|Kicking off the year with a bang|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
CM Punk (c) vs. Ryback, WWE Championship Tables Ladders and Chairs Match, RAW, 1/7 - See highlights here!
In his first televised match back since suffering a seemingly major knee injury, Punk went balls to the wall, ostensibly transposing the match he would have had with Ryback at TLC onto the first RAW of the year. The guy went through tables and mangled ladders for our entertainment, and he proved that pipe bombs might be the second most dangerous weapon in his entertainment arsenal. I applaud the risks Ryback took in the match too, especially the table-broken power bomb into the steps from The Shield at the end. The overbooking was necessary and full of the chaotic zest we’ve come to expect from the marauders in Bossman’s old gear. Punk hobbling up the ladder at the end on one side was a brilliant touch to a fantastic first title defense of 2013.
AR Fox (c) vs. Lucky tHURTeen, Wired Television Championship Match, CZW Ascension, 1/12
This particular CZW show featured very little in the way of ultraviolent hardcore stuff, but what it lacked in the chair shots and blood was made up for by Fox and tHURTeen in terms of bumps and high spots in this match. The match had apron bumps and plentiful dives to the outside. tHURTeen went full accordion when Fox hit him with the basement double hizas in the back of his head, which looked like it hurt more than every crash to the floor taken during the entire match. When you can get the signature bump in a match when your opponent is Fox, you’re doing something right.
Matt and Nick Jackson vs. Ricochet and Rich Swann, PWG DDT4 First Round Match, PWG DDT4, 1/12
For the second year in a row, the opening match of DDT4 was the best match on the show. Going into the match, the teams looked on paper to be a bit too similar in makeup. Both squads had reputations for dazzling high-flying acrobatics, and both teams also bring the dickishness to the table in the ring. As the match unfolded though, the Inner City Machine Guns were able to channel into that babyface fire. The Bucks do have a way of bringing it out of even the unlikeliest teams though.
Sometimes, the Bucks helped through dastardly deeds in the ring. The Brothers Jackson set the tone with a Pearl Harbor. From there, their repertoire included all the requisite eye pokes, back rakes, Chris Jericho-inspired haughty pins, air guitar, and of course, superkicks upon superkicks upon superkicks. The piece de resistance of their physical heeldom came when Nick pulled out a guitar handle laser pointer, played air guitar with it, and then used the business end of it to blind Swann. The Bucks also rode the hairy edge in helping to get the Guns cheered. At one point, Nick shushed the crowd so he could utter a racial slur at Swann, while later on, Matt called Swann “boy.” Obviously, as a longtime viewer of PWG, I got the intent. So did the crowd, as the Guns got a lot of sympathy out of it.
Then again, when Swann and Ricochet can do mind-bending high spots, why risk alienating casual observers and first-time viewers with that kind of heeling? I guess the arguments for either side are too long and drawn out for a single match writeup. And again, Swann and Ricochet totally showed how baller they can be in this match. Whether they displayed pyrotechnic mastery through inside-out kip ups into double ace crushers by Swann or Ricochet flying OVER the ring post to the outside on a plancha, these dudes can fly. They were able to match the Bucks perfectly, and when you can go blow for blow with the best tag team in the known cosmos, then there’s a great shot you’re having the match of the night.
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
Watching this match unfold felt like watching the last five years of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, no, the last five years of indie wrestling come to a close. When a man leaves the scene and it feels like a season finale, you know he meant a whole mess to the fans, viewers, and co-workers he was leaving behind (but not really leaving behind). El Generico, after having spent the last two matches reconciling with and reestablishing mojo with his rival-turned-friend-turned-blood-enemy Kevin Steen, would now stand in union against the greatest evil in PWG, the Young Bucks.
