Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The 2013 Match Countdown: The Final Streak Win, Farewell Ayumi, and Don't Call Him Francis

Bombs away, Y2J
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Part two of the countdown features three appearances from a dual-named wrestling phenomenon, a lot of California and Georgia action, and the final US match of an iconic joshi. Enjoy!

Frank O’Rourke vs. Sugar Dunkerton, Wrestling Is Art POP, 2/16
Wrestling Is Art's first event was led off by a match that exemplified how wrestling could be, well, art. Frank O'Rourke and Sugar Dunkerton, two guys dedicated to their crafts, went into the ring to prime the crowd, and they left the arena having stolen the show right from jump. It was a playful yet stiff encounter, and both men balanced playing the crowd and throwing bombs at each other in the ring, mainly centered around the crowd chanting "Francis!" at O'Rourke. Dunkerton also worked in some twerk-based striking, which might not have worked with a different wrestler. The two worked in some slick transitions, and Dunkerton getting the surprise win with the knee trembler at the end was surprising yet effective. This match was an excellent opener for a promotion, let alone a card.

Shaun Tempers vs. Kyle Matthews, Nightmare to Remember III, 2/16 - Watch it here!
Facial expressions can do more to sell an action than holding a body part, acting tired, or playing dead. I admit to have not “gotten” Tempers before I saw this match, but right away, flexing, grinning wide, and shaking his head back and forth to try and intimidate Matthews to start the match put me in the mood to watch the match more than a handshake or a clean collar and elbow exchange ever could. Whether he was gaping his maw wide open while being leveraged around the ring, slyly smirking whenever he had the advantage, or straining his eyes down and whining to beg off Matthews putting the fists to his face, Tempers’ face told so much of what turned out to be an excellent story.

His expressiveness coupled with Matthews’ babyface instincts made for the most classic of pro wrestling story tropes. Matthews, who is known to use his face to his advantage as well, flew around the ring, played to the crowd, and hit his signature beats to create a dynamic heroic force to go against the expressive villainy Tempers provided as a counterweight. A good hero also has to show peril. Matthews did that by going face first into the second turnbuckle twice, once on a Tempers kickout and immediately following when Tempers showed his ring savvy and pounced him in the back.

This main event match hit on every beat, each peak and valley that both classic Southern rasslin’ and modern indie ethos would present. They bumped, they countered, they busted out MOVEZ, and they flew. But what set this match apart from other similar main events were facial expressions and body language. Tempers and Matthews are both masters in these departments, and that’s why their main event at Nightmare to Remember was worth keeping in mind.

Chris Jericho vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Jack Swagger vs. Kane vs. Mark Henry vs. Randy Orton, World Heavyweight Championship Number One Contenders Elimination Chamber Match, Elimination Chamber, 2/17
This write-up originally was printed in my Elimination Chamber review.
Elimination Chambers are one of those gimmick matches that has a high probability of being good. Even if the wrestlers in it are slow, immobile, technically deficient, or just plain awful, the foreboding structure of steel and LEXAN ups the trainwreck potential to high alert. Thankfully, the least-best wrestler in this match from my estimation, Randy Orton, still has the one thing that in limited doses would make him tolerable in this setting - crazy propensity to do goofy offensive moves magnified by the preponderance of stationary points around him to throw people into.

How surprising was it that Orton's biggest weakness, his seeming unwillingness to take the big bump, was absent here as he was thrown with violent abandon by Mark Henry into one of the pods after the World's Strongest Man had just eliminated both Tag Team Champions with World's Strongest Slams and an angry hoss essence that had been missing from WWE pay-per-views for the last nine months. Even though he didn't win, Henry left the most indelible mark, making sure everyone got touched by the chip that has been on his shoulder since the middle of the last decade. It's funny, in a match where two of my three favorite wrestlers of all-time were competing, I was most pissed off when Henry was eliminated and most satisfied when he came back in and murked the three opponents who had just conspired to send him packing from the Devil's Playground. About the only thing wrong with the sequence was that neither Booker T nor Teddy Long were inducted into the Hall of Pain along with Swagger, Jericho, and Orton.

