Saturday, October 26, 2013

I Love Wrestling

I've comes to grips with it. Wrestling is in my blood. It's not going anywhere.

WWF Saturday Night's Main Event, Oct. 3, 1987

One of my earliest memories. I was 5 years old. It was Saturday night. I was in my pajamas sitting on the floor Indian style playing with my G.I. Joe Amphibious Personnel Carrier. It was a great vehicle because it could hold over 20 action figures like a giant toy school bus. I stared up at the TV. What I saw has invaded my dreams and psyche ever since. It wasn't until just now I was able to dig up proof of its existence. The wild samoan Sika and the larger than life Hulk Hogan cutting promos on each other in lieu of their battle. I was mesmerized. Funny anecdote, I'd always believed Sika was eating a massive, long piece of bread, like a baguette. Now, some 26 years later I realize it was in fact something much more ghastly, a lifeless chicken which he bites directly into!

Ever since that moment I've been hooked. I've liked a lot of stuff over the years, call them hobbies, cartoons, movies, toys, games, comics, NBA, the outdoors like parks, food, books, etc. Many of these have been lifelong pursuits. But wrestling ranks at the very top. It's the most pervasive. It's been in my mind and a part of my daily life. Even at my busiest moments, commuting to three different campuses' for college while holding down a job, I'd still squeeze in matches on my laptop in-between classes and go on trips to live shows with friends, even now, with two babies, running my full-time website Review the World, and working a demanding job, not a day goes by that I don't watch a few matches.

I've always said that I'm a rare breed of a fan that likes it all. If pressed certainly I could rank favorites among the various styles and companies but in general I love all wrestling. Today's community of fans on the Internet typically have strong opinions. I genuinely love watching it all and my only unrealistic gripe is the inability to see everything!

During the heyday of Never Hand Over when we were running on all cylinders ushered one of the highlights of my fandom. We were having near weekly DVD nights at my apartment or at my friend Adam's house watching hours upon hours of wrestling. Sometimes we'd even do insane marathon sessions like "All Day Savage" where we spent 9+ consecutive hours watching "Macho Man" Randy Savage footage. It was during these fun tilts I coined phrases like "these discs won't watch themselves!" and we'd routinely kid around about "studying" our favorite subject.

Growing up as a kid I loved watching WCW and WWF (and anything else I could occasionally get my hands on). As a teen with some disposable income I started collecting tapes and recording shows amassing a large collection which, as a young adult, via the resources of the Internet, really expanded to include wrestling from all over the world and from all eras. I still enjoy the mainstream product and never miss a show. But I also love the physical style in Japan, and the dives, costumes, and culture in Mexico. I love the independent scene. I have hundreds and hundreds of shows from ROH, PWG, Chikara, CZW, FIP, DGUSA, Evolve, IWA Mid-South and East Coast, and dozens and dozens more. I eat that stuff up. I love classics -- for example the DVDVR '80's sets set the gold standard giving people like myself exposure to stuff we'd only ever read about like Mid-South, Memphis, Texas, AWA, etc.

Just yesterday I watched ten or so matches completely different from the last. Guys bludgeoning each other in a small gymnasium for IWA MS, the goofiness of Team Osaka Pro in Chikara, DiBiase and Roberts at an '80's house show exhibiting mastery of technique beyond compare, and one of the damnedest things I've ever seen, Drake Younger and Danny Havoc at Cage of Death XI taking some of the sickest bumps imaginable.

I look back at moments of solitude in my childhood, while my brother was off doing his thing, my parents theirs, and many of those moments I cherish and hold dear, I was in my room with wrestling. Reading wrestling magazines, playing with my wrestling toys enacting my own epic battles in the ring unless the action spilled out over my room, and above all else, watching wrestling. I remember watching scrambled black and white broadcasts barely visible by playing with the tuner to try to see pay-per-view events for free long before the days of digital. I remember being bored in '96 at 13 and stumbling upon CWA Bodyguards vs. Bandits from the Sportatorium in Texas, sneaking away from my family's dinner in the living room, absconding away with a few slices of pizza, and watching with interest this a bizarre 12 Man Tag Team Football match that went 27 min. but felt like 50.

