Monday, September 20, 2021

Top Ten Things: Brock Lesnar Matches

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 17, 2021

Top Ten Things: Nine Inch Nails Songs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!

Today I'm talking about the music of one of my favorite bands/artists, who I didn't get into until 2009 (You read that right, I was very late to the game), Nine Inch Nails.  I discussed my years-in-the-making appreciation for Mr. Reznor's most successful musical venture HERE, so I won't bore you with those details again, but I thought I'd narrow down what are in my opinion his ten greatest songs, from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine all the way up to 2013's Hesitation Marks (Nothing from Not the Actual Events, Add Violence, or Bad Witch made the cut for me).  NIN's output has been so varied and unapologetically experimental it was tough to limit this list to ten (Honorable Mentions include "Hurt," "In This Twilight," and "Into the Void"), but if I hadn't I'd be forced to call this Top Twenty-Seven Things, and that just sounds weird.  Like the music on Ghosts I-IV...

Anyway here are my ten favorite Nine Inch Nails songs.

10. Zero Sum

The closing track from my favorite NIN album Year Zero is more or less exactly what the title suggests - a Year Zero Summation.  The concept album portrays a near-future dystopia in which corporate interests and power-hungry politicians have taken over (just like now!), the populace is hopelessly hooked on mind-altering drugs (just like now!), and about halfway through, a superior species (or maybe God) issues a warning to the human race to change its tune or face extinction (just like-- wait, that hasn't happened yet...).  "Zero Sum" presents us with the end of the story; humanity has failed in its charge, and so dozens of gigantic alien hands reach down through the sky to crush us all to powder.  I'd love to see this album adapted as a film (HBO was developing a TV series but that fell through).  Musically the song is sparse and features Reznor's spoken word lament before a poppy, piano-driven chorus takes over: "Shame on us/Doomed from the start/May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts..."  This song is the perfect way to close this remarkable, evocative album.

9. Closer

The song that put NIN on the map (from the psychologically unsettling concept album that did the same) was this creepy disco-esque number about sex as an escape from the narrator's terrifyingly unbalanced state of mind.  I hated, HATED this song when it came out, and it wasn't until 15 years later that I finally accepted its simplistic genius.  It's one of the perviest songs I've ever heard and it really shouldn't inspire anything but revulsion, and yet it became a universally-loved crossover hit for its toe-tapping dance groove and infamously explicit hook line, "I wanna fuck you like an animal."  The bizarrely disturbing video brings this song to visual life in a way that truly captures Reznor's demented imagination.

8. Copy of a

In 2013 NIN returned from a four-year hiatus with Hesitation Marks, a fairly safe but very enjoyable collection of sparse, beat-driven songs, the first of which is "Copy of a."  This track features a repeated polyrhythm throughout, as a 5/16 synth figure plays over the song's 4/4 time.  Reznor's vocals are rather gently delivered as he ruminates about lacking personality and purpose.  The song (like many tracks on this album) has a less-is-more feel to it, never overstaying its welcome or veering into melodrama, and serves as a very welcome return for Reznor & co.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

NJPW G1 Climax 31 Preview & Predictions

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

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

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

Block A

Great O-Khan

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

Kota Ibushi

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

Top Ten Things: Mastodon Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

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

10. Bladecatcher

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

9. The Sparrow

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

8. Octopus Has No Friends

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling Championship Belts

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'm talking about some of my favorite championship belt designs in wrestling lore.  For decades the WWF generally seemed to have the most eye-catching belt configurations, but in recent years other companies have somewhat surged ahead in this area.  With the advent of the Universal Title it became clear WWE was endeavoring to make all their belts look the same, a la UFC.  To me that's both uncreative and bad business - if you're trying to sell loads of belt replicas wouldn't you want each one to look unique?

A great-looking belt design can add a sense of grandeur to a title, helping elevate it beyond simply being a prop, to being one of the richest prizes in the game and a symbol of excellence.  Of course a lot of that also depends on who wears the strap, but a championship belt needs to look like something for which every wrestler would be willing to risk it all.

Anyway, here are my ten favorite championship belt designs of all time....

10. WWE US Title (2003-2020)

Probably the least conventional of the designs on this list, the WWE version of the US Title uses the American flag as the center plate background, with images of the Statue of Liberty on the side plates.  While the NWA and WCW versions of the belt sported understated stars and stripes imagery, the WWE version just took it one step further, conveying literally the idea of a United States Champion.

9. WWF Intercontinental Title (1985-1998, current)

For years this was the best-designed belt in the WWF.  When the "Winged Eagle" belt was adopted in 1988, the Intercontinental Title became physically the largest belt in the company, and for a long time this was the top belt for the in-ring workhorses.  It displayed a simple, blocky design (which was borrowed by both WCW and ECW for some of their belts) with the side plates all carrying the company logo behind the image of two wrestlers grappling.  This design was so successful the company went back to it in 2011, after the rather bland Attitude Era design was discontinued.  It's kinda sad the best-looking current WWE Championship is the one recycled from the 80s.

8. TIE: ROH World Title (current, 2012-2017)

I had to cheat here and include a tie.  The current and former Ring of Honor belt designs are both incredibly ornate and gorgeous to look at.  The previous one boasted leaves climbing up the sides in incredible detail, bringing to mind Roman gladitorial games, while the new version smacks of kingly tradition, with its paisley flourishes adorning a stylized crown above the nameplate.  These are both beautiful belts.

Top Ten Things: September PPV Matches

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where I compile a list of ten, well, things.

Today it's the ten greatest September PPV matches of all time.  September has often been the beginning of a slump period on the WWE calendar, where the summer angles have long since peaked at SummerSlam and now the company sorta treads water until WrestleMania season starts.  But that doesn't mean there haven't been some great individual efforts.  This list is also not limited to WWE; fans of NJPW and TNA will see a little sumthin-sumthin for them as well.

So let's get to it!

