Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top Ten Things: Opening PPV Matches

Welcome to yet another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

With WrestleKingdom 13 in the books and the fantastic match that kicked off that show, I got to thinking about my favorite PPV opening matches over the last 35 years or so.  I eventually narrowed it down to 25, and in a fairly agonizing process, managed to pick my favorites.  Like a killer opening song on an album, a great opening match can instantly grab your attention and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  It gets the live crowd excited, which in turn lends more energy to the rest of the PPV.  The quality of the opening bout can leave almost as big an impression as that of the main event; if a show starts well and ends well you tend to remember it as a damn fine show (I do anyway), even if the stuff in the middle isn't so hot.  At the very least a great opening match makes me want to watch the show a second time.  Most PPVs tend to feature shorter bouts to kick things off, but every so often the first match either steals the show outright or comes pretty damn close.  Here are ten such examples.....




10. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 33


The main card of the 2017 edition of WrestleMania kicked off with a match I wasn't at all happy about.  AJ Styles, by far the most accomplished star in the company over the previous 14 months, was saddled fighting Vince's son instead of tearing it up with someone of his caliber.  But I'll be damned if it wasn't incredibly entertaining.  AJ was amazing as usual, and Shane had his working shoes on just trying to keep up.  Many of the spots were over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what was shockingly the best match of the night.  This match proved that AJ Styles could have a good match with anyone, and also earned AJ the company's permanent stamp of approval.





9. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Bragging Rights 2010


Probably D-Bryan's first true standout match in WWE was this sleeper hit to kick off the second and final Bragging Rights PPV.  By far the best match on the show, this US Champ vs. IC Champ bout allowed Bryan to show off his technical prowess against an opponent who could hang with him move-for-move.  This see-saw match went a thrilling 16 minutes, including a false finish where Ziggler seemed to have won the match but Bryan's foot was on the rope, before Bryan tapped Ziggler out with the LeBell Lock.  The pair followed it up with an equally good rematch the next night on RAW.  At year's end, WWE cited this as one of the best matches of 2010, ranking it second (I believe) only to Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.  This was the first instance of the company openly showing appreciation for Bryan's abilities.





8. Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Thunder Liger - SuperBrawl II


The second SuperBrawl PPV, the best in the series, had the show stolen by this groundbreaking opening contest for the newly minted WCW Light Heavyweight Title.  This 17-minute bout was full of great false finishes and big high spots, demonstrating this wonderful alternative to the norm known as cruiserweight wrestling and showcasing a style of wrestling North American fans weren't yet accustomed to.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash, regaining the short-lived championship.  While Jr.-style wrestling wouldn't catch on for a few more years, this match served as one of the templates.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020: I'm Just Not Seeing It With Drew....

Soooo, that was a Royal Rumble. Nothing more, nothing less. It was alright. We got a couple decent Rumble matches, a couple very strong singles bouts, and a couple not-good matches. If part of the Royal Rumble’s purpose was to get people excited for WrestleMania, then this show was a bit of a failure for me. The three big matches set up so far don’t do much for me at all, and one match I do actually want to see doesn’t appear to be happening. Why the hell not I couldn’t say.


The show kicked off with an overlong bells & whistles brawl between Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin. This pairing has never done anything for me and this was no different. They fought in the ring for several minutes and then brawled all around the stadium; since it’s such a big venue this undoubtedly helped bloat the running time. Near the end of the match Roman locked Corbin in a porto-crapper and tipped it over. Uhhh, okay. Then both guys ended up on top of a dugout, where Reigns finished him with the punch/spear combo. At least the finish was fun. This didn’t need more than 15 minutes but it got 21. Shane vs. Miz at Mania 35 was more entertaining. **

The women’s Rumble was shockingly early in the lineup. This was definitely better than last year’s women’s Rumble but not a great one, and the wrong woman won. I cannot fathom how they justify Charlotte winning here when the moment was so clearly Shayna’s. On the plus side though, Shayna was booked like a monster for her four minutes, and Bianca Belair looked like a huge star in her 33-minute run. Each woman tossed out 8. Other than that we got a helluva run from Beth Phoenix, who withstood a bad cut on the back of her head and made it to the final three after tossing out her bestie Natalya (payback for 2018), a lot of overly quick eliminations of NXT stars, and for some reason no Sasha Banks. Is she hurt? It came down to Shayna vs. Charlotte, and rather than go the logical route set up at Survivor Series they had Charlotte head scissor Shayna over the ropes to win. Sooo, Charlotte vs. Becky for the thousandth time? Oh joy. Or worse, Charlotte vs. Bayley? Or does Bayley drop her title to Shayna and we get yet another triple threat? Can’t we just have the Becky-Shayna match we’ve been waiting for? This Rumble was fine but I didn’t like the result at all. ***1/2


Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Matrix

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at Enuffa.com, where I take a closer look at a film that is either beloved in spite of its faults or reviled in spite of its virtues, or that simply has such a mix of those two things it's stuck somewhere in between.


