Wednesday, December 29, 2021

NJPW WrestleKingdom 16 Night 1 Preview & Predictions

It's about that time kids.  NJPW's biggest show of the year, now spread over three dates.  It's WRESTLE KINGDOM!


Yeah for some reason WK is now a three-night event, with the third night emanating from Yokohama Arena instead of the Tokyo Dome, and featuring NJPW vs. NOAH matches all night instead of the traditional WK format.  Why that show isn't taking place under a totally separate name I'm sure I don't know.  But the first two nights look and feel like the Wrestle Kingdom lineups we all know and love.  

So for these predictions I'm going to handle the first two shows and my esteemed colleague and former Enuffa.com contributor Landon Wayne will cover Night 3 (He's all about Pro Wrestling NOAH these days).

Let's get started!



Night 1


Pre-Show Rambo

So far no participants have been announced for the annual snorefest known as the Rambo, and once again the purpose of this match is to determine the four contenders for the KOPW match on Night 2.  So still pointless.  No real way to predict winners here without an announced lineup but obviously Toru Yano will be one of them, and almost certainly so will Chase Owens.

Pick: Yano, Chase and two other guys




Sho vs. Yoh


What a way to kick things off on the proper show.  It's not often we get a blazing singles match to open the PPV, so this feels special.  These two had a damn fine match at Wrestle Grand Slam last summer and should do so again here.  Yoh is coming off a Super Juniors Final, while Sho has just kinda been doing Bullet Club things.  With Hiromu Takahashi likely reclaiming the IWGP Jr. Title he never lost, Sho seems the logical choice to earn a title shot here.

Pick: Sho


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (15)

The second two-part WrestleKingdom show was all about the ascension of Kota Ibushi, in front of a COVID-reduced Dome crowd....


Despite a reduced crowd and shortened lineup, the 2021 edition of WrestleKingdom was, like 2020's, 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. 

Monday, December 27, 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 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.


Thursday, December 23, 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.

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.

Wednesday, December 22, 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.

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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The 2021 Enuffa.com Pro Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to the 8th 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!


After 15 or so months of wrestling shows being held in front of virtual, or no, crowds, 2021 saw the welcome return of real, in-person wrestling fans.  For WWE it was Wrestlemania 37 that began the renaissance of live crowds, albeit in a limited capacity, and for AEW the May PPV Double or Nothing was the first of the year to feature a packed Daily's Place.  NJPW had been running shows with limited audiences for months prior, but since fans in Japan aren't allowed to vocalize, it wasn't as stark a contrast.  Regardless though, touring wrestling shows with packed houses was something we'd all dearly missed during quarantine.

As far as wrestling content, the quality from the big three companies was quite varied.  

WWE once again struggled to present a consistently good product or elevate new stars without later cutting their legs out.  Bianca Belair began the year with a gutsy Royal Rumble win on her way to capturing the Smackdown Women's Title in the main event of WrestleMania Night 1, only to get squashed by a returning Becky Lynch four months later.  While she's likely to finally win back the title at this year's 'Mania, the abrupt title change made her look pretty silly and the subsequent Lynch heel turn hasn't been working much at all. 

Rhea Ripley was once again poised to be a top women's star, defeating RAW Women's Champ Asuka at 'Mania before losing the title to Charlotte Flair only three months later, basically duplicating the push-derailing loss to Charlotte at 'Mania 36.  Since then Rhea has been stuck in a go-nowhere tag team with Nikki ASH.  Once again the company failed to truly pull the trigger on this unique star.

Drew McIntyre spent most of 2020 at the top of the card and looked to continue that streak into 2021 but lost the WWE Title to a Miz cash-in, Miz dropped the title in short order to Bobby Lashley, and Drew found himself out of the title picture and out on his ass after failing numerous times to regain the title from Lashley.  Great for Bobby, not so good for Drew.  

Of course WWE television was dominated by Roman Reigns, who's in the middle of a year-plus Universal Title run, having beaten everyone they've thrown at him.  Really the only star they've portrayed as being on Roman's level is Brock Lesnar, begging the question, who ultimately benefits?  The point of having a dominant long-term champion, aside from making that guy, is to make someone new in unseating him.  But if he crushes all the full-timers and only the older part-timers look like they can hang with him, where are the new stars coming from?  As of now there isn't anyone who looks remotely ready to beat Roman for the title.    

Big E was perhaps the one real WWE success story of 2021 in terms of actually elevating someone, winning Money in the Bank and cashing in on Lashley over the fall.  While he's not being pushed on the level of Roman Reigns, at least they haven't made him look like a fluke champion like so many other cash-ins have.  Of course it remains to be seen whether he suffers the same fate Kofi did (a humiliating title loss followed by an express ticket back to the tag team ranks), but for now Big E is enjoying the best push of his career.

WWE cut a swath of talent throughout 2021, citing budget concerns despite raking in record profits.  Among the surprising releases were Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Nia Jax, Karrion Kross, Aleister Black, Andrada, John Morrison, Bronson Reed, and many others.  In some cases the release was the best thing for them - WWE's loss was AEW's gain - but a few of these were baffling indeed.  Part of the impetus for cleaning NXT house was Vince and his creative goons taking control of the developmental brand and renaming it NXT 2.0.  Gone was the emphasis on crisp in-ring action and great workers, and in its place was a garish mid-90s aesthetic, a focus on large men and pretty women regardless of wrestling ability, and as it turns out, even worse ratings.  Hunter must be soooooo pissed right now.

Okay, enough bitching about WWE.  

