WCW Monday Nitro/PPVS: 1997

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Do you want to know why WCW was a stupid company? I mean, I could list literally 1,000 reasons and they’d all be applicable, you want to know what is really dumb. Imagine for a second that you’re a paper company whose been competing with a rival paper company for supremacy of the ultra competitive paper industry, stick with me here. This rival company has this goddamn amazing card-stock paper, everyone loves it and they’re buying it up like wildfire. Until one day this piece of card-stock paper suddenly develops human feelings (okay, I didn’t totally think out this metaphor before typing it all out), it becomes disgruntled at the company and believes its being overshadowed by a similar card-stock paper, except this card-stock paper has been brown-nosing the higher ups all this time. So our original card-stock paper gets out of his contract at the paper company, and lest we mention the screwjob of epic proportions that makes the paper that much more filled with hatred toward this damn, awful paper company. The rival paper company signs this card-stock paper, amazed that they were actually able to get their hands on this high quality product that they never actually imagined could be theres. They literally got the other company’s best product in the midst of an intense battle for supremacy over the paper landscape, what could stope them now. ONLY THE STUPIDITY ITSELF OF THIS RIVAL COMPANY. Okay, let’s drop this awful metaphor, how did WCW really get a red hot, and I mean RED HOT Bret Hart and literally do nothing with him. So much happened in 1997 for WCW, so much, but literally all I think about is them having Bret goddang Hart on the payroll and let him just toil around and do absolutely nothing. Not only is this guy a money draw, but, uh, an actual great wrestler who, uh, can put on amazing matches which is what your company is kind of supposed to do. I have zero clue how to run a company, but it just seems like the most common of sense to actually do something with the biggest name in the industry when you get him. Not just have him cut lame promos and at your biggest event of the year just have him be a special referee of a doomed match.

Okay, breathe, let’s talk about something else than the Bret Hart debacle. How about the Hulk Hogan/Sting debacle. It actually amazed me that they legit stretched this feud for an ENTIRE year before the payoff match (which of course was godawful). It was actually impressive that in one sense you were like “let’s get to this damn match already,” but I was also impressed that they were able to prolong this thing for so long.

Honestly, this Bret Hart stuff is bothering me too much and I just want to end talking about this year, but let’s end on some random thoughts.

I know a lot of people hate Diamond Dallas Page, but I’ve always been a fan, even, yes, that he’s not the best worker, but his push seemed such a natural thing to do and he was great in that main event role when he had it.

The Dennis Rodman stuff was amazing because never have I seen someone so obviously just picking up a cheque for doing the bare minimum. Like, his face the whole time was always “can you believe they’re actually paying me THIS much for this.” I feel like I actually remember him delivering one good clothesline, though, or something, so that was good. Oh my god, some of the episodes later in the year were of the 3 hour variety and I legit don’t know if I can go forward into 1998 when all the episodes become 3 hours. Without the commercials it’s like 2 hours+ and it’s such a slog to get through it all, so who knows if I’ll actually even get to it. I also want to watch Thunder even though I know that’s the worst idea ever, but I’m curious about its awfulness that I know I’ll regret if I actually decide to watch. Basically what I’m saying is that my 1998 review will either come out in 5 years, or never. And finally, Steve McMichael sucks so bad, my god.

WCW Monday Nitro/PPVS: 1996

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 10.44.23 PMWCW Monday Nitro 1996, or how the NWO took over and drove anything that was fun about the program into the ground. I mean, at first glance the idea of the NWO is pretty cool. Two top guys from WWF defecting over to WCW and henceforth really kicking off the battle between the two companies. Unfortunately, right out of the gate, it no longer became a WCW show, but rather NWO Monday Nitro. As I’m sure behind-the-scenes things dictated Scott Hall and Kevin Nash didn’t sign with the company for a couple thousand bucks and a place at the mid-card, oh no, this is WCW, so they paid them an astronomical amount and put them at the top no matter what, with them never relenting the main event status.

Now enter Hulk Hogan, Hulk predictably goes heel, and after all this time it lands with a thud that only Hogan could deliver. Leave it to Hulk Hogan for him to turn heel and somehow be just as cheesy and boring as he is as a babyface. Eric Bischoff would later join, in a hilarious series of moments where he was to be signing Roddy Piper for a match with Hogan, but then just shows up after and revealing, oh yeah by the way, that he’s been an NWO member this whole time. So now the quote-un-quote head of WCW, Bischoff, is a prominent member of the group, although it is pretty hilarious because you can always tell in storyline it always seems like Hogan, Nash and Hall just keep him around to utilize his position as the head of the company to finagle matches and decisions that they want.

