Friday, July 31, 2015

Remembering "The Hot Rod": Roddy Piper 1954-2015

I had planned my last post of the week to be about Lucha Underground's first Ultima Lucha. Instead, I'm talking about something far sadder.

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I'm not quite sure how to write about the death of Roderick Toombs, the man we all came to know in the early 1980s as Roddy Piper. He is such an essential aspect of my childhood, but not for the same reason an Ultimate Warrior or a Junkyard Dog was. After Darth Vader and the Emperor, he was the first icon of evil, I really remember.

Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and the Divas

Ten years ago, I'd have said John Cena was a punk. I am not a fan of white rappers, especially ones who do it part time as a hobby, and Cena was one of the worst wrestling rappers of all time. Like Brock Lesnar, Cena came at the end of my time watching the WWE, when I came back, I wasn't really surprised that Cena was still around, but I wasn't happy about it.

When I came back to the WWE universe, I took an immediately liking to Daniel Bryan. He was just so different than the old style wrestlers, his in-ring skills were impressive and while his beard is pretty nasty, it was unique. Much like Mick Foley, Daniel Bryan had that 'everyman' vibe, that he was just like one us, but his hard work and perseverance took him right to the top of Wrestlemania 30. Every time I heard a story or rumor that Vince McMahon didn't like Bryan, the more I wanted to support him. His work with ROH was phenomenal, whereas Cena has been a WWE company boy from day 1.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tough Enough is officially a failed experiment

Nine days ago Patrick Clark, the only person on the Tough Enough cast with an intimate knowledge of wrestling and an ability to work in the ring, went home from the show. This week Mada, a man that clearly has passion for wrestling if not the training, and a man with easily the best look and charisma of the other guys, went home.

Meanwhile, on the women's side the show seems more like an audition for Total Divas then it does for an active wrestling competitor. In fighting and back-stabbing is everywhere, and it is hard to find a genuine love for wrestling among any of these women.

Basically the show has come down to a bunch of folks that shouldn't be professional wrestlers. Josh is somehow still here with only size, cool hair and nothing else. Tanner is athletically gifted but clearly seems to be there because he's not comfortable making his career in MMA. And America is absolutely in love with ZZ, an out-of-shape weirdo from Louisiana, despite his clear lack of physical ability to accomplish much of anything at all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Night seven brings clear leaders to the G1 Climax A Block

Image credit: NJPW.
After some solid openers including some great work by young Jay White and David Finlay in the opening, as well as a superb tag match pitting the team of Honma and Elgin against Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI, it is time for some more A Block action in NJPW.

Doc Gallows and Toru Yano started the action out and gave pretty much the showing you would expect from the pair in the ring. While it was far from bad, it was rather generic, but at least Gallows finally scores his first two points. Everyone in A Block is now on the board.

Tenzan took the fall in the second tournament match, continuing a streak of losses. Togi Makabe looked good in the battle, though he seemed to take it a bit easier than usual on the injured veteran.

In a match exactly as brutal with strikes as expected from Katsuyori Shibata and Kota Ibushi, Shibata again picked up the win with his Sleeper into PK combo. This was easily match of the night, just a really good striker versus flyer battle. Shibata has looked amazing during the tournament this year. I suspect we will see him get a push even if he doesn't win the final tournament.

Bad Luck Fale beat Hiroshi Tanahashi. I still can't believe I'm writing those words. And no, it still wasn't a very good match.

AJ Styles finally got his first G1 main event against the equally heelish Tetsuya Naito. The match was incredibly back and forth, with both villains getting some support from the fans. It ended up stronger for the native Naito though and his win came with more than a smattering of cheer. He made sure to attack referee Red Shoes post-match to get his heel heat back

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Even short a match, Night 6 of the G1 Climax continued a streak of great shows

Night six opened with the depressing news that Shinsuke Nakamura was not yet recovered from his elbow injury and would be unable to wrestle. This causes Michael Elgin to win by default and score his first two points in the tournament. He was moved to the first half of the card to team with Tanahashi and Naito.

Image credit: NJPW.
Yujiro Takahashi was out first for the tournament, but he would be up against the legend Yuji Nagata. Nagata put on a great performance, but help from Cody Hall (and a few Terminator beats on the ring apron) helped bring Yujiro the win and his first two points, even without MAO at his side.

Monday, July 27, 2015

SHINE 28 offers a solid card and an underwhelming delivery

I am fan of women's wrestling. I say that with no trepidation whatsoever as I feel women are just as good wrestlers as men. I own a few SHIMMER DVDs (and desperately wish they would start using a streaming service that gives full events.) But SHIMMMER has a sister company in the form of SHINE, that runs on internet pay-per-view. Part of the World Wrestling Network, it suffers from commentary by one of the worst announcers in wrestling today, Lenny Leonard, but her cohost Amber Gertner at least tries to make up for it. But with a solid card on paper, I decided to make the jump and try out SHINE 28.

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The show opened with 90s independent wrestling icon (and brief WCW & WWE star) Malia Hosaka (with classic WWE star Leilani Kai) going up against La Rosa Negra. Rosa is an interesting part of the roster as she is the only member of the roster to really embrace a bit of cheesecake in her entrance. The match starts out well, but a clear injury to the throat early caused Rosa to have breathing issues. (The show later reported she actually went to the hospital for assistance post-match.) The match stretches out long past its clear need to finish as Malia kept the match going despite Rosa barely being able to keep up for much of the match. (If I'm incorrect and Rosa was just selling all match, she should be hired immediately by WWE.)

A busy weekend with Night 4 and 5 of the G1 Climax!

I have two shows to cover here, so let's get right into the tournament action.

Image credit: NJPW.
Night 4 kicked off with a brutal battle where Tomohiro Ishii became the first B Block fighter with 4 points when he overcame Yujiro Takahashi. (I blame the poor substitute MAO for his loss.)

Michael Elgin and Satoshi Kojima beat the hell out of each other in a match that shows how good Kojima still is. Elgin took the loss in a true back and forth battle with a great show of respect in the aftermath by both men.

Karl Anderson continued to upset Japanese favorites, this time overcoming Intercontinental champion Hirooki Goto in a brutal match.

Friday, July 24, 2015

New Japan continues a weekend of excellence with Night Three of the G1 Climax!

Things kicked off with the regular prelims, all designed to preview some fights for tomorrow night. I of course forgot to set my alarm, so I missed all but the end of the final battle between the CHAOS unit of Okada, Nakamura and Gedo and the team of Nagata, Honma & Ryusuke Taguchi. It was a pretty solid match and Honma even got a rare win over Gedo.

Image credit: NJPW.
The G1 tournament matches for night three kicked off with Doc Gallows and Kota Ibushi. Gallows worked the match at his pace, landing one big move after another on Ibushi. But much like night one, Ibushi showed a lack of selling for much of the offense against him, but at least it took a flash pin to get the win.

Figured Out: The Ultimate Warrior

I collect wrestling toys now and then as I see figures that I want to add to my weird hodgepodge of coolness on the shelves behind my writing desk. I've got a wide array of heroes, villains, faces, heels and everything in between on display.

But in this first column focusing on wrestling toys, I am focusing on one of the best Ultimate Warrior toys I have found so far.

Now I am an Ultimate Warrior fan. I grew up on him and I still consider him a truly great wrestling character. Because of this, I waited to find the character I like best and it is based on this incarnation of the Warrior, direct from his Royal Rumble battle against the turncoat American hero Sgt. Slaughter.

