Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art

In April 2012 I backed a Kickstarter for The Last of McGuinness, a gripping look at the premature end of Nigel McGuinness’s life long dream. As part of the rewards he was offering a a picture of himself done by an artist named Rob Schamberger, and he linked to Rob’s own Kickstarter. Such was my first exposure to one of the best artists I’ve ever seen.

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Rob’s print of Nigel that was offered as part of the Kickstarter for “The Last of McGuinness.”

Rob’s dream was to do a series of mixed media paintings featuring all past world heavyweight champions in pro-wrestling. He describes why in his own words from the project page:

“‘Why would you want to paint heavyweight wrestling champions?’

First and foremost, why wouldn’t I? But seriously, it’s because these men mean so much to so many people around the world. The world championship is the pinnacle of any sport, even a pre-determined one like professional wrestling. The man who holds that title has to be believable as a champion and also has to draw crowds to see him defend his title, both of which are very real responsibilities. In the old days, the champion would often have to legitimately defend the title against opponents who were looking to bring the title to their territory. I also want to do this for the fans who fill the auditoriums and arenas every week, who make all of the magic happen.”

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I have a print of this unbelievably realistic painting of Bret and Owen, and I’ve had people mistake it for a photo.

I’ve been a pro-wrestling fan all of my life, and I was thrilled to see such a talented artist wanting to devote his skills to honoring its stars. He campaigned hard during this first KS, offering commissions and a variety of other rewards and bonuses and it made it’s goal in the last minutes. Both the paintings that were the point of this KS and the commissioned rewards were incredible and Rob’s reputation rapidly grew.

His second Kickstarter in early 2013 was to take his collection on tour across the US. The tour itself was an overall success, but had a major setback in the middle as Rob’s truck was hit by a semi outside of Secaucus NJ. Thankfully he was fine, but he lost all of the prints and paintings he was transporting to show at Wrestlecon that year’s Wrestlemania weekend. It was in the midst of this that I got to meet him at the con. Rob was in reasonably good spirits despite the harrowing experience. His printer overnighted new prints and he made the most of things, hanging out with fans and enjoying his time at the con.

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Rob’s perfect rendition of Kana, which I was lucky enough to get signed at Shimmer 53.

It was fantastic to get to meet him in person after chatting a bit online and hopefully helped take his mind off of things a bit. He’s obviously as big (or even bigger) a fan than I am so it was a real treat to discuss wrestling and his art. As a bonus I had attended the Shimmer show just minutes before finding Rob’s table, where I got the incredible painting he did of my favorite wrestler as part of my rewards for the first KS signed by the subject herself.

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Jaw dropping depiction of Undertaker vs CM Punk I got from Rob for my brother-in-law and nephew.

The brilliance of Rob’s work is the way he captures real people while embracing experimental art techniques. His use of color, shadow, and other artistic techniques is innovative and gives his work depth and a captivating feel. The range he’s shown in his paintings is incredible and he never stops pushing himself to make the next one even better.

Rob’s fame and awareness of his work grew and grew, and he was noticed by several employees of the WWE. He now works directly for them, continuing to create amazing renditions of their superstars which are offered on WWE’s auction site, signed by their subjects. They also have posters and prints of his work available at WWE’s online shop.

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Perfect paintings of Curt Hennig and Randy Savage.

It’s been a privilege to follow his journey since near the beginning, and I’m excited to keep doing so going forward.

Shimmer 63 DVD Review

April 2014 in Berwyn, IL

This was my first time seeing Shimmer live in Berwyn and it was amazing. The Shimmer weekend experience is something I wholeheartedly recommend. Venue is smaller than it looks on film, but stills holds a lot of fans and the atmosphere is great. I remember enjoying this a lot live, particularly Shida/Yim and the nuclear heat for Nakagawa/Knight. so it’ll be interesting to revisit on dvd.

Match 1 – Evie vs Rhia O’Reilly: ***1/2

Veda Scott on commentary with Dave Prazak and doing well in place of Portia Perez. Evie’s one of the fastest rising stars of Shimmer and Rhia’s a great foil for her. This was a good back and forth match with Rhia just beating Evie down to combat Evie’s lethal strikes. Evie’s parabola kick in unexplainably awesome. Evie wins after a doublestomp off the top with Rhia hanging in the tree of woe.

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Battling on the turnbuckle directly above me.

Havok cuts a strong promo setting up her match with Kay Lee Ray claiming KLR got lucky against Vanessa Kraven and “I’m a whole different kind of monster than Vanessa is.”

Match 2 – Nevaeh vs Christina Von Eerie: **1/2

Von Eeire looks a bit different without her hair up in her trademark mohawk. Good intensity here, as Nevaeh radiated disdain for Von Eeire and the fans and both really conveyed the idea of wanting to one-up each other well. Interesting submission hold from Von Eerie towards the end. Essentially a Texas Cloverleaf with one of Nevaeh’s arms hammerlocked by one of Von Eerie’s legs. Nevaeh with an unusual singles victory in Shimmer with the DVD. Decent, if basic, match.

Match 3 – Havok vs Kay Lee Ray: ****

Tough Berwyn debut for Kay Lee Ray. Havok’s already showing decent crowd support as they slowly turn her face whether anyone likes it or not. Havok pulls the pin on a grenade and tosses it to KLR before the bell. Prazak and Scott enjoying themselves on commentary. “She pulled the pin!” “The whole front row should have evacuated! What are they doing?!” “The whole building should be evacuated!” “Well, it’s a small grenade.” They then praise the fearlessness of the photographer that picked it up off the floor as Havok and KLR exchange arm wringers to start. KLR gets the better of it, puts Havok in a arm bar then fires up the crowd clapping against Havok’s outstretched hand as Havok screams to stop it. Cute spot.

Back to their feet and the story of the match sets in with KLR’s quickness against Havok’s brutal strikes and smashes.  A particularly nasty one sees Havok just knock KLR out of the air during a dive attempt to the floor. Extended beatdown by Havok. KLR uses her quickness again to avoid a chop in the corner and fire back with her own for a glimmer of hope, then Havok wipes her out with a clothesline. Elevated full nelson into a backbreaker into a horizontal clothesline to the mat by Havok in a great combo. Crowd is firmly behind KLR at this point, which speaks to the excellent heel work Havok is doing since she started the match with some cheers. Havok with several backbreakers in succession, and KLR counters the last with a headscissors. Kick to Havok’s face in the corner and she goes for a bulldog, but Havok counters with a back suplex.

The timekeeper announces that five minutes have gone by, which blows my mind given how much has been packed into the match already. Dueling chants start as both wrestlers are too good at their job for the crowd to want to boo either. Prazak acknowledges the Havok fans, which is nice because I hate it when announcers try to ignore/spin crowd reactions. Some more back and forth and then KLR starts to string together offense and she hits the dive this time around. The structure of this match has been excellent. KLR up top but Havok grabs her for a chokeslam down into the ring and picks up the win.