In two weeks I'm flying solo to a TNA iMPACT! live show and TV taping. And the fact that I have to miss ROH live days before due to scheduling issues drives me nutty. My drive to be at shows, stay up on the current product, and see as many DVDs as I can is a passion I no longer look at with any skepticism. The bottom line: wrestling makes me happy. For some people it's sports, or crafts, or any other hundreds of interests and pursuits, wrestling is mine.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Austin vs. Rock - Rebellion '01

Back in the dog days of the summer of '08 former staff writer and blog co-founder Jessie wrote of the "Holy Trilogy", no, not Lucas or Coppola's film troika, or the Maynard vs. Edgar triumvirate, he spoke in hushed tones of the revered Austin vs. Rock triptych.

While finishing off the recent The Top 25 Rivalries in Wrestling History three-disc set I came across another entry in their venerated series. I hadn't seen the match in question in nearly 13 years which really gave me pause. Had it really taken place that long ago? Held in the United Kingdom WWF's Rebellion 2001 was the most successful of its four iterations (running from '99-'02) at least in terms of box office bringing in a crowd of 15,600+.

I always enjoyed the UK shows. On one hand, they were frowned upon, only a limited audience saw them so the week-to-week stories and crises' were shelved making them dramatically inert. But the British crowds were always hot for the product so it was a treat watching the performers do their thing for those in attendance. Rebellion's other historical footnote was always having at least one quizzical yet oddly intriguing undercard offering. For example: British Bulldog vs. X-Pac in '99, Undertaker vs. Chris Benoit in '00, Big Show vs. Diamond Dallas Page in '01, and (in a SmackDown! only PPV) Reverend D-Von and Ron Simmons vs. Val Venis and Chuck Palumbo in '02.

WWF Championship Match: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (c) vs. The Rock - WWF Rebellion 2001 - 6

Not convinced its a defensible position to argue this was as good as at least the weakest offering from their WrestleMania trilogy but after looking over Jessie's aforementioned review I feel comfortable at least placing it ahead of their WrestleMania XV excreta. This was during the short, troubled period where talent was designated by what fictional co. their allegiance lied (i.e. ECW, WCW, or WWF). Strange seeing Austin, clearly in pain and broke down, approaching from down the aisle with a big, wacky, bouncing WCW logo pulsating on the screen behind him. I won't go into detail examining the match layout: if you're at all familiar with these guys' work you know exactly what to expect. Back-and-forth brawling, quick pace, overblown finishing stretch, etc.

Every wrestler has a style of selling directly tied to the character they portray. Each is unique and it's a treat to peel back layers of the onion when closely studying guys' performances. Like last night I was finishing this week's episode of WWE Raw and Daniel Bryan, especially with the shaggy mane and haggard beard, called to mind by his dramaturgy the anguish of the prisoners of war in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn. Rock and Austin are two of the more expressive in that regard and in that aspect shine here. Jessie compared Austin's selling of punch flurries in his piece to Austin "being swarmed by an angry nest of bees" but to me it looked more like a struggling obese penguin, every time he'd get popped in the face his arms would flail out, but only lifting up a bit, then repeat, etc. Out of context it looks utterly ridiculous and even as a fan if you're paying attention it's odd. That aside, Austin, clearly broken down here, immobile neck, two mega braces on his knees, etc. puts in a pretty strong performance, takes a nasty suplex on the metal ramp, and keeps that breakneck pace that only he could. Rock really shined on defense, though; his selling of Austin's pretty one-note offense was very expressive, some really terrific facials, and his conditioning was top-notch.

The finish was convoluted. Both Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho got involved, there was some chair follies, maybe a ref bump, Austin got to survive the "Rock Bottom", and the "Rattle Snake" eventually won after a poorly timed and weak-looking shot with the championship belt by Angle in a denouement of douche.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WWE Battleground '13

1. Battleground Kickoff pre-show match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Damien Sandow - 3
2. World Heavyweight Championship Battleground Hardcore Rules match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Rob Van Dam - 6
3. Santino Marella and The Great Khali vs. The Real Americans (Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger) - 4
4. Intercontinental Championship Match: Curtis Axel (c) vs. R-Truth - 3
5. Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella - 4
6. Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. The Shield (Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins) - 7
7. Bray Wyatt vs. Kofi Kingston - 4
8. CM Punk vs. Ryback - 3
9. WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton - 6

