Friday, December 30, 2016

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (7-10)

Alright folks, this is where it really gets good.  The next four installments of WrestleKingdom are about as good as any four consecutive editions of any PPV I can recall.  I know that sounds hyperbolic but I'm being completely serious.  Read on.....


WrestleKingdom 7 - 1/4/13

What a splendid show this was.  From start to finish, WrestleKingdom 7 delivered at about the highest possible level, including an instant classic main event, an unexpectedly great IC match, and one of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.  New Japan was in the midst of a wrestling renaissance, my friends.

The show started with an amusing opening match designed to ease the crowd into it: Akebono, Manabu Nakanishi, MVP and Strong Man vs. Chaos (Bob Sapp, Takashi Iizuka, Toru Yano and Yujiro Takahashi).  This had a lot of kinda goofy spots, like the babyfaces all hitting corner avalanches on all four heels.  I think they did that spot two or three times actually.  Anyway the match was inoffensive but felt like a throwaway.

The proper start to WK7 was Masato Tanaka vs. Shelton Benjamin for the NEVER Openweight Title, in what was pretty damn good for a six-minute match.  Four more minutes and this would've approached three-star territory.  Side note: Shelton should go back to being a babyface, as his style was much more exciting that way. 

Next up was KES (Davey Boy Smith jr & Lance Archer) vs. Sword & Guns (Hirooki Goto & Karl Anderson) in a surprisingly good Tag Title match.  I didn't think I'd be all that impressed with KES, but they've made a solid top team.  Seeing Karl Anderson as a babyface was pretty weird - he even wore light-colored gear.  This was full of action and fun tandem offense.

The first classic of the night was next, between Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki.  This was their third WK match together, and this blew the other two out of the water.  Really hard-hitting action as usual but this match felt much bigger and got the time it needed.  Nagata finally got the win with the Backdrop Hold after some amazingly stiff wrestling.

Whammo!

The show stealer of WK7 was in the center of the card: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Low-Ki for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Just an amazing, amazing match, and seriously one of the best of its kind that I've ever seen.  These three managed to make a 3-way match flow totally smoothly, where it wasn't just two guys fighting while the other sold on the outside.  And when that did happen, the third guy would show up out of nowhere with an insane spot.  At multiple points, Wrestler A would hit a big move on Wrestler B, only for Wrestler C to immediately follow it up with some huge move on Wrestler A.  Just a breathtaking match you should go out of your way to see.  Low-Ki by the way was able to wrestle at this level while wearing a full suit (in tribute to the videogame Hitman), which is insane to me.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

NJPW WrestleKingdom 11 Preview & Predictions

by Landon Wayne
@LSWayne21


WrestleKingdom. The peak of New Japan's mountain. The show Young Lions aspire to be a part of one day. The show that has seen the greatest wrestlers from across the globe...and TNA World Champion Jeff Hardy. But enough about sour relationships that made mockeries of future main eventers. We're here for the wrestlers of New Japan Pro Wrestling, to see all the events of 2016 come to a head at the beginning of 2017. And here for you, exclusively on Enuffa.com, Justin and I are gonna go through each match on the card, give an index card's worth of insight, and let you know how we see it going down. Let's get started with Wrestle Kingdom 11, in...TOKYO DOME.



The New Japan Rumble

If this is your first WrestleKingdom, Imagine the pre-Mania Battle Royal you always ignored on the bonus features of your Wrestlemania DVDs. That's this. Near identical to a Royal Rumble, it's present on the pre-show mostly as a way for the rest of the New Japan roster to be in the Dome. There will also be cameos from the annals of NJPW and Japanese wrestling history in general, but nothing terribly important.

Landon's Pick: Doesn't Really matter. Haku, I guess.
Justin's Pick: Your guess is as good as mine. Probably one of the surprise entrants, but likely no one who will see a push because of winning this.  I'll go with Jushin Liger, why not?




Tiger Mask W vs Tiger The Dark (Kota Ibushi vs. ACH)

On paper this sounds like it's gonna be a fantastic match. ACH and Ibushi have styles that are unique, but will probably fit together perfectly. However, I can't help but flash back to Chris Jericho's first book, wherein he talks about his first, and last, night under the Super Liger Mask. Which was in the Tokyo Dome. Where he did such a poor job that the gimmick immediately died. I just hope both men practice together while wearing their masks. I'd prefer a choreographed good match over an ad libbed botch.

Landon's Pick: Tiger the Dark. And I still need to watch the anime.
Justin's Pick: Tiger Mask Ibushi.  And let's hope he soon takes off the mask and goes back to challenging for the big belts.




IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Title Match: The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice


The Junior Tag titles are defended in a straight-up 2 in 2 match this year. Roppongi Vice winning the tag tournament was a surprise to many who may not have been paying attention to underlying stories. Probably the most predictable match on he card, we've seen enough Young Bucks and RPG matches to be able to guess where this match will go. I'm honestly struggling for things to say about it.

Landon's Pick: Roppongi Vice
Justin's Pick: I'm glad we aren't getting yet another 4-way Jr. Tag match here.  Those are always fun but they've been featured on the last three WK shows and they start to blur together (not unlike 7-man WrestleMania Ladder match clusters).  This should be an excellent bout and I'll also go with RPG Vice to win the straps.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

PPV Showdown: NJPW WrestleKingdom 9 vs. WrestleKingdom 10

Welcome to another edition of PPV Showdown, where I'll take two editions of a given wrestling show and compare the shit outta them to determine which one is better.  

Today I'm looking at the two most recent WrestleKingdom shows from New Japan, both of which rank very highly among the greatest PPVs I've ever seen.  From top to bottom each of these shows delivered a spectacular cross-section of the NJPW product and yielded multiple MOTY candidates.  WWE (or anyone else) will be hard-pressed to come up with anything nearly this good anytime soon.


But there's a question that's been bugging me for a year now: which was better, WrestleKingdom 9 or 10?  Both editions were universally praised, and trying to pick one over the other is like trying to choose your favorite child.  Structurally the two shows were pretty similar and thus should be easy to compare.  Yet they were both so outstanding, how does one choose?  Well let's take this one step at a time and go down the card.  Hopefully when this is over we'll be able to determine once and for all which show was superior....




4-Way Jr. Tag Match

Both WKs opened with a 4-way match for the Jr. Tag Titles (as did WK8) to energize the crowd.  In both cases this match featured insane tandem offense and nearly non-stop action.  2015's match pitted Jr. Tag Champs reDRagon against The Young Bucks, Forever Hooligans, and Time Splitters.  There wasn't a wasted moment here and all four teams went basically balls-to-the-wall for 13 minutes before reDRagon retained.

By comparison WK10's version also saw reDRagon defending the straps, this time against The Young Bucks, Roppongi Vice, and hot new team Matt Sydal & Ricochet.  It was a similarly contested lightning paced battle, but this time The Young Bucks captured the belts after nearly 17 minutes.

So these matches were both roughly ***1/2 star spotfest-type affairs, but I'll give a slight edge to the WK10 version since it had a bit more time to breathe, plus Ricochet's mindboggling offense was a difference maker.

Point: WrestleKingdom 10



The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (IV-VI)

Welcome to the second part of the Enuffa.com History of WrestleKingdom!  Moving right along....


WrestleKingdom IV - 1/4/10

Here at last is a WrestleKingdom show that's consistently entertaining and also has multiple 3.5-4 star matches.  The stars were beginning to align for New Japan, as the notable talents were falling into their respective current roles and spots on the card.  WK4 also featured a New Japan vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH rivalry, as four second-half matches comprised a card-within-a-card.

A quick six-man kicked things off, as Mitsuhide Hirasawa, Super Strong Machine and Wataru Inoue faced Jushin Thunder Liger, Kazuchika Okada and Koji Kanemoto.  This was an okay opener but far too short to amount to anything.  It was very weird seeing a 21-year-old Okada, who carried himself completely differently back then.  Brief but inoffensive.