Every beat was revisited: visceral hatred between the brothers and the French Canadians, Rick Knox throwing superkicks, Steen using the apron as aggressive chiropracty for one of the Jacksons. The Bucks even summarized what was the Steen’s relationship with Generico in the last three years by trying to solicit thanks from him for taking out Generico. When Steen spat in both of their faces, I felt the American Legion shake with approval over the long void of both space and time. That moment was met with Generico getting inside-cradled as a counter to the brainbuster end of the classic Steenerico combo finish, of course, because pro wrestling doesn’t let you leave one stage to go to the next one victoriously. In the moment, I wanted to see Generico and Steen go out on top, but when the dust cleared, was it more important that the team won, or that Steen and Generico embraced after the decision was over? If your answer is the former, then I have to apologize on the fundamental disagreement that you and I have on the art of professional wrestling.
Trevor Lee (c) vs. Chiva Kid, CWF Television Championship, OMEGA Chinlock for Chuck, 1/15 - Watch it here!
CWF Mid-Atlantic lent its Television Championship to an OMEGA-promoted fundraiser, and old young rivals Chiva Kid and Trevor Lee were tasked with chewing up some time for the benefit of raising money for a lymphoma patient. Both brought their A-games in a short but satisfying low-card match on the show for Lee’s Championship. The Champ worked in a lot of classic heel shtick, including strongman posing and rubbing the elbow into the gut during a seated cobra twist. Chiva’s pyrotechnics are just amazing, but he always segues into them smoothly and in context. Even when he’s about to eat some knees and get rolled up, like he did at the end of the match, Chiva’s aerial acumen is always fluid and unpredictable.
Cremator von Slasher vs. Mantasia, Hellion Reaper, Breaker Iton, and Lak Siddhartha, Gauntlet Match, ECCW Pocopalooza, 1/18 - Watch it here!
I had very low expectations going into this match, especially when I saw how gangly and hossy the Cremator was. Gauntlet matches tend to stink, quite frankly. I was very surprised to see that the Cremator was very much a mobile, new-school hoss. He knew how to work big, was sprightly, and knew how to play the crowd. His foils, all absurdly named, knew their roles perfectly. My favorite fall was definitely the second one, as Hellion Reaper had his bumping shoes on, and his offense against Cremator was sharp.
I dug the psychology with the conclusion. Iton knew he wasn’t going to win, so he got DQed on purpose with a cane attack, setting up for the girthy and ferocious Siddhartha. The two had me going until the end with a well-played counter from the chokeslam into the F5. I thought for sure Cremator would win, but hey, I’m cool with changing up the tropes here and there
Mike Cruz (c) vs. Vordell Walker, Florida People’s Championship Match, Vintage Wrestling WrestleBrawl 4, 1/19 - Watch it here!
Selling a limb means you sell it on offense as well as defense. When Mike Cruz drapes your leg over the second rope and kicks that rope to make the vibrations wreak havoc on your quadriceps, you sell that shit whether he’s got you in the single leg crab or whether you’re trying to get him up for a powerbomb. Luckily, Vordell Walker has been around the block a couple of times, and he can set an example for the youngsters starting out. Sure, he DID bust out his Backlund-short arm scissor and buckle-bombed Cruz out of the feat of strength after the leg incident. However, canvassing those HOSS moments within prolonged display of the struggle is what makes those kinds of things special.
We’re not even getting into the beginning of the match that saw the two scrap on the mat as if Sylvester Stallone were directing them in a movie about amateur wrestling but taking the same liberties with the in-ring action as he did with the boxing in Rocky. Being as though I’m a huge fan of Fred Yehi, I didn’t find that to be a bad thing. Cruz’s near-flawless transition of ducking a leap frog into the single crab that got him the tap out win at the end of the match was the perfect punctuation on the action as well. All in all, the two competitors here took the ten minutes allotted to them, told a story around Walker’s leg, and dressed it with just enough ancillary action to create an archetypical midcard contest. I’d say that the match was a success.
Kyle Matthews (c) vs. Vordell Walker, RPW Television Championship Match, Rampage Rumble/Rampage TV, 1/20
I had high hopes for this match when I heard it was going down, and it didn’t disappoint, despite the bullshit finish. I understand why some might be nonplussed with a great, hard-hitting title defense ending in disqualification. It’s wrestling blue balls. But I thought the announcers did a good job framing WHY Adonis would come out and ensure that Walker, the guy who leapfrogged him in the pecking order for the title, didn’t win the match while weakening Matthews for when he got his shot. Then again, I’m weird. But you know what doesn’t make me weird? Liking everything that led up to this finish.
