Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2003)

I attended this show live, and was treated to a damn good Rumble match, plus maybe the greatest match I've ever seen in person....

Royal Rumble 2003 - FleetCenter - 1.19.03

What a perfect illustration of how much better Paul Heyman's Smackdown was than RAW in 2003.  The '03 Rumble holds a special place for me because I was in attendance.  The WWE product at this point had spectacular highs coupled with absolutely dreadful lows, and this PPV showcased both.

The big story of this Rumble was the mega-face push of Brock Lesnar, who had been betrayed by Paul Heyman two months earlier (in one of the most nonsensical angles of the era), and who was now returning from a brief injury.  The opening match was a Rumble qualifier between Lesnar and The Big Show which, while better than their Survivor Series '02 encounter was still only about six minutes.  But it accomplished what it needed to and provided a decisive win for Lesnar on his way to the Rumble.

Next was a Tag Title throwaway - The Dudley Boyz defeated William Regal and Lance Storm for the straps.  This was inoffensive but pretty dull.

Third was the culmination of probably the worst storyline of 2002 - Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie.  Weeks earlier it was revealed that Dawn had been banging Torrie's father Al, and there was a storyline wedding complete with Al Wilson stripping down to his skivvies (Just what we all wanted to see!).  A week or so later Al "died" while he and Dawn were on their honeymoon, specifically during the physical act of love.  Torrie blamed Dawn for killing her father and thus we were subjected to this matchup.  Three and a half minutes of pointless.

But at least Torrie vs. Dawn was bad and short, unlike our next bout.

The World Championship would be decided between Triple H and the latest WCW import, Scott Steiner.  Steiner had debuted awkwardly at Survivor Series and after a pretend bidding war between the WWE brands, showed up on RAW and announced that he was contracted to get a Title shot.  Now I could be wrong about this but I'm pretty sure he didn't wrestle a single solitary match leading up to this one.  And it's clear no one in WWE bothered to watch any of his late WCW bouts, because I can't imagine he'd have been in line for a main event push based on any of those "classics."  The RAW team must've been desperate for someone to feud with Hunter, since they'd buried all the top babyfaces over the previous four months.  I guess maybe they should've presented Booker, Kane or RVD as worthy challengers at Survivor Series, hmm?  It was also baffling that they took this Big Poppa Pump character, a 'roided-up freak who used uncomfortable sexual humor to get crowd heat, and tried to make him a likable babyface.  There was nothing heroic about Scott Steiner in this incarnation, and therefore no reason to want to see him beat up Triple H.  Plus the horrific buildup to this match consisted of posedowns, arm wrestling challenges and gibberish Steiner promos, resembling a late 80s Ultimate Warrior feud, and not in a good way.

How much did these two spend on PEDs that year?

During the match intros the live crowd gave Steiner a lukewarm reception and popped pretty big for Hunter despite him being the heel.  But their reaction changed within the first few minutes of the match, when it became clear what a shit-show we were all watching.  By the end of this clumsy, repetitive crapfest the entire FleetCenter audience was booing both guys, and after botching some suplexes and being clearly winded for much of the bout, Steiner's days as a main event babyface were numbered. 

Look it's Kurt Angle slapping the Anklelock on some dude.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2002)

This show could've been pretty great with a few major changes....

Royal Rumble 2002 - Philips Arena - 1.20.02

Like a lot of what WWF/E presented in 2002, this show pissed me off on a number of levels.  Certain people were not used correctly at all, despite having been on a major roll only a month or two earlier.  The return of certain talent sorta cast a gloom over the whole product, and this was the beginning of a pretty infuriating era in the company where common sense took a backseat to ego and politics.

Match #1 was an uninspired throwaway, as WWF Tag Champs Spike Dudley and Tazz (I liked this combination) faced The Dudley Boyz.  On paper this looked pretty good, but it was only given about five minutes.

Second was the I-C Title match, as Edge defended against William Regal.  I felt zero chemistry between these two, but they faced each other ad nauseum during this stretch.  Terribly boring stuff that ended with Regal capturing the Title.

Another bit of filler was next as Women's Champion Trish Stratus knocked off Jazz in less than four minutes.

The first marquee match was fourth, as WWF "co-owners" Vince McMahon and Ric Flair squared off in a Street Fight.  This match got pretty decent feedback but I felt no excitement from it at all.  Maybe it was their combined age of 110, maybe it was Flair's ring rust, maybe it was just me being sick of seeing Vince try to wrestle.  I didn't care about the match and found it a drag to sit through.

The WWF Title was next as Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho defended against The Rock.  Echoing the WWF Title situation at Rumble '98, the new heel Champion was feuding with someone else on TV and by all rights should've been booked against that guy at the PPV.  In this case "that guy" was Rob Van Dam.  White-hot off his stint as part of The Alliance, Van Dam had become the most popular star on the roster and seemed primed to break the ol' glass ceiling as a top-tier babyface.  On TV he and Jericho were very clearly on a collision course, and then.......they had a free TV match and the feud was over.  So instead of facing RVD here, Jericho faced The Rock.  For the third time in four months.  Ya know, I can't help but notice the sudden and significant depushing of Rob Van Dam coinciding with with in-ring return of a former heel who was now himself being positioned as a top-tier babyface.  Why d'you suppose that would be?  Anyway, this Jericho-Rock match was nowhere near the level of their two 2001 PPV bouts, and on TV Jericho was portrayed as just about the weakest Champion of all time (Seriously, the guy beat Austin and The Rock on the same night but weeks later had trouble beating Tazz and Maven, and was featured mostly in opening RAW segments.  A more systematic burial of a World Champion I cannot recall.).

Jericho looks more dominant here than he would during his feud with HHH.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2001)

Stone Cold Steve Austin is back, and he's about to achieve the unthinkable......

Royal Rumble 2001 - New Orleans Arena - 1.21.01

Much of the awesomeness of the WWF circa 2000 continued in the first half of 2001, as exemplified by the 2001 Royal Rumble.  Here was a damn near perfect Rumble card.  A Match of the Year candidate, a solid WWF Title match, and a pretty excellent Rumble.

To kick things off we were treated to a solid Tag Team Title match, as Edge & Christian defended against The Dudley Boyz.  This was pretty basic stuff but it worked well and ended with The Dudleyz winning back the Championships.

The Match of the Night was next, as I-C Champ Chris Benoit defended the strap in a Ladder Match against one of his greatest rivals, Chris Jericho.  These two delivered one of their best-ever bouts, creating inventive spots and establishing a gritty, realistic tone throughout.  Aside from a slightly anticlimactic finish, this was probably the best singles Ladder Match since HBK-Razor, and easily one of the best matches of 2001.

Jericho dropkicking a ladder.  Oh and some other guy.

The only bad match of the night was up third, as Women's Champion Ivory defended against Chyna.  After three minutes of forgettable action, Chyna suffered a kayfabe neck injury and lost via pinfall.  A rather tasteless stretcher angle followed which included Jerry Lawler going into the ring to check on her, echoing the real-life events surrounding the death of Owen Hart.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2000)

The WWF kicks off the new millennium with a BANG BANG!

