Friday, June 29, 2018

Classic Album Review: Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks is an album I was very late to discovering.  I didn't get into Dylan at all until 2008, and initially I busied myself with his 1960s output, particularly his landmark trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.  I developed an appreciation for those albums (and some of his early all-acoustic stuff), but none of them quite landed for me as "essential" records.  It wasn't until a year later when I finally gave Blood a listen, and had finally found a true favorite Dylan album.  Here was an emotionally raw, melancholy, atmospheric album that conveyed a sense of grounded maturity Dylan's "rock star" releases of the 60s lacked.

Blood on the Tracks was written and recorded while Dylan was going through a separation from his wife Sara, and while he's denied it repeatedly, the lyrics feel like a cathartic purging of his personal woes.  Nearly every song deals with themes of love, loss, regret, and emotional pain.  If Dylan wasn't directly writing about his disintegrating marriage, it certainly feels like that situation at least shaped his creative process (How could it not?).  The title seems a metaphor for how much of himself he poured into these recordings.  Blood on the Tracks indeed.

Originally nearly every song was recorded in New York as a stripped-down acoustic performance, until Dylan's brother David convinced him to re-record half of them with a full band in Minneapolis, in order to give the album's sound more variety.  The new song versions were hastily recorded only three weeks before the album's release.

The album's tone is set by the bouncy but lyrically forlorn opener "Tangled Up in Blue," where the narrator reconnects with an old flame after many years and realizes he could've made things work with her.  "We always did feel the same/We just saw it from a different point of view..."

The first of the subdued, pensive New York recordings is "Simple Twist of Fate," a somber lament about a failed relationship that begins promisingly but ends with the woman abruptly leaving and the narrator wandering around hoping to find her again.  "Hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailors all come in/Maybe she'll pick him out again/How long must he wait..."

Top Ten Things: Wrestling Matches of the 2000s

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Following my Top Ten 80s Matches and Top Ten 90s Matches, today it's my Top Ten Double-Aught Wrestling Matches (that's matches of the 2000s).  The pro wrestling industry went through catastrophic changes in the early part of that decade, as WCW and ECW were both sold to Vince McMahon, making the WWF the only big game in town.  The WWF was then forced to change its name to WWE, while upstart promotions TNA and Ring of Honor sprouted in 2002.  We saw a new crop of headliners in Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista, plus a surge in the quality of indie wrestling, led by AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson.  The industry began shedding the "hardcore" style so prevalent in the late 90s and returned somewhat to a traditional mat-based focus (with exceptions of course), and eventually WWE even went back to family-friendly PG content.  While the overall product was very uneven, it's safe to say the 2000s brought us some of the very best matches we'd ever seen.  Here now are ten of them.....

10. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania - 4.5.09

In 2009 WWE's product was stagnant as ever, with the same five or so guys having been featured at the top of the card for a good three or four years straight.  WrestleMania 25's lineup featured all the usual faces in prime spots and very few young stars, and I was frankly burned out on the Cenas, Ortons, Triple Hs, and Edges of the world.  I honestly didn't get caught up in the build for this match either - two 45-year-olds reigniting a few from eleven years earlier?  No thanks, man.  Of course I was wholly incorrect, as these two legends wove together an absolute 30-minute masterpiece, showing us all how it's done.  A prototypical WWE "main event," this match featured loads of reversals, finisher kickouts, and some crazy outside-the-ring dives (one of which looked like it killed Taker dead).  This match ended up being one for the ages.

9. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe - Turning Point - 12.11.05

There have been more action-packed matches, more brutal brawls, more epic contests.  But in December 2005 Samoa Joe and AJ Styles told a story between the ropes that has seldom been equaled before or since.  Joe arrived in TNA that summer and was immediately pushed as an unstoppable monster, who had his way with basically everyone in the X-Division.  AJ was the superbly skilled conquering hero; the last line of defense against Joe's reign of terror.  The pace started out methodical but escalated continously throughout the match.  Joe dominated AJ with his brutal moveset, but the defiant Styles refused to back down, eventually kicking out of Joe's pin attempts at the one-count just to stick it to the villain.  Blood pouring out of his mouth, Styles managed to lift the 280-pounder up for the Styles Clash, and despite diminished height the move still looked absolutely vicious.  Joe kicked out however, and finished AJ with the rear naked choke, capping off one of the best examples of pure in-ring storytelling I've ever seen.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Top Ten Things: Martin Scorsese Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  These are ten of my favorite things.  That's how the song goes, right?

Martin Scorsese.  In my estimation there is no greater director in film history than the diminutive, sickly kid from Little Italy in New York who grew up with a passion for telling stories through the medium of film.  Scorsese spent his childhood looking out the window and observing people and events in his neighborhood, and this predilection for people-watching translated into some of the most incredible filmmaking of all time.  His films are often unforgiving looks at profoundly troubled characters, yet Scorsese finds a way for us to empathize with them, at least enough to want to spend a couple hours in their company.  Many Scorsese films deal with hardened street criminals, hearkening back to the seedy lot he observed in his neighborhood.  But while crime dramas are his bread and butter, Scorsese's filmography also includes religious epics, suspense thrillers, biopics, lush period dramas, and even lighthearted children's fare.  Even after forty-plus years Scorsese remains at the top of his game; in fact his post-2000 output ranks among some of his best work.  To this day any new film of his is event viewing, almost guaranteed to be one of my favorites of that year.

The following are my ten favorite Martin Scorsese films....