Those three, coincidentally, teamed up for what would have been the best finish of the Elimination Chamber card had it not been for Roman Reigns taking out Ryback with a spear in what may or may not have been a slight troll to one Bill Goldberg. If you're going to lampoon the incendiary hypocrisy of the Tea Party in a character, then the WWE's standard practice chickenshit heel tactics are not only applicable, they're a must. It's one thing to have Swagger and his buddy Zeb Colter hem and haw about never getting a handout before the match, but when it's paired with Swagger getting a flukish school boy roll up after Orton eliminated Jericho with the RKO, almost like he was picking bones and being in the right place at the right time, well, it's like pairing a five-star meal with the most complementary of wines.

Or maybe in Jack Swagger's case, it would be like getting the coldest can of Miller Lite to go with your Whataburger from the good one in town. Not the crappy one that has mostly teenagers working the fryers, but the good one. You know what I'm talking about.
Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow, Smackdown, 2/22 (airdate)
I think it’s official. We can christen Sheamus and Sandow as having “chemistry.” Once again, they were paired up in a match, and once again, they delivered a sterling television wrestling match. One of the things I noticed in this match that I hadn’t before was that part of Sandow’s game is about subverting traditional babyface tropes within the match to get a villainous reaction. Like in this match, Sandow seemed to drive it home a bit more clearly, hitting Sheamus with the Cubito Aequet, a classic good-guy display move given a coat of arrogant glossiness, and then popping up to play to the crowd, screaming “YOU’RE WELCOME!” In another life, that’s a hero’s sequence. Obviously, the hero in this match was the pale Irishman, whose yeoman’s efforts get taken for granted by some fans. Yeah, we’re sick of seeing him win, but at this point, by having great matches with Sandow, he’s doing more for him than most people probably realize.

Cena's worst year turned around quickly against Punk
Photo Credit: WWE.com
John Cena vs. CM Punk, RAW, 2/25 - See highlights here!
This write-up was originally printed in my Instant Feedback for the 2/25 episode of RAW.
Triple H couldn't ruin this RAW. Movie trailers couldn't do it either. Neither could Jerry Lawler turning in the least inspired commentary, even by his standards. Nothing, nothing could bring this show down. All it takes is one singular match that can make a wrestling show eminently memorable.

Luckily for us, WWE has two guys on the roster who, when put together, deliver with more regularity than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' pizza driver. Daniel Bryan may be the best ever. Dolph Ziggler makes everyone look better than they have a right to be. Sheamus is WWE's workhorse. But no matter what the circumstance, whether it's the main event of the most important pay-per-view of the last three years or as the fodder for the introduction of a promotion-invading, ring-destroying group of disgruntled NXT rookies, John Cena and CM Punk always, always, always put their working boots on. There is never a match that I see of theirs where I say to myself, "Man, that was a downer." It's like Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, but better.

You see, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Back in the '80s, when Flair and Steamboat were doing their thing around the territories, they had certain luxuries afforded to them. They could work the same match a bunch of times because their meat and potatoes was the untelevised house show. They worked for a promoter that believed in and quite frankly probably overused the time limit draw. They were on TV once a month maybe, and their televised supercard matches were actually paced apart pretty well by all standards. Relatively speaking, they had it easy.

Punk and Cena? Well, when you come up in this era, you wrestle against the same opponent twice a week sometimes. House shows are such a minute part of the schedule, and there's a good chance a wrestler will work nearly the same amount of dates televised and untelevised in a single year. It's a lot harder to keep things fresh. Yet, Punk and Cena do it every time. Every time. I've seen them wrestle at least 20 times since 2009, maybe more, in some capacity. Never have I seen them come close to wrestling the same match, and this is a company where good wrestlers, guys who aren't slouches and know how to get through a frame, wrestle the same fucking match within two days of television sometimes. No one will accuse Antonio Cesaro of being a bad wrestler. Many will accuse Ryback, but they'd be wrong. But I've seen them recycle an entire match from Main Event to Smackdown. Maybe it's a trust issue. Maybe they don't have the leash. But then again, why should we hold being that good against Punk and Cena? That's supposed to be a positive, right?