Still from the 1991 Royal Rumble. Copyright

The night Hulk Hogan disappeared from WWE

Over the course of Thursday evening and Friday morning, was scrubbed of any modern mention of Hulk Hogan. He is no longer featured in the Alumni section, his merchandise is out of the WWE Shop and he has been removed from the list of Tough Enough judges. Even Curtis Axel has returned to his generic gimmick on his roster page, instead of his months long Axelmania.

It seems unlikely we will see Hogan on another Tough Enough panel.
Even a direct link to his former profile page tells us, "You are not authorized to access this page."

What the heck happened?

Rumors are flying that a tape featuring a racist rant Hulk Hogan made back in 2012 has surfaced in relation to the current ongoing Gawker sex tape trial. Whether or not this is the actual story is still up in the air, as WWE has made no official statement. But most dirt sheets seem to expect TMZ or another tabloid style celebrity site to post the article later today.

With WWE not making any statement, no word exists on who takes the middle seat on the Tough Enough panel at this time. And WWE should thank their lucky stars Paige nominated Patrick last episode, because otherwise that could have been a whole bigger problem.

UPDATE: The release comes after the revelations of tapes where Hogan talks about a black boyfriend of his daughter Brooke in grossly insensitive language. WWE released a statement early Friday morning saying, "WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan). WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

B Block brings some hard-hitting offense in their first night of the G1 Climax

Thursday was the second night for G1 action, but of course here in the States that means waking up at 4:30. Luckily for me and my readers, being up at 4:30 is pretty natural, so here is what happened tonight in part two of the G1 Climax.

The night kicked off with the regular multi-man matches but only the alliance of Katsuyori Shibata and Tetsuya Naito (with Ryusuke Taguchi) offered any real intrigue. Shibata and Naito meet tomorrow night and it was interesting to see each try to get into the other's head while ostensibly working together.

Ouch. Image caption: NJPW.
The tournament matches started off with a brutal blast of punches and kicks as Satoshi Kojima took on Tomohiro Ishii. I went in expecting this to be a solid match with Kojima coming out on top. Instead I got a solid brawl with Ishii hitting a mean brainbuster for the two points. Ishii actually looked better than I usually expect here, so maybe we will get more solid matches in the G1 from him.

Yujiro Takahashi had Mao back at his side for his first tournament match, but the beauty was no help against Hirooki Goto. In a match that featured multiple biting spots and some painful looking bumps, Takahashi just couldn't bring it together for Bullet Club. Goto walked away with a relatively easy win.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Three Lucha Underground stars WWE should keep their eyes on

Lucha Underground is probably my favorite piece of weekly wrestling television. It offers a far more compelling narrative than anything WWE, TNA and ROH put on with a deep roster of talented stars and some amazing backstage segments shot with a filmmaker's touch rather than a stark old school wrestling producer's. But rumors are already floating that the company may be in trouble. El Rey Network doesn't have the funds to keep a 40+ episode a year weekly series going and the company's Spanish language partner Unimas is still on the fence about their investment. While the folks running Lucha Underground want it to continue for years to come, they may not be able to prevent Ultima Lucha in a few weeks from being their final show.

But even if that should happen, it is far from the end for the great talents that populate the Lucha Underground roster. Several new stars have made a name for themselves with the company while several older stars have reinvented themselves in new and exciting ways. But I just wanted to focus on three stars I think WWE should go after should Lucha Underground fade into the ether.

Image credit: Profights.db

Folks that follow me on Twitter have heard me talk about Angelico more than once. He went from a complete unknown in the US to a name to watch through his actions on El Rey. The South African wrestler is the guy WWE wanted when they hired PJ Black, a charismatic young guy with a great look, a great accent and some of the most amazing wrestling moves on the Earth. He's got a daredevil style that would make Jeff Hardy blush and could easily fill the role Rey Mysterio left vacant in WWE. Plus he has the added advantage of giving many a fan some male eye candy. He has given Lucha Underground some of its finest moments, and I don't think the kick-heavy flyer has even got started in his Trios title run with Son of Havoc and Ivelisse. If Lucha Underground does expand into a second year, I expect him to get an even bigger push, but if it doesn't, I can only imagine every major American company will rush to hire him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Looking back at Steve Austin's best matches

Rumors have floated for years about a return of Steve Austin to the ring. The long time veteran retired from the ring in 2003, but the Texas native is still in good shape. On his Steve Austin Show podcast, the former Stone Cold has discussed a return on more than one occasion, but outside a few non-wrestling appearances on WWE events has done little in the wrestling world. Instead his focus has been on reality shows like “Redneck Island” and “Broken Skull Challenge” as well as his twice a week podcast. On a recent show, Paul Heyman even tried to goad the Texas Rattlesnake into a match with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXXII.

Whether or not Steve Austin ever wrestles another match, the man born Steven Williams has a resume of great matches to look back on. From his early Texas days to WCW to his short run in ECW all the way through his superstardom in WWF, Austin brought a fiery resolve to the wrestling ring. While his future may be in question, he wrestled tons of great matches. Here are five of his best.

Note: I have included clips where I could find them, but all five of these battles are now available on the WWE Network with far superior quality.

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Stone Cold Steve Austin versus The Rock

At Wrestlemania XV, two of the biggest stars in wrestling history met. The Rock was a dominant champion, backed by Vince McMahon’s Corporation and protected by nefarious tactics. But Austin’s title shot served to ruin The Rock’s day. After a brutal contest, Steve Austin came out on top and won his second Wrestlemania main event. By shows end, he even stood tall over his arch-nemesis Vince McMahon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The G1 Climax kicks off with two big matches

The one flaw a Round Robin tournament always has is that some of the matches will just not be as good as others. Day one of the G1 Climax showed that with some awkward battles, but it made up for it with a semi- and main event that were well worth viewing right now in replay.

Image credit: NJPW.
After the preliminary multi-man matches, the tournament kicked off with Hiroyoshi Tenzan versus Doc Gallows. I have seen a few negative reviews of this match, but while nothing special by any means it was a good showing by the aging legend and the former Straight Edge Society member. Ultimately Tenzan wins (as he is wont to do a bit too often) to give him the first two points of the tournament.

Battleground kicked out the stops and plowed right towards a Deadman!

WWE has put together several great pay-per-views—or perhaps I should join Michael Cole and call them specials now—this year. Last month's Money in the Bank was actually one of the most disappointing ones in my opinion, but in its third year on WWE's slate Battleground put on one of the strongest cards for a C-special in quite some time.

The show kicked off with Sheamus and Randy Orton. While this is a battle we have seen a million times before and easily the weakest match on the card, the two put on a surprisingly good battle. The fight almost seemed to be a throwback compared to much of current WWE, but the two former World champions beat the holy heck out of each other. Ultimately it was an RKO out of nowhere though that ended it well for the hometown fans.

The tag team battle between the Prime Time Players and The New Day was much like last month's match only with a lot more Kofi Kingston and a lot less Xavier Woods. I was a bit surprised to see the Prime Time Players retain with the hell ranks of the tag team division so light. I cannot imagine The Ascension will get a SummerSlam push, so maybe this feud hasn't ended just yet.

Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns put on a hell of a slobberknocker, but beating the piss out of one another was really the theme of the show. Both men gave probably their best accounting in the last few months. The finish started something that WWE desperately needed to do months ago as Luke Harper helped Wyatt win in a move that clearly brought two Wyatt Family members back together.

Seen here with Paige & other new recruit Becky Lynch, Charlotte
shined at Battleground. Image credit:
Two of the three new Divas got to show off their styles to a wider audience as Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Brie Bella battled it out in a three way. Sasha controlled the majority of the match as she looked absolutely dominant, while Brie got to show off several moves to show how much better she's in the ring now than at this time last year. Charlotte strangely got the least offense despite her larger size, but she did get the big win as she locked the Figure 8 on Brie in the center of the ring. I was a bit disappointed to see the match only go just under twelve minutes, but the commentary team clearly worked to improve how the match was presented. Little talk of attractiveness interrupted the flow of the match as Cole, JBL and Lawler actually stayed on topic.

Monday Night Raw: The Day the Divas Division was Born

If you were watching Monday Night Raw last week, you might have noticed a groundbreaking event occur: The WWE Divas division was officially born.

Now I know what you are thinking, the Divas have been around for like twenty years! Well that's true, but the WWE  Divas division was never really a wrestling division, was it?
I mean we had bikini matches. . .

Mud wrestling. . .

And a never ending parade of valets, AKA, girlfriends.

Friday, July 17, 2015

G1 Climax 2015 Preview - B Block part 2

Today we take our final look at the G1 Climax. The show kicks off in just a few short days as it goes live at 1 a.m. Central time on Monday morning. While that isn't exactly ideal viewing time for most American fans, NJPW World will have replays up within a couple hours so anyone can watch when they see fit.

Let's finish the round up of B Block and then take a look at my guess for the winner.

Tomoaki Honma: Honma started out in Big Japan Wrestling (BJW) where he worked numerous death matches early in his career. He innovated the use of light tubes in matches (for good or ill). He found his most success during those early years in the much smaller BJW, but moved on to runs in both All Japan and Kensuke Office. He joined New Japan as a regular in 2013, but can best be described as a lovable loser. In 2014, he replaced the injured Kota Ibushi in the G1 tournament. He didn't win a single match, but his spirit and refusal to give up made him hugely popular with NJPW fans. "Honmania" was born and it carried him forward to a Tokyo Dome win over the Bullet Club. Don't expect Honma to win much this year. I would guess he will score a single victory in the tournament, but a key one against the likes of Goto or the next man on our list.

Kazuchika Okada: Despite still being known best to American fans for his short lived TNA run as Samoa Joe's assistant Okato, Kazuchika Okada is the current ace of New Japan. A massive star in Japan, "The Rainmaker" is a stupendous in-ring worker. His finisher, also called The Rainmaker, is just a short-arm clothesline but he delivers it with a devastating amount of force. The current IWGP Heavyweight champion in his third reign, he has put on spectacular contests in recent months against Hiroshi Tanahashi and AJ Styles. While neither of those men are in B Block with him, he will face stablemate Shinsuke Nakamura in a dream match. His opening round match pits him against the only gaijin visitor in a first time one-on-one dream match for many ROH fans.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ryback out of Battleground, but where are the Divas?

Word came down yesterday that Ryback won't make an appearance at Sunday's Battleground due to a staph infection in his knee. Generally a minor injury, the infection will keep him out of regular competition for at least a couple of weeks. While WWE seems intent on keeping the Intercontinental title on the Big Guy, he will not have a defense Sunday against Big Show and The Miz. No replacement match has been announced for the Intercontinental triple threat which leaves the card sitting at only five matches:

  • Brock Lesnar challenges Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight championship.
  • Sheamus versus Randy Orton.
  • Kevin Owens challenges John Cena for the United States championship.
  • Two members of The New Day challenge the Prime Time Players for the Tag Team titles. 
  • Roman Reigns versus Bray Wyatt

G1 Climax 2015 Preview - Block B part 1

The G1 Climax is the biggest tournament of the year in New Japan Pro Wrestling. It is by far the largest round robin tournament of the year, held over 19 events in a nearly month long stretch. It will anoint a new #1 contender in NJPW who will get his title chance at the massive January mega-event. And sometimes it can even make a huge new star.

While Block A was staffed with tons of great talent, Block B in my eyes is even bigger. So let's go in and look at the first half of the roster that will kick off the second day of action.

Satoshi Kojima: Kojima is a fascinating figure in New Japan history. He was a junior member of NWO Japan in his early years where he first formed his long running unit with Hiroyoshi Tenzan known as Tencozy. But Kojima would follow his mentor Keiji Mutoh to All Japan where he would score most of his success as a wrestler (with a short stop in North America for Major League Wrestling). He would become World Tag Champion three times as well as score the promotion's top prize, the Triple Crown Championship, twice. In 2005, he would win his first IWGP Heavyweight title in a battle with Tenzan that also had his Triple Crown title also on the line. He would continue to tag with Tenzan on occasion on cross-promotional events. In 2010, an arm injury sent him away for surgery, All Japan didn't resign him because of it and he returned to NJPW. Since then, TenCozy has become a fixture of tag matches. In the last year, Kojima has regularly competed against NWA visitors to the company and won both the NWA World and NWA World Tag Team titles in the process. He has dropped both titles, but despite twenty-five years as a wrestler behind him, Kojima still can go in the ring. The likelihood he will walk away G1 winner is slim, but he'll put on some great battles in the process.

Tomohiro Ishii: The "Stone Pitbull" has never really been a huge star in New Japan. Though he's wrestled for twenty years, the last ten with New Japan, he has never really came off the bottom half of the card. It wasn't until eight years into his NJPW career that he scored his first title in the promotion, the NEVER Openweight belt. He has since became a fixture of the midcard NEVER belt and this has allowed him to shine in physical contests that often break down into all out brawls. This will be the third G1 Climax for the CHAOS regular. He alternately excels or fails in New Japan seemingly at random, so it is anyone's guess how far he can make it in the tournament, but he seems a very unlikely victor.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

G1 Climax 2015 Preview - Block A Part 2

Yesterday, I covered the first five competitors in the epic twenty man round robin tournament known as G1 Climax. This is the biggest tournament New Japan holds every year and some of their biggest stars take part. You will see a couple of those huge names in today's rundown.

Bad Luck Fale: The Bullet Club's "Underboss" is a one time Intercontinental champion and a former college rugby star in Japan. The Tongan wrestler made his debut in 2010, but didn't gain much traction in the promotion until he joined the Bullet Club in 2013. Many people consider his title victory over Shinsuke Nakamura last year a huge upset. While his reign was quite lackluster, he seems to only get better every year. He put in a commanding performance last year, but lost his block to Nakamura. This year he's free of Nakamura, but faces some stiff competition in his division, including a stablemate and former IWGP champion.

AJ Styles: The biggest American star in the G1, AJ Styles will have something to prove after losing his IWGP Heavyweight title to Kazuchika Okada. He came within inches of winning Block B last year, tying for first place numerically. But his loss to his perennial rival Okada in the tournament moved the other man to the finals and ultimately to win the tournament. Styles will not have to face Okada in his block this year. He could very well pull out the victory in Block A, but keep in mind no gaijin has ever won the G1 Climax tournament, and only two have made it to the finals of the 25 year old tournament (Rick Rude and Karl Anderson.) Wherever he lands at tournament's end, he should look awesome in battles with Naito, Yano, Makabe and the three remaining men on this list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Global Force's TV tapings kickoff four title tournaments

Do not let it be said that Global Force Wrestling isn't interested in kicking things off in a big way. They will have their first television tapings on July 24 and they have already announced four title tournaments with the kickoff as well. Jeff Jarrett's new startup will feature four belts, each with at least one match announced for the tournament. Let's run them down.