The show picked up big with the second match, as Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi) defended the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight straps against Averno and Ăšltimo Guerrero.  This was a highly entertaining Cruiserweight tag match, with Devitt in particular shining like the rising star he was, displaying spectacular offense and a great ring presence.  On a more streamlined card this match  would've been the hot opener.

The Heavyweight Tag Championship was next, as Team 3-D defended against No Limit (Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro) and Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) with Hardcore rules.  A decent enough garbage match, and light years better than the previous year's Team 3-D bout.  No Limit and Karl Anderson brought enough workrate to compensate for the other three guys.  The hardcore stuff was very played out even in 2010 and they weren't doing anything groundbreaking.  Also the tables and chairs in Japan are pretty flimsy-looking so none of the big hardcore spots looked all that dangerous.  The whole "Get the tables!" bit clearly doesn't play in Japan, as the crowd was apathetic.  But this match was fine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (I-III)

From the wrestling-fixated Enuffa.com creator, who brought you the comprehensive histories of WWE's Big Four PPVs (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series) comes another PPV History series: New Japan Pro Wrestling's WrestleKingdom!


How's it hangin' folks?  Time for yet another Enuffa wrestling history lesson, this time about a major annual PPV that I only discovered a couple years ago.  When Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling announced they'd be distributing NJPW's WrestleKingdom 9 PPV in the States, and Jim Ross himself would be the play-by-play man, I immediately took notice.  I'd read some great things about New Japan even before this, and saw that over the past four years they've garnered loads of Wrestling Observer awards, but until January 2015 I hadn't seen a single NJPW match.  Then an even bigger announcement dropped: New Japan had created its own WWE Network-style streaming service, offering every major show since the company's 1972 inception all for the price of 999 yen per month (That's around nine bucks for American subscribers).  What this meant was that I'd be able to see WK9 as part of my subscription (alas, JR's commentary was not included, but that's ok).  I was quite impressed with WK9, particularly the consistency of its match quality from start to finish.  For a show mostly featuring talent I'd never seen before, and for which I had no context, this was pretty spectacular.  (Note: I watched WK9 again a few months later, now with the proper context, and....well you'll see my revised opinion in Part 3)  From there I started perusing the library, picking out matches and shows I'd read great things about, and in a matter of weeks I was hooked on New Japan Pro Wrestling.  As it stands now, I'm a bigger fan of NJPW than WWE.  New Japan's product is simple, elegant, athletic, realistic, and unbelievably fun to watch.

So this historical piece will be a little different than the WWE ones, in that I've been a WWE fan for nearly 30 years, while New Japan is still relatively new to me.  I've become quite familiar with the current roster, but I unfortunately won't have quite as strong a historical perspective to draw from.  So I'll be talking more about the quality of these WrestleKingdom shows in and of  themselves, and less about their place in the grand scheme.  But for those of you who aren't yet acquainted with New Japan, you may find this approach helpful.  Think of it as something of a beginner's guide, if you will.  As for you New Japan veteran fans, if I've missed any important details, feel free to comment below!

WrestleKingdom is New Japan's biggest show of the year, held annually on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome (I was surprised to learn that the date never changes, regardless of the weekday).  The Tokyo Dome Show tradition began in 1992 and the event has carried various names, but it wasn't until 2007 that the show was broadcast on PPV and given the WrestleKingdom moniker.  So I'll only be talking about the nine (thus far) PPV editions of this extravaganza.  Let's get to it!




WrestleKingdom - 1/4/07

Like WrestleMania, WK is typically a four-hour event.  Unlike WrestleMania, they're able to comfortably fit 9-11 matches on the card without criminally shortchanging anyone.  One thing (of several) New Japan does way better than WWE is time management. 

The inaugural WK card was sort of an odd mishmash, with only four singles matches on a card of nine.  Clearly they wanted to fit as many guys in as possible, but unfortunately it meant the first half of the show was a blur of multi-man tags.

The opener featured El Samurai, Masanobu Fuchi and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Akira Raijin, Kikutaro and Nobutaka Araya.  It was basically a comedy match, with Kikutaro (who wears a bizarre pink mask based on the Japanese god of good fortune) complaining a lot and even getting punched and kicked by the ref.  Nothing memorable here.

Next up, current NJPW bookers Gedo and Jado took on Tokyo Gurentai (Mazada and Nosawa Rongai) in a match that saw Gurentai dominate the first half of the match, only to fall short in the second.  Not much of interest going on in this one either.

Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) were up next against former WWE midcarders D'Lo Brown, Buchanan and Travis Tomko.  This was the first match where I was familiar with everyone.  Buchanan still moved well in 2007 but looked pretty out of shape compared to his 2000 WWF run.  Despite this match being eight years ago, Yano and Makabe looked almost exactly the same.  Ishii not so much, as he sported more colorful gear and a weird-looking tuft of hair on top of his head.  If I didn't know he was in this match I wouldn't have recognized him at all (He wasn't given much to do anyway).  This match was ok and didn't overstay its welcome, but was also totally forgettable.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Ten Things: Essential NJPW PPVs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I count down Ten Things that are at the Top of my list.  Pretty simple really.  Not sure why I have to explain it.

Today I present the ten best NJPW PPVs I've seen thus far in my young New Japan fandom (New JaFandom?).  As you may or may not know, I just started watching NJPW in January 2015, when they launched NJPWWorld.com, a subscription streaming service not unlike The WWE Network.  Basically from day one I was hooked, and I started poring through the archives to absorb as much New Japan awesomeness as I could find.  So here are ten essential NJPW PPVs you need to watch (and if you've already seen 'em, watch 'em again!).  Here we go:




10. Power Struggle 2013


Often seen as something of a transitory PPV due to its place on the calendar so soon before WrestleKingdom, the annual November show Power Struggle generally features little in the way of important angles or title changes.  But that didn't stop NJPW from presenting a very strong edition in 2013.  Undercard standouts included the Young Bucks vs. Suzuki-Gun tag match and a short-but-intense Shibata-Honma slugfest, but once again the final four bouts were where business really picked up.  Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii stole the show with a 17-minute war, Tetsuya Naito settled his months-long feud with Masato Tanaka, Shinsuke Nakamura narrowly retained the I-C Title against Minoru Suzuki, and Kazuchika Okada defended the IWGP Title against Karl Anderson in a main event that far exceeded my expectations.  The last three Power Struggle shows have essentially just been a collection of good matches without major consequences, and the 2013 edition was the best of the series.




9. King of Pro-Wrestling 2012


Voted the Best Major Show of 2012 by the readers of Wrestling Observer, King of Pro-Wrestling was the first PPV to use that moniker, and was a streamlined, loaded lineup.  Both Jr. Heavyweight Titles were defended in top-flight matches - Forever Hooligans defended the tag belts against Time Splitters, and Low-Ki defeated Kota Ibushi for the singles championship in a 17-minute showstopper.  After a few good but largely inconsequential bouts, the show kicked into overdrive with a trio of excellent matches.  Okada defended his WK7 #1 Contender's slot against Karl Anderson, Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto had a blazing I-C Title match, and in the main event Hiroshi Tanahashi faced Minoru Suzuki in an epic 29-minute match with loads of psychology and nary a pin attempt until the very end.  Incidentally this bout was named Match of the Year by the Observer.  KoPW was a tremendous PPV that outshined every other NJPW show in 2012, and amazingly it would be outdone by its 2013 sequel.




8. WrestleKingdom 8


The 2014 edition of WrestleKingdom has the unfortunate distinction of being sandwiched between the two best all-time WKs, but that doesn't stop it from being a helluva good show in and of itself.  The show started out strong with two good Tag Title matches - The Young Bucks defended the Jr. Heavyweight straps against Time Splitters, Forever Hooligans and Suzuki-Gun in a blistering spotfest, while Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith jr. faced the new Bullet Club combination of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows for the Heavyweight belts.  The middle of the show featured several okay matches before the final third once again took things to the next level.  Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata delivered a brutal war, Kota Ibushi dethroned Prince Devitt for the Jr. Heavyweight Title in a great piece of storytelling, Okada and Naito had a marathon IWGP Title match, and in a first for WrestleKingdom the Intercontinental Title took the main event slot, as Nakamura faced Tanahashi in the clear Match of the Night.  While WK8 lacked a true MOTY candidate, it still stacks up as one of the best editions of NJPW's flagship event. 


