Tuesday, April 30, 2024

WWE Backlash France Preview & Predictions

This Saturday WWE brings their annual PPV Backlash to France.  And apparently they don't think all that much of France, because this is kind of a nothing PPV, truth be told.

Thus far only five matches have been announced and while they should all be decent from an in-ring standpoint, there's precious little going on story-wise.  Yet oddly no "Where's the story??" complaints from the WWE faithful.  Weird.  WWE is not surprisingly in a place where they blew their load with WrestleMania and clearly didn't have much planned after that in the short-term.  Without Dwayne and Roman around they don't seem to know what to do with themselves, case in point the mostly, well, *pointless* WWE Draft, wherein 90% or so of those drafted are on the same show they started on, and no one of any real consequence jumped brands.  They're just punting until they can start building for Cody vs. Rock.  It's quite an indictment of their creative vacuum that a 51-year-old whose career peaked during the Clinton administration is the guy their long-term booking is built around.

Anyway let's take a look at this card....

Randy Orton & Kevin Owens vs. Solo Sikoa & Tama Tonga

Sweet Jesus, this Bloodline bullshit won't ever go away, will it?  Now it's down to the C-team for the time being.  No Roman, no Rock, no Jimmy, Jey's doing his own thing, so now we're left with Solo who loses all the time, and the 41-year-old Tama Tonga, whom Eric Bischoff referred to as a "great YOUNG talent," proving that Eric had never heard of the guy before he debuted on Smackdown.  And yet he expects to be taken seriously when he offers AEW booking advice.  Anyway, nothing about this match interests me; Tonga was a solid but usually pretty unremarkable part of NJPW's roster and I can't imagine he'll light this place on fire given WWE's creative limitations.  But if they want The Bloodline to stay relevant till Roman gets back I have to think they win here.  Oh, and Owens is gonna end up eating the pin.

Pick: Solo & Tama

Monday, April 29, 2024

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In case you missed them, click HERE for Rise and HERE for Dawn

War for the Planet of the Apes

So, ya know how the third movie in a trilogy is always the weakest one, almost without fail?  That's out the window now.  War for the Planet of the Apes is the best, most poignant, most emotionally engaging film in the series, one that moved me almost to tears several times.  It pays homage to such classics as Apocalypse Now and Bridge on the River Kwai, while spectacularly concluding the trilogy and also providing some of the most breathtaking visuals in the entire series.

Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback returned for the third installment in which Caesar and his apes must prepare for the inevitable war against a human military force hell-bent on exterminating them.  The human contingent is led by a maniacal Colonel (a fantastic, tortured Woody Harrelson, with a nod to Marlon Brando) who has become so dangerous and bloodthirsty he's begun killing off some of his own men and even using a few traitorous apes to do his bidding.  The Colonel wrongs the ape colony (in ways I won't reveal here), prompting Caesar and three of his lieutenants to seek vengeance while the rest of the apes retreat to a new home across the desert.  The story takes multiple unexpected turns and builds to a spectacular climax, but I'll leave you to discover that for yourself.

Suffice it to say, this film is beautiful, poetic, contemplative, exciting.  Andy Serkis once more delivers a note-perfect, deeply subtle mo-cap performance which transcends the special effects and makes the Caesar character as real as nearly any live-action performance you'll ever see.  Another standout is series newcomer Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a wonderful character who provides most of the film's laughs but is also heartwrenchingly sad.  Like I said, I found parts of this film deeply moving, and Zahn's performance was one of them.  It's high time the Academy started recognizing motion-capture performances at awards time, even if it's a special category.

The effects team has outdone themselves here; these hyper-intelligent apes look so believable they've somehow dug themselves out of the uncanny valley.  For most of War's running time the analytical part of my brain that notices these things was not on alert.  Caesar and his apes have to be considered the most brilliantly realized CG characters in film history.  I often come down hard on the use of CGI, but Matt Reeves and his creative team have figured out the exact right way to utilize the technology.

War for the Planet of the Apes, like Logan earlier this year, is a film that transcends its genre and provides much more than simple summer popcorn entertainment.  This is a profoundly affecting film that will stick with you long after you leave the theater, and it caps off one of the best trilogies of the past thirty years, amazingly managing to top the first two entries.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes **** out of ****.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your Ape thoughts, and follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Mix, Facebook and YouTube!

Friday, April 26, 2024

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Note: In case you missed my Rise review, click HERE

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After his initial spark of genius, Rise director Rupert Wyatt was unable to commit to a sequel on the studio's timetable, and was replaced by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield and Let Me In fame.  While I'd be interested in seeing what Wyatt would've done with a sequel, Reeves proved himself a more sure-footed director, brilliantly handling the larger scope of the second (and third) film.

Set ten years after Rise, Dawn begins by showing us the effects of the super-virus Will Rodman accidentally unleashed.  The human population has been decimated, with only a fraction being naturally immune to the disease.  The apes meanwhile have created their own civilization in the redwood forest.  Caesar, now a full adult with a wife and son, has become the apes' exalted, compassionate leader.  After a run-in with a team of human scouts, a power struggle develops between Caesar and another ape called Koba, who still harbors deep hatred of humans for his mistreatment in their labs.  The humans have set up a colony in the city and need access to a hydroelectric dam within the apes' domain so they can restore power.  A very uneasy truce is formed, and Caesar gradually bonds with a few of the humans - Malcolm, his son Alexander, and his second wife Ellie.  But Koba can't accept peace and he engineers a coup, shooting Caesar and framing the humans as an excuse to attack their compound.  Koba and the apes take over the city while Malcolm helps nurse Caesar back to health.  Eventually a violent showdown ensues between the two apes, and Caesar comes to realize that a human-ape war is now unavoidable.

That this synopsis creates so many potential pitfalls but manages to avoid every one of them is nothing short of miraculous.  Dawn could have easily devolved into a trite, manipulative "apes good, humans bad" story, but the script is so deftly written we are able to understand and empathize with the point of view of every major character.  More than that, it establishes parallels between the apes and the humans, illustrating the similarities of the two species.  Caesar is delicately trying to balance his own desire for a peaceful coexistence with his need to protect his race, and Malcolm feels the same way, understanding that the apes are intelligent, reasonable creatures.  On the other side of each coin, Koba is a severely damaged character who is now defined by his hatred of humanity, while the human leader Dreyfus (an always compelling Gary Oldman) is prepared for a violent showdown and will preserve the human race at all costs.  This creates a fascinating parable of sociopolitics and once again the characters and their motivations are front-and-center, while the action sequences are a byproduct.  I also love that the first act of the film contains very little dialogue; the apes communicate primarily through sign language.  As summer blockbusters go, Dawn is a stunningly quiet film.

Dawn takes the incredible dramatic foundation of the Caesar character and expands on it, showing us his maturity and courage as a leader and father but also the violence of which he is capable when wronged.  Koba has also become an amazingly realized, three-dimensional villain, who deeply respects Caesar but whose anger has swallowed him whole and turned him into a monster.  This installment also improves on the original in terms of the human characters; Jason Clarke as Malcolm delivers a heartfelt, relatable performance as a man clinging desperately to the last vestiges of human compassion, wanting above all to reach a peaceful understanding with Caesar.  Gary Oldman plays Dreyfus as an uncertain military leader, a broken man who has lost everything and refuses to let humanity perish on his watch.  These are all well fleshed-out, fascinating personae with believable and understandable motivations, and the film resists the urge to become a sweeping action epic, preferring instead to stay close and intimate with its central characters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a significant improvement over its impressive predecessor that further fleshes out the Caesar character and his place in this society, while also providing more substantial human characters for him and the other apes to play against.  Matt Reeves' direction is confident and thoughtful, while the pensive, thematic script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver defies expectations, grounding the events in complex social and political commentary.  This is how you do a summer sci-fi film.

