NXT Takeover San Antonio IPPV Review (Live Thoughts)

January 28, 2016 in San Antonio, TX

 

nxtsanantonio

1) Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young (w/ Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain) **

Always a solid choice to open with the crowd pleasing Dillinger. Sanity has an odd dynamic, as they seem to be protecting (or limiting the ring action of) the big men, so it’s their leader who gets into the singles matches. It would have made more sense for Dillinger to have to work his way through the minions to get his hands on Eric.

Eric tosses a jacket at Tye and gives him one last chance to join. Dillinger picks up the jacket, but then nails Young instead of putting it on. The dynamic is Dillinger doing his best to outclass Young and stay one step ahead of the monsters on the outside, but occasionally succumbing which is when Young takes over. It was well done for the most part, but went too long with too many instances of interference. In particular, I hate when people come into ring but don’t get DQ’d. Even given Tye hit them instead of getting hit, Dain came into the ring on his own in full view of ref.

Sanity’s numbers would figure into the finish as well, as the Tye-breaker was foiled by Wolfe putting Young’s foot on rope. Tye then performed a tope to Wolfe & Dain to finally take them out, but got caught with Young’s wheelbarrow into a neckbreaker when he goes back in to give Young the win.

 

2) Roderick Strong vs Andrade Cien Almas ***

The heel turn has done Cien a lot of  good. He seems more comfortable and confident, and the aggressive edge to his character gives him the hook he was previously lacking. It’s odd to see Strong as a face, as before Aries’ injury he was set up as his partner, but he’s making it work. Solid story conveyed by the announcers of two guys with chips on their shoulders.

This was the best I’ve seen from Almas so far, and Roddy’s looking motivated and sharp. Was surprised by Strong’s win, as I expected Cien to go over to justify the new attitude. Both needed it though, and Strong being built up makes more sense given what was to come.

 

diyaop

 

3) NXT Tag Team Championship: DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) (c) vs The Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar w/ Paul Ellering) ***1/2

The challengers were dominant early, but DIY fought back and lit things up to the crowd’s delight. This was all about AoP’s power against DIY’s perseverance and experience. The match was better than I expected. AoP showed just a little vulnerability, which made all the difference and helped DIY make it believable that they could beat their larger challengers.

Gargano and Ciampa were clearly bouncing all over and working their asses off to make their opponents look devastating so it’ll be interesting to see what AoP can do against other teams, but the big men held up their end of things and this was by far their best outing to date. There were several nice end teases, including a variation on how DIY won the titles with AoP powering out of what the Revival couldn’t escape.

In the end AoP were too much and the Supercollider set up the Last Chapter for the titles. Exactly as I as expected (and feared) here, but it makes sense. Defeating the monster heels for the first time will mean more with them being beaten for the titles.

 

As the announcers discuss what just happened behind them in the ring Rollins invades Takeover to call out HHH!!! Nice surprise to add unpredictability and finally address HHH “hiding” in NXT. HHH comes out of the back, but sends security after Rollins instead of facing him. Rollins dispatches them and tries to storm the back, but another group swarm him and force him out (to a big “bullshit” chant from crowd).

I liked this a lot and it adds much needed heat to the Rollins/HHH program, but I hope it doesn’t kill the crowd for the Women’s match.

 

fatal4way

 

4) NXT Women’s Title: Asuka (c) vs Peyton Royce vs Billie Kay vs Nikki Cross **3/4

The video package explaining the match unusually misses important context in not really conveying that it looked like Cross was going to save Asuka from the Aussies when she attacked the champ instead. Makes Cross’ presence in the match less logical.

This was a real mixed bag. All four athletes were showing tremendous effort and there were some great highlights like Asuka’s double German on the Aussies, a straightjacket neckbreaker from Cross (that should become a trademark move of hers), Cross taking the double suplex through a table, etc.

On the other hand even with three opponents, Asuka never felt like she was in any jeopardy of losing the championship. And the underlying story with Kay and Royce was incredibly stupid. If they don’t care who wins the belt, why did they never cover each other while both Asuka and Cross were down? Or submit to one another, which could’ve given one of them the title in under a second before Asuka could do anything about it? There needed to be a moment where one of them revealed she really did care about getting the belt for herself to make the lack of those things acceptable. They didn’t need to turn on each other, just show enough selfishness (even behind the other’s back if need be) to help the story make sense.

None of the above is the fault of the wrestlers (as I’m certain Takeover is booked down to the tiniest details), but it did take away from their ability to engage the crowd and tell a compelling story. There were also pacing issues, such as Asuka having to be down for a ridiculously long time on the outside after nothing major while the Aussies and Cross brawled to the announcers’ area for the big table spot.

After said destruction of Nikki, Royce and Kay went back to attack Asuka but the champ eventually fought them both off and nailed Peyton with a big kick for the win. On her way out a still incapacitated Cross smiles at her.

This was flashes of great action with nothing connecting it together, and ended up feeling like a placeholder to stall the singles match between Asuka and Cross. I recently wrote about Asuka’s time in NXT so far and said I didn’t feel like she was a division killer, but if NXT continues to be unable to shake the forgone conclusion feel of her matches even when it’s 3 on 1 I may have to reconsider that opinion.

 

nakamuraroode

 

5) NXT Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Bobby Roode ****1/2

Roode thinks he’s Ric Flair now, doing the four women on each arm entrance. It suits him, and is much better for a heel than the choir (although that was admittedly a fantastic spectacle). Not to outdone, Nakamura rides strobe light to the ring.

The atmosphere is electric, not only from the big fight feel of the matchup but the incredible charisma of both men. “This is Glorious” chant from the crowd just from the pre-match staredown.

The story and pacing of this match were pitch perfect. From highly amusing pose offs and mindgames  (“Glorious vibrations” was hilarious without breaking the flow/tension of the match) to wonderful old school heel stuff from Roode to excellent character work and action from both.