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

Well my esteemed colleague Dan Moore and I have both seen Rogue One and we have some thoughts to share with you, whether you like it or not.  So here we go....

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****



Justin: So Daniel, what did you think of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?


Dan: I liked it a lot. It felt totally different than any other Star Wars movies. I liked the new characters, with the exception of the lead. Jyn Erso I felt was a tad underdeveloped. Her mom dies, and she is raised elsewhere, and that's kind of it for her character. We're supposed to just assume she's a jaded badass after that without seeing any of it. The actress, Felicity Jones, was fine, but she played a non-character. As opposed to Rey in The Force Awakens, who seemed a much more vivid and REAL character.

But I enjoyed the rag tag, Dirty Dozen-like feel to this Star WAR movie. It was grim, it was gritty, and it helped erase the bad feelings of the truly inferior prequels. This one is THE PREQUEL in my mind. I choose to remember nothing of Episodes I-III until the inevitable Disney remakes.


Justin: I enjoyed it quite a bit, with a few reservations.  It definitely felt a little different while still feeling like you were in the Star Wars universe.  Everything was gritty and dirty and looked lived in, unlike three other movies I could name where the scenery was pristine and digital.  Rogue One is essentially a war movie, housed within the Star Wars setting (I saw nods to Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and Bridge on the River Kwai).  It was a lot of fun to see this universe from a different angle, low and in the weeds.  This had the smallest scope of any Star Wars film thus far and I liked that; the filmmakers didn't feel the need to make it EPIC.  It also had some of the best space battle stuff they've ever done - it was chaotic but you could follow the action, there was some strategy involved, and a few legitimate surprises.

As for the reservations, I agree, Jyn was very underdeveloped as a character - we needed much more reason to care about her, since the plot itself was simply an exercise.  We already know what's going to happen, so it falls on the characters to draw us in.  She didn't quite do that for me.  My favorite character actually was the droid, who provided most of the humor.  The mystical blind dude was interesting as well and I would've liked to see more of his story.

The other minor gripe (very minor) is that this film is FULL of fan service.  Like it's all over the place.  Most of it works though, and is done tastefully.  But a few moments were a bit groan-inducing for me (Did we really need to see Walrus Man and Mr. Ugly?).  Obviously with a story so closely linked to A New Hope there's gonna be a lot of visual repetition, so the lion's share of that didn't bug me.  I appreciated that, unlike say Revenge of the Sith, this film actually respected the continuity with ANH and made sure there weren't any loose or contradictory threads.


The 2017 Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame

by Michael Drinan
@mdrinan380


It’s that time of year again when the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame announces its newest inductees. The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 are Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Joan Baez and Yes, with an Award For Musical Excellence to Nile Rodgers. Here are a few thoughts on this year’s inductees....


Thank God Tupac got in!

My first thought when I saw the list of inductees was “Thank God Tupac got in!” because of all the dipshits out there who think hip hop shouldn’t be in the HOF. Hip hop certainly belongs. The argument that “It’s not rock n’ roll” is a weak argument when you take into account that it’s a genre that was an offshoot of rock music in the beginning, aligned itself within the New York punk/new wave scene and became an integral part of rock music in the late 90s, for better or worse. The mission statement of the HOF is to recognize artists who demonstrate “unquestionable musical excellence and talent,” as well as having “had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.” To suggest that hip hop hasn’t had a role in the development and evolution of rock & roll would be one of the most ignorant thoughts ever. Face it people, hip hop is in and it belongs and Tupac is deserving of induction.



Nile Rodgers and Chic

This is the eleventh time disco band Chic has been nominated and rejected for induction. If you’ve read any of my previous entries on the Hall of Fame nominees, you would know that I’m against Chic being inducted. I still feel they didn’t distinguish themselves apart from any other disco group out there while conceding their influence in the hip hop genre is strong and undeniable. Needless to say, I’m not upset that they didn’t get in. However, Nile Rodgers was given the Award For Musical Excellence which “honors performers, songwriters and producers who have changed the course of music history. These artists have dedicated their lives to creating influential, important music infused with originality, and have achieved a level of timeless distinction.” This creates a little controversy that even left Rodgers himself “perplexed.” Of course, the pro-Chic crowd is asking the HOF, “So, Chic isn’t good enough to get inducted but Nile Rodgers, who is a key contributor to the group, is given an award for being original and influential?” To which I say, “Yep, that’s right!” Rodgers has had a tremendous career on his own as a producer, songwriter and collaborator for a ton of artists like Diana Ross, Christina Aguilera, David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and Robert Plant. So it’s not as if he isn’t deserving of the award. Just because one member of a band is influential on his own doesn’t automatically translate to also mean the band was influential. Quiet down folks.



Journey

College girls everywhere are now celebrating the fact the band behind one of their favorite songs to sing while drunk and hugging their girlfriends, are now Hall of Famers. I don’t necessarily mind that Journey was inducted. There was a part of me that felt in time they would get in. It just seems a bit undeserved this year considering the other nominees.



Yes and ELO

Jesus. This fucking shit. This fucking shit right here. First, I kind of get ELO in the sense that Jeff Lynne was a close contributor and collaborator of George Harrison and Tom Petty to the point where he was a member of the Traveling Wilburys. So, I’m not totally shocked even though I think ELO sucks ass. But Yes? Are you fucking kidding me here people? So because they were a part of your 1970s high school soundtrack, you think they’re worthy of enough to be in the Hall of Fame? Fuck outta here. The only great thing Yes ever did was change their name from Mabel Greer’s Toyshop.



Joan Baez

For me, this was overdue. The biggest argument people have made against Joan getting in was she was mostly known for her covers, which is hard to argue. However, Joan was a key figure in the Greenwich Village folk scene that exploded in the ‘60s, and not only did cut a strong figure with her performances and iconic voice, but she influenced countless number of important artists within that scene, like Dylan, Phil Ochs and Johnny Cash. Hell, she even left an impression on rock gods Led Zepplin and Judas Priest. I like that she’s finally in as an artist. It feels right.



The Snubs

When the inductees get announced, the first thing we notice are the snubs and this year the list is a doozy. First, Chaka Khan. Third time nominated is not a charm for her and I think the HOF needs to take a long, hard look at itself. I was hoping this would be The Cars’ year to get in considering their accomplishments as opposed to fucking Yes, ELO and Journey, but looks as if I’ll have to keep on waiting.

However no other snub stood out like Janet Jackson. I’m pretty surprised she didn’t get in this year considering the nominees. She’s an icon that helped define an era in R&B which is more than you can say about Yes.



Looking ahead

Now that the Class of 2017 is in the books, next year’s list of eligible artists is looking pretty fucking awesome. We’re talking Beck, Rage Against The Machine, Radiohead, TLC, Dr. Dre, Tool and Stone Temple Pilots being the most notable. Throw them on top of the already eligible artists like Tori Amos, A Tribe Called Quest, Nine Inch Nails, PAT FUCKING BENATAR (!!!!!!!!!!!!), The Runaways, Alice in Chains, and the rest of 2017 nominees who didn’t get in this year, and there’ll certainly be quite a few people bitching about the HOF on social media.


There you have it! Leave your thoughts on the Class of 2017 in the comments section below. Who would you like to see get in next year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Enuffa.com 2016 Year-End Pro Wrestling Awards

Welcome to Enuffa.com's 3rd Annual Year-End Pro Wrestling Awards!  


2016 was a year of overwhelming change in the wrestling industry.  We saw defections, roster splits, new stars made, dream matchups realized, and above all a gluttony of available wrestling content.

The WWE Network alone added so many events, specials and series it became damn-near impossible to keep up with all of it.  Couple that with NJPW's usual, robust schedule, TNA, ROH, Lucha Underground, RPW, etc. and it's safe to say the wrestling business is financially pretty healthy overall.

