Thursday, April 10, 2014

The 2013 Match Countdown: YES! to Three Falls

Oh the carnage
Photo Credit:

The list is almost complete, and this entry features one of the single greatest weeks in WWE's in-ring history.

Antonio Cesaro vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Fandango vs. Jack Swagger vs. Wade Barrett, World Championship Shot Money in the Bank Ladder Match, WWE Money in the Bank, 7/14
This write-up originally appeared in my review for Money in the Bank.
The Blue Briefcase Money in the Bank ladder match was the thirteenth of its kind. I don't know if that number is a large enough sample size to definitively say that the form has attained perfection, but I saw masses of bodies move both harmoniously and in erratic entropy. I witnessed storytelling and raw spot play, teamwork and iconoclasm, catharsis snatched away from the crowd and the son of a son of a plumber at the last possible moment. Again, I'm not sure that we've seen enough of these matches to know what perfection looks like, but I'd be hard-pressed to say that any of the twelve preceding this match and the one that succeeded it at the end of the show were any better.

The thing about Money in the Bank is that it's inherently a junk food match, one where stories don't go to resolve, but where ones end up starting, or at the very least kicking into overdrive. So when psychology gets interwoven into the foray, and not just the kind of psych that usually pops up spur of the moment within a match, the whole proceedings get elevated. When Ambrose was announced as a participant in the match, everyone had to figure the rest of The Shield would get involved as well. They did, and when the Usos came out to neutralize the interlopers, they sucked another team into the vortex. The Real Americans got a newly-pressed name out of the whole thing, but before they leaped headlong into a tag war between a heretofore unknown police state and Samoa, they created some moments of synergy that I'm not sure had ever visited upon Money in the Bank.

When Jack Swagger served as the anthropomorphic stilts for Antonio Cesaro, I jumped out my chair and pumped my fist. I knew Cesaro wouldn't snag the briefcase and instead would just serve as a canvas for another high-impact, approaching-full-Ziggler bump. But the idea of it, two guys working together to make sure at least one of them was able to win individual glory, it flies in the face of traditional WWE logic, heel or face, that it refreshed an entire match concept. Even if most of their teamwork backfired on them, most spectacularly when Ambrose SKINNED THE GODDAMN CAT ON A LADDER they were bridging between themselves, it felt new.

But the story of the match was the rise of Cody Rhodes. It's intriguing that all you have to do in WWE is hit a few people with your finisher and look hella cool doing it to be the next big thing. It's almost like WWE audiences, as a collective, value badassery over traditional good guy traits. Hmm. Still, Rhodes didn't just break out all his stored finishes from inventory, but he did so with genetic Runnels family babyface fire. He earned catharsis from that crowd, but then again, in WWE, they really make you work for that kind of payoff if you're a good guy. Turning in one night isn't good enough. That's why Damien Sandow had to win. That's why he had to plunge the knife in the back of Rhodes Scholars. Because Rhodes' moment comes on another day.
Eddie Kingston vs. Eric Corvis, Wrestling Is Cool Cool Party, 7/21
This write-up originally appeared in my review for Cool Party.
Kingston was still new enough as a rudo that a sizable number of fans audibly cheered for him upon his entrance. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that Corvis had appeared for any Chikara-affiliated promotion. So, what did Kingston do? He threatened to destroy a cooling fan, harassed each and every one of the human fans, and gave Corvis the foundation upon which he could engineer a solid structure of fan following. Corvis then took that opportunity and ran with it.

The crowd-play, with the exception of an unnecessarily hateful remark towards a fan with brown skin that looked like he was of South Asian/Middle Eastern descent, was fine, but it had to be backed up with remarkable action. Kingston threw his bombs stiff and sure, but Corvis, who was billed as the "Wrestling Scientist," had heady counters, timely kicks, and even tried a bit of psychological warfare by breaking out Kingston's signature short Kawada chop flurry at one point. Corvis also bumped his ass off during the match, almost as if he knew Kingston was going a bit crazy from the heat. When he got his butt whipped, he certainly got his butt whipped.