The beginning of the match held a lot of that great scrapping where it actually feels like the wrestlers are really fighting rather than displaying. Hard mat wrestling always gets a pop from me. They moved into heat segments, and here’s where Walker shone brightest, working over the Champ with ferocity and cockiness. AT one point, Walker had Matthews draped over the second rope and made him clap his own hands in mocking crowd riling. Matthews’ comebacks were on point as well, a great counterweight to Walker’s looming, bruising presence.
Then they started dropping the big bombs on each other at the end. Again, after seeing these guys bust out their signatures for near falls, the DQ finish might have seemed very anticlimactic, and without context, I would agree. But again, like I wrote to start the recap, I bought it because of the story.
TaDarius Thomas vs. Kyle O’Reilly, Heritage Championship Tournament First Round Match, AAW The Chaos Theory, 1/25
Certain tropes within the “super indie” promotions that are visited by “the usual suspects” have gotten supremely tiring to me. I don’t necessarily think they’re bad in and of themselves for the most part, but when I see them pop up in every match, I lament the utter vacuum of creativity in laying out matches. However, these overused strategies can be used to great effect if the two men in the ring are toeing a fine line or injecting some much-appreciated purpose behind using those certain tropes.
The chestnut in question, which to me is one of the most annoying in the history of wrestling, is the “you hit me, I hit you, and we’re not even gonna try to block each other” exchange that has proliferated far and wide throughout the roads traveled by alumni of Gabe-land and Ring of Honor. Thomas and O’Reilly partook in several during this match, but the way they built the story of their match around the idea and progressed logically made a tired old trope look brilliant. The first go-around was your typical macho bravado exchange bit, but even that was peppered in with creativity, thanks to Thomas’ unique offense grounded in capoeira. The second one saw them blocking each other’s kicks with their shins, only to fall over after they couldn’t take anymore. The third finally had them punch drunk, on spaghetti legs reeling because they couldn’t defend themselves and could only look towards getting the knockout blow.
Both competitors brought some other goods to the table, Thomas with his aforementioned capoeira-based offense that plays so well in a professional wrestling ring, and O’Reilly breaking out some unique submissions (including one with a fishhook, which as many who are familiar with my tastes know is my favorite move ever). But the infusion of psychology and intelligence into a match strategy that has become as trite as the Irish whip without the charm proves that maybe the tools aren’t broken, but the way people use them and how often they are utilized is more to blame.
ACH vs. Prince Ali, Heritage Championship Tournament First Round Match, AAW The Chaos Theory, 1/25
ACH was involved in the best match on an indie card. If you’re surprised by that statement, then you haven’t been reading me for that long, have you? In this opening round tournament action (a tournament that, spoiler alert, ACH would ultimately win), the best unsigned wrestler in the country went up against Prince Ali, a wrestler highly regarded before injuries derailed his career, and the results were electric.
ACH did all the things that he’s acclaimed for in this match. He broke out the trademark high-flying offense, and hit every single one of his spots with his signature panache. What impressed me most from him, however, were his facial expressions, the looks on his face when Ali got the advantages in the match (and Ali spent a LOT of time on offense). Every kick-out was met with wide eyed disbelief. In fact, a lot of the looks he was shooting reminded me of the various screen grabs of Donald Glover that I’ve seen from Community. All in all, this match may have been the best one I’ve seen from ACH to date doing things outside of his pyrotechnic offense. He sold, he bumped, and he did the little things to help get Ali over.
For his credit, Ali was an ideal opponent for ACH here. He was fast enough to keep pace with ACH in the ring, and therefore was able to stay believable on offense despite being the same size. His timing on dosey-dos and exchanges was nearly perfect, and his moveset was a good mix of the traditional and some innovation. He broke out an inverted Go To Sleep that looked infinitely better than the ones KENTA or CM Punk are using. Overall, this match served as a great continuation point for ACH from his lights-out 2012 and a fabulous reintroduction for Prince Ali. It basically what everything in a showcase match should have been.