WWE expanded to the point that their various sub-promotions are beginning to resemble the old territory days.  RAW, Smackdown, NXT, 205 Live, and the impending UK and Women's tournaments are providing something for just about everyone, and there's certainly no shortage of PPVs and Takeover specials to gorge on.  The second attempt at a roster split has been a mixed bag, but the two main roster brands have provided fairly divergent products thus far.  Adding to WWE's appeal this year was the influx of new faces and established outside talents, many of whom were allowed to keep their existing names and gimmicks.  It's created a refreshing set of new matchups and in some ways taken us back to the Monday Night War era, when known wrestlers would jump from one company to the other.  And much like the old territory days, familiar faces in a new environment allows some of these veterans to freshen up their gimmicks and movesets against a new crop of opponents.  It's all made for a very diverse WWE product, about which I obviously have numerous reservations and criticisms, but which does instill cautious optimism.

NXT continued growing into a full-fledged third brand, adopting a new TakeOver schedule based on the main roster's Big Four PPVs and making greater use of established veterans to add credibility and seasoning.  The "developmental" territory outclassed the main roster at every turn, providing most of the company's best major shows.

New Japan rallied after the loss of four top stars, quickly filling the void with some new blood and reinvigorating rising talent, thus allowing the company to break out of their comfort zone and take some booking risks.  Most of these paid off big, and while the overall quality might not have been quite at the pitch-perfect level of 2015, the company's long-term health looks extremely good.

Amid controversies and lawsuits, TNA still managed to hold on by a thread, changing up their product and employing some unconventional tactics, mostly involving Matt and Jeff Hardy.  I haven't kept up with TNA in quite some time, but from what I understand the product in 2016 was vastly improved from recent years.  So there's still hope for the Keith Richards of wrestling promotions.

Ring of Honor solidified and expanded their relationship with New Japan, making much greater use of NJPW's roster for special events/PPVs, and lending their own talent to the Japanese promotion.  ROH Titles were defended on NJPW shows, ROH stars captured NJPW gold, and it's allowed both companies to reach wider audiences.  TNA would be wise to try and get in on this action.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Things: December PPV Matches

Welcome to another December-themed Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'll be talking about my ten favorite December PPV matches.  Aside from WCW's Starrcade, December has generally been a month for B-level PPVs and few Match of the Year candidates.  But there have most definitely been exceptions, both from WWE and other promotions.  One match I really would've liked to include in this list is Ric Flair & Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express from Clash of the Champions IV.  But that wasn't a PPV, it was a special TV event, so I had to leave it out.  Anyway, here's my top ten December PPV matches of all time.




10. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle - WWF Vengeance  - 12.9.01


The first of the WWF/WCW Title Unification semi-final bouts, this pitted WWF Champ Austin against arch-nemesis Kurt Angle, in a repeat of their SummerSlam and Unforgiven 2001 battles.  This time though, Austin was back to being the top babyface and Angle was the heel.  There wasn't anything fancy about this, it was just an excellently-worked old-school wrestling match.  While not at the level of their amazing SummerSlam bout, Austin and Angle nontheless put on a helluva show, culminating in Austin reversing a Stunner attempt and countering with his own to retain the strap and advance to the Finals.




9. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. The Miz - WWE TLC - 12.18.11


CM Punk's first PPV defense in his 434-day WWE Title run may have been against two less-than-threatening opponents (Miz especially was coming off a two-month burial), but that didn't take away from this exciting TLC match.  All three men worked hard to make this innovative and unpredictable.  Punk was handcuffed to a ladder and later to one of the turnbuckles, creating suspense about how he'd get out of this one with his Title intact.  Punk got to play the role of "smart babyface" (which sadly doesn't happen often) and after unscrewing one of the ring ropes, he GTSed Miz on his way to victory.



8. Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero - WWE Armageddon - 12.15.02


During the Smackdown Six Era, the two most accomplished former Radicalz met at Armageddon in a no-frills, old-fashioned wrestling match that stole the show.  Benoit and Guerrero had wrestled each other dozens of times in the past, and this fit right into their considerable catalog.  While slightly marred by Chavo's unsuccessful interference attempts and a couple of early miscues, this was still a fine bout with a suspenseful submission finish.


Monday, December 19, 2016

WWE Roadblock: End of the Line Review

WWE reached the End of the Line last night at their final 2016 PPV Roadblock, and while nothing grabbed me by the throat and shook, it was a perfectly solid way to spend an evening, given that it was an unnecessary December PPV event.  The six matches ranged from very good to total throwaway but nothing on the show was offensive and most of the booking was well-executed.  Let's take the deep dive, shall we?

The show opened with a hotly contested, loads-of-fun Tag Title match, as The New Day hoped to extend their new longevity record against Sheamus & Cesaro.  This was furiously paced with lots of suspenseful near-falls and great attempts by both teams to get a cheap advantage.  The New Day tried to use their superior numbers to pick up the win but Sheamus & Cesaro anticipated all of it.  The finish was superbly booked, as Sheamus went to make a tag and Cesaro deliberately whiffed on it but ran into the ring anyway, duping Kofi into thinking he was now the legal man.  Kofi hit him with Trouble in Paradise and went for the cover but Sheamus, still the legal man, dove on top of Kofi for a surprise win.  The New Day sold the loss of the belts perfectly, hammering home the devastation of being dethroned.  This is how you elevate a title.


Match #2 was the Sami Zayn 10-minute challenge against Braun Strowman, and while I was not a fan of this concept at all, the execution was decent.  Zayn showed some offense for the first few minutes before being decimated by Strowman's power.  Zayn took a tame but convincing beating (some blood here would've helped tell the story immensely) before Mick Foley showed up and threatened to throw in the towel.  Zayn then came back and eventually nailed Strowman with the Helluva Kick to go the distance.  I'm sure this feud will continue and Strowman will get his decisive win back.  Zayn needs to be in Title contention.

Seth Rollins vs. Chris Jericho was next, in a match that was hurt considerably by a pretty dull crowd (Pittsburgh's fans seemed very disengaged all night after the opening match), but was technically just fine.  They got 17 minutes and put together a technically very good bout with fun back-and-forth action.  Nothing at all wrong with the match, it just wasn't a classic like it should've been.  Kevin Owens attempted to interfere on Jericho's behalf but it backfired and Rollins got the win.  Jericho then sold disgust with Owens.


The worst match of the night was the Cruiserweight Title match.  They only got six minutes, the fans didn't care at all, and the action was just sorta there.  I don't know what needs to happen with this division but something does, pronto.  Fortunately after Rich Swann retained the belt, Neville showed up and beat the piss out of him and TJ Perkins.  So at least this division now has a clear antagonist and Neville finally has something to do.  It's the small victories....

The standout match of the night, not surprisingly, was Sasha vs. Charlotte for the Women's Title.  This Iron Man match had weight, drama, intensity, and a good story.  It had a few flaws too, but the match was good enough that they can be forgiven.  I loved the early grappling, I loved that there were no falls until 19 minutes in, I loved Sasha's resiliency and Charlotte's desperation.  I did not love that Sasha gave up the tying fall with only two seconds to spare, after Charlotte spent nearly five minutes destroying her knee.  John Cena once beat Randy Orton in an Iron Man match in similar fashion.  I get that when the pain becomes too intense you aren't thinking logically, and realistically Sasha had a 2-1 lead at that point anyway and figured she'd retain via a draw.  But two seconds?  What really should've happened is Charlotte should've used a chair late in the match to wreck Sasha's leg, then Sasha could've tapped with like 20 seconds left, and the clock would've run out as both women recovered.  Then Charlotte would've clearly tied up the match due to heel tactics.  Anyway, the overtime period was great; Sasha got a really awful bloody nose which added to the drama and brought to mind Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart.  After nearly mounting a comeback, Sasha fell prey to the Figure 8 again and finally tapped to drop the Title to Charlotte for the third time.  This certainly was an unusual feud, with six title changes.  Not sure what happens now.  Charlotte vs. Bayley at WrestleMania?  Sasha vs. Nia Jax?  Anyway I'd rate this gritty, old-school match roughly ****, and really would've liked to see it close the show.