So, when faced with a situation where nearly everyone was expecting a schmozz to set up something greater for WrestleMania, the two went out and built to a crescendo of a clean finish that was built to perfectly, unexpectedly. Many will be dazzled by the moves broken out. John Cena did a Liger bomb! CM Punk dropped Cena on his head with a piledriver? I THOUGHT THAT WAS BANNED! But it was the placement of the moves, the order and structure. It was after Punk turned a STF into the Anaconda Vise, which Cena had turned into a roll up pin a few minutes prior in another attempt. It was guys kicking out of Attitude Adjustments and Go 2 Sleeps. They had to break out all the stops. WrestleMania was on the line. Immortality.

And while Money in the Bank was WWE's most important singular event, Mania is different on a yearly basis. CM Punk has never headlined a Mania. He may put himself above it, but you know deep down, the character motivation is that he wants so badly to be in the last match, the spotlight burning bright upon him. He's God. Why should a man whose arms are too short to box with him hold his belt? Why should the man he's owned leapfrog him? For Cena, it's something that he's accustomed to, but it's not always a given. He's a man who has to continually prove his spot. You want his mantel? Come get it.

And when all that comes together, you get perhaps their best match, or at least the 1a to the 1 that was Money in the Bank 2011. This was their Chi-Town Rumble, and they fucking did it on free television. Because they had to. I'm not throwing shade on Steamboat and Flair. Certainly not. They're two of the best of all-time at what they did. But I think now, we have our analogues for this generation, two men whose pheromones produce an explosive chemical reaction that make them wrestle in ways that are way ahead of what anyone else are doing in WWE, TNA, New Japan, CMLL, Ring of Honor, or whatever promotion you happen to name. If rumors are to be believed, this will be the last time this match happens for a while. Savor it, because after what I fear might end up being John Cena vs. Randy Orton, BECAUSE THE LAST THREE YEARS HAVE BEEN TOO GOOD FOR YOU edition, you're going to want these halcyon days.

And unlike most nostalgia, which is tainted by rose colored view on a world that was shittier than you remember? Yeah, this one is going to be worth all the warm memories you have.
Sheamus vs. Big Show, Smackdown, 3/8 (airdate) - See highlights here!
I know this might sound incredulous, but I think their encounter here, in a piddling, throwaway Smackdown main event, was better than all three of their pay-per-view World Championship matches. I felt like there was a better sense of urgency, and I got the feeling that they were being a bit bolder with some of the spot placement. I could be wrong, and I’d have to rewatch their trilogy from last year to get a feeling about that. However, both guys were on. Sheamus had the probably-accidental flourish on his chest clubs, a DDT counter that everyone except him has seemed to roll out in the year, and a battering ram shoulder off the apron. He also bumped really hard on Show tossing him over the announcer’s barricade. There was one spot where Show got Sheamus up for a powerbomb that I thought he was going to buckle bomb the shit out of him, but he followed through with the alley oop. It almost felt like he was debating internally whether to try something he’d never done before and going with the familiar. Yeah, the finish was a bit anticlimactic, but at this point, The Shield was still new enough for it to be a welcome sight rather than a groan.

Biff Busick vs. AR Fox, Beyond Wrestling Studio/CZW Academy Taping, 3/10 - Watch it here!
Well-placed folks say that this match got Busick his gig in CZW, and I can easily see why. Willingness to let himself get murdered combined with some pretty meaty offense equals entertainment, and his dance partner, AR Fox, has made his bones taking questionable risks with his own body as seen in this match. Combined with the wrestlers surrounding the ringside area making the atmosphere a more akin to an underground cockfighting ring than a wrestling show, their reckless abandon felt at home, even when presented without knowledge of prior beef the two may have had with each other (and I’m not sure any existed).

Busick was the one who looked as if he was throwing the larger bombs, but his style dictates a certain stiffness. Whether he’s hossing Fox up in multiple, Everest-style power bombs or simply body slamming Fox with terminal force (okay, okay, the slam in question was against the apron on an unpadded floor), Busick made sure that he was going to make the viewer question whether what was happening in the ring was actually worked or not. Thankfully, Fox was more than willing to oblige on his end. Every lariat he took, he tumbled to the floor. He took the lion’s share of big bumps, some of them insane even by indie standards. As the star on top of his Christmas tree of carnage, Fox went inside out and bumped on his neck on a Busick European uppercut. When you can find an opponent who will do that for a basic strike, then you hold onto him or her as a rival for as long as you can.