But I keep going back to the part of the match when Kingston, haughtily discounting Corvis' abilities by turning his back to him for such a long time, shoving the front row fans out of the way and turning to face the young kid who was looking away from the ring too much. I could understand maybe the kid being scared to death that the big bad man who got all ornery and threw chairs into the ring would do something bad to him. Maybe it went a bit over the edge, but when Corvis blindsided Kingston as he was berating the kid, it made the whole exchange worthwhile. And when Corvis high-fived the kid? That made the entire show a success to me. I became an Eric Corvis fan at this show, and I gained a whole new appreciation for the War King. That's the mark of a great match.
Sheamus vs. Alberto del Rio, RAW, 7/22 - Watch highlights here!
I am a wimp. I could never make it in pro wrestling, even if I had the training. If I had a hangnail, I would be out for three months. That’s why it amazes me that Sheamus not only got into the ring with that metaphorical bullseye of a hematoma on his thigh, but allowed it to be the focal point of the match. Even if it didn’t hurt him one bit, the average viewer, in this case my wife who watches occasionally with me, noted that it looked like it was above and beyond what the normal threshold for a pro wrestler would be.

But again, a guy like Sheamus not only competed with the hematoma, but he hossed his way around the ring too. There was a brilliant sequence where del Rio countered a corner move into the cross armbreaker while draped over the top rope. Sheamus, with a look of feral adrenaline in his eyes, Backlund-short-armed him up just to shiv him with his forearm all the way down to the floor. Everything about that spot got the hairs on my back to stand up. Then, he went and skinned the cat on his signature “miss the dropkick and fly to the floor” spot only to have Sheamus drag him up for the chest clubs. See, the hematoma made me feel bad for Sheamus, but del Rio bumped so goddamn hard in this match. The bruise made it easy to overlook.

But that bruise, man, Sheamus deserves all the credit in the world for incorporating it into the match and keeping track of it. From beginning to end, the leg was a factor, even up to the stellar finish. Some people kvetched about del Rio going for the cross armbreaker, but man, that was one misstep, and it actually added to the realism. Sometimes, adrenaline gets you. The important part? Sheamus lost thanks to his bum leg. That was great capper on a great match.

Antonio Cesaro vs. Daniel Bryan, RAW, 7/22 - Watch highlights here!
One day, I’m going to talk to my children and my children’s children. I am going to regale them about the time I first saw Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro, as Bryan Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli. And I’m going to tell them that they were in a team called Team Uppercut. Then I’m going to tell them all about their select appearances for Chikara, where they threw European uppercuts at everyone. Then I’m going to show them the sequence in this match, this RAW match, where Cesaro and Bryan Euro-cutted each other into attempted submission. They will get the context. And we will have a moment to bond over. Over wrestling.

I knew that Cesaro and Bryan would deliver if given a stage, no matter how big or small. I was fearful when Bryan had just dispatched Jack Swagger in like three minutes beforehand. Bryan and Cesaro would get five minutes before Randy Orton or Big Show or Ryback would come out to be the meaty portion of a show where Bryan was tasked with carrying the final 45-50 minutes. But to my pleasant surprise, two of the best wrestlers in WWE, nay, the world, got over 20 minutes to be the best, to do what they’d done a billion times before in the indies, although not that one time in PWG when they did nothing but headlocks. Well, Cesaro had his headlock game going, but I figure if they tried to troll a WWE audience, well, yeah, let’s not ruminate on that.

Still, there was Cesaro landing Swiss Death and the Alpamare Waterslide. There was Bryan flying like a racquetball made of kinetic energy and carbon steel at both Cesaro and Swagger. Bryan landing forearms on Cesaro out of the Figure 4. Cesaro wrenching Bryan like he was a rag doll. And then the finish, the perfection of the Mr. Small Package personality, where Bryan countered a pop-up uppercut into a fucking inside cradle. You don’t teach that kind of frenzy. That’s instinctual on both ends. But it was expected from the two. Was it fair? You might say no, but hey, they delivered. Because they’re the best in the world. Because they’re two guys that I am going to tell my kids and grandkids about.