They built drama throughout the match, including a FANTASTIC false fall from Roode playing dead to foil Shinsuke’s first Kinshasa attempt. The endgame done incredibly well (despite my dislike for getting trainers involved in angles). They had the crowd going insane when Shinsuke nailed the Kinshasa but couldn’t cover, then decided to fight through the knee injury just to have Roode spike him with the DDT. The kickout there shocked everyone. Roode then continued his heel clinic by applying a half crab and punching the injured knee in the hold. Nakamura kicked his way out but another DDT gave the Glorious One the NXT title. Just WOW. They pulled the trigger on Roode in big way here without making turning him face or making Nakamura look weak. Brilliantly done.

Overall

This was one of the weaker NXT Takeovers on paper, but commitment and effort up and down the card meant even when thing didn’t quite come together there were bright spots to enjoy. Also, the main event was phenomenal. Recommended.

Evolve 77 ippv Review (Live Thoughts)

January 28, 2017 in San Antonio, TX

To open Chris Hero’s goodbye weekend Evolve 76 was a strong show despite unfortunate problems with the ring ropes. For his final show with the promotion Hero was set to main event against his most persistent rival.

evolve77

 

1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin

This never gets started as Ethan Page immediately interrupts, but it proves a distraction so the Gatekeepers can lay Allin out from behind. Brown takes exception to Page screwing with his shot, so Page levels him too. Page then cuts a scathing promo calling Allin worthless and the dirt on Page’s foot. He teases a match against Allin, but instead says the Gatekeepers will take on him and Brown.

Darby defiantly says Page is afraid of him and counters with an offer of 3 on 2.

Strong work all around, but this is kind of ridiculous given last night. Zack Sabre Jr gets a reversal DQ for not releasing a hold on Page after the match, but Page and company can attack these two (and everyone else) and be rewarded with a match.

1) Barrett Brown vs Darby Allin

1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

So there’s no one in the back with an issue with Page to make this even odds? I understand Zack’s in the main, but Page’s rampage hasn’t pissed off ANYONE else?

The Gatekeepers still have no individual names for some reason, with Lenny referring to either as the/that Gatekeeper whenever one does something. I’ll use their Chikara names (Blaster McMassive & Flex Rumblecrunch) to tell them apart here.

Good action to start, with Allin and Brown trying to overcome the odds with high risk. The Gatekeepers are surprisingly game for that, with Blaster performing a great summersault dive to the outside (although he pretty much completely missed Allin and Brown).

Brown’s eventually dispatched on the outside, making the match 3 on 1 for a while. The Gatekeepers keep beating Allin down, then Page comes in, loses the advantage to a fired up Allin, and tags out. Repeat. Good formula/story and Allin plays the fiery underdog well.

Wait, Zack’s out!!! That’s better. Ref’s allowing him to join.

1) Darby Allin & Barrett Brown vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

1) Darby Allin, Barrett Brown, & Zack Sabre Jr vs Ethan Page & The Gatekeepers

Zack’s in workout clothes instead of his gear too, which makes sense since he’s supposed to wrestle in main and explains why he wasn’t our sooner. Still wish something was said earlier to help with the logic, but this is awesome so I retract my most of previous gripes about the setup.

Zack takes over on the  Gatekeepers until a big spear from Blaster. Brown then missile dropkicks both Gatekeepers but Page Border Tosses him onto the pile outside.

All six men brawl all over crowd, where Allin climbs a pillar and does the Coffin Drop (trust fall) from the rafters onto the pile below. It’s jaw dropping, but also insane. The crowd love it gets will only make it worse, and I’m seriously worried for his long term well being.

Back in the ring a triangle choke by Zack on Page is teased (nice nod to the finish of their match on Evolve 76). Blaster takes over on Zack, leading to an incredible finish where Blaster tries to counter Zack’s triangle choke with a one arm powerbomb, but Zack converts to an octopus hammerlock instead for the win.

This turned into something really fun and well told. It keeps Allin/Page simmering, while giving the faces a needed victory. ***3/4 for the whole thing. Brown was largely in background, but got to show some of what he can do and looked good. Hope he comes back. Still don’t like the inconsistency of logic with Page running rampant, but the story’s compelling otherwise.

 

2) Loredo Kid vs Tracy Williams **1/2

This is the Evolve debut for Kid. Apparently we’re back to “Hot Sauce” tonight, as there was no mention of “Maltese Falcon.”

Mat wrestling early, with Williams logically getting the better of those exchanges in the end. But the as pace quickens Kid takes over. A simple, solid story. During this Kid hit a beautiful summersault to Williams on outside using ringpost as stepping stone.

Williams is at his best when going back and forth. Long periods of ground and pound offense from him and things get slow. This match was a mix. Williams picks up a emphatic win when Kid misses a Phoenix splash and Williams IMMEDIATELY hits diving forearm into the crossface for the tapout. Great finish. Ok match.

 

 3) Chris Dickinson & Jaka vs. Jason Kincaid & Sammy Guevara ***1/2

I don’t know Sammy, but the crowd certainly does. Lenny continuing his excellent job this weekend filling us in nicely on Sammy’s hometown status and how he appeared on other WWN umbrella shows. This tag should be fun given what I saw from the other three on Evolve 76.

Kincaid starts out opposite Jaka, and he’s so smooth in everything he does as he employs hit and run tactics against his larger opponent. I’m still loving his zen gimmick, which he really executes well and keeps it from becoming campy.

Wholesale switches allows Sammy to show impressive agility against Dickinson. Character notes too, as Sammy gloats too long and Chris sneaks behind him and hits a nasty dragon suplex to take control. Catch Point then just grinds Sammy down for a while with pounding offense. The contrast in these teams is meshing well.

Highlights of the match include a neat stalling suplex by Jaka into a doubleteam suplex when Dickinson joins him, a sunset bomb to outside by Kincaid on Jaka, and a shooting star press by Sammy onto Catch Point on floor from the top rope. Towards the end Kincaid wows the crowd when he walks the ropes for a Van Terminator style missile dropkick after Jaka rolls into the far corner to try to avoid Kincaid.

