Thursday, December 30, 2021

NJPW WrestleKingdom 16 Night 2 Preview & Predictions

And we're back for NJPW WrestleKingdom 16 Night 2!

Click HERE for Night 1.

Night 2

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Flying Tiger vs. Taiji Ishimori/El Phantasmo vs. Ryusuke Taguchi/Rocky Romero

I'd like this better if it were just the first two teams but this should be a very enjoyable clusterfuck of a Jr. tag match, a la WK7-10.  Flying Tiger have only been champions for a couple months so it makes sense for them to retain here I think, but these belts hop around all the time so who knows?

Pick: Flying Tiger retains

Stardom Match: Mayu Iwatani/Starlight Kid vs. Tam Nakano/Saya Kamitani

I like that the Stardom gals are getting a showcase match on the main card.  Much more fun than the same old throwaway undercard tags they usually do.  I know nothing about any of these four women so my pick is coming from a completely uninformed place.  I guess I'll pick Iwatani and Starlight.

Pick: Iwatani & Starlight

KOPW 2022 Fatal 4-Way

We already know Yano and Owens will be involved here and maybe Kanemaru as well.  This is gonna suck regardless.  Get rid of this stupid comedy trophy.

Pick: I'll pick Yano to start the year as provisional champion

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

NJPW WrestleKingdom 16 Night 1 Preview & Predictions

It's about that time kids.  NJPW's biggest show of the year, now spread over three dates.  It's WRESTLE KINGDOM!

Yeah for some reason WK is now a three-night event, with the third night emanating from Yokohama Arena instead of the Tokyo Dome, and featuring NJPW vs. NOAH matches all night instead of the traditional WK format.  Why that show isn't taking place under a totally separate name I'm sure I don't know.  But the first two nights look and feel like the Wrestle Kingdom lineups we all know and love.  

So for these predictions I'm going to handle the first two shows and my esteemed colleague and former contributor Landon Wayne will cover Night 3 (He's all about Pro Wrestling NOAH these days).

Let's get started!

Night 1

Pre-Show Rambo

So far no participants have been announced for the annual snorefest known as the Rambo, and once again the purpose of this match is to determine the four contenders for the KOPW match on Night 2.  So still pointless.  No real way to predict winners here without an announced lineup but obviously Toru Yano will be one of them, and almost certainly so will Chase Owens.

Pick: Yano, Chase and two other guys

Sho vs. Yoh

What a way to kick things off on the proper show.  It's not often we get a blazing singles match to open the PPV, so this feels special.  These two had a damn fine match at Wrestle Grand Slam last summer and should do so again here.  Yoh is coming off a Super Juniors Final, while Sho has just kinda been doing Bullet Club things.  With Hiromu Takahashi likely reclaiming the IWGP Jr. Title he never lost, Sho seems the logical choice to earn a title shot here.

Pick: Sho

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The 2021 Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to the 8th Annual Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards, here at, where I celebrate the highs (and lows) of the year that was, inside the squared circle!

After 15 or so months of wrestling shows being held in front of virtual, or no, crowds, 2021 saw the welcome return of real, in-person wrestling fans.  For WWE it was Wrestlemania 37 that began the renaissance of live crowds, albeit in a limited capacity, and for AEW the May PPV Double or Nothing was the first of the year to feature a packed Daily's Place.  NJPW had been running shows with limited audiences for months prior, but since fans in Japan aren't allowed to vocalize, it wasn't as stark a contrast.  Regardless though, touring wrestling shows with packed houses was something we'd all dearly missed during quarantine.

As far as wrestling content, the quality from the big three companies was quite varied.  

WWE once again struggled to present a consistently good product or elevate new stars without later cutting their legs out.  Bianca Belair began the year with a gutsy Royal Rumble win on her way to capturing the Smackdown Women's Title in the main event of WrestleMania Night 1, only to get squashed by a returning Becky Lynch four months later.  While she's likely to finally win back the title at this year's 'Mania, the abrupt title change made her look pretty silly and the subsequent Lynch heel turn hasn't been working much at all. 

Rhea Ripley was once again poised to be a top women's star, defeating RAW Women's Champ Asuka at 'Mania before losing the title to Charlotte Flair only three months later, basically duplicating the push-derailing loss to Charlotte at 'Mania 36.  Since then Rhea has been stuck in a go-nowhere tag team with Nikki ASH.  Once again the company failed to truly pull the trigger on this unique star.

Drew McIntyre spent most of 2020 at the top of the card and looked to continue that streak into 2021 but lost the WWE Title to a Miz cash-in, Miz dropped the title in short order to Bobby Lashley, and Drew found himself out of the title picture and out on his ass after failing numerous times to regain the title from Lashley.  Great for Bobby, not so good for Drew.  

Of course WWE television was dominated by Roman Reigns, who's in the middle of a year-plus Universal Title run, having beaten everyone they've thrown at him.  Really the only star they've portrayed as being on Roman's level is Brock Lesnar, begging the question, who ultimately benefits?  The point of having a dominant long-term champion, aside from making that guy, is to make someone new in unseating him.  But if he crushes all the full-timers and only the older part-timers look like they can hang with him, where are the new stars coming from?  As of now there isn't anyone who looks remotely ready to beat Roman for the title.    

Big E was perhaps the one real WWE success story of 2021 in terms of actually elevating someone, winning Money in the Bank and cashing in on Lashley over the fall.  While he's not being pushed on the level of Roman Reigns, at least they haven't made him look like a fluke champion like so many other cash-ins have.  Of course it remains to be seen whether he suffers the same fate Kofi did (a humiliating title loss followed by an express ticket back to the tag team ranks), but for now Big E is enjoying the best push of his career.

WWE cut a swath of talent throughout 2021, citing budget concerns despite raking in record profits.  Among the surprising releases were Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Nia Jax, Karrion Kross, Aleister Black, Andrade, John Morrison, Bronson Reed, and many others.  In some cases the release was the best thing for them - WWE's loss was AEW's gain - but a few of these were baffling indeed.  Part of the impetus for cleaning NXT house was Vince and his creative goons taking control of the developmental brand and renaming it NXT 2.0.  Gone was the emphasis on crisp in-ring action and great workers, and in its place was a garish mid-90s aesthetic, a focus on large men and pretty women regardless of wrestling ability, and as it turns out, even worse ratings.  Hunter must be soooooo pissed right now.

Okay, enough bitching about WWE.  