Fantastic match and a perfect example of why both Havok and KLR have become favorites of mine. Would love to see an even longer rematch.

 Canadian Ninjas promo where Portia acts like Nicole had an extramarital affair by teaming with Madison Eagles at the previous ippv. Nicole patches things up by removing her Eagles t-shirt to reveal a Portia one. Amusing antics from the Ninjas.

Match 4 – Courtney Rush vs Marti Belle: **

This is Belle’s main roster debut. Here’s an example of two decent wrestlers with comedic overtones that I don’t personally enjoy often. Belle has tweaked her character and mannerisms nicely over time and her recent appearances on Shine are much better. One admittedly amusing spot early on as Rush counters a headlock simply by standing up to full height. Belle’s ample use of hairspray drifts into the crowd and a “too much hairspray” chant ensues.

After a series of holds and reversals Rush traps Belle’s arms under Rush’s legs in a camel clutch variation and messes her hair. Leading to more noxious fumes in the corner once the Rush releases the hold. Rush is just back from a collarbone injury and Belle targeted the right shoulder throughout the match. She finally pisses Rush off and the sharpshooter finishes off the newcomer.

Effort shown from both and nothing technically wrong with the match, but honestly it felt very flat to me as was too long for the characters / the story they were telling.

Match 5 –Kimber Lee & Cherry Bomb vs Leva Bates & Veda Scott: ***1/2

Scott bailed from commentary during the last match to prepare for this one. Prazak still solo on commentary. The Kimber Bombs are a great tag team and are very effective as heels in Shimmer. Early appearance as a team so they don’t have their “incorrect order when turning around to show their team name on their trunks” comedy spot going yet. Their opponents are the new team of Veda and Leva, with Leva out in cosplay as usual. Rogue from the X-Men this time (and a spot on costume).  Oops, I stand corrected – the Bombs got it right during the entrance, but do the “Bombs Kimber” spot during their introduction. Veda seems a little confused by her partner, but is smiling all the same. Kimber with a “four eyes” insult just so everyone remembers who the heels are.

Veda gets the advantage on Cherry to starts and some solid doubleteams from Veda/Leva in the early going. Prazak helpfully reminds me that Veda and Leva formed this team as a result of earning each other’s respect in a match against one another at the last show. Leva removes a glove and applies the claw to “absorb” Kimber’s strength in a nod to the character she’s dressed as. Mocks the Kimber Bombs pose and hits a suplex. Cheapshot from Cherry on the outside and the Bombs take over. Proper Kimber Bombs double suplex on Leva. Superkick on Cherry finally gives Leva an opening and both teams switch up.

Veda in control of both Bombs for a bit, but Kimber pulls her in front of Leva’s missile dropkick and the Bombs hit the lungblower German suplex combo for the win. Leva apologizes and hugs her partner after the match. Good tag team battle as the Kimber Bombs continue their roll.

Match 6: Madison Eagles vs Heidi Lovelace ****

Time for another heel the crowd loves to love as Madison Eagles comes out to an ovation. Decent response for Heidi as her opponent too. “Worst Best Friends” chant for Madison. The variation on Madison’s pre-match hidden fork ritual this time is putting it in her hand before shaking with Heidi, leading to Heidi getting caught by the ref brandishing a fork. Madison suitably overreacts to her own deed and tries to get the ref to give the fork (back) to her to use because “she brought it.” Reasonably amusing. With that out of the way the match starts with some solid counter-wrestling. Prazak again setting the stage wonderfully recounting Madison’s unbeaten streak since returning after losing the Shimmer title and how she’s rising in the contender ranks with every subsequent victory vs Heidi trying to climb herself and accepting challenges of all sorts.

Veda returns to commentary and sounds a bit cagey about her new tag team’s future. Eagles and Lovelace progress from holds to strikes and the pace quickens considerably. Madison with an extended advantage and grabs the ropes right in front of the ref during a pin attempt. When questioned she responds “I was so close.” I like the matter of fact nature of her humor and she uses it well, never quite overshadowing the match, but she really doesn’t need it and I wouldn’t mind seeing it toned down a bit in general from her.

Dueling chants after some back and forth and Eagles lands a beautiful deadlift German. Strike exchange on their knees leads to Heidi kicking Madison in the head leads to Madison tripping Heidi hard and attempting a brainbuster. Heidi reverses it into a small package for a believable nearfall. Great stuff. Heidi evades a charge in the corner, hits a kick to the head and goes up for a diving double knees from the top. Madison kicks out just before 3. Madison blocks a backdrop driver attempt and plants Heidi with a brainbuster. She drags Heidi over for one of the best and most devastating moves in her arsenal, the spider German. Heidi reverses though with another kick to the head, but the frog splash attempt meets Madison’s knees. Madison locks in an incredibly painful looking STF variation for the submission win.

Heidi was more than game to hang with the former Shimmer champion and this match was excellent. Love the addition of a new finisher for Madison, as her Hellbound is one of the most protected finishers in Shimmer history and I want to see it stay that way.

Here we go. This next part was electric live and I can’t wait to see how it translates. Saraya out… no wait she’s annoyed at the fans and goes back. Out again, and has the mic. Rips into the crowd for cheering her for her daughter’s accomplishments. She has everyone dancing to her tune from word one, and honestly may be the greatest heel I’ve ever seen. She starts talking about an unidentified person who “seems to thinks she’s better than me.” Continues in this vein and adds “there’s only one person I give accolades, and that’s the one wearing the number one belt. Not a piece of crap like you. Play her music, bring her out.” When the music hit and the crowd realized she was talking about Nakagawa, they were in shock/awe. And then the cheering built and built.

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Match 7 – Tomoka Nakagawa (Shimmer Tag Team Champion) vs Saraya Knight ****1/4

Nakagawa out with her Shimmer Tag Team title belt, a nice and important touch after Saraya’s trash talk, which continues during the introductions. After Tomoka’s a thunderous Nakagwa chant starts. It’s the loudest chant I’ve heard, and it comes across pretty well on dvd. The consummate professional that Saraya is, she’s sees her opportunity and grabs it, taking the mic again and telling the crowd she’s never been so disrespected in her life. She tells us to shut up, and that she knows we won’t be able to keep the noise up all match, and even if we do Tomoka won’t here it because she’s going to knock both her eardrum out. Amazingly the chant manages to get LOUDER. Just brilliant work by the veteran. “SHE. CAN’T. BEAT. ME.”

Bell rings and Saraya fumes as Tomoka encourages the fans. Great touch from Veda as her concern with Saraya’s threat that she’ll punch everyone in the building in the mouth isn’t whether she thinks Saraya actually will, but whether it just means the fans or if her and Dave are also in trouble. So much more effective in getting the character over than saying something like “I’m sure she wouldn’t actually do that.”