HM: Randy Orton vs. John Cena - Breaking Point - 9.13.09

The PG Era was in full-swing by 2009, and that meant no more blading in a WWE ring.  While for the most part this didn't affect the product all that harshly, it did mean gimmick matches might potentially suffer, as Hell in a Cells and Elimination Chambers would now have to be blood-free zones.  That just doesn't seem right.  But at the one-time Breaking Point event (where the main event matches all had submission rules), John Cena and Randy Orton managed to circumvent these rigid new limitations and deliver a masterpiece of understated violence, in an I Quit match.  Their fight played out much like a climactic movie sequence; Orton utilized his exceptional facials and reptilian in-ring persona to make every move seem downright malicious, seemingly relishing each moment.  At one point he handcuffed Cena and proceeded to flog him mercilessly with a kendo stick, leaving sickening welts all over his torso.  Cena eventually made a comeback, applying the STF and choking Orton out with his own arm.  That this I Quit match worked so well despite being pretty tame compared to say, Mankind vs. The Rock speaks volumes of Cena's and especially Orton's ability to get across character and expression.  I'd cite this as Orton's first foray into becoming a true main event-worthy player.

10. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho - Unforgiven - 9.7.08

The best feud of 2008 was undoubtedly Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels.  After a babyface return in late 2007, Jericho quickly turned heel again in early '08, retooling his persona after the character of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men.  Jericho became soft-spoken, sullen, and sanctimonious, insisting that born-again Christian Shawn Michaels was a hypocrite who didn't follow his own beliefs.  Their feud was intended as a one-off match that spring but stretched over nearly six months.  The best match of this saga in my opinion was the non-sanctioned street fight at Unforgiven, which sprung from an incident at SummerSlam.  Jericho invited Michaels and his wife Rebecca to his talk show, and their bickering led to Jericho accidentally knocking Rebecca out with a punch.  Again, this was tame by Attitude Era standards, but in the new PG Era it was treated as a huge deal, and the two wrestlers played it to the hilt.  Their fight was brutal without being bloody, and it ended via ref stoppage when Michaels had beaten Jericho unconscious.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Top Ten Things: George Carlin HBO Specials

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!

George Carlin.  For me no two words better encapsulate stand-up comedy.  George was a wordsmith, a philosopher, an iconoclast, and above all a goddamn funny motherfucker.  He was in love with the music of language, he enjoyed picking apart human idiosyncrasies and traditions, and he lived to offend.  George consistently evolved with the times, going from a laid-back hippie channeling Lenny Bruce to an angry, filthy old man fed up with society's inability to get out of its own way.  His greatest bits were conceptual and universal; material like "Seven Filthy Words," "Baseball vs. Football," and "Hello and Goodbye" have stood the test of time and are still hilarious now because of their everlasting relevance.  I'd wager nearly every comic working today was at least indirectly influenced by Carlin, the same way nearly every current band owes at least a roundabout debt to The Beatles.  George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce are pretty universally considered the Holy Trinity of stand-up.

George began releasing comedy records in 1971 and grew such a following that in 1977 he performed an extended comedy special for HBO.  From then on Carlin's HBO specials were event viewing, and eventually his albums were simply audio-only versions of the shows.  His 1970s album output was quite prolific and included gems like Occupation: Foole and FM/AM, but today I'll just be talking about his HBO shows.

So which Carlin specials were the best?  Let's take a look.....

10. Life Is Worth Losing (2005)

George only had three specials in the 21st century, and this was the second.  He'd been through drug rehab earlier that year and announced that he was nearly a year sober at the time of the recording.  Life is Worth Losing, as the name suggests, contains a lot of material about death and mortality, plus some reworked items originally intended for Complaints & Grievances which had to be cut due to the events of 9/11.  This show has grown on me a lot over the years, particularly the segments about suicide ("That's probably the most interesting thing you can do with your life - end it..."), extreme human behavior ("A buncha people stranded in the wilderness, run out of Pop-Tarts, you gotta eat something.  Might as well be Steve."), and education ("There's a reason education sucks and it will never ever ever be fixed - because the owners of this country don't want that.").  LIWL is probably George at his most gleefully pessimistic.

9. What Am I Doing in New Jersey? (1988)

As a teenager this show was one of my two favorites - Jersey was the show where Carlin fully transitioned into the angry old man persona, railing against the Reagan Administration and complaining about traffic.  Most of his work after this was tonally similar in terms of his delivery.  This one hasn't aged as well as I thought it would, partly because of the segments specifically topical to the late 80s, but the material about keeping people alert with bizarre behavior still cracks me up.  "Stand on line at the bank for a long time, and when you get to the window, just ask for change of a nickel..."  The first time I watched this one I was damn near incontinent.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Top Ten Things: Disappointing Movie Sequels

What up, my nerds?  Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about a heartbreaking cinematic experience that makes me die inside a little bit and eats away at my very faith in humanity - the disappointing movie sequel.  You've been there; a beloved film classic gets a new chapter, you get all excited in the pants area, you rush out to buy a ticket, you plant yourself in that dark theater, trembling with anticipation, and then.......Two hours later the lights come up and you say, out loud, to no one in particular, "What the absolute fuck did I just watch???"

Then you go home and it hits you: that aforementioned beloved film classic has now and forever been defiled by the ineptly-produced, soul crushing twaddle that followed.  It's like winning the SuperBowl and then crashing your car into a ditch on the way to the after-party.  It's like buying your wife a diamond necklace and then dragging it through the shit-filled drainpipe at the end of Shawshank Redemption.  It's like flying to Paris, visiting the L'Ouvre, and defecating all over the Mona Lisa.  And now you're out ten bucks and bubbling over with resentment.

Okay I might be overstating the emotional effect of these crappy films, but you get where I'm coming from.  Here now are the Top Ten Most Disappointing Movie Sequels (Note: To avoid this piece devolving into a Star Wars/Hobbit/Prometheus-bashing session I have not included any prequels - sequels only).....