Special mention to the ref doing a fantastic job of keeping track of who was legal during the chaos, as the wrestlers were losing track and covering the wrong people. That’s not a criticism of the wrestlers either – it fits the high speed action well and “in character” it makes sense that everyone would be going for a cover whenever they see a chance. Having the ref properly enforce the rules though adds credibility and aids suspension of disbelief.

Catch Point eventually win this competitive contest with a swank chokeslam Doomsday Device variation. Williams comes out to congratulate his teammates and praises the aerial wrestlers, but pushes the Catch Point style as superior over it.

Then “journalist” Larry Dallas makes an appearance (noting he’s outside talent now and threatening lawsuits if touched). To stir the pot he asks Williams if Jaka and Dickinson are going to get a tag title shot. Kincaid interrupts and cuts a zen promo that’s just the right side on incomprehensible, praising his opponents but poking at Dickinson’s ego. Catch Point needing to him down prevents Dallas from getting an answer, but he declares his involvement a success anyway and calls himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” This storyline direction makes sense and will be interesting to follow.

 

4) Fred Yehi vs ACH ***

Interesting matchup in the wake of ACH’s debut against Riddle, although after Yehi made Thatcher tap it feels like there’s no drama here.

Posturing early on and I’ll admit for me seeing ACH throwing Yehi’s stupid “you’re in trouble” cry back at him was great. On commentary Lenny recounts discussions he’s had with ACH about joining Evolve, which in effect ends up relating a lot of criticism of ROH without mentioning them by name. In a great little touch ACH also put over the opportunity to face Riddle and learning from the experience despite the loss.

Back to the action and Yehi applies a stump puller and says he’s going to make ACH kiss his knee, starting a “kiss your knee” chant. I can’t even. This is a standard Yehi match whenever he’s on offense: technically competent, but dull overall and silly in parts. I particularly can’t stand the stomp based offense. Crowd’s loud for both men though, and when ACH is on offense things are great. And towards the end Yehi gets serious and things in general pick up a lot, including a fantastic slap exchange.

In a bit of a shocker to me, ACH eventually hits the brainbuster and picks up the win! In retrospect Yehi still made the champ tap, so despite this loss he could leverage that into a title shot regardless. Doesn’t make him look like a strong challenger though. Regardless, what this DOES do is immediately establish ACH in Evolve. Hopefully they make a big deal of it, with perhaps a FIP title shot or him and a partner going after Catch Point’s Evolve tag titles. Yehi looks pissed afterwards, but offers a handshake. Good, consistent character work from Yehi.

Predictable when done right is fine (as we’ll see later) and surprises for surprises sake can get illogical, but unexpected results like this that still make sense add a lot to the product. Great call here.

 

4) No DQ: DUSTIN vs. Matt Riddle ****

The “Bro” chants start as soon as no-DQ match mentioned during Joanna’s introduction. DUSTIN’s out first with a chair as a nod to last night, and the crowd boos him mercilessly.

To open DUSTIN swings for fences with chair, but Riddle ducks and takes over with mat wrestling. His advantage continues until DUSTIN eventually connects with the chair. From there they have a crazy brawl that takes place mostly outside the ring. DUSTIN whips Riddle into fans’ chairs repeatedly, wiping out several rows, but Riddle reverses the third attempt to the crowd’s delight. He then has fans hold a chair up to DUSTIN’s head and hits a running kick to an even more gigantic ovation.

Later DUSTIN rushes Riddle to knock onto stack of chairs but gets caught with an exploder onto stack leading to a “Bro-ly Shit” chant. Amusing.

They fight on fighting on a merch table, Riddle misses a senton and splats onto a pile of chairs, etc. It’s pandemonium in the best way.

DUSTIN hits a summersault senton onto Riddle through a table on outside and rolls him in for a doublestomp from top as followup… and Riddle kicks out at ONE! Crowd goes INSANE. Beautifully done. DUSTIN follows with a superkick and a DDT on a chair for 2. He then builds a tower of chairs, but Riddle catches him up top and hits a superplex through said chair tower. Bro’s done with this, and he just viciously slams his fists into DUSTIN’s head a few times in a ground and pound then cradles for the win.

Like last night, this was something different from Riddle and it really worked. Great, great brawl from these two. I want to see more of this DUSTIN going forward, and Riddle’s continuing to prove he can do it all.

 

5) EVOLVE Championship Match:  Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway) (c) vs Jeff Cobb **3/4

Thatcher’s heel turn is taking full hold, as the crowd’s firmly behind Cobb here. Before the bell Cobb again talks to “Timmy” instead of Hathaway and dedicates match to their trainer Oliver John. Lenny’s really playing up Thatcher’s reign, listing who’s who list of names he’s beaten.

The story is Cobb’s power and perseverance against Thatcher’s surgical assault on Cobb’s arm. I’m more of a fan of Thatcher’s style than most nowadays, but as a heel Thatcher’s slowed things down too much and is too deliberate in pace. This was also much more one sided than I expected for most of the match (in Thatcher’s favor).

There were nice little touches though, like when he was fighting for the gutwrench on the bigger man and Cobb’s excellent selling of the arm (until the end when he forgot it to through suplexes). Cobb did a standing shooting star late that would have been awesome, but he landed nowhere near where Thatcher was laying even before Thatcher moved. Glaring error that broke immersion a bit.

Thatcher kept fighting for an arm bar, but then switched it up and leveraged into a pin for the win in a nice finish. The champ gave Cobb a fake clap afterwards and Hathaway taunted him with the belt. The audience gave an ovation for Cobb after Thatcher left.

 

Main Event: Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. ****1/2

The atmosphere is incredible. Hero soaks it in and sings his song on the way to the ring. Despite the earlier love for Zack in the opener, the crowd’s all hero here and serenades Zack with “Hero’s gonna kill you”chants.