Today's subject is the 1999 cyberpunk action smash-hit, The Matrix!  The brainchild of the Wachowskis, The Matrix was a hip, new take on the humanity vs. machines theme that's been explored extensively in science fiction, driven by a capable cast and revolutionary special effects.  It became a touchstone at the time of its release, having such a profound and immediate influence on the genre that its visual tropes had actually become hackneyed by the time the sequels came out four years later.  In a way it was too big a hit for its own good, and the second and third films were viewed as a pretty massive disappointment.  But however botched the follow-through on this saga, the first film remains a visually engaging, conceptually neat sci-fi/action vehicle that could've been even more had the producers not dumbed it down for us popcorn-gorging slobs.

So let's take a look at what still works, and what still doesn't, about The Matrix!




The Awesome


Concept

The plot of this movie is super cool.  It's a dystopian future and machines have become self-aware and taken over the world, imprisoning the human race as an energy source while plugging them into a virtual reality designed to keep them pacified and complacent.  Nearly every person left after the apocalypse was born into this matrix, occupying a cryo-pod but under the impression they're all living normal human lives in the late 20th century.  A few resistors like Morpheus got wise and dared to pull back the curtain, hoping to free the others and bring down the machines.  Our main protagonist Neo is a highly sought-after computer programmer/hacker, whom Morpheus believes will be "the one" to free humanity.  It's high-concept sci-fi fun, with lofty, existential themes that are eminently relatable; who wouldn't be able to get behind a small band of heroes trying to save the world?  It's the cinematic embodiment of Rage Against the Machine!





Effects

The special effects invented for The Matrix were possibly the most influential of that era.  Nearly every action sequence features "bullet time" effects, where a computer-controlled ring of cameras rapidly spins around a subject, firing off a single frame in quick succession.  When blended with a CG-modeled background, the effect creates the illusion of time stopping as our hero manipulates space-time within the Matrix.  The martial arts scenes made liberal use of this effect and it was unlike anything ever put to film at that time.  It was so successful and popular nearly every action movie for the next few years ripped it off in some form, even when it didn't make sense in context (which was usually the case - see Charlie's Angels or Mission Impossible 2).  The visual effects here were hugely groundbreaking.

This move was so popular WWE wrestler Trish Stratus started using it.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Top Ten Things: Beatles Albums

Welcome to another Top Ten Things!  Today I'll be talking about one of the most celebrated, universally beloved bands of all time, The Beatles!


The Beatles were possibly the first music group I was ever introduced to as a kid.  My parents played me some of Sgt. Pepper and I was hooked instantly.  By sixth grade I began making mix tapes of their tunes (Yes, this was when mix tapes were still a thing), and thanks to the Compleat Beatles documentary I became an expert very quickly.  In 1987 my parents bought a CD player (I felt so ahead of the curve), and The Beatles' entire catalog was one of the first available in that format.  I devoured their music like crazy and for a couple years they were one of very few bands I listened to (until I discovered metal that is).

Today, along with Metallica, The Beatles are my favorite band in the universe, and when I fire up one of their albums on the ol' iPod it's a ceremonious moment.  I tend to listen to their whole catalog front to back, over a period of several days.  Yeah I'm a dork.  Shut up.

Anyway, here's a list of what are, in my opinion, The Beatles ten greatest albums.




10. A Hard Day's Night


In 1964 The Beatles had conquered both the UK and the US, becoming such pop culture icons they were tapped to star in a feature film.  Directed by Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night starred the Fab Four as themselves, in a "day in the life" kind of story.  The band travels by train to an auditorium where they'll perform for a live TV special, and in tow is Paul's troublemaker grandfather who tries to turn everyone against each other.  The soundtrack album featured numerous classic early Beatles songs, like the energetic title track, the bittersweet "If I Fell," the instantly catchy "I Should've Known Better," the bluesy "You Can't Do That," and the morose "Things We Said Today."  A Hard Day's Night followed up The Beatles' first two pop albums with slightly more mature content and showed a band beginning to temper their signature sound.