The actual main event went to the rather anticlimactic Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns.  After some decent brawling early on, the bout settled a bit too long into the Owens headlock spot before ramping up again.  They did add some entertaining bells and whistles, such as the frog splash across the announce table.  But once again the crowd seemed pretty uninterested.  The finish here came when Owens failed to put Reigns away, and Jericho ran into the ring and attacked Owens, drawing a disqualification.  I did like this booking choice.  Jericho tagged his buddy, presenting the appearance of dissension, but then revealed it was all a ruse to save Owens' title AND give him a win.  Reigns and Seth Rollins were livid and put both guys through tables, a la The Shield.  If only RAW's top two babyfaces were more well-liked.


So the RAW product is definitely suffering from a lack of fan enthusiasm, largely due to Vince's inability to present likable babyfaces who actually win matches.  I don't know when he lost sight of what makes people cheer a wrestler, but it's been gone for a while now.  The fans will never like Reigns unless he goes through a great heel run first, and Seth Rollins hasn't been presented as someone the fans should actually identify with.  He's just an angry dude who got fucked over.  Rollins needs a soul-baring type of promo to turn the corner with this new character.  Reigns needs to become a villainous killing machine so he seems cool again.

But overall this show was perfectly solid, continuing the pattern of the split-brand PPVs:  RAW has the stronger roster and thus better overall PPVs, but Smackdown has better talent at the top and you're much more likely to see a Match of the Year contender on the blue PPVs.

Best Match: Sasha vs. Charlotte
Worst Match: Swann vs. Kendrick vs. Perkins
What I'd Change: Put the Iron Man match last and tweak the booking so Charlotte had to cheat to win.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably Rollins vs. Jericho, but it was fine
Most Pleasant Surprise: How good the Tag Title match was
Overall Rating: 7/10

Friday, December 16, 2016

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade, part 6 (1998-2000)

We've reached the end of the line for WCW, and its flagship show.  Tread carefully, as the next three editions are full of turds.....


Sigh....here we go.....


Starrcade '98 - MCI Center - 12.27.98
And I thought Starrcade '97 was bad.  Jeezus, that was a magnum opus compared to this disorganized mess.  1998 was the year WCW really started collapsing under its own weight.  The top stars had so much control over their characters that nothing involving them made any sense, and when one homegrown star somehow managed to surge in popularity certain egos went out of their way to cut out his legs (Hmm, that sounds familiar).  We were at the height of the nWo Wolfpac run, which involved the heel nWo faction feuding with the vaguely babyface nWo "red & black" team comprised of Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Randy Savage, Konnan, and the formerly huge babyface star Sting (How badly was Sting's mystique damaged by his association with this stupid group?).  So let's examine this shitshow....

Things started out okay with a double Cruiserweight Title match.  First it was Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera in a crazy fun opening match.  Kidman and Mysterio attempted to stay allied but that was short-lived.  Guerrera had recently joined Eddy's LWO (Yet another nWo offshoot - Christ) so he was a cocky heel here.  Lots of high-risk moves and innovative pin attempts.  All three guys did a great job of selling exhaustion by the end to make the Cruiserweight offense mean something.  Eddy got involved toward the finish but his interference backfired and Kidman retained.  Once again the Cruiserweights got more time than any other match, which is pretty shocking.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade, part 5 (1995-1997)

We've arrived at the start of the Monday Night War!






Starrcade '95 - Nashville Auditorium - 12.27.95

Hulk Hogan's shadow was temporarily lifted from WCW in late 1995 due to a kayfabe suspension, so the focus for this show was on in-ring wrestling and several homegrown WCW stars.  WCW once again went back to a standalone tournament-type format for Starrcade - this time it was a WCW vs. New Japan series of matches with the winning team earning a World Cup trophy, which in the long run meant absolutely zero.  Despite WCW putting together a team of both babyfaces and heels, their guys were all greeted as heroes by the Nashville crowd.  Aside from the tourney there would also be a Triangle match to determine a number-one contender to Randy Savage's WCW World Title in the main event.  Two of those contenders and Savage himself were also in the New Japan series, which was just strange.  But unlike say Starrcade '91, this show at least had a handful of memorable bouts, even if the tourney concept was once again pointless in the grand scheme.

Bobby Heenan was great as usual on color commentary but unfortunately had to compete with Dusty Rhodes, who I've always found insufferable as an announcer.  He probably took up about half the talking time of the three-man team and most of his comments were incomprehensible.  So that was quite distracting.

The WCW-NJPW series kicked off with a pretty great on-paper match: Chris Benoit vs. Jushin Thunder Liger.  This did its job as an opener but was frankly a little underwhelming given the talent involved.  I imagine their matches in Japan blew this one out of the water.  Kevin Sullivan ran down to distract Benoit (thus ruining the ending) and Liger executed a really bad hurricanrana and hooked Benoit's legs for the pin.  Not nearly as good as you'd think.

On the flipside though, Alex Wright vs. Koji Kanemoto was a shockingly good followup; better than the opener and with a nice fluid feel to it.  They got almost twelve minutes and did a lot with them.  This match felt almost like a lighter, less stiff version of a New Japan match.

The first throwaway was next as Lex Luger wrestled Masahiro Chono.  Not much to this one but at least it was short.  Chono dominated most of the match, even slapping on his STF finisher, but Luger made it to the ropes and mounted the shortest comeback ever before applying the Torture Rack for the win.

WWE Roadblock: End of the Line Preview & Predictions

Welcome to more PPV Predictions, yadda yadda yadda.  This new PPV schedule's gettin' to be a lot.  And could they seriously not come up with a new name for this one that wasn't already used THIS YEAR?  So 2016 had two Roadblock events.  Not to mention the name doesn't even make sense in this context.  Back in March it was supposed to be a "roadblock" on the Road to WrestleMania.  Now it's just a "roadblock" before we get to 2017?  I don't get it.  Anyway, there's a show this Sunday, it looks pretty decent, and now we're gonna talk about it.


***I'm still leading Dan, 59/94 to 57/94.  Suck on that.***


Pre-Show Match: Rusev vs. Big Cass


Rusev apparently has no career when not holding the US Title.  This is the second time his stock took a nosedive after he dropped the belt, both times to a former WWE Champion.  And now he's on the pre-show.  This however is Cass's first singles feud, so that's significant for him.  Rusev is supposed to be the heel here but he's been the sympathetic character the entire time, defending his wife's honor against two yahoos who make fun of her (one of whom was actually ready to bang her in a hotel room).  I'll ask this again: who's the babyface in this feud?  The match will be middle-of-the-road I'm sure.  Rusev is a solid worker but I'm not sold yet on Cass as a single.

Justin's pick: If this were on the PPV proper I'd pick Cass, as I know management is high on him.  But since it's a pre-show match only a segment of the audience will be watching.  Seems like Rusev'll get a cheap win to set up a more prominent match later.
Dan's pick: These PPV picks are getting to be a full time job. I think Cass gets the win here.




WWE Tag Team Championship: The New Day vs. Cesaro & Sheamus


Congratulations to The New Day on becoming the longest-reigning Tag Champs of all time.  It's quite an accomplishment for a trio that seemed doomed with a go-nowhere gimmick when they started.   But Kofi, Big E and Xavier took the ball and ran all the way with it, creating a money-making goofball persona that's moved merchandise like crazy.  This is a tough match to pick.  Conventional WWE wisdom says "Okay, they got to break the record, let's move on now."  But given how well their merch sells and how they seem on the verge of turning heel again it seems prudent to me to keep the belts on them till 'Mania, when a title change would be a huge deal.  On the other hand, how many times can you delay pulling the trigger on Cesaro & Sheamus?  This is a pickle.....