10. Mission: Impossible II

Our first entry is the 2000 sequel to the very successful Brian DePalma-directed adaptation of Mission: Impossible, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt.  Released in 1996, MI was a taut, suspenseful and pretty cerebral update of the TV show, featuring enough action set-pieces to please the summer popcorn crowd but enough character stuff and intricate plot to elevate it above the usual dreck.  I consider it one of the better offerings of that summer.  Fast-forward four years and Tom Cruise was back for the sequel, directed by John Woo and loaded with action and Wachowski-influenced fight scenes.  Problem was the story wasn't very compelling (a scientist develops a bioweapon which is then hijacked by a former colleague of Ethan's who plans to cause a mass infection so he can then sell the antidote at inflated prices), the action owed way too much to The Matrix, the central love triangle was tedious, and the villain (Dougray Scott) was more annoying than menacing.  Also where the first film was very smartly constructed, this one felt dumbed down and full of fan-service moments.  For example, in the first film Ethan uses latex masks to impersonate different people.  These masks are hyper-realistic and make Hunt indistinguishable from the real person.  I'd imagine such a sophisticated disguise would take considerable time to prepare and fabricate, not to mention you'd have to know that the guy you're impersonating is supposed to be in a particular place at a specific time for the ruse to work.  However in the second film, Hunt and Dougray seem to just have masks like this on-hand, ready to wear on the fly.  So clearly this gimmick was only thrown into the movie because it was used in the first one.  Overall I just found MI2 very uninteresting and kind of a generic action film with the MI name slapped on it.  Fortunately a) the series found its footing again with MI:3Ghost Protocol, and beyond (Man does this series have legs), and b) Dougray Scott opted to be in this film instead of playing Wolverine.  We all dodged a bullet there.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Top Ten (Eleven) Things: Spinal Tap Songs

Welcome to the only edition of Top Ten Things that goes to eleven!  Today we're ranking the songs of everyone's favorite fictional heavy metal band, Spinal Tap!

Made famous of course by the 1984 Rob Reiner "mockumentary," Spinal Tap's three core members are David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).  The largely improvisational masterpiece This is Spinal Tap lampooned the world of hard rock n' roll, taking no comedic prisoners and delivering some of the all-time great metal-related, "too close to home" comedy bits.  Who can forget Nigel's wireless unit picking up the control tower at the Air Force base?  Or Derek setting off the airport metal detector with the foil-wrapped cucumber stuffed down his pants?  Or undoubtedly the most famous bit, Nigel's custom Marshall head whose dials all go to 11?  The film is an absolutely hysterical satire of the rock industry, featuring totally authentic performances from the entire cast and a flawless script.  It's simply one of the most quotable films ever made.

But what sets This is Spinal Tap apart from other fake documentaries is the legitimacy of the musicians.  McKean, Guest, Shearer, and the rest of the band played their own instruments, and along with Rob Reiner, wrote all the songs.  And despite the lyrics being mostly tongue-in-cheek (and brilliantly funny), this band put out some pretty great hard rock tunes, including a full album's worth featured in the film, and a follow-up eight years later (which in my opinion is the better of the two records).  McKean and company are all great comedic actors but I'll be damned if they aren't accomplished rock n' rollers too.

So here are the best songs ever recorded by England's loudest band.......This list goes to eleven.... 

11. Christmas With the Devil

A title that dates back to the production of the film, "Christmas With the Devil" is exactly the type of song its moniker implies; a Satanic Christmas carol complete with jingle bell accompaniment and morbidly descriptive lyrics.  "The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains," intones David to kick off this Sabbath-esque dirge.  Featured on the second album Break Like the Wind, this might be the most purely "metal" sounding of all their tracks.  Notice also the word "Hallelujah" sung backwards in the bridge.  Hilarious.

10. Rainy Day Sun

Another song from BLTW, "Rainy Day Sun" is meant to be one of the band's late 60s recordings, from when Spinal Tap were a psychadelic hippie band.  With heavy Beatles influences including some backtracked vocals and rain sounds, this song captures the spirit of the era, lending some tangible depth to the band's fictional backstory.

9. Just Begin Again

A power ballad duet from BLTW, "Just Begin Again" features a guest appearance by Cher and makes use of deliberately trite love song lyrics like "Life is just a meal/And you never say when," and "Life is just a show/Go reload your gun."  And despite the silliness of the words, this song is actually poignant and powerful, led by two strong vocal performances.

8. Rock n' Roll Creation

In the context of the film this tune is from the "pretentious, ponderous collection of religious rock psalms" known as The Gospel According to Spinal Tap.  Melding biblical elements with hard rock tropes, "RNR Creation" has one of the more evil-sounding main riffs in the catalog, mixed with simple but memorable vocal harmonies.  This song was featured in the unforgettable movie scene where Derek gets trapped in his "body snatcher" pod for the duration of the tune.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling T-Shirts

Welcome one and all to yet another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  It's a list of ten things.  A list steeped in hyperbole.  I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Today we'll be talking about the greatest wrestling T-shirts of all time, in my humble estimation (Ah fuck humble, I'm right!).  Wrestling T-shirts are an invaluable marketing tool for any wrestling star.  Not only do you get fans to pay to advertise you to the world, if a T-shirt design is particularly eye-catching and memorable it can elevate that wrestler in the eyes of the fans (and management).  Think of how many times you watched a RAW or Nitro and saw a sea of Austin 3:16 or nWo shirts in the crowd.  The T-shirt can help make the star, especially if it sells like hotcakes and the company has no choice but to push the wrestler.  Generally speaking the best shirts in my opinion are either very simplistic and easy to spot, or tastefully pay homage to existing pop culture imagery.  It also helps when the wrestler himself frequently wears the shirt, giving the garment an air of authenticity (In fact every entry on this list falls into that category).  Here now is my list of the best wrestling T-shirt designs....

10. Eddie Guerrero (Scarface)

Our first entry is a play on the iconic poster for the film Scarface.  While I've never been much of a fan of this movie, the poster is one of the great pieces of cinema marketing, and Eddie's shirt uses this theme beautifully.  It also fits Eddie's character, that of the lying, cheating, stealing con man who makes no apologies for his win-at-all-costs mentality.  This was one of the few great shirts of the Ruthless Aggression era.