Arik Royal (c) vs. Cedric Alexander, CWF Mid-Atlantic Championship, CWF-MA Show, 1/26 - Watch it here!
In my dream version of Ring of Honor, Cedric Alexander and ACH are locked in mortal rivalry over the World Championship. Unless either guy gets poached by WWE in the coming months, that scenario might be in play. Until then, Alexander will just have to dazzle in ROH and in other excellent indie promotions like CWF Mid-Atlantic against able opponents like the hossy Champion, Arik Royal. Royal was impressive in spots here. I thought taking a clothesline-takedown bump on the apron was pretty fearless, and he combined his natural HOSS essence with some agile big man stuff.
Alexander, however, was the star of the show, doing both the major stuff and the little things that put matches such as these over the top. The crowd was doing the dueling chant thing (so much so that the announcers thought it might favor Alexander because of his ROH experience), so Alexander heeled it up to get them behind Royal. He dropped the Champ with a snap suplex and sold his lower back being hurt because of the size difference. After nailing Royal with his signature half-nelson lungblower and failing to get the pin after it, the look on his face sold the entire story.
Against a lesser opponent, Alexander might have dragged the quality of match from “bad” to “passable,” but again, Royal brought enough to the table to elevate this match from “good” to “great.” This match was a fitting main event, and it helped solidify Royal’s title reign in its early stages. However, the work that Alexander put into losing this match the way he did are signs of a transcendent talent.
|Two masters going at it once more|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Green Ant and Quack don’t wrestle the typical style of independent wrestling match. Every single one of their notable matches over the years have opened their respective shows, whether it be We Must Eat Michigan’s Brain or The Thirteenth Hat, and they’ve all set tones for their cards without the high spots, the head drops, or even anything approaching a visceral hatred (outside of the chippiness at the end of that middle match in the trilogy). This third match between the two was more of the same, yet it felt evolved.
The World of Sport style lends itself to roughness around the edges, but this match progressed from the unstable, clawing-and-grabbing into some slick exchanges, including an extended Greco-Roman knuckle lock sequence with knee presses and monkey flips. Green Ant showed off some of his brute, sheer strength, as he rolled through into an O’Connor roll on Quack while the mentor seemed to go limp like a bag of flour. Of course, right after the feat of strength, Quack elbowed him in the mush, but hey, these kinds of matches are topsy-turvy.
I dug the Chikara Special teases the most out of all the chestnuts because they exposed an underlying hubris, especially on Quack’s part, and savviness on Greenie’s part. It led to another great feat of strength in the HOSSY stretch muffler. But for the bravado, Quack pulling off the victory at the end with the seatbelt pin combo was a great shock finish, and it gave the excuse to have another match in the series. If any series could pull that kind of “leave ‘em wanting more” kind of finish successfully, this one would fit that bill.
The Royal Rumble Match (30 Wrestlers), Royal Rumble, 1/27
This write-up originally was printed in my review for the Rumble event.
From the moment when the lights went out and the all-too-classic theme song hit with Dolph Ziggler shitting his pants at the man he sent packing from WWE five months prior coming out until the anticlimactic finish, the Rumble match this year took back its throne as the entertaining junk food plate it had been for the two years prior to 2012's aberration of a stinker. There are going to be a lot of people out there who will take that finish and use it as justification for hating the match. Personally, I hold no ill-will to those because everyone's opinions work in a different way than mine do. However, I'm a process-over-results guy myself, and how we got to the end was terrific.
First, all the surprises were legitimate surprises. I was so glad that none of the "spoilers" turned out to be correct because the ones we got, Chris Jericho, Goldust, and even The Godfather, turned out to be great cameo appearances. Jericho did some major work, lasting nearly as long as Ziggler did. Goldust immediately worked in synergy with his little brother, and there was left open the door for a match in the future between the two. Godfather... well, he lasted as long as he should have, and really, what was more valuable, his in-ring or his entrance? I'll leave you to answer that to yourselves.
