite they’ve ever done.
This match was a legit MOTYC for me personally, and I recommend anyone to give it a look, Hiromu Takahashi gives me so much hope for the next few months, and I am salivating at the prospect of him in Best of the Super Juniors or an escalated feud with KUSHIDA.
The main event was pretty great, but I did feel like it suffered a bit from the NJPW main event bloat. The story of Michael Elgin clearly having the edge if he was able to hit the powerbomb, and the babyface fire of him getting stumped by the ungovernable one at every turn had some real heat to it. Furthermore, the monthly return of “Naito Hates Knees – Power Hour!” was as enjoyable as ever, especially with Elgin doing a fine job of selling the leg on offense. There was a spot were Elgin hit a big boot, and while planting his foot, it completely gave way. Stuff like that coming together with an urgent pace in a 20-25 minute match would have made for a legit high end MOTYC for me, but I felt with the match going 35+ minutes and a good chunk of it being slower or just lacking substance, I felt the strong storyline threads lost pace and it wasn’t as fun a watch as it could have been. That said this match was awesome! Both guys did great work and have fantastic chemistry together, I’m looking forward to them getting a non-main event slot at Invasion Attack, Dominion or the G1 and hopefully getting a sprint or just a match that keeps its identity a little better. Wishful thinking I know!
Shibata/Ospreay was super fun and well worked. This was the best Young Will has looked for me since Invasion Attack last year in his excellent match with KUSHIDA. I kinda love Ospreay’s selling sometimes, and while this match wasn’t as suited to showing it off as it could have been, Shibata’s offence being what it is, we went in a different, very interesting direction. The story of this match was Shibata trying to wrestle his match, and often getting caught out by Will Ospreay’s creativity and speed. My mind started racing as soon as this thread started to develop: NJPW very rarely let Juniors get one over on the Heavies, it’s often the case that Juniors have a long, proving period where some interesting match stories revolve around them having to evolve. I thought they may end up going the other way here, with Shibata clearly rocked having to work against a guy who’s style is a little different than he’s used to. Last year Shibata had an astonishing feud with Yuji Nagata where we suffered a setback and was forced to evolve to continue his rise. It would have been pretty dope, and it still could be, if he once again had to evolve because Will Ospreay got the better of him. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, since those threads never really came together and the match turned into a fun little sprint at the end, where Will absolutely held his own in a traditional Shibata brawl-sprint. Was fun, well worked, laid some seeds, but didn’t really pull together it’s storytelling threads.
Overall thoughts

An interesting double salvo of shows from NJPW, Osaka was a lot of fun with some great matches at the top of the card while Sapporo was mostly barren with an interesting main event I think some people are going to really dig.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Trent Seven vs Zack Sabre Jr: "One Stubborn Bastard"