9. Cactus Jack (Wanted)

Speaking of a shirt befitting a character, how perfect is Cactus Jack's shirt displaying a Wanted poster for the crazed outlaw?  It worked so well in fact that when Mick Foley resurrected the Cactus persona in 1997 he actually wrestled in the shirt.  It's a simple design with an indie feel to it, and it encapsulates the violent, maniacal Cactus Jack character.

8. John Cena (NES)

Another shirt that lifts its design from existing artwork, this one is based of course on the cover art for Nintento Pro Wrestling, one of the earliest and most beloved wrestling video games.  For years this was the go-to game for wrestling enthusiasts.  As you may recall, the WWF's early entries in the video game arena were quite lacking, but this game had serious replay value.  Anywho, Cena's shirt simply substitutes his likeness where Fighter Hayabusa's once resided, as he's about to drop the Five Knuckle Shuffle.  On the back we get images of Cena dropping the move, with control pad iconography below.  Just a brilliant play on the NES artwork and one of several very cool Cena shirts (I also love the Pabst Blue Ribbon one).

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Curse of Frankenstein

Welcome to another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!

It's about that time - Halloween season is upon us and therefore it's time to watch some horror movies and pick them apart, even if they are cult classics.  Today I'll be discussing the Hammer Films adaptation of Mary Shelley's gothic horror milestone, entitled The Curse of Frankenstein.  Released in 1957 and shot on a very modest budget, TCOF more or less kicked off Hammer's successful series of horror films, leading to not only a slew of Frankenstein sequels but also a Dracula series and others.  Hammer was to 1950s horror cinema as Universal was to the 1930s, adapting many of the same properties but shooting them in color and in far more graphic detail, but in my opinion sacrificing the gothic atmosphere Universal had established.  The Curse of Frankenstein launched the film careers of both Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster (Hammer's makeup department had to work hard to differentiate their creature from Universal's so as to avoid legal action).  The film was a smash-hit (grossing $8 mil on a $250,000 budget) and of course spawned numerous follow-up installments while putting Hammer on the map as a preeminent horror film studio.

But is The Curse of Frankenstein any good?  This was my first time viewing it, and well, here's what I thought....

The Awesome

Peter Cushing

Now-legendary English thespian Cushing was primarily known as a TV actor prior to this film, and understandably became a big star due to its success.  Cushing enjoyed regular work as both Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing over the next two decades and of course landed maybe his biggest role twenty years after this film, playing Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars.  His work here is quite capable, conveying Victor's wide-eyed enthusiasm-turned-sinister obsession with creating a man.  Cushing starts out dignified and optimistic and gradually descends into murderous madness, stopping at nothing to realize his ambition.  The script perhaps takes the latter a bit too far, as I'll get into in a bit, but as far as an acting performance, Cushing is very good.

AEW All Out 2021: The Game Changer

Every so often a wrestling company puts on a PPV event that feels like a defining moment for that company, where the matches deliver but the evening feels like something bigger than just a collection of great matches.  AEW has just done that with All Out 2021, a show held in front of a nuclear live crowd, including an all-time great tag bout, multiple **** outings, but also three debuts, one of which is sure to have the IWC abuzz for weeks.  This was an incredible night of pro wrestling.  Side note: Bleacher Report seriously needs to overhaul their new app - replays need to be made available immediately, the shows need to be Chromecastable, and the <10 and 10> buttons need to be added for ease of rewinding and fast-forwarding.  Fix this, BR.

The PPV proper kicked off with a rugged fight for the TNT Championship, as the brute Miro faced the scrappy veteran Eddie Kingston.  Miro attempted to bully Kingston from the start but was forced to backpedal upon learning that Kingston had him scouted and wasn't going to tolerate his shit.  They traded lots of strikes and some big suplexes and at one point a turnbuckle pad came loose, which would figure into the match later.  Miro hit his Machka kick and locked in Game Over, but Kingston refused to submit, eventually reaching the ropes.  Kingston came back with a DDT, but the referee was dealing with the turnbuckle pad and was late to the count.  The crowd exploded for the near-fall, and I wouldn't be surprised if this moment was meant to set up a rematch in New York.  Miro tried to ram Kingston into the exposed turnbuckle but the referee blocked it, and Miro mule kicked Kingston in the crotch and followed up with a huge Machka kick to get the pin.  Very solid opening fight that continued Miro's dominance while making Kingston look like a true match for him.  ***1/4

Another gritty matchup followed, as Jon Moxley took on Satoshi Kojima of NJPW.  These two went back and forth the entire match, neither man holding an advantage for long.  Kojima at one point hit a superplex after the two men took turns biting each other.  Moxley was stymied at numerous times and hit his first Paradigm Shift out of nowhere, but wasn't ready to go for the cover.  Instead he caught his breath, picked Kojima back up, and hit his high-angle Paradigm Shift for the exclamation point win.  As Moxley celebreated, Minoru Suzuki's music hit and the crowd went nuts.  Suzuki and Moxley traded blows and Suzuki locked on a rear naked choke, followed by the Gotch piledriver to set up a match on this week's Dynamite.  A very good match that was used to set up an almost certainly even better one.  ***1/2

Friday, September 3, 2021

Top Ten Things: Superior Movie Sequels

Yo yo yo!  Welcome to another Top Ten Things here at! 

As a companion piece to my Disappointing Movie Sequels column I thought I'd compile a list of sequels that were actually superior to the original.  It's something that doesn't happen often, but there have been numerous second or third cinematic chapters that have either expanded on or generally outperformed their predecessor. 

**Please note, two common picks you won't see on this list are The Godfather part II and The Empire Strikes Back.  Don't start throwing fruit yet, hear me out.  While both of those films are great, I prefer The Godfather I and A New Hope, respectively, just by a hair.  I can understand why some like the sequels better but I'm not one of those people.**

**Please further note, I also haven't included The Two Towers or Return of the King, as the Lord of the Rings trilogy is really just one extended film.**

So let's get to business....