The Global Championship: Sharing a name with a previous incarnation of Jarrett's current TNA King of the Mountain belt, the Global championship will be the main event title for Global Force. It will also clearly have the biggest tournament as three of the seven announced tournament matches will be for the Global title. They are:

  • Bobby Roode vs. TBA: Roode's appearance in Global Force is a big question mark as he is the only active TNA competitor also working in GFW. He may very well be part of an invasion angle for the company. I would not be surprised for that TBA to be none other than James Storm as I could see either a new feud or a new alliance between the former Beer Money as part of the company's early shows.
  • Brian Myers (the former Curt Hawkins) vs. Chris Mordestzky (the former Chris Masters): Two former WWE stars also make their way into the tournament. Myers seems to be way above his bracket for me in this match, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Mordestzky go deep, so an easy first round win against the former Edgehead might make sense.
  • Magnus vs. Kongo Kong: Magnus is one of the biggest names Global Force has and I suspect Jarrett will bank a lot on him. But the addition of Midwest star Kongo Kong also proves interesting. Kong has been a dominant monster most recognized for his work in Juggalo Championship Wrestling, but this could bring tons more eyes on a great brawler. 
The Nex*Gen Championship: No more proof is necessary that Jarrett is trying to follow his early TNA formula than the appearance of a belt so similar in narrative to the X Division title. The Nex*Gen title clearly is designed for wrestlers with a high flying style and the first two matches in that tournament are both intriguing.
  • PJ Black (the former Justin Gabriel) vs. Seiya Sanada: No mistake was bigger for TNA in 2014 than fumbling the push of Sanada. An incredibly capable Japanese high flyer, Sanada clearly wants to be a star in the United States and he's got all the in-ring capability to make that happen. He certainly doesn't need a knock-off gimmick based on his mentor Keiji Mutoh. Black will look to show off what he was never allowed to in WWE, but he doesn't really have the depth of other South African wrestlers in the American market, like Adam Rose and Angelico. 
  • Sonjay Dutt vs. Jigsaw: While I'm sure I'm not the only person still disappointed that Jigsaw doesn't work for Chikara anymore, I cannot pretend I'm not super-excited to see him take the national stage with Global Force Wrestling. Despite a few previous appearances in TNA as Rubix, this could be the start of something bigger for him, but only if he can overcome a member of the GFW booking team in Dutt. Hopefully Dutt will not follow in Jeff's footsteps and book himself to the top of this tournament, but we will have to wait until July 24 to see. 
The Women's Championship: TNA learned from the advent of the Knockout division how much a strong women's division can help a company and it looks like GFW might be trying to follow in that path. The initial matches only give one women's title match, but it is a triple threat with one huge star, one potentially big star and a name definitely deserving of more attention. Mickie James brings tons of star power to the show as she faces the monstrous Lei D'Tapa and the always eclectic Christina Von Eerie in what should be a stellar contest.

The Tag Team Championship: I personally think it might have been better to hold off on a tag tournament until after the other tournaments, simply to allow some repeat stars in both tournaments without much trouble. But GFW has foregone that route to give a first round match despite the lack of the Bullet Club during the G1 tournament. The single match features the team of Reno SCUM, local Las Vegas stars Luster the Legend and Adam Thornstowe. I know next to nothing about these two, but they will go up against a new unit in the form of KUSHIDA and Chris Sabin. KUSHIDA and Sabin's only link is that they've both regularly tagged with Alex Shelley, but with Shelley currently on the shelf it seems GFW figured they would try out this new unit. The Friends of Shelley seem like the obvious winners here, but anything can happen when Jeff Jarrett runs a company.

The current announced card is wrapped up with a six man tag featuring a combination of luchadores and local talent as Bestia 666, Blood Eagle and Steve Pain take on Zokre, Phoenix Star and Misterioso Jr. 

While I'm not sure how many episodes will be taped on June 24 or how long they will be, I would guess these won't be all the matches that night. And while we still don't know when these shows will air, it looks like GFW is already starting to build a unique new roster in modern professional wrestling. 

G1 Climax 2015 Preview - Block A part 1

G1 Climax is the biggest tournament in New Japan. Held annually in July and August, it encompasses some of the greatest stars in New Japan mixed with a few guests of high note. Its purpose is similar to WWE's Royal Rumble: it will crown the contender for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the January dome show, presumably called Wrestle Kingdom 10.

While this year's tournament only features 20 stars, two less than last year's record breaking 22, it will be the longest G1 tournament in New Japan history, stretching over 19 shows between July 20 and August 16.

I am always interested in informing American fans about the talent they might be missing without a NJPW World subscription, so over the next four days I will cover the talent in the tournament, broken down by the A and B blocks of the round robin tournament, each split into five easy to cover talents. I will cover them by match listings for the two opening round days of the tournament.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan: Tenzan is a New Japan living legend. A twenty year veteran of the promotion, his accomplishments in the company are massive. An eleven time IWGP tag team champion and a four time IWGP heavyweight champion, he has completed in 20 straight tournaments, by far the most of any competitor. He is the current NWA champion after scoring a win over Rob Conway in February. While he has lost a step since his heyday in the early 2000s, Tenzan can still put on great matches, but don't expect his numbers to sail too high in the tournament, especially with his initial contest against the next competitor.

Doc Gallows: Formerly known as Festus and Luke Gallows in WWE as well as TNA as D.O.C., Doc Gallows is one of the most hated men in NJPW. One of the meanest members of the reviled gaijin stable, The Bullet Club, Gallows is also the current IWGP Tag Team champion. Last year, he finished on the low end of the totals, but Gallows has only become more fearsome since that time. I expect Gallows to go far this time around, especially if his wife Amber gets involved from outside.

Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Wrestling Returns That Would Improve The WWE

I read this list of ten wrestlers and thought it was a pretty poor list. So I came up with a better one. Personally I think the WWE product is the best its ever been, I think the creative is just limited by their old-school wrestling ideas. They aren't thinking of sports entertainment, and they certainly aren't storytellers like this guy right here. So here is my top ten list of wrestlers who could come back and improve the WWE.

10: Shelton Benjamin

This guy was on the other dudes list and I had to agree with this one, Benjamin should be back every time Brock is back, these guys should be an unofficial team, you know they are friends and you never know when the one is going to show up and help the other. You think Brock is an unstoppable beast now, imagine what happens when you put a mean, lean, athletic wrestler like Shelton X Benjamin at his right hand?

It would also allow a multitude of spin-off matches, like Benjamin VS Kane or J&J security. Brock can't work every show, but his presence can be felt through his alliance with Shelton.

This Friday, Des Moines based 3XW celebrates its 10th Anniversary!

Amazingly, I still have never been to a 3XW show. While I have been aware of the company since the earliest days of its history, my trips to Des Moines are few and far between. Even when they more frequently brought in bigger outside names or regularly used Minnesota talent I love like Arik Cannon and Darin Corbin, I never quite got the motivation to drive two hours on a Friday afternoon to see a wrestling show.