I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes **** out of ****.

Click here for the War review

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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Well color me shocked.  When I first learned Hollywood was rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise I groaned, loudly.  Tim Burton's 2001 PotA remake, while boasting incredible makeup effects and a couple decent performances, was largely a disappointing, drivelous mess with a nonsencial reimagining of the original's famous twist ending.  I thought, "Why in the name of all things holy, THE FUCK, do we need more of these movies??"  So I skipped Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it was released.  Then surprisingly I began to hear some pretty great buzz about it, particularly centered on Andy Serkis's motion-capture performance as the main character Caesar.  But I never got around to watching it, and when the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2014 I read similarly complimentary things about that film and said to myself, "Justin" I said, "You should get your ass to a TV and watch these movies."  But I still never got around to it.  Finally with the announcement of the third movie War for the Planet of the Apes I said, "Goddammit, just fuckin' DO IT!"

So I did.  And here's what I thought of them, starting with Rise.  Stay tuned for the Dawn and War reviews coming soon....

**Note: I've included SPOILERS for the first two films but not the third**

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes drew me in almost immediately with the Frankenstein-esque theme of tampering with nature, as well as family loyalty and the exploitation of animals.  Here was a summer "action" film with hardly any action, but a thoughtful focus on the aforementioned concepts and a deeply explored character arc.  Director Rupert Wyatt took the original premise and asked the question "How might we have gotten there?"  Rise presents a practical, real-world explanation of how the Earth could believably be taken over by hyper-intelligent simians, in the same way Batman Begins explored how a man might take to dressing like a giant bat to fight crime (Wyatt himself made that connection in interviews and I happen to agree with him).

This refreshingly small-scope narrative introduces Will Rodman, a promising scientist (James Franco in a solid if unspectacular performance), who experiments on chimps with a powerful Alzheimer's drug, driven by a very personal motivation (His father suffers from the disease).  Rodman secretly adopts a baby chimp whose mother passed onto him the effects of the drug, naming him Caesar.  Caesar shows incredible intelligence at an early age, but as with all domesticated simians, becomes increasingly difficult to control as he matures.  A violent incident with a neighbor leads to Caesar being sent to an ape sanctuary run by a cruel father-son team, and Caesar becomes a hardened alpha-male, taking over the shelter, learning how to escape, and exposing the other apes to the intelligence-augmenting drug.  This builds to a sensational battle between the super-apes and the authorities, leading to Caesar's army setting up a new civilization in the redwood forest.  Meanwhile the Alzheimer's drug has created a deadly super virus in humans that begins to spread worldwide.

While the human performances in Rise are passably effective, the driving force in the film is Andy Serkis's groundbreaking work as Caesar.  As with his turn as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Serkis is a revelation here, conveying entirely through facial/body language (and what he calls "digital makeup)" amazingly subtle, tangibly real emotional nuances.  Here is an Oscar-worthy performance with almost no dialogue; we feel every moment of Caesar's growth, suffering, loneliness, and finally triumph.  Had this aspect of the film not delivered, Rise would have fallen apart in a heartbeat.  But both Serkis's acting and the amazingly realistic CG rendering are so effective you forget you're watching an animated character (a phenomenon even more prevalent in the sequels).  And Serkis was just getting warmed up...

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes ***1/2 out of ****.

Click here for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (posted 7/26/17)

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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Top Ten Things: Opening PPV Matches

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

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

HM: AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 33

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

HM: Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Bragging Rights 2010

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Top Ten Things: He-Man Action Figures

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  I hope you're ready for some serious nerd nostalgia, because thanks to the fantastic new Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, I have 1980s action figures on the brain.

One episode of said TV series focused on the wonderful 80s toy line known as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  Anyone who grew up in that era remembers these larger-than-life figures with impossible musculatures, colorful appearances, pun-driven names, and bizarre quirks/powers.  The first time I saw the original He-Man commercial my brain almost exploded.  These figures looked nothing like any other action figures available at the time.  The characters were so vibrant and otherworldly you couldn't take your eyes off them.  Mattel hit one out of the park with this toy line, scoring record-breaking numbers four or five years in a row, and consistently introducing new series of memorable characters year after year.  A side note: this toy line introduced me to the concept of recycled molds.  Pretty much every figure had the exact same torso mold and initially there were only three sets of arms and legs.  Even as a seven-year-old I noticed this.  But it didn't matter, these toys fucking rocked my nuts off.  A syndicated tie-in cartoon show proved invaluable for selling MOTU figures and for a little while He-Man ruled the action figure market, spawning numerous ripoff lines, my favorite of which were the Remco figures based on obscure DC Comics characters like Warlord and Arak (They even had a disclaimer on the package: For Use with Masters of the Universe action figures).  I was so goddamn excited a few years ago when they re-released essentially the original MOTU figures, and I scooped a bunch of 'em up again.  For my son to play with.  Yeah, that's it.....

Note: Once I got really into wrestling, the He-Man line doubled as my wrestling toys, since they were the perfect size for the WWF toy ring.  Shut up, you did it too....

But which characters were my favorites?  Which of these silly fantasy barbarian toys have stuck with me three-plus decades later?  Let's take a look.....

10. King Hiss

This absurdly over-the-top figure was like He-Man meets Transformers, and the leader of The Snake Men or whatever they were called (an older character named Kobra Khan joined up with this villainous stable as well, like in a pro wrestling angle).  King Hiss looked like a human wearing snake-like armor, but pop off his arm and torso coverings, and GAAAAH, HE'S LITERALLY A GODDAMN SNAKE-MAN!!!  His actual upper body was comprised entirely of snakes (oddly his legs were still humanoid though), creepy enough to unnerve even his fellow bad guys.  I spent so much time transforming this guy from man to snake-man and it was a fairly ingenious gimmick.

9. Faker

On paper this has to be the stupidest toy ever.  An evil robot that's supposed to be a dead ringer for He-Man, except he has blue skin, Skeletor-style armor, and a visible tape recorder in his chest (courtesy of a sticker).  The idea is that Skeletor built this droid to infiltrate the good guy lair and pimp He-Man's friends for information.  Skeletor must think Team He-Man are either legally blind or just absolute fucking morons.  Who would fall for this trap??  "Whoa, He-Man, you're looking a little pekid, maybe have a nice lie down and some soup?  By the way, here are those Grayskull blueprints you asked for...."  Added to that, Faker was an appallingly flagrant cannibalization of an existing toy, just to sell more toys.  You gotta marvel at Mattel's balls, man.  Regardless of how illogical this character was, the toy looked awesome.

8. Mer-Man/Stinkor

Speaking of blatant mold recycling, in 1984 Mattel took one of the original characters, Mer-Man, painted him black & white, doused him in some kinda putrid-smelling chemical, and repackaged him as a skunk-like character named Stinkor.  Nevermind that a skunk-man wouldn't have webbed feet or fin-like ears, this guy looked boss.  And his armor covered his nose and mouth, implying he smelled so bad even HE couldn't stand it!  I loved the black, white, red and orange color scheme, and the stinky gimmick was brilliant.  Think about it - Mattel got us to buy an action figure that smelled like a goddamn skunk.  Either we're all suckers or Mattel are a buncha Jedi Masters who can bend everyone to their will.  The smell eventually wore off, but Stinkor remained one of my all-time favorite characters.