New Japan had a rough year to say the least.  Aside from their crowd size being limited, the company was plagued with injuries and illnesses affecting numerous top stars.  They also discontinued the IWGP Intercontinental Title, merging it with the IWGP Heavyweight Title to create an IWGP World Title, a belt that the vast majority of fans seem to feel is a major step down.  Regardless of the title design though, the belt took numerous hops through the first half of the year, some planned, some not.  Kota Ibushi finally won the championship at WrestleKingdom, the culmination of a multi-year journey, only to drop it to Will Ospreay a scant three months later.  Then Ospreay had to vacate the title in June due to a back injury.  The plan was for Kazuchika Okada to face Ibushi for the vacant title but then Ibushi developed pneumonia and had to be replaced by Shingo Takagi.  Takagi won his first IWGP Title, well-deservedly I might add, and has kept the championship picture stable ever since.  But the main belt wasn't the only title vacated, as Hiromu Takahashi had to step away in February, relinquishing his IWGP Jr. Title in the process.  And of course the most jarring blow to the roster was Kota Ibushi (this guy can't catch a fucking break) dislocating his shoulder during the G1 Climax Final, executing a Phoenix Splash and cutting the epic match short.  Jesus, this company needs a huge rebound in 2022.  Fortunately WrestleKingdom 16 is looking pretty stacked over its three-day(!) format.

But the most fun story of 2021 involves our first award.....
 

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.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK7)

Alright folks, this is where it really gets good.  The next seven installments of WrestleKingdom are about as good as any consecutive editions of any PPV I can recall.  

WrestleKingdom 7 - 1/4/13

What a splendid show this was.  From start to finish, WrestleKingdom 7 delivered at about the highest possible level, including an instant classic main event, an unexpectedly great IC match, and one of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.  New Japan was in the midst of a wrestling renaissance, my friends.

The show started with an amusing opening match designed to ease the crowd into it: Akebono, Manabu Nakanishi, MVP and Strong Man vs. Chaos (Bob Sapp, Takashi Iizuka, Toru Yano and Yujiro Takahashi).  This had a lot of kinda goofy spots, like the babyfaces all hitting corner avalanches on all four heels.  I think they did that spot two or three times actually.  Anyway the match was inoffensive but felt like a throwaway.

The proper start to WK7 was Masato Tanaka vs. Shelton Benjamin for the NEVER Openweight Title, in what was pretty damn good for a six-minute match.  Four more minutes and this would've approached three-star territory.  Side note: Shelton should go back to being a babyface, as his style was much more exciting that way. 

Next up was KES (Davey Boy Smith jr & Lance Archer) vs. Sword & Guns (Hirooki Goto & Karl Anderson) in a surprisingly good Tag Title match.  I didn't think I'd be all that impressed with KES, but they've made a solid top team.  Seeing Karl Anderson as a babyface was pretty weird - he even wore light-colored gear.  This was full of action and fun tandem offense.

The first classic of the night was next, between Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki.  This was their third WK match together, and this blew the other two out of the water.  Really hard-hitting action as usual but this match felt much bigger and got the time it needed.  Nagata finally got the win with the Backdrop Hold after some amazingly stiff wrestling.

Whammo!

The show stealer of WK7 was in the center of the card: Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Low-Ki for the Jr. Heavyweight Title.  Just an amazing, amazing match, and seriously one of the best of its kind that I've ever seen.  These three managed to make a 3-way match flow totally smoothly, where it wasn't just two guys fighting while the other sold on the outside.  And when that did happen, the third guy would show up out of nowhere with an insane spot.  At multiple points, Wrestler A would hit a big move on Wrestler B, only for Wrestler C to immediately follow it up with some huge move on Wrestler A.  Just a breathtaking match you should go out of your way to see.  Low-Ki by the way was able to wrestle at this level while wearing a full suit (in tribute to the videogame Hitman), which is insane to me.

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK6)

The last WrestleKingdom show to not be a classic....

WrestleKingdom VI - 1/4/12

WK6 was a bit of a step back.  It was by no means a bad show; in fact every match was at the very least watchable.  But in the vein of a SummerSlam '93 there were neither highs nor lows.  It was one of those PPVs where it's hard to pick the best match because nothing really stood out from the pack.

The show started out quite promising, with Apollo 55 vs. No Remorse Corps.  This was a great opener with fast-paced, continuous action with crazy tandem offense.  All four worked well but once again Devitt was the standout - watching NJPW has given me a real appreciation for Devitt/Finn Balor that I wouldn't be able to fully process based only on his NXT run.

The blazing speed continued with Jushin Thunder Liger, Kushida, Máscara Dorada and Tiger Mask vs. Atlantis, Taichi, Taka Michinoku and Valiente.  This was a spectacular Lucha showcase with all kinds of wild aerial moves.  A lot of fun througout, but the ending was abrupt and anticlimactic, kinda coming out of nowhere.

The five-minute Kazuchika Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi was next; little more than a showcase for Okada's new Rainmaker character (his third gimmick in as many WK PPVs).  The crowd wasn't reacting to his stuff yet, and his Rainmaker clothesline was much less brutal.

The fourth match was a slugfest, as Stack of Arms (Masakatsu Funaki and Masayuki Kono) faced  Seigigun (Yuji Nagata and Wataru Inoue).  This was really good while it lasted and featured stiff MMA-infused offense.  Sadly it was too short to amount to that much and felt like they were rushing to fit everything in.  Five more minutes would've elevated this one.

Next up was MVP and Shelton Benjamin vs. Masato Tanaka and Yujiro Takahashi, in a so-so tag match.  Shelton still looked like his WWE self in 2012; lately he's looked sluggish and unmotivated, but maybe it's his current heelish character.  His offense here was was quite lively.  Tanaka brought out the obligatory table and kendo stick spots.  Not bad but not very memorable either.