While the pain was brought, neither competitor lost sense of the traditional mechanics that make a match stand out, and furthermore worked fresh ways of making psychology pop, the best example being Busick scouting Fox going all matrix on a clothesline dodge and rocking the back of his brain with a lariat on the turnaround. In short, each and every last high spot in this match was earned, which is not something I can say about every match in this vein.

Timothy Thatcher vs. TJ Perkins, Lucky Fest, 3/16 - Watch it here!
Modesto, CA’s St. Patrick’s Day festival featured outdoor wrestling, and among the matches presented was a gem between two technical wizards. With house music going into “Rapper’s Delight” bumping in the background, and overcast skies above, Thatcher and Perkins wrestled a nice little sprint. They traded holds for a short while, a little less than I might have liked, but I could understand, given the weather and their state of undress. I will never tire of seeing Perkins lock in the inverted rocking horse from a standing position, a feat of strength and balance for such a compact dude. They worked in a spot midway through where Perkins had keylock-armbar hybrid locked in, and Thatcher kept trying to roll through. He succeeded with a BEASTLY Backlund short-arm scissors after the third try. The two packed in a lot of action in ten minutes, and their rapport on counters and flurries were on point.

AR Fox and Samuray del Sol vs. Rich Swann and Ricochet, PWG All-Star Weekend 9 Night 1, 3/22
The match before this one on the card, Jay Lethal vs. Eddie Edwards, felt like it went on forever. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in some parallel universe, Lethal and Edwards are still wrestling in an empty American Legion, going through spot after spot, no end in sight. This tag match had a similar quality except unlike the other one, I didn’t want this match to end. Never. Something about grasping the moment and knowing which beats to press.

Swann and del Sol set the tone early by dance fighting, which is the best way I could describe their tete-a-tete. Nothing really hit, but they deftly showed that avoiding moves can be as impactful as hitting them. The crowd was already in a lather singing Lionel Richie's “All Night Long” at the cheerleading of Swann before and during the match, but even I couldn’t expect the complex, almost ritualistic sequence of nip ups, leapfrogs, and Matrix-level dodges to get the fans to leave their feet and pound the apron.

Of course, with these four wrestlers in the ring and flying out of it, no doubt existed in my mind that they would be able to tear the low-clearance roof off the building in the follow up to that epic beginning. Topes were everywhere. Ricochet at one point jumped clear OVER the ring post en route to the floor. Fox showed zero regard for his body especially. But when Swann countered an Ace Crusher by planting both his hands on the ground, I lost my shit entirely. Seriously, scoff at the flippy dudes all you want. When they’re good, like they were here, they’re jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring.

Kyle Matthews vs. Jason Collins, EPW House Show, 3/23 - Watch it here!
Matthews’ shtick of making the grappling portion of the early match look easy to the point of embarrassing his opponent is a hard one to master. If you don’t assert enough authority, you look silly, but if you lay the preening on too thick, you might generate sympathy for the other guy. I think he’s generally great at coming across like a technical wizard without the aloofness that might alienate him to a crowd, but I think his act works a lot better when the guy taking the abuse is pretty good at showing his ass.

Jason Collins may have been the ideal opponent for Matthews to rope-a-dope in the early stages of a given match. He hooted and hollered, berated the fans, and took extended breaks from action, holding his various body parts while meandering around the ring. Although Matthews’ mastery came off very nicely during the opening display, which lasted almost half the duration of the match. At one point, he corralled Collins into a pendulum swinging hold that allowed him to walk up to the turnbuckle and bash his opponent’s head right into it. It was one of the best visuals I’ve seen all year.

Matthews was able to show the other half of why he’s one of the best babyfaces on the indies through his extended selling. He was a pro when Collins was on the offensive, and when they both had to struggle with each other during transition periods in the match, they were mostly on point. I usually think the shot-trading between two opponents who refuse to defend themselves is a widely overused indie trope, but Matthews and Collins made it work by selling their damage so much that the only energy they could muster was to land the next shot.