The people who were supposed to be there though, they were the ones who shone brightest. Whether it was Santino Marella acting like he was the big shot in the beginning and sheepishly putting on his Cobra in an attempt to write the check that his body language tried to cash. There was the ballad of Bo Dallas, who is at least going to get a cup of coffee against RED BELLY out of his performance. There was Dolph Ziggler entering first and making it to the final four, almost building to that crescendo when he goes one hour strong and finally wins this thing like Shawn Michaels. There was Ryback meathooking dudes left and right. Kofi Kingston put his Boston College education to work with an office chair. And how the fuck could anyone forget Daniel Bryan dumping Kane over the top rope, only to let his old Team Uppercut buddy Antonio Cesaro dump him right into the arms of his tag partner, begging futilely for mercy?
There was a lot to love about this Rumble match. A lot. While Cena winning left a bitter taste in my mouth, everything else that preceded it was able to dull that blow. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise, but I did enjoy myself during that match, and there's nothing better than having a fun, fast-paced Rumble match with big surprises and huge moments.
Chiva Kid and Arik Royal vs. Trevor Lee and Ric Converse, National Pro Wrestling Day, 2/2
This write-up originally was printed in my review for NPWD.
You don't know how psyched I was to see that a match from a company and wrestlers I wasn't already familiar with stole the show. I was hoping to come out of the show remembering new faces for tearing the house down, and well, the quartet from CWF Mid-Atlantic gave me just that, especially Chiva Kid. The goat-masked competitor basically put on something of a virtuoso performance, bumping around the ring like a pinball, flying on his own volition, throwing kicks, and pulling off one of the sweetest double rotation moonsaults I've ever seen in my life. But even though Chiva was the breakout star of the entire day, he had a very good supporting cast to make this match the best of a day where at least three or four other matches could've taken that mantel.
The match started off a bit slowly with the rudos trying to feel out Royal. There were a few missteps, but they were easily forgivable. When Chiva got into the match, things started picking up. I felt like he got everyone going, especially Converse, who went into hoss mode. After Royal tagged back in, he looked a lot more comfortable as well. Lee may have been the under the radar star here, with his antics, trash talking, and crowd play.
After the show was over though, Bryce Remsburg said that Chiva was "made" after this match. Given that he won over fans like me and the trolls alike, I would be inclined to agree. That might be the case if he had just hit double moonsault, but he was excellent during the whole match. CWF Mid-Atlantic sent the right four wrestlers.
|ME GUSTA RANDY ORTON|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
If there ever was a time when we needed a Chikara atomico to cleanse our palate of terrible, awful worst wrestling, it was here. Whether it was Icarus lampooning the idea of the hot tag early on in the match, Scott Parker blinding an Ice Cream with a cape and then being the one to miss a spot, or the interminably awesome and eminently quotable “ME GUSTA RANDY ORTON” uttered by Ice Cream Jr. with Parker in a chinlock, it was a fun match needed to reenergize a crowd that had just been socked in the face with misogyny. I’ve always said Chikara 8-man tags are the safest matches to put on, and this delivered.
Fred Yehi vs. Corey Hollis, Platinum Championship Wrestling House Show, 2/2 - Watch it here!
No matter how many times I watch Yehi go to the mat in his edgy, stiff, amateur-and-counter-based repertoire, his matches always feel like something new. The nature of that style is beautiful in that regard. When counters and hold exchanges interspersed and chained together, the combinations and permutations are boundless. Everything feels fresh. Even Davey Richards’ tired old shtick gets a fresh coat of paint with Yehi letting the match go through him.
Corey Hollis is no Davey Richards. He’s way better. In June 2012, he had an awesome match with Yehi when PCW was still under Imperial auspices. The sequel in 2013 went past the bar they had set eight months prior. Hollis and Yehi still went hold for hold in the first act of the match. To watch these two young lions go hard, from the opening volley when Hollis innocently tried a drop toe hold that Yehi countered by simply dropping to one knee, all the way through to Hollis’ heat segment.
There, he threw in a bit of Southern home heel cookin’ into his next-level mat work. Yehi may have done his best job of working underneath that I had seen to date. No longterm selling was in play here, but a match can be great without limb work or without having to hold a body part like it was about to fall off. Control the pace, and you’ll be fine. Hollis and Yehi here laid out a finely tempoed match with a nice finish, Yehi countering a far-too-slowly executed Styles Clash into his STO/Koji Clutch combo match ender.