New Japan had a rough year to say the least.  Aside from their crowd size being limited, the company was plagued with injuries and illnesses affecting numerous top stars.  They also discontinued the IWGP Intercontinental Title, merging it with the IWGP Heavyweight Title to create an IWGP World Title, a belt that the vast majority of fans seem to feel is a major step down.  Regardless of the title design though, the belt took numerous hops through the first half of the year, some planned, some not.  Kota Ibushi finally won the championship at WrestleKingdom, the culmination of a multi-year journey, only to drop it to Will Ospreay a scant three months later.  Then Ospreay had to vacate the title in June due to a back injury.  The plan was for Kazuchika Okada to face Ibushi for the vacant title but then Ibushi developed pneumonia and had to be replaced by Shingo Takagi.  Takagi won his first IWGP Title, well-deservedly I might add, and has kept the championship picture stable ever since.  But the main belt wasn't the only title vacated, as Hiromu Takahashi had to step away in February, relinquishing his IWGP Jr. Title in the process.  And of course the most jarring blow to the roster was Kota Ibushi (this guy can't catch a fucking break) dislocating his shoulder during the G1 Climax Final, executing a Phoenix Splash and cutting the epic match short.  Jesus, this company needs a huge rebound in 2022.  Fortunately WrestleKingdom 16 is looking pretty stacked over its three-day(!) format.

But the most fun story of 2021 involves our first award.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021 Preview & Predictions

December 15th, 2021 is a Wednesday, and you know what that means (RIP Brodie).....  That's right, it's time for the second annual Winter is Coming episode of AEW Dynamite!

Only four matches have been announced for the show so far, which likely means the main event is gonna be a long one.  But before we talk about what is sure to be a major Match of the Year candidate for the richest prize in AEW (if not wrestling as a whole right now), let's look at the undercard.  Goddamn, this should be a helluva show.

Dynamite Diamond Ring: MJF vs. Dante Martin

Two-time ring-holder MJF is defending said trinket against the other finalist from last week's battle royal, the up-and-coming Dante Martin.  Dante, like Jungle Boy a year or so ago, is one of those young stars who's clearly destined for great things but thus far hasn't racked up many big wins.  And I'm not sure he'll do so here, given that MJF is being primed as a tip-top guy and is in the midst of a white-hot major feud.  However, either CM Punk or Wardlow could be a factor in this match, somehow costing MJF the ring or coming close to doing so (on purpose in Punk's case or accidentally in Wardlow's).  MJF-Wardlow has been on the horizon for a long time and we got another tease of it last week when MJF eliminated Wardlow from the battle royal ("accidentally").  So while MJF has to be the favorite I could see Wardlow returning the favor by cockblocking MJF here.  A win over MJF would certainly be a big boost for Dante.  But on balance you have to pick MJF to three-peat.  This match should be fantastic.

Pick: MJF keeps the ring

Monday, November 22, 2021

WWE Survivor Series 2021: It Was Fine

Well that was a show.  A pretty good show.  Certainly a pretty good show by 2021 WWE's standards.  Of course it was not without moments that make rational viewers go "Huh???"  Jesus there's a lot wrong with this product right now.  But Survivor Series 2021 was a perfectly decent watch overall.

Of note before I get into this, it's a mistake to watch an AEW PPV one weekend and then a WWE PPV the next.  Wrestling quality aside, WWE's live crowds are lifeless compared to AEW's.  I don't care what side of the wrestling fence you're on, there's simply no getting around this fact.  AEW fans are so much more excited to be there than WWE's, and it's not even close.  Just about every match at Full Gear got enormous crowd reactions throughout, while almost nothing on this show made these fans give a tupenny fuck.  Everything at Survivor Series lost up to a full star off its rating, just because the crowd was dead.  I've said it before, but how does Vince not think this is a red-alert-level problem?  If your audience doesn't react to anything, you're clearly not engaging them.  If you're not engaging them, they aren't going to watch your show.

Oh also?  Pat McAfee is annoying as shit.  Guy doesn't shut up and half the time says things that make no sense.  It's good that unlike every other WWE announcer he has a personality, but someone's gotta reign him in a little.  

I was pretty pissed to see Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Damien Priest get bumped to the pre-show, particularly considering just how much time was wasted on video packages, commercials, entrances, etc.  There is no excuse whatsoever for a match of any importance being relegated to the Kickoff while the company pisses away airtime on a video package for Drew McIntyre or Bobby Lashley.  What the fuck were those all about?  Yeah, we know who both those guys are, why are you showing us documentary-style videos with no objective?  Or how about Vince McMahon and the stupid gold egg?  Are we seriously building an entire episode of RAW around "Rich Old Guy's Expensive Trinket Missing?"  Imagine thinking your wrestling audience wants to see your obscenely wealthy 76-year-old ass whining about how someone stole your new toy.  Anyway, Nak vs. Priest was pretty good while it lasted, with lots of nearfalls and counterwrestling.  Until Priest let go of a submission hold because Nakamura's guitar player friend distracted him with his guitar playing.  What the actual fuck is with this gimmick?  Welcome to WWE, where a legit badass with MMA experience gets turned into a comedy character.  Priest went after Rick Boogs, took his guitar away, broke it over his knee, and bludgeoned both Boogs and Nakamura with it, drawing a disqualification.  So Damien Priest, who had been undefeated for months since debuting on RAW, loses by DQ on a Kickoff show.  Makes sense....  Like I said, this was good until the finish.  **1/4

The proper PPV opener easily stole the show, as Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair had a very intense, aggressive fight.  To WWE's credit they resisted the temptation to make it look like a shoot or have some wacky Montreal-esque ending.  Becky and Charlotte worked stiffly and urgently, using their real-life tension to fuel the bout.  There were a ton of nearfalls, both women used each other's finishers (Becky didn't quite lock in the Figure Four properly and had to kinda turn it into a heel hook), and it built to Flair attempting to steal a win with a rope-assisted roll-up, only for Lynch to reverse it and use the ropes more surreptitiously so the ref didn't see it.  Lynch got the pin and gloated over her archenemy.  This was a very good match with a few sloppy moments, like Charlotte's top rope moonsault that more or less missed Becky.  Still this was unquestionably the best thing on the show.  ****

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

WWE Survivor Series 2021 Preview & Predictions

It's that time of year again, when WWE takes a once-great gimmick PPV and half-asses the shit out of it because Vince doesn't care!