Royal Rumble 2000 - Madison Square Garden - 1.23.00

Night and day.  That's how I'd compare the WWF product from 1999 to 2000.  After Vince Russo left, overly contrived angles, abbreviated matches, and a lack of focus on in-ring all went out the window.  In their place were excellent matches, a blossoming talent pool, and storylines that made sense.  The 2000 Royal Rumble was the perfect way to kick off what was probably the best single year in the company's history.

The first match saw new WWF star Kurt Angle against a mystery opponent.  The roof came off MSG as the surprise was revealed to be former ECW Champion Tazz.  While I hated, HATED the extra "z" in his name, Tazz made short work of Angle with a dominant three-minute win.  Sadly this was the last time Tazz was used correctly as a WWF wrestler.  He faded into the midcard almost immediately after this and transitioned into an announcer role.

An unlikely Match of the Year candidate was next as The Hardy Boyz faced The Dudley Boyz in the first-ever Tables Match.  These two teams cut the most blistering pace I'd ever seen, assembling a dizzying array of death-defying high spots which climaxed with Jeff Hardy performing a Swanton off the loge entranceway onto Bubba Ray, and through two tables.  This match would be the prototype for the TLC series.

Shit's about to get real.

An ill-conceived bikini contest took up ten minutes of valuable airtime and culminated in Mae Young taking her top off, to the delight of no one.

The I-C Title was next, as co-Champions Chris Jericho and Chyna (such a dumb angle, don't ask) faced Bob Holly in a Triple Threat to determine the Undisputed I-C Champ.  Not sure why Holly was included - surely the co-Champs should've settled their feud one-on-one.  Anyway, Jericho prevailed.

A throwaway Tag Title match was next, as The New Age Outlaws had a quick two-minute win against the Acolytes.

The semi-main went to the WWF Title match.  New heel Champion Triple H, whose main event run had thus far been shaky at best, set out to prove that he did indeed belong at the top of the roster by taking on Cactus Jack in a Street Fight.  Much as he had done to establish The Rock as a main event heel in 1999, Mick Foley went above and beyond to cement Triple H as a new headliner worthy of carrying the company into the next decade.  Triple H himself proved he was more than just a cowardly heel Champion by taking vast sums of punishment over the course of this 27-minute bout.  This match featured one of the more grotesque endings I've seen, as Foley took a Pedigree face-first onto a pile of thumbtacks.  This was the match where I became a full-on Triple H fan (until mid-2002 that is).  Also a Match of the Year candidate (though I think their Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out was even better).

Dude.  Thumbtacks in face.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1999)

The Vince Russo-iest of all Vince Russo Royal Rumbles....

 Royal Rumble 1999 - Arrowhead Pond - 1/24/99

You can take just about any WWF PPV from January through September 1999 and point to it as highly indicative of how awful Vince Russo's booking had become.  After a record-shattering 1998 that featured some of the freshest WWF programming ever, 1999 was the year their product went creatively off the rails and exposed Russo as someone who clearly needed a guiding hand for his ideas to be effective.  This Rumble card (and several other shows that year) felt very disorganized and at times nonsensical.

The show opened with Hardcore Champion The Road Dogg vs. The Big Bossman....in a regular match.  Ummm, why would you book the HC Champ against a hated rival on PPV, without the HC Title on the line?  This was one of the more boring 12-minute matches I can remember.

Next up was I-C Champion Ken Shamrock, in the midst of a monster Title run, against Billy Gunn.  Early '99 was a period where the company really tried to push Billy as a future main eventer, and he repeatedly proved he was better as a tag teamer.  This was mediocre.

The one good midcard match on this show saw European Champ X-Pac defend against Gangrel.  An enjoyable, fast-paced bout that sadly only got six minutes.

A Women's Title Strap Match was next as Sable defended against Luna Vachon.  Luna had attacked Sable on the preshow, so the big story was "can Sable still compete?"  The suspense was short-lived though, as Sable won the bout in under five minutes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1998)

Stone Cold joins the back-to-back Rumbles club....

Royal Rumble 1998 - San Jose Arena - 1/18/98

1998 was of course the year the WWF, on the back of Steve Austin, reascended to the top of the North American wrestling market, after two years of being dominated by WCW.  Austin's popularity had grown steadily over the previous year, and by January '98 he was the clear choice for the next face of the company.  This Rumble card was built almost exclusively around this premise.

The company's roster was quite thin at this point after losing Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith in the wake of Montreal.  Also Triple H sustained a knee injury which kept him off the card and removed a potential Rumble dark horse from the field.  Still the WWF's momentum was building and everyone seemed eager to make their mark.

The first match was an odd little affair, as new babyface Vader took on The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust.  This was easily Dustin Runnels' most bizarre persona.  Heavily influenced by S&M, Runnels would wear a different and increasingly more ostentatious outfit every night.  I actually found this persona much more entertaining than plain ol' Goldust, but it was pretty short-lived.  This match was fine for its spot on the card.

What a cozy place to take a piledriver.

Next was a throwaway minis match - Max Mini, Mosaic and Nova vs. Battalion, El Torito and Tarantula.  More less presented like a poor man's lucha bout, this was eight minutes of fluff.

Things picked up though with the I-C Title match between The Rock and Ken Shamrock.  These two would face each other numerous times in 1997-98, and they developed pretty excellent chemistry.  Shamrock played the dominant but somewhat easily outmaneuvered hothead, while The Rock was the cowardly but clever heel Champion who expertly exploited every situation.  This match was no masterpiece but it helped solidify both guys as rising stars.

The Tag Championship was next, as hot new heels The New Age Outlaws faced The Legion of Doom.  Another decent undercard match, though two DQ endings in a row was a bit excessive.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1997)

Welcome back to Enuffa.com's History of the Royal Rumble!  And welcome to the Stone Cold Era!

Royal Rumble 1997 - AlamoDome - 1/19/97

The 1997 Rumble has unfortunately not aged all that well, but at the time I absolutely loved this show.  The card was pretty stacked and sprinkled with several Mexican lucha stars (Nevermind that WCW had already scooped up all the GOOD lucha stars - I didn't yet know any better.), the Rumble match had a strong field of contenders (largely due to most of the undercard participants pulling double duty), and the huge venue added to its splendor, making this show feel more like a WrestleMania card than 'Mania 13 did.

The opener was an I-C Title match - Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust.  At this point the company was struggling to find a sidekick for Hunter after Mr. Perfect left the company, and they saddled him with perennial midcarder Curtis Hughes.  Fortunately a month later Hunter would bring in Chyna, and his career would never be the same.  As for this match, it was passable but nowhere near as good as their 'Mania rematch would be.

Why wasn't WrestleMania 13 held here?

The next match featured the in-ring return of Ahmed Johnson, out for revenge against Faarooq, who had injured him the previous summer.  I was excited to see this, and while it was brief and inconclusive, it was a fun brawl.

Third was a dream match of sorts between The Undertaker and Vader.  There wasn't much going on in this feud but the pair worked pretty well together.  Underwhelming but decent.

Next was a showcase of B-grade Lucha stars, as Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo and Canek took on Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal and Fuerza Guerrera.  As Lucha six-man tags go I now know this was a pretty shabby representation, but at the time some of this stuff blew my mind (I didn't watch Nitro enough to take in much of the real Lucha action.).  I was particularly impressed with Hector Garza, as was WCW apparently (He debuted there later that year).