Battleground is WWE's newest PPV show replacing Over the Limit which had a short run of three years, all featuring John Cena main events (surely you didn't forget that barnburner versus John Laurinaitis from 2012, right?). I have my own qualms and reservations, not so much in regard to its build, just the overall theme and package. Didn't seem like they put a lot of thought into the design or leitmotif. And I'm a broken record here but it also bums me out they create this new, identity-less PPV when they own the rights to Fall Brawl (and hence the most sorely missed match in wrestling War Games).

Pre-show match was rather unlike your last dentist's visit: quick and painless. Opener was good, physical of course, you've got RVD, plus it was hardcore rules, so lots of ladders, chairs, etc. came into play. Plenty of nasty bumps to cringe at. Tag match was a late addition but earned an extra point for the fantastic finish as Antonio got the massive Khali up in the Giant Swing. Minor quibble but it seems weird to cover a guy after that to secure a pin and would seem cooler if the opponent actually tapped mid-swing. Axel's title defense fell fairly flat. He's been racking up some wins over lower-card talent but the crowd's not buying into him as a star yet.

Women's match was pretty good. Some nice sequences they'd cleared practiced with mentor Finlay but most of it came off smoothly. Finish was flat (a reoccurring theme -- more on that later) as Lee's bodyguard Tamina attacked Brie's twin sister causing a distraction which led to a deflating roll-up finish. Tag match next had plenty of TV build leading up to it and while "7" may be just a touch high I needed to award it some recognition for the hot finish. They laid out a good sequence at the end, including Dusty busting out a Bionic Elbow on Dean Ambrose's skull, Goldust flying into the frame like Sky Lynx wiping out Reigns, then Cody hit the Cross Rhodes to a humungous crowd pop to get the win and as a result secure the Rhodes' jobs.

Bray Wyatt and Koji had what felt largely like a SmackDown! snack break match where you're trying to get your sandwich and corn chips plated before the commercial break ends and rush back into the living room only to find that on. It had a few slick moments and wasn't bad. Wyatt's need some opposition to have more dramatic potential. Right now the acts is entering tedium. And am I the only one troubled by the parallels between Bray and Waylon Mercy? Right down to the white slacks and bad Hawaiian shirts. Punk match was pretty insipid. Kind of clunky and dull. For a feud with a lot of personal heat you'd think Punk would want to annihilate Ryback but you wouldn't guess that by what transpired. Really didn't like the finish. Ref got distracted after catching Paul Heyman at ringside with a kendo stick and Punk capitalized on the divertissement and did a weak low-blow for the win. After the match Punk just leaned against the ropes looking gassed. Main event went 25 min. and was uniformly solid. A bit more measured and less energetic than the earlier entries in their series. It had a few nice moments, nothing too surprising though, but went off the rails at the end before it could clear the gap and become truly compelling. Big Show came out, KO'd Daniel, had remorse, KO'd a 2nd referee who'd came out, then KO'd an upset Orton, and so on. Match ended in a no-contest essentially rendering this a commercial for the free Raw show the following night.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Grand Masters of Wrestling: First Blood Vol. 1

To read Brian's review of this same DVD from '08 click here!

This DVD advertises the same stuff on the back of the case that was on the Grand Masters DVD I just reviewed. I sure as hell hope it’s not the same thing. I guess it’s not as the menu is different and the highlight reel shows them wrestling inside a tent! Yes, a tent as in a circus tent.

Holy fuck, these backstage interviews with Volkoff and Sheik look like they were shot on an 80’s VHS camcorder in front of a generic USA backdrop. Sheik’s promo is especially interesting since it’s so incoherent and he says “I single leg, take you down, and kick you in the face”.

1. Ace Darling vs. Mr. Motion - 3

This is worse than I thought it would be. This show in on someone’s FRONT LAWN! Yes, as in the front yard of their house with the wrestlers coming out of the front door. Is this some fucking kid’s birthday party or something? There’s no commentary to speak of. Motion has black, blue, and pink tights with white frilly stuff on the bottom and Darling looks even more generic than he did previously. I’m not sure who’s supposed to be the heel or face or even what the story is here. The pace was good and the ring work was decent but nowhere near anything notable.