10. Cape Fear

One of Scorsese's rare remakes is this 1991 suspense thriller based on the 1962 Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum film of the same name.  Peck's role of besieged attorney Sam Bowden went to Nick Nolte, Mitchum's degenerate character Max Cady was played with gleeful menace by Robert Deniro.  The first thing Scorsese did with his version was to change Bowden from a virtuous family man to a morally ambiguous one who withheld evidence in order to get his client Cady convicted, and whose marriage is coming apart due to an extramarital affair and a strained relationship with his teenage daughter.  This change makes the Nolte character and his family even more vulnerable and fits in with the film noir trope of the flawed protagonist.  Deniro's performance of course steals the show; he is musclebound, ruthless, violent, and endlessly persistent.  This Hitchock-influenced genre exercise may not stack up with Scorsese's greatest work, but it did illustrate his ability to take an existing story and place on it his own distinctive stamp.

9. Casino

Casino plays almost like a sequel to Goodfellas, or at least a spiritual cousin.  Another epic, frenetically-paced gangster film based loosely on a true story, Casino chronicles the rise and fall of a Vegas gambling empire, once again pairing Robert Deniro with Joe Pesci.  Deniro plays Sam Rothstein, a mob associate brought in to run a mafia-controlled casino, while Pesci plays Rothstein's longtime friend, loose cannon enforcer Nicky Santoro.  Told from multiple narrative viewpoints, Casino shows in violent, gruesome detail the inner workings of 1970s mob-controlled Las Vegas.  Aside from Deniro and Pesci's legendary onscreen chemistry, Casino also boasts an Oscar-nominated turn from Sharon Stone, as Rothstein's materialistic, alcoholic wife Ginger.  Casino didn't quite equal the masterpiece that was Goodfellas, but it was a very worthy, provocative return to Scorsese's favorite genre.

8. Hugo

In 2011 Martin Scorsese's filmography took an unexpected 90-degree turn with this family-friendly, light-hearted tribute to the early days of cinema.  Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese's film follows the exploits of a young boy who lives in a Paris railway station.  Hugo's deceased father, an inventor, taught him how to repair clocks and instilled in him a love for film.  He befriends a young girl, Isabelle, whose stern uncle is revealed to be early film pioneer Georges Melies, director of the first science-fiction film, A Trip to the Moon.  After his career declined sharply in the 1920s, Melies became a disillusioned, bitter man who distanced himself from his prior calling.  Hugo and Isabelle work tirelessly to uncover the story of the forgotten auteur so the world can once again embrace his artistic contribution to the medium of cinema.  Scorsese's film is a delightful and colorful romp, made all the more whimsical by the use of 3-D cinematography, used here in a way that enhances the story and intensifies the experience.  Hugo is a rare film that can be enjoyed by any age group; it doesn't talk down to young audiences and it contains complex character arcs that older viewers will be drawn to.

Movies of Disbelief: Grease (1978)

I'm back to bitch and moan about a movie that I find simply too ridiculous to believe.....

So this past weekend my wife forced me, very much against my will, to watch the classic musical Grease for the first time from start to finish.  I had seen bits and pieces of it on TV over the years, probably even the entire movie all told.  But never had I sat through the film end-to-end and experienced what so many girls (and probably some dudes too) of my generation were so in love with.

The lighthearted 1950s throwback starring Olivia Newton-John Travolta (like "Bennifer" only waaaaay longer) tells the story of two unlikely high school sweethearts and their star-crossed romance.  Travolta plays Danny Zuko, the bad-assiest greaser dude in the school who wears leather jackets, supes up cars, and can dance almost as good as Tony Manero (....wait....).  Newton-John plays Sandy Olsson, a straight-laced Aussie chick who met Danny on the beach over the summer and they had a real good thing, if ya pick up what I'm puttin' down.  But her parents plan to move the family out back to.....the outback, so she thinks she and Danny are destined to never see each other again.

Good thing the film moved the setting from Chicago to California,
otherwise I'd be saying "Where the fuck is this beach??"

But wait, Sandy's parents change their minds and she ends up at Danny's high school.  And then each of them informs their respective group of friends about their summer fling, but with VERY conflicting stories.  She describes Danny as a perfectly romantic gentleman, while Danny describes her as a filthy slut (BONG!).  Uh oh.  The rest of the movie is just essentially the "will they or won't they" schtick, with the obvious outcome, a buncha song & dance numbers, and a twist where at the end Danny starts dressing like the respectable jock douchebags and Sandy starts dressing like a, well, filthy slut (BONG!), complete with leather jacket, skin-tight chaps and a newfound smoking habit (I wonder if she's ever tried reefer).  So I guess the moral of the story is, "Just be whatever your insensitive prick of a boyfriend wants you to be and your relationship will be great!"

"Oh wait, I don't need the letterman jacket, she went all trashy just for me!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Pearls Before Swine: Why Daniel Bryan Needs to Leave WWE

Over the past couple months, one thing has become very clear to me: Daniel Bryan needs to leave WWE.  After his miraculous return to in-ring action I gave WWE the benefit of the doubt, that they'd learned from their short-sighted, spiteful booking of Bryan from his previous run.  But no, they've apparently learned squat (as usual; look who's in charge).

To the delight of fans everywhere, Bryan managed to overcome his previously career-shortening concussion issues to return to the ring, and is featured on the same roster as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, and The Miz, with whom he has a built-in feud stemming from his time as Smackdown GM.  Given that Bryan's WWE contract expires in September, you'd think the company would want to make the idea of his re-signing as attractive as possible by throwing him some quality PPV opponents and presenting him as a major upper-card attraction.  But thus far who have they given him to work with?