Paul London vs. Trent? PWG All-Star Weekend 9 Night 2, 3/23
London is considered one of the forefathers of the current crop of standout wrestlers, so the way he bumps, even now, is a sign as to why so many wrestlers today, from Evan Bourne to Dolph Ziggler and everyone in between, are willing to kill themselves, but look good doing it. London’s bumps here included an accidental one on what looked to be a standard flip over spot going throat first on the rope, and a wholly intentional one where Trent? heel swept him off the top rope. Trent? was a great heel here, a departure from his milquetoast big bumping babyface character in WWE. All in all, an enjoyable match.

TJ Perkins vs. Samuray del Sol, PWG All-Star Weekend 9 Night 2, 3/23
I love watching Perkins wrestle. He doesn’t waste a single portion of the match. Everything is worth watching, whether it be the closing flourish, the big bump, or even the beginning feeling-out process. In Samuray del Sol, he may have had his perfect opponent to date, one who could go hard and follow everything Perkins did, and they made complex exchanges and submissions look as easy as roughhousing on the playground.

Seriously, several spots in this match had my jaw dropped with how seamlessly each wrestler was able to transition out of taking a hold and into applying one, and not just into garden variety holds either. AT one point, Perkins slapped on an inverted figure four where the pressure came off from the side like it was an arm wringer. del Sol went all “no big deal” and hit a split-legged springboard moonsault to the floor. And the action wasn’t sterile either. Both guys had flair and panache from the opening bell, when Perkins went in for the grapple, and del Sol pulled back at the last moment to preen to the crowd and shout “LUCHA!”

The finishing flurry was outstanding. Each guy hit some pretty big moves, including del Sol going off the top rope with a casadora pin that left a big thud. I’m a huge fan of pin-combo moves done in different ways in order to derive impact, and this one was probably the most impressive I’ve seen to date. But Perkins would finish strongest, first breaking out a Go to Sleep variant where he ended up dropping to his back and landing the kick instead of lazily getting the knee up. And the 450 to finish was a cherry on a delicious sundae of a match.

Devin Chen: PWG All Star Weekend 8 Night 2 3/23/13 &emdash;
War Roddy!
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
Matt and Nick Jackson (c) vs. Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong, PWG World Tag Team Championship Match, PWG All-Star Weekend 9 Night 2, 3/23
On commentary, Kevin Steen said their match at Mystery Vortex was his favorite match of 2012, and this match was a raging sequel. The Bucks set the tone early, even foreshadowed big twist, by superkicking the ring announcer, and then they started getting lit up. Edwards and Strong lit up the Jackson Bros. nearly the entire match with chops, every chance they could, and the best part, other than the redness in the chests, was how they’d sell them. Nick especially would react as if he had a knife plunged straight into the heart with each side-handed palm strike.

Of course, the requisite insanity in any PWG tag match was on full bore. The exchanges were dynamic and the bumps were hard. Knees flew all over the place, planchas, back rakes, clotheslines, the whole complement, but the craziest thing was how they tailored the story with old school undertones. The match was all about the the Dojo Bros. coming in ready to take the Bucks to the mat again, only this time with gold on the line, and with the Bucks pulling out nearly every stop they could to keep from losing, no matter how low down and devious.

The most heinous act was the intentional 450 splash on Rick Knox after the Dojo Bros hit their finisher. Rather than take out the other team and save the pinfall, Nick Jackson took out the ref, which played into their longterm feud with Knox, but also put their villainy to a new level. They risked disqualification, but also, since their gambit paid off, they were able to keep cheating until the new ref came out. The Young Bucks really are the best heels in wrestling, and the best part is they build that rep almost solely from their work in matches.

Francis O’Rourke vs. Drew Gulak, Wrestling Is Respect 2, 3/24
This match was the sequel to their National Pro Wrestling Day contest, which I dug, but thought was a bit too sprawling and meandering. While this rematch may have been longer in time, they did a better job conveying a story without venturing into unnecessary macho bravado. The huge bump spots were still jaw-dropping without the plodding fear that one of the match contestants may have broken several bones in his head, and the sequences were timed out so much more succinctly.

The opening act proved to be a chippier, stiffer play on the Quack/Green Ant template. However, they established a pattern. Any time O’Rourke got the upper hand with a big strike, Gulak would somehow wrest it back from him by grappling him. Their exchanges were so crisp , which added to the air of frustration and desperation on O’Rourke’s part. The beats that came after all made sense and looked fabulous, from O’Rourke finally getting the upperhand with a giant powerbomb through the Rude Awakening on the apron and then some.