The Rumble match was once again in the semi-main slot, and featured a star-making performance by Steve Austin.  Austin entered the match fifth and cleared the ring multiple times, eventually eliminating a record-shattering ten people.  One of the match highlights occurred while Austin was alone in the ring waiting for the next entrant, and Bret Hart's music hit.  The crowd erupted to see Austin and Bret resume their landmark feud, and the two of them engaged in a blistering 90-second slugfest.  This Rumble match has one of the best closing stretches of any Rumble - ten men left in the ring after number 30, five of them potential winners.  It boiled down to Austin, Bret, Vader, Taker, and Fake Diesel.  Suddenly Bret dumped Austin out, but since the officials were distracted by Mankind and Terry Funk brawling at ringside the elimination went unnoticed and Austin slid back in, eliminating Vader, Taker and Bret.  Bret flew into a rage at Austin's tainted victory, furthering his gradual heel turn.  This match is another one of my all-time favorite Rumbles.

Man, evil Austin was great.

Participants: Crush, Ahmed Johnson, Fake Razor Ramon, Phineas Godwinn, Steve Austin, Bart Gunn, Jake Roberts, British Bulldog, Pierroth, The Sultan, Mil Mascaras, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Owen Hart, Goldust, Cibernetico, Marc Mero, Latin Lover, Faarooq, Savio Vega, Jesse James, Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler, Fake Diesel, Terry Funk, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Flash Funk, Vader, Henry Godwinn, Undertaker
Final Four: Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Vader
Long Man: Steve Austin (45:07)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1996)

The Heartbreak Kid returns from a concussion and pulls off a stunning repeat from '95....

Royal Rumble 1996 - Selland Arena - 1/21/96

And we're back to the good Rumble/bad undercard format.  The '96 Rumble was basically a one-match show.  There were a couple okay undercard matches but nothing must-see.  This was also the first time the Rumble match didn't close the show, which was a little ridiculous but I understand why they did it.

First up was a throwaway, as Ahmed Johnson faced Jeff Jarrett.  This feud started a few weeks earlier and would not have a resolution due to Jarrett's defection to WCW shortly after this match.  Ahmed won by DQ after a guitar shot.

Second was the Tag Title match as The Smokin' Gunns defended against The Bodydonnas.  Skip and Zip, as they were known, were a fine tandem (Chris Candido and Tom Prichard) saddled with a horrible gimmick and even worse ring names.  The only person in their group who got over was Sunny, who later dumped the Bodydonnas and ended up managing the Gunns.  This match was pretty forgettable.

Next Razor Ramon once again defended the I-C Title, this time against newcomer Goldust.  Their feud centered around Goldust's apparent romantic attraction to Razor, and Razor's homophobic, disgusted reaction.  Clearly the WWF was not yet part of any sort of Be a Star campaign.  This match marked the debut of Goldust's manager Marlena (played by his real-life wife Terri).  It was decent but not great, and it always bothered me a little that the WWF exploited the intolerance of its audience to get Goldust over as a sexually ambigious heel.  Still it could be argued that the inception of the Attitude Era occurred with the introduction of the Goldust character.

The semi-main event of the 1996 Royal Rumble......was the 1996 Royal Rumble.  The big story here was the return of Shawn Michaels, who had suffered a storyline concussion stemming from a real-life assault outside a bar in Syracuse.  A month later Shawn collapsed in the ring on RAW, and the angle was so realistic and so well-executed I actually though his career was in jeopardy.  The '96 field was full of newcomers and future stars - Steve Austin, Triple H, Kane and The Godfather all made their Rumble debuts as pre-Attitude characters.  But the match was carried by Michaels' superhuman performance.  Shawn tied the record for most eliminations with 8, and outlasted all of the company's big men to win his second consecutive Rumble.  Predictable but satisfying, this match ended up being one of the best Rumbles to date and is still one of my favorites.

Dammit Leon, I told ya to throw me out UNDER the top rope!

Participants: Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Henry Godwinn, Bob Backlund, Jerry Lawler, Bob Holly, King Mabel, Jake Roberts, Dory Funk Jr., Yokozuna, 1-2-3 Kid, Takao Omori, Savio Vega, Vader, Doug Gilbert, Squat Team #1, Squat Team #2, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, Hakushi, Tatanka, Aldo Montoya, Diesel, Kama, The Ringmaster, Barry Horowitz, Fatu, Isaac Yankem, Marty Jannetty, British Bulldog, Duke Droese
Final FourShawn Michaels, Diesel, Kama, British Bulldog
Long Man: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (48:01)

As I said before, I get why this Rumble match didn't go on last.  The main event of this show was the WWF Title match between Bret Hart and The Undertaker.  This was historic for being the first Bret-Taker clash, and had it gone on before the Rumble, the result of this match would've telegraphed which of the two Rumble favorites - Shawn and Diesel - would win that match.  So for those two reasons I understand putting Bret-Taker on last.  Unfortunately though, this didn't earn its main event spot.  It was slow, plodding, overly long, and ended with a disqualification to set up Taker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania.  I was certainly excited at the prospect of seeing the company's two best big men face off for the first time, but Bret-Taker left me cold.

Bret's making short work of Skeletor.

The '96 Rumble is really only memorable for Shawn Michaels' characteristic show-stealing work.  Had he not been on the card there'd be virtually nothing here to be excited about.  This card did however set the tone for a strong WrestleMania.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Ahmed vs. Jarrett
What I'd Change: Shorten the WWF Title match and quicken its pace.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret vs. Undertaker
Most Pleasant Surprise: I don't know that I was surprised by anything.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XII, SummerSlam '96, and/or Survivor Series 1996? - No, Probably not, No.

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The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1995)

Get ready for the year they ran the Rumble match on fast-forward....

Royal Rumble 1995 - USF Sun Dome - 1/22/95

1995 was one of the more unusual installments in the Rumble series, featuring a pretty stacked undercard followed by a very underwhelming Rumble match.  The WWF unfortunately sacrificed the length and scope of the most epic match of the year to make room for multiple strong undercard bouts.

Kicking things off was an I-C Title match between Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett.  I was never a huge fan of this feud or Jarrett, but this match was fairly decent.  The booking was kinda clunky though, with Razor getting counted out and Jarrett challenging him to continue the match.  Since when does a wrestler have the ability to restart a match?  Shouldn't an authority figure of some kind have to make that call?  Anyway, this would be a classic case of "more guts than brains," as Razor's gallantry cost him the Title.

The one stinker of the night was next, as The Undertaker faced IRS.  At no time did IRS seem remotely like a threat to the nigh-invincible Dead Man, but this match got eleven-plus minutes anyway.

The WWF Championship was next as new Champ Diesel (I must reluctantly confess I was a big fan of his at the time) faced the former Champ Bret Hart.  This was an epic (if overbooked) face vs. face match where Bret played the de facto heel trying to take advantage of his less experienced opponent.  Much like the opening bout, this featured a restart.  Diesel had Bret pinned after a Jacknife Powerbomb but was attacked by his former friend Shawn Michaels.  The referee ordered the match to continue (Hey at least this time a person with jurisdiction made the decision.), and then several minutes later Owen attacked Bret.  The referee again ordered a restart, and after several more minutes and a ref bump, Shawn, Jeff Jarrett, The Roadie (why were JJ and Roadie there?), Owen and Bob Backlund all interfered, drawing a double DQ.  So yeah it was an overbooked mess, but the match was still pretty damn strong.  Bret and Diesel always worked well together and their 1994-95 trilogy contained some of Nash's best work.