After his return match at WrestleMania (which they booked in such a way that he missed the first half of the match due to an attack by Owens and Zayn), Bryan got saddled with trying to make chicken salad out of the inept (but tall, so "future star") Big Cass.  This feud lasted two months and Cass was fired immediately afterward, and the two matches were mediocre at best.  Great use of one of your top stars, guys.  Now they've teased the long-awaited Bryan-Miz match finally happening but instead just reunited Bryan with Kane to go after the Tag Team Titles.  Is this 2012?  Isn't Bryan above this now?  And why would he trust Kane, the last guy he feuded with prior to his 2014 injury?  This feels like an orchestrated attempt to once again cool off the most popular guy in the company, when they should be getting the best possible match combinations out of him while they still can.

I've seen the argument that "Well, Bryan hasn't signed a new deal so why would they put the title on him?"  He doesn't need to win the WWE Title.  I don't care if he never wins it again.  Shawn Michaels didn't win any singles championships from 2002 till his 2010 retirement.  But what they should be doing, as they did with Shawn, is matching him up with guys with whom he can consistently steal the show, the AJs and Samoa Joes (and for fuck's sake Nakamura), while he's still around.  If he re-signs after that, great, put the belt on him for a while if you want.  But the way they've been using him is akin to Shawn feuding with lumps like Chris Masters (which actually happened, and how'd that work out in getting Masters over?).  A feud with Cass and a Team Hell No reunion are beneath him at this point.  It's like the company doesn't want him delivering Match of the Year candidates because then they'll have to admit to themselves that they need him.

It's time for Bryan to move on.  There are literally half a dozen career highlight matchups waiting for him in New Japan.  Imagine Bryan participating in next year's G1 tournament.  Bryan vs. Okada, Bryan vs. Omega, Bryan vs. Naito, Bryan vs. Sabre, and on and on.  Daniel Bryan in WWE in 2018 is pearls before swine.

Top Ten Things: CM Punk Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at

Today I'll be counting down the ten greatest matches of one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history, CM Punk

Originally published in 2016.....

In light of Punk's impending, long-awaited UFC debut, I thought I'd reminisce about the greatest matches in the career of this extraordinary talent.  Whether he returns to the ring at some point or not, and regardless of his degree of success in MMA, he has undoubtedly cemented a legacy as one of the most fascinating and unconventional top wrestling stars of the last twenty years.  Here now are the ten best matches in the remarkable roller coaster career of CM Punk.

10. John Morrison vs. CM Punk - ECW TV 9.4.07

In 2007 Punk was a member of WWE's third brand, the revived (and horribly watered down) ECW.  Punk was handpicked by Paul Heyman to be the show's hot new star, and despite tepid feedback from the head office, became a major cult favorite.  After over a year of flirting with the ECW Championship and being passed over in favor of seemingly less appropriate candidates (Bobby Lashley anyone?), Punk would get his one last shot at then-Champion John Morrison (a great athlete but another odd choice to represent the "hardcore" brand).  Their hand somewhat forced by Morrison's suspension for a Wellness Policy violation, WWE finally gave Punk his first taste of gold on a weekly ECW episode.  After a fantastic back-and-forth match, Punk triumphed and began a short run with the ECW Title.

9. Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk - Joe vs. Punk II 10.16.04

Largely credited with putting both Punk and Joe on the Indy wrestling map, the second match of their much-heralded trilogy is widely considered to be the best.  Punk and Joe went a full hour for the second time, wrestling to a draw, in a match that pulled out all the stops and earned the elusive "five-star" rating from the Wrestling Observer.  I don't love it as much as others do, but it is quite an accomplishment from two of the best workers of the past decade.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Top Ten Things: Steven Spielberg Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!  You know how it works.  It's a countdown.  Of ten items.

Today it's the top ten films by one of the all-time great directors, Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg's extraordinary forty-plus-year career has given us multiple iconic films and he's renowned for his uncanny ability to craft intelligent movies we can all relate to.  Whether he's making a summer action movie or a thoughtful historical epic, Spielberg excels at imbuing his movies with substance.  His best work demands multiple viewings over decades, and there probably isn't another director alive who's repeatedly demonstrated such pure storytelling ability across such varied genres.

Here now is the list....

10. Jurassic Park

In 1993 Spielberg created the definitive dinosaur movie, about a small group of scientists and children sent to a remote island near Costa Rica to be a focus group of sorts for the first-ever dinosaur zoo.  Predictably nothing on the island works properly, and thanks to a rogue IT manager the dinosaurs are able to escape their enclosures and wreak havoc on the park and its human occupants.  Jurassic Park doesn't contain much in the way of lofty concepts; it's simply a quintessential popcorn action-adventure with some of the best creature effects ever put to film.  This was one of the earliest movies to make extensive use of CGI, and for the most part those dinosaurs still hold up today.  As with Jaws, Spielberg was wise enough to let the human characters carry the early parts of the story so we care what happens to them, and built up to the appearance of each species of dinosaur.  The T-Rex sequence is a masterfully assembled piece of action-horror, and the later Velociraptor scenes work on the same monster movie level as some of the sequences in Aliens.  Twenty-plus years later Jurassic Park's flaws show through pretty clearly, but it's still a great example of Spielberg's ability to create crowd-pleasing entertainment that actually has a brain.

9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The third and final chapter (Crystal Skull was just a bad dream...) of the Indiana Jones saga reminds me of Return of the Jedi in many ways, insomuch as the bulk of the story elements from the trilogy's first film are reused here.  Indy is up against the Nazis once again, racing to find a religious artifact that will allegedly render its owner invincible.  Indy's pals Sallah and Marcus Brody are back to join in the fun, and in a casting coup, Sean Connery plays Indy's father, who has spent a lifetime searching for the Holy Grail.  The action sequences, as good as they are, don't quite hold up to those of the first two films for me, and this movie's real strength is the interplay between Ford and Connery, who have perfect chemistry together.  Don't get me wrong, Last Crusade is a fantastic piece of summer moviemaking.  But it doesn't have the freshness of Raiders or the unrelenting pace of Temple.  So like Return of the Jedi it's simply a very worthy conclusion to the series (Jeezus, why couldn't they have left well enough alone??) that introduces a new side to the action hero we've all come to love.