That's right, this Sunday is the 35th annual Survivor Series, which means RAW and Smackdown are once again feuding, even though they've done precisely zero to build up the brand rivalry thing and barely even mentioned the various matches on the card.  Except for the numerous elimination team substitutions they've booked for whatever reason, I guess to build up Adam Pearce as the 163rd heel authority figure in the last quarter-century?  Imagine being so creatively bankrupt you keep recycling the big angle from 23 years ago just because it was white-hot THEN.  Anyway, apparently if no Saudi blood money is involved in a given PPV Vince just isn't that into it anymore.

What's sad is this show actually boasts a pretty strong lineup.  Two elimination matches and four champion vs. champion bouts.  If Vince just stays out of the way of booking the show it could turn out pretty solid.

RK-Bro vs. The Usos

The two sets of tag champs will face off and on paper this is a fine matchup.  All four guys can work a match, RK-Bro is one of the most over acts in the company, and it's a shame Vince doesn't see Matt Riddle as a legit badass despite the fact that he's a legit badass, because he's almost certainly eating the pin here.  Riddle could be a main event player in a non-dysfunctional company, but no, Comedy Stoner Buffoon is about the best he can hope for from Old Man Vince.

Pick: Usos

Damien Priest vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Speaking of legit badasses Vince doesn't get, Nakamura has been the Intercontinental Champion for what, three months now and has defended it on television ONE time?  And hasn't had a PPV match at all during this reign?  This guy needs to get the fuck outta there, pronto.  If given time this match should be very good as well.  Damien Priest is one of the few recent signees the company hasn't screwed up yet and they've amazingly done a good job of protecting him.  So he's undoubtedly winning here; no way does Priest get pinned or submitted by a guy they have no plans for.  Hopefully they get a good 17 minutes or so to try and steal the show.

Pick: Priest

Monday, November 15, 2021

AEW Full Gear 2021: An All-Time Classic Pro Wrestling Show

Hey, remember when All Out was the best PPV of 2021?  That was a fun couple of months, wasn't it?

Ho-lee shit, what a show Full Gear was.  Just a stellar night of professional wrestling from start to finish.  Great matches, memorable moments, the long-awaited payoff to a two-year story in the crowning of a new champion, this is how you do wrestling in 2021.  I can't recall the last PPV where the worst thing on the show was "very good."  All of the greatest-ever shows of the past had at least one or two middling or throwaway bouts - WrestleKingdom 9 had a pair of skippable multi-man tags, WrestleMania 17 had Chyna-Ivory and the Gimmick Battle Royal, 'Mania 19 had that awful Taker vs. Big Show/Albert match, etc.  Full Gear's worst match gets a ***1/2 from me, and I count six ****+ matches on this show.  Six.  That's flat-out insane.  I can't think of another show with this kind of consistency.  And, every match was different.  You had classic grappling, you had crazy highspot wrestling, you had gritty fights, you had outrageous car wreck matches, you had big storytelling.  If you couldn't find something to enjoy on this show, I'm afraid you might be your own problem.  I dunno what voodoo magic AEW is practicing, but keep it up guys.  This was one of the greatest wrestling shows I've ever seen.

The show opened with a classic good vs. evil bout, as Darby Allin faced MJF.  Two of the company's future main eventers battling to be #1 of the Four Pillars.  True to his word, Allin concentrated on trying to outwrestle MJF rather than rely so much on death-defying moves.  That's not to say Darby didn't do a few of those as well - a lightning-fast missile dive through the ropes flattened MJF on the outside, while a missed Coffin Drop attempt on the apron put Allin on the defensive for a while.  MJF hit a slew of backbreakers, one of which tweaked his knee, making it a target for the rest of the match.  After a crazy exchange with both guys countering rollups and small packages (making referee Bryce Remsburg earn his pay and then some, counting 20 or so nearfalls), Allin hit a Code Red followed by a Coffin Drop on the floor.  MJF countered a second Coffin Drop in the ring by raising his knees, injuring both Allin and himself in the process.  Wardlow and Shawn Spears attempted to interfere but Sting came out of nowhere to intercept.  MJF handed Allin his skateboard and tried to goad him into getting himself disqualified, but Allin refused.  With the ref distracted, MJF broke out the Dynamite Diamond ring and clocked Allin with it, and then put Allin in a side headlock and pinned him (A great payoff to MJF's promo a couple weeks back where he boasted he could beat Allin with that exact move).  This was an absolutely fantastic opener and the best match on the show until the main event.  Both guys are great, but MJF is a next-level performer.  He may be known for his promos but he's a pretty amazing wrestler too.  This guy is the complete package and the only thing he's missing is the AEW Title.  ****3/4

Thursday, November 11, 2021

AEW Full Gear 2021 Preview & Predictions

Great gobs of goose shit, what a lineup we have on tap for this Saturday.  I think I said this before All Out as well, but Full Gear 2021 is as stacked a show as AEW has ever put together.  Of the nine main show matches I could legitimately see eight of them creeping into **** territory or better, provided they all get enough time (a tall order on a four-hour show, I grant you).

I think we're gonna see another PPV of the Year candidate from a company that's firing on nearly every cylinder.  Huge, highly anticipated main event for the title?  Check.  Bryan Danielson in a semi-main slot putting together his own personal G1 Climax run?  Check.  Heated-as-fuck grudge match between two all-time great talkers?  Check.  Heated grudge match between two of the company's biggest young stars?  Check.  Title match involving two of the best tag teams in the world?  Check.  A pair of wild multi-man tags that will spill all over the arena?  Check.

Literally the only potential weak spot on this show is the women's title match, and that should still be decent.  Like if that's the worst thing on the show, that's one goddamn helluva show.  

Let's get into it....

Pre-Show: Hikaru Shida & Thunder Rosa vs. Nyla Rose & Jamie Hayter

Shida's had a pair of damn fine matches against Serena Deeb in recent weeks and has to be considered a TBS Title favorite.  Then again, Thunder Rosa is another.  If not for Jade Cargill's involvement in the tournament I could see Shida vs. Rosa as the final.  But Jade's first loss needs to be treated as a big deal, so she's likely to make it to the final at least.  I'll go with the heels to win here since I think each of them will lose in their next tournament match.

Pick: Rose & Hayter

Falls Count Anywhere: Superkliq vs. Christian Cage & Jurassic Express

This would be a fine PPV opener, as it will be nonstop action.  The Bucks always deliver on PPV and this should be no different.  It's Falls Count Anywhere so it'll be all over the arena and full of wild and creative spots.  I guess the Superkliq probably wins here given what's likely to happen in the main event.  They've also recruited Adam Cole's old buddy Bobby Fish, who may show up to help out.  Man do I hope Kyle O'Reilly shows up too.  Reunite reDRagon!  Anyway, heels win.