Just as they are about to lock up some fans nearly give Saraya an aneurism by chanting “we want Paige.” Prazak and Veda set the stage for the match noting both women have been notorious rulebreakers in the past. I think a one-match return of Tomoka’s cheating ways to counter Saraya is in order. Lock-up for real, and by that I mean Saraya throws her around by the hair. Saraya taunts her and Tomoka shows she’s just as good at dragging someone by the hair. Eye poke by Knight and the boos are echoing. Reciprocated to counter to cheers. This is a masterful display of craft from both and the only moves we’ve seen so far is hair pulling and eye pokes.

An exchange of closed fist shots during headlocks is the next stage in the cheating one-upmanship, then Saraya just tees of with a slap. Hard clothesline and some stomps look to put her in control, but Tomoka comes back with some chops and a beautiful dropkick. Saraya back to the hair and pulls Nakagawa into a leg-applied full nelson. She transitions through a few holds then clubs on Tomoka’s back when she starts to break free.

The crowd noise dies down just a little, so Saraya with a taunting “I can’t hear you” and the booing is back in full force. Tomoka with the advantage, so Saraya punches her low, rakes the eyes, kicks her low when she drops into the corner, then hits her running seated low dropkick. Tomoka placed on the top turnbuckle. Another low punch, slap to the face, then a suplex from the bottom rope.

Saraya mocking Tomoka and they start trading punches on a delay, but after one go ’round Sraya goes back to the slap instead. She proceed to call Tomoka a little girl and talk about how she bit off more than she can chew and Tomoka finally repays the slaps in kind. Of course That infuriated Knight, who connects with another slap then ties Tomoka up in the ropes and scores several kidney punches. Vicious low kick back in the center of the ring and Tomoka crumples to the mat. As Saraya gloats Tomoka trips her and finialy repays the low blows in kind as well. She goes to the corner for her water bottle, but Rhia comes out to distract her and takes the water spit herself. Saraya with a reverse DDT for the win. Ever the sportswoman, Saraya stands on Tomoka’s hair to keep her in place and pours the water bottle out on her face. Saraya and Rhia scheme about turning this win into a tag title shot.

As much of a technical wrestling fanboy as I am, there are numerous ways to work a match, and these two worked this to perfection, Milage may vary, but I thought this was fantastic and while the full energy of it live was impossible to capture, watching it on dvd certainly did it justice.

Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez talk about how not worried they are about Lufisto and Kana.

Match 8 – Athena vs Yumi Ohka ****1/4

Highly anticipated match here. Yumi Ohka is one of the most impressive wrestler that has been brought in from Japan and Athena is one of Shimmer’s best “homegrown” talents, having steadily climbed her way up the card over time. Athena is currently rumored to be headed to the WWE, a well deserved position if true.

Prazak mentions how busy and in demand Ohka is in Japan, which lead to a year and a half absence from Shimmer between her last appearance and this one. Athena is also returning to Shimmer here after an absence, hers due to a shoulder injury. A bit of aggressive counter wrestling to start, with Athena getting to show she’s on Ohka’s level. Ohka soon takes over though with her trademark running Yakuza kicks. Three variations connect and Athena’s down in perfect place for an elbow drop from the second rope. In a nice touch, after a cover Ohka checks with the ref that the count was two and not three, but when he says yes she just says ok. It’s a reflection of the heels arguing every two count and I like it as reenforcement of her as a face. It also aids suspension of disbelief, because in an actual competition of course you’d look to the official to verify whether or not you’d won.

Athena with a flurry of knee strikes and a vicious running boot of her own to a bent over Ohka. Neckbreaker followed by a butterfly suplex and Ohka appears to be in trouble, but reverses an Irish whip into another running Yakuza kick. Side kick then mule kick from Athena, but Yumi takes the advantage again with a forearm and hits a stranglehold lungblower into a submission. Lets go and back to the running kicks, but Athena reverses the second into 619 position, slides to the floor and nails Ohka with a kick to the face. Belly-to-belly by Ohka and both are down. Ax kick to the back of Athena’s head by Ohka. She’s calling for the finish but Athena reverses a suplex attempt with a small package. Another near fall on Ohka follows off of a springboard crossbody. Ohka lands knees to Athena’s head and then another big kick to the face for a two count. Ohka hits the ropes, but Athena traps the leg on the kick attempt and converts into an overhead suplex.

Athena with a new submission hold, tying up Ohka’s legs with her own and grabbing a crossface. Ohka makes the ropes and Athena goes right into a series of handstand kneedrops. Up to the second rope and nails a senton on a prone Ohka for another close two count. Athena and crowd calling for the O-face , but Ohka absolutely nails her in the head with another running kick with Athena on the tope turnbuckle. Superplex from Ohka but Athena kicks out. She hits her tiger suplex and then destroys the remains of Athena with a final running Yakuza kick for the victory.

How stacked is this card that Ohka vs Athena goes on fifth from the top? Phenomenal return for both.

Match 9 – The Canadian Ninjas vs Ray and Leon ****

“Edge of Seventeen” brings out Shimmer’s most despise tag team, Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews. For their opponents, Ray and Leon make their return to Shimmer! These two can fly and were instantly beloved in their first appearances. Ray’s cartwheel bomb is one of my favorite maneuvers ever. Big welcome back chant as Dave recounts how Ray and Leon are two of the most requested athletes to return.

Portia riling up the crowd quick by trying to push her opponents back and forth trying to decide which corner she prefers to be in. Bell rings and the Ninjas ambush their opponents, sending Ray out of the ring and focusing on Leon. The advantage doesn’t last long as Leon rolls through a double clothesline attempt and Ray comes in for a double dropkick. They continue to double team Portia in flashy fashion, firing up the crowd.

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The Ninjas take over with a blind tag and demonstrate their commitment to being good heels by using both the ropes and outside leverage on a chinlock. Extended working over of Ray until she cartwheels through Portia’s clothesline attempt and hits a dropkick. Tag to Leon and she rolls over the Ninjas, including a double spear when Nicole tries to get involved. Picture perfect tilt-a-whirl backbreaker by Leon on Portia and then stereo submissions on the Ninjas. Couple of surprise pin attempts by Portia on Leon after she’s released, but Leon drives her into the corner and tags Ray. Machine gun chops on Portia in the corner by Ray, and the faster she gets the more painful it is just to watch. Whip to an empty corner and Ray nails a handspring elbow.