Before my neck injury though, I had planned to take in X on July 17, this Friday. 3XW's Tenth Anniversary celebration is a stacked card filled with great Midwest talent and a ton of top Iowa stars. Here's a rundown of the card.

  • The always talented Hype Gotti makes his return to the promotion as he takes on a name familiar to SCW fans, Eli Machete. I have sang the praises of Machete for awhile now and this should be a great showdown between two Iowa-area wrestlers that can seriously go. (SCW fans will also be happy to know that Conner Braxton will be at the show as well, though no match has been signed for him.)
  • I am not familiar with J.C. Slater (though his name makes him sound like he should be teaming with Iowa's own Saved by the Bell star J.J. Garrett), but he's in a match with Devin Thomas, one of 3XW's more... interesting, we'll say... regulars.
  • Rory Fox is a longtime midwest talent (and former Zack Ryder jobber) who always deserves a bit more attention. He works Devin Carter at X in what should be a solid contest, but someone at 3XW might need to change their first name. Two Devins is just odd.
  • Ryan Slade and Maddog McDowell have been feuding for months in 3XW, but X looks to end their longtime battle in a Loser Eats Dog Food match. I cannot make that stipulation up, folks.
  • In a great tag team match, long time Iowa veteran Griz teams up with "The Fury" Jon West to take on California transplant Jaysin Strife and Ray Stryker. 
  • Long time women's wrestling star Malia Hosaka is still going strong at 45 and she makes her way to Iowa to take on one of the best up-and-coming wrestlers in the world today, Angelus Layne, a woman that may be the biggest breakout Iowa star since Seth Rollins. 
  • Following a training camp earlier in the day, former WWE star Trevor Murdoch makes his return to 3XW to take on former NWA Central States champion Derek Stone, a guy that should be very familiar to 3XW and Metro Pro fans. 
  • The Pure Wrestling title is on the line as SCW original and Black & the Brave trainer Marek Brave takes on one of my favorite 3XW stars, The Viking Warrior Kraig Keesaman. 
  • Then in the main event, two 3XW stalwarts collide in a huge Dog Collar Match for the 3XW Heavyweight belt as Kansas City based Mark Sterling does battle with "The Rebel" Jeremy Wyatt as he seeks the title Wyatt took from him over three years ago. 
That sounds like a killer show. If you're interested in learning more about any of this talent, be sure to check out 3XW on Youtube. They have a ton of great content there for the discerning wrestling fan, including a regular TV show. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

New Japan Wrestling and the WWE Star of the Month

For the first time, I decided to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling, specifically a match between "Rain Maker" Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles. Now, it has been a long time since I watched a Japanese wrestling match and never with any real interest and I was surprised at how Americanized the product was. I mean of course most of the people were speaking Japanese, but there were a lot of American wrestlers involved, including of course AJ Styles himself and his Bullet Club. Apparently this was a heel vs heel match, Okada's "Rain Maker" character was meant as a heel, but of course the old fashioned "foreigner heel" storyline always works,which is exactly what AJ and his boys came across as. Japan has always been a country of pride and tradition and the Bullet Club really worked as a disrespectful group of invaders. The match I watched was from 2014, Okada is currently the World Champion, in this match however he lost to AJ Styles.

I noticed in NJPW wrestling they interviewed the wrestlers after the match, something the WWE rarely ever does.

AJ Styles in 2014 looked a lot like Seth Rollins in 2015. He is a phenomenal wrestler, with a lot of in-ring talent, but I can see why the WWE doesn't have a place for him. From Ziggler to Rollins, there are just too many guys like AJ in the WWE right now. The Bullet Club doesn't really have a 'theme' other than a cool pirate flag, and they seemed a little too "NWO" for my test. I was also very impressed with Okada, who I'd love to see perform in NXT. I just read that there are some Finn Balor (as Prince Devitt) vs Okada matches out there, going to have to hunt those down! It is very interesting the way some wrestler's careers weave in and out of the Japanese circuit. The world is a big place, plenty of great matches out there waiting to be discovered!

Just read a rumor that Glacier, the old Mortal Kombat dude from WCW, is making appearances again. He has the worst name in wrestling. Literally, the worst. Even a tugboat is more dangerous than a glacier.

The wrestler of the month for June is CESARO. The man has all the right tools to be a world champion, its not his fault he is crippled by his homeland's weird language. But how can I not love a guy who wears a Canadian leaf into the ring out of respect for his tag team partner, TJ? I don't know if the pop-up uppercut is an old move or if he came up with it after seeing Kevin Owens, the first time I recall seeing it was against Cena sometime in the last couple weeks.

I really don't want to see Cena lose the title to Kevin Owens. Owens doesn't need it and Cena has worked hard to give that championship some value. When Cesaro carried the belt, no one cared. Now that Cena has created a whole new avenue for these wrestlers to explore, I'd rather see Cena lose it to someone like Cesaro who will treat it with dignity and respect. Cesaro would be able to follow Cena's lead and keep the title on television. We already have a Heel World Champion, we don't need two. Seeing Cesaro run from corner to corner with those big European uppercuts is quickly becoming the main event, his energy level is up there with Ambrose and Rollins.

Ironically enough, Cesaro has worked for ROH and Pro Wrestling Noah, a Japan based promotion.

Cesaro/Cena/Owens in an Iron Man Triple Threat Match for Summerslam 2015?

Missed opportunities: ROH could have had this

I love a lot of what Ring of Honor is doing in 2015. Now a company with several established stars, a bunch of characters with actually developed personalities and some strong feuds, the television era of ROH seems to just be getting better.

But the company doesn't always book perfectly. Case in point, they could have recreated this anytime in the last four months, but failed to make it happen.

Don't get me wrong. I understand this epic three way main event from a TNA pay-per-view is ten years now. But Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe haven't lost a beat since those days. AJ Styles is arguably better today than he was in 2005. With all three men on the roster, it was foolhardy not to make the match happen.

To be fair, they came close with Styles and Joe versus The Addiction, but that still doesn't quite match what could have been.

Of course, with the rumors of WWE's interest in AJ Styles, it is possible we might still see some version of this match in the near future. Christopher Daniels may never make an appearance in World Wrestling Entertainment, but a three way match with Hideo Itami or Finn Balor in the third slot might prove equally good.

These three men defined a generation of professional wrestling. And while they may never be seen in the ring again, we should all be grateful they continue to perform amazingly year after year.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

This Friday, two Eastern Iowa wrestling shows on the same night!

This Friday, July 10, promises to be the kickoff to a big weekend here in Eastern Iowa. The Wrestling Museum Hall of Fame ceremonies hit on Saturday with folks like Kurt Angle, B. Brian Blair, Beth Phoenix and Jim Ross in attendance. But the night before the big festivities, Impact Pro Wrestling puts on one of their biggest shows ever as part of the celebration.

The show features a stacked card, headlined by a first time ever contest between Bob "Hardcore" Holly and Colt Cabana. New Hall of Famer B. Brian Blair teams with James Jeffries and UGLY to battle Aaron Von Baron, Matty Star and Sparrow. Former Aces & 8s members Wes Brisco finds himself in a Legends Lumberjack match against local standout AJ Smooth. U-Gene Dinsmore makes his way to Iowa as well, teaming with Iowa's top luchador Latin Thunder to battle Nathan Redwing and rising Midwest star Jake Dirden. The sixth annual Legends Battle Royal rounds out what looks to be the biggest Hall of Fame show ever. 