I don’t usually love matches who’s story can be purely and simply boiled down to “two people who’ll do anything to win,” because I feel you can imply and take that kind of story from any random match you find. Personally, more enjoyment arises out of more character focused layers that explore why these characters will go so far to win this particular match, and test the boundries of how far they’ll go. Trent Seven vs Zack Sabre Jr from a recent Revolution Pro Wrestling show I saw on their pivot share service, despite some definite layers focusing on the resilience of Trent Seven’s character, can essentially be boiled down to the simple premise I outlined above. Despite this, it’s one of my favourite matches of the year to have taken place on British soil. Let me try to explain why.
Throughout the match, the commentary team, who I have a ton of experience listening to despite a rather rude lack of knowledge of their identity, put over a mixture of storytelling layers. First of all they mention the very clear clash of styles a match of this nature would provide, with Zack Sabre Jr favourite the flashy, technical style he himself had a huge part in popularising and Trent Seven representing what he calls “British strong-style.” Trent’s style, going back to its Japanese inspiration focuses on the mantra of taking damage to deal damage, and often manifests itself with hard hitting strikes and dangerous head drops. It also has a rather unique way of presenting its defensive wrestling, focusing very highly on the concept of “fighting spirit” and taking a ton of punishment throughout a match and trying to use your adrenaline to fight through it until your body can take no more and it wears you down.
Fair play to Trent Seven he would fit in wrestling any of the Japanese-proponents of the style and his fighting spirit-selling was excellent in this match. But we’ll get back to that, I’d like to continue my train of thought on the style battle mentioned earlier. It’s clear at the outset that this could take the framework of one of those classic striker/grappler encounters that the industry in many countries has been based around for decades. It does fit into that structure somewhat and it definitely benefits from that because it keeps the build organised and means there was absolutely no filler to my reckoning in this clash, which some British matches (and matches in many other countries to be fair) have the tendency to indulge in. It also helps to layer the match in a genuine culture that takes less-built matches from good to great. What I mean by this is it feels these two are representing and battling for their culture in professional wrestling, a true battle of styles.
Another theme the comms put over during this match is Trent Seven getting his big opportunity, they specifically said that “Trent Seven has spent his entire Revolution Pro Wrestling career preparing for Zack Sabre Jr.” I should mention that this was a match for the highest title in the company, and Zack Sabre Jr is for all intents and purposes the Ace. So you’ve got a variant of the ace story in here (the Trent Seven is Japanese plot thickens) too, which is played to perfection during the heat sequences. Like I said earlier, Trent’s fighting spirit is particular pleasing, taking Zack’s brutally destructive offense all match long and genuinely looking like it’s tearing his body apart as he rips himself to his feet and asks for some more.
As the match plays out you start to realise just how much this match means to the character of Trent Seven. The comms were right, he has spent his entire time in Rev Pro getting here, preparing for this specific encounter, and it is that work, that preparation and that drive that means he simply cannot lose. Every time he gets knocked down, or his neck gets further targeted by the technical wizard, his body tells him it’s time, it’s over, he’s lost. The referee is constantly asking if Trent can continue, Zack’s offense gets more and more brutal as he closes in for a stoppage win. But Trent will not die. Because this is it, this is his time, and he’s worked too hard for it to end via stoppage, he is going to force Zack Sabre Jr to fight to a real finish and he is going to force Zack Sabre Jr to respect him, because that’s the least he can achieve after working this hard.
The work is crisp and tight, all the sequences come off without a hitch, and both guys know their style so well. Sabre’s offence is, as usual, a treat to watch as he finds ways to viciously contort the body of Trent Seven, and as all good heel-leaning grapplefuck, it looks overly aggressive, highly painful at all times, and evokes sympathy for Seven. Seven’s strikes are also great, he lays in his chops during the striking session in the middle of the match and they look brutal. Sabre does his part here, too, I should mention, selling the “I’ve seen way worse” motif while responding with the type of strikes you’d expect from a well-travelled vet such as he. The sequences towards the end where they almost devolve into a bomb-trading session are also executed just fine, and like I’ve mentioned before with the Wilkins-Lee 100+minute match from earlier this year, I excuse these kinds of finishing sequences where the emotional groundwork was laid and the sequence escalates in a sensible manner, as this one does.
Overall, a legit great match from somewhere I wasn’t exactly expecting to find one, which kinda speaks to the problem with RevPro in general. They have the big guns pushed to high positions on the card on their big shows and otherwise run touring matches done better elsewhere, and then they’re got something like this (which is only really surpassed by Sabre/Styles in recent RPW history in my opinion) on a show only a handful of even the regular RevPro fans are actually going to see. But away from the negative, this match was genuinely blow away stuff that I would put against any of the best matches from the British scene this year in a heartbeat, and inspired me enough to come on here and write about it! Would love to see more high profile opportunities like this from Trent Seven because he impressed big time.