2. Iron Mike Sharpe vs. The Cheetah Kid - 2

Now we’re watching the action through a fish-eye lens. I swear this was recorded with someone’s home movie camera. I can do a better job of filming a show. Actually, come to think of it, about four years ago, I did! It’s really hard to concentrate on what’s happening as the inept camera operator keeps randomly zooming in and out. Sharpe’s vocal selling is tremendous as always, even though my wife found him “really annoying”. Not sure who the Cheetah Kid is but he’s done nothing but get beat on this whole match. Of course, just as I type that Kid gets in a few nearfalls. Loved Sharpe getting the win the loaded forearm pad. Terrible match but Sharpe by far made this for me.

3. Misty Blue vs. Linda Dallas - 1

Hey! The fish-eye lens is gone! Yaaay! I think the referee needs to go back to kindergarten as he was counting Dallas on the outside of the ring and went from five to seven. I think he missed something. Dallas did a big heel promo to start and her vocal selling makes me think she went to Iron Mike Sharpe’s Sales Academy. I think I’ve heard of these two ladies before but I can’t remember what territory they worked in. Blue got the win with an airplane spin, which was probably the most high impact move of the match. I’d rather watch current divas or knockouts matches instead of seeing these two old haggard broads work each other again.

4. The Iron Sheik vs. Nikolai Volkoff - 2

Well, Volkoff no longer has the Uncle Louis haircut from the last DVD and for some reason seems more motivated. Perhaps this is his house where the show is at? Sheik looks terrible, just wandering around at points and doing nothing but throwing forearms to the back. The chair shots on the floor from both guys were surprisingly stiff which leads to a double count-out and Volkoff nearly assaulting a cop.

Friday, October 4, 2013

WCW SuperBrawl I

WCW SuperBrawl I
May 19, 1991 in St. Petersburg, FL
Announcers: Jim Ross and Dusty Rhodes

This is the home video version of the show, which has five matches edited out. Not sure how I’m going to live with myself not being able to see Big Josh’s dancing bears, the elaborate Oz entrance, or Ricky Morton battling Dan Spivey among other things.

1. WCW U.S. Tag Team Title: The Fabulous Freebirds vs. The Young Pistols - 6

For those who aren’t familiar with their WCW history, the U.S. Tag Team titles were basically a secondary tag team title for undercard teams. The reason they were vacant going into this match was because the Steiner Brother had won the World Tag Team titles and due to WCW’s rules at the time, a team could not hold both sets of tag belts. The Pistols are formerly known as the Southern Boys and are made up of Tracy Smothers and Steve Armstrong. Tracy got a nice nearfall right at the beginning on Hayes that got the crowd to pop huge. Tracy got a little bit crazy mid-match, taking a big bump over the top, getting dropped throat first across the railing, and all of that was followed by flying back first off the apron into the railing. Damn! The Birds seemed the gaining a lot out of doing very, very little. Garvin did a lot of the in-ring work with Hayes coming in and working the crowd. Pistols had some damn good offense that featured lots of double team manuevers and a lot of high risk with them diving off turnbuckles to the floor and doing big flying elbows off the top. Ref got bumped leading to a person dressed in a black bird suit coming in and giving the Pistols a swinging DDT each. Quite the fun little match to kick off the program.

2. Taped Fist Match: Brian Pillman vs. Barry Windham - 5

Not a lot in the first few minutes to speak of, except a lot of punching. Windham took a dropkick that knocked him off the top buckle and all the way to the floor in what was probably the wildest bump of the match. Pillman though, took this wild shot right into the ringpost that split him open. Not sure how Windham got that mean gash above his left eye but damn, it looked like something that might be seen in a UFC fight. I think they were rushed on time so it was only about six minutes long. The brawling was fine, nothing great, and there were moments that felt like a real heated match, other parts felt really flat.

3. Stretcher Match: Sid Vicious vs. El Gigante - 1

Watching Gigante sell Sid’s punches in a riot. He just leans backwards, fails his arms in the air, and gives this strange, bewildered look on his face. Two minutes later and we end with a knee to the face and Sid getting pinned with no involvement from a stretcher at all. Afterwards, we have a post-match brawl with One Man Gang and Kevin Sullivan wailing on Gigante. That was more entertaining that the match itself.