Small criticism of Lenny here (in an otherwise outstanding performance all night) as he way oversells the feud: “the one thing Zack Sabre Jr hasn’t done in this company: beat Hero.” Uhm, how about the fact that he hasn’t won ANY title in Evolve? This feud and Sabre’s quest to finally get a win against Hero is a big deal, but that statement was a bit ridiculous.

Hero somewhat hilariously (considering the buildup last night) offers a handshake to open, but Sabre lands a running headscissors into an arm bar attempt and Hero just barely escapes. Good fire and intensity from Zack showing what this means to him.

This was exactly the hard hitting, back and forth war that was expected and needed. Late match in what’s become the standard going to WWE tease, Hero hits a Pedegree and Zack kicks out at one to huge a reaction. Hero looked to destroy Zack and be done with with a short piledriver followed by a regular  piledriver followed by a Gotch version, but Zack reverses the Gotch piledriver into a hurricanrana, ties up Hero’s arms, adds a stretch muffler, then kicks the hell out of Hero’s head with him tied up like a pretzel and ZSJ finally beats Hero. Exactly what I expected from the result, but the journey here was the important part and it was a hell of a journey.

Afterwards Hero gives a classy goodbye speech putting over Zack, Evolve, and the fans. Someone shouts “I love you Hero!”and he responds with “pretty sure I love you too.” This was a long segment, with Hero talking about coming back to the indies, having a second chance in NXT, and about his friendship with Zack and thinking the latter should be champ. In the middle ACH comes out to thank Hero but also claim he should be mentioned alongside Zach in discussion of title contenders. Hathaway comes out, talks to Thatcher’s belt (yes, really. sigh.), and says “his baby” doesn’t think either of them are deserving. As he leaves though Thatcher comes out and simply points at Zack with a chuckle. Zack tells ACH after he beats Thatcher ACH can have the first shot at him.

 

Overall

Fantastic farewell for the “Greatest of All Time.” The main was incredible, there was great effort up and down the card, and Hero’s speech was genuine and emotional. Shame Keith Lee wasn’t on the show after the ring ropes hampering his debut at Evolve 76, but otherwise this delivered in spades and both shows from Evolve this weekend are well worth checking out.

Evolve 76 ippv Live Thoughts

January 27, 2017 in San Antonio, TX

Evolve starts out 2017 in a big way with the return of their champion and a farewell weekend to Chris Hero, who has been on the roll of his life the last year and a rightful centerpiece in Evolve.

This was my first event on Floslam, and the stream was quite good. No buffering problems and a clear picture.

evolve76a

The new Catch Point comes out in force to start, with all five members (leader Tracy Williams, his tag team championship partner Fred Yehi, Matt Riddle, and the two new members Chris Dickinson & Jaka) present. Good way to start. Williams starts to talk about the Catch Point philosophy, but Jaka interrupts to say he’s ready to go NOW! Out comes Kaasa for the opening contest.

1) Peter Kaasa vs Jaka **3/4

I missed the late 12016 Evolve shows, so this was my first look at some of the newer roster members, including Jaka. He seems on par with Kaasa for power, which made for a nice matchup. The theme was Kaasa showing off agility and quickness in between matching power with Jaka, and the later just trying to steamroll his faster opponent.

This threatened to slow in the middle, but a vicious headbutt out of nowhere from Jaka picked things right back up. He seemed to have really good instincts for when to hit a hard strike to keep the crowd invested. I love it when Catch Point stays out as seconds, as it fits their gimmick really well. It also leads to greta moments like Riddle reacting and cheering for his stablemate’s successes.

Unfortunately just as the match seemed to be building to a crescendo Kaasa went to the second turnbuckle for a moonsault and the rope broke beneath him, leading to a nasty spill right on his head. Thankfully he was able to get up and seemed to mostly shake it off, and the two even finished the match. Jaka wins with the sitout powerbomb and  all of Catch Point show respect to Kaasa afterwards. Solid match before the accident, and they recovered nicely. It’s been confirmed that Kaasa’s ok, which is a huge relief considering how bad that fall looked. Had never seen anything like that rope breaking before (until that point…).

After a break for the ring to be fixed Catch Point came back out and Williams praised Jaka for demonstrating their philosophy so well. Chris Dickinson is chomping at the bit to prove himself as well and demands match immediately.

2) Chris Dickison vs Darby Allin **

This was a straight up formulaic power based bully against quicker, daredevil underdog match, and they used the formula fairly well. Allin’s style continues to be too reckless for my tastes, and I wish he would tone it down a bit. Allin gets a quick rollup on the more dominant Dickinson for the win, after which the latter snaps and pounds Allin after the bell. The rest of Catch Point pull him off and try to calm him down. Good booking there, as Allin needed the win and Dickinson’s temper and attitude contrasting with Catch Point’s core approach makes for a good story going forward.

Minor complaint: while Lenny was GREAT on commentary all night and added a lot to the in ring stories, if I never have to hear him say “Dirty Daddy” again it’ll be too soon.

 

 3) DUSTIN vs. Jason Kincaid **1/2

Another first look for me, and Kincaid certain has a unique look and gimmick. He made a good impression here with exciting, innovative offense and I’d like to see more of him. In particular things like him in wheelbarrow position climbing the ropes with his hands into a headscissors were wonderfully inventive. Unfortunately DUSTIN was rather boring on offense here, which he was for most of the match. Outside of an impressive delayed suplex, even the outside the ring brawling was bland. His heel character and the brawling approach isn’t clicking. Later on in the match he got more cocky and mocking, and it was great. That’s the direction he needs to go. I’m glad he’s resisting doing comedy as a heel (which hampered his previous heel run), but he still should be trying to show personality. They put on a very strong finish, and I would have liked the rest of the match to have been in similar vein. Kincaid gets a big win with his “Compassionate Release” submission, which is fantastic both in name and as a move. His zen gimmick goes to show just about anything can work if done properly and with effort and attention to detail.