The IWGP Tag Championship was next: Bad Intention vs. Tencozy.  This was a pretty good Tag Title match with lots of double teaming and relaxed tag rules.  Almost a tornado tag.  I'm still not convinced Albert was any better in Japan than in the US, and he returned to WWE only a couple months later.

Business picked up a bit with the final five matches, the first of which was Hirooki Goto vs. Takashi Suguira.  This wasn't quite at the level of their WK4 match, which felt like a main event.  This was shorter and felt more like a midcard match.  Still good and stiff, but lacked the drama and suspense of their previous match.

Kaboom!

Next was Togi Makabe vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, which was a little plodding but had some good spots, such as Makabe spider-suplexing Takayama off the top rope.  Takayama is just very sluggish and his style is a little tough to get into.  Against an opponent like Nakamura who can sell like crazy for him, he seems more impressive, but against a brute like Makabe he just seems like a bit of a clod.  Not a bad match but not super exciting either.

Friday, December 17, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK5)

Tanahashi faces another old-guard NJPW star.....

WrestleKingdom V - 1/4/11

WK5 was similar to WK3 in that it was a consistently watchable show but was missing a must-see match.  Still there was a lot to like about this show and a ton of great talent showcased.  WK5 was the final event in the series to feature TNA talent.

There were two preshow matches but only one really stuck out - Koji Kanemoto and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Kenny Omega and Taichi.  This was a very well-worked tag match with tons of spectacular offense.  Omega was clearly the star here, and it's easy to see why he'd soon become a top Jr. Heavyweight player (and of course a main event star later on).  I would've loved to see this as the hot opening match.

The first official PPV bout was Bad Intentions vs. Beer Money vs. Muscle Orchestra for the IWGP Tag belts.  Quite a car wreck of an opener, with 2-3 guys in the ring at a time while everyone else sold on the outside.  This match had decent energy, like all six wrestlers wanted to set the pace for the show.  The most memorable visual was Strong Man gorilla pressing the 330-pound Matt Bloom.  Totally forgettable but on ok opener.

Next up was an incredibly fun Lucha tag match - Máscara Dorada and La Sombra vs. Jushin Thunder Liger and Héctor Garza.  Even at forty years old Garza still looked great, and Sombra displayed some amazing top-rope dives.  Pretty short, but a really exciting aerial bout.

The first semi-miss of the night was next: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Takashi Iizuka in a Deep Sleep to Lose match (meaning you had to put your opponent away with a sleeper hold).  This was a fairly plodding affair and the sleeper stipulation made for a very anticlimactic finish, but this wasn't all bad either.  Just not something I'd ever watch again.

Rob Van Dam vs. Toru Yano was next.  Entertaining, but outside of a few painful-looking spots this was your garden-variety garbage match.  For what it was it was well-executed.  The crowd was into RVD much more than they'd been into Team 3-D the previous two shows, even chanting his initials along with him.  This was fine but approaching filler territory.

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK4)

WK4 was easily the best of the early editions.....

WrestleKingdom IV - 1/4/10

Here at last is a WrestleKingdom show that's consistently entertaining and also has multiple 3.5-4 star matches.  The stars were beginning to align for New Japan, as the notable talents were falling into their respective current roles and spots on the card.  WK4 also featured a New Japan vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH rivalry, as four second-half matches comprised a card-within-a-card.

A quick six-man kicked things off, as Mitsuhide Hirasawa, Super Strong Machine and Wataru Inoue faced Jushin Thunder Liger, Kazuchika Okada and Koji Kanemoto.  This was an okay opener but far too short to amount to anything.  It was very weird seeing a 21-year-old Okada, who carried himself completely differently back then.  Brief but inoffensive.

The show picked up big with the second match, as Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi) defended the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight straps against Averno and Último Guerrero.  This was a highly entertaining Cruiserweight tag match, with Devitt in particular shining like the rising star he was, displaying spectacular offense and a great ring presence.  On a more streamlined card this match  would've been the hot opener.

The Heavyweight Tag Championship was next, as Team 3-D defended against No Limit (Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro) and Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) with Hardcore rules.  A decent enough garbage match, and light years better than the previous year's Team 3-D bout.  No Limit and Karl Anderson brought enough workrate to compensate for the other three guys.  The hardcore stuff was very played out even in 2010 and they weren't doing anything groundbreaking.  Also the tables and chairs in Japan are pretty flimsy-looking so none of the big hardcore spots looked all that dangerous.  The whole "Get the tables!" bit clearly doesn't play in Japan, as the crowd was apathetic.  But this match was fine.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK3)

It's a generational battle/passing of the torch in the main event.....

WrestleKingdom III - 1/4/09

The third edition of WK was most definitely a consistently good overall card.  As usual there were multiple six-plus-man tags but they were mostly different degrees of fun, and a few of the top-billed matches rose to 3.5-star territory or better.  Despite the involvement of TNA talent in several matches I was actually able to track all of them down, so unlike WK2 this review is complete.

To kick things off we had Místico, Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Averno, Gedo and Jado in a very fun opening match showcasing Mistico, the future (and now former) Sin Cara, whose offense was flashy and hyper-agile.  How he's able to land on his feet after a hurricanrana I'll never know.  Anyway, good stuff to kick off the PPV.

Next was the Motor City Machine Guns vs. No Limit.  This was a typical but highly entertaining Jr. Heavyweight tag match with pretty continuous acton throughout and tons of creative spots.  Nothing wrong with that.