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

James Cameron's 1984 classic The Terminator took Arnold Schwarzenegger's already burgeoning movie career to the next level by casting him as an evil cyborg sent from the future to destroy the mother of his enemy John Connor.  From this simple concept Cameron created a mythic film saga of self-aware machines turning on their creators and laying waste to the entire planet; a concept borrowed for The Matrix series, among others.  Only problem with the first film was the modest budget, which didn't allow Cameron to fully realize the story.  Some of the effects were quite clunky and prevented full audience immersion.  Seven years later he more or less remade the movie but set it during John's childhood, when a second Terminator has been sent to kill him instead of Sarah. 
Unbeknownst to the evil machines, John's future self has reprogrammed one of the original Terminators (played of course by Arnie) to protect little John.  T2 tells a very similar story but expands on it both visually and conceptually.  John's mother Sarah is now a hardened badass who is determined to stop the creation of the network of machines before it ever starts, and she begrudgingly accepts Arnie's help despite her previous traumatic experience at the hands of his predecessor (not unlike Ripley's hangup with androids in Aliens).  As for the new evil Terminator, that one's an upgrade model comprised of liquid metal, who can shapeshift and is nigh indestructible.  This character is the subject of some of the movie's most innovative and expensive special effects, as he morphs from one likeness to another.  The result is a pretty thrilling action movie which, despite basically being a retread, is an improvement on the original at almost every level.  My only two complaints were that Edward Furlong wasn't much of an actor, and I missed Michael Biehn's presence.  Seriously, that guy rules!

9. Bride of Frankenstein

I first saw the original 1931 Frankenstein on the TV show Creature Double Feature when I was probably seven years old, and like most kids I was fascinated by this little film about a man who creates a monster.  It wasn't until years later when I actually read the book that I realized how simplistic the Karloff film was.  So many story threads were tossed out and the moral ambiguity of Frankenstein himself was sort of glossed over in favor of a hero vs. monster scenario.  Yes we somewhat sympathize with the monster, but he's kind of a mindless brute in the film, rather than the eloquent, tragic figure of the novel.  In college I finally watched Bride of Frankenstein, and my original assessment was that it strayed so far from the book and was so unabashedly weird that I hated it.  But upon later viewings I developed an appreciation for the film's uncompromisingly bizarre tone and for how ballsy its anti-religious and sexual undertones were for 1935.  The story is also much more complex and Karloff's monster is completely sympathetic, aided by his newfound ability to speak (Sadly all of his dialogue is monosyllabic and clunky, but you take what you can get).  The performances by Ernest Thesinger as the sinister, rather flamboyant Dr. Pretorious, and Elsa Lanchester as The Bride are also iconic in the pantheon of classic monster films.  The Bride's "birth" is obviously the most film's famous scene; Lanchester based her movements on those of a bird to achieve a sense of otherworldiness.  That this was such a memorable character is even more amazing considering how brief her appearance is.  My only real gripes with Bride of Frankenstein are a) that there was no effort to make the few characters recast from the first film look like the original actors, even though Bride begins immediately after the first movie ends (For example the Burgomeister is now thin and has a mustache and Frankenstein's wife Elizabeth is suddenly waaaaaay hotter), and b) that Frankenstein's lab has a lever in the middle of the room that blows up the entire building.  What might I ask moved him to install such an easily-activated self-destruct mechanism?

Thursday, September 2, 2021

AEW All Out 2021 Preview & Predictions

This Sunday it's the most anticipated AEW PPV of to date - get ready for the third edition of All Out!

Man, is this show stacked.  Sadly one of the matches I was most excited about, Pac vs. Andrade, is off the show due to "travel issues," but that doesn't change the fact that All Out 2021 has PPV of the Year potential.  Omega vs. Christian, while far from the biggest AEW Title match we've seen, should be fantastic.  Bucks vs. Lucha Bros in the cage should be absolutely blowaway amazing (though I'm sad Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus didn't get this spot; I was hoping for them to win the straps because I really like those two).  Chris Jericho vs. MJF in the final blowoff to their months-long feud should be great, dramatic, character-driven storytelling.  And of course, CM Punk.  I realize I haven't said much about one of the most long-awaited returns in wrestling history.  I've been a CM Punk fan since 2003 when I went to see a local Ring of Honor show and watched this loudmouthed young upstart and Raven beat the shit out of each other in a Raven's Rules match.  Immediately the guy grabbed my attention with his unique look and very obvious gift for cutting a promo.  Along with Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson, CM Punk was one of that generation's elite indie stars, who got themselves over without any marketing machine behind them.  He got over because he knew how to connect with the fans, and that gift followed him to WWE, where despite the already out-of-touch Vince McMahon not seeing dollar signs in the scruffy, tattooed star, Punk became the hottest commodity in the industry for a while.  It's been a full decade since his legendary "pipe bomb" promo, but watching his return on the August 20th Rampage you'd think no time had passed at all.  Punk's hometown crowd was absolutely explosive for his return, greeting their hero with one of the most nuclear pops I've ever seen.  Working off the cuff (what a refreshing concept), Punk did not disappoint, cutting an all-time great, heartfelt promo that almost served as the flipside of his infamous WWE pipe bomb.  Instead of a disgruntled, fed up, underappreciated workhorse whose company had all but thrown him overboard, we saw an emotionally fulfilled, returning icon, genuinely grateful for a chance at rebirth, in a company where his prodigious talents will be treasured instead of overlooked.  To say this moment was satisfying isn't doing it justice.  This promo felt like a vindication for every CM Punk fan WWE failed for so many years.  More than that, for every wrestler and wrestling fan WWE attempted to program into thinking there's only one way to make a superstar.  AEW has made it clear they value heart, work ethic, and love for the business over a bodybuilder's physique.  And that's what pro wrestling should always be about.

Okay, enough blathering.  Let's pick some winners....