8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The followup to the iconic Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom was, I believe, the first time anyone in Hollywood used the word "prequel."  For some reason Spielberg and Lucas set this movie a year before Raiders (Sort of an odd choice since it removes the suspense of whether Indy survives or not), and this one plays out like a standalone adventure, with Dr. Jones himself the only Raiders character present.  This time Indy has to retrieve a mystical stone which has been stolen from an Indian village by an evil underground cult.  This film pushed the limits of what could be shown in a PG-rated movie and set an exceedingly dark tone; there's human sacrifice, brainwashing, child slavery, people being crushed, people being eaten by alligators, and most infamously a dude having his still-beating heart ripped out of his chest.  In fact we have Temple of Doom and Gremlins to thank for the existence of a PG-13 rating.  Most (including Spielberg himself) consider Temple of Doom the weakest of the Indy trilogy, but I disagree.  I love how unapologetically dark this film is and how different it is from Raiders.  This movie might also have the most fun climax of any Indy film, with our heroes and villains fighting for survival while hanging from the side of a cliff (but only after a long and thrilling mine cart chase).  Temple also has probably the greatest booby trap sequence of all time - that scary room with all the spikes.  As a kid this was one of the earliest sequels I got to experience as it was coming out, and it still holds up for me as a tremendously fun roller coaster ride of a movie.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Top Ten Things: 90s Wrestling Matches

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Last week I posted my list of the greatest 80s matches, and I'm now following it up with the best of the 90s.  The 90s were a tumultuous time in the wrestling industry, where the product changed drastically and became a completely different animal by the end of the decade.  In the WWF the focus shifted from larger-than-life characters to more serious technical wrestlers, and then to a gritty, more violent, and more explicit product.  WCW's focus went from the established traditions of the sport to a counter-culture movement.  In my opinion, the WWF's in-ring product outclassed WCW for most of the decade, and so this list is very WWF-heavy.  But feel free to comment below with anything you feel I've overlooked.  Here we go....

10. Vader vs. Sting - Starrcade - 12.28.92

Probably WCW's best feud of the 90s was Sting vs. Vader, and probably their best match took place at Starrcade, 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 could 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.

9. Undertaker vs. Mankind - 6.28.98

Probably the most infamous match of all time, aside from the Montreal Screwjob.  In 1998 Taker, and especially Mankind, wrote a new chapter in pro wrestling brutality.  After two death-defying falls from the top of the Cell (one planned, one frighteningly accidental), Mick Foley delivered a superhuman effort in going another 12 or so minutes and completing the best match these two ever had together (Keep in mind also that Taker was working on a broken foot).  Concussed and delirious, Foley famously approached Taker backstage when it was over and asked "Did I use thumbtacks?" to which Taker replied, "Look at your arm Mick."  It's an uncomfortable match to view now, but at the time it probably exemplified the WWF Attitude more than any other single bout.

8. Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania - 4.5.92

The match that stole the show at WrestleMania VIII (pretty amazingly considering Flair vs. Savage was on the card) was the I-C Title match between Roddy Piper and Bret Hart.  These two put on a 13-minute classic that had more action, crisper wrestling, and even a better blade job than the WWF Title match.  Bret Hart recounted the story in his autobiography - the WWF had a no-blading policy at that point, and Bret's bladejob was so subtle and realistic, Vince thought he was legitimately cut and took no action against him.  Flair's bladejob on the other hand was very obvious and earned him a fine.  I'd say this was easily Piper's best match.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Parents' Night In #9: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Join Kelly and Justin as they enjoy one of their favorite MCU films, Guardians of the Galaxy!  Plus booze.....

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Friday, June 22, 2018

The History of WWE King of the Ring (2002)

We've reached the end of road for this ten-year tradition.  The King of the Ring PPV would limp to the finish line with this half-hearted effort.....

King of the Ring 2002 - Nationwide Arena - 6.23.02

2002 was the final year of this PPV as interest in it had waned and by 2003 WWE sorta stopped caring about elevating new people for a while.  The show definitely went out with a whimper with the exception of that year's tournament winner.  This edition was, I believe, the first time it was officially announced that the KOTR winner would get a WWE Title shot at SummerSlam.

The semifinals included a very solid but slightly underwhelming (and controversial) Chris Jericho vs. Rob Van Dam match.  These two had teased a feud six months earlier while Jericho was the Undisputed Champion, but never got a PPV match out of it.  So here they were in the semifinal bracket.  The match was absolutely fine, and by default ended up stealing the show, but I think I, like many people, were expecting an instant classic.  Fans took to the interwebs in droves criticizing the match, and Jericho took the comments very personally.  While many of the comments were admittedly harsh and unnecessary, I can't disagree that this wasn't up to the level Jericho and RVD were capable of.

This was fine.

The other semifinal pitted Test against WWE's newest developmental call-up Brock Lesnar, who had taken RAW by storm and decimated the Hardy Boyz on numerous occasions.  Now he was being very quickly elevated to prepare him for much bigger things.  Infamously of note is that WWE had originally planned for Lesnar to defeat Steve Austin in a tournament qualifying match on RAW, with no buildup whatsoever.  Austin wisely refused, citing what a colossal waste hotshotting such a huge match would be.  This of course led to Austin's WWE hiatus for the better part of a year.  Lesnar and Test were both accomplished big men and aside from a couple awkward moments this was a strong, hard-hitting brawl.  The finish was oddly booked, as Lesnar needed a Paul Heyman distraction in order to win.  Not sure why they protected a midcard heel like Test against their chosen new star, but the match was fine.