Justin's pick: I guess C&S finally get the job done
Dan's pick: I think New Day continue to reign.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Movie Review: Manchester By the Sea

by Michael Drinan
@mdrinan380


Next to the film Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea should be at the top of your 2016 “Must See” list. I had read about the buzz surrounding this film after its Sundance premiere back in January, and the hype just grew bigger until the gushing reviews started to roll in one after another...and rightfully so. This film is as incredible a story as it is emotional. Every rave review is well deserved.

Manchester By The Sea was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor/handyman in Quincy who receives word that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died from heart disease. This forces Lee to travel to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea, Massachusetts to take care of the many responsibilities involved with his brother, including Joe’s teenage son, Patrick (Wonderfully played by Lucas Hedges). When Lee discovers his brother has not only appointed him Patrick’s guardian, but has also  provided funds for Lee to relocate back to Manchester, he is perplexed and insists that he cannot move back to his hometown. This creates a problem since Patrick feels he has more to give up moving away from Manchester than Lee has moving away from Quincy, but the reasons behind Lee’s resistance aren’t clear and the film does a fantastic job at carefully unveiling Lee’s story.

One of the best things about this movie is the writing. It’s difficult to write dialogue that sounds real and genuine for movies, but Kenneth Lonergan fucking nailed it. The way these characters talk and act toward each other feels so human and relatable I almost felt as if I were eavesdropping on what these characters were saying and doing. The majority of the dialogue is emotional and serious, and at times tense, but Lonergan knew how to include humor to break the tension and keep the moviegoer hooked. It worked like a charm. Nothing felt unnatural and this was a huge factor in caring about the characters.

The movie seamlessly weaves flashback scenes with the present day, slowly unfolding the story without causing any confusion with the audience. It trusts the audience will follow along as it delves into Lee’s backstory and explains the reason Lee feels he cannot return to his hometown. There are no spoilers here, but once you learn the reason it completely opens up the rest of the story and makes sense of everything, from Lee’s demeanor to his way of life, and it packs one hell of an emotional punch to the throat.

This brings us to the actors, and what better place to start than with Casey Affleck. The man utterly shines in this role. The acting is subdued and subtle but the way Affleck approaches his character is astounding. Just by the way he walks and carries himself you can tell Lee is a troubled man, carrying a heavy burden. As much as I loved him in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, and especially his performance in Gone Baby Gone, this role is easily Affleck’s best work to date and he will almost assuredly receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Michelle Williams also gives a noteworthy performance as Randi Chandler, Lee’s ex-wife, despite only appearing in spots throughout the movie. There’s tension and drama that is palpable between the two characters and reaches a crescendo when Randi and Lee run into each other walking around town. The scene between the two was the highlight of the film for me and Williams’ line “I should fucking burn in hell for the things I said to you” is forever burned into my memory. The scene broke me down, tears in my eyes, and reminded me of the “It’s not your fault” scene in Good Will Hunting and the diner scene in Moonlight, by being the moment when all the cards are on the table and you now truly know these characters. Williams’ delivery in that scene, combined with the character precision of Affleck’s Lee, made me feel everything these characters were feeling. It was difficult watching that scene end, I loved it so much.

The pacing of the film was deliberate, taking much-needed care in the storytelling and character development that allowed the emotional crux of the plot to really hit home. Even though there were short moments when I wondered where all of this was leading, once I got there I understood. The movie ends in the simplest of ways, neatly wrapping up the experience these characters had gone through. Initially, I didn’t like the ending; I felt there should be more. However, after thinking about it for a day, it was clear to me how necessary and appropriate the ending was. Maybe I was just sad that it was the end.

Look, I can’t tell you what to do and I know that the Star Wars film Rogue One is about to be released in a couple of days and that may take priority in many people’s movie-going lives. I know it will for me. However, I urge you to see this film. Like Moonlight, the film gives viewers an emotional, relatable, and at times, funny movie experience with master actors commanding their characters with absolute grace and purpose. Also like Moonlight, it will receive Oscar consideration and it’s gearing up to be a thrilling showdown reminiscent of 2008, when No Country For Old Men went up against There Will Be Blood for Best Picture. This year, it will be Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea. Take your pick, both are fucking incredible.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade, part 4 (1992-1994)

The next triumvirate of Starrcades starts off okay before a steep decline in quality....





Starrcade '92 - The Omni - 12/28/92

Well this was a whole lot better.  The previous Starrcade featured ten forgettable, awkward tag matches and a convoluted battle royal main event.  Yes, the Norfolk Scope was dressed up nicely, adding to the splendor of the event, but not one match from that show stood out or warranted a second viewing.  SC'92 on the other hand featured a handful of big matches (two of which were truly inspired) and even though half the card was still taken up by Battlebowl proceedings, the four mongrel tag bouts were concise, fast-paced, and moved along with a purpose.  I still had no interest in the tournament format but Starrcade '92 was a rare show with nary a bad match.  This PPV took place during the Bill Watts era, thus The Omni had a stripped-down, barebones look with gloomier lighting and minimal Starrcade decor.  The focus in 1992 WCW was almost entirely on the action in the ring, and the play-by-play was called by the dream commentary team of Jim Ross and Jesse Ventura.  While their chemistry wasn't as strong as say Jesse & Gorilla or JR & Lawler, I loved hearing these two work together; my favorite play-by-play announcer with my favorite color man.

Side note: I know Rick Rude was injured but where the hell were Steve Austin, Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton??

The first four matches were all Lethal Lottery tag bouts, none of which overstayed their welcome, fortunately, and all of which were at least a little fun on some level.  Cactus Jack teamed with Johnny B. Badd vs. Van Hammer & Dan Spivey in a decent opener with some good wrestling from Team Cactus.  I'm not sure what they were thinking giving Hammer & Spivey the win though; what's the point of two obvious non-winners being in Battlebowl?  Next was Vader & Dustin Rhodes vs. The Barbarian & Kensuke Sasaki in a very entertaining slugfest reminiscent of a Japanese Strong Style match.  This didn't go long but felt urgent.  Vader beat the piss out of Rhodes after getting the win.  The standout of these tag matches was next - The Great Muta & Barry Windham vs. Brian Pillman & 2 Cold Scorpio.  I liked the Muta-Scorpio/Muta-Pillman exchanges a lot; Muta vs. Pillman should've been a major feud at some point.  Another brief match where they crammed in a lot of good action.  Finally we had Sting & Steve Williams vs. Jushin Liger & Erik Watts, which had good wrestling all around except for Watts, who was clearly not ready for prime time but was being pushed due to his father's position as head booker.  Still this was a fine match, particularly when it was Sting vs. Liger.

Lotta talent in that ring.

With the Lottery bouts out of the way the show settled into a more traditional format with four title matches.  First was The Great Muta challenging Masahiro Chono for the NWA World Title (now separated from the WCW version).  I liked this quite well actually.  Nothing about it was mindblowing, and at 12 minutes it couldn't be epic, but it was well-worked by both guys.  Muta unexpectedly submitted to Chono's STF.

The one disappointment on this card was WCW Champion Ron Simmons vs. Steve Williams, who was substituting for the injured Rick Rude.  Without the Simmons-Rude heat this match was already somewhat handicapped, and sadly Simmons and Williams never fully gelled.  There were multiple miscues and the pace was kinda plodding.  Some moments were nice, like the shoulderblock contest, plus Jim Ross was clearly very much into this pairing, but overall it just didn't click.  The finish was pretty lame too, as it went to a double countout before Williams attacked Simmons and got retroactively disqualified.

The show picked up huge with the next two matches.  First it was WCW Tag Champions Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas vs. Barry Windham and Brian Pillman.  This was a goddamn helluva tag match featuring wild action that ranged all over, and nice extended heat sequences with the heels working over Douglas first, then later Steamboat.  It's not often you get a match with two hot tag spots either.  The finish came when Steamboat hit Windham with a cross body that took both guys over the ropes, and Douglas caught Pillman with a belly-to-belly for the win.  Really good bout.