Kev, all you gotta do is roll over.  Didn't anyone teach you that?

Monday, January 11, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1994)

The 1994 Rumble ends in controversy as we have dual winners for the first time....

Royal Rumble 1994 - Providence Civic Center - 1/22/94

This here is your classic one-match show.  After one of the worst-ever Rumble undercards, we were treated to a damn fine Rumble match which at the time was probably the second-best edition.  The company was rebuilding after the roster losses of '92 and '93, and the New Generation was in full-swing.

The show opened with Tatanka vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (subbing for an injured Ludvig Borga).  Since there was no feud here the match meant nothing, and wasn't very good anyway.  Next?

Match #2 is one of the more overrated I can remember, but it was important in setting up one of the biggest feuds of the year.  World Tag Champs The Quebecers defended against Bret and Owen Hart.  At the time I found this an oddly contrived setup.  Bret was rather above the Tag belts at this point and it seemed clear this would just be leading to the Bret vs. Owen feud.  Sure enough that's exactly what happened.  Bret took several minutes of Quebecer offense but opted not to tag in a fresh Owen.  Finally Bret's knee was so injured the referee stopped the match (also very contrived - why not just have the Quebecers pin Bret with a rollup or something?), and Owen went ballistic, attacking his brother and turning heel.  The match worked alright as an angle but really wasn't much of a wrestling match.

We returned to Throwaway City next, as I-C Champ Razor Ramon defended against IRS (one of the weaker perennial I-C contenders).  I never saw much chemistry between these two, so this was two-star fare at best.

The World Title match was next, as Yokozuna faced The Undertaker in a Casket Match.  Going into this I was very excited to see Taker finally get another Title shot after over two years, and I actually thought he might take it down.  As it turned out I'd be disappointed with the result, and nauseated by the match itself.  This was one of the worst-ever World Title matches, featuring slow-motion brawling, cartoonishly excessive overbooking (Ten, count them, TEN midcard heels would interfere on Yokozuna's behalf), and a laughably bad aftermath.  Taker was shut into the casket and his "ghost" would rise from the arena floor and ascend to the ceiling.  Said "ghost" was of course Marty Janetty (who incidentally is about 9 inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than Mark Callaway), and said "ascension" was accomplished through the use of clearly visible harness wires.  Good lord this was campy and idiotic.

Wait, how'd he end up on the TV screens? 
They couldn't possibly have prerecorded this bit, could they?

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1993)

The WWF roster in 1993 may have been razor-thin (Razor, get it?), but I'll be damned if this show wasn't a lot of fun....

Royal Rumble 1993 - Arco Arena - 1/24/93

The 1993 edition had no right to be as good a show as it was.  I watched this show live on PPV, mostly for the Shawn Michaels-Marty Janetty clash, and was pretty captivated start to finish.  Despite a very depleted roster the WWF managed a fun Rumble PPV.

The opener was another fast-paced tag match pitting WWF newcomers The Steiners vs. The Beverly Brothers.  While nothing amazing, this was a highly entertaining way to open the show and showcase what the Steiners could do.  The match-ending Frankensteiner was brutal-looking.

Next up was the aforementioned, eagerly-anticipated I-C Title match between the former Rockers, as Marty Janetty returned to the ring to avenge his betrayal a year earlier at the hands of Shawn Michaels.  Adding to the intrigue was an angle taped a few weeks prior, where Marty attacked Shawn in the ring and swung Shawn's mirror at him.  Shawn threw his manager Sherri Martel in the way and Marty accidentally smashed the mirror over her head.  Sherri was at ringside for this match in a neutral corner, and by the end of the bout would turn on Shawn and attempt to help Marty win.  Her interference backfired however and Shawn retained the belt.  This match featured less high-flying than I expected but it made sense given the nature of the feud.  A very solid I-C Title match.

Third was a big-man match between the Big Bossman and the returning Bam Bam Bigelow.  Both of these behemoths could move fantastically well for their size, and this match is very much worth a watch.  Bam Bam won a hard-fought match on his way to a mini-push.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1992)

1992, the year in which arguably the greatest Rumble match of all time took place....

Royal Rumble 1992 - Knickerbocker Arena - 1/19/92

Now we're talkin'.  The '92 edition of the Rumble was primarily a one-match show, but what a match!  Late '91 saw some major additions to the WWF roster in Ric Flair and Sid Justice, and both guys were immediately thrust into the WWF Title picture, along with The Undertaker and the returning Randy Savage.  Taker had won the belt from Hogan at Survivor Series and lost it right back.  Since both title changes occurred amid controversy the Championship was held up and President Jack Tunney announced that a new Champion would be crowned by winning the '92 Royal Rumble.  The field was easily the most stacked in history at that time (and for many years since).  But before we get to this extraordinary main event...

The show opened similarly to the '91 Rumble, with an undercard tag match.  This time the Orient Express faced The New Foundation of Jim Neidhart and Owen Hart.  The New Foundation won a decently worked match with a Rocket Launcher after 17 minutes.  I had pretty high hopes for this new team but unfortunately they were saddled with terrible ring gear and the company never got behind them.  Then Neidhart disappeared from TV and Owen was left to team with Koko B. Ware while still wearing Neidhart's puffy pants.  Anyway, this was a decent opener but nowhere near the level of the OX-Rockers match from 1991.

Up next was the Intercontinental Championship - new Champion The Mountie had just defeated Bret Hart for the belt two days earlier at a house show.  Roddy Piper was then subbed in for the infirm Hart to challenge for the belt at the Rumble, and he soundly took down The Mountie with a sleeper hold to capture his first WWF belt.  Piper would also appear in the Rumble match itself, making him eligible to win both singles Championships on the same night.  This was a pretty one-sided throwaway match but it was nice to see Piper finally win some WWF gold.

Dead Man vs. Immortal

A bafflingly long stinker was next, as The Beverly Brothers (formerly the Minnesota Wrecking Crew II in the AWA) defeated The Bushwhackers.  Why this got fifteen minutes I don't know.  Just like two years earlier Luke and Butch stunk the place up in an ungodly long match.

The Tag belts were up for grabs in the semi-main slot, as Hawk and Animal defended against The Natural Disasters.  This was standard big-man brawling and led to the Disasters winning by countout.  The LOD would drop the belts at a house show only a few weeks later before disappearing from WWF TV for a little while.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1991)

Oh good, Hogan wins again....

Royal Rumble 1991 - Miami Arena - 1/19/91

The '91 Rumble was the first WWF PPV I ever ordered.  Why I chose that particular event to jump in the water I'm not sure.  It wasn't good though. 

The show opened amazingly, with an absolutely killer tag match - The Rockers vs. The Orient Express.  I know on paper that doesn't sound mindblowing, but trust me.  This was nineteen minutes of just spectacular action, and I think this was the moment when I really started to appreciate The Rockers, Shawn in particular.  I'd go so far as to call this the 1991 Match of the Year.  I shit you not.

It was kinda all downhill from there though.  Next was The Big Bossman vs. The Barbarian.  This wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.  Passable.  Bossman was still feuding with Bobby Heenan and his henchman after Rick Rude's sudden departure from the company.  This was something to keep him busy until his mini-feud with Mr. Perfect.  Bossman won after 14 just okay minutes.