Rating: ****1/4

Trent Seven vs Zack Sabre Jr
Revolution Pro Wrestling
Live at the Cockpit 11

Friday, 19 August 2016

Five Interesting Matches From 2016 So Far

As we head into one of the biggest and most loaded weekend of pro wrestling we’re likely to see this year, I’m left thinking back on the year we’ve had so far (2016!). Most of the time, pro wrestling starts to quiet down a bit after August, but 2016 thus far has bucked a ton of trends and delivered some quality matches from seemingly all corners of the earth, so who knows! Before we get overloaded by great matches this weekend, I thought I’d list and describe a few of the matches that I’ve really enjoyed this year, and explain why I think they’re unique.
This is not my top 5 favourite matches of 2016, most of the matches on this list are not in contention for my own personal MOTY, but they’re matches that stand out to me as really interesting and embodiments of the spirit this year in pro wrestling has represented to me. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here we go!
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(1) Trevor Lee vs Roy Wilkins (Mid-Atlantic Worldwide Ep. #43)
You may have heard of this one due to its rather extraordinary length, when it first came about, a lot of people were sceptical that it’d be any good, considering some 30-60 minute matches don’t have enough substance to keep them interesting for the whole time. I’ll warn you if you decide to check this one out, it’s definitely a long haul, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it, and it sucks you in enough that you will want to finish it. Trevor Lee puts on an amazing performance for the first half of this match, and never have I seen a babyface on offence for so long keep it compelling. Truly it’s a fine accomplishment to keep your offense looking so painful, and enjoyable to indulge in for as long as Lee does here.
As the match progresses, they change up the style multiple times, it almost feels like a miniature history of professional wrestling. This variety in style keeps you on your toes, and feels like multiple matches contained within the same bell-to-bell period. A few of the false finishes in the middle feel like they could be endings to really fun sprints, but the match continues and they launch into a new style and a new feel. I’m someone who tends to scoff at overbooked nonsense, but when it happened here I was fine with it, because it was just another of the themes of pro wrestling they were covering.
It’s also a really solid pro wrestling match fundamentally. They do some groundwork early on to establish Trevor as the fiery babyface perhaps wrestling his last match in a territory he feels very connected with. When he finally isn’t on offence, they get you invested in his plight and do the work to get you interested in the finish of the match. Then, they hit some really awesome emotional notes in the back end with some fast paced sequences that work because you’re on the edge of your seat rooting for a certain outcome.
This is a really well told pro wrestling story, where both guys did their bit to sell it to you. Beyond that, it really is special, it’s length, it’s feel, Trevor Lee’s performance; this was one of the most enjoyable matches I’ve seen this year, and it truly is unique; you’re not likely to see a match like it.
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(2) Matt Hardy vs Jeff Hardy "The Final Deletion" (Impact Wrestling 05/07/2016)
In a similar vein to Lee/Wilkins, this was a pro wrestling match very solid at its core that was made even better by the fact that it was a unique experience. Both performers play they’re part in an experience that tells a story and keeps me compelled for the whole time I was watching it. It may have been a little silly and over the top at times, but both performers sufficiently conveyed the story they were telling, and made that story incredibly compelling without once taking me out of this universe they had created, and at the end of the day, that’s what I’m looking for out of a pro wrestling match. Matt Hardy in particular is a delight to experience here with his mannerisms and constant dedication to the character.
I’m generally against editing in pro wrestling in general, in other places I’ve seen excessive editing it really hurts the flow of a match. Heck, even just in your traditional US TV product when you go to a commercial and come back after missing a chunk of the match, a ton of the flow is lost. I’m a guy who really appreciates pacing, I like to get gradually more invested into something before it builds to a climax, or sometimes multiple big moments. So it was incredibly refreshing here to see heavy editing add to a match tremendously, rather than taking anything away from it. The editing served to set the pace just the way they were intending, and the backing score that accompanied the match also aided that.
Matt Hardy’s brainchild also succeeded in inspiring a variety of emotions, I genuinely felt this conveyed traditional pro wrestling emotions of investment, and eventually the correct emotion was brought out of me in the finish. But beyond even that, The Final Deletion does have a ton of comedic moments, and I don’t feel that hurt the storytelling of the match, I feel like it aided it. It was a legitimately complete performance, where I could experience an intense amount of enjoyment from one simply concept. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed this match nearly as much sitting through an episode of Impact to watch it, but as one collected piece, it’s a ton of fun.
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(3) John Cena vs AJ Styles (Money in the Bank)