Christian vs. Alberto del Rio, RAW, 7/29 (airdate) - Watch highlights here!
Alberto del Rio takes bumps in every match, both a flaw and a highlight. Christian, however, has a somewhat of a low impact offense outside of his finishing set. Then again, Christian is such a cagey wrestler that he finds ways to work his opponents’ strengths into the match. del Rio needs a way to get to the floor? Let Christian flip him over the ropes in the corner. Sure, he didn’t do his normal missed dropkick through the ropes, but you gotta change it up every once in awhile. Both guys know how to go above and beyond on limb work, referenced by del Rio dropkicking Christian’s arm against the ring steps. Their timing on the match finish was sublime as well. Christian’s roll through may have been the best I’ve ever seen the cross armbreaker countered.

Alberto del Rio vs. Cody Rhodes, Main Event, 8/14 (airdate) - Watch highlights here!
When you get Alberto del Rio chewing canvas in a match, you’re going to get an effort at working the arm. If he were a Pokemon, his ability would be “Limb Attack.” Okay, I just went super nerdy on your asses. Anyway, on his best nights, del Rio is able to provide a masterclass to anyone looking on what it means to target a body part. If that means wrenching Rhodes’ arm from the outside over the rope, then so be it. If it means clutching the cross armbreaker illegally while hanging over the ropes, hey, go for it. If it means tossing Rhodes into the corner shoulder first, then by all means, do it. From first blood all the way to the end flourish into the armbreaker, punching Rhodes’ hands to break the link preventing del Rio from locking in the hold all the way, del Rio is a boss at this kind of thing.

Of course, without a strong, sympathetic figure to canvas that attack against, limb attack comes off as sterile, mechanical. Rhodes’ genetically-passed-down babyface fire burnt bright during the match, as he had answers for questions that del Rio hadn’t even asked yet. Some of his bright spots were trying, trying, trying again, especially on his Disaster Kick and a shining wizard that whiffed early but hit late. Other points saw him throw caution to the wind and hit on moves like a moonsault, even if it meant landing his gut flush on del Rio’s shoulder. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but if it was? Then Rhodes is a goddamn genius.

Basically, in a world full of Hulk Hogans, Rhodes showed a Southern style babyface, the one who isn’t dominant in victory, but promises eternal hope even in consecutive defeat, can survive in the Yankee territory. For John Cena, hitting the Attitude Adjustment means certain victory against anyone not named The Rock or CM Punk (read, the upper upper echelon of opponents). For Cody Rhodes, the CrossRhodes only meant a stay of execution, a hope that maybe del Rio wouldn’t make him tap. For the time they both wallowed on the canvas, that hope sprang eternal, and on a show like Main Event, where the process means so much more than the results ever will, hope and not winning is the currency.

Christian vs. Damien Sandow, Smackdown, 8/16 (airdate) - Watch highlights here!
I named my bump intensity gauge the Ziggler Scale, but let’s face it. Christian has been going Full Ziggler before its namesake was the nameless caddy for Kerwin White. Sandow gave him a kneelift while he was draped over the top rope, and as he crashed all the way to the floor, I knew the bump-fest was on. Rammed into the ring steps? Slammed on the apron? Laid out on said apron while Sandow stood on top of him? Yes, yes, and yes!

The finish was definitely well done. First, Sandow escaping the Killswitch with a cartwheel felt unique, even if it seemed like it should have happened a couple of times. Cartwheels are old as time, right? Christian answered with some cageyness of his own, rolling away from the Cubito Aequet, only to draw Sandow in for the inside cradle victory. Two veterans doing veteran things will always bring random Smackdown matches to life, especially towards the end of them.

Photo Credit:
Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk, SummerSlam, 8/18
The greatest Attitude Era match did not happen in the Attitude Era; it took place at SummerSlam thirteen years after it ended. Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, and Paul Heyman put on a clinic of how to construct a match where every option used to club away at the “sport” aspect of sports entertainment was exhausted, driven into the ground without Vince Russo’s trademark loss of an internal possession of common sense. I don’t know if a sample size of one match can vindicate an entire time-shifted style of wrestling, but it at least proved to me that no matter how many times the fabric of a sporting contest is rent asunder in a single match that it can still work within the same universe as, say, the Johnny Saint vs. Johnny Kidd World of Sport exhibition.