SCW also makes its return to action on the same night from the Walcott Coliseum in Walcott, Iowa. I'm not sure if I understand the wisdom of running against the Hall of Fame show here. While the shows are two hours apart, I know I'm far from the only person to travel a bit to get to these shows.

Much like last month's show, Red White & Bruised doesn't have much for pre-announced matches. Marek Brave did challenge Nevin Knoxville for the SCW title last month and some kind of Team Sean Morris versus Team Mark Storm battle will happen for control of the company. SCW also seemed to be building towards a tag match with Eli Machete and Conner Braxton defending against Adrian Alexander and Bodie Van Zandt, but it remains to be seen whether that will come on July 10 or not.

Sadly, I won't be able to make it to either event. Personal back pain issues have been diagnosed as a severely herniated disc. I will join in the grand tradition of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Lita, Edge and Kurt Angle as I will head in for spinal fusion surgery on Friday afternoon.

But no need to worry wrestling fans as I will be building a nice stockpile of articles for the next week on the site to keep everything up to date. Meanwhile, if you're in Eastern Iowa make sure you get out there and check out the Hall of Fame induction and one of these great wrestling shows! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dominion 7.5: have we already seen the best show of the summer?

In the last few years, New Japan Pro Wrestling has grown from just another Japanese wrestling company into easily the second largest brand in professional wrestling today. They have done so with a mix of straight forward puroresu aesthetics: highly competitive matches with high work rates, solid storytelling and psychology, and clean finishes—usually, at least.

Their fandom is on the rise worldwide thanks to the AXS television series airing classic matches of the last few years as well as the far more significant (IMHO) New Japan World. The streaming service is cheaper than WWE Network, but offers almost every New Japan show in history. Much like WWE, it also includes live streaming of all its current fare. This will be thoroughly impressive later this month as the G1 Climax tournament starts (more in the future), but it also makes shows like the epic Dominion 7.5 well worth watching.

Much like January's Wrestle Kingdom event, Dominion 7.5 was built to be a supercard in a company already known for great pay-per-views. While Jim Ross and Matt Striker did not call the action in English for this event, the wonderful thing about NJPW is that so much of the action speaks for itself.

I talked about the undercard in my preview last week, but the likes of Kenny Omega, KUSHIDA, the Young Bucks and RPG Vice put on some amazing action. The Bullet Club (Anderson & Gallows) and The Kingdom tore each other apart. KUSHIDA stole one title from the collected Bullet Club, but Anderson & Gallows retrieved the Heavyweight tag belt.

The battle between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Toru Yano proved to be a great start to the main event portion of the show. Tanahashi can be best described as the Japanese John Cena, but unlike Cena his constant victories do not turn off nearly as many fans. He can best be compared to the current US champion Cena. He's a guy you can depend on for great matches, but don't expect him to lose much. He didn't here either, but the number of false finishes between Tanahashi and Yano was impressive.

Japanese artist Kyobashi+ did this amazing
illustration of red ninja Nakamura.
The semi-main event for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship went about as I expected. Hirooki Goto seems cemented into his new position as the successor for the title, but that didn't mean Shinsuke Nakamura was going quietly into the night. Nakamura brought it to the man that took his title and Goto answered in kind. With stiff chops and kicks, this one echoed through the arena. But in the end, Nakamura seems ready to go back into IWGP Heavyweight title competition, so his loss here comes as no surprise.

The main event featured AJ Styles defending the aforementioned heavyweight belt against Kazuchika Okada. Every time these to men face off, a lot is made out of Okada's time as Okato in TNA, where he was barely a jobber to guys like Styles. But as "The Rainmaker", Okada is now an amazing star. Everything about this fight was designed to keep fans on the edge of their seats, starting with the Bullet Club's ejection from ringside about five minutes in.

While Styles vs. Okada isn't a new encounter, this was easily their best match. Copyright: NJPW.
While Styles isn't used to going it alone, everyone knows how good "The Phenomenal One" is in the ring. He didn't lose a step against Okada, but without outside interference, he had to deal with multiple surges from "The Rainmaker". But no matter what he threw at Styles, Okada couldn't seem to get the champion down. Okada's impressive clothesline, also called the Rainmaker, has never failed in winning him a match immediately after its use. But somehow Styles resisted two of the devastating blows in the battle. Ultimately it would be a third strike with the Rainmaker that he just could not answer. As the 63rd IWGP Heavyweight champion, he now enters his third reign with the title.

New Japan put on an amazing show on Sunday, but they are not a company that rests on their laurels. Their biggest tournament of the year, the round robin G1 Climax, kicks off in less than two weeks. I will have a rundown of the competitors in what should be an amazing three weeks in the days ahead.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

WWE puts on a 'beast' of a show in Japan

Last weekend WWE put on a special event that was unlike their usual programming.  Beast in the East gave WWE fans a chance to see wrestling they don't usually see on TV, both in look and style.  Chris Jericho vs.  Neville went longer than any match Neville has had on the main roster.  And while the Divas bout and Brock's squash of Kofi Kingston were unsurprising, it was the semi-main event that blew the roof off the joint.

Jericho and Neville put on a clinic in the opening (broadcast) match. Credit:
New Japan fans knew how good Finn Balor was as Prince Devitt. Everyone knows just how good Kevin Owens is. So when the two men met for a 20 minute classic at the Sumo Hall, it was everything you can dream. The two men threw everything they got at each other with Balor pulling out old finishers (a Bloody Sunday chant even rose in the Japanese crowd) and Owens pulling out Cena's moves. But in a wonderful battle that featured no interference and just pure wrestling competition, The Japanese wrestling fans got a very new Japan influenced battle and American fans got to see a style they don't normally get to view. And in the end, Balor walked away as the new NXT champion.

One of many stunning moments in this match. Credit:
Even the main event pitting John Cena and Dolph Ziggler versus King Barrett and Kane was unlike anything normally on WWE television. A twenty minute tag match that allowed everyone in it to show off their best stuff is pretty rare in WWE, but the four men did everything they could to end the show with grace, even if they did have to follow a mat classic like Owens/Balor.

Michael Cole and Byron Saxton might have been the most talked about part of the night though, so much so they trended in those early morning hours. Cole sounded like a real wrestling announcer for the first time in ages as the two men actually called moves and focused on the history of the wrestlers involved, rather than putting over pointless story bits shouted in their ear by a producer. It was a breath of fresh air in WWE television.

But it still wouldn't compare to the next night in Japan, when New Japan Pro Wrestling put on a hell of a show. More on that, tomorrow.

Those interested in checking out Beast In the East can still do so on demand on the WWE Network. And fans worldwide should look on this show with hope. Perhaps we will see more live international WWE broadcasts in the months to come.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Beast In the East and Weekly Review

So all week I was looking forward to Brock's big event in Japan. I waited with anticipation to see who his opponent was going to be. I am not sure if it was posted online, I don't read online rumors because they always spoil the show for me, so I had to wait until about ten minutes before the match, literally right before the Divas match, before I knew who Brock was going to face.

Kofi Kingston. I was sure I was reading that wrong. Seriously, did Kofi piss somebody off in upper management? Kofi Kingston? That match isn't worth the flight to Japan! Maybe I am missing something, maybe Kofi is a huge star over there. . . is he?

