Monday, January 30, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Review: Cody's Rhode to WrestleMania

Welp, this show was certainly better than last year's.  By a wide margin.  WWE Royal Rumble 2023 was no instant classic PPV by any means, and WWE keeps insisting on tacking on thirty-plus minutes of nothing across their PPVs, thus stretching this 210-minute show to well over 240 minutes (Fortunately I didn't watch it live and I was able to fast-forward - I'm particularly glad I wasn't subjected to that Hardy country-rock shit).  But this Royal Rumble boasted one of the better Rumble matches they've ever done, plus a hot angle to close the show, which right away makes it one of the best Rumble PPVs of the last five years.  

For the first time in seemingly forever, the men's Rumble match had actual stories woven throughout and was designed to set up numerous WrestleMania matches, which is really the bare minimum that should be expected for any Rumble match.  If you just spend a little time creating and/or furthering individual conflicts and sprinkle those things across the hour-long Rumble match, that automatically makes it stand out from the others.  It gives everyone a reason to become invested and makes the 60-plus minutes fly by.  WWE did this in the men's Rumble this year.  Not so much with the women's unfortunately, but I'll take what I can get at this point.  The 2023 men's Royal Rumble was for me a top-five Rumble match, boosted by the work of Gunther, who entered at number one and was the last man eliminated, breaking the longevity record for a 30-man Rumble (Bryan Danielson still holds the overall record but that Rumble was a 50-man field).  Brock Lesnar entered surprisingly early and after a dominant few minutes was even more surprisingly ousted by Bobby Lashley, thus setting up their inevitable WrestleMania clash (Let's hope Brock-Bobby II is actually good).  Rey Mysterio no-showed his number 17 entrance and it became apparent when his son Dominik entered at 18 wearing Rey's mask that he was attacked backstage (in reality Rey was injured the night before on Smackdown, but this was a pretty good way to cover it up).  Other standouts included Sheamus and Drew McIntyre, who teamed up for most of their time together and looked dominant, Ricochet and Logan Paul, who provided one of the coolest-looking spots ever in a Rumble match, a simultaneous springboard leap that resulted in a massive midair collision, and of course Cody Rhodes, who made his triumphant return at number 30 and survived a brutal seven-minute finale with Gunther to win the whole thing.  This is how you book a Royal Rumble match.  Sadly it was the opening contest and the show never reached these heights again.  ****

Participants: Gunther, Sheamus, The Miz, Kofi Kingston, Johnny Gargano, Xavier Woods, Karrion Kross, Chad Gable, Drew McIntyre, Santos Escobar, Angelo Dawkins, Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, Seth Rollins, Otis, (Rey Mysterio), Dominik Mysterio, Elias, Finn Balor, Booker T, Damian Priest, Montez Ford, Edge, Austin Theory, Omos, Braun Strowman, Ricochet, Logan Paul, Cody Rhodes
Final Four: Cody Rhodes, Gunther, Logan Paul, Seth Rollins
Long Man: Gunther (1:11:40)

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Elvis (2022)

It's Oscar season once again, and that means it's time for me to resume my futile quest to see every Best Picture nominee of all time.  That's right, the Oscar Film Journal is back for its third season!  Of the ten brand new nominees I've only seen two thus far, starting with today's topic, Elvis....

Baz Luhrmann's stylish, epic biopic on the life of Elvis Presley (by way of Col. Tom Parker) is another energetic-to-a-fault entry in his Broadway-influenced filmography, full of lively music-driven set pieces and lots of kinetic cinematography, with a pretty stellar lead performance at its center.  Say what you will about the rest of the film (and I will), Austin Butler as the title character is basically note-perfect (no pun intended).  Butler splendidly captures Elvis's mix of good ol' boy southern charm and subversive sexual energy, admirably recreating what it must've been like for repressed 1950s audiences to glimpse this rockabilly powderkeg for the first time.  Elvis had a stage energy and physical presence like no other musical artist of his generation, and Butler gives every moment his all, disappearing into the role and earning every one of the season's accolades.

But as with the last biopic to earn an Academy Best Picture nod, Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis doesn't have a ton of depth beyond the main performance.  Yes the last hour of the film presents a compelling conflict between the iconic star who wants to do something more serious with his career and his parasitic manager who will do anything not to lose his meal ticket, but the first two acts feel like the usual Oscar-bait biopic tropes.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Preview & Predictions

Oh it's Royal Rumble time again.  Weird...