How did that match become a paradigm? Well, they told a story and stuck to it. Punk was mad at Lesnar, but he was even more mad at Heyman. Despite his desire to best the Beast, his hubris and anger wouldn’t let him totally ignore Heyman. Any time he’d have Lesnar on the ropes, Punk would leave him behind as if the magic WCW fairies would come out and grant him a victory so he could feast on Heyman’s prone carcass. Heyman, with a point to prove, took those threats and physical contact from Punk and used it as fuel to drop his pretenses and get involved on Lesnar’s behalf.

And Lesnar himself? Well, he came to a street fight the way he’d always come to street fights, with anger in his eyes, trash talk on his lips, and a hayseed simple machine for a brain that only has two settings: kill and “Say somethin’ stupid, Paul.” The scariest thing in the world is to see a guy who doesn’t need to resort to extracurricular weaponry bring in the chair just for fun. Put all three of those elements together, turn up the trash TV factor, and up the brutality a billion percent, and voila, you get a perfect distillation of the hyperbaric chamber of rock ‘n roll decadence that inspired TNA to copy everything about it and ROH to rebel against everything it stood for. I’d say that makes this match an unequivocal success, wouldn’t you?

John Cena (c) vs. Daniel Bryan, WWE Championship Match, SummerSlam, 8/18
This write-up originally appeared in my review for SummerSlam.
I've long maintained that John Cena and Daniel Bryan could very well have the best possible WWE pay-per-view main event of the current roster as situated. The build to this match was very much Cena in so many roundabout words that he wasn't an entertainer, while Bryan directly attacked Cena's bona fides as a wrestler. However, in my heart of hearts, I know and have always known that Cena is an entertainer who is one of the best wrestlers, and Bryan is a grappler's grappler who is pretty snazzy as a personality himself. If any two guys could carry the "event" match mantel better than Cena and CM Punk could, these two would be the combination.

Each wrestler slipped into the mold that was not attributed to them at various points in the match. Usually, Cena deviates from his "Five Moves of Doom" formula later in the match when he's exhausted options, but he busted out a powerbomb early on as a slick counter. And yeah, while he didn't actually drop Bryan on his head in that corner dissension counter that looked curiously like a Ganso Bomb, the maneuvering in the corner was very puroresu in dialect. Cena had to be direct with addressing his accusations because they were directly laid at his doorstep.

Bryan, however, was able to be more subtle in addressing his concerns, because Cena didn't directly lay them at his feet in the promo build. But Bryan proved he could be every bit the franchise for WWE as Cena is now. He hit all the beats, assumed some of the Super Cena oeuvre, something that might have gone unnoticed because Bryan didn't totally no-sell everything thrown at him. But Bryan doesn't want to be Cena. He wants to be the first Daniel Bryan, so he just countered everything Cena threw at him. He showed why he's the best wrestler.

I heard rumblings on social media at the time that all the beats were setting up Cena to come back, but the beauty in this match was that it was always set up for Bryan to win. He lured Cena into his spider's lair, and they traded false finishes and counters like they were rolling around the canvas at the Hammerstein Ballroom at Final Battle. Daniel Bryan's match was wrestled in the main event of SummerSlam, so of course, it was going to be won with him pulling a heretofore unused move out of his bag of tricks, in this case, the second finisher to be borrowed from KENTA and the only one worth adopting for an American audience. If this match didn't prove that Bryan had at least a share of WWE's heart, nothing even could. A perfect cap for a stellar event.
Sami Zayn vs. Antonio Cesaro, 2 out of 3 Falls Match, NXT, 8/21 (airdate)
Sami Zayn saw his opportunity and struck. The preceding sentence could describe the overall theme of the story told throughout the entire feud, let alone this match. Zayn saw his opening right at the beginning, diving with a tope con hilo, beautifully hit almost as a somersault bulldog or clothesline. He repeated a spot from their first match, combining a victory roll and a Yoshi Tonic. He saw the final fall in his grasp with the most physically impossible looking tornado DDT on the outside leaping THROUGH the turnbuckle gap.