At least Brock's going to take on New Day, right? No. . . apparently not. So it was just Kofi alone in the ring against the Beast. Brock barely broke a sweat. I can't say it was a let-down of a match, but I was expecting a better booking than that; hell at least throw a Japanese champion at Brock, right? Well, at least we got to see Brock manhandle New Day. I can watch those boys get beat all day long.

I started writing this blog post yesterday and since then I came the conclusion that Brock was never really the beast they were trying to promote in the East; that honor goes to the new NXT champion, Finn Balor. Finn is a major star in Japan and he certainly deserves the title, although I am not sure how well he's going to go over with the WWE crowd.Kevin Owens did a great job in the map and took a lot of kicks to the head before losing his title. If you thought Owen's attitude was bad before, just wait to see how he acts now that he's no longer the champ. I don't want Cena to lose the U.S. title, even though the rumor mongers say he will at Battleground. John Cena worked hard to give that title some prestige and dignity again, although historically it has been more a heel title. In the past, the US title was often given to heels who put over the main champion, or were too old to be main contenders, or for superstars who just weren't right for the World Heavyweight Championship. If Cena loses, it would mean he would have to work himself back into the world title scene, which is already crowded as it is.

Nice to see a Canadian in Japan, a big shout-out goes to Chris Jericho who, despite looking like shit, gave a great performance inside the Sumo Stadium.

Over the last two weeks I've watched almost every match Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have had together, going all the way back to their first matches at what used to be Florida Championship Wrestling. As great as these two guys are, I am bored of it. I can't watch any more Kane and Seth Rollins matches either, these four guys have gone round and round for two months. Much like the Divas division, there needs to be some new angles thrown into the mix. Reigns has been taken aside and forced to deal with Bray Wyatt, which also doesn't thrill me, but at least I am giving it a chance. I can't see Seth Rollins beating Brock Lesnar and I think Ambrose vs Lesnar is a much more interesting match. We'll have to see on that one.

Nikki Bella continues to dominate, unfortunately I've watched the Bellas face Paige sixteen times this year and I am sick of seeing the same four Divas every week. Bring up Charlotte or Becky Lynch, even just for a couple weeks. I can't understand why the WWE has been in a holding pattern recently, afraid to make any big shifts in direction. Fortune favors the bold, Vince McMahon understood this. It's time for the new era to kick it into high gear. I know that Nikki is set to become the longest reigning Divas champion, they don't want that honor to belong to a loser who isn't with the company anymore. AJ Lee was one of the most overrated Divas of all time. I have zero interest in watching her or hearing about her legacy. Nikki will be the longest reigning Divas champion, you wait and see.

BATTLEGROUND is going to be interesting, because no matter what the outcome is of the matches, we're going to see some shake-ups afterwards. If Owens loses, Owens will be facing other WWE superstars on his climb to the top. If Brock loses, we're going to be firmly set into the era of the Authority. The WWE needs more chaos, damn it! And where the hell has Stardust been??

I actually missed Smackdown this week, instead watching NXT, which seemed to be focused on the Divas this week. Can't complain about that!

On Tough Enough last week they eliminated the guy I chose to win it based on submission videos. So much for that prediction! Interesting start to the show, but not sure if any of the personalities on the show have what it takes to make it in NXT. Going to have to get caught up with this weeks episode tonight.

If you ever watch a match in Japan again, try the game my wife and I invented: Spot the blonde. We weren't able to find a blonde in Sumo Stadium, although we did spot a white-skinned, American style redneck! Although he may have been a roadie. . .

Friday, July 3, 2015

The day you put on great title matches and no one shows up

This last week has not been a pretty one for televised wrestling. Raw took a massive drop in ratings to get one of its lowest ranked shows ever. Ring of Honor also took a massive plummet. But even Impact Wrestling fell while still advertising two solid title matches in one night: a thirty man Iron man battle for the vacant tag titles and the long awaited showdown between Ethan Carter III and Kurt Angle for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.

By all accounts, both matches delivered. The battle between Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, The Wolves, and Austin Aries and Bobby Roode, the Dirty Heels, was a thirty minute modern classic by four stars at the top of their game. With a full thirty minutes to work the crowd and each other, this seemed to be the perfect match to answer all the complaints that Impact Wrestling matches rarely spread out over a maximum of ten minutes. But the four men appear to have made fans flee the program instead of stay with it. This of course brings into question what television wrestling fans are really hoping to get out of Impact every week. Are the fans that want longer matches the true movers of the program? Or is it the more casual fans drawn up in the often overly complicated storylines.

But no match on Impact in recent months had as much build as Ethan Carter III versus Kurt Angle. The build for the two men's title match has been huge. Over the past two years, the former Derrick Bateman proved he was a capable main eventer in TNA. Nowhere could he prove that more aptly than in a main event title match against a multiple Hall of Famer like Kurt Angle.

EC3 would walk away with his first TNA World Heavyweight title, but he would not lead the show to good ratings.

Impact Wrestling is already on fragile ground. I am not a doomsayer for the company, nor am I a person that ever believes everything Dave Meltzer writes about its future. But it is a company in need of viewers and a path. With the current set of spoilers for the next month, it seems to be finally on the path. But it is anyone's guess whether the viewers will ever return.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Japan takes over the wrestling world this weekend!

That isn't a headline I thought I would be writing on this site anytime soon and I'm a New Japan and Dragon Gate fan. But nonetheless, WWE and NJPW are both putting on huge shows over this weekend, back to back on July 4th and 5th, and both frightfully early in the morning for us Westerners. Of course, I work nights already, so a 4:30 a.m. bell time shouldn't bother me too much. And both companies have streaming services more than nice enough to offer replays if I should miss them.


WWE's Beast In the East comes first early on the 4th of July. The WWE Network airing of what was just a Japanese house show has upped the impact of an already interesting card. Most interesting is the inclusion of a NXT championship match between Kevin Owens and his number one contender Finn Balor. With Owens on the main roster and Balor in the country that made him an international star, this has the biggest fight feel of any NXT title match ever. I suspect Balor to walk out with the belt, but not until after an epic match... and a new round of face paint.

In a perfect world, it would also inspire WWE to start calling it the NXT World title. But I won't hold my breath for that.

The card gets its name from Brock Lesnar's in-ring return as he faces Kofi Kingston. A lot has been made of this odd choice of opponents, but I love it. I think Lesnar and Kingston are a great fit for one another with their contrasting styles and ability to sell anything. Plus with the rest of The New Day in his corner, Kofi should have a nice little army to help him against Brock. Not that it will matter, I suspect, as this sounds like a solid setup to show that Lesnar can overcome even 3 on 1 odds.

The other matches aren't too shabby with a first time meeting between Chris Jericho and another former star in Japan, Neville. John Cena and Dolph Ziggler will team up to take on King Barrett and Kane in the show's oddest match. The Divas title will be on the line as Nikki defends against Paige and Naomi. The Lucha Dragons will take on the other two members of the New Day while Cesaro gets an intriguing singles match with Diego.

It should be a lot of fun, but it won't be as amazing as New Japan's Dominion 7.5, a stacked card from top to bottom coming out of the world's second biggest wrestling promotion. All six New Japan titles will be on the line.

The show kicks off with an all-gaijin battle for the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles. Redragon and Roppongi Vice both challenge the Young Bucks in what will be a spot fest. The Young Bucks have been strong in New Japan, but I could see the fast rising team of Rocky Romero and Trent unseat them on July 5th.