Battlebowl may have inexplicably gone on last, but the real main event of Starrcade '92 was Sting vs. Vader in the finals of the King of Cable Tournament (don't ask what the eff that means).  This was all kinds of awesome - stiff, snug and believable all the way through.  Vader's size and dominant style would realistically make most of his matches into rather unwieldy squashes, but Sting was so freakishly strong he was able to manhandle Vader for much of the match.  This resulted in some amazing spots, like the second-rope superplex, Sting's over-the-top plancha on both Vader and Harley Race, and the finish where Vader dove off the top rope and Sting caught him midair and slammed him to the mat.  Just a great main event, and I could watch these two beat the shit out of each other all day long.  Vader may have been Sting's greatest opponent.

Wait, why is Randy Anderson trying to prevent this suplex?

Finally we arrived at the Battlebowl, which was actually a pretty fun mini-battle royal.  There were few enough guys in the ring that the action was easy to follow and they could put together some decent spots.  The single ring also kept things streamlined - double-ring battle royals sound fun in theory but in execution they're just a convoluted mess.  I'll never understand why Van Hammer and Dan Spivey made it to the Bowl, but they were fittingly the first two eliminated.  Sting and Vader went out shockingly early, leaving only Windham, Muta, Dustin and Williams.  To their credit, those four were able to keep the crowd invested even after the two favorites were gone.  It came down to Muta and Windham, who had a decent little final run until Muta's false elimination.  My only complaint was how fast Muta knocked Windham out with two dropkicks.  They could've milked that climax much longer.  But overall a decent if anticlimactic main event.  Had the roster been more robust they could've kept Sting, Vader, Muta, Windham, Williams and Pillman out of the Lethal Lottery and therefore Battlebowl could've gone before Sting vs. Vader, as it really should have.

Starrcade '92 certainly wasn't an A+ PPV, but after the back-to-back fiascos of Starrcades '90 and '91 it was refreshing to see an understated Starrcade with a heavy focus on gritty in-ring action, where the high-concept nonsense didn't completely get in the way.  The Lottery tag matches were entertaining enough to justify their inclusion, and short enough that the four top-billed matches got adequate time.  Also the King of Cable final and the World Tag match are worth going out of your way to see.  This show didn't have that "biggest PPV of the year" feel to it, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a pretty neat little show.

Best Match: Sting vs. Vader
Worst Match: Cactus & Badd vs. Van Hammer & Spivey, but even this wasn't bad
What I'd Change: Again, save the Battlebowl stuff for a separate PPV.  Making half your roster pull double and triple duty seems excessive, plus it exposes how thin your roster is.
Most Disappointing Match: Ron Simmons vs. Steve Williams - The pieces were in place for a great rough-and-tumble fight, but they just never synched up.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The four tag team qualifiers.  The previous year's tag matches were almost universally tedious, but these four were all short, to the point, and had a sense of urgency.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10




Starrcade '93 - Independence Arena - 12/27/93

The Bill Watts experiment ended in early 1993 and a young, ambitious fella named Eric Bischoff soon took the reigns of WCW.  Initially the product didn't change a whole lot except in cosmetic ways.  But a host of new and returning talent found themselves on WCW TV, such as Davey Boy Smith, Sid Vicious, and of course the company's former cornerstone, Ric Flair.  The "Nature Boy" was brought in as a babyface and immediately reformed the Horsemen with Arn and Ole, and a mystery partner, who was revealed as Paul Roma.......ummmmmm.....okay.... 

The WCW Title was kept in a stranglehold by the monstrous Vader, who was set to feud with Sid Vicous leading into Starrcade.  Then during an overseas trip Sid and Arn Anderson got into an absolutely insane real-life slugfest which escalated into a scissor stabbing contest.  Both men were hospitalized, and Sid was fired.  The company scrambled, but found a much more suitable challenger for Vader, taking Starrcade back to its roots.  Ric Flair would now vie for the WCW Title in his hometown, with his career on the line.  The top of the show included a vignette shot live at Flair's home as he kissed his family goodbye to leave for the arena.  The cameras followed Flair into his limo, where he discussed with Gene Okerlund the grave situation he was about to face.  This came off as quite melodramatic, but it made for a nice little bit of window-dressing.  Before we get into the Flair-Vader showdown, let's look at the rest of the card.

The show kicked off with a tag match, as Pretty Wonderful (Paul Orndorff and failed Horseman Paul Roma) faced Marcus Bagwell & 2 Cold Scorpio.  This was a fun little opening match, and I liked both combinations.  Bagwell was actually a decent wrestler before he got Buff, and Roma & Orndorff made a fine heel team.  Solid work by everyone involved.

Speaking of failures, The Shockmaster made his Starrcade debut next against Awesome Kong.  Everyone of course remembers The Shockmaster as "Tugboat" Fred Ottman, who was supposed to be Sting's big equalizer at that year's WarGames, against Vader and Sid's team.  Ole Anderson provided the easily-identifiable voice for this character, and the fools in charge stuck a glitter-bedecked Stormtrooper helmet on Ottman as a disguise.  Ottman was supposed to break through the wall of Ric Flair's talk show set and make a grand entrance, but unfortunately he tripped on the way through and fell on his face, losing the helmet in the process.  This was all broadcast on live television, so the gimmick was D.O.A., and Ottman became more of a comedy wrestler instead.  Anyway, this match went 94 seconds.

Third up was the Television Championship, as Lord Steven Regal defended against Ricky Steamboat.  Let me preface by saying I loved Regal's European grappling style; so fluid and subtle.  This match had excellent chain wrestling and really should've been a classic.  Unfortunately Steamboat worked the match like he had an hour to burn, rather than the standard fifteen-minute time limit of a TV Title match.  So this barely had time to get going before Steamboat picked up the pace in the final three minutes.  This should've been booked in a way that Steamboat moved urgently while Regal constantly tried to stall.  Had their storytelling matched that dynamic, this would've really been excellent, but instead the match was just decent.

The second throwaway of the night was next, as Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne wrestled the future Godwinns, Tex Slazenger and Shanghai Pierce (Who came up with those ridiculous monikers?).  Cactus was fun to watch, doing moves no one else did in 1993, but otherwise this was totally skippable.

Things picked up in the fifth match as US Champion Dustin Rhodes defended against "Stunning" Steve Austin.  It's so weird to go back and watch these two before they became the world-famous characters they would be best known for.  Seems like two other guys fighting.  Anyway this was a very strong, intense fight, and Rhodes and Austin had great chemistry.  I think the 2/3 Falls stip actually hurt the match though, because they only had 15 minutes to work with, and after a long first fall the deciding second fall was totally anticlimactic.  Rhodes accidentally threw Austin over the ropes for a DQ, and two minutes later Austin pinned Rhodes with his feet on the ropes to take two straight.  Had they either been given 20+ minutes, or just had a one-fall match, this would've been greatly improved.

It's Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Goldust!!

Resuming their WWF feud from 1990 (but not really), NWA World Champ Rick Rude defended against The (Big) Boss(man).  These two plodded through a 9-minute NWA Title bout that felt like a 1989 Saturday Night's Main Event midcard match, and it was a bit of a harbinger of what WCW would become in 1994: 1980s WWF.  Terribly boring offense eventually led to a sunset flip ending out of nowhere for the Rude win.

That was nothing compared to this fiasco - The Nasty Boys vs. Sting and Hawk for the WCW Tag Titles.  Holy jeezus, what were they thinking giving this 29 minutes??  This should've been no longer than 15 at the absolute max.  First off, the Nasty Boys were awful.  I seriously don't understand why they won championships everywhere they wrestled.  I always found it postively excruciating to watch Knobbs and Sags, and they had annoying characters to boot.  Second, while the Hawk/Sting combination was intriguing, Hawk and Animal were never the same without each other.  The Road Warriors were greater than the sum of their parts, and every attempt to team one of them with someone else always fell short.  This match just kinda felt like a waste of Sting's talent and star power.  It was nice to see Hawk & Sting break out the Doomsday Device though.  But seriously, avoid this calamity of a match.  It goes on FOREVER.