Thing was, Zayn had to take every opportunity, whether it was presented to him or whether he had to scratch and claw to pull it out of thin air. Cesaro put his hoss on display at every turn, exerting his statuesque frame and hulking, chiseled muscles over Zayn’s beanpole. Unlike, say, Mason Ryan, Cesaro knew how to put the Swiss Superman frame to good use. Notice the first fall came in guerrilla fashion, Zayn catching Cesaro off guard from the aforementioned tope and then with the corner Yakuza kick. Everything that Cesaro did, however, made him look like the human avalanche he was putting the rush down on small town that was Zayn.

See, when they met as Claudio Castagnoli and El Generico on the indies, they were equals, guys whose only shared difference was their size. Generico had cache to throw all his signature offense at Castagnoli. But in a new setting, they had to create a new story, cast new roles for themselves. Tapping out to a chinlock would have been inconceivable in PWG or ROH, but it made total sense for Zayn to put hand to the mat lest he get choked the fuck out by Cesaro. Besides, a Cesaro chinlock looks more like a sleeper hold than anything else.

And thus, we arrive at the finish, one that would have worked on any level. Zayn had the match in tow, he really did. But his time hadn’t arrived yet, so Cesaro had to squash his comeback, but the way in which he put Zayn down, man, it would have been such a downer if it wasn’t done with Herculean strength and balance topped with impeccable timing. He had to let the crowd think that Zayn was going to take the aforementioned tornado DDT home and win. Any other way would’ve felt cheap.

Estonian Thunder Frog vs. Drew Gulak, Wrestling Is Cool Endless Winter, 8/25
This write-up originally appeared in my review for Endless Winter.
I wasn't surprised to see that the Estonian Thunder Frog had the bona fides to go to the mat and wrestle Drew Gulak's match with him. Obviously, he was either a product of the Chikara Wrestle Factory, or he had the skills that made Chikara and himself mutually attractive to each other. I appreciated the down-to-the-mat approach too. Again, I'm a huge fan of mat wrestling, World of Sport, counterwrestling, and all that jazz.

What I was surprised at was the fact that the Frog went to the mat so readily. Every time I've seen the Thunder Frog wrestle, he's been exaggerated, over the top with his comedy. I appreciate that style too. You should know by now that I appreciate all styles of wrestling, but that's neither here nor there. Seeing him work the mat with Gulak and keep up with the mat master confirmed everything I already knew about the Chikara family.

In addition to the excellent mat work, they worked in plenty of tasty spots throughout all phases of the match. Gulak picking the Frog out of the air with a sunset flip on a typical leapfrog was probably my spot of the match, just because I'm naturally drawn to taking banal, almost commonplace spots in a match and adding on something unexpected to them. Gulak showed he could keep up with T-Frog in the hoss department with some deadlift suplex impressiveness, and the finish was very well done.
House Slytherin EXPLODES
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Ophidian and Amasis vs. Mark Andrews and Pete Dunne, Wrestling Is Cool Endless Winter, 8/25
The British imports played like a variation on the Young Bucks, and luckily for me, I love the Young Bucks. The Bucks and the Portal are a dream match of mine, so this one had to do. The two teams broke in early with mat work, but when they started with the pyrotechnics, stuff got hot and heavy in an instant. I couldn’t keep up with writing down what moves they were doing, but then again, maybe their pace was the way of telling me that I wasn’t supposed to be writing it. But for all the double team bombast, the best moment in the match saw Dunne performing a feat of hossdom I could never expect, a double single leg crab on both members of the Portal.

Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins, RAW, 8/26
Seth Rollins went Full Ziggler three times in this match. Three. You shouldn’t go Full Ziggler once every three matches. Rollins is crazy, but he is bumping his ass off for our enjoyment. Honestly, Bryan doesn’t really need the help to make his offense look tremendous and effective. He is the reigning Best in the World, right? But maybe that’s why Rollins and Bryan have such great synergy. Would anyone else think to rocket themselves into the announce table like Rollins did for Bryan’s Superman plancha? Would anyone else take the inside out German superplex period? Rollins has improved so much since coming to WWE in my estimation, but at this period in time, after two singles matches with Bryan that have made this list, the old maxim remains true: Seth Rollins always has great matches with Daniel Bryan (and Nigel McGuinness… I miss Nigel, for what it’s worth).