Yeah, so this Saturday is WWE's second-most popular PPV of the year once again, the 36th edition of the Royal Rumble.  Aaaand, they've announced a combined total of 22 people for TWO Rumble matches (WWE's website didn't even bother to make up a graphic for either match).  Guys, I know everyone goes ga-ga over "surprise entrants" in these stupid matches these days, but you're taking it way too far now.  Back in MY day they'd announce the entire field ahead of time.  Did anyone complain that there were no surprises?  Nope.  Because the Rumble back then wasn't so much about cheap entrance pops as it was about kicking off WrestleMania season with a story.  Either a babyface was overcoming the odds or returning from injury to punch their ticket to the biggest main event of the year, or a dominant heel was making his mark on his way to conquering the babyface champion at the Show of Shows.  Plus numerous other 'Mania matches would be set up.  Ya know, STORYTELLING.  That thing WWE prides itself on, that today's Royal Rumble matches are totally lacking.  Last year's Rumble PPV featured not one but two surprise entrants going on to win their respective Rumbles, with literally nothing of interest happening aside from that.  No stories within each Rumble match, no real feuds set up or explored (aside from Sami Zayn vs. Johnny Knoxville, which sadly stole the show at 'Mania Night 2, very much by default).  Just a bunch of guys and women doing moves until it was time for the important folks to show up.  And from the looks of this year's lineup that's what they plan on doing again.  Yeah, let's just throw a buncha whoevers in there, the crowd will pop for the entrances, and then we don't have to bother telling an actual story.  Crap like this is why so many of us former diehard fans have deserted WWE over the years.  If the pops are so goddamn important, why not just turn the Rumble into an entrance pageant and save everyone an hour?

Anyway, here's the lineup for the 2023 Rumble....

Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match: Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight

Yes, what screams "terrifying horror character" more than a match sponsored by Mountain fucking Dew?  "Everyone's favorite piss-colored soft drink presents SCARY GIMMICK MATCH!"  I have no idea what the rules of this shitshow are, nor do I much care.  The upshot is likely to be that Bray Wyatt under Triple H's creative direction isn't much more watchable than he was under Vince's creative direction.  Wyatt has crafted a great outside-the-box persona who can't pay off any of his unorthodox ideas in a wrestling match.  And really that's what everything is supposed to lead to.  You build a rivalry or a story, in a way that makes people want to see the two guys beat each other up in the ring.  When the payoff is cartoonish B-movie tropes instead of an engaging athletic contest, there's no payoff.

Pick: Wyatt, obviously

Friday, January 6, 2023

The 2022 Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to the 9th Annual Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards, here at, where I celebrate the highs (and lows) of the year that was, inside the squared circle!

What a wild year 2022 was.  Like, pretty batshit crazy when you think about it all.  

The biggest story of the year was of course WWE kingpin Vince McMahon stepping down from his duties as Chairman amid a rash of sex scandals and payoffs.  In his place running the big picture stuff, are his daughter Stephanie (who only weeks before assuming this role had announced her intention to take time away from the business) and Nick Khan, while all-but-ousted protege Triple H was made the new head of Creative.  WWE's business thrived through the second half of the year as curiosity over the Vince situation and later Triple H's new direction drove up ratings for a while, and improvements in overall programming quality kept people lining up to buy tickets.  While I personally still find WWE's product very stilted and pretty unexciting, there's no denying that the company is doing very well right now, and Vince's legal woes have so far been a blessing in disguise.

UPDATE: Turns out Vince installed himself back on the Board of Directors so he can sell the company.  What a shit show.

On the other side of the fence, AEW experienced its first real growing pains in 2022, most of it stemming from the year's second-biggest story, the Brawl Out fiasco (but also due an unprecedented rash of talent injuries).  The scene was Chicago, just after their highly successful All Out PPV wherein hometown hero CM Punk had just defeated Jon Moxley to regain the AEW Title.  But then Punk proceeded to publicly bury the company and its Executive VPs over rumors that he'd gotten former friend Colt Cabana reassigned to Ring of Honor (more on them in a bit), which led to the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega going to Punk's dressing room to confront him.  What followed was all Hell breaking loose over the next several minutes, as Punk made the confrontation physical and half a dozen people had to step in and break up the melee.  Numerous details have been bandied about by both sides, but what an independent investigation confirmed was a) Punk threw the first punch at Matt Jackson, b) Punk's friend Ace Steel threw a chair at Nick Jackson, and c) Steel also bit Kenny Omega.  All parties involved were immediately suspended pending the investigation, and Steel was fired.  The months-long controversy surrounding the incident led many to believe Punk would never be seen on AEW television again and also seemed to hurt AEW's attendance (TV ratings were up and down over the rest of the year). 

However AEW does seem to have renewed their focus on pushing younger, homegrown talent and in recent weeks it feels like they've won back much of the goodwill Brawl Out lost them.  They also managed to draw five separate million-dollar live gates in 2022, including the Grand Slam episode of Dynamite.  No other wrestling company aside from WWE has ever done this, least of all for a weekly television episode (though to be fair a few of WCW's big gates do break a million when adjusted for inflation).

In AEW-adjacent news, Tony Khan also dropped the bombshell in 2022 that he'd purchased Ring of Honor and planned to create a new weekly show while also running new PPV events.  The first two ROH PPVs completely under Tony's banner were rousing successes for the company, drawing some of their best attendance figures and buyrates.  As for the new weekly show, it will be streamed on the relaunched Honor Club streaming service, which will also include the ROH library and new PPV events 90 days after they take place.  With a massive talent roster under his umbrella TK has more than enough stars to populate the stalwart promotion.