Portia eventually hits a DDT and tags in Nicole. Great Rude style neck breaker into a superkick combo. Big lariat by Nicole for two as the crowd chants for Ray. Leon’s had enough, and strikes Nicole when she goes up top, leaving her in position for a spin kick from Ray. Leon blocks Portia as Ray hits an Iconoclasm for two. Things break down from here as both teams double team and cheap shot each other at every opportunity. All four in, then Ray knocked outside. Portia with a lightning spiral (!) into a Nicole brainbuster. They go for the Funky Cold Medina, but Leon catches the superkick and Ray comes back to kick Portia in the head.

German suplex by Leon on Matthews, 619 by Ray, spear by Leon and Nicole just barely kicks out. Frog splash by Leon but Portia shoves Ray back into the pin attempt to break it up. Ray lays Portia out with a German suplex and both masked wrestlers go up top. Ray with a moonsault on Perez simultaneously to Leon’s senton on Mathews and we have a double pin.

Great match to set up Ray and Leon as contenders for the tag titles.

Evie an endearing, slightly goofy promo about wanting to be Shimmer champion.

Match 10 – Kellie Skater (Shimmer Tag Team Champion) vs Nikki Storm ***1/2

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It’s time for the best in the galaxy! Niiki’s natural charisma is already making fans, as a “SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH!” chat goes up as soon as she enters the ring. Nikki works herself up finding absurd ways to describe her own beauty, and the crowd eats it up. The other half of the tag champs is out as her opponent. As usual the ring announcer can’t say “Glasglow” to Nikki’s satisfaction and gets corrected. Loudly. The crowd sides with the bully heel, chanting “say it right.” Kevin they slays them by covering his mouth and saying it in a muffled way that sounds pretty close. That got a big laugh. On to Kellie’s sing-a-long intro, which leads to Nikki getting streamer envy and a loud “Skater’s got this!” chant.

It might be starting to sound like the matches all start the same as I describe “counter wrestling to start,” but each set of competitors has focused on different holds, reversals, etc and it hasn’t felt repetitive at all. Here Skater and Storm fight over headlocks and head scissors and then proceed to a test of strength. Prazak and Veda have an interesting conversation on commentary pointing out the unique nature of Shimmer and all of the international talents it features.

Stalemate on the test of strength until Nikki trips Kellie and transitions into an arm wringer. Kellie reverses into a body scissors and does body dips to exercise while applying the hold. Nikki counters into a heel hook, which Kellie counters back into a headlock to the crowds appreciation. Pace quickens with a shoulder tackle by Nikki followed by armdrags by Kellie, culminating with a ropewalk one. Nikki begs off in the corner in hilarious fashion, offer the hand of sportsmanship only to drag Kellie face first into the turnbuckle. Back and forth but Nikki chokes Kellie to get take control. Nikki just pounding Kellie’s head into the mat. She keeps the advantage until a “let’s go Skater” chant fires Kellie up and they trade forearm shots. Nikki ends that with a kneelift, but Kellie gets a close two with a small package.

Nikki clubs Kellie back down, then chokes her and “innocently” asks the ref if choking is illegal in America when he counts her. “Really???” The ref then realizes Storm’s been standing on Kellie’s hair for the whole conversation. Veda with a great side bar about Niiki having difficultly with “language barriers” to which Dave fires back “It’s English! She just has an accent!” “Well it’s a very heavy accent.”

Kellie comes back with a succession of clotheslines and dropkicks, then a kick combination into a DDT. Nikki counters a snake eyes and looks for the Perfect Storm, but instead eats a running kick to the chest. Eye rake by Storm and then rolling neckbreakers (using the hair of course). Crossface by Nikki, Skater makes the ropes. Some offense from Skater, but an International Incedent attempt is countered into a Perfect Storm attempt which becomes a spinning cradle neckbreaker by Niiki after Kellie slips out of the Perfect Storm. Kickout just before three. Storm just shoving Skater now. Mauling Kellie in the corner out of frustration until the ref pulls her back.  Kellie avoids a charge, International Incident for three,

Nice toe-to-toe match and a strong showing for Storm, who is going to be a big star someday.

Clips of Hikaru Shida vs Mia Yim 1 from Volume 58 to introduce the rematch.

Match 11 – Mia Yim vs Hikaru Shida ****1/2

Mia has evolved over her career to become one of the most well rounded competitors on the roster. Shida is a young star from Japan with seemingly limitless potential. They tore the house down the first time and there was a lot of anticipation for this rematch. It was scheduled for the preceding ippv, but Mia was injured. Shida vs Evie filled in admirably, and we get the rematch here.

Great exchange of flipping, rolling, and countering out of each others holds early on. Wonderful display of submission style holds from both. Mia makes the ropes while in a leg hold and we reset. Exchange of armdrags, leg sweeps and simultaneous dropkick attempts and it’s another stalemate, Both athletes come up smiling in a sign of appreciation of the competition. Mia pulls ahead with a flying headscissors and lays into Shida with kicks to the back and chest. She clubs Shida down, hits an ax kick to the back, and applies a leg lock. She can’t quite get what looks like an Indian deathlock attempt, so she switches into a Boston crab. Shida makes the ropes and tries to fight back, but gets caught in a body scissors. Close pinfall attempts for both, all while Mia keeps the body scissors applied. Rope break and Shida tries to capitalize on a missed kick in the corner by Yim, but runs into a boot and Mia applies the tarantula.

Shida absorbs a couple hard kicks, catches the third and drives Mia’s injured knee straight into the canvas. Two more vicious impacts of the knee to the canvas and Shida locks in the figure four. Rope break then Shida runs at Mia and doesn’t quite go over the low bridge. Instead of forcing it she just trades a couple shots with Mia and then Mia dumps her. Mia goes or the apron kick, but Shida sweeps her legs and she lands face first on the apron. Knee lift with Mia draped over the side. Stomping at the injured knee.and then a running knee strike to it with Mia tied up in the corner. Exchange of forearms becomes a running kick by Mia becomes a running knee strike by Shida.

They fight over a suplex and Mia hits it. Shida with one of her own. Mia’s turn again. She pulls Shida toward the corner and goes up top, but Shida catches her. Superplex attempt blocked, but Shida knocks her off the top to the apron, then hits an incredible deadlift superplex from the second turnbuckle.

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Phenomenal strength shown by Hikaru Shida.

Another exchange of forearm shots. Backfist from Yim. Enziguri from Shida. She lifts Mia for a falcon arrow, but it’s countered into a rollup, which Shida counters into her own, which Mia counters into a cover, which Shida counters into a crucifix and turns into a horse collar when Mia kicks out. Great sequence. Mia SCREAMING to sell the pain on the injured knee. Rope break but Shida immediately nails Mia in the face with a knee strike as Mia was still clutching her knee against the ropes. Mia grabs the bottom rope to break the pin. Three Count ducked, reverse attempt ducked, German suplex by Yim. Mia limping. Goes for the package piledriver, but can’t lift Shida. Exchange of kicks then Mia turns a headscissors attempt into a sitout powerbomb. First “this is awesome” chants of the show and Mia finishes Shida off with the package piledriver.