Sami Zayn vs. Jack Swagger, NXT, 9/4 (airdate)
Zayn and Swagger had an epic match to follow up, but thankfully for us, the fans, they nearly got to the pinnacles reached when the former wrestled the latter’s tag partner two weeks prior. Swagger played the meathead bully a bit more than Antonio Cesaro did, but of the two hosses that comprise the Real Americans, Swagger is the brute force. The Swiss Superman is the finesse partner. Zayn, thankfully, plays well off both. I think he would have had a better match with 2009 Swagger or someone like Swagger who’s better now, but for now, the lot we’re cast is this one.

Zayn thrives against brute force because he’s allowed to bump and sell with greater effect. The most effective example was late in the match when Swagger pulled him in for a short-arm lariat and Zayn folded inside out and popped up as if he was drunk on the liquor of cranial impact. That tidbit might have been the best bit of anything in either match. However, Zayn had his vulnerability shoes on for the entire match, going hard into corners, reaching up to the air for help that wasn’t there (Kevin Steen?), playing to appeal, working psychology (making sure he landed the Yakuza kick with the foot that wasn’t just in the ankle lock). He, like Ricky Steamboat before him, is an elemental babyface, and those kinds of guys tend to do well in WWE.

While the Cesaro match was the blowoff of a story, this match served as a bridge to a different one. For as much as I would have loved Zayn to take Swagger out in the middle of the ring, and there were many spots where I thought he shone offensively as well (his picture perfect tope con giro or the signature-from-the-indies Yakuza kick or his magnificent Blue Thunder Bomb), Bo Dallas running distraction to allow Swagger getting the tap out victory was the right call. Still, even if the finish was slightly deflating, this was a perfect complement to the Cesaro match.

Ryback vs. Dolph Ziggler, Smackdown, 9/6 (airdate) - Watch highlights here!
Ryback works too believably from underneath for his own good, but I admit his vulnerability creates a match environment that I enjoy. He’ll bump, although not nearly at the scale of his opponent in this match does on a regular basis. Maybe Ziggler is learning. He didn’t come close to going FULL ZIGGLER, but Ryback took Ziggler’s signature hard shoulder in the post and then a tumble to the steps on the outside. Assist goes to Dean Ambrose in this match for the timely and made eminent sense. Outside interference isn’t always this cringe-inducing intrusion, especially when it’s done correctly. But where this match’s lynchpin lay was a sequence in the middle where Ryback squeezed the air out of Ziggler’s midsection with a bearhug. As Ziggler squirmed out, Ryback exerted his dominance by pressing Ziggler down, shoulders to the mat. Sometimes, the simplest, safest wrinkles are the ones that make matches.

Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins, Smackdown, 9/6 (airdate) - Watch highlights here!
Bryan and Rollins had a tall order trying to live up to their RAW match, but both guys are savvy enough to know not to work the same match twice in a row if the same crowd was going to see it. They took stuff that worked - the insane bumps, German suplexes, THAT DAMN NUMBERS GAME - and worked them into different scenarios. Instead of a top rope inside out German, Bryan laid Rollins out with a high angle snap version on the ground. Rollins slammed Bryan into the ring steps around the outside, almost analogous to the Garvin stomp. Bryan finally assumed the role of WWE ace by keeping the Shield at bay by himself, but he didn’t do it through no-sells or Herculean feats of strength. Guerrilla warfare befits a small, smart, and sage wrestler. The little things that make sense are the lube to the gears that turn and create the grand match experiences, and no two wrestlers seem to know that more than both Rollins and especially Bryan.

Goldust vs. Randy Orton, RAW, 9/9 - Watch it here!
The crowd chanted “You still got it!” at Goldust in the beginning of the match, as if they didn’t see him sporadically wrestle in WWE for the last five years. Then again, I’m not sure how many people paid attention to Superstars and WWECW. Either way, Goldie hit all his beats against a rejuvenated Randy Orton, and Orton gave Goldie reasons to bump during the match. I think I’m justified in saying that Orton sets up his barricade back suplex more organically than his stump DDT, and here, that spot drove home the enmity that Corporation Nouveau had towards the Rhodes family. Major props to Goldie for breaking out the Crossrhodes here too.