As for Mer-Man, this mold was much more appropriate for an undersea creature, and his scaly armor looked killer.  It did always bug me that his face looked nothing like the cartoon, comics or even the picture on the back of the packaging!  Also they originally were going to call him Sea Man, but changed it for obvious reasons.  Can you imagine one of the heroes saying "Oh no!  Sea Man is all over our base!  Why is Sea Man so hard to get our hands on?   I feel all slimy now that I've touched Sea Man!"

Monday, April 22, 2024

AEW Dynasty 2024 Review: Swerve is the Champ, Ospreay is Superman, Danielson is the GOAT

Jesus, what a show.  AEW hit yet another PPV homerun with their lastest offering Dynasty, which featured a big title change in the main event that should take the company in a fresh new direction, an absolutely chaotic tag team ladder match with a perfectly booked surprise return, and the match most folks are buzzing about, a dream match that turned out to be one of the best bouts you'll ever see on American soil.

The big long-term news is of course the long-awaited coronation of Swerve Strickland as AEW's first African-American World Champion.  Swerve and Samoa Joe were put in an unenviable position following the two best matches of the night, but worked hard to deliver a worthy main event that should serve as one of the company's most historic moments.  Joe played the role of 90s Vader, dominating Swerve for much of the match.  Early in the match Swerve went to the turnbuckles and faked a dive, having Joe's casual dodge move scouted, and the two wound up outside, where Joe slammed Swerve into the announce table, removed some ringside padding and powerslammed him onto the exposed floor.  Joe tried to clothesline Swerve against the ring post but Swerve moved and Joe wrapped his arm around it.  Swerve then targeted the arm, at one point doing his signature arm snap, and later wrenching Joe's weakened arm from around his neck to escape the Coquina Clutch.  Joe hit a Muscle Buster for a close two-count, and Swerve hit the House Call and Swerve Stomp for a nearfall of his own.  They ended up on the top rope where Swerve seemed to go for a Swerve Stomp from there, but missed and had to adjust midair, quickly powerbombed Joe to the mat, and hit another Swerve Stomp to win the title.  It's a pity the intended high spot didn't work, as the finish felt a bit flatter than it should have.  But this was a very good, if slightly underwhelming, main event and the crowning of a major new main event star.  ***3/4

Thursday, April 18, 2024

AEW Dynasty 2024 Preview & Predictions

Hey remember a month ago how I said I'd be shocked if any PPV topped AEW Revolution this year?  Apparently AEW's response to that was "Hold my fuckin' beer."  Jeezus, what a lineup this is.

The inaugural AEW Dynasty PPV is upon us, and on paper it's a card for the ages.  A potential all-time dream match, a probable historic coronation of the company's hottest babyface, a monster title defense for Okada, a blowaway ladder match, and a slew of strong undercard bouts.  And there are still a ton of key people not even on the show.  This oughta be sick.

Zero Hour AEW/ROH Trios Championship: The Acclaimed & Billy Gunn vs. Bullet Club Gold

I will say, thank Christ this feud is coming to an end; it's been going on in some form for at least four months and it was never all that exciting.  I really hope the plan is to unify these two sets of titles because having two sets of trios belts is just silly.  Yes they're technically for different promotions, but BCG has been on AEW television way more than they've been on the brand they're supposed to be representing.  Let's pare down these championships huh (That goes for you too, WWE)?  Anyway, it's time for The Acclaimed to drop their titles, as they've barely defended these damn things since winning them at All In(!?).  Jay White and friends get the duke here and hopefully move on to another trio they can have a more heated feud with.

Pick: Bullet Club Gold

Adam Copeland, Eddie Kingston & Mark Briscoe vs. House of Black

Speaking of trios, this one should be a lot of fun.  Cope and his allies have been stymied by HOB for several weeks and it's time for them to come together and vanquish their common enemies.  Team Cope has two current champions in Adam and Mark, so I think they're winning this.

Pick: Cope, Eddie and Mark

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Top Ten Things: Obscure 1980s Toys

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  Today I'm thinkin' about old toys I wish I still had.  Because apparently I'm eleven.

The 1980s was an amazing era to be a kid.  We children of the 80s were treated to some of the most badassistic (Yeah I made up a word) action figure lines ever offered up.  Think about it, in the same decade we had Star Wars toys, He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe (plus the short-lived DC Super Powers and Marvel Secret Wars), and those are just a handful of the toy lines that were hits!  We also had a fuckton of action figure series that were either short-lived or outright flopped, and those are the ones I'm here to talk about today.  I got to thinking about some of the more obscure toys I had as a kid and the list just kept growing on me.  Some of them I had trouble finding on Google because the name escaped me, but eventually I found 'em all.  Not only does this piece feature a top ten but I've included three Honorable Mentions.  So, strap on your nerd hats and join me for a look back at some of the best obscure toys of the 80s!

HM: Karate Kid (Remco)

Yeah this set came with giant chopsticks to catch a giant rubber fly.

From the hit 1984 film Rocky But With Karate, these stupid, one-note toys had some inexplicable charm to them.  Literally the only two characters I ever found were Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi (apparently Johnny, Kreese and others were available later on), but each figure had one arm and one leg that were spring-loaded, so when you pushed a button they would either chop or kick.  This one set I got came with both characters and a litany of structures for them to chop through or break.  Wooden boards, ice, brick walls, this coat rack-lookin' thing, you name it.  Destroying fake wood with these figures was stupid fun.

HM: Clash of the Titans (Mattel)

They released the first wave and then they RELEASED THE KRRRAKEN!

What a promising line this was, until it wasn't.  The wonderful 1981 fantasy film Clash of the Titans had so many colorful characters and creatures that lent themselves to toy designs, in the same way the Star Wars trilogy did.  The first (and thanks to poor sales, only) series included Perseus (a fantastic Harry Hamlin likeness), his buddy Thallo, Calibos, and for some reason Charon the ferryman (who only appears in the film for like four seconds), plus a Pegasus toy (with zero points of articulation) and a huge Kraken (who looked boss).  Insanely the coolest looking character in the movie, Medusa, never got a toy, but maybe she, Andromeda and some of the Greek gods would've been included in series 2.  Regardless, these were solid toys that deserved a better run.

HM: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Kenner)/Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (LJN)

This is one of my favorite films, but what are you supposed to do with these?

Two different toy companies tried to make "fetch" happen in the 80s with Indiana Jones.  When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out it was a no-brainer that Kenner, fresh off its colossal success with the Star Wars line, would introduce a similar-in-scale line of Indy toys.  Only problem was, beyond the main character no one else in that movie does a whole lot that lends itself to action figure play.  Indy does all the heavy lifting.  What are you supposed to do with Marion in a removable evening gown, or the black-clad swordsman whom Indy shoots like a dog in the street?  Or Belloq or Toht or Col. Dietrich, who are all excellent baddies in the film but have no action sequences to speak of?  The one character Indy has a fistfight with is the nameless bald German mechanic, but that'd keep you busy for what, five minutes?  It's a shame, these were good looking toys for the time, but aside from Indy himself there wasn't much you could do with 'em.  Even the few playsets they had were pointless (more on that HERE).

Damn good detail on these but again, what do I do with 'em?

Then in 1984 LJN tried their hand with 5-inch figures for Temple of Doom, releasing five characters but running into the same problem.  Playing with these toys was all about Indy performing daring stunts and escapes.  Beyond that you're stuck.  Thus when The Last Crusade came out, no one even bothered with a toy line.  'Twas a pity. 

Okay now for the meat of the list....