Pick: Superkliq

Friday, November 5, 2021

Music Review: Mastodon - Hushed and Grim (2021)

Man, this album is a doozy.  Prog/sludge/psychedelic metal maestros Mastodon are back at long last, with their eighth studio album Hushed and Grim, a double-disc, 86-minute marathon dedicated to their manager Nick John, who passed away from cancer in 2018.  As the title suggests, the album is steeped in melancholy, a cathartic exploration of loss from a band all too familiar with the subject (As you may recall drummer Brann Dailor has written numerous lyrics about his sister Skye who committed suicide at 16, and the band's 2011 album The Hunter was named after guitarist Brent Hinds' deceased brother.).  Mastodon's signature offbeat guitar riffs and Dailor's Buddy Rich-esque percussion are present but more muted than usual; the songs here tend to be driven by emotion and sentiment rather than trying to dazzle you with metal acumen.  The result is a sprawling 15-track opus creating something beautiful out of tragedy.

Early tracks like "Pain with an Anchor," "The Crux," and "More Than I Could Chew" ease the faithful listener in with familiar-sounding Mastodon compositions, Brann and bassist Troy Sanders supplying the vocals (oddly Brent Hinds only sings on two songs).  Things get a bit proggier on the odd-time "Sickle and Peace" (one of Sanders' best-ever vocals) and veer into Southern rock on the jangly "The Beast" (one of Hinds' heartfelt appearances on the mic), before moving into more pensive territory on "Skeleton of Splendor" and "Teardrinker."  The first disc closes with the stripped-down first single "Pushing the Tides," a song chosen for its middle ground status, representing a little of everything on the album.  Disc 1 boasts nary a miss in its eight tracks, its 43 running time cruising by at an incredible clip.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

NJPW Power Struggle 2021 Preview & Predictions

Well, COVID restrictions are loosening over in Japan, and that means NJPW is once again allowed to run full-length, nine-match cards in front of up to 5,000 people.  So this weekend the annual Power Struggle show will be the first NJPW PPV in nearly two years to feature a full lineup.  And aside from a few warmup tag bouts it looks pretty solid.

The G1 is behind us and the road to the Tokyo Dome is ahead.  Kazuchika Okada has his sights set on regaining the company's top championship, though he does not recognize Shingo's IWGP World Title as the true championship (nor should he, that belt sucks).  He's been carrying around the REAL IWGP Title and I hope at WrestleKingdom we'll see that belt reinstated.  Regardless, before Okada can make that happen he has to get past the one man who beat him in the G1, Tama Tonga, and I'm betting he'll also insist on a rematch with Kota Ibushi at the Dome.  Meanwhile Shingo Takagi will have his hands full with the reinvigorated Zack Sabre Jr., who went on a submission warpath during the G1, tapping out Takagi clean in the middle of the ring.  Similarly, Hiroshi Tanahashi will face a man who scored a G1 upset over him, Kenta.  Not a bad trilogy of matches on tap, plus we'll get a Jr. Title contest.

But first....

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship: Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Evil, Sho & Yujuro Takahashi

These titles have now been around for six years and they've never really meant anything.  This is why I'm resistant whenever I see people clamoring for AEW to introduce a Trios Title - six-man teams don't stay together consistently or long enough to make a belt like this carry any prestige.  Remember the NWA version?  Thing had to be vacated every few months because of injuries or departures.  Pointless.  Anyway, this Chaos faction has held the title for a year or so, so that at least helps.  I think they'll lose them here though - the Evil wing of Bullet Club is hot thanks to the addition of Sho.

Pick: House of Torture

KOPW Trophy Amateur Rules Match: Toru Yano vs. Great-O-Khan

Ugh, I have no interest in this stupid trophy.  This is kind of NJPW's equivalent of the 24/7 Title - a meaningless achievement contested mostly in comedy segments.  This one is amateur rules and both guys do have an amateur background, so maybe the match will be entertaining.  I guess I could see O-Khan winning here just to give him a little something-something to do.

Pick: O-Khan

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Top Ten Things: October PPV Matches

Welcome to another Halloween-themed (but not really) Top Ten Things, here at  Instead of this column relating to Halloween and all things scary, instead it's October-centric.  Specifically I'll be counting down the top ten October PPV wrestling matches.

While pro wrestling's autumn season (falling as it does between the SummerSlam peak and the beginning of The Road to WrestleMania) has been pretty consistently known for B-level PPVs, shoddy writing, and rather stale characters, many of the October PPVs over the years have produced some excellent matches.  Here now are the ten greatest October PPV matches of all time.

10. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio - Halloween Havoc 10.26.97

Quite possibly the greatest WCW Cruiserweight match of all time, Guerrero vs. Mysterio was voted WCW's Match of the Year and it's not hard to see why.  The action was breathtaking and impossibly fast.  Both men were in peak form and easily upstaged the rest of the WCW roster.  Mysterio won the Cruiserweight Title with a stunning top rope hurricanrana. 

9. Rock vs. Chris Jericho - No Mercy 10.21.01

This was the match that elevated Chris Jericho to a main eventer.  For the previous two years he had struggled to rise past upper-midcard status, but on this night he bested The Rock for the WCW Title in a spectacular 24-minute war, turning heel in the process.  Sadly the company hotshotted the belt back to The Rock only two weeks later, but this match proved Jericho could hang with the WWF's top stars and deliver a classic main event.

8. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle vs. Rob Van Dam - No Mercy 10.21.01

No Mercy 2001 featured two amazing Title bouts.  After the Rock-Jericho classic came the WWF Title match, as heel Champion Steve Austin defended against archenemy Kurt Angle and white-hot tweener Rob Van Dam.  The bout was a whirlwind of intense brawling, virtuosic grappling, and daredevil highspots.  Austin narrowly retained and added to his succession of fantastic 2001 PPV matches.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Movie Review: Dune (2021)

Denis Villeneuve is back with another triumphant sci-fi opus, this one a new adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune.  Well, to be more precise, half of the novel.  Not wanting to make the same mistake as his predecessors in cramming the densely complex source material into a single film, Villeneuve has opted to give Dune the IT treatment, shooting only half of the story and saving the rest for later.  This tactic certainly allowed the story to breathe and made for a much clearer narrative, but also left this filmgoer eager to see the rest, now please....