9. Help!


After the huge success of A Hard Day's Night, a second Beatles film was inevitable.  This time it would be a big-budget James Bond-inspired screwball comedy about a Far-East cult hunting down the band in the hopes of recovering a sacrificial ring mailed to Ringo.  The movie featured numerous action-comedy set pieces, plus seven brand new Beatles tunes.  The music showed a bit more depth and some instrument variation, and the album boasted probably the first major departure - a somber guitar ballad of Paul's called "Yesterday."  Paul was the only Beatle on the recording, and would be accompanied by a string quartet, a first for the band.  Other highlights included the mellow waltz of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," the urgent "The Night Before," and the anxiously bouncy "I've Just Seen a Face."  Help! showed the band continuing to expand their musical range on their way to arguably the most creative period in their career.




8. Let It Be


Originally intended as a live concert film entitled Get Back, Let It Be eventually morphed into an album/documentary that showed The Beatles coming apart at the seams.  Their interpersonal relationships were in shambles and the live recording sessions were filled with palpable tension.  So unpleasant was the experience that the band opted to shelve the album and move on to Abbey Road, as a way to end their career on a high note.  As the band dissolved, producer Phil Spector was hired to sort through the dozens of songs and takes, and whittle everything down to a concise record.  The result was a solid-if-inconsistent album that would serve as the band's denouement.  Side 1 is full of good-to-great songs, like John's strangely lyriced "Dig a Pony" and his existential ballad "Across the Universe," and Paul's iconic piano-driven title track.  Inexplicably Spector also included a one-minute snippet of "Dig It," a ponderous go-nowhere jam, and their brief take on the traditional ditty "Maggie Mae."  Side two's highlights were both contributions from Paul; the optimistic "I've Got a Feeling," and the energetic "Get Back."  Despite Spector's orchestral embellishments on songs like "The Long and Winding Road," Let It Be features a stripped-down, intimately live snapshot of The Beatles at their lowest point.  Yet even as the band crumbled they managed to churn out some undeniably great songs and cement their legacy as a transcendent rock group.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020 Preview & Predictions

It's the first WWE PPV of the new decade!  Let's get ready to Rumb-- wait, only five women have been announced for this thing?  Seriously WWE, let's get ready to Rumble, huh?  What the hell are you sitting on this info for?  Is it just gonna be 25 surprise participants?  When did this company forget how to hype a show?


The inaugural WWE extravaganza of the New Roarin' 20s is upon us, and like last year's Rumble it appears they've booked more matches than can possibly fit on the main show.  So get ready to see two or three of these bouts get bumped.  I for one can't believe how fast the last couple years have gone by.  The 2018 Rumble feels like it was one year ago.  The 2019 one feels like it just happened.  The 2000 Royal Rumble still feels like a state of the art event, as though it kicked off the current era.  And that was twenty goddamn years ago.  I'm gettin' too old for this shit.....

As is always the case nowadays, WWE's build for this event has been all over the place - sloppy, disorganized, and poorly communicated to us viewers.  Seriously, they've only announced five women for that Rumble match and there are basically no stories being told going in.  The men's Rumble at least has the Brock Lesnar "I'm so good I'm gonna enter at #1 and toss everyone out so there's no Title challenger" thing.  The women's Rumble has nothing.  What the fuck guys?  It's only the second-most important match on the show (maybe even first if Becky headlines 'Mania again).

Anyway, let's take a look at this card, which is not without interest but overloaded.




Sheamus vs. Chad Gable


I refuse to call Mr. Gable by the name they've given him.  Vince really is like a 12-year-old ("He's short, it's such good shit!").  I find this a very odd inclusion for the returning Sheamus.  Why not just put both of these guys in the Rumble?  This match hardly seems important enough to get its own slot.  Also why does Sheamus think Gable is the reason WWE sucks now?  Gable is one of several WWE stars who needs to get the fuck outta this place ASAP.

