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