As with his breathtaking Blade Runner sequel, Villeneuve and his collaborators (not least of which is cinematographer Greig Fraser) have created a meticulously detailed, visually dazzling landscape in which this classic tale of enviro-politics plays out.  The various worlds are fully realized, creating real spaces in our imagination, from the picturesque beaches of Caladan, home of House Atreides, to the Harkonnens' murky, industrial wasteland of Geidi Prime, to the desolate, arid Arrakis, the titular "Dune."  The production design here is on point, as is the gorgeous photography.

But where Dune soars even higher is in the audio department.  Legendary composer Hans Zimmer provides the booming, ominously textural score, his low strings echoing some of his work in Christopher Nolan's films (Villeneuve cites Nolan as an influence and it shows) while finding new ways to create otherworldly sounds via built-from-scratch instruments.  Even above Zimmer's always prodigious work though, the sound design is Oscar-worthy.  For example, Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica practice "the voice," a Force-like use of vocal sound to control an enemy's actions, depicted here as a monstrous, rumbling growl mixed with distant, forceful screams.  At one point we see a legion of Sardukar troops assembling at the instruction of a chanting leader whose voice resembles an overdriven didgeridoo.  Baron Harkonnen's voice is a mixture of Stellan Skarsgard's own voice and what sounds like a gritty digital distortion.  Touches like this make us feel like we're really in a world unlike our own, and it's truly immersive.

Friday, October 22, 2021

NJPW G1 Climax 31: Is New Japan Cursed?

On today's installment of New Japan Can't Catch a Break, we'll be talking about the just-completed G1 Climax 31.  Join us, won't you?

Fuckin' hell, what is going on with NJPW?  Let's recap the year they've had.  Hiromu Takahashi vacates the Jr. Heavyweight Title due to injury.  Then Will Ospreay vacates the World Title due to injury.  Then Kota Ibushi misses the Wrestle Grand Slam main event to crown a new World Champion due to illness.  Then Tetsuya Naito misses all but one night of the G1 due to injury.  Then, in perhaps the cruelest moment of all, Kota Ibushi, in his fourth consecutive G1 Final, missed a Phoenix Splash and came down hard on his right arm, dislocating his shoulder and forcing a ref stoppage.  Kazuchika Okada unceremoniously won his first G1 trophy in seven years, in a match that was on its way to being a legit MOTY contender, before this tragic, unplanned finish.  So that's five instances of major stars having to miss time in a single calendar year, one of them twice.  What vengeful bastard deity did Gedo piss off?  Maybe God was really a fan of the old IWGP Heavyweight belt?  Or the Intercontinental one?  On a more hopeful note though, Okada in his post-match promo did say he wanted the Heavyweight Title back.  So maybe this World Title experiment can come to an end after WrestleKingdom?  I'm not a superstitious man, but I can't help but notice the timing of all these injuries.....

Anyway, as for the G1 itself, it was a pretty good tournament.  Nowhere near the quality of 2015 through 2019 - how could it be given all the missing talent - but there were plenty of good-to-great wrestling matches and a few unexpected participants made their mark.  Okada looked like his old dominant Rainmaker self in this tournament, leaner than perhaps we've ever seen him.  Tanahashi at age 44 has been wrestling like a man in his mid-30s this year.  Ibushi up until the injury was on fire through most of this tour.  Zack Sabre Jr. went on a submission tear, tapping out a slew of opponents in a row, including Ibushi and the champion Shingo.  Shingo of course looked great.  Ishii was once again a force of nature.  And Jeff Cobb punched his ticket as the most dominant NJPW heel in a long time, winning eight consecutive matches before losing to Okada in the B block finals.  But the two biggest surprises in this tournament were the coming of age of The Great O-Khan, who put up several strong showings and actually stole the show twice (against ZSJ and Ishii), and the performances of Tama Tonga, who looked like a bona fide singles star against no less than the likes of Tanahashi and Okada (whom he handed his lone defeat).  This is the best I've ever seen Tama look in action, and I hope he gets a good singles run out of this.  Maybe a NEVER Openweight Title reign?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Movie Review: Titane (2021)

Julia Ducournau, director of the triumphant body horror flick Raw, is back with her sophomore effort, an even more bizarre film, part body horror, part family drama I guess, known as Titane.

Titane is the story of a woman with a metal plate in her head (hence the title), the result of a severe car accident she suffered as a child, who now works as an exotic dancer at a car show and has a strange fetishistic fixation on automobiles.  Oh, and on top of that, she's a serial murderer.  

I'm going to issue a spoiler warning here, as it's more or less impossible to talk about this film without giving away some things....

So the main character, Alexia, has a sexual encounter with one of the muscle cars from the show (the logistics of this are left ambiguous), and goes on a killing spree that includes a co-worker (played by Raw's Garance Marillier) and her three roommates, and ends with Alexia's own parents, before heading out on the lam.  While at a train station she sees a missing persons billboard about a boy named Adrien who disappeared a decade ago, and decides to change her appearance to match his, cutting off her hair, taping up her breasts and breaking her nose on the bathroom sink (in one of the film's cringiest moments).  She turns herself in as the missing boy, and Adrien's father Vincent picks her up at the police station, deluding himself that this person is in fact his missing child.  Despite the obvious truth that Alexia couldn't ever be mistaken for Adrien, the two of them live together as father and son, and Vincent, a fire chief, takes "Adrien" under his wing as a firefighter/EMT trainee.  Oh and one more thing, Alexia discovers she's pregnant with'  She begins to drip motor oil from various parts of her body and later the skin on her belly starts to tear, revealing a chrome plate matching the one attached to her skull.

Weirded out yet?  

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Top Ten Things: King of the Ring PPV Matches

Welcome one and all to a special edition of's Top Ten Things!  In light of the return of the WWE King of the Ring tournament once again, I thought I'd assemble my list of the ten greatest matches to take place at the once-historic King of the Ring PPV event.

The King of the Ring tournament was originally a special house show attraction held annually in New England, before the WWF decided to add it to the PPV schedule in 1993.  At the time the WWF calendar only featured the Big Four PPV events, so creating a fifth was a pretty huge deal.  The inaugural edition was built around making Bret Hart a top babyface again after WrestleMania IX hurt his stock somewhat.  Bret carried the show, working three good-to-excellent matches and winning the tourney before Jerry Lawler abruptly attacked him during the coronation ceremony.  It was an uneven show but featured some excellent work from "The Hitman."