Yeah this was a great idea.  Idiots.

The finals would thus be Rob Van Dam vs. Brock Lesnar.  Going into this show I figured RVD would win the tourney given how green Lesnar was.  I thought Lesnar would destroy Van Dam after the match and set up a feud to keep RVD occupied till SummerSlam.  But I clearly underestimated Lesnar's prodigiously emerging skills and the company's commitment to getting him over.  Lesnar made pretty short work of Van Dam, wrapping the match up in under seven minutes.  This was also decent but really should've been a full-length match; once again the importance of the tournament was lacking.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The History of WWE King of the Ring (2001)

Time for my personal favorite of the bunch.....

King of the Ring '01 - Continental Airlines Arena - 6.24.01

Going from the 2000 edition to the 2001 King of the Ring is like stepping out of a Justin Bieber concert and being handed a million dollars.  The 2001 incarnation was a thousand times better than its predecessor, and this would prove to be the end of the WWF's amazing 18-month creative run, before the Invasion Angle began in earnest to ruin everything.

The tournament portion was once again reduced to just the final three bouts, leaving plenty of room for the non-tourney matches to dazzle.  The 16-man field was whittled down to four friends, all on the heel side of the aisle - Rhyno, Edge, Christian, and Kurt Angle, or Team RECK.  But Edge was slowly morphing into a babyface singles star and this tourney would prove his launching pad.

Angle vs. Christian and Edge vs. Rhyno were both pretty short but quite watchable openers, and Edge's final bout with Angle, while certainly not at the level of Bret vs. Bam Bam, was a damn sight better than most previous KOTR finals.  One of the subplots going into this was the possibility of Angle winning back-to-back tournaments, but also the fact that he might have to pull triple duty as he was booked to fight Shane McMahon later on.  Edge won the final and began his climb through the singles ranks, while Christian began to show jealousy of his tag partner that would lead to their split and subsequent feud.

Angle was almost a two-time KOTR

As I said, the non-tourney matches provided the meat of this show.  After a lackluster Dudley Boyz vs. Kane & Spike Dudley bout (the WWF tag division would never be the same after Edge & Christian split up), the final three bouts comprised an amazing trilogy.

First was Jeff Hardy vs. X-Pac for the Light Heavyweight Title.  X-Pac had developed bad heat to the point that later such crowd responses were dubbed "X-Pac heat," but he could still go in the ring.  This was seven-plus minutes of pretty spectacular highspot wrestling and Jeff retained after a false ending where X-Pac had Jeff pinned but the ref missed Jeff's foot on the ropes.

The last two matches provided an amazing one-two punch, starting with Kurt Angle's aforementioned match with Shane.  Shane had of course purchased WCW and interrupted an Angle segment by threatening that WCW would soon be invading the WWF.  Angle, fighting for Vince's honor, would meet Shane in a Street Fight.  What ensued was one of the goddamndest matches I've ever seen.  For 25 minutes these two beat the bejeezus out of each other all around the arena, and the visual I'll always remember is of Kurt hitting an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on Shane into one of the glass panes in the entranceway.....except it doesn't break.  And Shane lands on his head.  I can't imagine how petrified Kurt must've been at that moment.  I also can't imagine being the owner's son, a non-wrestler, and saying "Yeah I think tonight I'll let a guy throw me through two panes of glass."  Say what you will about Shane McMahon, but that guy's got balls.  After nearly killing his boss's kid twice, Angle won with an Angle Slam off the top rope.  This match was absolutely incredible and for me the Match of the Year 2001.

Oh dear Jeezus.....

The main event was a huge deal for me, as the two Chrises, Jericho and Benoit, challenged WWF Champ Steve Austin in a Triple Threat.  Both Jericho and Benoit had separately come up short in title matches on RAW and Smackdown in previous weeks, but now Austin had to face them both.  The match was a step below Angle vs. Shane but was still a very worthy main event.  At one point Booker T interfered, putting Austin through a table and firing one of the first shots of the WCW Invasion.  Austin suffered a minor back injury as a result of the spot, but he finished the match, eventually capitalizing on a Benoit top-rope superplex on Jericho, and covering Benoit for the pin.  Benoit would take a year off for spinal fusion surgery, while Jericho was one of the top WWF stars in the Invasion Angle.  But this was a helluva match.

This match may or may not have happened.

The 2001 KOTR for me is the best edition in the event's ten-year history.  Not one match on the show was bad, the main event was a good four-star affair, and the Angle-Shane Street Fight stands as one of my favorite matches of all-time.  On top of that a rising singles star was established in Edge.  Sadly the ensuing Invasion Angle would go down as the most botched storyline in wrestling history, but this PPV is one of the all-time greats.

Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon
Worst Match: Dudleyz vs. Kane & Spike
What I'd Change: Very little.  Maybe the anticlimactic finish to the main event, but that's nitpicking.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really
Most Pleasant Surprise: I had no idea Angle vs. Shane would be that good.  I expected something along the lines of Shane vs. Test from two years earlier, but got an epic Match of the Year.
Overall Rating: 10/10


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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

RIP Big Van Vader (1955-2018)

RIP Big Van Vader (1955-2018)

I first became aware of Big Van Vader in 1990 when he debuted on WCW television.  With his "cyborg elephant" helmet that could shoot steam all by itself and his weird jockstrap-esque mask, Vader had one of the stranger appearances I'd ever seen.  At the time I figured he was just another gimmicky monster heel who wouldn't last.  Fast-forward two years and he had dethroned Sting to win the WCW Title, trading wins and losses in some of the best matches of the year.  For my money Sting was Vader's greatest opponent due to his mix of power and athleticism; Sting could take Vader's pummeling and dish it right back.  Vader dominated the promotion for the next three years, feuding with Sting, Cactus Jack, and Ron Simmons, and maintaining his standing as the company's most fearsome villain.  Sadly a feud with Hulk Hogan damaged his credibility somewhat, and he jumped to the WWF in early 1996, where he was immediately pushed as a killing machine.