 

 

4) Grudge match: Ethan Page (with The Gatekeepers) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. ***1/2  

Zack ambushes Page and company from behind during their entrance, takes out the Gatekeepers, and brawls all over ringside with Page. They really should’ve gone easy on the outside the ring brawling in the previous match given the direction here, where it was more appropriate. I like Zack’s aggressive edge here, carrying himself like someone with something to prove. And it really felt like a grudge match, with suitable intensity and moments of taunting and derision between the combatants. Zack having to really fight for the triangle choke victory was great too, as it played with the idea that past a certain amount of time in a hold the receiver would definitely get out.

Zack held on to the triangle after the match, and Darby Allin neutralized the Gatekeepers with low blows for a bit of revenge and to make sure Page would pass out staring into Darby’s own eyes.

Referee reversed the decision and awarded the match to Page for Sabre refusing to break, which fell flat. No other refs came out to try to make him break, Zack had already broken voluntarily by the time the reversal was announced, and Page has done so many “horrible” things to Zack, Gragano, Allin, etc without repercussions that this just makes the refs seem incompetent/biased. Good, heated match though.

 

4) ACH vs. Matt Riddle ****

ACH was clearly hyped up to cut loose a bit and show what he could do post-ROH, and he had a great debut against Evolve golden boy. Riddle came to the ring wearing his Progress Atlus Championship belt, which is a nice touch (and would play into his post match interview). ACH shows some nice grappling skills early on, but Riddle’s Riddle so he eventually gets the advantage on the ground. They had a GREAT stalemate sequence shortly thereafter with incredible evasions and counters, and they’d keep that vibe going all match. This was off formula for Riddle, with him getting super serious (which I adored) and just trading hard strikes with ACH in glorious sequences. Bro to Sleep and Cradle Fisherman Buster combo eventually give the Kings of Bros the win. Unsurprisingly ACH is going to fit into Evolve just fine.

Riddle says 2017’s been good so far (referencing his Progress title and other successes), but he’s the only member of Catch Point without a title in WWN (I assume he’s just talking about Yehi & Williams) and pledges to change that by the end of 2017. DUSTIN attacks him from behind with a chair (which he actually grabbed on his way out of his earlier match in a nice bit of continuity) and taunts him to build up their no-DQ match the next day.

This is the drawback of Catch Point’s gimmick – where the hell were they while Riddle’s being attacked with a chair?! It makes them all look bad, although I understand the dramatic necessity of DUSTIN having to get an edge on Riddle here.

 

5) EVOLVE Tag Team Championship Match: Tracy Williams & Fred Yehi (c) vs. Evolve Champion Timothy Thatcher (w/ Stokely Hathaway) & Jeff Cobb ***1/2

Hathaway wears Thatcher’s belt down to the ring. The pairing still boggles my mind, but it was useful to set up the story with Jeff Cobb and their teaming here in exchange for Cobb getting a shot at Thatcher next show. Great to see Thatcher back in general. He starts with Yehi and weathers the storm for a while as Catch Point make quick tags while Thatcher just strikes at whoever’s within reach. I like what I’ve seen from Cobb as a power wrestler, and he played that up in his limited time in this match.

Honestly Yehi’s style and gimmick still doesn’t work for me. I don’t find it “unorthodox,” I find it odd and unconvincing. But he’s quite over, so something about it is working for the audience in general. I on the other hand enjoyed this match much more when Williams was in. Speaking of Williams, he’s apparently the “Maltese Falcon” now instead of “Hot Sauce.” Can’t decide if that’s an improvement.

Cobb and Thatcher don’t overtly clash, but they don’t team well either and Yehi eventually catches Thatcher while Cobb’s incapacitated outside and makes him tap to the Koji Clutch (an admittedly awesome finisher). Crowd’s thrilled. I honestly wish Williams was getting this push instead. Good story told with both teams though, and Hathaway ridiculously blaming Cobb for the loss after the match add fuel to Evolve 77’s title match.

 

 

Main Event: Chris Hero vs. Keith Lee ***

“Bask in my glory” is a fantastic catch phrase for Lee that immediately tells you something about the guy you’re about to watch. There was a lot of anticipation for his debut here, and getting the main event slot against a departing legend of Evolve like Hero just increased everyone’s curiosity. Lee’s is a big man, and this was looking like a monster battle of heavyweights. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite to be.

A bit into the match the top rope broke when Hero went to bounce of the ropes. That’s twice for the night. Unbelievable. Thankfully Hero caught himself and was fine, but he was also visibly pissed. He directed Lee and they took the top rope off completely and continued the match without it. After some tentative work in the ring Hero led them outside and they wrestled on the floor a bit. Hero amusingly told the ref “it’s my weekend -no countouts!” while they were fighting on the floor but then rolled back in and made the ref try to count Lee out. Hero’s delivery made it all work. Massive credit to both Hero and Lee, because while this wasn’t the match they wanted to have they did a great job improvising under difficult circumstances. They had some wicked strike exchanges in the center of the broken ring to keep the crowd fired up.

Unfortunately  fate wasn’t done with Evolve’s ring yet. Late in the match Lee went to the second rope (now effectively the top) for a moonsault and IT FREAKIN’ BROKE AGAIN, sending Lee tumbling backward into essentially a senton onto Hero. Hero looked like he had been starting to roll out of the way of the moonsault, so I was actually mostly worried for him being caught in an odd position under Lee on that fall. Thankfully they were both ok (again). Hero hammered on Lee with elbows until finally hitting a (very impressive) Gotch Piledriver on the big man for the win.

Hero praised Lee (and cursed the ring) afterwards, although he said LEe was missing a killer instinct he needed to achieve his potential. At that, Zack Sabre Jr. came out to interrupt and said Hero will see killer instinct tomorrow, and he’s not allowed to leave until Sabre finally beats him . Then “Chris Hero can stay and Kassius Ohno can piss off to Florida.” Great little promo from Zack leading into Hero’s final match.