Pre-Show Ten-Man Tag: Jurassic Express & Best Friends vs. Matt Hardy, Private Party & TH2

This should be a fun clusterfuck.  I'm glad to see Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus and Orange Cassidy getting something to do on this show, even if it's not on the PPV proper.  I was fully convinced AEW had set up the Tag Team Eliminator for a steel cage match as a way to give JE another shot at the Bucks, since they had the titles won if not for Elite interference.  It just seemed like the right time to pull the trigger on Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus; they're a mega-over babyface tag team.  I get putting Lucha Bros in there instead, as the match will be unbelievable, but Fenix and Penta have something else going on with Andrade, and don't have the underdog babyface appeal like JE.  Maybe the company has something bigger planned for JE or whomever finally dethrones Matt and Nick.  Anyway, this match should be fun.  That's all I'm trying to say.

Pick: I'll go with the good guys to win here

Women's Casino Battle Royale

This was meant for the pre-show originally but with Pac-Andrade off the card it's been moved to the main card.  This has to be the most stacked women's battle royal in company history thus far, with two (so far) former champions and numerous up-and-comers.  We have two TBD slots thus far, one of which could be Riho and the other I'm banking on being the former Ruby Riott.  I don't think either of them wins here but you never know.  The 19 announced names are Nyla Rose, Thunder Rosa, The Bunny, Big Swole, Julia Hart, Tay Conti, Diamante, Penelope Ford, Red Velvet, Hikaru Shida, Emi Sakura, Jade Cargill, Kiera Hogan, Abadon (YES!), Leyla Hirsch, KiLynn King, Rebel, Jamie Hayter, and the returning Anna Jay.  Solid lineup there.  If you narrow it down to realistic winners I'd go with Nyla, Thunder, Shida, Sakura, Jade, one of Britt's friends, or a TBD.  I'd say of those options Thunder Rosa is the most likely since the company obviously needs to follow up on their stellar hardcore match from a few months back.  Then again, you probably want to save Baker-Rosa II for Full Gear.  So maybe Riho ends up being one of the TBDs, wins this and gets a TV match.  I guess I'll go with Riho if she's there, Rosa if she's not.

***UPDATE: Riho was just announced as one of the two TBDs, so she's my pick.***

Pick: Riho

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Welcome to the long-awaited return (by at least three people) of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!  It's been a while for this feature, but at long last I found the time to sit down and watch a movie I can't help but sorta like, despite it being pretty goddamn terrible.  That "film" is the infamous (ya know, MORE than famous) 1967 television special "written" and "directed" by The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour!

Inspired by mid-60s cross-country bus trips organized by author Ken Kesey, and mostly Paul McCartney's brainchild (though he later said he wasn't sure he wanted to take the full blame for it), Magical Mystery Tour tells the story (for lack of a better word) of the band and a group of their friends taking a bus excursion across the English countryside, interspersed with music videos of the band's latest songs (featured on the album of the same name).  And, well, that's it.  The Beatles attempted to conjure a plot out of thin air but the resulting film is more a collection of little episodes and sketches than it is a proper story.  It was horribly received upon its release (not helped by the fact that the BBC channel on which it originally aired didn't have color capability at the time), but has somewhat gained in popularity since (probably because The Beatles were involved) and currently enjoys a very generous 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Disney probably paid them to put that there, amirite??).

I became a hardcore Beatles fan around age ten and sought out all their music and films, and in 1986 my parents bought me a low-grade VHS copy of this movie that looked like absolute cow shit.  And because it was a Beatles endeavor I'd convinced myself it was quality entertainment, knowing deep down it was a major misfire from a band I'd held up as infallible.  Still to this day part of my brain has a weird appreciation for this flop, and when I discovered a cheap Blu-Ray restoration on Ebay I had to bite.  In 1080p this film absolutely gains something back from a visual standpoint, so there's that at least.  And despite being a disorganized mess, parts of it have an offbeat charm to them.  But man, is this thing a clusterfuck if you go into it expecting an actual movie.

But enough introductions, let's take a look at the pluses and minuses of Magical Mystery TourA Hard Day's Night this ain't.....

The Awesome

Beatles Songs

Any movie whose soundtrack is comprised of Beatles music automatically scores a few points with me (as it should with everyone).  Granted, the songs written specifically for this film, "I Am the Walrus" excluded, are probably not on anyone's Beatles top ten list.  But this movie is essentially strung together on a clothesline of Beatles music videos, so that aspect has to be considered its strongest feature.  Imagine how much better it would've been if it were built around the second side of the MMT album though.  "Strawberry Fields," "Penny Lane," "All You Need Is Love..."


To that end, each music video is pretty cool visually.  Paul's "A Fool on the Hill" was shot in the mountains of France and boasts some beautiful natural scenery.  "Flying" largely consists of discarded landscape shots from Dr. Strangelove but with color filter effects (Did Stanley Kubrick lift that idea for similar shots in the 2001 "stargate sequence" or vice-versa?).  "I Am the Walrus" is a super bizarre, trippy video that Paul McCartney himself later cited as the one indisputable positive to come out of this film.  "Blue Jay Way" is gloomy and atmospheric like the song that inspired it.  "Your Mother Should Know" is a fun little ballroom act sequence.  On top of the videos, there are some interesting little touches scattered throughout.  The Aunt Jessie nightmare sequence for example includes an unnerving shot of a little person snapping photos from a swinging cage apparatus, a shot that would've been right at home in a David Lynch film.  So regardless of its myriad of shortcomings, Magical Mystery Tour definitely has no dearth of intruiging things to look at.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam at MetLife Dome Preview & Predictions

NJPW is back with another stadium show that in the time of COVID can't possibly sell out, Wrestle Grand Slam!