The KOTR PPV history contains quite a few highs and lows.  The '94 edition only had a few matches worth seeing while 1995's had none.  But the '96, '98 and 2001 PPVs were all varying degrees of excellent (2001 is one of my all-time favorite PPVs).  King of the Ring would run a full decade before sagging buyrates prompted the company to discontinue the series and replace it with Bad Blood.

The tournament itself would return to free television in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015, and of course this year, with generally very little impact on star-building.  The '06 winner Booker T made the most of the "King" gimmick, adopting an obviously phony English accent which was amusing for a while.  William Regal's tourney win in 2008 led to precisely nothing of value, while Sheamus's victory in 2010 actually hurt his career for about eight months as he free-fell down the card.  2015's winner Wade Barrett was maybe the crown's worst victim, as his career went into a tailspin from which he never really recovered.

Truth be told I do miss the KOTR PPV.  The tournament itself was rarely presented well; if it was a one-night bracket most of the matches got shortchanged, and if only the semis and finals were included on the PPV the tourney felt less important.  But several rising stars were able to use the tourney as a major stepping stone, and when the PPV was good it was great.  If they were to bring it back now I'd suggest having the winner of the tournament get a PPV Title match of their choice, have the first two rounds on episodes of RAW and Smackdown the week before the PPV, and have the semis and finals on the PPV itself, with the finals ALWAYS being the main event.  Then the King of the Ring would actually mean something again.

But let's go back and look at some of the in-ring classics to come out of this once-important event.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Flatliners

At long last we're back with another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!  For those unfamiliar, I take a popular (or not so popular) film, pick it apart, separate the good stuff from the bad stuff, and more or less ruin it for everyone.  Sooo, let's get after it....

Today I'll be talking about the 1990 suspense thriller Flatliners, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon and Julia Roberts, and directed by Joel Schumacher.  The premise involves a group of medical students who each decide to briefly experience death, hoping to prove once and for all what happens in the afterlife.  But each character unwittingly brings something back with them, and they all end up haunted by demons from their past.  Flatliners got mixed reviews but made a solid profit upon its release and later became a bit of a cult favorite.  Aaaand therefore Hollywood released a remake sequel a few years back.  Just fuckin' shameless, those people.....

But does the film actually work?  Let's take a closer look.

The Awesome


The whole cast is quite good in this film, from Keifer Sutherland's turn as the tormented visionary and original "flatliner" Nelson Wright, to Kevin Bacon as the likable pragmatist David Labraccio, to Julia Roberts as the generous and gentle Rachel Manus, to Oliver Platt and William Baldwin as the sarcastic worrier Randy Steckle and the hopeless horndog Joe Hurley, respectively.  Each actor gets clear territory to explore, and each of them brings their character to life admirably.  The two standouts are Sutherland and Bacon, who begin the film as best friends and gradually become romantic rivals as the story progresses.  I especially like the scene when they all confront Nelson outside David's apartment and all the cards are laid on the table.  Solid work all around.

A fine cast.  And handsome too.  Except Platt.  Sorry, that was mean....


Schumacher and Director of Photography Jan de Bont fill the frame with a visual richness and atmosphere that lends itself to the material and the mood.  Chicago's Loyola University served as the bulk of the film's locations, giving everything a very old-world, gothic feel.  The breathtaking opening helicopter shot for example takes the viewer across Lake Michigan right up to Kiefer as he stands on West Devon Ave.  This is a fine-looking film.

One of the most striking zoom-in shots I can recall.


The whole idea of a med student voluntarily dying so he can be revived with the secrets of life and death is certainly intriguing and creative.  It's oddly relatable on some level - who wouldn't want to know what lies beyond and live to tell about it?  Not to mention it's ripe material for farming cinematic suspense.  After all, reviving someone who's clinically dead is no exact science and there's little room for error.  The film doesn't explore this theme nearly as effectively as it could have (more on that in a bit), but the initial story idea was pretty inspired.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

An American Werewolf in London, Forty Years Later

Forty years later, why does An American Werewolf in London still resonate, scare, and get laughs?  Let's look back at this horror-comedy classic.....

An American Werewolf in London.  Sounds like the name of a Gene Kelly musical.  Or a Gene Wilder spoof.  Or a Gene Simmons KISS-branded product for sale at  Okay, maybe not that last one.  No, An American Werewolf in London is for my money the greatest werewolf film ever made, the brainchild of a young assistant director named John Landis, then working on the Clint Eastwood war vehicle Kelly's Heroes.  Landis was inspired to write the script after witnessing a Yugoslav burial ritual in which the dead were interred feet-first and sprinkled with garlic cloves to prevent them coming back to life.  Struck by the solemnity of the ritual, Landis wondered how he would react if someone he knew was dead came back to life to visit him, and the creative spark for AWIL was ignited.  The script was completed in 1969 and its unique blend of scary and funny earned Landis numerous writing gigs, but no one wanted to actually produce this particular script, ironically due to said horror/comedy blend, which every producer deemed either too funny to be scary or too scary to be funny.  Fast-forward eleven years and two smash-hit movies, and Landis was finally able to secure financing for his gruesome pet project.  

Monday, September 27, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Dune

Good day and welcome to Awesomely Shitty Movies!  Each installment will focus on a film that, despite considerable and crippling flaws, I can't help but like or even love.  These flaws could be with the script, the acting, the special effects, the cinematography, or all of the above, but in each case the movie has something going for it and I'm inexplicably fascinated by it, despite its ineptitude.

The first movie I'll be tackling is David Lynch's commercially and critically reviled adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel Dune.

I was nine years old when this movie was released, and being a huge fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, I was immediately drawn in by the promise of sci-fi adventure.  In some ways the story of Dune resembled Star Wars (or really the reverse is true since the book was published 12 years before Star Wars was released) - a young hero with budding supernatural powers, a desert planet, laser guns, weird creatures, etc.  What I got though was a horribly confusing mish-mash of geo-political, religious and sci-fi themes overrun with baffling inner monologue narration and overly bizarre and gross-looking characters.

To be fair to Mr. Lynch, the studio interfered greatly during post-production and the theatrical cut was very different from what he intended.  Unfortunately he has all but disowned this film and has no interest in releasing a Director's Cut, which might actually make the story easier to follow.  There is a 3-hour version of the film available but Lynch had no hand in it, and from what I understand it actually confuses things even more.

Dune was originally supposed to be adapted into a film in the mid 70s, with famed Alien artist H.R. Giger attached as a production designer.  That incarnation went over-budget and never saw the light of day, and eventually in the 80s producer Dino DiLaurentiis acquired the project and David Lynch ended up in the Director's chair.