 

 

Overall

It’s thankfully amazing that no one was hurt with the ring breaking three times in one night, and the talent did an amazing job of adapting. Add in solid performances throughout the card and an excellent ACH vs Riddle match and this is an easy recommendation despite being one of Evolve’s unluckiest nights. Shortly after the show it was tweeted that they already had a new ring for Evolve 77, so hopefully that aberration  is behind them.

Gatoh Move 12/30/16, 12/31/16, and 1/3/17 Live Thoughts

December 30 and 31, 2016 and January 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

img_5962

Awesome keychains featuring Gatoh Move’s core roster. Just missing Riho’s, as it was sold out before I got a chance to get one.

As I mentioned when discussing last year’s Ichigaya shows I was able to attend, these shows from Gatoh Move are unlike anything else I’ve been to, and a lot of fun. The unusual venue and unique atmosphere are something any wrestling fan should check out at least once (preferably more 😉 ).

The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring and two large windows on one wall which are removed for the shows. The crowd itself is effectively the “rope break” marker and the wrestlers will sometimes use the front row to bounce off of for “running the ropes” and the windowsills to jump off of for high risk maneuvers. The limitations of the venue restrict the action in ways compared to “normal” matches, but also provide opportunities for creative variations on standard wrestling elements.

As usual for Gatoh Move all the shows opened and closed with a song/dance performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, Aasa, and Obi.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken afterward, so my pics here won’t contain anything from the matches and will only be of the roundtable and dancing following the shows (as well as of some of the great souvenirs I got).

12/30:

First was visiting veteran Kaori Yoneyama against Gatoh Move’s resident rising star in Kotori. Decent pairing, and the story of Kaori trying to dominate and Kotori fighting from underneath provided a nice showing for the developing youngster. Basic but solid. Kotori’s charisma, enthusiasm, and talent stood out during my last trip (as I spotlighted here) and she’s clearly continued to polish and expand her skills  in the intervening year.

Next up was a 3-way featuring Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro vs Jaki Numazawa. This was a comedy match where after every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using a box of props off to the side. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after a set time won. Pretty much every move done led to a 2-count, as the jokes were squarely the focus here.

Although it’s fair to note that not speaking Japanese put me out of the target audience for this, between not understanding the spoken parts of the jokes and having seen these exact three wrestlers in a similar match last year this fell flat for me and honestly was my least favorite Gatoh Move match of the trip.

Speaking of similarities to last year, the main event of Emi Sakura & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho & Aasa was amusingly close to the main event of the first show I ever saw at Ichigaya. It was the same except for having Kotori in Aasa’s place.

The rookie looked good here and fit in well among the more experienced competitors. Her pintsized powerhouse gimmick amuses me greatly and she already show flashes of brilliance in the way she uses it. Another solid match with exciting touches.

During the post show roundtable playing cards were drawn to determine teams for the next show’s main event, which ended up being tag team champions Riho & Kotori teaming with Aasa against Emi, Obi, & Mitsuru.

12/31:

Amusing side note: during the opening dance for this show Obi accidentally (and unknowingly) bopped Aasa on the head with her mic. She continued to dance unaware as Aasa rubbed her head and mock scowled for those of us in the window who could see her.

For this show I was sitting in front of the window most often used for jumping off of, etc, which ended up leading to quite a bit of ducking / moving out of the way as all three matches used the window heavily. Kept me on my toes. 😉

The undercard consisted of two mens matches, as all six of the core Gatoh Move roster were in the main event tag match. The opener of Madoka vs Toru Owashi vs Konaka Pehlwan was hard fought but with light touches of humor, mostly involving Toru. It was all kept in the context of everyone trying to win and everything clicked together pretty well. Case in point was the amusing finish. Toru was perched on windowsill (right above me) waiting for an opportunity to jump at one of his opponents who were fighting among themselves, but Madoka rolled Konaka up for the win and the match ended with Toru still in the window. Madoka and Konaka then left and a dumbfounded Toru eventually climbed down and headed out himself.

Masahiro Takanashi vs Cho-un Shiryu was a hard hitting match centered around the vicious strikes both men throw so well. Takanashi in particular thrives in this environment and knows how to make the most of it. Match went for the full ten minute time limit and ended in a draw, staying intense for the duration.

The main event of Emi Sakura, Sayaka Obihiro, & Mitsuru vs Riho, Kotori & Aasa was my favorite Gatoh Move dojo match this trip. Obviously they all know each other extremely well and have great chemistry together, which led to an thoroughly exciting contest with innovative multi person spots and use of the venue. Riho’s double knees to an opponent seated against the wall looks so vicious.

Towards the end Emi and Kotori tumbled out of the window into my (hastily vacated) seat. Kotori held Emi outside to prevent her from making a save as Riho pinned Misturu. Little things like that are excellent uses of the uniqueness of the environment.

This was a more serious show overall, as in contrast to all the other Ichigaya shows I’ve seen the middle match wasn’t a comedy match. I liked the variation, and actually would like to see this as the default rather than the exception.

1/3:

The final Gatoh Move show of my trip started with a singles contest between rookies Aasa and Mitsuru. This was a strong showing and overall I was extremely impressed with both during my trip (especially for their experience). They’re both developing individual styles that suit them and I’ve very interested in seeing them continue to evolve as performers going forward.

 

The formula of a competitive opener and main surrounding a comedy match was back for this show, and in some foreshadowing  Emi Sakura made comments about Antonio Honda and Kaori Yoneyama both being very hungry in her opening comments. This came into play in what I can only refer to as an “orange match,” where in addition to pinfall or submission one could win by placing an orange on a pedestal held by one of the audience members in the front row. Yes, really. There likely is significance I’m missing, but “mechanically” those were the effective rules.

Three oranges were tied up around the room. In between fighting  (which included the wrestlers selling getting hit with the oranges swinging on their ropes like getting punched straight in the face) the oranges were claimed one by one. But as either Yone or Honda went to place it on the pedestal to win, their hunger would get too great and they’d devour the orange instead.