I’m pretty convinced this is my favourite John Cena performance of all time, and I like John Cena a lot. One of the things that makes Cena such a great performer, is that if you look at his best matches, pretty much all of those performances are very different. This performance took a shape that really jived with me, and it helped the match that the other guy in it is probably the best active wrestler on the planet (top five at worst). This was all about John Cena having a really bad day at the office, and having to fight… so… damn… hard to stay in the fight. He had to scratch, claw and fight for absolutely every single inch he was given, and nothing was going right for him.
To set the context, this was Cena’s first singles match after a length time injured, there was a huge question mark as to whether he was at 100%, a huge question marks as to whether he could still hang. This match was against a very strong competitor, a guy who took the world champion to his limits months early, so probably not the easiest opponent for your first match back. John Cena’s come back really strong before, like in 2008 when he won the Royal Rumble after recovering at an ungodly speed from an injury he sustained the previous October. Could he come back and be as good as when he left? Go toe to toe on the night with one of the best in the company right now?
No chance in hell. John Cena was simple one step behind AJ Styles at every corner in this match, it was one of the most one sided matches I’ve seen in a very long time involving the ace of a company. It wasn’t a physical dominance like the match with Brock Lesnar in August 2014, it was a mental dominance. What really hammered this home is every single one of John Cena’s "five moves of doom" being stopped dead by a counter. But John Cena wouldn’t give up, every setback just fired him up further and further, but at every step of the way something went wrong: AJ counters a big move, Cena stumbles due to AJ’s excellent leg work and the ref gets knocked out. Through it all though, John Cena kept fighting, and he got him, with his last shot, he got AJ Styles. But because they’re assholes, the Club arrived, and were the last nail in John Cena’s coffin on this night.
This match was excellent, and is an actual contender for my MOTY, if you haven’t, please go watch it.
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(4) Jonathan Gresham vs Chris Hero (BEYOND State of the Art)
Grappler vs Striker is one of the easiest in ring stories to tell in pro wrestling, and if you get it right, it’s absolutely one of the most compelling. Not to say Chris Hero is a pure striker, because he can pretty much do whatever he wants in the wrestling ring, as he showed here hanging with one of the most promising grapplers in the US right now. However, when he wants to be, Chris Hero is one of the most amazing asshole brawlers in pro wrestling. This match really made me think about both these performers on a new level, and I was already pretty high on Chris Hero.
Some of the sequences are excessive for sure, and it probably goes on a little longer than it needed to, but in the same way as the first match on this list, when you take the time to get the audience invested in two performers, and you hit important emotional notes in the back end, what you end up with is a very satisfying match. It’s core story is extremely solid, and the performances from both guys are bloody Steller, it’s just a flat out fun match to get wrapped up in the ride with.
What I really love about this match is how amazing both these guy’s offense looks throughout the whole thing. Chris Heroes strikes are amplified heavily by the selling of Gresham here, and his entire arsenal looks excellent here. Gresham’s grappling is also super fun, and everything he shows me in this match makes me hope EVOLVE start booking him in singles stuff more regularly, because he seems like he’d fit right in with the main event scene over there.
Really awesome match from a company that has been super fun this year, and a good introduction to both guys if you’ve never seen them.
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(5) Katsuyori Shibata vs Yuji Nagata (Dominion 6.19)
This is a really interesting match for me, because it’s what I see as the conclusion to one of the more entertaining story arcs I’ve seen in NJPW in recent years. Katsuyori Shibata has been butting heads with the NJPW Old Lions for the majority of the year; part of the tension between the two parties no doubt arises from the decision Shibata took to leave NJPW at a key time in order to try his hand in MMA, an event that also spurred an amazing feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi. They also took exception to his style, with his tendency to keep his head down and rush into all situations without thinking. Finally they felt he wasn’t showing enough respect to those who paved the road for he and others like him to reach the successes that he’s had in NJPW.
This led to Shibata taking on pretty much everybody’s grandfather and putting his NEVER Openweight championship on the line every time. He had pretty good success, picking up victories against legends such as Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojimi. He was on a roll and was probably having one of the best 2016’s in the company when you add in his Tokyo Dome and New Beginning victories over Tomohiro Ishii, until he ran into Yuji Nagata, probably the most successful of the Old Lions Shibata has faced this year. Nagata took the NEVER title off of Shibata, and forced him to take a look at his methods.
Shibata came out for this second match with Nagata showing a little more respect, but determined to atone for his earlier loss. He showed development, and growth, and changed his style to make sure that he put on a much better performance this time. This is honestly one of my favourite matches of the year because it was incredibly entertaining to see true character development and consistency, as well as legitimate growth from a character and performer, and the subsequent stuff with Shibata now teaming with the legends he once butted heads with, Nagata calling him the future of "strong style," and the group now battling NOAH invaders in one of the hottest angles of 2016 NJPW, has been equally as great.