Anyway let's examine what's awesome about this movie, and then we'll talk about what's shitty.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Top Ten Things: Coen Brothers Films

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at, where I'll count down my ten favorite something-or-others....

Today's topic is Joel and Ethan Coen, the co-director brothers who specialize in strange characters, meticulously crafted dialogue, and sometimes head-scratching endings.  The Coens have built a tremendously diverse and idiosyncratic slate of films spanning multiple genres, often involving film noir elements and seedy criminals, but sometimes taking the form of a sardonic comedy or scathing satire.  I've been a fan of theirs more or less since they debuted with Blood Simple, but it was in the mid-90s that Joel and Ethan reached their full potential, and they've helmed multiple classics over the past thirty years.

But which Coen films are the best?  Let's look at the top ten now, shall we?

10. A Serious Man

This uncomfortable dark comedy about a physics professor whose life begins spiraling out of control was quietly nominated for multiple Oscars and largely flew under the radar.  Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Larry Gopnik, a husband and father of two whose wife wants to leave him for his best friend, and whose slightly delinquent kids don't respect him.  Stuhlbarg carries the film with an understatedly comic performance, reacting to each new hardship with annoyed disbelief.  The Larry character reminds me a bit of Barton Fink in that he never seems to give up hope or accept that he's simply screwed.  The film has a philosophical tone but ultimately appears to arrive at the conclusion that bad things sometimes happen to people just because.  An unexpectedly strong inclusion to the Coens' filmography.

9. Raising Arizona

This zany western-comedy stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a robber and cop, respectively, who inexplicably fall in love and decide to steal a baby from a rich couple who has just had quintuplets.  But soon Cage's ex-cellmates escape prison and pay him a visit, and he goes back to armed robbery, while the baby's actual parents hire a grizzled bounty hunter to retrieve their child.  The film blends screwball elements with those of Mad Max to show off the Coens' bizarre sense of humor, and also marks their first of several brilliant collaborations with John Goodman.

8. Barton Fink

Possibly the weirdest Coen Brothers film is this dark, moody period piece set in 1941, about a playwright-turned-screenwriter plagued with writer's block.  John Turturro's title character lives in a Hollywood hotel and befriends his next door neighbor Charlie (John Goodman), who turns out to be a brutal serial killer.  This psychological drama was written over three weeks while Joel and Ethan struggled to complete the Miller's Crossing script, and though difficult to fully categorize, contains elements of film noir, horror and surrealism.  Barton Fink is read by some as symbolic of the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe, while others see it as a parable about a man trapped in Hell.  Whatever the interpretation, Barton Fink is a darkly unique, haunting entry in the Coen pantheon.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam: A Modern-Day Clash of the Champions

AEW Dynamite Grand Slam.  What a fuckin' show.  Five matches, one of which ranks among the best free television matches I've ever seen, the rest of which were really good at worst.  This show combined the splendor and big fight atmosphere of a stacked Saturday Night's Main Event with the wrestling quality of the first Clash of the Champions (and even included a time limit draw).  Tony Khan said there would be four Clash-style Dynamites a year, and this show fit that description to a tee.  Light on angles and heavy on wrestling, this show felt like a two-hour PPV event and if you're a lapsed wrestling fan this is the type of show you should seriously give a chance to get back into it. 

The show began, shockingly, with Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson, in front of an absolutely nuclear crowd of 20,000-plus.  The two in-ring masters started off slow and methodical and gradually built to a war of attrition, breaking out many, but not all of, their big moves, leaving some stuff on the table for an inevitable rematch.  Danielson frustrated Kenny with his mat grappling, harkening back to his Ring of Honor days at times (including, much to my delight, "I have till five!"), and working over the shoulder to soften it up for the LeBell Lock.  Omega fired back with chops that left a road map of welts on Bryan's chest, while also attacking his neck.  Both men zeroed in on the body part their respective finishers target.  As the match wore on the moves got bigger and higher impact.  Kenny hit numerous V-Triggers, including one where Bryan was propped up on the ring apron and Kenny ran all the way down the ramp before delivering the knee.  At one point Bryan broke out his old finisher Cattle Mutilation, but Kenny reached the ropes to break it.  Kenny went for the One Winged Angel numerous times but Bryan kept avoiding it.  Near the end of the bout Bryan went for the running knee but Kenny countered into a powerbomb.  Bryan avoided a Phoenix Splash attempt and hit his buzzsaw kick before attempting the LeBell Lock, but Kenny reached the ropes before he could lock it in.  Time ran out as the two men were laying into each other, and the Elite ran down to break it up, Matt and Nick Jackson superkicking Bryan in the corner.  This match was goddamn fantastic and I can't wait to watch it again.  If I'm booking this draw I'd probably have Bryan lock in his submission just before the bell so Kenny wouldn't have time to tap out, but otherwise this was a brilliantly worked professional wrestling main event.  Just wonderful.  *****

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

WWE Extreme Rules 2021 Preview & Predictions

WWE Extreme Rules is this Sunday and it's such a low priority for the company we only have six announced matches, only one of which is an Extreme Rules match.  On the Extreme Rules show.  This company straight up doesn't give a fuck anymore about anything but Saudi money and quick ratings bumps.

Of the six matches on this show, four look pretty good actually.  They'll probably toss one or two more on there last-minute.  I hope one of them involves Shinsuke Nakamura.  Seriously, when was the last time that guy got to wrestle a singles match on a PPV?  Anyone?  I'd look it up but I don't have that kinda time.  How an in-ring artist like Nakamura can be content wrestling for this company I'm sure I don't know.

Anyway let's take a look at this half-assed card.

Liv Morgan vs. Carmella

The hell is this doing here?  I like Liv Morgan but why is this match on a PPV while the Intercontinental Champion sits in catering?  I would hope Liv wins this and the company does something meaninful with her; she has a lot of potential and has for a while now.

Pick: Liv

Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Usos vs. Street Profits

This should be fine.  Usos are a damn fine team, Street Profits are quite capable.  This will be a lovely free TV match.

Pick: Usos retain, no reason to take the belts off them right now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

AEW Grand Slam Preview & Predictions

Ho-lee shit.  What a lineup AEW has on tap this week, a mega-awesome-super episode of Dynamite and a two-part PPV-quality card emanating from Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY.  It's two hours on Wednesday, followed by two hours on Friday, and there are big matches up and down the card. 