Vader made a splash in the Royal Rumble that year, eliminating a few opponents and clashing with the WWF's resident monster heel Yokozuna.  This Battle of the Bulls kept Vader occupied through the winter/spring months, and Vader more or less took over Yoko's spot in the company, aligning himself with Jim Cornette, Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith.  These three were the company's top heels through the summer, and their feud with Shawn Michaels and friends climaxed at SummerSlam with a stellar WWF Title match.

Vader and Shawn put together a fascinating big man-little man war, where Shawn managed to stay a step ahead for much of the bout but eventually felt the brunt of Vader's punishing offense.  Shawn took a countout loss before Cornette goaded him into restarting the match, followed by a disqualification and another restart.  In the end Shawn pinned Vader, but the 400-pounder looked dominant in defeat.  Backstage politics prevented the planned Surivor Series rematch, but Vader was back in the title picture in mid-1997, this time feuding with The Undertaker.  Alas, WWF gold eluded him throughout his tenure there, but for two years he was one of the company's best heels.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Great Wrestling Champions: Kazuchika Okada (2016-2018)

Welcome to the second installment of The Great Champions, here at, where I examine a wrestling championship reign that made a financial and artistic difference to the industry.  Today's entry is topical; we just saw the end of one of the greatest title reigns I've had the privilege to witness in my thirty-plus years as a wrestling fan.  It's the record-shattering fourth IWGP Championship run of "The Rainmaker" Kazuchika Okada!

For those of you not familiar, Okada is New Japan's current Ace (what they call their top star), whose landmark rivalry with his predecessor Hiroshi Tanahashi served as a transition from one top dog to another (Tanahashi is unanimously credited with bringing NJPW out of its mid-2000s downturn and reinvigorating the product).  Their numerous main event matches together captured the imagination and raised the bar for in-ring storytelling, for some even eclipsing Misawa-Kobashi as Japan's greatest wrestling feud.

The 6'3" Okada came up through NJPW's dojo system, took an excursion overseas (as all dojo grads do), and returned with a new look, a new, charismatic heel persona, and a prodigious understanding of how to work a main event-level match.  Okada's ability to adjust to his opponent's style and thus make every big match different from the last, coupled with his painstaking attention to detail and arguably unparalleled expressiveness in the ring, have made him in the opinion of many the best wrestler alive today.

At WrestleKingdom VI, having won his first match back in the company, Okada challenged Tanahashi for the IWGP Championship, and defeated him only a month later, at the age of 24.  That the company put such stock in such a young man, and that Okada earned every raining dollar of it, is nothing short of staggering.  Okada lost the title back to Tanahashi in June of 2012 but won it back the following April, keeping it nearly a year this time.  Their multi-year rivalry helped raise the profile of the championship and New Japan as a whole, and by the time he'd won his third title (from AJ Styles), Okada was ready to assume Tanahashi's former mantle.  At WrestleKingdom 7 and 9 he'd failed to beat Tanahashi at the company's biggest event (actually leaving WK9 in tears), but at WK10 he finally achieved that elusive accomplishment, solidifying his status as NJPW's new It Guy.  His third IWGP Title run would come to an end a few months later at the hands of another new main eventer, Tetsuya Naito, but he'd regain the championship only two months after that.

Thus began what would become a truly legendary 720-day reign.  The sheer number and variety of scale-breaking classic matches, coupled with the commercial growth it brought the company, is astonishing.

Okada defeated Naito at Dominion 2016 in a very good 29-minute battle whose result shocked a lot of people.  Early 2016 seemed to be Naito's coronation, as he more or less stepped into Shinsuke Nakamura's former spot, the charismatic anti-hero.  He handily won the New Japan Cup and challenged Okada at Invasion Attack, and it felt like Naito and his Los Ingobernables stable would rule the roost for the time being.  But Okada put a quick end to Naito's first (and thus far only) IWGP Title run, which amazingly never hurt Naito's incredible drawing power (This would come up again 18 months later).

The History of NXT TakeOver: Chicago II

NXT's latest TakeOver special, simply entitled Chicago II, featured five matches of the good-to-excellent variety and was headlined by an epic grudge rematch.  Gargano vs. Ciampa is the most personal NXT feud since Owens vs. Zayn, and these two have been stellar in conveying the pure good vs. evil nature of their rivalry.  The undercard featured all three titles being defended, plus a pretty great little athletic showcase between Ricochet and Velveteen Dream.  So let's get into it.

The show opened with The Undisputed Era (I still hate that name) vs. Oney Lorcan (and that one) & Danny Burch for the NXT Tag belts.  These teams pulled out every stop they could find, as though they were desperately trying to steal the show.  The last third got perhaps a little overindulgent with the false finishes, but this was still a helluva good tag title match.  Roderick Strong in particular looked great, and the challenging team were made to look incredibly resilient, despite not much experience together.  A damn fine opener.  ***3/4

The second bout came very close to actually stealing the show.  Ricochet and Velveteen Dream felt like a main event in itself, starting out pretty methodically but gradually ramping up the action like crazy.  At one point Ricochet got suplexed from the apron to the floor, which looked positively brutal.  Velveteen's motivation was that Ric stole his thunder as the promotion's new aerial wizard.  The last few minutes were super dramatic and Ric got the duke with the 630 splash, a move I still can't believe is humanly possible.  ****

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Bald Guy Walks Into a Bar: The Cottage Bar & Restaurant (Weymouth, MA)

Welcome to a new feature here at, A Bald Guy Walks Into a Bar, where I visit a local watering hole I WOULD be caught dead in, and tell y'all what I thought of the food & drink, the atmosphere, and the special attractions if any.