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Top Ten Things: WORST WWF Wrestling Superstars LJN Toys

Welcome back!  Alright, now that we've counted down the ten best LJN Wrestling Superstars toys, let's look at some that didn't make the grade.  Ones that either looked like absolute shite or that served zero purpose when you were trying to put together a pretend wrestling match (a phrase I know is technically redundant).  Some of these damn toys just hurt my brain and I don't know what LJN was thinking when they created the molds.  Here we go.... 

10. Warlord

Alright, you might be asking why Warlord is on this list when a) the toy looks quite a lot like him and b) he's got a decent pose for doing wrestling moves.  This toy pissed me off to no end for one reason: WHERE THE FUCK ARE HIS PANTS???  The Warlord as of 1989 wore long tights, ALWAYS.  So why the goddamn hell is he wearing little Speedo trunks on this toy?  Did no one at LJN bother to look at even a single a picture of this guy that extended below his waist?  Not only that, he's missing kneepads.  Do just a cursory bit of homework and this toy becomes one of the best in the line.  But because of pure fucking laziness, he's relegated to the bottom of the pile.  Also, where the hell was Barbarian??

Likeness - 7
Playability - 7
Total - 14

9. Iron Sheik

This is another one that looks vaguely like the real guy but in a very superficial way.  If you look closely, the facial features don't particularly resemble the Iron Sheik at all.  Again, I feel like they based this sculpt on the cartoon show instead of the actual human.  So this one gets a middling score there.  And his pose kinda sucked.  He's doing the vaudville strongman pose, which was okay for headlocks, clotheslines and maybe a suplex, but it was absolutely impossible to do Sheik's finishing move, the Camel Clutch.  If you can't do the guy's finisher that subtracts significant points.  Pretty lame, LJN.

Likeness - 5
Playability - 5
Total - 10

8. Paul Orndorff

What the hell were the sculpting team smoking when they made the Orndorff figure?  He's got a gigantic, malformed head, he's impossibly jacked, and he's missing kneepads.  Clearly this mold was done by the same guy that did Greg Valentine's, because this is one of the most unpleasant-looking action figures ever made.  This is what Paul Ordorff would look like if someone parked a bus on his face.  Not to mention, the physique they gave him is more Arnold than Orndorff, who was quite buff but not bodybuilder huge.  As far as playability though, he scores fairly high since his arm flexing was conducive to clotheslines and elbows, plus you could do a press slam or a Torture Rack.  But Christ, what an awful-looking toy.

Likeness - 3
Playability - 7
Total - 10

Monday, April 15, 2024

Top Ten Things: WWF Wrestling Superstars LJN Toys

Welcome to a special two-part edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I have not one but TWO lists for you, and they're opposite sides of the same coin.  Back in the 80s we wrestling fans had very limited options as far as the available toys with which to recreate our favorite in-ring matches and rivalries.  In 1985 Remco (makers of the fabulous He-Man knockoff toys based on obscure DC Comics characters like Warlord and Arak) unveiled a modest series of AWA action figures (plus Ric Flair) and a cardboard ring for the action to take place in.  These toys were quite functional but sadly also very generic, being made from essentially the same body mold.  As I got older I came to value poseability over visual aesthetics, and along with my vast collection of He-Man guys the Remco figures became my primary wrestling toys.  Man did I run a helluva Federation.  But I'm getting ahead of myself....

Also in 1985 the WWF got into the action figure game, releasing a colorful, oversized line of LJN toys called Wrestling Superstars.  These massive hunks of rubber had zero points of articulation, paint that would rub off in literally minutes, in some cases questionable-at-best resemblance to their real-life counterparts, and were easily capable of inflicting blunt force trauma to a person's skull.  They were so heavy and dense the accompanying toy ring couldn't handle the stress of play and would routinely crack; my ring had to be replaced less than a year after I got it.  But if you were an eleven-year-old, new pro wrestling fan like me, goddamn these toys ruled.  They were unlike any action figures out there; at eight inches tall they dwarfed all other figures on the market besides the unwieldy 12-inch dolls that had long since become obsolete.  With a roster of memorable, larger-than-life characters to model the toys after, LJN had no shortage of eye-catching products to offer.  The sucky thing about these toys was their rather hefty price tag for the time.  These fuckers cost a good 8 bucks a pop, which for my age was way too much to easily collect them.  Thus my early matchmaking abilities were limited; when I first began accumulating these toys at the end of 1986 I only had three figures, all babyface characters.  The hell am I supposed to do with that?

Anyway, while some of these toys were very playable thanks to well-chosen poses and slight flexibility in the rubber, others were not so much.  Likewise, while some figures carried quite serviceable likenesses to the actual people they represented, others looked like barely-formed humanoid blobs.  I noticed a trend at the time - certain character molds seemed to be done by the same person, and that guy was terrible at capturing realistic facial features, plus all the toys this guy worked on had gigantic nipples for some reason.  Go back and look at the figures for Greg Valentine, Paul Orndorff, Brutus Beefcake and a few others.  The faces look awful and the nips are like the Capitol building dome.

So here's where these lists come in.  I've compiled the ten best and worst LJN figures, based on a combination of likeness accuracy and playability.  I'm trying to keep it as fair as possible, since some figures looked great but were useless to play with, and some had perfect wrestler poses but looked like Sloth from The Goonies.  This being an era long before computer-scanned faces I'll go fairly easy on the likeness ratings, and the playability will be somewhat determined by each wrestler's moveset.  I'll give you the ten best ones today and the ten worst in Part 2.  Let's get to it.....

10. Ricky Steamboat

The Steamboat figure had a pretty detailed face/hair sculpt and a lean, defined body type that more or less matched the real guy.  The resemblance wasn't exactly uncanny but it vaguely looked like Steamboat.  The arms were posed in a way that body slams and suplexes were possible, and his hands were open which lent itself to Steamboat's chops.  This toy was a solid bit of work from LJN.

Likeness - 7
Playability - 7
Total - 14

9. Greg Valentine

Valentine's toy was one of the uglier in the series, with a face like a mean old lady and bright yellow hair like banana ice cream.  Then again, Greg Valentine was always rather homely, so the rough sculpt kinda fit.  This was one of the toys in the series that looked like the sculptor either worked solely from memory or forgot to put on his glasses.  It's a vague representation of Greg Valentine that kinda sorta captures his essence, but by no means is it true to life.  Like at all.  But what this figure lacked in realism it made up for in utility.  Valentine was posed perfectly for slams, suplexes, and most of all, that signature Valentine elbow drop.  You couldn't do the Figure Four, but then again I've never seen a wrestling figure that could.  This one scores quite well on playability.

Likeness - 6
Playability - 8
Total - 14

8. Hart Foundation

Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart were more often than not sold as a team, so I'm including them as one entry.  These guys looked quite a bit like the real people and the sculpts captured their body types pretty realistically.  The ring attire looked pretty much just like the Harts' actual gear.  My only issue aesthetically, and this was true for a lot of these toys, is that Bret is wearing his sunglasses, which of course he never wore while wrestling.  As far as their respective poses, they were vaguely configured to do wrestling moves.  Bret's arms were partly outstretched to do clotheslines and slams, while Neidhart could easily do a powerslam (though I'm not sure why the fingers of his right hand are spread out).  These two toys looked good and could get you through a match.

Likeness - 8
Playability - 6
Total - 14

Friday, April 12, 2024

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 4 (#10-1)

Alright, now it's time for the really good shit.  The all-time great shit.  Such good shit.  