Third was one of the sloppiest brawls I can remember, as WWF Champion The Ultimate Warrior defended against Sgt. Slaughter, in the first WWF Title defense on a Rumble card.  I figured Warrior would mow over Slaughter and resume feuding with Randy Savage for the belt, being that they hadn't yet wrestled since the start of their rivalry (Savage was obviously not cleared to wrestle but I didn't know that).  What happened instead was that Savage smashed Warrior across the skull with his sceptre (a pretty brutal-looking spot I must admit), allowing Slaughter to win the WWF Title and become one of the worst Champions ever (Even in 1991 I recognized on some level the concept of devaluing a championship.), and setting up probably the weakest WrestleMania main event in history.  This was pretty awful stuff.

How pissed was Warrior at losing the belt?  THIS pissed.

It was followed by two throwaway matches - The Mountie vs. Tito Santana in a quick squash that didn't belong on a PPV, and Ted Dibiase & Virgil vs. Dusty & Dustin Rhodes.  This would be Dusty's last televised WWF match, and I believe it was Dustin's only match in the company until he returned in 1995 as Goldust.  Despite Team Dibiase's win, Ted was upset with Virgil's performance and berated him after the match.  Virgil had taken all the abuse he could stand, and blasted Dibiase with the Million Dollar belt, turning babyface.

The 1991 Rumble match was easily my least favorite to date.  I had four wrestlers I was rooting for (The stip about the Rumble winner earning a WWF Title match was not yet introduced so it was anyone's ballgame.): Randy Savage, Undertaker, Hawk and Animal, none of whom lasted more than 14 minutes.  After all four of them were out of contention (Randy Savage actually no-showed the match after costing Warrior the belt) I more or less tuned out, as it was clear Hulk Hogan would be winning his second-straight Rumble match.  Yawn.  Hogan eliminated Brian Knobbs (gee I wonder why Knobbs got to be in the final four) and Earthquake to once again reign dominant over the entire WWF roster.  This match was notable however for two men exceeding the 44-minute longevity mark: Greg Valentine and Rick Martel.

Oh super, two of my picks just eliminated another one of my picks.
Thanks a lot, Legion of Dicks!

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1990)

The 1990 Rumble offered a chance to elevate a new top heel, but they didn't take it....

Royal Rumble 1990 - Orlando Arena - 1/21/90

Here's where they started to solidify the format of the Rumble PPVs.  The 1990 edition was the first show that felt like a full PPV lineup at least.  The roster was deep enough for four undercard matches plus a pretty stacked Rumble bout.  Nothing on this show was exactly good and the ending pissed me off to no end, but at least they were ironing out the format kinks.

The opening match was a rematch from 'Mania V which wasn't any good the first time - The Bushwhackers vs. The Rougeaus.  The difference here was these two teams were given over thirteen minutes.  Yikes.  I don't think Butch and Luke ever had a good WWF match, which was a shame given their pre-WWF body of work as sadistic heels.  The Rougeaus had this match in hand as Raymond put Butch in a Boston Crab to set up Jacques' knee drop, but Luke tripped Jacques and the Bushwhackers hit their battering ram finish for the win.

Next was Brutus Beefcake vs. "The Genius" Lanny Poffo, eleven minutes of nondescript brawling ending in a wacky double disqualification after a ref bump.  Beefcake had the match won but Mr. Perfect came out to help Poffo, hitting Beefcake with a Perfect-Plex (which doesn't make sense unless you're trying to pin someone with it).  The ref woke up and threw the match out amid the chaos.  Not much to write home about here either.

The one strong undercard match was third, as Greg Valentine and Ronnie Garvin faced off in a Submission match.  This was better than it really had any right to be.  About sixteen minutes of solid work, featuring a lot of submission moves and counters, with Garvin eventually getting the win after hitting Valentine with his own shin guard and submitting him with the Scorpion Deathlock.  Strangely Garvin was gone from the company not long after.

Ah, the ol' Figure Four Rollover.

Fourth was another forgettable encounter - Jim Duggan vs. The Big Bossman.  Ten minutes of tedious brawling ending in a DQ when Slick tossed Bossman his nightstick and the referee saw him use it on Duggan.  Duggan was long since irrelevant by this point.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1989)

The first proper Rumble show as we know it today - 30 men instead of 20, and on PPV....

Royal Rumble 1989 - The Summit - 1/15/89

Given the positive reception for the '88 TV special, the WWF expanded the event in 1989 and put it on PPV.  The Rumble field was increased to 30 participants and featured all the company's top stars.  The '89 show on paper looks like a one-match card, which was kind of a trend early on.  The Rumble itself was so stacked there wasn't much talent left over for the rest of the show.

The opening match ended up sort of stealing the show though, as The Hart Foundation and Jim Duggan took on The Rougeau Brothers and Dino Bravo in a 2/3 Falls match.  This was fast-paced and very well-worked.  A strong opener.

Wait, was this a 4-on-3 handicap match?
What's the camera guy doing in their corner?

The big non-wrestling segment of this show was a posedown between The Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude, designed to start their long feud.  As with all posedowns this was silly, but business picked up when Rude whacked Warrior with a workout bar.

Next was a throwaway Women's Title match, as Rockin' Robin defended against Judy Martin.  This would be the last high-profile Women's Title bout for several years.

An odd heel vs. heel match was next as King Harley Race, recently disowned by Bobby Heenan, defended his crown against Haku.  Pretty nondescript stuff, as the aging Race was phased out of active competition.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1988)

From the wrestling-addicted putz who brought you The History of WWE WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series comes the Enuffa.com History of WWE Royal Rumble!

The annual tradition that generally garners one of WWE's best buyrates of the year, the Royal Rumble is considered the official kickoff to WrestleMania season.  Angles and feuds are set up at the January PPV that lead directly to WWE's biggest show.  It all centers around the 30-man (or occasionally 40-man) Rumble match, where the participants draw numbers to determine their order of entry.  Two men start the match and the rest are added at regular intervals (usually either 90 seconds or two minutes).  The object is to eliminate your opponents by throwing them over the top rope.  The last man standing is guaranteed a WWE Title match at WrestleMania.

The Rumble is usually one of the most fun matches of the year, as it's heavy on surprises and twists, and superstars are created or solidified.  This match type more than any other lends itself to group viewing and betting pools (For example my friends and I each draw numbers and whichever wrestlers correspond to our numbers, that's who we bet on).

Initially the Rumble match was simply a novelty, and the first edition was offered on free cable as counterprogramming to the NWA's Bunkhouse Stampede PPV.  Once again Vince tried to put the kibosh on Jim Crockett's PPV hopes, and once again Crockett's show flopped (In retaliation Crockett ran the free Clash of the Champions event opposite WrestleMania IV).  The inaugural Rumble match only featured 20 wrestlers, and no main event stars.  The following year it was expanded to 30 men and broadcast on PPV, and a few years later the stakes were raised by making the Royal Rumble winner the automatic top contender for WrestleMania.

The best Rumble matches tend to be the ones heaviest on star power, as the field of realistic winners is larger and less predictable.  But there have certainly been exceptions to that rule. 

Here now is the History of WWE Royal Rumble!