It's an exciting time to be a pro wrestling fan.  Defections, surprises, dream matches, and as we learned this week, new relationships forged between organizations.  That's right, AEW is partnering with Dr. Martha Hart and the Owen Hart Foundation to honor the memory of the late, great Owen himself, tragically taken from us at the age of 34.  Not only will new Owen merch be created (I assume some of the proceeds will go to the Foundation), but AEW will hold an annual Owen Hart Memorial tournament.  Love it.

Anyway, we're here to talk Grand Slam, and this Wednesday's show especially is STACKED.  So let's pick some winners....


MJF vs. Brian Pillman Jr.

MJF has been ON FIRE on the mic since his loss to Chris Jericho at All Out, and his first target was the family of Brian Pillman in the latter's hometown of Cincinnati.  Pillman Jr. took issue with MJF's scathing promo and a new mini-feud was born.  This is obviously designed to give MJF a high-profile win after his PPV loss, but it will also no doubt elevate Pillman as a rising babyface star.  One thing I love about AEW is the thought that goes into feuds like this; in wrestling you want both the winner and the loser to get more over than they were prior to the match, and AEW has been working very hard to make sure that happens as often as possible.  Pillman will get plenty of room to shine but ultimately MJF and his ruthlessness will win the day, likely with further teases of an MJF-Wardlow feud.  This should be a fine match.

Pick: MJF

Sting & Darby Allin vs. FTR

I'm not quite sure how you book this.  I think FTR really needs a big win as they've been sort of treading water since the Inner Circle feud ended.  Then again, Allin is also coming off a major loss.  Sting could certainly stand to eat a pin here, though maybe the company wants to save that for a bigger moment.  It sounds like they're building toward a Sting-Tully match of some sort, which is odd.  I dunno, I guess you never bet against Sting and Darby.  Should be decent.

Pick: Sting & Darby

Monday, September 20, 2021

Top Ten Things: Brock Lesnar Matches

What's up folks?  Welcome to's Top Ten Things, where I'll count down the ten best (or worst) of whatever's on my mind.

Today's list is the ten best matches in the storied career of former WWE/Universal Champion Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar is undoubtedly one of the best pure athletes to ever set foot in a wrestling ring.  He took the company by storm upon his debut in 2002 and in just two short years won three WWE Championships, the Royal Rumble, and the King of the Ring tournament, not to mention main eventing his first-ever WrestleMania. 

He left the company in 2004 to pursue an NFL career, and after falling just short of being picked up by the Minnesota Vikings, ventured into MMA, where his UFC career mirrored his first WWE stint.  Brock had a 5-3 MMA career that included a two-year run as the UFC Heavyweight Champion, making him one of only three men with two consecutive successful UFC Heavyweight Title defenses (his predecessor Randy Couture and his successor Cain Velasquez are the other two).

In 2011 he retired from MMA, but he'd return to WWE in April of 2012, making an instant splash by challenging the company's top star John Cena, ending the Undertaker's legendary WrestleMania winning streak, and once again becoming the Champion.  Since his return Lesnar only wrestles sporadically with mixed results, but each match has had a "big fight" feel, and a few of them have been instant classics.  Let's take a look at The Best of The Beast.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

NJPW G1 Climax 31 Preview & Predictions

It's September during COVID, and that means it's time for NJPW's G1 Climax tournament!

Welp, this year's extravaganza of round-robin wrestling looks pret-ty rough.  For the last several years the G1 has been four weeks of mostly uninterrupted awesomeness, but based on the available talent in 2021 I think we're in for a bit of a letdown.  Far too many valuable stars are unable to get back into Japan thanks to the Delta variant, and thus both blocks have a fair bit of filler.  Complicating things is the threat of one or more stars catching the virus during the tournament, which could derail the company's plans.  Usually one or more top seeds will hit an early slump to create suspense, and then surge near the end of the block to make the finals.  But they can't really do that this year because if say, Okada loses his first three matches and then gets COVID and has to miss multiple shows while he recovers, he's mathematically eliminated.  So the booking here has to be very straightforward and also allow for a Plan B in case one or both of the intended finalists gets sidelined.

Anyway, let's look at these blocks - it's gonna be a rough go....

Block A

Great O-Khan

The United Empire's third-best guy is making his G1 debut here.  He's apparently been improving in recent weeks, though I haven't caught any of his bouts in a while.  He's not winning this block or even coming close to winning this block, but hopefully he puts in some good showings.

Kota Ibushi

The defending back-to-back G1 winner is looking to make it a threepeat, and thus see his fourth consecutive G1 final.  After his severe case of pneumonia it was great to see Ibushi back in action at Wrestle Grand Slam.  Ibushi is always a tournament MVP, but I don't think he wins his third in a row.  He'll go deep into the tournament, maybe even make the finals, but I don't think he takes the trophy this time around.

Top Ten Things: Mastodon Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

With the recent release of Mastodon's seventh LP Emperor of Sand (a hella good record, my review of which is HERE) I thought I'd look back on their remarkable career and pick their top ten songs.  Every album is represented here except one - sadly nothing from their 2002 debut Remission made the cut for me.  In terms of standout tracks I found that Mastodon's more recent albums put more focus on individual song composition rather than presenting the album as a whole (understandable given that three of their earlier records were concept albums), so this list may seem skewed to their later output.  But feel free to discuss in the Comments section.  Here we go.....

10. Bladecatcher

This instrumental track from Blood Mountain is frenetic and bizarre, and captures perfectly the band's offbeat take on the metal genre.  From the start-stop intro to the blast-beat "verse" to the elastic "hook" guitar riffs, this song is a great introduction for anyone who needs a demonstration of how original and strange Mastodon is.

9. The Sparrow

This somber closer to The Hunter is probably the biggest departure yet from Mastodon's sludge-metal roots, featuring delicate arpeggiated guitars and only one harmonized vocal line that repeats throughout the song.  Inspired by a quote from the recently deceased wife of the band's accountant, the lyrics consist of a single phrase - "Pursue happiness with diligence."  On a stripped-down, song-oriented album like The Hunter, this ballad makes a fitting, poignant conclusion.

8. Octopus Has No Friends

Another standout from The Hunter (an album with numerous standout songs) is this unusual, upbeat tune featuring impossibly intricate guitar riffs and very simple lyrics literally exploring Brann Dailor's observation that whenever he sees an octopus at an aquarium, it's alone in the tank.  Pretty out-there thing to write a song about, but this is a fantastic track with some of Mastodon's most impressive syncopated playing.