About halfway into the match Aasa quietly came back out and crouched next to the front row, with a fourth orange tied to her head (and a hilariously neutral expression on her face). Later on Honda noticed and took that orange when Yone’s back was turned and stuffed it into his tights. With Yone thinking all the oranges were already eaten, she set Honda up for a splash and turned to get into the windowsill, at which point Honda pulled out the hidden orange and placed it on the pedestal for the win.

So this was BEYOND absurd, but somehow worked and ended up my favorite of all the matches I saw Honda in this trip. It wasn’t trying to be serious, and by embracing its own ridiculousness and being the only comedy match on the show it ended up quite amusing.

img_6035

 

The main event was Riho, Kotori & Madoka vs Emi, Obi & Guanchulo. The latter team was somewhat dismissive of their opponents as well as taking some cheap shots here and there. Guanchulo was a bit over the top, almost cackling with maniacal glee at joining in with the slight heel tendencies employed by Emi. It was a different dynamic than the other six person match with Emi & Obi opposite Riho & Kotori and helped set it apart. It did make the match feel a bit lighter in tone, but it was still suitably competitive and the touches of humor fit and didn’t detract from the action.

Particularly memorable about this match was its creative finish with Madoka and Kotori tying up their opponents in horizontal holds, who Riho then used as stepping stones for momentum to perform a jumping double knee drop on Obi for the win.

Issues between Emi and Kotori continued to build here, including Emi showing disrespect after the match. Their interactions in the two six person tags seems to be leading to a future one one one encounter.

During the post show roundtable Kotori and Riho filled in the eye on a large Daruma (I didn’t catch what goal was achieved), and Honda’s birthday was celebrated with a cake.

img_6013

These shows won’t be for everyone, and I understand some of the criticisms I’ve seen of these shows and their matches feeling “samey” due to format limitations and repeated opponents. But I continue to be impressed as to what the wrestlers can do within those restrictions of the venue / style, and for certain fans (like me) there will great appeal in the nuances of each match and strength of the performers to mitigate those potential downfalls and make repeated visits a joy.

img_6483

Wall display of some of my Gatoh Move souvenirs, including a sign board I won, polaroids with the wrestlers, signed pictures, and the previously shown keychains.

The NXT Step for a Legend II: A Great Year for the Empress of Tomorrow

Last year I wrote about my favorite wrestler’s impending signing with WWE in NXT Step for a Legend. A year and a half later and I’m back to look back on her impressive initial period during this new phase of her career.

IMG_2250

The Empress of Tomorrow makes her entrance during NXT Brooklyn II.

At NXT Takeover Brooklyn in August 2015, somewhat in the shadow of the great Sasha vs Bayley NXT Women’s Title match that was about to start, the camera cut to show superstars in the front row and next to Ric Flair was the “World Famous” Kana.  There had been speculation that her announced “hiatus” from wrestling could be foreshadowing a move the the WWE, but surprisingly there had been no real information or clues, so seeing her on camera at a NXT/WWE event was a legitimate shock to most.

At the September 10 NXT tapings Kana made her debut (air date September 23), and took the name Asuka.  Interestingly while WWE announcers themselves have repeatedly pushed the fan speculated theory that the name is an homage to Lioness Asuka, Kana herself stated on Twitter that it wasn’t the case. She said she chose the name for its meaning of “tomorrow/future” and it had nothing to do with the legendary Crush Girl.

img_6527

Asuka’s trademark kabuki masks worn during her entrances have become a huge part of WWE’s merchandise efforts for her, with three worn so far and subsequently turned into plastic masks for the fans.

Dana Brooke and Emma crashed her initial interview,  leading to Asuka’s in ring debut for NXT against the former on October 7. She pretty well destroyed Brooke, with a surprising amount of her pre-WWE look, character, and style kept intact which allowed her to make an immediate strong impression on the crowd.

From that strong start Asuka’s continued to dominate and never looked back. About 50 matches and 6 months after her debut match the undefeated Asuka defeated likewise fan favorite Bayley to claim the NXT Women’s Championship. During her title reign she’s continued her string of impressive victories, including a rematch against Bayley and defenses against Nia Jax, Micke James, etc.

IMG_2214

She’s excellent at playing up her mystique, and the choice to keep her undefeated (at over 140 matches and counting) has amplified that advantage considerably. Long term some care will need to be taken to make sure she keeps getting her opponents over as well as herself. In that respect there has been talk among some fans of her as a “division killer,” but I personally haven’t felt that to be the case thus far. People don’t necessarily look bad getting dominated because she’s portrayed as such a insurmountable obstacle, and often her opponents get to hang in with her just enough to look impressive despite the defeat.

Also, there’s potential in varying the formula, such as when Mickie James returned to challenge Asuka at NXT Takeover Toronto and was portrayed as one of the first real threats to the champion to great effect. And whenever someone does finally get a pinfall on her an instant star will be made (as long as it’s not booked in a flukeish manner).

img_6531

A sample of the WWE trading and “relic” cards available featuring Asuka.

Having been a big fan of Kana before she signed with WWE (particularly in Shimmer, where among other accomplishments her match with Ayako Hamada was the best in the promotion’s history), it’s been intriguing to watch her evolution in NXT. From things like her improving English to the effect on her ring style.

In interviews and other public statements she’s shared significant insight into the challenges and personal growth that has come with it, such as needing to engage American crowds more fully faster when pacing a match than with Japanese crowds. She’s also talked about her initial reluctance to speak in Japanese at all during matches, only to later realize conveying emotion was more important and even if the crowd couldn’t understand her words yelling at her opponent in Japanese could still be a useful tool to connect with the crowd and tell the needed story.

IMG_2318_trim

I was lucky enough to see her wrestle live at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II and later at an NXT show at Madison Square Garden. Takeover was almost two years after the last time I had seen her live at Shimmer, and in addition to just having the opportunity in general it was a treat to see how things have changed for her during her time in NXT.