Royal Rumble 1988 - Copps Coliseum - 1/24/88

As I said before, the first Rumble was a free TV special and mostly featured midcard bouts.  It was the brainchild of Pat Patterson, who test-ran the concept a few times on house shows with enough positive feedback to make the match a televised event.

The show opened with a singles bout between Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat.  This was fine but ran a bit long, especially given the DQ ending.  It was the first instance I ever saw of the fans chanting "Rudy Rudy RUUU-DAAAY", which I found amusing.  Nothing too memorable, but it was an okay match.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (14)

The first-ever two-part WrestleKingdom took place in 2020, and it was overall a helluva weekend of pro wrestling.  The two shows played like a double album of sorts, with the first disc containing by far the two best tracks, and the second disc being a more solid overall album. 

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

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

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

The 2020 Enuffa.com Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to the 7th Annual Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards, here at Enuffa.com, where I celebrate the highs (and lows) of the year that was, inside the squared circle!

Here's an understatement for you: 2020 was a weird year.  A global pandemic changed a lot of big plans for everyone, and the wrestling industry was most certainly not immune (no pun intended).  For the first time ever, holding wrestling shows without an audience became commonplace, and not only did every company take a major financial hit from the loss of ticket sales, but the wrestlers between the ropes were forced to reckon with the lack of crowd noise.  It really made everyone realize how vital an energized crowd is to the creative success of a wrestling match.  Some companies adjusted better than others.  Some came up with convoluted high-concept technological solutions and passed them off as revolutionary (You know who you are, Vince).  Some companies are located in countries that actually took the pandemic seriously and thus were able to let fans back in much sooner.  Regardless, 2020 threw all sorts of wrenches into everyone's plans.  But that doesn't mean we didn't get some fine wrestling along the way, and that's why we're here talking awards.

Before I hand out pretend trophies though, there's one major change to my wrestling viewing habits I'd like to discuss.  In April of 2020 I walked away from WWE, after 34 years as a fan.  Just take a moment to let that fact sink in.  I've been watching this wrasslin' stuff since 1986.  And while the WWF/WWE, historically my favorite wrestling company for most of that time, has had its numerous highs and lows, I stuck with them through all of it, at least on some level.  During the Monday Night War I was Team WWF through and through; never once did my loyalty to their product waver, even as they were getting their asses kicked in the ratings every week.  Starting in 2004 I fell off watching the weekly shows religiously and ordering every PPV, prompted by JBL's out-of-nowhere main event push.  Starting in 2005 I reduced my PPV orders to the Big Four.  With the advent of Netflix carrying WWE DVDs in 2006 I began waiting a month to rent most of the PPVs on disc rather than shelling out the $50 a pop to watch them live.  But when the WWE Network launched in 2014 I was all in.  I subscribed the first week and never looked back.  No matter how bad or nonsensical the weekly RAWs and Smackdowns became, I still watched every PPV event.  Even as NJPW became my new favorite wrestling promotion, spending $9.99 a month to watch every new WWE PPV (plus tons of nostalgic content) was a no-brainer.  So now consider just how unwatchably horrible the WWE product would have to become for me to decide after seven years as a subscriber that ten bucks a month was too much to spend.  I haven't watched a WWE show in ten months, and based on what I've been reading about them, I haven't regretted missing any of it.  It is a true indictment of Vince's cosmic ineptitude that someone like me, literally WWE's most loyal demographic, has completely lost interest in his product, at a time when he has probably the most talented roster ever assembled.  And now, given how great NJPW is and how much fun I have watching AEW, it would take a major creative and tonal shift for me to revisit WWE on a consistent basis.  I actually considered re-subscribing for one month just to watch the Royal Rumble, as it's always an enjoyable event.  And then they booked Drew vs. Goldberg as the main event.  Wow, Vince.  Way to clearly signal, "No thanks, fan of three-plus decades, I don't want you to resume giving me your money."  Such a business genius.  

Anyway, even despite all this, I've attempted to be impartial with these awards and give WWE their due when I feel they've earned it.  So here goes.....

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

NJPW WrestleKingdom 15 Night 2 Review

WrestleKingdom 15 Night 2 was on par with Night 1 overall, but less even-keel, mostly thanks to the opening match being subpar and the main event being a masterpiece.

Things started off with the King of Pro-Wrestling Championship 4-Way match, with the four winners of the Rumble squaring off.  This match was an inoffensive 7 minutes but could've been so much more had they included Ishii, Sho, Suzuki, or even one or two of the Young Lions.  Who wants to see Chase Owens or Bad Luck Fale in there?  I get Yano being involved since he's last year's champion, but once you add him the match is limited to a comedy spectacle.  Which is exactly what happened.  Owens and Fale ended up hitting the Grenade Launcher on Bushi, incapacitating him, but then couldn't agree on who would pin him.  Enter Yano with a double low blow to knock both heels down, and pin Bushi.  Yano is the new KOPW Champion for the time being.  Like I said, this was inoffensive.  *3/4

Up next was the Jr. Tag Team Title match, with Desperado & Kanemaru defending against new team Ryusuke Taguchi and Master Wato.  This match exceeded my rather low expectations; it wasn't amazing but it was an entertaining 13-minute match.  It started out pretty fast and furious, almost as a showcase for Wato, but Taguchi dominated the later parts.  The heels worked over Taguchi's leg and he got most of the babyface heat.  Taguchi handled Desperado for a while before Kanemaru distracted the ref, allowing Desperado to land a punch and hit Pinche Loco to retain the belts.  Seems odd to have this new babyface team come up short, but oh well.  The Jr. Tag division needs help.  ***

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

NJPW WrestleKingdom 15 Night 1 Review

Welcome to the two-part WrestleKingdom 15 review, here at Enuffa.com!

Well, the 2021 Tokyo Dome show is in the books, and like last year's, this was a pretty excellent double album.  In a COVID world, sadly the crowd and time limitations kept WrestleKingdom 15 from fully giving you that epic PPV of the Year-type feeling, but I'll be damned if NJPW didn't work really hard to live up to previous editions.  What we got were two three-hour shows with very little fat on the bone and multiple ****+ matches on each night.  Hard to complain much about that, even if I do miss WrestleKingdom being the single-night blowout of years past.  But let's get to the Night 1 matches.

After the usual forgettable pre-show Rumble to decide the KOPW 4-way on Night 2 (they missed opportunities here to elevate one or two youngins), the PPV got down to business in earnest with Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo to determine the number-one contender for Taiji Ishimori's Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Takahashi won the 2020 Best of the Super Juniors tourney, while ELP won the Super-J Cup.  These two had an excellent high-energy opener that saw ELP go all out to show off his prodigious athleticism, while Takahashi seemed to be conserving a little something for Night 2.  ELP paid homage to Bullet Club leaders of old, hitting a Styles Clash and nearly getting off a One-Winged Angel.  Ultimately though, Takahashi stole this match by countering ELP's finish with a Rey Mysterio hurricanrana trap.  A damn fine opener.  ****

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK13)

I'm not sure there's ever been such a great PPV that left me with such mixed feelings as WrestleKingdom 13.  From a booking standpoint everything was done really well.  From a match quality standpoint there wasn't a bad bout in sight, and a few were flat-out excellent.  But the decision to limit the show to four hours when thirty extra minutes would've elevated it to the Best PPV Ever conversation, coupled with numerous impending departures, made this a bittersweet show.