The Jr. Heavyweight action continued with Low-Ki vs. Tiger Mask IV.  This was a solid match but never seemed to get to the next gear.  The early going was fairly slow but it picked up later on.  Strangely methodical for such a short match.

The first miss of the night was next, as Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash, Riki Choshu and Masahiro Chono faced Giant Bernard, Karl Anderson, Takashi Iizuka and Tomohiro Ishii.  There didn't seem to be much point to this one, and the match wasn't long enough for everyone to get their shit in.  Why was Nash even here?  I'm not sure he ever got tagged in.

Jushin Thunder Liger and Takuma Sano vs. Koji Kanemoto and Wataru Inoue was in the fifth slot.  Another fast-paced, enjoyable tag match.  The Liger-Kanemoto stuff was very crisp and engaging.  Liger won the match with a superplex - a rarity these days.

The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK2)

NJPW teams with TNA for their second WrestleKingdom card...

WrestleKingdom II - 1/4/08

(Note: Apologies for my WK2 coverage, as NJPW World unfortunately doesn't have it in its entirety due to TNA's involvement; any match featuring a TNA-contracted wrestler at the time is missing.  A couple of these matches are clearly no big loss - Bernard & Tomko vs. The Steiners for example - but the two openers, AJ Styles/Christian Cage/Petey Williams vs. Devitt/Minoru/Milano Collection, and Wataru Inoue vs. Christopher Daniels, are two matches I was excited about.  I was able to track down the semi-main event, Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata, on YouTube, so at least I got to see the most important of the TNA matches.  Anywho, this piece will only cover half the card.)

The second show on paper appeared to be a much more fitting lineup for the biggest PPV of the year, and even featured several top TNA stars.  As with most WK shows the lower card guys were crammed into multi-man tags, but at least this time those matches were spread out a little so they'd stand out more.  Plus the main event was actually a singles match for the IWGP World Title.

Due to the lack of TNA matches on the network, we'll pick up in match 4, as Katsushi Takemura, Masato Tanaka, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Yutaka Yoshie faced Koji Kanemoto, Ryusuke Taguchi, Takashi Iizuka and Tiger Mask.  This was a decent 8-man spotfest.  Tiger Mask especially looked good, and there were some fun exchanges between Tanaka and Kanemoto (who looks like and uses some of the same offense as Shibata).  Solid but forgettable.

Next was Legend (Akira, Jushin Thunder Liger, Masahiro Chono, Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami) vs. Yasshi, Gedo, Jado, Shuji Kondo and Taru.  This was another clusterfuck 10-man with the action spilling out all over ringside.  Not much memorable here but it was reasonably enjoyable for seven minutes.

Skipping down the card, we have Hirooki Goto vs. Great Muta, which was a pretty good upper midcard match.  Goto attacked Muta during entrances and had the upperhand until Muta came back with the mist, and then used a ladder and other weapons to bloody Goto.  Keiji Muto looked slimmer and in better shape than the previous year, and his diminished mobility was somewhat hidden by the smoke and mirrors of the Muta character.  A little on the slow side but a fairly entertaining match.

Nagata doesn't quite nail the Crossface.

The co-main event was Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata.  A very well-worked technical match, reminiscent of Angle-Benoit.  The grappling early on was crisp, as is to be expected with Kurt Angle, while the second and third acts featured good submission reversals and counters.  From a pure wrestling standpoint this was the best match on the card.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming 2021 Preview & Predictions

December 15th, 2021 is a Wednesday, and you know what that means (RIP Brodie).....  That's right, it's time for the second annual Winter is Coming episode of AEW Dynamite!


Only four matches have been announced for the show so far, which likely means the main event is gonna be a long one.  But before we talk about what is sure to be a major Match of the Year candidate for the richest prize in AEW (if not wrestling as a whole right now), let's look at the undercard.  Goddamn, this should be a helluva show.



Dynamite Diamond Ring: MJF vs. Dante Martin


Two-time ring-holder MJF is defending said trinket against the other finalist from last week's battle royal, the up-and-coming Dante Martin.  Dante, like Jungle Boy a year or so ago, is one of those young stars who's clearly destined for great things but thus far hasn't racked up many big wins.  And I'm not sure he'll do so here, given that MJF is being primed as a tip-top guy and is in the midst of a white-hot major feud.  However, either CM Punk or Wardlow could be a factor in this match, somehow costing MJF the ring or coming close to doing so (on purpose in Punk's case or accidentally in Wardlow's).  MJF-Wardlow has been on the horizon for a long time and we got another tease of it last week when MJF eliminated Wardlow from the battle royal ("accidentally").  So while MJF has to be the favorite I could see Wardlow returning the favor by cockblocking MJF here.  A win over MJF would certainly be a big boost for Dante.  But on balance you have to pick MJF to three-peat.  This match should be fantastic.

Pick: MJF keeps the ring


The History of NJPW WrestleKingdom (WK1)

From the wrestling-fixated Enuffa.com creator, who brought you the comprehensive histories of WWE's Big Four PPVs (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series) comes another PPV History series: New Japan Pro Wrestling's WrestleKingdom!