Daniel Bryan vs. Dean Ambrose, RAW, 9/9
If Triple H is trying to get over as a heel by making Bryan get in the ring with each member of the Shield, he’s doing an awful job of it. Every match Bryan has gotten in up to this point in the year has taken on the tenor of a pay-per-view main event, especially when paired with one of his old independent foes in Ambrose. The two chewed time over two segments of show and stoked the coals of a fading crowd back into a frenzy. Who said people didn’t care about wrestling matches again? Oh, right, the guys who couldn’t realize what they had and purposefully threw out Steve Austin and Mick Foley into garbage time scenarios on ADHD-addled RAWs. Welp, there I go making facetious, cross-era comparisons that may or may not be valid. I’m just as bad! But I digress.

Ambrose and Bryan jutted into well-worn ruts to great effect while building some new track to continue their tapestry. I will never tire of seeing Bryan break into the halfway applied Romero special, resting so that both guys are upright, and then reaching for the nosehook. I don’t know whether an evil esper lives in my brain that likes seeing soft tissue and cartilage tugged at, but hey, my itch gets scratched. I also predict that one day, when Bryan finally completes his kick flurry as the crowd goes “Whooooooaaaaaa,” the audience will immolate. He’d set it up for far too long. However, the new twists added to the match were what turned the contest from notable to outstanding.

Bryan’s back superplex was a different spot than the inside out German superplex he gave to Rollins the week before, and it made sense because different opponents call for different measures. Both wrestlers bumped their asses off, and in Bryan’s case, he bumped his ass in when he flew into the turnbuckle posterior first. The attempted interference added both a heroic layer and a story layer, and Ambrose beckoning Bryan to stay down before he fell victim to the small package was the white truffle shaved upon the chef’s special. Amazing, amazing stuff.

Hoss face-off!
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Michael Elgin vs. Kevin Steen, ROH Championship Tournament Semifinal, ROH Death before Dishonor XI, 9/20
This write-up originally appeared in my review for Death before Dishonor.
I've criticized Elgin a lot since I first was really immersed in his star at Battle of Los Angeles in 2012. The art of HOSS is a delicate one, which seems paradoxical on the surface. Hosses are huge dudes who throw hands and sell more gradually than smaller wrestlers, but invincibility feels like an art that requires a lot of fine tuning. Elgin has always felt robotic, mechanical, sterile to me, and in theory, those qualities aren't bad, per se. However, I feel like the character Elgin has and the way he has executed in the ring always were disconnected, at least until I saw him at Death before Dishonor.

While Kevin Steen is almost always excellent, I don't want to give him all the credit. Still, the way he does the little things, like getting red-faced over "Mr. Wrestling!" chants, grasping for a rope break on a simple arm-wringer, or grumbling at the ref for petty issues adds so much to his bigger picture. If a perfect opponent for Elgin to work as a canvas off existed, I feel like Steen is that guy. That synergy shone through in this match. Steen's heft made Elgin's strongman deadlift spots - ESPECIALLY the Everest German - look that much more impressive, and Steen dealt on his strikes and moves like he always does.

But Elgin was the revelation to me, here. For the first time since I saw him wrestle Chris Hero at the Armory in January of 2012, I saw him emote, sell with vigor, and actually participate in a wrestling match that was a story different than him going all golem and shrugging off blows like he was all hopped up on Mario Starman. The most telling part of the match for me was when Elgin took a Steen sleeperplex, got up on all fours with exasperation in his face, and grabbed his neck before rising slowly to Steen's disbelief. This match featured the Michael Elgin I want to see.
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler and Jimmy and Jey Uso, RAW, 9/30 - Watch highlights here!
Shield six man tags never get old. Ever. They may start slow sometimes, but even after ten complete months of them working trios magic against permutations of opponents from a pool of no more than ten possible foes, they always have at least one stretch that leaves the jaws dropped. In this particular contest, the hot tag sequence to Ziggler until the match finish was complete visual wrestling sex. Ziggler showed why at least in the ring he’s made to be a babyface, and the Shield’s manipulation of the even strength into a numbers advantage was on full display.