So there it is! Five really interesting matches you may not have seen before a stacked weekend of pro graps hits us with at least five more really interesting matches! Check them out on youtubeyoutubeWWE Networkyoutube (paid) or NJPW World.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

G1 Watchlist - Recommended Matches




NJPW's annual summer tournament has come to a close, and with it came a number of interesting match-ups, some of which we don't get any other time of year. If you missed it, or want to revisit it, today I'm going to be talking through my overall impressions on the tournament, before giving you first a list of matches I recommend watching from the tournament, then every match in the tournament with my rating. This piece will be mostly spoiler-free, with the exception of the match on Day 19, which will show the two winners of the blocks.

Overview (Spoiler-free)
I think overall the G1 Climax was a little disappointing, there was certainly some good, even great matches going through, but it lacked any of the true classics we expect to get from the tournament. Furthermore, there were much less stand-out performances from people than in recent years, with the only person working far above what would be expected of them being Tomohiro Ishii in my opinion. Some of the more exciting match-ups didn't really land as well as I was hoping they would, and a lot of the higher end match-ups were simply what was expected of them, rather than lighting the world on fire. There's no Minoru Suzuki/AJ Styles match, there was no break-out Michael Elgin or Tetsuya Naito run. Finally, the finishing run was certainly exciting, but I wasn't particularly into the twists and turns towards the end, and some of the decisions seemed a little suspect to me. However, there were a few matches I really liked from this tournament, and I do think there are a good few matches worth watching, as would be expected from 91 NJPW matches.

Recommendations
Tier 1
Katsuyori Shibata vs Kasuhiko Nakajima (Day 4) ****1/2
Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii (Day 13) ****1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada (Day 17) ****1/2
Katsuyori Shibata vs Tetsuya Naito (Day 8) ****1/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii (Day 11) ****1/4
Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega (Day 18) ****1/4

Tier 2
Kazuchika Okada vs Naomichi Marufuji (Day 1) ****
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs SANADA (Day 1) ****
Tetsuya Naito vs Yuji Nagata (Day 2) ****
Tetsuya Naito vs Michael Elgin (Day 4) ****
Naomichi Marufuji vs Tomohiro Ishii (Day 7) ****
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Tetsuya Naito (Day 12) ****
Tomohiro Ishii vs Togi Makabe (Day 17) ****
Hirooki Goto vs Kenny Omega (Day 19) ****