Pick: No way Sheamus is losing in his first big match back






US Championship: Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo


This is a late addition for a championship that's been bouncing around like crazy lately.  Both these guys are hoping to take up Rey Mysterio's mantle as WWE's biggest Hispanic star.  Andrade has all the tools, to be sure.  Not sure yet about the other guy.  This match should be good but will also likely get moved to the pre-show.  Andrade should retain since he just won the belt, but maybe Humberto will help his stock even in defeat.

Pick: Andrade retains





Smackdown Women's Championship: Bayley vs. Lacey Evans


Well this is weird.  The former snobby heel vs. the former lovable babyface, roles now reversed.  I'll say this persona works much better for Lacey.  Why they didn't play up her military service to begin with I'm sure I don't know.  Let's hope she's improved in the ring over the last 12 months.  I don't think they have a WrestleMania season plan for the SD Women's Title at all, so this could go either way.  I'll pick the champ to retain I guess.

Pick: Bayley retains

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Movie Review: 1917


What a spectacular technical achievement is Sam Mendes's latest film 1917.  This simple story of a pair of World War I soldiers tasked with crossing No Man's Land to call off an impending British attack that will surely end in disaster is presented in a way that's so visceral and mesmerizing you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Based loosely on stories told by Mendes's grandfather (a WWI soldier himself), 1917 is staged as one unbroken shot (there are edits here and there but except for one instance they're seamless), creating a sense of claustrophobia, tension and inevitability.  The film opens on our two protagonists dozing in a field, roused and called into the trenches to be briefed on their mission.  From the opening moments the camera drags us into the action, and for the next two hours we're never given a reprieve.  The technique forces the audience to become participants in these harrowing events, as Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield crawl through corpse-laden fields of mud and barbed wire, navigate abandoned German trenches, dodge crashing aircraft, and so on.  I won't say more about the story, as it's best to go in cold.  Were these events presented in a traditional way this film would perhaps not be as engaging, but that's sort of the point.  Like Saving Private Ryan, 1917 is about the "how," moreso than the "what."  It is designed to make the audience experience the film rather than just watch it.

The film's lead actor George MacKay gives an understated but note-perfect performance, reluctant to be a part of the mission at first, then determined to complete it at all costs, no matter the increased weight heaped upon his shoulders.  It's not a flashy performance but it's exactly the right one for this film, and mostly conveyed with facial expressions and physicality.

Friday, January 10, 2020

TV Review: Dracula (2020)

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Sherlock fame are back with another television take on an iconic character, this time in the form of a three-episode adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula.  And well, it's very good, but it's not Sherlock.  Or Dracula really. 

Image result for dracula netflix

The miniseries closely follows certain beats from the novel but deviates wildly from others.  Some of these inventions are effective, some not so much.  As someone who's been waiting three decades for a truly faithful screen adaptation (I love Francis Ford Coppola's version, and it's pretty close but still not totally authentic), I'm always vexxed when someone puts out a new Dracula film or TV series that almost compulsively reinvents the wheel.  First off, the book got this story right the first time; Stoker's version is absolutely loaded with chilling moments of dread.  Second, at a certain point the idea of "doing something different" is no longer doing something different.  If everyone is radically changing the story, your "bold new take" is neither bold nor new.  In this case Moffat and Gatiss start out with Stoker's material but diverge within the first half hour, to the point that by the end of the first episode we're in a totally different narrative space.  By the third episode we've strayed so far (aside from some characters and moments that parallel the novel) that the show can hardly even be called Dracula.

But enough about the show's lack of faithfulness.  Is it any good?  Yes, it's quite well-made.  As with Sherlock, the writing is crisp and darkly humorous at times (though often the dialogue is far too modern sounding), and information is doled out gradually, creating some shocking plot twists.  The performances are all strong, particularly charismatic Finnish actor Claes Bang as the Count (who's written a little too charmingly funny for my taste but that's not his fault), a suave, sardonic and pragmatic vampire who takes on the skills and personality traits of his victims and thus has to be discriminating about who he feeds on.  Another standout is Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha, an amalgam of a classic character and a new one, who serves as Dracula's crafty and resilient nemesis.  The cinematography and art direction are mostly impressive and atmospheric, often mirroring that of Coppola's version (though they sometimes betray the modest budget of a TV series as opposed to a feature film), and several of the visual choices are obvious nods to nearly every previous Dracula film (as well as moments that recall The Shining, The Fly, and Interview With the Vampire).  If nothing else this series certainly rewards sharp-eyed fans of the genre.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Top Ten Things: Wrestling Matches of the 2010s

Welcome to another special decade-end Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  A couple weeks ago I counted down the greatest wrestling PPVs of the 2010s, and now it's time to go deeper and discuss the greatest wrestling matches of the decade.