In the opening match, which has to be on the short list for best openers ever, Will Ospreay defeated Kota Ibushi for the NEVER Openweight Title.  This match was fast paced and dazzling as expected, with loads of back and forth offense, some intense striking battles, and tons of athleticism as only these two can deliver.  My favorite spot involved the two of them trading strikes while Ibushi was hanging upside down from the turnbuckles (which is where a legit Ibushi concussion occurred).  Late in the match Ospreay kicked out of a Last Ride and avoided the Kamigoye knee (though Ibushi at one point hit him with the Boma Ye, a move he'd adopt in tribute to Nakamura), knocked Ibushi loopy with a driving elbow to the head, and landed the Stormbreaker to win the title.  Ibushi was stretchered out with a kayfabe concussion that in fact turned out to be a legit minor one.  These guys left enough on the table for a rematch, which occurred during the G1 Climax and actually topped this one.  Regardless, this was an incredible opener that set a high bar for the night.

Next up was the Jr. Tag triple threat, with El Desperado & Kanemaru defending against RPG3K and Shingo & Bushi.  This match was fine and all action, but was too short to amount to that much.  It was far better than a WWE throwaway but still felt like a throwaway.  This was one of four or five matches that could've used five more minutes, hence my earlier comment about the show needing an extra half hour.  Shingo was the star of this match, dominating the later minutes and finishing off Sho with Last of the Dragon to win the belts.  He'd break out of the Junior division later in the year, in favor of becoming a NEVER-style bruiser.

Another match that could've used more time was Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. for the RPW Heavyweight Title.  As expected this was a stiff, gritty fight pitting Ishii's strikes against Sabre's grappling.  Sabre dominated a lot of this match, which made for a pretty shocking ending when Ishii submitted to Sabre's new double-arm octopus hold.  This match was very good but about five minutes short of greatness.

The heavyweight tag match was definitely superior to its Jr. counterpart, as Guerillas of Destiny, The Young Bucks and Evil & Sanada had a wild, energetic match.  The big story element here was Tama Tonga's apparent change of heart at wanting to be a "good guy."  So GoD refrained from their usual illegal shenanigans and it ended up costing them.  The last few minutes of this were insane, with big move after big move.  With GoD knocked out of commission, Evil and Sanada hit Matt Jackson with a Magic Killer, followed by a Sanada moonsault to win the belts and officially move into a tag team centerpiece spot, replacing the departing Young Bucks.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK12)

New Japan draws its biggest Dome crowd in twenty years, thanks partly to a huge dream match...
WrestleKingdom 12 - 1.4.18

The 2018 edition of NJPW's flagship show took some very unexpected turns (most of which made total sense in hindsight) and left more than a few people scratching their heads by the end.  But regardless of flauting anyone's expectations, the 12th WrestleKingdom was still a helluva show.  The nine matches on the main card ranged from inoffensive to pretty awesome.  While WK12 lacked for me that one blowaway match, it was a newsworthy PPV with a ton of variety, and while a bit of an endurance test (The shortest bout was over 14 minutes), never got boring.  There was no intermission and the matches were presented one after the other without a lot of wasted time in between.

The show kicked off with the Jr. Tag Team Titles, as RPG3K defended against The Young Bucks.  The match, like its WK11 counterpart, was much more psychology-based than your average Jr. Tag match, as the Bucks and Sho/Yoh waged a war of attrition, one man from each team selling a back injury.  I especially liked the exchanges where Nick and Sho took turns kicking the injured backs of their respective opponents.  This match got a robust 18 minutes before the Bucks hit Yoh with the Meltzer Driver and finally tapped him with a Sharpshooter.  The ending felt a little flat to me but otherwise this was a fine opening match.  RPG3K would regain the titles shortly after this and the Bucks moved up to heavyweight over the summer.

Next up was the one skippable match, the 6-man gauntlet.  This was mostly pretty nondescript but also inoffensive.  The first segment involved Suzuki-Gun against War Machine and Michael Elgin, which had some fun exchanges and ended in roughly six minutes with Zack Sabre causing Rowe to pass out with a leg scissor.  Ishii/Yano/Beretta then made quick work of SG when Yano rolled up Taichi for the pin forty seconds later.  A few minutes after that Yano pinned Taguchi with another rollup.  Finally the champs, Fale and Guerrillas of Destiny arrived and had the longest segment of the match, looking pretty dominant for a while but ultimately losing the straps as Beretta polished off Tama Tonga with a Dudebuster.  So new six-man champs as per usual.  Again, this match was skippable but fine for what it was.  If this is the worst thing on your PPV, you've put together a pretty damn good PPV.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK11)

The greatest in-ring feud of all time began here....

WrestleKingdom 11 - 1.4.17

Well this was a big deal, folks.  WrestleKingdom 11 was, as expected, a major hit for New Japan, proving unequivocally that they'd recovered from the significant talent losses of 2016.  But more importantly it was headlined by one of the most buzz-worthy main events of the last twenty years.

The big news coming out of WrestleKingdom 11 was that the 2017 Match of the Year had already been decided.  Hell, this may have been the match of the decade.  I almost don't know how to describe it.  I can't remember being this blown away by a wrestling match since the Triple H-Shawn Michaels-Chris Benoit main event at WrestleMania XX.  If anything tops Okada vs. Omega in 2017 (or anytime soon) I can't wait to see it.  This was nearly 47 minutes of just about everything you could ever want out of a main event.  The match started methodically with both men showcasing their grappling skills.  Act 1 lasted roughly 15 minutes and then the match surged to another level, with Act 2 consisting of some of the most insane high spots I've seen since the Attitude Era.  Omega landed a moonsault from the top rope, over the railing to the floor, he took a back body drop over the top rope through a table on the floor, Okada took a Dragon Superplex that looked like it killed him, and so on.  And this was only the second act of the match!  After this the drama actually escalated as both guys tried to put each other away, Omega kicked out of the Rainmaker (joining a very exclusive club) and tried in vain several times to hit the One-Winged Angel before finally falling to the fourth Rainmaker of the match.  Again, this went 47 minutes and didn't feel a moment too long for me.  I've never seen anything like this.  Dave Meltzer awarded this match an unprecedented six stars, and in no way do I consider that hyperbole.  Okada vs. Omega was one of the most incredible wrestling matches I've ever seen in my thirty-plus years as a fan.  They'd wrestle twice more in 2017, creating the greatest trilogy of matches since Flair-Steamboat (or maybe ever), followed by a match in 2018 that astoundingly was even better.

Jeezus Christ this match was incredible.

The main event was so good in fact that I feel like the rest of the card got unfairly overshadowed.

The show opened with Tiger Mask W (aka Kota Ibushi) vs. Tiger the Dark (aka ACH) in a quick, lighthearted six-minute match.  Nowhere near what these two are capable of, but it wasn't supposed to be.  Ibushi would fortunately drop the mask just in time for 2017's G1 tournament and resume being the all-encompassingly awesome Golden Star.

The first standout was the Jr. Heavyweight Tag match, a vastly more memorable bout than the previous three WrestleKingdom 4-ways.  Don't get me wrong, those are always fun, but it was great to see the Junior Tags get a simple two-on-two match that told a story.  But this still had the crazy high spots, like Trent Barreta doing a swan dive out of the ring and hitting nothing but floor.  Jeezus, how did he not die?  Rocky Romero then got double-teamed to death before making a surprise comeback and winning the belts.  This was great.