Fantastic back and forth contest between two wrestlers at the top of their game. Big win for Mia to put her into title contention and yet another impressive showing for Shida.

Recap of Mercedes costing Lufisto her two of three falls title match against Melissa at Volume 62.

Main event – Kana & Lufisto vs Cheerleader Melissa (Shimmer Champion) & Mercedes Martinez ***3/4

This is likely the main event we were supposed to get on Shimmer 61 to set up Lufisto’s title shot on Shimmer 62, but Melissa was injured so it became Lufisto vs Martinez and Kana was added to another match.

Mercedes and the champ are out first, giddily soaking up the boos. Lufisto and Kana out to a big reaction. Lufisto rushes Melissa during intros and there’s the bell. They all spill to the outside and pair up with Kana vs Melissa and Mercedes vs Lufisto. Kana and Melissa back into the ring to start the match proper and they are just kicking the hell out of each other. Melissa with control, beating on Kana in the corner then pulls her out … to mockingly slap the back of her head. That can’t possibly be a good idea. Kana reverses a suplex attempt into a high angle arm bar. Melissa makes the ropes in part due to Mercedes pushing it closer, a wonderful heel touch. And indeed Melissa has angered Kana and eats some brutal kicks to the head.

Melissa catches a kick and takes back over, tagging in Mercedes. Doubleteam elbow and Mercedes begins the chopping portion of the program. They draw Lufisto in and take turns choking Kana in their corner. Kana catches Mercedes coming off the rope with the flying armbar and makes it over to tag Lufisto. Doubleteam from Lufisto and Kana and Lufisto beats on Mercedes until she retreats outside. Back in an Lufisto continues to work the arm, but a cheapshot from Melissa on the outside turns the tide. More choking and Melissa goes to work on Lufisto. Extended beat down, with lots and lots of choking.

Lufisto counters a clothesline into a rollup, then avoids Mercedes with a roll towards her corner and tags Kana. Kana delivers six kicks to Mercedes in ten seconds, but Melissa nails her from the outside to give her partner control. Doesn’t last long as Kana fires back up and hits a wicked combination of strikes. Kick to the side of the head and Mercedes just barely kicks out. Melissa mauls Kana and the ref is distracted by Lufisto trying to come in to even the odds.

My most despised sequence then happens, as the ref turns around and sees Melissa still in the ring helping Mercedes and half heartedly counts, stopping for no reason at four when Melissa and Mercedes are both still in the ring beating on Kana because he’d have to DQ them if he kept counting. The part that kills me is Lufisto then comes in, and instead of letting it go like with the heels and counting the ref PHYSICALLY PUSHES HER BACK TO HER CORNER. So annoying. He’s not supposed to be treating the faces and heels differently in the exact same situation. He’s supposed to miss the heels doing it because his back is turned, not starring at them as they cheat and then acting biased against the faces. Meh.

Moving on. Kana in trouble, and Melissa applies a leg lock, kicking at Kana with her other foot to prevent the rope break while Mercedes pulls the rope away. And the ref again is in position to look directly at Mercedes and kind of reprimands her and pulls at her arms for half a second before going right back to checking Kana with Mercedes still pulling on the rope. Keep in mind the physical restraining of Lufisto every time she moves half a foot from her corner. Huh, guess we weren’t moving on afterall. My mistake.

Kana makes the ropes anyway. Slam by Melissa and she continues to keep Kana grounded. Tag to Mercedes but Kana counters a kick with an ankle lock into a release German. Mercedes up and they trade strikes until Mercedes hits a brainbuster and they’re both down. Kana tags Lufisto and Mercedes makes it to Melissa as well. Back and forth then Lufisto hits the cannonball. Mercedes in and hits the fishermen’s buster, but Kana wipes her out with a sliding kick and locks in an arm submission, but now the ref cares who’s legal. Melissa breaks it up and hits an air raid crash on Kana. thankfully the ref is consistent here and won’t count Melissa’s pin on Kana either. Lufisto sneaks in with a burning hammer attempt, but Melissa fights it off and hits an air raid crash.  Lufisto kicks out! Kana destroys Melissa with a kick to the side of the head as she tried to lift Lufisto, then Mercedes drops Kana with a back suplex and they’re all down.

Melissa and Mercedes up first, and they hit a double team top rope curb stomp on Kana. Lufisto tosses Mercedes. Melissa from behind with a Kudo Driver attempt, but Lufisto counters into the burning hammer for the win. Lufisto poses with the belt after the match. This all would have made more sense before Shimmer 62, but it’s still a nice moment.

Despite my issues with the officiating, this was a solid main event with good action from four excellent wrestlers.

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Overall: One of the best top to bottom shows Shimmer’s put on, with a card loaded with top-notch action featuring phenomenal talent. Nearly as good on dvd as it was live, and well worth seeking out.

Available at http://shimmerwrestling.blogspot.com/ .

Beautiful Dreams

A highlight of the conventions I’ve attended over the years has been exploring artists alley. Row after row of tables filled with imaginative tributes to known characters and original works, by artists eager to meet fans and share the results of their efforts.

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An incredible digitally painted scene (top).

Otakon in 2009 (I think) was the first time I saw the art of Juri the Dreamer (Juri H. Chinchilla) and it immediately wowed me. She had a variety of both digital and traditional art on display, all dripping in atmosphere and conveying a ton of emotion. I picked up a couple of prints and she’s been my favorite artist ever since.

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Dizzy, Millia Rage, and  Jam Kuradoberi from Guilty Gear

I saw her at various conventions the following couple of years and got some great pieces, including an incredible set of colored pencil commissions at Anime Boston 2010 featuring Guilty Gear characters.

I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work. Masterful use of colored pencil gives the finished art a soft feel while keeping colors bright and vivid with a lot of depth.

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Juri has a wonderful imagination and her original creations are always unique and striking.

Now living on the West Coast and working on a variety of projects, Juri isn’t currently attending cons or doing commissions. But there are still opportunities to get her wonderful art. She has print store at http://jurithedreamer.deviantart.com/prints/ and participates in card sets for companies like Perna Studios.  Perna puts out high quality themed card sets in limited quantity. Juri’s contributions have been fantastic.

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Some of Juri’s cards from Perna Studios’ sets.

Looking forward to seeing what the future brings for Juri and her art. 🙂

The NXT Step for a Legend

It’s been a little bittersweet over the last few years as more and more wrestlers I’ve watched on the indies go to the WWE. It means less opportunities to see them wrestle live, but I’m always thrilled for their success and what being signed means for their careers. Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli, Kevin Steen, Sara Del Rey, Uhaa Nation, and several others were all favorites of mine that got noticed for their excellent work and received an opportunity to work for the biggest pro-wrestling company there is.