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

10. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) - WrestleMania 31

Maybe the most unexpectedly great WrestleMania main event took place at the 2015 edition, as the reviled babyface Roman Reigns challenged the unstoppable Mayor of Suplex City (a phrase he coined during this match), Brock Lesnar.  Brock had decimated John Cena for the WWE Championship at the previous SummerSlam, allowing almost no offense during their 16-minute squash, and then all but disappeared with the title for most of the next six months.  At the 2015 Royal Rumble Brock, Cena and Seth Rollins had a spectacular Triple Threat match, where Brock turned back both challengers in dominant fashion.  Enter Reigns, the company's handpicked "it" guy, with whom the fans wanted nothing to do.  Reigns won the Rumble match that night to earn his WrestleMania spot, but was booed unmercifully, and this main event had all the markings of a dud; an absentee heel champion vs. an unliked babyface challenger.  But the match ended up being an exercise in brutality as these two monsters beat the piss out of each other.  Brock took a legit headbutt to the ring post which opened a huge gash on his forehead, while Reigns got suplexed into oblivion and kept getting up.  But the most memorable thing about the match was the unique finish, as Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase mid-match, curb stomping Brock, attempting a second stomp that was countered into an F5 attempt that was thwarted by a Reigns spear, and then curb stomping Reigns to win the match and the WWE Title.  The Santa Clara crowd exploded at the surprise finish and Rollins stood tall, swinging the strap over his head as Michael Cole dubbed the title change "The Heist of the Century."  Thus began Seth Rollins' excellent run as the company's top heel.

9. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XII

The longest match in WrestleMania history, and thus far the only Iron Man match at this event, pitted the company's top two babyfaces against each other in an unprecedented athletic display.  Bret Hart was the veteran technician, while Shawn Michaels was the charismatic upstart.  Planned as the first part of a trilogy of bouts designed as a torch passing, this match played out as an old-school grappling contest for much of the first half.  Shawn stymied the champion with an expected ground game, while Bret grew increasingly frustrated and employed some heelish tactics.  The second half picked up, with much more high-risk offense, but neither man could gain a pinfall.  In the closing moments Shawn went for a dropkick but Bret countered into a Sharpshooter.  Shawn withstood the pain for nearly a full minute as the clock ran down to zero, leaving the match a time limit draw.  But WWF President Gorilla Monsoon ordered the match restarted under sudden death rules, much to Bret's chagrin.  The angry champion attacked Shawn's weakened legs, but Shawn answered with a pair of superkicks to win the title and start off his main event run.  Given its slow pace and frequent lack of crowd heat, this bout hasn't aged as well as one would think, but it does stand as a singular achievement in WWE lore - a mostly pure scientific marathon between two of the company's all-time best.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 3 (#20-11)

Moving on to round 3 of our countdown, here's where we get to the pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good stuff....

Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

20. The Rock vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XV

The Attitude Era was in full self-indulgent, decadent swing in March of 1999, with Vince Russo overbooking the living shit out of every show.  His crash TV writing style was all over this PPV and the weekly television leading up to it (Imagine giving away a huge match like Austin vs. Big Show on free TV only a month after the latter's debut).  The Rock had been rivaling Steve Austin's popularity in the fall of 1998, and at Survivor Series the company held a tournament to crown a new WWF Champion.  Once Austin was unfairly eliminated The Rock became the fans' clear choice to win, a la Randy Savage a decade earlier.  But then came the big swerve - The Rock was in cahoots with the McMahons the whole time, and his tournament win made him their new Corporate Champion.  Austin was duly pissed and eventually targeted the young titleholder, becoming the #1 contender on a technicality (Vince won the 1999 Royal Rumble but since he forfeited his title shot, runner-up Austin would get it instead).  With that, the two biggest stars in the company faced off at 'Mania.  The match was typical Attitude Era chaos - loads of outside the ring brawling, smashed tables, run-ins from McMahons, substitute referees, etc.  As Vince Russo clusterfucks go, this was a hoot, but it doesn't exactly hold up as an in-ring classic.  Still, the crowd was electric and Austin's third WWF Title win sent them home happy.  It was the one good match on a pretty terrible WrestleMania card.

19. Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania V

The MegaPowers EXPLODE!  One of the greatest long-term angles in WWE history culminated in this WrestleMania V main event.  Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, the two biggest wrestling babyfaces in late 1987, joined forces on Saturday Night's Main Event to form the MegaPowers, an unstoppable force for good.  Hogan helped Savage win the WWF Title at 'Mania 4, the pair teamed up at SummerSlam and Survivor Series, and all seemed well.  But Savage had slowly grown jealous over Hogan's bond with Elizabeth, and the situation came to a head at the second Main Event special in February of '89.  Savage was thrown out of the ring during the MegaPowers-Twin Towers match, accidentally knocking out Elizabeth, and Hogan left him to fend for himself while he brought her to the back for medical attention.  Savage took a beating for several minutes, realized his partner was nowhere to be found, and got duly pissed when Hogan returned.  The Macho Man walked out on Hogan and the match, and the two men got into a heated altercation in the locker room, where Savage pummeled Hogan with the WWF Title and left him laying.  The most emotionally charged WrestleMania main event in history was now on the marquee.  The match was classic Macho Man, a hotly contested, somewhat unruly main event where Savage dominated much of the action.  It was a pretty great match until the ending, when Hogan did his usual Hulk-up comeback in unintentionally comical fashion, puffing his cheeks and bulging his eyes as he no-sold everything.  Hogan kicked out of the Macho Man elbow and hit his big boot-legdrop combination to regain the WWF Title, and Savage was gradually moved down the card on his way to becoming a King.  At the time this was easily the best WrestleMania main event, and it would maintain that status for me until seven years later.  Great stuff until the usual unimaginative Hogan finish.

18. Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin - WrestleMania XIV

The Stone Cold Era began officially on March 29, 1998 (in my hometown of Boston), with a grueling WWF Title win over Shawn Michaels.  I went into this match super-hyped, as Austin and Michaels were my two favorite wrestlers at the time, and the company had brought in Mike Tyson to be the ringside enforcer and bring lots of mainstream attention to the show.  This was a dream main event for me, and while it was a damn fine match it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  The problem was Shawn's back, injured in a casket match with The Undertaker two months earlier.  Shawn began this match in expected high-energy form, but a botched whip into the turnbuckle seemed to aggravate his herniated disc, and he spent the rest of the bout barely gutting it out.  Still the agony on Shawn's face during every move added to the drama, and these two pros managed to put together a pretty great piece of gritty wrestling business.  The finish especially was perfectly executed - Shawn went for Sween Chin Music, Austin ducked and went for the Stunner, Shawn blocked it, shoved him into the ropes and went for another kick, Austin caught his foot, spun him around, kicked him in the gut and stunned him, as Tyson counted the pinfall.  The Boston crowd went apeshit as the Texas Rattlesnake held the title over his head, cementing his place as the unlikely new face of the company.  Shawn took a Tyson knockout punch to put an exclamation point on the night, and it would be his last match in over four years.  As good as this bout was, I always wonder how much better it would've been had Shawn been at 100%.

17. Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair - WrestleMania 35

The historic main event of WrestleMania 35 marked the first time a women's match would headline the show.  The white-hot Becky Lynch won the 2019 Royal Rumble to punch her ticket to 'Mania, but her animosity with RAW Women's Champion Ronda Rousey went back further than that.  Their paths were supposed to cross at the 2018 Survivor Series, but a real-life broken nose/concussion handed to Becky by Nia Jax derailed plans (and also made Becky an even bigger star), and Charlotte Flair took Becky's place.  Thus anticipation for the Becky-Ronda showdown built for months.  Sadly the company felt Charlotte should be added to make the bout a triple threat; Charlotte vs. Ronda at Survivor Series turned out to be a violent, fiery encounter where Charlotte got herself disqualified and beat the tar out of Ronda with a kendo stick.  So there were unresolved issues between Ronda and both of her challengers, but the addition of Charlotte served to muddy the waters a bit too much, particularly since she was also hastily booked to defeat Smackdown Women's Champion Asuka so as to make this main event a double championship match.  The build became very confusing as the company didn't seem to know who should be sympathetic and who should be antagonistic.  Ronda had been a fan favorite upon her WrestleMania 34 debut but by the end of the year was greeted with increasing crowd hostility, while Charlotte was viewed as being overexposed and overpushed.  But hopes were still high that these three accomplished athletes would deliver in the clutch.  And for their part, they put together a very good main event with a ton of atmosphere.  The company sadly didn't set them up to succeed however, overloading the WrestleMania card with so many matches it was after midnight by the time the main event kicked off.  An exhausted, overspent crowd couldn't be asked to respond with much enthusiasm, and the main event they legitimately wanted to see unfortunately suffered a bit as a result.  Also working against the women was the finish, which saw Becky defeat Ronda not with her Disarm-Her finisher or even a decisive impact move, but with a botched crucifix pin where Ronda's shoulder was visibly off the mat for part of the three-count.  For a groundbreaking WrestleMania main event with so much at stake, this was a mild disappointment, but it still delivered big from a mechanical and character standpoint. 

16. The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXVIII

The Once in a Lifetime....Until Next Year dream match between John Cena and The Rock took place in Rocky's hometown of Miami, in front of a vehemently partisan crowd, and was a major financial success for the company.  The bout was set up a year earlier when The Rock returned from a seven-year absence to host WrestleMania and left that show's two main eventers laying in the ring at the end while he celebrated.  A terrible ending to WrestleMania 27, but WWE's long-term planning was to be applauded at least.  The company had an opportunity to build interest for this match at the following Survivor Series as Rock and Cena teamed up to face The Miz and R-Truth, but unfortunately that main event was a glorified 20-minute squash and the two babyfaces co-existed just fine, leading people like me to question the point of it all.  The proper build began shortly before 'Mania 28, as Cena cut one of the most impassioned promos of his career, pointing out that while he was busting his ass week after week, The Rock had abandoned the WWE fans for Hollywood, and Cena needed to win this for the full-time WWE wrestlers.  I couldn't have agreed more; this was one of the few times where I was fully in Cena's corner in terms of the story being told.  But as they were in Miami, such an outcome wasn't in the cards.  For just over thirty minutes the two megastars expertly worked the audience and put together a very good, epic sports-entertainment main event.  I thought this went overly long; surely 25 minutes would've been enough.  But this had a big-fight feel in spades, The Rock looked to be in the best shape of his life, and they told a good story.  Cena kicked out of the first Rock Bottom of the night but fell to a second, to send the pro-Rock crowd home happy.  Their rematch a year later would fall significantly short of this bout.

15. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns - WrestleMania 34

Perhaps the most underrated WrestleMania main event was this rematch from WrestleMania 31.  The year was 2018, and the Roman Reigns Top Babyface experiment was still chugging along, with no change in the results from three years earlier.  The fans still didn't like Roman in this spot, they still booed him out of the building every night, and the company still refused to turn him heel, using the dipshit excuse that "Any reaction is a good reaction."  Yeah, not when the reaction is precisely the opposite of what you intended.  Regardless, Vince once again stubbornly refused to change his plan, and booked Brock vs. Roman II as the main event of WrestleMania 34.  After a very good undercard featuring Rollins-Balor-Miz, Charlotte-Asuka, Ronda/Angle-Triple H/Steph, the return of Daniel Bryan, and AJ-Nakamura, the New Orleans crowd simply didn't want to see this match, and they let WWE know it.  Chants of "You both suck," "CM Punk," and "This is awful" rang out throughout this match, and Vince hedged his bets in the booking, changing the result the weekend of the show.  Brock shockingly retained the title, Vince holding out hope that by SummerSlam the fans would magically come around to Roman's side (The tone deafness on display was staggering).  So the company gave fans a lot of reasons to hate this match.  It was two guys everyone was thoroughly sick of, it came at the end of a five-hour show, and the finish of the match made the whole thing kinda pointless.  But really sit down and watch this match; it's a helluva fight.  These two monsters beat the absolute shit out of each other, each guy kicked out of numerous finishers, Roman took an elbow shot that split his forehead in two, and it stands as one of the most purely violent spectacles to ever headline a WrestleMania.  Was it as good as their first match?  No.  But was it light years better than the third and fourth?  Absolutely.  I don't care what anyone says, I liked this main event a lot.  As far as I'm concerned it was Roman's second-best WrestleMania main event by far up to that point.  That would change three years later...

14. Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes - WrestleMania 39, Night 2

Man, this match was on its way to a well-deserved Top 10 spot on this list.  Really, just an epic, drama-filled, twisty and turny WWE Universal Title match between two consummate pros.  The story was there, the build was there, the moment was there.  And then the last thirty seconds happened.  After an action-packed, story-driven 35 minutes that featured Solo Sikoa being ejected for interference and Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens running off the Usos, Cody hit Roman with a CrossRhodes, held on, hit another one, held on, and then Paul Heyman jumped on the apron to distract the official while the previously ejected Sikoa thumbed Cody in the throat, setting up Cody for a match-ending Spear.  Roman retained the title, again, in the exact same fashion he'd retained against Drew, Kevin, Sami, etc.  One of the least imaginative and most tone-deaf endings to a truly great match I've seen in years.  The company rectified the situation a year later, and fortunately (miraculously) Cody didn't end up losing steam in the long run, but man, what a terrible, terrible finish.  At 'Mania 39 WWE snatched a stalemate from the jaws of total victory.

13. Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes - WrestleMania 40, Night 2

Finally a year after WWE porked the ending of WrestleMania 39, plus a clusterfuck of booking changes involving Cody bequeathing his hard-earned second title shot to The Rock, changing his mind, Rock turning heel and attacking him, etc., we arrived at the big rematch.  And this time, thanks to Roman and The Rock beating Cody and Seth Rollins the night before, this match would be contested under Bloodline Rules, which just meant run-ins and weapons were legal.  For the first twenty minutes or so this was a traditional wrestling match, and a damn good one.  Then the run-ins started and got borderline silly after a while.  Jimmy, Jey, Solo, Cena, Rock, Seth, Taker.  Gettin' to be a lot.  But the crowd ate it all up and it served as a climactic build before the inevitable feelgood ending.  This match wasn't quite on the level of the previous one in terms of the work being done, but I'm ranking it ahead of Roman-Cody I because it had the right result and served as a major turning point in WWE lore.  

12. Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania 37, Night 2

The final match of WrestleMania 37's two-night spectacular, this Triple Threat match pitted Universal Champion Roman Reigns, finally a monster heel at long last, against returning legend Edge, ten years removed from his untimely retirement, against perennial fan favorite Daniel Bryan.  Edge had won the 2021 Royal Rumble, entering at #1 and running the table, to challenge Roman at the Show of Shows.  But there was a problem; WWE forgot long ago how to book a likable babyface, and thus painted themselves into a corner by writing Edge as kind of a jerk.  And without someone to root for, an Edge vs. Roman main event would certainly fall flat.  Enter Daniel Bryan, the one man on the roster seemingly immune to inept booking.  No matter how many times they had Bryan lose, he could still get a strong babyface reaction from the crowd.  So Bryan was added to the match after Edge screwed up the Roman-Bryan bout at Fastlane, and suddenly it became much more intriguing.  These three worked a fantastic, chaotic Triple Threat, complete with Jey Uso run-ins, bumps on the ring steps, a broken table spot, a great moment where Bryan and Edge locked in simultaneous crossfaces on Roman and traded headbutts to knock the other guy out, and a controversial but decisive finish where Roman brutalized both men with chairs and stacked them on top of each other before pinning both.  Just an excellent, memorable way to close out the 2021 edition of WrestleMania.

11. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair - WrestleMania 37, Night 1

The historic WrestleMania 37 Night 1 main event was one of the most satisfying in recent memory.  For the first time ever two women of color main evented a WrestleMania card, delivering an athletically marvelous, emotionally resonant near-classic that created a brand new top star in the division.  Smackdown Women's Champion Sasha Banks turned in a Bret Hart-like performance as she steered the bout with a veteran's confidence and made her relatively inexperienced challenger look like a megastar.  Bianca Belair played the self-assured, prodigious, eminently likable babyface to the hilt, keeping up with Banks and displaying incredible athletic feats, not the least of which was a spot where she caught Banks on an outside-the-ring dive, rolled through, pressed her over her head, and walked up the ring steps to toss her back in.  After a clever tug of war with Bianca's hair braid that ended with Bianca using it like a whip on Sasha (complete with a sickening crack and a nine-inch welt across Sasha's ribs), the challenger landed a 450 splash and a Kiss of Death finisher to win her first WWE gold.  Off-camera Sasha smiled with satisfaction, watching her opponent bask in the glory of the moment she helped engineer.  Both women shined here; Bianca earned her spot as the new face of the division, while Sasha cemented her place as one of the best women wrestlers in WWE history.

We're almost to the cream of the crop - click HERE for the Top Ten!

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

NJPW Windy City Riot 2024 Preview & Predictions

As if there wasn't enough wrestling last weekend, we have yet ANOTHER PPV this Friday, namely NJPW's Windy City Riot!

Unlke a lot of recent NJPW shows, this one looks pretty stacked from top to bottom, thanks in large part due to some special attraction-type names on the card.  This one is a good mix of the New Japan full-timers and a handful of North American guest stars, and some of what happens here could play into the eventual lineup for Forbidden Door in June.  Let's get after it....

Minoru Suzuki vs. Ren Narita

It's the grizzled old sadist vs. the young upstart rulebreaker.  This could be good if there isn't too much House of Torture nonsense but it could also be yet another annoying clusterfuck of ref bumps and run-ins.  Either way I think Narita probably steals a win.

Pick: Narita

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Mustafa Ali

Here's a pretty exciting NJPW vs. TNA matchup, pitting the top star of the Jr. Heavyweight division facing off against TNA's current X-Division Champion.  This should be a pretty blazing contest and I'm very intrigued to see Mustafa outside of WWE (this will be my first time).  I imagine Mustafa will be protected as the current title holder, while Hiromu can withstand a loss.

Pick: Mustafa

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 2 (#30-21)

Continuing with our WrestleMania main event rankings, let's get into #30-21!  

Check out Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4

30. Steve Austin vs. Kevin Owens - WrestleMania 38, Night 1

19 years after his untimely retirement at age 38, Stone Cold Steve Austin finally came home for one last hurrah, facing a man who idolized him growing up, Kevin Owens.  While the company's build to this match was pretty wretched - Owens was left to hype the match all by himself a la Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan in 2005, and no official match was announced until WrestleMania itself, during a KO Show segment - the match made for a feelgood finale in front of a nuclear hometown crowd.  At age 57, Austin was of course very limited in what he could do, but Owens worked hard to hide said limitations and the two brawled all around the stadium, up the ramp, down the ramp, and back into the ring, where they traded Stunners before Austin got the win.  This was no in-ring classic by any means, but it was an enjoyable romp and allowed one of the industry's biggest stars to have one final moment in the spotlight.

29. The Rock vs. John Cena II - WrestleMania XXIX

Hey, remember that Once in a Lifetime tagline we used when The Rock and John Cena wrestled a year ago?  Yeah, forget about that.  What a sleazy promotional tactic; Vince had to know there would be a rematch sooner rather than later.  And in spite of numerous better options for a main event, for example adding Punk to make it a Triple Threat, or even doing Punk vs. Cena (a match that took place about a month prior to this one and blew it out of the water), Vince would have his planned Rock-Cena II match.  And it was.....a match.  Their first meeting was historic and felt huge.  This one was less historic and felt less huge.  And was messy in spots.  And The Rock got injured, delaying his scheduled film shoot and basically ensuring he'd likely never wrestle again since he couldn't afford to risk another filming delay.  Way to go, Vince.  This match was fine, but nothing more.  It was the main event of one of the more boring WrestleMania cards, a show propped up only by the excellent Undertaker-CM Punk match.  In that regard, this middling, forgettable encounter was a perfect choice to headline a middling, forgettable show.

28. Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania X

Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart II was historic as the first time the same match main evented two consecutive WrestleManias.  The story going into this sequel was better than its predecessor - Bret had just lost to his brother Owen in a grueling match earlier in the night, while Yokozuna narrowly escaped Lex Luger - but the action for me wasn't as crisp.  Yokozuna dominated the vast majority of the bout, his limited mobility often slowing the match to a crawl.  Guest referee Roddy Piper provided some energy and levity, but this match was all about Bret overcoming impossible odds and exhaustion to regain the title.  And regain it he did, in one of the sillier WrestleMania finishes - Yokozuna had worn Bret down to the nub and prepared to hit his patented Bonzai Drop from the second rope, but slipped for no particular reason and crashed to the canvas, allowing Bret to cover him for the pin.  Pretty lame, Milhouse.  The aftermath was a feelgood moment however, as every major babyface in the locker room swarmed the ring to congratulate Bret and hoist him into the air in celebration.  The storytelling was solid here, the action was just ok.

27. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - WrestleMania IX

I liked the wrestling better in this first encounter, as Bret was forced to get creative in battling a very unwieldy opponent in a clash of styles.  Bret stayed on offense for much of this bout, lending it a nice level of urgency.  His storytelling and ring generalship were so good in fact that it really looked like he might do the impossible and defeat a man over twice his size.  After felling the massive challenger with a clothesline, Bret wrapped Yokozuna's enormous legs around his own and pulled him up into a Sharpshooter, but then came Mr. Fuji on the outside with a handful of salt to Bret's eyes.  Yokozuna covered him to become the first heel to win the WWF Title at WrestleMania, and then of course the night totally went to shit, as referenced in Part 1 of this countdown.  Fuck Terry, Terry sucks.  So yeah, I wasn't about to ignore WrestleMania IX's actual main event just because of what happened immediately afterward.  This match was a solid piece of business except for the weak finish - come on, Yoko, at least finish him off with a legdrop or something.

26. Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 25

If ever a WrestleMania main event didn't tonally live up to the build, it's this one.  Triple H and Randy Orton had one of the most personal feuds ever to lead to a 'Mania headliner, with Orton punting both Vince and Shane McMahon, and even more dastardly, hitting Stephanie with a DDT while a handcuffed Triple H watched helplessly (Nevermind that for years the McMahons had all been presented as Grade-A assholes so it was basically impossible to sympathize with them here, but the angle was effective).  In retaliation Hunter broke into Orton's house and beat a raincheck into him, eventually tossing him out his front window onto the lawn as concerned neighbors looked on.  You'd think a feud with such rapid-fire escalation would culminate in a No Holds Barred match, a Hell in a Cell, a TLC match, hell, maybe a Chain match, why not?  Nope.  They just had a regular wrestling match to settle their differences.  A slow, methodical, Triple H-style main event wrestling match, where if Hunter got himself disqualified he'd lose the title.  Ya know, just to make sure the bout REALLY stayed orderly.  The pace and style of match didn't jibe at all with what fans wanted or expected, and trying to follow the epic, all-time classic Undertaker-Shawn Michaels masterwork two bouts earlier with a civilized Triple H-special grappling contest was an exercise in futility.  It's not that the match was bad by any means, on the contrary, it was a well-worked, fundamentally rock-solid wrestling match.  But it was 100% wrong for this particular feud.  What the company was thinking I'll never know.  But the crowd here was deader even than Hunter's WrestleMania 18 bout with Jericho.  It proved to me once and for all that Triple H doesn't make an effective babyface; his style is thoroughly steeped in deliberate, slow-paced wear-down holds that don't get the audience energized.  Couple that with Randy Orton's equally methodical cadence, and you have a recipe for sleepiness.