This weekend it's back-to-back nights at the MetLife Dome in Tokozawa, and we've got a slew of title matches on tap.  Night 1 especially looks very promising, with the long-awaited return of Kota Ibushi in the main event, plus a big first-time collision of former RPG3K members Sho and Yoh.  Night 2 on the other hand has Hiromu Takahashi returning to try and reclaim the belt he never lost.  Both nights will feature a Stardom exhibition match on the pre-show, which should be fun.  I've never actually seen a Stardom match but I've been meaning to.  Regardless both shows feature some potential classics.  Let's take a look.....

Night 1

Flying Tiger vs. Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi

The warmup tag match will see Takahashi getting his feet wet before his big title match on Night 2.  I don't expect this to go very long and I think Tiger Mask IV is there to eat the pin.

Pick: LIJ

Sho vs. Yoh

This should be pretty great.  Sho in particular is awesome and I'm excited to see what he can do as a new heel.  It's almost a Shawn vs. Marty dynamic.  I see some singles championships in Sho's future and maybe Yoh's as well.

Pick: Sho needs to win the first contest

Monday, August 30, 2021

Movies of Disbelief: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Welcome to another edition of Movies of Disbelief, here at!  If you're unfamiliar, MOD is where I examine a film, good or bad, that's based around a far-fetched premise, but find one aspect or scene that not only stretches or breaks the bonds of credibility, but pisses all over them.

Today's subject is a little different though.  As patently absurd, campy and over-the-top as this film is, the part of it I refuse to believe isn't even something that happened in the story.  It's the idea that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was directed by the same guy as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1.  Yeah that's right, Tobe Hooper, the man who in 1974 created a horror masterwork with no budget, no stars, and the worst imaginable filming conditions, somehow followed it up 12 years later with a sequel that basically sprays moldy diarrhea over everything that was great about the original.  I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that the same director made both of these movies.

Before we get into the crime against cinema that was TCM 2, let's just recap the first one a little.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, loosely inspired by the Ed Gein murders (as well as those of Dean Corll - look up that saga, it's revolting), was shot using grainy 16MM film, on a budget of roughly $150,000.  Like Night of the Living Dead it made use of real rural locations (see Herzog, Werner: "the voodoo of location") and was filmed in a cinema verite style, allowing the horrific tale to come to life in a way that felt totally authentic and heightened the terror.  We as the audience feel like we're experiencing these ghastly events along with the protagonists.  The cast of unknowns is first-rate, playing the scenes in a casual, naturalistic way and largely improvising the loose dialogue.  By the time everything goes to hell in the second act, we've been given a reason to care about the five young adults.  We're given no background about the family of maniacs - they are simply an evil force of nature, with no discernable reason for what they do; making sense of it would undermine the senseless cruelty Sally endures in the final half-hour.  But despite the film's grisly tone and subject matter, almost all the violence and blood is left to the imagination.  Only once for example do we see chainsaw meeting flesh, and it's when Leatherface (one of the great boogeymen of horror cinema) falls down and accidentally gouges his thigh.  But the film's timbre is so intense and macabre we think we're seeing more gore than we are.  It's brilliantly understated.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is far greater than the sum of its parts; all the unconventional elements came together - off-putting locations, genuine performances, innovative cinematography (the closeup montage of Sally's face during the dinner scene is mindbreaking), and unsettling musique concrete-inspired score (courtesy of Wayne Bell and Tobe himself) - to create a fully immersive experience of palpable terror.  It's one of the all-time great horror films.

This guy is terrifying.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Empire Records

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at, where I take a closer look at either a flawed old favorite, a lofty disappointment, or a cult flop.  Today's subject is the latter.  It's the 1995 box office bomb Empire Records, a film that was little more than a thin excuse to sell a soundtrack album, but with a surprisingly accomplished cast and a heart that's actually in the right place.

Empire Records is yet another 90s slacker comedy that takes place in one day, centered around a group of teens working in a music store.  The assistant manager learns at the outset that the store's owner is getting ready to sell this Delaware fixture to a retail chain, and takes drastic measures to try and prevent this tragedy.  The rest of the story sort of hinges on this moment, but each character has his or her own personal arc, and for a critical and commercial bomb the screenwriters juggled all these threads somewhat admirably.  But yeah, this movie absolutely TANKED at the box office and didn't gain any real recognition until its home video release, where it became a cult favorite.

Side note, Regency Enterprises executive Michael Nathanson greenlit this film, and was approached two days later with the script for a little movie called Clueless, which he promptly turned down because he was already making a teen movie.  Clueless of course went on to make a huge profit for Paramount.  Goddamn, that's gotta sting.

So let's settle into this record store groove and separate the hit songs from the stinkers....

The Awesome


For a teen comedy that flopped with both audiences and critics, this movie has a helluva lot of acting talent and future-star power.  Two-time Oscar winner Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Anthony LaPaglia, Debi Mazar, Robin Tunney, Maxwell Caulfield, and a few future character actors in Ethan Randall, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth and Brendan Sexton.  That's a pretty deep cast, and their respective characters are one of the film's charms.  Pretty much every character is likable/relatable in some way.  Joe is the reluctant father-figure who'd do anything for his staff, Corey is the anxious overachiever, Gina is the loose girl with a heart of gold, AJ is the likable art student who's heartsick for Corey, Lucas is the lovable scamp who wants to save the store from becoming a stuffy corporate retailer.  This cast and their performances elevate the trite script above its station.

I like this group of crazy kids....

Capturing the 90s

90s nostalgia is big these days, and Empire Records has a ton of it.  Thus for us sad old adults, watching it now is like being transported back to those carefree college days of short skirts, Doc Martens, mom jeans, flannel shirts, front-curtained men's hairstyles (think 90s Johnny Depp), and post-grunge alternative.  Which brings us to the soundtrack, really the driving force of the film.  Empire Records was reviewed at the time as "a soundtrack in search of a movie," and I can't really argue much.  This movie feels like it was made just to sell records, thus the CD is loaded with transitory 90s artists like Gin Blossoms, Edwyn Collins, The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Better Than Ezra, while the film also includes Sponge, Dishwalla, Ass Ponys, etc.  Empire Records is exploding with 90s pop culture and it's hard now not to get swept up in all of it, particularly as someone who lived through that era.