Artistically speaking, the 2010s saw some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in the history of the business.  Through most of the 10s WWE and TNA/Impact were regularly churning out shit burgers, with the occasional flashes of brilliance, while New Japan Pro Wrestling, on the backs of the amazing Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, and Kenny Omega, among others, began a resurgence that culminated in some of the greatest-ever in-ring artistry by the end of the decade.  The art form evolved so much over the last ten years that even in WWE few stars get over without being very capable between the ropes.  The days of someone becoming a big star based solely on their character or physique are over.  Yes, those things are important, but to succeed in wresting these days you have to be able to back it up in the ring, moreso than ever before.  Here are 14 examples (the Top Ten plus Honorable Mentions) of wrestlers truly backing it up in the ring, combining thrilling action with dramatic storytelling and gutsy athleticism....




HM: CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan - Over the Limit - 5.20.12


In my opinion the best match of 2012 was this forgotten gem - Punk vs. Bryan for the WWE Title.  These two were given a nice cushy 25-minute slot, and man did they deliver.  Spectacular mat wrestling, counterholds, submissions galore, false finishes; everything you could ever want in a great wrestling match.  This is the closest WWE has ever come to emulating the groundbreaking work these two routinely produced in Ring of Honor.  Punk and Bryan would face each other twice more on PPV that year, but this was the standout of the bunch.  A stunning display of classic pro wrestling.





HM: CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar - SummerSlam - 8.18.13


2013's SummerSlam featured two Match of the Year candidates, one of which was billed "The Best vs. The Beast."  This No-DQ bout told the story of Punk's scrappy ability to stay one step ahead of his massive opponent, as he pulled out every weapon available and utilized his superior speed.  This amazing match was brilliantly worked out and is thus far Brock's best match of his current run.  After 25 minutes of action, Punk fell victim one too many times to Paul Heyman's ringside distractions and was pinned after an F5.





HM: Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania XXX - 4.6.14


The YES movement took over WrestleMania in 2014, starting with this much-anticipated opening match for a shot at the WWE Title.  Both guys played their roles to perfection and told a helluva Face-In-Peril story for 26 minutes.  As predicted, Bryan won the match clean to propel himself into the WWE Title match, but Hunter attacked him after the bell in the hopes of rendering him too injured to compete later on.  Made perfect sense and beautifully enhanced the drama of Bryan's quest.





HM: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada - WrestleKingdom 9 - 1.4.15


One of the greatest feuds of the decade, hell, all time, was between NJPW's early 2010s Ace and his eventual successor.  At WrestleKingdom 9 Tanahashi and Okada assembled an eminently epic, instant classic of a main event that belongs in the same conversation as Austin-Rock II or the two HBK-Taker WrestleMania matches.  These two men were born to wrestle each other, and this match somehow topped all seven of their previous bouts, building off those matches and upping the ante.  Late in the match both kicked out of each other's well-protected finishing moves, and by the time Tana finally put Okada's quest to an end at the 31-minute mark the audience was shocked and exhausted.  Okada sold this defeat like a death in the family, sobbing the whole way back to the dressing room.  They'd have an equally epic rematch one year later, where Tana finally passed the torch.  Okada and Tanahashi made magic every time they locked horns, but for me the WK9 main event is their greatest encounter.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night Two Review: Naito Reigns Supreme

If Night One of WrestleKingdom 14 was like an album A-side featuring two monster hit singles, Night Two was the B-side with deeper cuts but more consistent quality from song to song.  Of the eight matches on this show I'd only rate one below three stars, and while there was nothing on the level of the Ospreay-Takahashi or Okada-Ibushi classics from Night One (which would've been nothing short of miraculous), we got multiple ****+ bouts and a huge climactic moment.

Click HERE for Night One...