Finally we came to the marquee matchup, WCW Champion and leviathan heel Vader vs. the returning hero Ric Flair.  This was a damn fine main event; dramatic and intense with great storytelling and a real David vs. Goliath narrative.  Vader was just ungodly awesome back then; everything he did looked like it fucking killed.  It's a shame his stock plummeted after feuding with Hulk Hogan.  The problem with a match like this is that Flair's offense wasn't very believable in terms of actually hurting a guy like Vader.  Flair really should've switched up his game for this match and added some more painful-looking strikes or increased his speed.  They could've shown training montages and had Sting help prepare him, thus adding a whole new layer to the story.  That being said, Flair and Vader worked in enough shortcuts and lucky breaks to keep the match realistic.  Flair whacked Vader's knee with a chair, Harley Race's interference backfired, Vader missed both of his top rope/second rope moves.  My only real complaint about this match was the finish, which looked amateurishly terrible.  Flair crouched down and just sorta pushed Vader's leg out from him, then awkwardly climbed on top for the pin.  Really bad-looking, almost on the level of Austin vs. Owen Hart from SummerSlam '97.  Otherwise though, this was a helluva good World Title match and a great moment for Flair, ten years after the first Starrcade.

I'm still amazed that the 450-pound Leon White did moonsaults.

While Starrcade '93 was no instant classic, it had four good matches out of eight, one of which was among the better main events of the series.  On that basis I'd give it a slight passing grade.  Plus it was the first SC in five years to have a traditional match format with no stupid tournament gimmicks.  This show felt like the company's flagship PPV again, regardless of its uneven match quality.  Flair was back as the WCW Champ, and things were ok.  For the next six months anyway....

Best Match: Vader vs. Ric Flair
Worst Match: Shockmaster vs. Awesome Kong
What I'd Change: Clearly the World Tag Title match was twice as long as it needed to be.  Cut that down, skip the Shockmaster nonsense, and give the extra time to the US Title match so it could be three full falls
Most Disappointing Match: Steven Regal vs. Ricky Steamboat - This wasn't bad, but it should've been great
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Buff Bagwell used to be able to wrestle
Overall Rating: 6/10




Starrcade '94 - Nashville Auditorium - 12/27/94

1994 was the year WCW evolved....into the WWF of the 1980s.  Eric Bischoff had taken the reins the year before and urgently hoped to make the company profitable, and as fate would have it he was able to sign Hulk Hogan in the summer of '94.  This of course immediately brought WCW mainstream attention and lapsed fans from the 80s began watching wrestling again.  The unfortunate side effect of all this was the annihilation of the historic WCW culture.  Gone was the emphasis on athletic, scientific wrestling and simple angles.  In their place were the over-the-top characterizations, convoluted heel turns, and rudimentary brawling of the WWF circa 1988.  Hogan had so much pull he populated (polluted?) the roster with all his old WWF pals, and the in-ring product became a less entertaining version of everything Vince had more adeptly presented a decade earlier.  And you thought Black Saturday was bad.  On the bright side though, at least Bobby Heenan was on color commentary, even if he and Tony Schiavone had zero chemistry together.

The opening match for the US Title pitted Jim Duggan (who infamously defeated Steve Austin for the belt in under a minute - good call on that one Eric) against the man who by all rights should have main evented this show, Vader.  The match was actually better than I expected.  Probably the best Duggan match I've ever seen, which isn't saying much for him.  The first half or so was pretty hard-hitting, then it settled into a plodding second act before ramping back up toward the end.  They recycled the Starrcade '92 finish where Vader came off the top and got powerslammed to the mat, but this time Harley Race interfered to distract the official.  Vader then won with a wheelbarrow slam which Duggan took pretty poorly. 

The unexpected standout of the night was Alex Wright vs. a young blueblood character named Jean-Paul Leveque.  From a mat wrestling standpoint this was quite good.  Sadly it went about five minutes longer than it needed to, and there wasn't really anything at stake.  It's so weird to see Triple H in a WCW ring.  This was technically a good match but little more than a showcase for two young dudes.

It's Triple H vs. Berlyn!!

The TV Title was on next, as Johnny B. Badd defended against Arn Anderson.  This wasn't too shabby; both guys could work and they gelled fairly well.  It's criminal that the only reason Arn got on this show was due to the original challenger, the Honky Tonk Man, being injured.  Hogan's spray-tanned fingerprints were all over the WCW product at this point and it was ugly.

The last four matches on this show ranged from bad to unwatchable, starting with Harlem Heat vs. the Nasty Boys.  This 17-minute-plus bout featured the usual awkward brawling from Knobbs & Sags while Booker and Stevie Ray attempted to get a good match out of them.  They almost succeeded for a little while; had this been an 11 or 12-minute match it might've worked, but after the initial wild brawl stuff it settled into a pretty dull affair.  Eventually Sherri Martel got involved and Harlem Heat was disqualified, capping off an instantly forgettable tag match.  Where were Marcus Bagwell & The Patriot on this show, by the way?  They were the Tag Champions after all.

The descent into madness continued with Kevin Sullivan vs. Mr. T, a pointless and brief special attraction match.  This amounted to three minutes of unimaginative brawling until Dave Sullivan showed up in a Santa costume and whacked Kevin from behind to cost him the match.  Wait, Kevin Sullivan's supposed to be the heel right?

The semi-main event was Sting vs. Avalanche (or Earthquake as he would've been known had Vince McMahon not owned that name).  Yeesh, even the exceptionally talented Sting couldn't drag a good match out of Avalanche.  This felt like it lasted eons while the 400-pounder rehashed all his old dull offense from his WWF days.  Eventually Sting did a Hulk Hogan-type comeback and had the match won till Kevin Sullivan interfered to draw a DQ.  Then Hogan made the save.  Once again this felt like a bad Saturday Night's Main Event match.

Finally we arrived at the main event, the WCW Champion Hulk Hogan vs. Brutus "The Butcher" Beefcake.  Good. Lord.  This was awful.  Think of any generic Hogan match from the 80s against any lower-echelon opponent.  Those were all masterpieces compared to this.  Beefcake looked terrible, like an in-shape sixty-year-old (despite being only 37 - Jesus, I had no idea he was that young at this point), and moved even worse.  Nothing about this match was fun.  For some reason Hogan was allowed to whack Beefcake with a chair three times in full view of the referee without being disqualified.  Man that guy's got clout.  Toward the end both Avalanche and Sullivan tried to interfere, only to get knocked off the ring apron by Hogan, before he landed the legdrop for the win.  Randy Savage, making his WCW PPV debut, came to Hogan's aid after the bout, thus reuniting the MegaPowers.  Are we gonna redo everything from 1988-1990?  This ranks highly among the worst PPV main events of all time.  One last thing, Jimmy Hart inherently doesn't work as a babyface manager.  His character is by nature annoying, so he naturally draws heat.  Plus what did Hogan need a mouthpiece for?

Look, it's the WWF babyface locker room in 1992...

If there's any doubt how much Hogan reshaped WCW in his own image, think on this.  Of the seven matches at Starrcade '94, six either featured or were scheduled to feature at least one of his old WWF buddies.  Jim Duggan, Honky Tonk Man (who was replaced by WCW franchise player Arn Anderson - think of how twisted that is), Nasty Boys (true they were in WCW before Hogan showed up, but still), Mr. T, Avalanche, and worst of all Brutus Beefcake in the main event of the company's flagship PPV, in 1994.  Their new slogan should've been, "WCW - If You Want Good Wrestling, Look Somewhere Else!"  After three inoffensive opening matches, this show drove off a cliff.  I mean that literally; Hogan hooked a semi rig up to the Nashville Auditorium and drove the entire building into a fucking ravine. 

Best Match: Alex Wright vs. Jean-Paul Levesque
Worst Match: Hulk Hogan vs. The Butcher
What I'd Change: Cancel the show.  Just tell everyone there's a blizzard and the show's off.
Most Disappointing Match: I couldn't have had lower expectations going into this, so actually nothing disappointed me.  There is that I guess.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The first three matches were watchable, so there's that too.
Overall Rating: 2/10


Part 3