Short-ass skirt? Check. Bare midruff? Check. Sad clown hair? Check.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Top Ten Things: Must-See Samoa Joe Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at, where I count down the ten best or worst of whatever's on my mind.  Today it's the mighty Samoa Joe, and his fantastic career.

I first became aware of Joe in 2003 when I attended a live ROH event, and upon hearing his name thought he'd be some kind of lame cartoon character.  When he appeared from behind the curtain I still wasn't convinced, based on his unconventional physique.  And then I saw him wrestle.  Folks, from 2003-2009 Samoa Joe was as good as anyone in the entire world at professional wrestling.  Unfortunately by '09 TNA had already spent about three years either underutilizing or completely wasting Joe's immense skillset, and he became rather unmotivated as a result, failing to build on his already stellar body of work.

Joe's NXT run from 2015-2017 was quite dominant and included two NXT Title reigns (I got to witness his first championship win over Finn Balor in person), and he eventually made it to the main roster for a while, where he had noteworthy scuffles with Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, as well as a lengthy feud with old rival AJ Styles.  An injury sidelined him for over a year and he spent some time as a color commentator before being released and re-hired to NXT, becoming the brand's first three-time champion.

Anyway, here's a look at Joe's pre-WWE classics.....

10. Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk - ROH: Joe vs. Punk II - 10/16/04

Largely credited with putting both Punk and Joe on the Indy wrestling map, the second match of their much-heralded trilogy is widely considered to be the best.  Punk and Joe went a full hour for the second time, wrestling to a draw, in a match that pulled out all the stops and earned the elusive "five-star" rating from the Wrestling Observer.  I don't love it as much as others do, but it is quite an accomplishment from two of the best workers of the past decade.

9. Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe - TNA: Final Resolution - 1/14/07

Joe and Angle fought several times on TNA PPV, and this was the third in an early trilogy that began with Angle's TNA debut.  TNA rather squandered the hugeness of the Joe-Angle feud, hotshotting this match immediately upon Angle's arrival.  However the matches speak for themselves, and their first encounter still stands as TNA's biggest PPV buyrate.  Anyway, the Final Resolution match was 30-minute Iron Man match full of drama and gutsy action.  It was evenly contested until the 25-minute mark when Angle pulled ahead 3-2, and Joe just barely failed to tie it up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The History of NXT TakeOver: 36

What may have been the final NXT TakeOver as we know the concept was a smashing success.  The 36th Network special from WWE's only consistently good brand featured nary a bad match, boasting two bouts that easily cruised into ****+ territory, and three others that were solid ***1/2 fare.

The show's unexpected hit opened things, as LA Knight defended the Million Dollar Belt against Cameron Grimes in a bout I had no interest in, but one that delivered in spades.  These two worked a blistering match with loads of high-impact offense including Grimes hitting his backflip powerslam after skinning the cat back into the ring and Knight hitting a top rope German suplex.  Knight tried to use the Million Dollar belt but Ted Dibiase took it away, tossed it into the ring to distract the referee, and locked Knight in the Million Dollar Dream.  He threw Knight back into the ring and Grimes put him away with his Cave-In double stomp to win back the title.  A very good opener that I enjoyed much more than I expected to.  ***1/2

Next up was the Women's title as former best friends Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai faced off in an intensely personal contest, a la Diesel vs. Shawn in 1995.  Dakota used her speed and flexibility to keep Raquel off-balance for the bout's first act.  Raquel seemed to take a little while to find her rhythm in this match but by the second half everything looked really good.  Kai at one point hit her Kai-ropractor, a Canadian Destroyer-like back-cracker that looks super cool.  She tried to finish Raquel with a Balor-esque top rope stomp but Raquel kicked out.  They fought on the top rope and Raquel withstood a yakuza kick and got off her Chignona Bomb from the second rope to retain.  Another very good match from a young champion solidifying herself as the division's leader.  ***3/4

Top Ten Things: CM Punk Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at

Today I'll be counting down the ten greatest matches of one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history, CM Punk

As he did a decade ago, CM Punk just became the most talked-about star in professional wrestling, having made his long-awaited return to the business on August 21st on AEW Rampage.  One of the most gifted talkers in wrestling history, Punk gave a heartfelt speech in front of one of the most molten live crowds I've ever seen, and laid the groundwork for a whole new lease on his career.  Now freed of WWE's creative shackles, Punk will be able to fully craft his own promos and matches, and lend his considerable artistic acumen to helping build a better future for both AEW and the wrestling industry at large.  I have no doubt he will leave AEW better than he found it, and in a few years I'll need to make amendments to this list, but regardless, Punk has undoubtedly cemented a legacy as one of the most fascinating and unconventional top wrestling stars of the last twenty years.  Here now are the ten best matches in the remarkable roller coaster career of CM Punk.

10. John Morrison vs. CM Punk - ECW TV 9.4.07

In 2007 Punk was a member of WWE's third brand, the revived (and horribly watered down) ECW.  Punk was handpicked by Paul Heyman to be the show's hot new star, and despite tepid feedback from the head office, became a major cult favorite.  After over a year of flirting with the ECW Championship and being passed over in favor of seemingly less appropriate candidates (Bobby Lashley anyone?), Punk would get his one last shot at then-Champion John Morrison (a great athlete but another odd choice to represent the "hardcore" brand).  Their hand somewhat forced by Morrison's suspension for a Wellness Policy violation, WWE finally gave Punk his first taste of gold on a weekly ECW episode.  After a fantastic back-and-forth match, Punk triumphed and began a short run with the ECW Title.

9. Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk - Joe vs. Punk II 10.16.04

Largely credited with putting both Punk and Joe on the Indy wrestling map, the second match of their much-heralded trilogy is widely considered to be the best.  Punk and Joe went a full hour for the second time, wrestling to a draw, in a match that pulled out all the stops and earned the elusive "five-star" rating from the Wrestling Observer.  I don't love it as much as others do, but it is quite an accomplishment from two of the best workers of the past decade.