Full Matchlist
Kazuchika Okada vs Naomichi Marufuji          G1 Climax - Day 1   4
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs SANADA    G1 Climax - Day 1   4
Tomohiro Ishii vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan      G1 Climax - Day 1   3.75
Bad Luck Fale vs Hirooki Goto    G1 Climax - Day 1   3.25
Togi Makabe vs Tama Tonga      G1 Climax - Day 1   2.75
Tetsuya Naito vs Yuji Nagata      G1 Climax - Day 2   4
Tomoaki Honma vs Katsuyori Shibata  G1 Climax - Day 2   3.75
Kenny Omega vs YOSHI HASHI   G1 Climax - Day 2   3.75
Michael Elgin vs EVIL         G1 Climax - Day 2   3.5
Toru Yano vs Katsuhiko Nakajima         G1 Climax - Day 2   2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Togi Makabe        G1 Climax - Day 3   3.5
Bad Luck Fale vs Naomichi Marufuji     G1 Climax - Day 3   3.25
SANADA vs Kazuchika Okada     G1 Climax - Day 3   3.25
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Tama Tonga          G1 Climax - Day 3   2.5
Hirooki Goto vs Tomohiro Ishii   G1 Climax - Day 3   2.5
Katsuyori Shibata vs Kasuhiko Nakajima         G1 Climax - Day 4   4.5
Tetsuya Naito vs Michael Elgin   G1 Climax - Day 4   4
EVIL vs Yuji Nagata G1 Climax - Day 4   3.25
YOSHI HASHI vs Tomoaki Honma          G1 Climax - Day 4   3
Kenny Omega vs Toro Yano        G1 Climax - Day 4   3
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tama Tonga         G1 Climax - Day 5   3.5
Naomichi Marufuji vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan          G1 Climax - Day 5   3.25
Kazuchika Okada vs Hirooki Goto          G1 Climax - Day 5   3.25
Bad Luck Fale vs Tomohiro Ishii G1 Climax - Day 5   3
SANADA vs Togi Makabe G1 Climax - Day 5   2.75
Katsuyori Shibata vs Michael Elgin        G1 Climax - Day 6   3.75
Tetsuya Naito vs Toru Yano         G1 Climax - Day 6   3.5
YOSHI HASHI vs Yuji Nagata        G1 Climax - Day 6   3.25
EVIL vs Katsuhiko Nakajima        G1 Climax - Day 6   3.25
Kenny Omega vs Tomoaki Honma        G1 Climax - Day 6   2.75
Naomichi Marufuji vs Tomohiro Ishii    G1 Climax - Day 7   4
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Togi Makabe         G1 Climax - Day 7   3.5
Bad Luck Fale vs Hiroshi Tanahashi       G1 Climax - Day 7   3.5
Hirooki Goto vs SANADA G1 Climax - Day 7   3.25
Kazuchika Okada vs Tama Tonga           G1 Climax - Day 7   3
Katsuyori Shibata vs Tetsuya Naito       G1 Climax - Day 8   4.25
Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin   G1 Climax - Day 8   3.75
EVIL vs YOSHI HASHI         G1 Climax - Day 8   3
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Yuji Nagata       G1 Climax - Day 8   3
Toru Yano vs Tomoaki Honma   G1 Climax - Day 8   2
Tama Tonga vs Tomohiro Ishii    G1 Climax - Day 9   3.75
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Hirooki Goto        G1 Climax - Day 9   3.5
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Kazuchika Okada G1 Climax - Day 9   3.25
Bad Luck Fale vs SANADA G1 Climax - Day 9   3
Naomichi Marufuji vs Togi Makabe      G1 Climax - Day 9   2.75
Toru Yano vs Katsuyori Shibata  G1 Climax - Day 10 3.5
Yuji Nagata vs Michael Elgin        G1 Climax - Day 10 3.25
YOSHI-HASHI vs Katsuhiko Nakajima   G1 Climax - Day 10 3
Kenny Omega vs EVIL       G1 Climax - Day 10 3
Tomoaki Honma vs Tetsuya Naito         G1 Climax - Day 10 3
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii     G1 Climax - Day 11 4.25
SANADA vs Naomichi Marufuji  G1 Climax - Day 11 3.25
Togi Makabe vs Kazuchika Okada         G1 Climax - Day 11 3
Bad Luck Fale vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan        G1 Climax - Day 11 2.75
Tama Tonga vs Hirooki Goto       G1 Climax - Day 11 2.5
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Tetsuya Naito   G1 Climax - Day 12 4
Kenny Omega vs Katsuyori Shibata       G1 Climax - Day 12 3.75
Toro Yano vs Yuji Nagata G1 Climax - Day 12 3.25
YOSHI HASHI vs Michael Elgin    G1 Climax - Day 12 3
Tomoaki Honma vs EVIL   G1 Climax - Day 12 3
Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii       G1 Climax - Day 13 4.5
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Naomichi Marufuji         G1 Climax - Day 13 3.75
SANADA vs Tama Tonga   G1 Climax - Day 13 3.5
Hirooki Goto vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan         G1 Climax - Day 13 3
Bad Luck Fale vs Togi Makabe    G1 Climax - Day 13 2.75
YOSHI HASHI vs Katsuyori Shibata         G1 Climax - Day 14 3.75
Yuji Nagata vs Kenny Omega      G1 Climax - Day 14 3.75
Tetsuya Naito vs EVIL        G1 Climax - Day 14 3.5
Tomoaki Honma vs Katsuhiko Nakajima         G1 Climax - Day 14 3.25
Toro Yano vs Michael Elgin          G1 Climax - Day 14 3
Tomohiro Ishii vs SANADA          G1 Climax - Day 15 3.75
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan            G1 Climax - Day 15 3.75
Kazuchika Okada vs Bad Luck Fale         G1 Climax - Day 15 3.75
Naomichi Marufuji vs Tama Tonga       G1 Climax - Day 15 2.75
Hirooki Goto vs Togi Makabe     G1 Climax - Day 15 2.75
Katsuyori Shibata vs Yuji Nagata            G1 Climax - Day 16 3.75
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Kenny Omega  G1 Climax - Day 16 3.5
YOSHI HASHI vs Tetsuya Naito    G1 Climax - Day 16 3.5
Tomoaki Honma vs Michael Elgin          G1 Climax - Day 16 3.5
Toru Yano vs EVIL   G1 Climax - Day 16 2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada G1 Climax - Day 17 4.5
Tomohiro Ishii vs Togi Makabe  G1 Climax - Day 17 4
Hirooki Goto vs Naomichi Marufuji      G1 Climax - Day 17 3.25
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs SANADA     G1 Climax - Day 17 3
Bad Luck Fale vs Tama Tonga     G1 Climax - Day 17 2.75
Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega G1 Climax - Day 18 4.25
Katsuyori Shibata vs EVIL G1 Climax - Day 18 3.75
Michael Elgin vs Katsuhiko Nakajima   G1 Climax - Day 18 3.75
Yuji Nagata vs Tomooaki Honma           G1 Climax - Day 18 3.5
Toru Yano vs YOSHI HASHI          G1 Climax - Day 18 2.25
Hirooki Goto vs Kenny Omega   G1 Climax - Day 19 4