25. Triple H vs. Batista - WrestleMania 21

2005 was The Year of The Animal.  Big Dave Batista had emerged seemingly overnight as everyone's favorite rising star in the company.  After totally clusterfucking Randy Orton's babyface turn in 2004 by taking the smug, patronizing 24-year-old, putting the title on him, and expecting people to cheer him 24 hours later just because his asshole friends beat him up, the company took the slow-burn approach with his former teammate Batista.  Dave quietly waited in the wings as Evolution's muscle, having a mini-feud with Orton in which the fans overwhelmingly favored The Animal.  The planned WrestleMania 21 headliner of Triple vs. Orton (see WrestleMania 25 to see how well that would've gone) was scrapped, and Big Dave was on his way to the top.  Batista and John Cena were elevated simultaneously in the Royal Rumble, Dave just barely eking out a win, and after weeks of Triple H and Ric Flair urging him to challenge WWE Champion JBL, Batista turned babyface in earnest, announcing that he'd be coming after his former mentor.  The build was handled effectively, with Dave presented as a monster babyface who could believably plow through anyone he wanted.  That he'd decisively beat Triple H at the Show of Shows was one of those welcome foregone conclusions in wrestling (sometimes predictability is a good thing), and it led to big fan interest in the show.  The match itself was just okay, as Batista was still very inexperienced in a big match setting.  But it got the job done and cemented Dave as a brand new made man.  Hunter and Batista would have their feud-defining match a few months later inside a Cell, but this was an okay start.

24. Chris Jericho vs. Triple H - WrestleMania X8

This might be the one WrestleMania main event that suffered the most from a bad build.  Chris Jericho famously defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in one night to become the Undisputed Champion, which surely should've boosted his credibility big time, right?  Well, no.  Upon winning the unified titles, Jericho was booked as a joke champion, often opening RAW and Smackdown in matches against guys like Maven and Tazz, whom he struggled to defeat.  Making things worse was Triple H's Royal Rumble win establishing him as the #1 contender at WrestleMania, because Hunter was much more concerned with his estranged wife Stephanie than with the task of defeating the Undisputed Champ.  Thus Jericho was portrayed as Steph's lackey, bringing her hand cream, watching her dog, ya know, stuff a World Champion does...  Y2J was made to look like such a lowly chumpstain it totally killed any interest in this main event, and on the night of the PPV the two headlined in front of a dead crowd (It didn't help of course that The Rock and Hulk Hogan had torn the house down and the crowd was just done after that).  These two worked a good match but everything fell flat, and thus Triple H's big moment was more of a whimper than a bang.  Imagine sabotaging your own main event program just to make yourself appear out of the other guy's league....

23. Roman Reigns & The Rock vs. Cody Rhodes & Seth Rollins - WrestleMania 40, Night 1

Unique among two-night WrestleManias thus far, WM40 featured a Night 1 main event that included the two participants for Night 2's main event and directly influenced how that match would go.  After much hemming and hawing over whether it would be Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes or back-from-Hollywood and now TKO board member The Rock would be challenging Roman Reigns for the title.  Thankfully the fans made their voices heard and overwhelmingly favored Cody finishing his story.  But the spiteful Rock turned heel and joined The Bloodline, challenging Cody and Seth to a tag match at Night 1.  This was a pretty great twenty-minute match that unfortunately went 44 minutes.  After interminable crowd brawling and a lot of stalling, the bout finally settled into a really strong 15-minute closing stretch that saw Roman accidentally spear The Rock, Cody nearly defeat Roman again only for Rock to attack him with a weight belt, and Roman spear Cody before The Rock demanded the tag to finish him off with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  This was a good match that would've been great at half the running time.

22. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show - WrestleMania 2000

WrestleMania 2000 has to be the strangest edition of all time (except for maybe the COVID one).  There wasn't a single solitary one-on-one match under standard rules (Terri vs. The Kat had an over-the-top-rope stip), and the main event was a Fatal 4-Way elimination match, just so they could shove the entire McMahon family into the proceedings.  Jesus H. Christ, if I never see any of these people on my TV again it'll be too soon.  So instead of the expected Rock vs. Triple H headliner they added The Big Show (who technically won the Royal Rumble due to The Rock's feet accidentally hitting the floor first) and then just to give Mick Foley a WrestleMania moment they unretired him to complete the square.  The match was fine, rather overlong, and in the end anticlimactic.  The Big Show got triple-teamed early and was ousted from the match in under five minutes, Mick Foley turned in a less-than-stellar performance, not having gotten back into ring shape in time, and Rocky and Hunter carried the bulk of the bout.  It seemed a foregone conclusion that The Rock would defy the odds and regain the WWF Title, but in the interest of swerving everyone, Rock's cornerman Vince screwed him, delivering two chair shots to allow Hunter to retain the belt.  The Rock flipped out after the match, hitting Stephanie with a Rock Bottom/People's Elbow combination.  A month later at Backlash The Rock would win the title back anyway, so in hindsight it seems silly not to just have him win at the biggest show of the year.  Then again Triple H's victory here was historic as the first time a heel left WrestleMania as WWF Champion.  This was a so-so main event. 

21. John Cena vs. Triple H - WrestleMania 22

Here's a match about which I had no interest going in, but it turned out a pretty interesting main event.  John Cena was riding high as WWE's poster boy, but there was one problem - the fans had turned on him big time by late 2005.  During his feuds with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, Cena was roundly booed while his heel opponents were treated like heroes by the WWE faithful.  Literally the only bad guy who managed to get a proper heel reaction while feuding with Cena was The Rated R Superstar Edge, who shocked everyone by cashing in the first Money in the Bank briefcase after Cena had survived an Elimination Chamber.  Nowadays everyone's accustomed to the stupid briefcase gimmick and it's been done to death, but in 2006 no one expected Edge to exploit the "anytime, anywhere" loophole, and it was a big deal.  Edge drew good ratings as the champion but since Vince had his mind made up that Cena vs. Hunter was the 'Mania main event, Mr. Copeland's first WWE Title reign only lasted a paltry three weeks.  A cleverer promoter would've saved Edge's cash-in for the end of WrestleMania, just inside the one-year deadline.  Regardless, Cena vs. Triple H, while a pretty dull match on paper, turned out to be a very well-worked match that began the process of silencing Cena's "You Can't Wrestle" critics.  Hunter obviously led the dance, but Cena kept right up with him, and the 22-minute war ended with Hunter once again tapping out to the babyface.  What really made this match interesting though was the crowd, who booed Cena umercifully and cheered the crap out of Triple H; not long after, Hunter turned babyface and reunited with Shawn Michaels as DX.  Edge really got the last laugh in this situation, as he and Mick Foley easily stole the show with their Hardcore Match; Mrs. Foley's baby boy finally got his proper WrestleMania moment.

And that concludes Part 2 of our countdown - click HERE for part 3.....

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