How's it hangin' folks?  Time for yet another Enuffa wrestling history lesson, this time about a major annual PPV that I only discovered a couple years ago.  When Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling announced they'd be distributing NJPW's WrestleKingdom 9 PPV in the States, and Jim Ross himself would be the play-by-play man, I immediately took notice.  I'd read some great things about New Japan even before this, and saw that over the past four years they've garnered loads of Wrestling Observer awards, but until January 2015 I hadn't seen a single NJPW match.  Then an even bigger announcement dropped: New Japan had created its own WWE Network-style streaming service, offering every major show since the company's 1972 inception all for the price of 999 yen per month (That's around nine bucks for American subscribers).  What this meant was that I'd be able to see WK9 as part of my subscription (alas, JR's commentary was not included, but that's ok).  I was quite impressed with WK9, particularly the consistency of its match quality from start to finish.  For a show mostly featuring talent I'd never seen before, and for which I had no context, this was pretty spectacular.  (Note: I watched WK9 again a few months later, now with the proper context, and....well you'll see my revised opinion in Part 3)  From there I started perusing the library, picking out matches and shows I'd read great things about, and in a matter of weeks I was hooked on New Japan Pro Wrestling.  As it stands now, I'm a bigger fan of NJPW than WWE.  New Japan's product is simple, elegant, athletic, realistic, and unbelievably fun to watch.

So this historical piece will be a little different than the WWE ones, in that I've been a WWE fan for nearly 30 years, while New Japan is still relatively new to me.  I've become quite familiar with the current roster, but I unfortunately won't have quite as strong a historical perspective to draw from.  So I'll be talking more about the quality of these WrestleKingdom shows in and of  themselves, and less about their place in the grand scheme.  But for those of you who aren't yet acquainted with New Japan, you may find this approach helpful.  Think of it as something of a beginner's guide, if you will.  As for you New Japan veteran fans, if I've missed any important details, feel free to comment below!

WrestleKingdom is New Japan's biggest show of the year, held annually on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome (I was surprised to learn that the date never changes, regardless of the weekday).  The Tokyo Dome Show tradition began in 1992 and the event has carried various names, but it wasn't until 2007 that the show was broadcast on PPV and given the WrestleKingdom moniker.  So I'll only be talking about the nine (thus far) PPV editions of this extravaganza.  Let's get to it!



WrestleKingdom - 1/4/07

Like WrestleMania, WK is typically a four-hour event.  Unlike WrestleMania, they're able to comfortably fit 9-11 matches on the card without criminally shortchanging anyone.  One thing (of several) New Japan does way better than WWE is time management. 

The inaugural WK card was sort of an odd mishmash, with only four singles matches on a card of nine.  Clearly they wanted to fit as many guys in as possible, but unfortunately it meant the first half of the show was a blur of multi-man tags.

The opener featured El Samurai, Masanobu Fuchi and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Akira Raijin, Kikutaro and Nobutaka Araya.  It was basically a comedy match, with Kikutaro (who wears a bizarre pink mask based on the Japanese god of good fortune) complaining a lot and even getting punched and kicked by the ref.  Nothing memorable here.

Next up, current NJPW bookers Gedo and Jado took on Tokyo Gurentai (Mazada and Nosawa Rongai) in a match that saw Gurentai dominate the first half of the match, only to fall short in the second.  Not much of interest going on in this one either.

Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) were up next against former WWE midcarders D'Lo Brown, Buchanan and Travis Tomko.  This was the first match where I was familiar with everyone.  Buchanan still moved well in 2007 but looked pretty out of shape compared to his 2000 WWF run.  Despite this match being eight years ago, Yano and Makabe looked almost exactly the same.  Ishii not so much, as he sported more colorful gear and a weird-looking tuft of hair on top of his head.  If I didn't know he was in this match I wouldn't have recognized him at all (He wasn't given much to do anyway).  This match was ok and didn't overstay its welcome, but was also totally forgettable.

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (2000)

Mercifully the Starrcade PPV series comes to an end after long since becoming a shell of its once-magnificent self.....

Starrcade 2000 - MCI Center - 12.17.00

2000 would be the last full calendar year in WCW's existence, and watching that year's Starrcade now is like watching anything from TNA.  The tagline should've been "It's just a matter of 'when.'"  The roster was much more youthful than in most years of the Bischoff era, but sadly the young talent never had the chance to catch on, thanks to the company's total lack of effort in building them up in the first place.  By late 2000 it was clear WCW was not long for this world, and the years of bad decisions had doomed the promotion.

Considering it was their biggest show of the year (and they were featured on the poster) I'm not sure why Sting and Booker T were omitted from the show, or why Jindrak & O'Haire, the company's best tag team, didn't get a match.

The announce team consisted of Tony Schiavone, Scott Hudson, and the intolerable Mark Madden.  How anyone thought swapping Bobby Heenan for Madden was a sound move is beyond me.  Madden ranks right below Don West on the Annoying Commentator Scale, and he's a verrrrry close second.

The opener here was WCW's attempt to recreate the magic of the WWF's TLC matches, except that three teams were competing for a shot at the singles Cruiserweight Title (held by Chavo Guerrero).  That meant that even though these guys were teaming up during the match, only one guy could actually win.  Ummm, ok.  The participants were Shane Helms & Shannon Moore vs. The Jung Dragons vs. Jaime Noble & Evan Karagias.  Aside from some repeated sloppy spots early on this was a fun watch.  Obviously nowhere near the level of the Dudleyz/Hardyz/E&C matches, but still entertaining.  Shane Helms and Shannon Moore defied the rules and pulled the contract down simultaneously.  I'm not sure how that played out but I know Helms got a match against Guerrero the following month at Sin.

I know TLC.  I've watched TLC.  This match is no TLC.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1999)

This right here is one of the worst wrestling shows I've ever seen.....

Starrcade '99 - MCI Center - 12.19.99

By late 1999 the wheels were fully off the WCW wagon, and the company decided to steal away the WWF's two head writers, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, in the hopes that their supposed magic could save WCW.  The problem was of course that without Vince McMahon and others as filters for Russo's wacky Crash TV style, there was no magic.  Instead Russo and Ferrara made a bad product even worse, and it was reflected in this parody of a flagship PPV.  Abbreviated matches, gratuitous run-ins, nonsensical finishes, it was all plainly on display at Starrcade '99, one of the worst PPVs I've ever had to endure.