But none of these announcements has excited and surprised me quite like the unexpected appearance of Kana during NXT Takeover Brooklyn.

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The World Famous Kana at Shimmer 68.

I was unfamiliar with Kana before her Shimmer debut on volumes 41-44, but she made a lasting impression fast. With a unique look and aura and incredible ringwork, she went toe-to-toe with some of Shimmer’s best that weekend (Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, Mia Yim, and Lufisto) and beat most of them. It was a fantastic first impression and instantly made her one of my favorites, a status that only grew stronger over time. Her match against Ayako Hamada at Volume 50 is still my favorite Shimmer match ever.

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Kana and Lufisto get ready for a four team tag title match at Shimmer 53.

My first opportunity to see her (and a lot of other phenomenal athletes) live was Shimmer 53 as part of all the wrestling hoopla surrounding Wrestlemania in NJ in 2013. As part of a four-team tag title match she didn’t get a big spotlight but still managed to shine during her exchanges. It’s always an amazing feeling to get to meet one of your favorites and I was also able to get a beautiful piece of commissioned art of done by Rob Schamberger signed by her.

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A goofy looking fan meets a world traveled wrestler at the top of her game.

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Incredible rendition of Kana by Rob Schamberger, signed by both. 🙂

My first trip out to Berwyn, IL for a Shimmer taping weekend was in April 2014 and I can’t recommend the experience enough. Two full days of incredible wrestling featuring some of the best on the planet. It was again a thrill to get to see Kana live and her singles matches against a variety of up-and-comers (particularly the Galaxy Famous Nikki Storm) were a joy.

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Kana exhausted and likely a bit dazed moments after her hard hitting Shimmer Title match, but still friendly and cheerful with the fans.

My second Shimmer weekend in October 2014 now looks like it may have been Kana’s last, as she missed this past April and is likely headed to the WWE. If it was she had a great showing to finish up on. She had her first shot at the Shimmer title in an excellent rematch I’d been waiting a long time for against Cheerleader Melissa in the main event of Volume 67. On Volume 68 she and regular tag partner Lufisto wrestled Saraya Knight and Mayumi Ozaki in a no-DQ match that spilled around the arena a bit.

The next day another great wrestler with a bright future, Kay Lee Ray, faced Kana in a fantastic contest. Kana finished the weekend with another solid match against Courtney Rush.

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Kana in some trouble vs another favorite of mine, Kay Lee Ray.

A couple months ago Kana announced a “hiatus” from wrestling. There was a lot of speculation without much info, and while WWE’s recent visit to Japan certainly presented the possibility of her being involved in negotiations, nothing was confirmed so it was just one more theory in the pile. Her appearance at NXT was a complete shock and I did a double take when I saw her up on the screen next to Flair and Slaughter. It was another awesome moment for me as a wrestling fan at a show absolutely filled with them.

While nothing’s been announced, WWE having Kana travel for NXT Takeover and showing her as part of the broadcast points heavily towards her being signed. The fact that she was named (with their standard slight spelling tweak for copyright) indicates if so her background and experience would likely be (rightfully) acknowledged instead of treating her like a rookie.

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Kana was gracious enough to agree to a pic at the Shimmer afterparty during Shimmer 63-66 weekend.

It will be a very different chapter of her career, but I’m extremely happy for her and excited about all the possibilities. Best of luck to a true superstar.

NXT Takeover Brooklyn Live Thoughts

August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY

I decided to see NXT Takeover Brooklyn over Field of Honor 2015 largely because that’s what my nephew, who would be visiting at the time, wanted. With all due respect to ROH and the awesome looking show they put on last night, the closer we got to this weekend and the more and more that was announced for NXT the more certain I became that I was lucky the way the decision went. Now having seen Takeover I can’t imagine having missed it.

It was a fantastic mix of wrestlers I’ve watched for years in ROH, Shimmer, etc, getting a shot on the “big stage” and unfamiliar newcomers similarly looking for a chance to to step up. And more than a couple of unbelievable moments and surprises.

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Talk about a packed house.

The pre-“ppv” portion of the show started around 7:45. The capacity crowd was pumped up and whoever was in charge of match order and booking certainly knew what they were doing as sending Enzo and Cass out to open turned the hot crowd molten. Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Zach Ryder and Mojo Rawley vs Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder was a fun opener that set the evening off on the right note.

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Eva Marie vs Carmella and Bull Dempsey vs Elias Samson were both short, functional matches that allowed the talent involved to get some experience and further their characters without overstaying their welcome. There were a couple awkward moments, and the crowd was merciless tearing into Marie in general, but these were fine outings for all four.

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Awesome appearance number one of the evening for me came next, with a fatal four-way featuring Becky Lynch, Dana Brooke, Emma, and Charlotte. I saw a ton of potential in Rebecca Knox’s early appearance in Shimmer, and after a lengthy absence and talk of her career being over due to injury it’s fantastic to see her back, getting a huge opportunity and making the most of it. This was quite good… except for Brooke, who politely speaking has a LONG way to go. Emma, rocking her new heel persona, picks up the win in what looks like it could have been a botched finish. If it was though they recovered very nicely and Charlotte’s visual pin on Emma after the match followed by solidarity shown between her and Becky ended the segment strongly.

Triple H came out to hype up the crowd and open the “ppv” portion of the show. He pitched a cool idea to start the show, with him spotlighted in silence talking about what NXT is and then bringing up the lights to show the sold out crowd going nuts, and most of the raucous Brooklyn crowd actually seemed to comply reasonably well. Hope it came across on screen, because live it was pretty cool.

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A legend enters his first WWE ring.

The first of three downright surreal moments for me was up next as JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER (!!!) entered a WWE ring to face Tyler Breeze. Watching Liger wrestle the likes of Brian Pillman and Chris Benoit many years ago is part of what made me a lifelong wrestling fan so this was quite the treat. Obviously Liger isn’t what he once was, but he still put on a great show against a game Breeze in a basic but thoroughly enjoyable match. Highlights included Liger stealing Breeze’s selfie stick for some posing, diving to the floor, and hitting his trademark Ligerbomb to win.

The Wolfpack is shown watching in the front row. I never attended a big ppv event before, so I never realized they bring the stars shown out right before putting the camera on them and then take them right back to the backstage area. Seems very weird – you’d think they’d at least be out there to watch a match.

The NXT Tag Titles were on the line next with The Vaudvillains vs Blake and Murphy (c) with Alexa Bliss. Surprisingly hot match, as the crowd was firmly behind the Vaudvillains from the start and got even more so when they announced their counter to Alexa Bliss – Shimmer regular Leva Bates as beloved NXT jobber Blue Pants. This was a solid match with a great finish paying off Bliss getting some comeuppance and providing a surprise title change that the crowd went nuts for.