Daniel Bryan vs. Rey Mysterio, RAW, 2/4 - See highlights here!
This match should be a WrestleMania main event. It won’t, because Rey Mysterio’s time with WWE is growing shorter, but man, this was a tasty match nonetheless. It built off their tag match from Smackdown a few days prior with a lot of the counters they were pulling off, especially the forearm counter to Bryan’s plancha attempt. It was so unlike Mysterio to pop an elbow in there instead of a jumping kick, but that’s what makes him so great. He’s adaptable as all get out and knows not every time is appropriate for a big jumpy move. I’m really digging the tombstone inverted codebreaker that Bryan has started to use against Mysterio as well. The finish was like TH-porn – a top rope move missing and segueing smoothly into the NO! Lock. Give me this match on pay-per-view with 15 minutes, and it’ll blow everyone’s minds.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho, RAW, 2/4 - Watch it here!
A year later, and this match’s roles were reversed. While they blew the roofs off arenas last year, with the shoes on the others’ feet, it felt like Jericho and Punk were better fits for each other. Jericho almost never fit as a good guy in the ring, but against Punk in this stage of his career, he found his perfect rival. They complemented each other so well; even when Punk misstepped as he’s wont to with his flying elbow, Jericho was right there to bring beauty and form back into the match with a picture perfect Lionsault. I could watch these two scrap all night, and Punk may have hit his best flash roundhouse kick to the skull in this match.
Kalamity vs. Cherry Bomb, WSU An Ultraviolent Affair, 2/9
This match would have been good regardless if both women were silent. Cherry Bomb elevated it to “worthy of mention” through her constant chirping in the match. Great shit-talking can do a lot to enhance a match. It’s a reason why Mark Henry is so good at what he do. Cherry Bomb was the prototypical heel in all facets of the game in this match though. She stalled, she gouged, she licked her palm before striking Kalamity in the chest. It was all sublime. Kalamity’s facial expressions sold a lot for me as well. She has a reputation of being a straight up strong style wrestler, and yeah, she totally brought that to the table here. But this might have been the best I’ve seen of her in my limited exposure.
Jessicka Havok (c) vs. Athena, WSU Championship Match, WSU An Ultraviolent Affair, 2/9
This write-up originally was printed in my review for An Ultraviolent Affair.
They tore the remains of the house down that Jazz and Rachel Summerlyn did most of the work on at Queen of Queens last year. This time, they were the ones who brought the place down all by themselves. In the rare case where the sequel was better than the original, Athena and Jessicka Havok may have thrown gasoline on the fire lit that could turn out to be one of wrestling's great modern rivalries.
The match had a classic bully/underdog feel to it, with Havok as the brash, mouthy Champion asserting her dominance in unique and painful-looking ways. The way she moved seamlessly from tortuous move into even more excruciating variants. She turned a camel clutch (where she was biting Athena's neck) into a backbreaker into a lariat. She combined submissions and strikes like she was a medieval dungeonmaster. Maybe the most spiteful and awful thing she did was lock Athena into another camel clutch, scream "I'M GOING FOR HER WEAVE!" and try to rip her hair out while face-washing her on the mat. Those verbal taunts though, man, they were best touches. She hurled screaming obscenities and taunts to Athena as she was trying to break her. Evil that lets you know its evil is the best kind, and Havok certainly let Athena know the providence of her intentions. Spoiler alert, it was baaaaad.
But for every barbed prong Havok shoved at Athena, the Wrestling Goddess had something to throw back at her. It was mostly her kicks, especially a single leg dropkick she went back to time and time again. At times, her comebacks were lightning quick, whether it was coming out of nowhere to sweep out Havok's leg into a heel hook, or trying like hell to get away from Havok's death grip and slid under her into a pumphandle hold. Her pluck would be the end of her. As she climbed the top for her O-Face, Havok intercepted her, thumped her to the mat with an avalanche Air Raid Crash, and put her down to even their series at two. That being said, I wouldn't mind if they went 2,000 matches.
Tomorrow, the countdown will arrive at last year's WrestleMania.