Jr. Heavyweight champion Kenny Omega will also put his title on the line against the Best of the Super Juniors winner KUSHIDA in what may be the match of the night. These two men are both at their very best right now. Given fifteen or twenty minutes they could show up one of the best rosters of wrestlers in the world.

One incorporates Street Fighter II moves into his repertoire and the other thinks he's Marty McFly. How could this match ever be bad? 
The IWGP Tag Team match also features only gaijin in action as the ongoing war between the Kingdom of Taven and Bennett and the Bullet Club's Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows continues. This seems like the time for the feud to end, but it is anyone's guess how much longer these four men can destroy one another.

It's rare to see a New Japan card this big without Hiroshi Tanahashi in one of the top two matches, but New Japan's answer to John Cena didn't make it into either. Instead he takes on Toru Yano in an interesting clash of styles.

Shinsuke Nakamura lost the IGWP Intercontinental belt back in May to Hirooki Goto in what many saw as an upset. Over the course of the last three years, Nakamura has elevated the title nearly to that of the IWGP Heavyweight title, but now seems like the time to possibly move him past it. Every American fan of New Japan has been itching for an ongoing Nakamura and Styles feud, but that can only happen if Nakamura moves past trading the titles with his contenders.

Goto and Nakamura should also have a coolest coat competition.
The main event features the aforementioned AJ Styles as he defends the IWGP Heavyweight title against Kazuchika Okada. This is far from the two men's first encounter as Styles began his first run with the belt by pinning Okada. Styles would drop the belt in order to set up a bigger main event for Wrestle Kingdom 9. But NJPW seems firmly behind Styles now and there's a good chance he may hold the belt to next year's January Tokyo Dome mega-event. Though some suspect this might be the comeuppance for the former Okato over a TNA original, I expect Styles to pull out the win.

Fans can watch the broadcast live on New Japan's own streaming service NJPW World.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nikki Bella and the Divas

I'll admit it, I have never really been a fan of Divas. Women's wrestling throughout the 80's, at least as I remember it, was a lot of cheap hair pulling and body slams. I pretty much ignored women's wrestling through the 80's, I never really paid much attention to what was going on in WCW back then, and I never had any interest in any of the female wrestlers of that era. 

Then the 90's came, and women's wrestling got much better, and so much worse. On one hand you had Chyna, a woman with the skills and the talent to stand toe to toe with the men. You also had Lita, who was the exact opposite of Chyna; small, fast and athletic. 

Both women were more than capable of holding their own in the ring, in some cases even better than the men. In fact at one point Chyna was a serious contender for the men's title. Chyna was the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring tournament (Queen of the Ring?), the first female contender for the WWF title, until Mankind came around to knock her out of the spot, and eventually became the first and only female Intercontinental Champion. Had she not done such terrible porn, she would be in the hall of fame already.

Lita had the same level of success, but in different ways, and also carried the same amount of baggage, although not from porn. No, Lita's legacy was tarnished by cheating on her boyfriend Matt Hardy with Edge and turning it into a painful storyline. Seeing her relationship and hearing Matt's moaning and groaning was painful to watch, I think they were the first pair of entertainers to make the entire WWE Universe feel uncomfortable. 
Lita and the Hardy Boyz were groundbreaking in their own way and Lita had no problem keeping pace with her crazy male partners. Lita was a "dancer", who decided she wanted to become a wrestler after watching Rey Mysterio Jr. on an episode of WCW. From there, Lita met the right men at the right time, including Paul Heyman who was in charge of ECW and worked her way up to a WWF spot. Her high-flying moves and perfectly executed hurricanrada made her one of the top stars of the day.

Later on, Trish Stratus joined the mix. I actually met Trish a few years before her debut with the WWE. She was manning a table at Fan Expo. I asked her what she did and she told me she was a fitness model. I felt kind of bad for her because there was no one interested in buying the calendar of a local girl they'd never heard of. It was almost embarassing, because the cute anime girl across from her was surrounded by an entourage of men and women. Trish was the link between the great divas and the not-so-great, which I will get to soon. Trish could wrestle AND looked sexy, which essentially makes her the first real DIVA, a wrestler and model who could pose in swimsuits and also close matches. Unfortunately the Divas division never really got the serious push it needed, because whenever fans asked for a match, there was always some other woman willing to take her clothes off instead. Which brings me to the bad side of the Divas division: Sable.

I never found Sable attractive. She looked like someone's mother who thought she was hot but really didn't get what hot was. Her boobs were too fake, her body too tall and lanky, for me to personally find her attractive. However, she pushed the envelope on what was acceptable on television. Her bikini matches and constant slutty behavior crippled the Divas division and turned it into a joke. When every Diva was willing to do the swimsuit issue and was forced to promote THAT over their own skills in ring, your going to have problems. No one took the Divas division seriously. Until now.
I'll give Sable credit for trying, and she must be tough, she sleeps with the Beast Brock Lesnar every night, but I never considered her a wrestler.

Which brings us to the greatest Divas champion of all time: Nikki Bella.

As far as I am concerned, AJ Lee, Chris Benoit and CM Punk no longer exist in the WWE timeline. They've been retconned out and good riddance. 

When I first came back and saw the reinvigorated Divas division, both in the WWE and in NXT, I was surprised by the talent and skills of the women wrestlers. It seems creative isn't as sharp with using them as they are with the men, but still they've managed to carve out a nice spot for themselves.

I knew Nikki was with John Cena and Brie was with Daniel Bryan, but I didn't know much else about them. I assumed that Brie, with her natural body and more laid back attitude, was the one I'd support. Nikki seemed superficial and a bit of a valley girl. Until I discovered Total Divas, I thought for sure I'd be a Brie fan.

But Nikki Bella is one of the coolest women I've ever seen on television. She is open with her feelings and not afraid of her passions. She whipped out a box of dildos on television and didn't think twice about it. Her attitudes toward her career, her sex life and her relationships is completely normal and healthy, something you almost NEVER see on television. Nikki loves her life and she is not afraid to show it, she has goals that she works toward and is not distracted with trying to life a certain lifestyle, the way her sister is. Brie seems like an annoying hipster who doesn't know how to shine her light out, instead holding back. Nikki burns bright and shines in the ring. She has all the skills needed to remain champion and most women aren't working hard enough to take it from her. While Nikki builds a second career as a real estate agent, Brie is worried about farming vegetables from her own feces. Yeah, you read that right. Nikki Bella is the first real woman champion, the first real Diva, and I hope John Cena stops acting like a jackass and realizes what Nikki has to offer as a mother and wife. 

TOTAL DIVAS offers a unique glimpse at the wrestling industry from the perspective of the women who are lucky enough to work there. I really think it would be worthwhile to unite the two Divas divisions and create a tag team title, everyone loves the current women but Nikki needs more challenging opponents in the WWE. Paige's constant complaining is boring. Brie doesn't seem to want anything, other than what she doesn't want, apparently Brie would rather fight for chicken's rights than be women's champion. 

I hope the Bellas have many more years of wrestling ahead of them and I hope Nikki beats the old Divas record for longest run with the women's title. She totally deserves it. Nikki Bella is my Divas champion and I am not afraid to say it. I'd love to see her matched up against Becky Lynch or Charlotte Flair. Make it happen, WWE!