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The one man nation has arrived.

The debut of indie darling Uhaa Nation, renamed Apollo Crews, was next against Tye Dillinger. The first time I saw Uhaa wrestle live I remarked it was only a matter of time before he got signed. He is unbelievably agile for his size and has the look and bearings of a star. This was a short back and forth encounter that gave Crews opportunity to give the audience a glimpse of what he can do. While I can’t complain about his first impression on people being a standing moonsault, I do kind of wish they let him complete the following half of the Uhaa Combination and hit the standing shooting star.

While our seats had a fine view of the action, we were quite far away and the giant screens above the ring were very important to see close ups of the action and key moments. I mention this because during the entire Crews match (and half the ladder match main event) they defaulted to the NXT logo. I’m assuming this was due to technical problems, but in a venue that holds 15,000 people trying to watch a 20′ x 20′ ring you really can’t have this kind of thing happen.

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“Joe’s gonna kill you! Joe’s gonna kill you!”

Surreal moment number two sees former ROH and TNA world champion Samoa Joe on WWE tv against Baron Corbin. Nice package recapping the feud to bring the audience up to speed. Corbin saying he’s better than everyone else who worked hard to get to NXT because all he had to do was make a phone call countered with Joe saying “they called me” was brilliant. Corbin’s been played up as unstoppable, and I haven’t heard much good about his ringwork but he was fine here going toe to toe with Joe in a strong match. Joe’s victory points towards using him for more than training and putting over new talent, which makes me happy.

More superstars marched out to the front row thrown up on the screen and there’s Ric Fl— OH MY GOD IT’S KANA!!!!!!!!! My favorite wrestler in the world today recently announced a hiatus from wrestling in Japan, which apparently might have been code for “I’m negotiating with WWE.” There were rumors and supposition, but seeing her appear at NXT was a complete surprise. So happy for what this could mean going forward, and the fact that they put her next to Ric Flair and Sargent Slaughter and named her indicates that if she has in fact signed they’ll be bringing her in as the top tier talent she is instead of pretending she’s brand new because she’s not homegrown. I’m still in shock from this.

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Incredibly awesome entrance for Banks, but not quite the best of the night…

Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley was next for the NXT Women’s Championship. It’s weird how HHH comes across as supportive and important to NXT while Steph seems to be trying to make the spotlight rub off on her and claim credit for other’s success when their promos really aren’t that different. Still, I’ll take the extra attention for the women’s division and having her declare the women’s title match a co-main event was pretty cool.

Again the video package summarizing the feud was excellent and effectively conveyed Banks’ dominating, bullying persona and Bayley’s struggle to prove herself and prove herself while being outpaced by her compatriots. Bayley’s another former member of the Shimmer roster, but didn’t get too much time to shine there before being signed to WWE developmental. Both wrestlers were phenomenal here, and this easily took match of the night on a card filled with more established superstars and great performances.

Everything was pitch perfect. The in-ring story built move by move and had the crowd captivated the whole way. Banks is so good she had to work insanely hard to get booed by the New York crowd, and still managed it well enough to give the key moments extra impact. The meta-story of Bayley’s struggle and hard fought victory finally proving her legitimacy was amazing, and the crowd erupted for her win. And I’ll be damned if I ever thought someone could make a bell-to-belly suplex a believable finisher in 2015. The “curtain call” moment with Charlotte, Becky, Banks and Bayley was just right.

Different stage and name, but same super-awesome Mr. Wrestling Kevin Steen I've watched and adored for years.

Different stage and name, but same super-awesome Mr. Wrestling Kevin Steen I’ve watched and adored for years.

Well, if anyone was going to be able to follow that last match Kevin Steen (Owens) and Prince Devitt (Baylor) are certainly the right choices to try. Steen is an old favorite of mine of the indie circuit and has charisma and presence that’s absolutely captivating. Devitt spent most of his career in Japan, so this was my first opportunity to see him live.

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Balor’s entrance live is beyond amazing.

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The demon emerges for battle.

Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor (c) for the NXT Championship in a ladder match was the second and final main event for the evening. Balor’s full entrance in a packed, full sized arena is a sight to behold. Both wrestlers have legitimate star presence and this match felt like a big deal.

This was an excellent ladder based brawl with some brutal spots that didn’t feel excessive or out of place. New York loves Owens, but like Banks he did an impressive job of turning them against him enough for the story of the match to work as it was supposed to. The match kept building and felt like a real, evolving competition with Balor evetnually surviving Owens’ signature hospitalizing powerbomb to the apron to hit a doublestomp from the top of the ladder and retain his title. Perfect end to an incredible show.

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And still NXT champion.  

Overall

What a night. Easily one of the best live shows I’ve ever been to, filled with great action, a wonderful roster with diverse styles, and downright magical moments and surprises. Shows like this are why I watch wrestling.

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Exhausted but deliriously happy on our way home.

Evolve 47 Live Review

August 15, 2015 in Queens, NY

In addition to a great looking card, this was the first Evolve show I’ve been able to see live in quite a while, so I was quite excited for it. With the venue not too far into Queens and a two minute walk from the subway it would have been fairly convenient … if not for a combined hour and a half train delays getting into the city and then out to Queens. Sigh. The gamble that is public transportation. Hopefully better luck next time.

So I unfortunately missed the first two contests. On the lucky side I walked in right for the start of one of the matches I was most interested in.

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Hero is not pleased after Bailey’s opening flurry of offense.

Chris Hero vs “Speedball” Mike Bailey 

Hero treating Bailey like a little kid during the handshake gave Bailey cause for a fiery start of brutal kicks that immediately captivated the crowd. Hero responded with equally vicious shots and the two just beat the hell out of each other in glorious fashion for the entire match.

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Hero stalking Bailey for a rolling elbow.

Bailey going strike for strike with Hero (rightfully) impressed the crowd and the in-match story of him fighting back against the mocking veteran was done to perfection and brought the crowd to life in support of him in measure equal to Hero (who is just so good every crowd I’ve seen refuses to boo him).

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Beautiful deadlift German.

Fantastic, hard hitting match that was perfectly paced and had a great story. This tied the main event for match of the night for me, which is extremely impressive for my first look at Mike Bailey. Hope to see him return to Evolve regularly.

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Respect shown by Hero after the match.

Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley vs Trent Baretta & Rey Horus

Rey Horus and Trent Baretta came out for their scheduled match, but Baretta’s former comrades came out to enjoy watching them beat on each other. Baretta making mocking hand motions to speed things up and checking his imaginary watch as Val went on and on was highly amusing. Baretta got on the mic when she finished and insulted Val until he successfully goaded Konley into accepting a tag matchof the PAB vs him and his “new best friend” Rey Horus (complete with hug to signify their impromptu partnership and “new best friends” chant from the crowd).