The main card kicked off with part 2 of Jushin Liger's retirement, as he teamed with Naoki Sano against Ryu Lee and brand new Jr. Heavyweight Champ Hiromu Takahashi.  This was fine, but nowhere near as fun as Liger's 8-man tag the night before, and at 12 minutes it felt longer than necessary.  I'd have liked a Liger-Takahashi singles match much better, but maybe the company didn't want to make Takahashi work back-to-back singles bouts.  After some decent back-and-forth, Taka pinned Liger with the Time Bomb finish.  The crowd was pretty dejected at Liger's loss, but it was the right move; Liger passed the torch to the new Jr. champion.  **1/4

Things ramped up quickly with the second match, for the Jr. Tag Titles, as Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo (both working as fantastic douchebag heels) faced Sho and Yoh.  The bad guys cheated like crazy and did a ton of unnecessary posturing to draw great heat, as RPG3K played the underdog babyfaces to the hilt.  Late in the match, during a ref distraction, ELP hit Sho with a low blow (a common move for ELP), only to find that Sho was wearing a cup.  RPG3K then hit a double-stomp/Shock Arrow tandem move on ELP to win the match and the belts.  This bout was super-fun and high-energy, and a great mix of athleticism and babyface vs. heel dynamics.  ***3/4 


The most unusual bout of the night was Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Sanada for the British Heavyweight Title, a mat grappling showcase where Sanada went hold-for-hold with the technical wizard.  Zack as usual had some great counters, like catching Sanada's standing moonsault into an arm hold.  Late in the match Sanada snared the Skull End several times (Zack is perfectly built to be put in this hold) only for Zack to escape or counter.  Finally after a series of cradle near-falls, Zack caught Sanada in a European clutch to retain.  I was shocked Sanada didn't win here and I wonder what the plan is after this.  Fun little technical match.  ***1/2

Monday, January 6, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night One Review: Okada and Ibushi Make Art

The first-ever two-part WrestleKingdom is in the books, and it was overall a helluva weekend of pro wrestling.  The two shows played like a double album of sorts, with the first disc containing by far the two best tracks, and the second disc being a more solid overall album.  To break things up I'll review each show separately, so stay tuned for my Night Two review coming soon.


Night One took a while to really get going, thanks to three consecutive 8-man tags.  I would've liked another singles match in one of these slots rather than just trying to get everyone on the main card.  But the three openers were inoffensive at worst and were kept short.  The first of these was the best, thanks to Jushin Liger and his old-school pals (plus Taguchi) having one last romp to show off their stuff.  Everyone in the match looked great for their age.  After nine minutes Taguchi hit Liger with a Buma ye (that's Nakamura's finisher except with a hip attack instead of a knee), followed by a Dodon for the three-count.  I'd have had Liger win the Night One match, because why not?  He's in there with mostly other old-timers anyway, there's no torch to pass in this match.  But this was a fun opener.  **1/2

Next was Suzuki-Gun (led this time by Zack Sabre Jr. to hype his Night Two singles match) vs. LIJ (minus Naito of course).  This was technically the best of the 8-man tags but still too short to amount to much.  The story was Zack vs. Sanada, and Zack won the match by tying Bushi up in knots while smiling sadistically at his Night Two challenger.  This was fine.  **1/4

The final 8-man pitted Goto, Ishii, Yano and Yoshi-Hashi vs. Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi and NEVER Champ Kenta, in another match to hype a Night Two singles bout.  This was pretty basic, with the biggest spot being Ishii hitting a hard-fought brainbuster on Fale.  After all eight men started brawling in and around the ring, Goto hit the ushigoroshi followed by the GTR on Takahashi for the win.  Another serviceable but forgettable undercard match.  **

The 2019 Enuffa.com Pro-Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to Enuffa.com's 6th Annual Year-End Awards


2019 was, putting it mildly, an interesting year in pro wrestling.  For the first time in nearly two decades, the industry juggernaut WWE faced real North American competition, in the form of Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes's brainchild All Elite Wrestling.  An upstart company that promised to be more fan-and-employee-friendly, that promised to make wins and losses matter, and that promised to present a more sports-like atmosphere than WWE's three-ring circus, AEW launched its weekly TNT program Dynamite to mostly positive reviews and solid ratings, winning the first seven head-to-head weeks (It's been a see-saw battle since then) against the revamped NXT show.  Even more impressive was the near-instant sellouts of the company's first two PPV events, Double or Nothing and All Out (the latter of which saw upwards of 80,000 people vying for seats.  The company isn't without its flaws, as was expected for a brand-new promotion, but with Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, Cody, Chris Jericho, and WWE deserter Jon Moxley as their core main event crew, plus a host of promising young stars, AEW is a breath of fresh air in what had long been a stagnant North American wrestling landscape.  If nothing else their existence will hopefully force WWE to put more effort into their creative and worker harder to keep employee morale up.