Friday, 12 August 2016

WWE's Cruiserweight Classic - "New is always better"


A common theme in pro wrestling is that a fresh product is often what is most needed to get people interested in it. When NXT hit it's stride in mid 2014, it did so largely on the basis that it's booking strategy's were slightly different than those seen by the majority of its new found audience. Similarly, when NJPW was exposed to a large English-speaking audience following the English broadcasting of their annual January 4th show in 2015, it was a culture shock for many who had never seen a wider sample of Japanese pro wrestling. In one final example, Lucha Underground, while fundamentally flawed, wears it's culture and style on it's sleeve, and attracted a relatively large audience for it's first two seasons based purely on it being slightly different from the other offerings, even though towards the end of the most resent season has shown ratings declines as many found out the emperor had no clothes. Hell, the concept of an alternative has driven a ton of pro wrestling business, especially in the United States. The boom period of the late 90s was based on two companies trying to provide different things to the same audience in better ways. Furthermore, in the late 2000s, TNA built a business based on doing pretty much the exact same thing as the WWE, and simply calling it "alternative." TNA was luckily another example of people seeing something for what it actually was, but still, the concept of freshness holds true in the decent amount of financial success they were able to drum up in their prime.

I say all this, mainly to give context for the pure amount of gushing I am about to do over WWE's new venture: the Cruiserweight Classic. The CWC benefits huge from that feeling of being a fresh new concept, but I want to argue that in this case, the substance is there, and the format is damn near perfect to making sure that fans do not get burned out on the content that it seeks to provide. But I wanted to run down some recent examples of products that benefited from the "new is always better" effect, before being exposed as lacking on a deeper level to keep going. While I may feel very strongly about the CWC, and about it's potential to change the way pro wrestling is consumed, it could very well be that the excitement and buzz of this new product is clouding my judgment, and that in many years to come the concept will be run into the ground and exceedingly de-valued to the point that I no longer care. This is especially the case with the WWE recently announcing that the Main Roster will soon be implementing a Cruiserweight division again. WWE's track record with segregated divisions is not good, and it is likely the larger, more mainstream backstage team on Raw simply will not "get" what makes this implementation of the lower weight division work.

So what does make it work?

Form
Pro wrestling/sports entertainment has always had a bit of a grounding in imitating legitimate sporting competitions, but it's hard to put your finger on what sport it is trying to imitate. I've always found the connection to wrestling to be tenuous at best, and with all the different styles that amalgamate into the end product we see in pro graps, coming from different countries and different backgrounds, the concept of pro wrestling is not unlike the relatively young sport of mixed martial arts. It's not surprising, then, with the rise of MMA giants over the last 10 or so years, that perhaps wrestling in the United States would return, in one form or another, back to its roots, and take a more wrestling-as-sport approach. Recent examples of this trend can be found in EVOLVE, run by former ROH kingpin Gabe Sapolsky and Beyond Wrestling, which is part of the same WWN family as EVOLVE. While Beyond opperates usually like a upper end independent promotion, their usage of former fighters such as Matt Riddle, and using their former legitimate background in storylines, has led to more "real" feeling environments and matches. Meanwhile, the cast of characters at EVOLVE thrive on evolution through good competition, and put getting that competition above personal animousity. This is the mantra of ingrained stable Catch Point, which champions the style now affectionately known as "grapplefuck."

(Above: Catch Point, sans Fred Yehi. Left to right: Drew Gulak, Tracy Williams, Matt Riddle, TJP.)