4. Steel Cage Match: Ron Simmons vs. Butch Reed - 4

It’s the big blowoff of the implosion of Doom! Apparently, to keep Teddy Long from interfering, he’s held in a shark cage above the ring for the duration of the match. Isn’t that the point of a cage match? To keep people from interfering? Anyway, speaking of the actual cage (not Teddy's shark cage), it looks like it could fall apart at any minute. Not a lot of memorable stuff to speak of here except for Reed hitting a sick piledriver. Simmons threw a lot of punches and Reed seemed content just to rely on basic manuevers. I liked the big shoulderblock off the top from Reed but that’s about the extent of the highlights. Simmons won with a spinebuster. Honestly, probably one of the most boring cage matches I’ve seen in a long time.

5. WCW World Tag Team Title: The Steiner Brothers vs. Lex Luger & Sting - 8

I should note that I've already reviewed this match once on the Rise and Fall of WCW DVD but it's so good that it gets a second review for this show! Luger and Rick start off feeling each other out but that doesn’t last for long as Steiner took a wicked shoulder block that just wrecked him. On commentary, Dusty quipped “he bounced off him like a ball on a wall!” Rick came back with a sick German suplex in which he pretty much threw Luger into next week and pissed him off. He was pissed so much that he doled out a super stiff lariat and a military press slam. All these guys seem seriously motivated, even Sting did a huge running dive to the outside on Rick. Seeing Scott and Sting tie up makes me wonder why WCW never did a main event match between Sting and Steiner during the dying days of the company. Guess that would’ve made too much sense. I could’ve listed and recapped every big move in the match but there were just too many things to keep up with. The match has just been chaotic, but in a good way, unlike sloppy indy tags or TV matches that just break down because of workrate, bad booking, etc. This was everything good about tag team wrestling … big high-impact moves, great nearfalls, stiff in-ring work … all rolled into one awesome match and it was a thing of beauty. The ending saw Nikita Koloff run down and try to hit Luger but Sting took the brunt and ended up getting pinned, thus setting up the Koloff/Sting match for the Great American Bash. This is one tag match that you have just got to see.

6. WCW Television Title: “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton vs. Arn Anderson - 6

Amazingly enough, this is Arn’s third stretch holding the TV Title and yet, the first time he’s actually defended it in a pay-per-view match. The chain wrestling to start off with led to a hard right hand by Eaton, to which Arn sold and had this amazed look on his face like “I can’t believe you actually did that!” Brawl on the ramp was fun with Eaton taking a header off the top rope right onto the ramp and then Arn taking a backdrop off a piledriver reversal. Arn controlled a lot of the match with some good solid mat work that concentrated on Eaton’s leg by wrapping it around the ringpost, continuously ramming it into the mat, and hooking on leglocks and holds. Arn got a real close nearfall off a stiff, stiff spinebuster. Eaton’s comeback, although rather short, was highlighted by a running neckbreacker and a big Alabama Jam legdrop, although in typical WCW fashion they missed the pinfall as the cameras were focused on a brawl between Pillman and Windham. Probably the biggest win of Eaton’s singles career and probably the peak of it.

7. WCW World Title: Ric Flair vs. Tatsumi Fujinami - 5

A big fight feel here even though there were absolutely no reactions from the crowd on either entrance. Right out of the gate, they just start tearing into each other. Interesting here that there are two referees, onf on the inside and one on the outside. I guess that has something to do with the previous encounter between these two in Japan but nobody really bothered to explain anything about that match or how this match came together. It was just treated as nothing really special. Flair got rocked with a big forearm for a nearfall. Flair got busted open on the brawl on the floor by eating the railing and then getting his head shoved right into the ringpost. The tempo in the first half seemed slow and deliberate but after Flair got busted open, it seemed the tempo picked up a bit. Finishing stretch was good with the match surprisingly ending on a roll-up instead of Flair getting a win with the Figure Four. Match itself felt sort of flat and I kept getting the feeling that these two just didn’t click for some reason.