AEW's top stars sadly came at the expense of NJPW, who found themselves in a bit of a lurch immediately following WrestleKingdom 13.  Amazingly though, as they'd done in 2016, the company adjusted quickly and put the focus on a crop of new and up-and-coming stars, selling out Madison Square Garden (the first non-WWE promotion to play there since 1961) and once again delivering loads of great matches and moments.  Impact's parent company Anthem purchased AXS TV, which also cost NJPW their weekly American time slot, but I don't doubt New Japan will find a workaround.

As for NXT, WWE's third brand had maybe their best creative year, delivering multiple yardstick TakeOver specials and amassing one of the best rosters in the business.  The AEW situation has been great for NXT, as the company is now motivated to treat the former developmental brand as a full-fledged part of the whole.  Given how badly the main roster squandered all the 2019 call-ups, I've about gotten to the point that I hope no one from NXT ever gets called up again.

Speaking of the main roster, there's probably never been such a collection of wrestling talent so badly used, ever.  RAW and Smackdown are bursting with great athletes and somehow they have no idea how to utilize any of them.  Pushes were bungled (perhaps intentionally in some cases), payoff matches were poorly booked, undeserving people were elevated and overexposed, angles were dropped without warning, PPV lineups were thrown together last-minute.  2019 provided so much more evidence (as though we even needed it) that the industry passed Vince McMahon by a long time ago and he needs to step down.  It's gotten so embarrassing I can't imagine how bad things will be in ten years if he's still there.  I skipped six main roster PPVs in 2019.  I haven't done that since 2010, and that was back when you had to pay for them.  For someone like me (a WWE Network subscriber since Week One) to not bother watching nearly half the company's PPV events in a given year, things have to be in really rough shape.  2020 isn't looking very promising for the red and blue brands.  Were it not for NXT I'd have likely dropped my Network subscription already.

But enough grim news.  Let's do something fun.  Let's hand out some pretend awards!

Friday, January 3, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Preview & Predictions

A new decade dawns.  A new Tokyo Dome extravaganza looms.  A new kind of supercard is born.


Welcome to a special edition of PPV Predictions, here at Enuffa.com!  It's the beginning of a new year, and that means it's time for NJPW to drop a 500-megaton PPV Awesome-Bomb on all of us.  This year's WrestleKingdom is a two-parter, and if all goes well it could be the template going forward, not only for New Japan but for WWE's WrestleMania and perhaps other super-shows.  WrestleKingdom 14 will take place on January 4th and 5th, with 16 main card matches plus four pre-show bouts over the two days.  The first night is built around the huge G1 Climax A-Block rematch, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Title, plus B-block rematch Jay White vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Title, while Night Two will see the winners of those two matches face off to become the first-ever Double Champion.  This pair of shows should have far-reaching consequences for NJPW's Big Four guys and will set the stage for the company's attempted US expansion in 2020.  My biggest hope for New Japan in 2020 is that they partner with AEW.  Both promotions would benefit enormously; AEW could use New Japan's top stars to boost their own ratings, while New Japan's US footprint would be greatly expanded by their stars appearing on TNT.  It's a win-win.  Make it happen.

But enough about that stuff, let's predict some WrestleKingdom matches...



Night One


Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi


This eight-man tag will be Liger's penultimate match and is mostly a throwback bout for the old-timers.  It's all about the nostalgia, and I expect Taguchi will do most of the heavy lifting.  It won't go very long and probably won't earn a ton of stars, but it should be a fun little pre-sendoff for Liger.

Pick: Team Liger obviously has to win




Evil, Sanada, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado


Of the throwaway matches on these two shows, this has the most potential.  There's a ton of talent in this match and a strong faction vs. faction vibe.  It's also the only main card match for Suzuki, Evil, Shingo and Bushi, which is very sad.  That's actually really wrong when you think about it.  Anyway, hopefully these guys will get enough time to make the match count and be set up for something bigger in February.

Pick: I'll go with LIJ




Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Kenta, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi


Ishii is another great talent being criminally shortchanged on these two cards.  You mean to tell me you couldn't find a singles match, out of sixteen main card slots, for fucking ISHII?  This match is all about previewing Kenta vs. Goto on Night Two.  It'll be brief and energetic, with some good hard-hitting exchanges.

Pick: Chaos