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One of the numerous times Val was unhappy with comments from the crowd.

While the PAB is a bit too methodical on offense, to the point of losing the crowd, this started hot and picked back up towards the end. Horus had a couple of awkward spots, but overall looked good in my first exposure to him and I’d actually like to see him team with Baretta again sometime.

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Baretta was the highlight inside the ring for me. His mannerisms are fantastic and add a lot to his performances, and his ringwork is high octane and fun to watch. Outside the ring Val stole the show. Her reactions to what her team is doing (or suffering) at any given moment are pitch perfect and significantly help fire up the crowd against them.

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Insane pop-up German by Baretta to counter a superplex attempt on his partner.

Johnny Gargano vs Ethan Page

The latest confrontation in Gargano’s war with his former protege took the form of an anything goes match that spilled all over the venue. They spent very little time in the ring before brawling to the floor and into the crowd. On the one hand it was cool that they essentially did a circle around the ring and went through all areas of fans. On the other that meant I couldn’t see what was happening when there weren’t near me, which was close to three quarters of the match. What I did see was decent and they came up with some unique spots on the outside.

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Page gloating about his brilliance after the match.

The end sequence was up and down. Gargano came up short on what seemed to be a lawn dart attempt across the ring sending Page into a chair wedged in the opposite corner and dropped him a few feet away. They picked things back up with a chair duel that broke pieces off of the plastic chair they were smashing together. Rich Swann came out to “protect” Gargano from taking anymore chair shots and completely unsurprisingly turned on him and helped Page put him down for the count. This was good, but felt like it was missing something that kept it from being great.

Page and Swann adequately explained the turn (and revealed Swann as Gargano’s mystery opponent for the next show), but the promo ran a bit too long and Swann needed to show more anger and resentment. It was too mocking/gloating for someone supposedly fed up with being in Gargano’s shadow. They’re also going to have to do something special with this going forward, because even with the face/heel dynamic reversed Gargano/Swann really feels “been there, done that.” We’ll see how it goes.

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The champion gets ready to defend his title.

Evolve Title Match: Timothy Thatcher (c) vs Zack Sabre Jr.

This is the match I went to see. Thatcher is my favorite wrestler at the moment and what I’ve seen of Sabre so far has been extremely impressive, so to say I was psyched for this match would be a vast understatement.

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Sabre trying to counter a short arm scissors with a head scissors.

I think the term “wrestling clinic” is thrown around too much, but if ever it was appropriate it’s here. Thatcher and Sabre spent the entire match fighting over holds and reversals trying to get an advantage. And that was the key: they FOUGHT for everything. Nothing looked like a “sequence,” it always looked like two guys desperately trying to gain an advantage over one another and win the match.

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Sabre trying to fight out of a vicious looking armbar from Thatcher.

It’s extremely difficult to keep an entirely grappling based match gripping throughout and never lose the crowd, especially in the main event of a card that featured high flying, strikefests, and no-DQ savagery. It’s an accomplishment that speaks volumes about the skills of both men. I remember a particularly great stretch that featured an exchange of strangleholds for several minutes, and there were tons of innovative reversals and holds that had the fans oohing and aahing.

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Sabre added some stiff kicks late in the match and Thatcher some suplexes, but it came back down to the grappling with Sabre focusing on Thatcher’s arm and Thatcher going after Sabre’s legs. In the end Thatcher reversed into a heel hook Sabre couldn’t get out of. Phenomenal match I’m ecstatic I got to see live.

Overall

Despite missing the opening I still more than got my money’s worth from Evolve’s latest show. Loved two matches and the other two were very good at worst. The roster is filled with exceptional talent wrestling diverse styles and as a whole things are clicking nicely. Thatcher is a fantastic champion and I hope his reign is a long one.

Quite Possibly the Best Meal I’ve Ever Had

Tempura Matsui is a new NYC restaurant that focuses on the tradition of tempura at the level of fine dining.

From the website:

“We have worked tirelessly to perfect the batter, which is as thin as possible, to just coat the ingredient, and not weigh people down. Naming it “The Matsui Way” after out grand chef Mr Matsui.

A meal at Tempura Matsui begins with seasonal appetizers, the featured main course, and ends with a light dessert. Ingredients are based on time of year, seasonality and what is available from both New York and Japan. We only serve the freshest vegetables and fish.”

Both the concept and the food sounded fantastic, so as a slightly belated birthday gift to myself I decided to give them a try.

Opening appetizer of Junsai with Sea Urchin.

Opening appetizer of junsai with sea urchin.

Although conveniently located on 39th st between 2nd and 3rd, it’s easy to walk by the single door and small sign hidden at the corner of a huge apartment building (three times). Once I got my bearings and actually found my destination I entered to a small dining room mostly taken up by the bar surrounding the tempura chef, with a few booths on the opposite wall. The atmosphere felt nicely relaxed for fine dining and the staff was all extremely attentive and friendly.

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Komatsuna and mushroom ohitashi, homemade sesame tofu topped with wasabi, and dashi simmered octopus sakura-ni. Excellent and wonderfully complimentary appetizers.

There is set dinner menu (which changes monthly), and all eight courses were delicious. The meal built well and I was quite full at the end without being overstuffed at any point.Each item was identified and explained, including suggestions (like which pieces of sushi didn’t need soy sauce and which of the two provided salts went best with particular pieces of tempura). I particularly adore sashimi and it was excellent.

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The sashimi was incredible, particularly the sake-steeped abalone. Note: I couldn’t stop myself from eating a piece of tuna before snapping this pic.

I also love tempura and was extremely interested and excited to see what it was like at a master level. I was not disappointed.

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The lightly battered, expertly fried tempura course was cooked a piece at a time and served immediately upon removal from the oil.

I was given dipping sauce with daikon radish to add, fresh lemon juice, and two salts to use for this course. Like with everything else the ingredients were of incredibly high quality, and each piece was lightly battered and fried in front of me one at a time as I was ready and served immediately. The course included shrimp heads, shrimp, king crab, two other types of fish and several vegetables.

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Hamo with cucumber and plum sauce.

When the course was done I was given the option of ordering more tempura a la carte. With two courses and dessert remaining I unfortunately knew I wouldn’t have room for it. Others in the restaurant ordered more though, and it seemed it was available by the piece so you could order whatever particular things you enjoyed most.

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Ten-don (shrimp kakiage tempura over rice), with akadashi miso soup and homemade pickles.

Besides having a preference for Japanese food in general, I enjoy menus like this that present a variety of foods and flavors. Everything was just right, including a nice light dessert to finish the meal.

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Peach compote for dessert.

As I’m sure was exceedingly obvious long ago I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Tempura Matsui, and the dining atmosphere, presentation, and service was just as impressive as the food. This is not the type of place I can afford to go to often, but I certainly see myself going back eventually.