It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for the Empress of Tomorrow, as the WWE’s eventual direction with her could go several ways. Her mastery of her craft and uniqueness as an attraction begs a spot on the main roster, but there are huge benefits to having her in NXT to expand the breadth of training of others in addition to the general advantages of having her on those shows.

Although whatever Asuka’s path holds going forward one thing’s for sure: for her opponents, “tomorrow brings danger.” 😉

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

“What chance do we have?”

“What choice do we have?

 

img_4944

 

At their core, the main Star Wars movies are high adventure tales of good versus evil. There is some depth to the characters, but the general themes always boil down to Rebellion / Light Side good and Empire / Dark Side bad in a black and white way. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – the approach suited the stories being told and captured the imagination of the viewers leading to Star Wars becoming a beloved and near timeless universe.

But Rogue One beautifully demonstrates that there’s also room for something else in said universe: exploration of the shades of gray realities of warfare hidden in the crevices of Star Wars’ space opera scope. Whereas the main movies often embrace the themes of people losing their way and redemption, Rogue One is the story of people with with valid, nuanced reasons for things like wanting to avoid conflict, doing bad things for good reasons, etc.

It’s more drama than adventure, and yet feels just as right as a proper part of what’s come before. It’s fairly seamlessly woven into established mythos and provides a compelling prelude to A New Hope, retconning and explaining away some long standing possible plot holes without causing further logic problems.

In addition, as I mentioned above, there are harsh realities and difficult choices to be faced by the characters. I found the movie incredibly well written and acted. There’s a particularly fantastic confrontation in the middle where both participants in an argument are right, and both are wrong, and the movie rightfully resists any sort of easy answers. It’s the type of scene I simply don’t see existing with such effectiveness in the main movies, and I adore the extra layer it adds to the franchise. I also love the fact that this exploration was done in a spin-off and given proper space to develop as needed, rather than crammed into the “regular” movies where the formulas might clash.

Rogue One was excellent and I hope we see more side stories of this type to compliment the continuing epic adventures told in the main series in the future.

 

Merry Joshi Christmas! Part 3: Marvelous 12/25/16 Live Thoughts

December 25, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I was lucky enough to see three Christmas shows, all with some celebratory elements. First was Gatoh Move at Itabashi Green Hall at 1 pm on Christmas Eve, and later that night was Ice Ribbon at the IR dojo in Warabi. On Christmas day I headed to Shin-Kiba First Ring for the last of the three, from Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion.

 

img_5541

 

The show started off in festive fashion, with Chigusa coming out dressed as Santa and her core roster joining her in various costumes. The highlight was Takumi Iroha as a Christmas Tree (which I sadly didn’t get a good pic of). My meager Japanese skills didn’t catch the meaning of the longish promo / exchanges between the wrestlers, but it seemed well received.

 

 

The opener, Mio Momono vs Mika Shirahime, was great, and if not the match of the night certainly neck and neck with the main event. Incredible instincts and craft shown by both rookies, who built drama expertly through the 15 minutes encounter and had the crowd going crazy at the end. There were a couple awkward spots, such as an instance from each where they essentially forgot to roll up their opponent, forcing the other to kind of roll herself up and wait for the other to get in proper position. But otherwise this was smooth and well executed. And even in the places I mentioned the ability of the other wrestler to adapt and keep things on track was impressive, particularly given their experience.

I was at Mio Momono’s debut in New York, and it’s wonderful to see her capitalizing on the potential she showed even then. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this extremely talented youngster.

 

 

The show slowed down quite a bit from there. Another Marvelous rookie, Rin Kadokura, wrestled freelancer Konami in the second match. While Konami has a fair amount of experience from wrestling in several different promotions, she’s only been in the business a couple of years herself. Both were fine here, leading to the perhaps expected decent but basic match.

Aki Shizuku came to the ring festively attired to the crowd’s delight, which I unfortunately have to admit was probably the best thing about her match with Yuiga. I understand the style they were using, but there was just way too much stalling that made this match seem much longer than it was. While nothing was really wrong from a technical standpoint, the pacing was way off and it didn’t come together for me.

.

 

Kaoru vs Yako Fujigasaki vs Chikayo Nagashima vs Hamuko Hoshi vs Mochi Miyagi was a reasonably fun match, with lighthearted taunting and antics early on giving way to more competitive sequences as the match progressed. Ice Ribbon’s Lovely Butchers looked good here, and mostly worked together despite the 5-way format. Yako was the target of the other combatants for most of the match, and a specific underlying rivalry between her and Kaoru got a strong focus towards the end. Kaoru’s favorite foreign object, the wooden board of doom, of course became involved. Felt like the underdog should have gone over here, but it appears the feud is still building / ongoing.

 

Tomoko Watanabe didn’t know quite what to make of the eccentric Cassandra Miyagi as their match began, and I don’t think things were any clearer for her by the end. This was my first time seeing Miyagi, who I’d heard a bit about, and she certainly has a unique and rather captivating charisma to her. The match was fine, but did feel like it could have been better and the structure led to an anticlimactic feeling when Miyagi lost.

 

I’d been extremely impressed with Takumi Iroha in her appearances at Marvelous USA’s New York shows, and was happy to see her get this main event opportunity against veteran Kyoko Kimura. I’d seen them interact before as part of an intergender tag team match at Marvelous USA’s third show, so this encounter was a nice followup to that.

This played out as would be expected, with Kimura largely dominating and Iroha toughing it out and fighting from behind. The formula worked well, and Iroha got to show some of her incredible power at points. Solid main and a nice spotlight for the up and comer.

 

 

Chigusa and the core roster came back out after the main to thank Kimura, talk some more, and raffle off a few things to the audience as part of the Christmas celebration.

Middle of the road show overall I think. It had a different feel from the rest of the promotions I saw, with a somewhat more traditional sense of build throughout the card and in the matches. It was great when it worked and cooled the crowd significantly when it didn’t. The things that didn’t excel here were more bland than bad, but it was half the card. That said, the high points were great and they started and ended with the best of the night.