Today's subject is a recent addition to Weymouth, MA, an Irish-style pub called The Cottage, which offers tons of comfort food favorites, a modest lineup of draft and bottled beer (plus wine, and the hard stuff I'm too much of a puss to drink), and a rotating event calendar that includes live music, open mic nights, and Stump Trivia.

26 Union St.
Weymouth, MA 02190 


Right as you walk in it's clear this is a relaxed, care-free environment, with ample bar seating and plenty of tables.  As it's inspired by classic Irish pubs, there's a very basic decor and the walls are covered with Irish art, photos and tchotchkes.  Nothing fancy going on here, and that's what I want in an Irish drinking establishment.  We sat at the bar (where the stools were solidly comfy) and our bartender was friendly and accomodating.  No complaints here.

Rating: 3 Baldies out of 4


Good comfort food is a thing of beauty, and The Cottage has some pretty fantastic eats at cheapo prices.  I ordered the Irish Beef Stew, a traditional stew topped with mashed potatoes (sweet Jeezus that's a genius idea).  This stuff was tasty as all hell and even more filling.  My wife Kelly had a Cobb Salad topped with steak tips, and these things were unreal.  Tender, firegrilled hunks of red meat.  I'm ordering a plate of those next visit.  Our two entrees combined ran us $31.  Hard to beat that unless you're at some shithouse like Applebee's.

Rating: 4 Baldies out of 4 

WWE Money in the Bank 2018: The Night Asuka Became Stupid

Alright look, can someone answer me this question?  Does Vince McMahon have some kind of genetic commitment to including at least one infuriatingly baffling booking decision on every single PPV?  Money in the Bank 2018 was, overall, a decent show.  It was about an hour too long, with a few matches that belonged nowhere near a live audience, but it wasn't a bad show by any means.

But everything good about it was overshadowed for me by one of the stupidest finishes maybe ever, when Asuka, moments away from beating Carmella for the Smackdown Women's Title, got distracted like a cat confronted with a dangly object, because someone dressed in her ring entrance gear (quite obviously a man judging by this person's meaty hands) got up on the ring apron and stood there.  Asuka reacted as though a demon from her past showed up to collect a debt, so I thought maybe they were doing some kinda character building with her, like when Christian first showed up during Edge's matches.  But no, it was just James Ellsworth under there.  He unmasked and Asuka was still frozen in place, despite already kicking out of a Carmella roll-up.  One superkick later and Carmella pins Asuka to retain.  How fucking dumb are we expected to believe Asuka is?  How dumb does WWE think we are for being expected to accept a finish like this?

Now, a few logical questions:

1. Did Carmella and Ellsworth plan this ahead of time?  If so, why didn't Ellsworth show up one of the half-dozen other times Carmella was in serious trouble?

2. Did Ellsworth know the appearance of some stranger in an Asuka mask would halt Asuka dead in her tracks, or was that just a lucky break?

3. If it's the latter, what did he think was gonna happen?  What if Asuka just said "Oh, that's weird," and proceeded to kick a rain check into Carmella before pinning her?

There is nothing more deadly to a babyface character than booking them like an idiot.  No one wants to cheer for an easily duped shmuck.  So congratulations Vince, you've once again taken someone Triple H spent a lot of time and money building up in NXT and made them not special.  Between her premature first loss at 'Mania and now being made to look like a complete fool (after the inexcusible indignity of having to struggle against Carmella of all people), Asuka is just one of the girls now.  Fuck you.

Friday, June 15, 2018

NXT TakeOver: Chicago II Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NXT Predictions, here at, where we predict the special events of the one part of WWE that still works consistently!

Look, I don't even watch NXT's weekly show, but even when I think I'm not up-to-date enough on the brand's goings-on, I can still sit down and watch the fuck out of a TakeOver special and feel like I spent my time wisely.  That's the mark of a good wrestling product, when you don't necessarily HAVE to catch every weekly show to understand and appreciate what's happening on the big ones.  Simple stories in wrestling are still the most effective.

Anywho, the black & yellow brand has once again put together a great-looking card that won't feel like it lasts five days, with three title matches, an undercard bout between two up-and-comers, and an all-time grudge rematch.  Undoubtedly this will once again trounce the main roster show in terms of quality and enjoyment, begging the question (again), does Vince not care that developmental's audiences are WAY more enthusiastic than RAW & Smackdown's?  It's just fucking baffling to me.

Anyway let's take a look at the matches....

Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream

This could actually steal the show if given enough time.  Dream has already impressed everyone with his charisma and athletic ability, and Ricochet is superhuman.  I'm just lookin' to see some fireworks here.

Justin: Ricochet wins his first big singles match in NXT
Landon: Ricochet

NXT Women's Championship: Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross

Baszler is a legit scary woman and carries herself like a goddamn monster.  Nikki Cross is a crazy person with zero fucks to give.  This oughta be a wild one.  Shayna's calculated precision attack vs. Nikki's unruly brawling.  It's like Ken Shamrock vs. Mankind.

Justin: Shayna retains
Landon: Baszler

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

WWE Money in the Bank 2018 Preview & Predictions

Welcome back to's WWE Predictions!  It's been a while since WWE dropped a mediocre-at-best turd on PPV.  Feels like I haven't bitched about their misuse of their stacked talent roster in ages.  And with New Japan having just delivered an amazing Dominion card headlined by possibly the best match I've ever seen in thirty-plus years of watching wrestling, Money in the Bank is gonna feel very anti-climactic.  But we got a job to do.....