It should be noted this was the third consecutive Starrcade held at the MCI Center, and their attendance dropped from 17,500 in 1997 to 16,000 in 1998 to 8600 in 1999 (to 6600 in 2000).  Yeesh.

The Mamalukes faced Disco Inferno & Lash Leroux in a watchable tag match to open the show.  Vito and Johnny the Bull had pretty crisp offense, but their mob gimmick was pretty goofy.  This was inoffensive, which is more than I can say for basically the rest of the show.

The next ten matches were assorted piles of puke, starting with Madusa vs. Evan Karagias for the Cruiserweight Title.  This was in the era when intergender matches were fairly common, and watching them now is pretty uncomfortable.  Madusa won in 3:30 after Evan's valet Spice turned on him.

Next was the Hardcore Title match between Norman Smiley and Meng.  Late '99 WCW involved numerous attempts by Vince Russo to out-WWF the WWF, and the newly formed Hardcore division was one of those.  Sadly WCW's HC division consisted almost entirely of comedy matches.  This was mildly amusing but ultimately pointless.  Smiley retained after Fit Finlay and Brian Knobbs knocked Meng out with a lead pipe.

One good match out of thirteen.  What are the odds?

Shane Douglas's Revolution stable was next, against Jim Duggan and three mystery partners, who turned out to be the reformed Varsity Club.  Yes, in 1999 WCW trotted out a midcard stable from a decade earlier.  This match was wretched (as was Shane's over-the-top commentary) and ended with the Varsity Club turning on Duggan, allowing the injured Douglas to get the pin.  However the VC continued beating up members of Revolution all the same.  Ok then....

More bad comedy followed as Vampiro took on Steve Williams, with Oklahoma (you remember, Ed Ferrara doing a tasteless one-joke Jim Ross impression) locked in a cage.  If Vampiro won, he'd get five minutes with Okie.  Williams got himself disqualified after five minutes of brawling, leading to a three-minute Vampiro-Oklahoma match that was apparently No DQ?  They oddly gave Okie a lot of offense in this match (Oh wait, Ferrara was one of the bookers, of course), until The Misfits (yes, the punk band) got involved.  This was crap.

And so was our next match, Curt Hennig and Creative Control (Don & Ron Harris) vs. Booker T and Midnight.  This was supposed to be a six-man tag but Booker and Stevie Ray were about to start feuding, so Stevie mostly sat this one out.  The match was shite regardless.  Also it was sad how far out of their way WCW went to take cheapshots at the WWF during this period.  The Harris brothers were renamed Patrick and Gerald, and the former Virgil went from being called Vincent to Shane.  Methinks Russo should've spent more time trying to make WCW watchable and less time making fun of his former company, who at this point was kicking WCW's ass on a weekly basis.

Jeff Jarrett wrestled the first of two matches against Dustin Rhodes in a Bunkhouse Stampede (read: Hardcore Match) that saw Curt Hennig interfere repeatedly.  Since Jarrett was billed as "The Chosen One," ordained by the as-yet-unseen authority figure as WCW's next big star, the announcers mentioned "The Powers That Be" (Vince Russo's unofficial name) about 700 times during this bout.  Jeezus H. Christ.  Oh, also the announcers kept talking about Dustin going by his real name instead of using the Seven "gimmick."  Hey dickheads, we know wrestling's fake, but you're not supposed to actually present it as a work.  If the announcers and the wrestlers all acknowledge on-air that it's fake, why are they all fighting each other?  This amounted to eleven laborious minutes of forgettable, generic brawling.

Still it was a masterpiece compared to the DDP vs. David Flair Crowbar on a Pole Match (Russo apparently loved anything hanging from a pole, because this era was full of dumb crap like this).  Flair whacked Page with the crowbar before the bell to at least give himself a chance, but DDP wrapped this one up in just under four minutes.

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1998)

And now for the night WCW cut Goldberg's legs off......

Starrcade '98 - MCI Center - 12.27.98

And I thought Starrcade '97 was bad.  Jeezus, that was a magnum opus compared to this disorganized mess.  1998 was the year WCW really started collapsing under its own weight.  The top stars had so much control over their characters that nothing involving them made any sense, and when one homegrown star somehow managed to surge in popularity certain egos went out of their way to hobble him (Hmm, that sounds familiar).  We were at the height of the nWo Wolfpac run, which involved the heel nWo faction feuding with the vaguely babyface nWo "red & black" team comprised of Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Randy Savage, Konnan, and the formerly huge babyface star Sting (How badly was Sting's mystique damaged by his association with this stupid group?).  So let's examine this shitshow....

Things started out okay with a double Cruiserweight Title match.  First it was Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera in a crazy fun opening match.  Kidman and Mysterio attempted to stay allied but that was short-lived.  Guerrera had recently joined Eddy's LWO (Yet another nWo offshoot - Christ) so he was a cocky heel here.  Lots of high-risk moves and innovative pin attempts.  All three guys did a great job of selling exhaustion by the end to make the Cruiserweight offense mean something.  Eddy got involved toward the finish but his interference backfired and Kidman retained.  Once again the Cruiserweights got more time than any other match, which is pretty shocking.

The Cruisers continued to be the one bright spot in WCW.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1997)

Starrcade '97, the night WCW effectively handed the WWF the Monday Night War....