The finishing sequence was one of the most realistic and grittiest finishes I’ve seen in awhile, and yet it was still smooth and dramatic. O’Rourke slipping out of the Dragon Sleeper was one of the deftest counters I’ve ever seen, but Gulak cinching back into the submission was even better. This match proved that the modern indie matches that go long don’t have to be overwrought and repetitive. Gulak and O’Rourke took the studio space and created a masterpiece within.

Antonio Cesaro vs. Kane, Main Event, 3/27 (airdate) - See highlights here!
Hoss fight? On Main Event? Sure, I’ll take it! Cesaro continued his string of great TV matches in defeat here against a game Big Red Monster. While it’s been a long, good time since we’ve seen a Neutralizer, Cesaro did give us an Everest gutwrench suplex to tide those of us who thirsted for his feats of Swiss strength. However, the match itself was built around a different subtext, mainly Cesaro working Kane’s arm to try and prevent getting planted by a chokeslam. The Goomba stomp from the top on Kane’s arm after he initially pulled it into the ringpost was an exquisite touch, something we’ve almost come to expect and take for granted from Mr. Very European. Kane and Cesaro were very adept at their switches and exchanges, and Cesaro’s arm work was good. AJ Lee’s interference worked great within a story context, especially with Daniel Bryan’s attempts at stopping it. All in all, this match scratched the itch.

Christina von Eerie vs. Evie vs. Kalamity vs. Rhia O’Reilly vs. Yuu Yamagata, SHIMMER Vol. 53, 4/6
Take any match and place five entities within competing for one brass ring, and you’re bound to get dissolution into chaos at some point. The laws of entropy mandate it. While the action in this five-way match was orderly to start, points in the match devolved into sheer and utter anarchy, which is fine by me. This match was my first taste of both Evie and Yamagata, both making their American debuts, and predictably, they were the ones who stood out the most to me here. Evie’s frenetic kinetic energy shocked the match to life, while Yamagata brought it both on offense and selling, especially going total blankface on a big lariat from Kalamity. The other three competitors carried their weight in this match as well, especially the eventual winner von Eerie, but as a showcase for two new and outstanding wrestlers to the SHIMMER family, this match did its job excellently.

Ayumi Kurihara vs. Mercedes Martinez, SHIMMER Vol. 53, 4/6
Ayumi Kurihara had to retire in 2013 due to nagging injuries. Her illustrious SHIMMER career would end across the ring from the nasty Mercedes Martinez, whose ability to give a shit about anything but winning the match and doing it in brutal fashion went out the window some time in late 2011. If Kurihara wanted her victory lap, well, she was going to have to earn it.

Martinez combined both her technical prowess and her flair for the underhanded to produce a whirlwind of frustration for Kurihara early on. Specifically, Martinez attacked with chairshots blatantly in the sight of the referee while on the outside of the ring, and when she was called on it, she sheepishly pulled back and said “What?” Martinez’s attack combined strength and marksmanship to keep Kurihara’s chances of winning from seeming too great.

But Kurihara kept coming back, with all the babyface fire one would expect from a hero in her last stand. Missile dropkicks came flying from the heavens with vapor trails. Her counters defied hope. Her uranage looked like it would let her career end in triumph. As she covered Martinez for the seemingly final pinfall, the crowd counted along. But when it abruptly halted before three, it was the only result possible. Kurihara had to go out on her back. She had to cover lax. And she had to eat a Fisherman’s buster. It was a wonderful finale to a great American career.

OH SH...
Photo Credit: WWE.com
CM Punk vs. The Undertaker, WrestleMania 29, 4/7
This write-up originally was printed in my review for WrestleMania 29.
I may take a lot of shit for this, but I don't care. This match smoked the ever-loving shit out of the last three Mania matches. It's not even close. I don't know whether Punk is that much better than Triple H (read, he totally is), or whether there was just a better sense of purpose (that was probably more of the case though), but every detail of this match was just perfect, or almost perfect at least, right down to Punk's ring gear.