Next was the Gauntlet Match for the six-man belts, a three-segment melee that was fine, but kinda peaked early.  The Bullet Club trio faced the Chaos trio in a fun 7-minute match before moving on to the LIJ trio.  LIJ made short work of the BC and then faced the Champions, Kojima, David Finlay and Ricochet.  LIJ's cheating tactics won the day and the straps (only to lose them one night later to Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi and Ryusuke Taguchi).  This was fine, but forgettable.

Cody (Rhodes) made his big New Japan debut against Juice Robinson, in what was a fine showcase and more than I was expecting.  Juice got in a lot of offense (the reason became apparent at New Year's Dash when Juice pinned Goto to earn a NEVER Openweight Title shot), but Cody predictably won with the CrossRhodes.  Solid debut for Cody wherein he began to demonstrate his worth as a New Japan star.  This was also unexpectedly Juice Robinson's coming out party, as he quickly became a very viable rising star in New Japan.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK10)

NJPW followed up the near-perfect WK9 with another near-perfect show....

WrestleKingdom 10 - 1/4/16

Wow.  New Japan Pro Wrestling did it again.  They were tasked with living up to the transcendent WrestleKingdom 9 and somehow they managed to do just that.  WrestleKingdom 10 set the bar VERY high for all other wrestling shows in 2016, it was no stretch to say the Best PPV of the Year Award was already decided as of January 5th.  There was literally not one bad match on this show.  It started off incredibly fun and with almost no wasted time in between matches the pitch never dropped below "neato."

The opener was predictably wild and innovative, as reDRagon, The Young Bucks, Roppongi Vice, and Aerial Dogfight (Matt Sydal & Ricochet) tore it up with crazy tandem moves galore.  After nearly 17 minutes of non-stop offense Matt & Nick Jackson regained the Jr. Heavyweight straps.  Great way to kick things off, as usual.

Next was the NJPW debut of The Briscoes, who teamed with Toru Yano against Bullet Club members Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Takahashi.  This was probably the weakest match of the night, but only by default.  For twelve minutes these six put on a helluvan entertaining little show, culminating in Yano and the Brothers winning the brand-new Six-Man Championship.

For the first time ever the Ring of Honor World Title was defended in the Tokyo Dome as Jay Lethal and Michael Elgin delivered a fine undercard match.  While a bit underwhelming for a major title bout, this was still very solid stuff.

Moving right along, the hits kept racking up with Kenny Omega vs. Kushida in the rubber match for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  While not as strong as their previous two bouts (understandable given the time constraints), this was still easily a 3.5-star affair and told the story of Kushida defying the odds to regain the Title.  It also served as Omega's swan song in the Jr. division (as we'd see the following night).  Damn good stuff.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK9)

My proper introduction to NJPW, and probably still the greatest PPV I've ever witnessed....

WrestleKingdom 9 - 1/4/15

Every so often a wrestling PPV comes along that seems to render obsolete everything that came before.  There aren't enough superlatives to describe how fucking good the ninth edition of WrestleKingdom was; from top to bottom this show was entertaining at worst, and more often than not was transcendent.  I'm not exaggerating when I say WK9 was just as good as WrestleManias 17 and 19, and annihilated pretty much every other PPV below that top echelon.  This is one of the best wrestling shows I've ever seen.

The show opened with an amazing display of Jr. Heavyweight tag team wrestling, with reDRagon defending their straps against the Young Bucks, Forever Hooligans and The Time Splitters.  There was no big story being told in this match, it was simply a game of aerial oneupmanship.  All four teams worked at a blistering pace to rev up the 36,000 in attendance, and this match accomplished exactly what it needed to.

Next up were the only two low points of the show, a six-man tag and an 8-man.  Each match only went five minutes and both were inoffensive but forgettable.  The first pitted Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima and Tomoaki Honma against Bullet Club members Bad Luck Fale, Jeff Jarrett and Yujiro Takahashi in a sports-entertainment kinda match.  Nothing much memorable here other than Honma getting a rare PPV win.  The other multi-man was a little more fun, as Naomichi Marufuji, TMDK (Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste), and Toru Yano faced the Suzuki-gun stable of Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer, Shelton X Benjamin and Takashi Iizuka.  This one had better action than the six-man but was just as brief.  Don't worry though, from here on out this show had nary a lull.

The fourth match was an MMA-hybrid between Minoru Suzuki and Kazushi Sakuraba, to be won only by submission or knockout.  Both guys worked a gritty, realistic fight in which Sakuraba beat the hell out of Suzuki's arm, only for Suzuki to come back with an airtight choke for the win.  Not quite at the level of WK7's Nakamura-Sakuraba, but still captivating.

The fifth bout took this show to the next level, as Tomohiro Ishii defended the NEVER Openweight Title against Togi Makabe, in one of the most ferocious knock-down matches I've ever seen.  At several points this match devolved into each man taking turns smashing the other with forearms and palm strikes.  Makabe would take this match with the King Kong Knee Drop.  This is probably the greatest NEVER rivalry since that Title's inception.

Nothin' like a knee drop to the head.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK8)

Probably the weakest of the great WrestleKingdoms, but still a helluva show....

WrestleKingdom 8 - 1/4/14

We're officially in the middle of a streak, as NJPW followed up the excellent WK7 with an almost-as-great WK8.  This show was a bit of a donut, with a good beginning and a great end but not much of a middle.  But that's okay, the good stuff far outweighed the bad.

Kicking things off was a 4-way for the Jr. Heavyweight Tag belts: The Young Bucks vs. Forever Hooligans vs. Suzuki-gun vs. Time Splitters.  This was a crazy spotfest with a lot of comedy mixed in, such as Taka and Taichi spending the first three minutes at the commentators' table.  The action was pretty much non-stop and a lot of fun.  Young Bucks won with the amazing More Bang for Your Buck (I won't attempt to describe this move as it's too complex - just Youtube it).  Even more amazing was the announcer calling the move: "MORE BANG-UH FOR YOUR BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK-UH!"

The World Tag belts were up next, as Killer Elite Squad defended against Bullet Club members Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows.  This was an energetic Tag Title match where the Bullet Club guys outheeled Smith and Archer and therefore took the belts.  Interesting to see KES become the de facto babyfaces.

In the third slot was the NWA Championship: Rob Conway vs. Satoshi Kojima was surprisingly good, with Kojima carrying most of the workload and the crowd responding well to everything he did.  Nothing mindblowing but a good little match.

The first low point was fourth, as Kazushi Sakuraba & Yuji Nagata faced MMA fighters Daniel & Rollie Gracie.  New Japan has done some excellent faux-MMA matches, but this wasn't one of them.  The Gracies, talented fighters though they may be, don't work well in a pro wrestling format, partly due to their basically being devoid of charisma.  Not terrible, but not good either.

The obligatory Great Muta match was next as he teamed with Toru Yano against Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin.  A pretty good tag match, largely because of Suzuki and Benjamin's heel shenanigans keeping things fun.  Yano, ever the cheater, managed to play a sympathetic character while still using underhanded tactics.  Muta once again used way too many Shining Wizards.