Starrcade '97 - MCI Center - 12.28.97

Starrcade '97 was the night WCW killed all their momentum.  They'd been dominating the ratings for well over a year with arguably the hottest angle of all time coupled with a miles-deep roster, and had just taken away yet another top WWF star.  This time it was Vince's franchise player, Bret Hart.  To be fair, Vince helped broker the deal, citing the inability to pay Bret the amount he'd agreed to.  But with all those factors, plus the loooooong-awaited in-ring return of Sting (who'd adopted a Crow-inspired gimmick and hadn't wrestled a match in over a year), Starrcade '97 should've been WCW's WrestleMania III.  It should've been the PPV that launched WCW into the mainstream stratosphere, solidifying them as wrestling's number-one brand, and been the big payoff to the nWo storyline: the returning WCW hero conquers the villainous invaders and restores balance to the besieged company.  But nope, Hulk Hogan and his ego got in the way.  Again.

The two masters Eddy Guerrero and Dean Malenko kicked things off for the Cruiserweight Title.  These guys couldn't possibly have a bad match, so this was a fine opening contest.  While it wasn't at the level of their ECW classic series, it still got 15 minutes and had strong action, plus had the role reversal with Eddie as the heel and Malenko as the no-nonsense babyface.  Good stuff so far.

Eddy vs. Dean was always a fine showing.

Not-so-good stuff followed it, as The Steiners & Ray Traylor faced Randy Savage, Scott Norton & Vincent.  How odd to see Savage and Elizabeth on the heel side and Dibase managing the babyfaces.  This wasn't much of a six-man.  Scott Steiner had some good moves as usual but he was already an over-muscled, bloated oaf by this point.  I'm not sure why he felt the compulsion to get so big.  The action here was mostly clumsy, with everyone well past their prime.  Jeezus Elizabeth looked amazing in the 90s.  Savage's top-rope elbow however did not.

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1996)

A surprisingly entertaining Starrcade thanks to a strong undercard....

Starrcade '96 - Nashville Auditorium - 12.29.96

By 1996 WCW was dominating the WWF in the ratings and had become the most popular wrestling promotion in the world, fueled by the ongoing nWo storyline and the influx of international talent most North American fans had never been exposed to.  Starrcade '96 was a pretty perfect cross-section of the overall WCW product.  Most of their in-ring strength was in the undercard, while the main event matches were storyline-driven and featured very little actual wrestling.  Having run roughshod over WCW, Hulk Hogan and the nWo were then challenged by Roddy Piper, returning after a 13-year WWF association.  True to form, WCW was still regurgitating 1980s WWF feuds, but now Hogan was the heel and Piper was the babyface.  It was a very odd hybrid product; the smaller names were doing their damnedest to steal the show, while the big names were lumbering around the ring like it was 1987 WWF and the crowds were eating it up.

The announce team once again consisted of Tony Shiavone, Bobby Heenan (hilarious as always), and Dusty Rhodes (A more long-winded, barely intelligible announcer I cannot recall).  Plus Mike Tenay sat in during the Cruiserweight matches and Lee Marshall during the Women's match.  Four men is way too many for a commentator team.

The opening match, for the Cruiserweight Title (plus 8 other belts) pitted Dean Malenko against  Ultimo Dragon.  This was great for its spot on the card; a very strong opener that amazingly got more time than any other match.  Nice crisp action from both guys, a little slow in the middle, but it ramped up again for the third act, capped off by a cool finishing sequence full of reversals.  Cruiserweight wrestling was one of the few things WCW did way better than the WWF at this point.

The second of three matches involving New Japan stars was next, as Madusa battled Akira Hokuto to crown the first WCW Women's Champion.  This was a good little women's match and I had forgotten how good Madusa could be.  Too bad the company did very little with her after this.  The WCW Women's Title was vacated after Hokuto left the US and WCW never resurrected it.  So in the end this match didn't mean anything, but it was still very watchable.

Probably the best match of the night was third, as Rey Mysterio faced Jushin Thunder Liger in a true Cruiserweight dream match.  Nice high-impact offense from both guys.  Liger had slowed down a little but Mysterio brought the movement and played the usual underdog role.  Pretty weird to see New Japan go 3-0 on a WCW PPV.  A hotter crowd would've elevated this to the next level.  This just needed some drama added to it.

Ka-BOOOM

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1995)

We've arrived at the start of the Monday Night War!

Starrcade '95 - Nashville Auditorium - 12.27.95

Hulk Hogan's shadow was temporarily lifted from WCW in late 1995 due to a kayfabe suspension, so the focus for this show was on in-ring wrestling and several homegrown WCW stars.  WCW once again went back to a standalone tournament-type format for Starrcade - this time it was a WCW vs. New Japan series of matches with the winning team earning a World Cup trophy, which in the long run meant absolutely zero.  Despite WCW putting together a team of both babyfaces and heels, their guys were all greeted as heroes by the Nashville crowd.  Aside from the tourney there would also be a Triangle match to determine a number-one contender to Randy Savage's WCW World Title in the main event.  Two of those contenders and Savage himself were also in the New Japan series, which was just strange.  But unlike say Starrcade '91, this show at least had a handful of memorable bouts, even if the tourney concept was once again pointless in the grand scheme.

Bobby Heenan was great as usual on color commentary but unfortunately had to compete with Dusty Rhodes, who I've always found insufferable as an announcer.  He probably took up about half the talking time of the three-man team and most of his comments were incomprehensible.  So that was quite distracting.

The WCW-NJPW series kicked off with a pretty great on-paper match: Chris Benoit vs. Jushin Thunder Liger.  This did its job as an opener but was frankly a little underwhelming given the talent involved.  I imagine their matches in Japan blew this one out of the water.  Kevin Sullivan ran down to distract Benoit (thus ruining the ending) and Liger executed a really bad hurricanrana and hooked Benoit's legs for the pin.  Not nearly as good as you'd think.