Across the Pacific, New Japan Pro Wrestling, once an annual lock for Best Promotion of the Year, again struggled to maintain the quality they'd so long been known for.  For the first time in nearly a decade their flagship PPV WrestleKingdom was a rather underwhelming affair, and the company's attendance, though slowly improving from pandemic numbers, was still not back to normal.  But help did arrive in the form of AEW, as the joint AEW-NJPW PPV Forbidden Door shattered expectations, selling out Chicago's United Center in minutes and drawing a highly respectable 125,000 buys.  More than enough to justify making the crossover an annual event.  Between their expanded collaboration with AEW and Japan's loosening of attendance and noise restrictions, 2023 should see NJPW regain their mojo, at least somewhat.

All four companies should be interesting to watch in 2023 on one level or another, and that's something I haven't said in a long time.  With WWE I'm intrigued to see how Triple H oversees WrestleMania season (if a potential company sale doesn't fuck it all up that is).  With AEW I'm excited to see which young stars truly rise to the top and become crossover sensations.  With ROH I'm hopeful they'll become more profitable than ever before.  And with NJPW I'm eager to see them get back to where they were pre-pandemic

But enough with all that, let's hand out some fake awards.....

Thursday, January 5, 2023

NJPW WrestleKingdom 17: Omega vs. Ospreay

Welp, may as well give out the 2023 Match of the Year award now....

Not unlike what we saw exactly six years ago when Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada blew the roof off the Tokyo Dome and broke the star ratings system forever, Omega and Will Ospreay lived up to everyone's unreasonably high expectations and more, with a violent, story-driven epic that's apparently only the beginning of their feud.  Man, if this is part 1 I can't imagine what they have in store for the Forbidden Door rematch.

Omega-Ospreay served as the centerpiece for a very good WrestleKingdom show, one that didn't reach the heights of WK9, 10 or 11, but somewhat recaptured the magic of the glory years.  For the first time since pre-pandemic times, WrestleKingdom felt like a huge flagship show with a star-studded lineup, in front of an engaged audience of 26,000.  The six undercard matches were all kept short and fast-paced, while the final three bouts were given room to breathe and delivered big.  I'd have liked to see a few of the smaller matches get more time, but aside from one glaring example nothing felt terribly shortchanged.  

The main PPV kicked off in classic fashion with an energetic Jr. Tag Title match, as TJP and Francesco Akira defended against Yoh and a match-stealing Lio Rush, who took a nasty bump on the ramp that busted his eyebrow open.  It wouldn't be the first instance of blood on this show.  Rush came off like a big deal in the match but his team came up short when TJP countered Yoh's finisher into a cradle to retain.  Really fun opener that felt like a throwback to the 2015-2017 Jr. Tag openers.  ***3/4

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

NJPW WrestleKingdom 17 Preview & Predictions

After three years of two-night WrestleKingdom shows at the Tokyo Dome (with mixed results), NJPW is finally going back to the format that yielded some of the all-time great wrestling PPVs. 

Man, NJPW has been on the opposite of a hot streak since COVID started, but if ever a single PPV lineup had the potential to kickstart their product again, this WrestleKingdom 17 card is it.  The main show will feature ten bouts and include talent from both AEW and WWE (which I believe is a first for WrestleKingdom), not to mention one of the most hotly anticipated dream matches in many a year.  We'll also see the first wrestling-related appearance of the former Sasha Banks, post-WWE contract.  Mercedes Varnado is still everyone's prediction for Saraya's mystery opponent next week on Dynamite, but for now we'll get a public appearance to likely set up a match for the IWGP Women's Title.  On top of that, WK17 will include Keiji Muto's final NJPW match ever.  Lots of history to be made on this show, and on paper this lineup is PPV of the Year-caliber.  

Let's take a look.....

Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima and Togi Makabe vs. Tatsumi Fujinami, Minoru Suzuki and Tiger Mask

This legends six-man match is in tribute to the late Antonio Inoki and likely won't go very long, but should be a fun little way to open the proper show.  I'm gonna go with team Nagata to win and give everyone a nice warm feeling.

Pick: Nagata/Kojima/Makabe

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Catch 2/2 vs. Lio Rush & Yoh

Here's where the real show starts.  Rush and Yoh just took down the Super Jr. Tag League field to earn this title shot and I think they'll probably win here as well.  It'll be interesting to see if Lio Rush can make a run in NJPW work for him, he's been seemingly struggling to keep his head clear elsewhere.

Pick: LiYoh

IWGP Women's Championship: Kairi vs. Tam Nakano

This should be the first great match of the show, made that much bigger with the involvement of Mercedes.  Kairi's title win last month was pretty spectacular and I expect more of the same here.  It's too early to take the title off her, particularly if she's to face Varnado.

Pick: Kairi