Being driven purely by competition is a great motivation, it's one that leads to some awesome and easy to tell stories. Furthermore, EVOLVE's hands off approach most of the time when it comes to running angles and stories outside of matches, has led to a "pure" feel that feels, here's that word again: fresh. I talk a lot about EVOLVE because I think it's style, it's success and even a lot of it's talent, has translated really well in the CWC itself. EVOLVE doesn't take the plunge when it comes to presenting the product as a legitimate sport, through and through, but what it does do is give it's characters real motivations, sport-like motivations, and the result of that is a product that feels the way it does. The CWC takes it a step further.
First of all, the CWC takes some lovely steps from Japanese tournament play such as implementing a time limit, and making that time limit very clear to the audience. While it has yet to come into play, and it would have been nice to see it be re-enforced even further, making the rules of the competition clear and important gives the matches themselves more important. Additionally, the CWC enforces pre-match handshakes, a move right out of Gabe Sapolsky's mid 2000s ROH, and it serves a similar purpose now as it did then. It makes this product feel important, like everything matters, and the constant enforcement of the rules makes the tournament itself feel important, almost sacred. Which brings me on to my next point...

Character


With a firmly established environment that feels safe, important, sacred, those who go outside that environment effortlessly earn the ire of the viewer-base. Similar to Christopher Daniels in the before mentioned period of ROH, breaking the Code of Honor and thus feeling like a legitimately dislike-able character, ruining the promotion for everyone who wanted to play by the rules, one of the most entertaining parts of the CWC so far has been the character of The Brian Kendrick. It's a great story, this is Kendrick's last chance to really make something of his career, feeling like he may have messed up a few opportunities in the past. He blames himself somewhat for not making something of his career beforehand, but also wants to make sure he seizes this one last opportunity. When he realizes the competition is a little tougher than he expected, and he may not quite be up for the challenge, he doesn't let that stop him from chasing glory one last time. Taking cheap shots, feigning injury, the standard heel fare feels so much more enticing when it's backed up by such an amazing story, and when the character beats are being hit perfectly. Little stories like that are everywhere in the CWC, and it's told by amazing pre-match interviews, and then continued in the ring, like real top-notch products do.

What's also so great about the stories being told in the CWC, because the form is so simple to tell them, it eliminates potential problems you could have with international stars and the language barrier. The interview with Tajiri before his second round match with Gran Metalik (formerly Mascara Dorada), is completely in Japanese, but it's subtitled, and the way it's edited means the emotion of the story is conveyed excellently. The same can be said of many, many videos from the first round, some of which were also spoken in other languages. In fact, the usage of so many other languages adds an international flair to the tournament that helps add to the culture and provide that fresh feeling I talked about at the top of the article.

Talent


Finally, this tournament is made so much better for having some of the best wrestling talent in the world right now. Johnny Gargano is a consistently good worker who seems to be hitting his peak in 2016, the same could be said for Tommaso Ciampa. The former Mascara Dorada was one of the hottest post-Mistico prospects in all of Mexico, and is honestly one of the more well known workers of that generation. (Dragon Lee is probably a bigger star in Mexico, but Dorada had a little more reach in all likelyhood.) People like Tajiri and Brian Kendrick add so much to the tournament based on character alone, but have proven that their bodies are not limiting them at all. Jack Gallagher, Noam Dar, Rich Swann and others appeal to Full Sail, as well as a specific audience at home, even if I don't expect them to have amazing matches, they add to the variety of the tournament. Amazingly, the scouting team for a wrestling promotion have also managed to find some legit great hidden gems for once too! Lince Dorado/Mustafa Ali is a nigh-on great match, and going into that night of the show I had only seen a few matches from Ali, and never pegged him as one to look out for. Add to all of that the inclusion of Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr, one of which is probably the best and most successful Junior Heavyweight for many decades, and the other is one of the best wrestlers on the planet while working a style I feel is bound to be the future of the industry.

There you have it, a brief look at why this show seems to be gaining a ton of traction, (beating out NXT for viewers according to WON this week) and why it continues to be the best pro wrestling show on a weekly basis, in my humble opinion, and this is without going into detail about my favorite match of the tournament so far (Gargano/Ciampa) or the one that has every banging the MOTYC war drum this week! (Alexander/Ibushi)

Let me know what you think of the CWC, if you enjoyed this article, and want to see more like it in the future. I plan to write up a G1 Climax watchlist later this week once the tournament finishes, but it may be a more or less detailed depending on how this does.

Peace,
-Puddy :)