From jump, we got an actual pissed-off Undertaker, something we've been lacking for a long time. I guess there was a reason they had Punk do everything except have sex with the urn, eh? He came out with a renewed sense of fire, but he also showed an uncharacteristic vulnerability if you couch this match not against the Streak matches of the last four years, but against the series of matches he and Punk had in late 2009. Maybe that's not fair, but then again, it shows how much Punk has grown in stature since then.

But then again, this match wasn't really about historical stature. There were personal stakes. Undertaker flailed wildly, and hit on some of his shots. On others, he left himself wide open. I especially dug the reversal of the Old School and Punk mocking him with his own version of it. Paul Heyman was also the perfect manager, as he set up another really good emotional overdrive spot that went into Punk hitting the springboard clothesline. It should also be noted that Punk hit what may have been the best Savage elbow in his goddamn career, which in and of itself is a minor miracle. The second one to the outside looked like it hurt him more than Taker, but I blame superior announce table craftsmanship on that.

The finishing sequence finished with such a crescendo. Say what you want about Punk "carrying" Undertaker - and personally, outside of the rare, really anomalous example like Savage/Warrior, Rock/Hogan, or Cena/Rock, the term "carry" feels so presumptuous - but Taker really was dialed into the moment there too. Both guys hit all their notes, and it didn't hurt that we got the Tombstone into the rest in peace pin. Classic Undertaker for a classic match. The early days of the Streak were all about blood feuds, Taker getting into supernatural brawls with caricatures, almost like it was WWE's version of the kaiju film genre. Punk's no mutant - he's more Lex Luthor - but he played the role for one night, and because of that, he helped Undertaker do what he couldn't do from WrestleManias VIII through XIV. He perfected the art of the hate-laden revenge Streak match.
William Regal vs. Kassius Ohno, NXT, 4/10 (airdate)
William Regal is doing good work in NXT. While he may only wrestle a couple of matches a year, they’re always meant to put a spotlight on a wrestler who has the talent to become one of the next big things in the company. Last two years, it was Dean Ambrose. In this match, it’s the former Chris Hero.

The match began with some stiff mat exchanges. If there’s a man alive who can make a collar and elbow tie-up look like it hurts, it’s Regal. It was a back-and-forth mostly dominated by Regal, who made it a point to act the role of his past scalliwag self. Or maybe he never rehabbed himself to the point where he’d consider himself not evil. Of course, to fight great evil, you need to be as pure as morning dew. Well, Ohno, isn’t exactly wearing a white hat. In this case, it was fighting fire with fire, or more accurately, fighting evil with more evil. Ohno dumped Regal through the ropes as part of his transition, and then he broke out one of Regal’s favorite recent tropes, a reason to sell the fact that his equilibrium had been blown to smithereens, courtesy of a big boot from the floor to Regal’s dome into the ringpost.

However, it would be Regal’s longterm plan of attack that would figure most into the match’s conclusion. Before getting his bell rung and after, Regal set out to neutralize Ohno’s finishing submission hold, the Kassius Klutch, by individually trying to break every single one of his fingers. It was done so masterfully to the point where Ohno was trying to pop his fingers back into place after especially vicious assaults on them. It led into the finish of Regal breaking out of an attempt at the hold into an elbow shot and his signature knee trembler for the pin. Even though Ohno lost, he came out looking better for the experience, and the match gave me hope that there’d be at least one sequel forthcoming from Full Sail.

Sami Callihan vs. Matt Hardy, 2CW Living on the Edge VIII Night 2, 4/20
Callihan is a known quantity. He's a guy you know is going to turn in a tremendous performance every time. Hardy, however, was someone that even when he was well-regarded by the intelligentsia that ran hot and cold for me. In this match, he ran hot, really hot.

The main thread of the match was built around Callihan dragging Hardy out of the ring, kicking the shit out of him in a far remote location, and trying to get the countout. It actually reminded me of my old strategy in several oldentime wrestling video games, one that I used to win many a cheap match in career modes or survival gauntlets. But it was weirdly satisfying to see it bear out in an actual wrestling match. It almost validates my gamer habits until I realize this was an actual storytelling thing, and I was just doing it to collect rassle cash or what have you.

But yeah, all Hardy had to do was show up and not get gassed for this to be a good match, but he was actively good. Therefore, it was a great match. Callihan brought stiffness, Hardy had a sense of humor about himself, and they actually had great chemistry.