As much on-paper potential as this show has, WWE's writing has been so stilted and goofy I'm having a hard time bringing myself to give a shit.  Styles vs. Nakamura has been a terribly booked feud, robbing them of what should've been a classic series of matches.  Daniel Bryan is still saddled with trying to give Big Cass any credibility as an in-ring performer.  Sami Zayn is being used to get the robotic Bobby Lashley over.  And bafflingly they're pairing Ronda Rousey up against Nia Jax, who isn't at all ready of carrying someone so new to pro wrestling in a match.

On top of this, rumors are rampant that Brock Lesnar will finally be dropping the the Universal Title, at SummerSlam.  To Roman Reigns.  For the love of fucking Christ, enough with the Brock-Roman shit.  They've wrestled three times, each match getting worse feedback than the last.  Roman isn't your guy.  Seth Rollins is.

Sadly with WWE's recently announced deal with Fox, giving them an exorbitant amount of cash for broadcast rights to Smackdown, Vince is about to start caring even less about putting out quality television.  There's no longer an incentive to do so.  Christ....

Anyway, let's get to the picks.

***Little Dave Moore is in the lead with 69% (22/32), I'm in second with 66% (21/32), Landon is next with 63% (20/32), and Dan's right in the rear with 56% (18/32)***

Pre-Show Match Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Bludgeon Brothers vs. Anderson & Gallows

Welp, this got pushed off the main card.  Just as well, it's a throwaway (though it could be decent) and 10 matches on a B PPV is way too many.  Karl and Luke have zero chance of winning the belts here.

Justin: BB retain
Dan: Bludgeon me.
Landon: BB
Dave: I liked Karl & Luke when they first came up. WWE buried them and they will stay buried. BB retain

Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn

Fuck me....this feud is built around stupid comedy segments involving Lashley's fake sisters, obstacle courses, and other non-wrestling crap.  The company better be paying attention to how good a heel Sami is, because that's all that's being accomplished here.  No one gives a rat's butthole about Lashley the Charisma Vacuum.  He wasn't relevant in 2007 and he certainly isn't now.

Justin: Lashley wins anyway
Dan: Lashley STINKS, but he'll win.
Landon: Lashley
Dave: Who cares?  Lashley.

Smackdown Women's Championship: Carmella vs. Asuka

Okay, here's how this should go.  Asuka kills Carmella dead in 28 seconds, new champion.  Anything other than this scenario is an insult to Asuka.  Also tell me again why Vince had Charlotte end Asuka's streak just to have her drop the belt to Carmella?  Was it just to knock Triple H's hard work down a peg or two?

Justin: Asuka better win this
Dan: I agree.
Landon: Asuka
Dave: It's Asuka time.

Monday, June 11, 2018

NJPW Dominion 2018: Okada-Omega Is the New Yardstick

Dude.  Holy actual fucking shit.  If Okada-Omega IV wasn't the greatest match of all time, I dunno what is.  I went into this saying "Well, they're gonna try to top everything they've done before, and if two guys could do it, it's Okada and Omega.  But let's be realistic, it'll probably be their second or third-best match.  And that's good enough."  But no, they actually fucking topped everything they've ever done before.  If there had previously been a case to be made against Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega being the two absolute best wrestlers in the world (and really, there wasn't), there definitely isn't now.  These guys set an impossibly high bar for themselves at WrestleKingdom 11 and somehow managed to clear it at Dominion 2018.  This main event was about as perfect a match as I've ever seen.

But first let's talk about the rest of the show.  Even if the undercard of this PPV had sucked, the main event was so incredible it's an 8/10 show for that alone.  But fortunately the undercard did not suck at all.

The opener was a short but entertaining Jr. Tag Title match, with Roppongi 3K challenging El Desperado & Kanemaru, hoping to regain the straps.  The heels took advantage of a slight ref bump and Kanemaru used a whiskey bottle on SHO for the win.  Very odd choice keeping the belts on SZGN here but I imagine RPG3K will get them back sooner or later.  Nothing spectacular in this opener, it was fine.  **

Next up was Jay White & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay in another short bout.  This was all about setting up White vs. Robinson, which it did nicely.  Robinson got the pin on White with Pulp Friction, and these two will face off for the US Title at the G1 Special.  Just a quick 7-minute match.  **

A third undercard tag match pitted Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano against Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.  This was the best of the three openers, mostly due to the Ishii-Suzuki interaction (a big singles match is upcoming and should be glorious).  Sabre got the win for his team by tapping out Yano, but after the match Ishii and Suzuki brawled into the back.  Another fun little match.  **1/4

The first really noteworthy bout was the NEVER Openweight triple threat.  Hirooki Goto and Michael Elgin carried most of the weight here while Taichi played the chickenshit heel who picked his spots and tried to stay out of danger.  After some nice three-way spots and some good powerbrokering from Goto and Elgin, Elgin won by buckle bombing Taichi into Goto and then Elgin bombing Taichi for the pin.  Elgin vs. Goto is already announced for Kizuna Road, so that should be a helluva fight.  This match wasn't your usual NEVER slugfest but had some clever spots and was well worked.  ***1/2

Here's where the show really started to take off.  The Young Bucks, freshly moved up to the heavyweight tag division, challenged Evil & Sanada in an energetic, dramatic bout where both Bucks sold injuries - Matt's back became an issue again, and Nick missed a kick on the apron and whacked his foot on the post.  Both injuries played into multiple spots and the Bucks were in peril for much of the bout.  Matt and Nick Jackson have successfully transitioned from spotfest wrestlers to really great storytellers, and this match felt different than their Jr. division stuff.  I'm really excited to see how the heavyweight class looks with them in the mix.  After multiple exciting false finishes, the Bucks took the match and the straps with More Bang for Your Buck.  One of the best heavyweight tag title matches I've seen in NJPW.  ****