On the flipside though, Alex Wright vs. Koji Kanemoto was a shockingly good followup; better than the opener and with a nice fluid feel to it.  They got almost twelve minutes and did a lot with them.  This match felt almost like a lighter, less stiff version of a New Japan match.

The first throwaway was next as Lex Luger wrestled Masahiro Chono.  Not much to this one but at least it was short.  Chono dominated most of the match, even slapping on his STF finisher, but Luger made it to the ropes and mounted the shortest comeback ever before applying the Torture Rack for the win.

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1994)

This Starrcade......this is not my kinda Starrcade.....

Starrcade '94 - Nashville Auditorium - 12/27/94

1994 was the year WCW evolved....into the WWF of the 1980s.  Eric Bischoff had taken the reins the year before and urgently hoped to make the company profitable, and as fate would have it he was able to sign Hulk Hogan in the summer of '94.  This of course immediately brought WCW mainstream attention and lapsed fans from the 80s began watching wrestling again.  The unfortunate side effect of all this was the annihilation of the historic WCW culture.  Gone was the emphasis on athletic, scientific wrestling and simple angles.  In their place were the over-the-top characterizations, convoluted heel turns, and rudimentary brawling of the WWF circa 1988.  Hogan had so much pull he populated (polluted?) the roster with all his old WWF pals, and the in-ring product became a less entertaining version of everything Vince had more adeptly presented a decade earlier.  And you thought Black Saturday was bad.  On the bright side though, at least Bobby Heenan was on color commentary, even if he and Tony Schiavone had zero chemistry together.

The opening match for the US Title pitted Jim Duggan (who infamously defeated Steve Austin for the belt in under a minute - good call on that one Eric) against the man who by all rights should have main evented this show, Vader.  The match was actually better than I expected.  Probably the best Duggan match I've ever seen, which isn't saying much for him.  The first half or so was pretty hard-hitting, then it settled into a plodding second act before ramping back up toward the end.  They recycled the Starrcade '92 finish where Vader came off the top and got powerslammed to the mat, but this time Harley Race interfered to distract the official.  Vader then won with a wheelbarrow slam which Duggan took pretty poorly.

The unexpected standout of the night was Alex Wright vs. a young blueblood character named Jean-Paul Leveque.  From a mat wrestling standpoint this was quite good.  Sadly it went about five minutes longer than it needed to, and there wasn't really anything at stake.  It's so weird to see Triple H in a WCW ring.  This was technically a good match but little more than a showcase for two young dudes.

It's Triple H vs. Berlyn!!

The TV Title was on next, as Johnny B. Badd defended against Arn Anderson.  This wasn't too shabby; both guys could work and they gelled fairly well.  It's criminal that the only reason Arn got on this show was due to the original challenger, the Honky Tonk Man, being injured.  Hogan's spray-tanned fingerprints were all over the WCW product at this point and it was ugly.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1993)

Ric Flair's big homecoming resulted in a very good main event atop a mediocre Starrcade....

Starrcade '93 - Independence Arena - 12/27/93

The Bill Watts experiment ended in early 1993 and a young, ambitious fella named Eric Bischoff soon took the reigns of WCW.  Initially the product didn't change a whole lot except in cosmetic ways.  But a host of new and returning talent found themselves on WCW TV, such as Davey Boy Smith, Sid Vicious, and of course the company's former cornerstone, Ric Flair.  The "Nature Boy" was brought in as a babyface and immediately reformed the Horsemen with Arn and Ole, and a mystery partner, who was revealed as Paul Roma.......ummmmmm.....okay....

The WCW Title was kept in a stranglehold by the monstrous Vader, who was set to feud with Sid Vicous leading into Starrcade.  Then during an overseas trip Sid and Arn Anderson got into an absolutely insane real-life slugfest which escalated into a scissor stabbing contest.  Both men were hospitalized, and Sid was fired.  The company scrambled, but found a much more suitable challenger for Vader, taking Starrcade back to its roots.  Ric Flair would now vie for the WCW Title in his hometown, with his career on the line.  The top of the show included a vignette shot live at Flair's home as he kissed his family goodbye to leave for the arena.  The cameras followed Flair into his limo, where he discussed with Gene Okerlund the grave situation he was about to face.  This came off as quite melodramatic, but it made for a nice little bit of window-dressing.  Before we get into the Flair-Vader showdown, let's look at the rest of the card.

The show kicked off with a tag match, as Pretty Wonderful (Paul Orndorff and failed Horseman Paul Roma) faced Marcus Bagwell & 2 Cold Scorpio.  This was a fun little opening match, and I liked both combinations.  Bagwell was actually a decent wrestler before he got Buff, and Roma & Orndorff made a fine heel team.  Solid work by everyone involved.

Speaking of failures, The Shockmaster made his Starrcade debut next against Awesome Kong.  Everyone of course remembers The Shockmaster as "Tugboat" Fred Ottman, who was supposed to be Sting's big equalizer at that year's WarGames, against Vader and Sid's team.  Ole Anderson provided the easily-identifiable voice for this character, and the fools in charge stuck a glitter-bedecked Stormtrooper helmet on Ottman as a disguise.  Ottman was supposed to break through the wall of Ric Flair's talk show set and make a grand entrance, but unfortunately he tripped on the way through and fell on his face, losing the helmet in the process.  This was all broadcast on live television, so the gimmick was D.O.A., and Ottman became more of a comedy wrestler instead.  Anyway, this match went 94 seconds.