One of the chief problems of the group, and something that gets grossly parodied in the years to come, but is actually evident pretty early on is how many members (and tertiary ones, at that) end up in the club. Hogan, Hall and Nash is the perfect sect, but then they add in Bischoff, The Giant, Ted DiBiase, nWo Sting (the dumbest thing ever), Vincent, Buff Bagwell and etc. etc., I’m not going to exert myself and type out all the names. They water this thing down right off the gate and have so many geeks and second-rate guys that it becomes a comedy show of members rather than this tough and intimidating group.

And probably my main problem is the idea that this is group is entirely filled with guys 35+ who can’t work and are getting pushed as THE main thing in the company because of what their image WAS in the wrestling world, while the younger guys toil away in the mid-card. You can literally load up any Nitro and see a match with any combination of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio etc. and see a fantastic match, yet they continually get shoved down the card because of these nostalgia acts of old men acting like teenagers (but, I mean, it’s also not like DX in WWF was doing anything different, despite being not as old). Related to this they bring in Roddy Piper at the end of the year to face Hogan at their big event of Starccade and I mean it’s fun to see Piper back and it’s a nice jolt to the system to see him go up against Hogan, but less said about any of the actual wrestling the better between these two guys. I mean, nobody can cut a promo like Piper, but that only gets you so far, and only serves the point of WCW’s reliance on past acts and gliding off the popularity of stars made from other companies.

NWO aside, my favourite things from 1995 remained my favourites for 1996, albeit in much smaller doses. The Four Horseman are still great, especially with Ric Flair, who unfortunately was out a lot of the year do to an injury (I think, I never looked up if there was a different reason for this or what). Ric Flair getting interviewed by Mean Gene is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

Like I mentioned, the cruiserweight matches are far and away the best things on the show, and I guess it shouldn’t be amazing to me how many great matches they had when you saw the talent involved. Conversely, it’s amazing WCW didn’t do anything with them, I mean they eventually kind of did, but nowhere near the heights they would’ve gotten if they actually gave these guys concentrated pushes, but nope, everything must fall to the wayside for NWO to “succeed.”

Lex Luger and Randy Savage remained bores who couldn’t work anymore (or to begin with with Luger), and I thought we finally got rid of Savage, but it looks like he’s coming back again. We finally get Scorpion Sting which I’ve been waiting for, because I could never take the Surfer Sting seriously, but unfortunately nothing really happens and they eventually start booking him like a moody emo teenager where he just hangs out in the rafters looking all sad and gearing up for a year+ build against the NWO that pretty much everybody knows how that turns out…

I’m still entertained by this show, and especially excited now that I’m heading into 1997 where the WWF vs. WCW war really starts cooking and where WCW makes their grand rise as THE wrestling promotion, the one that is unstoppable and is ready to be the king of the wrestling world for years to come, until they do all this WCW stuff that you see dark shades of even now, but eventually gets darkened like a thick sharpie and they go from 100 to 0 real quick.

WCW Monday Nitro/PPVS: 1995

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I’m finally watching WCW and I could not be more excited for my eventual descent into madness. Since Nitro started in September of 1995, this post is going to be pretty short and basically just my brief, random thoughts about my introduction to actually watching WCW. I’m just going to outline the PPVs quickly, since that follows the majorly storylines and then just tack on random thoughts at the end.

The first PPV is Fall Brawl where the heavyweights of the company (literally and figuratively), Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Lex Luger and Sting, take on literally the biggest four geeks you can think of compared to those guys in Kamala, The Zodiac, The Shark and Meng. Literally my first WCW PPV and that being the main event is the most WCW thing ever, it’s amazing. Even in the WarGames stipulation, which doesn’t do anything for me, it was amazingly lackluster. Really just a means to an end to jumpstart the Hogan/Giant feud with the Giant interrupting at the end.

Halloween Havoc has another of the most amazing WCW things ever, and in theory I’m a newbie to all this, where Hulk Hogan and Giant face off in monster truck battle, as in they actually ram actual monster trucks against each other for five minutes before their wrestling match. They of course scrap afterwards which leads Giant to follow off the dang building and plummet to his untimely death. Except that doesn’t happen and he just shows up on time for his match later in the show with no explanation of how he recovered and looking no worse for wear. This company is amazing.

World War 3 has a 60-Man battle royal that encompasses three rings because goddamn does this company love gimmick matches. This was the biggest cluster I’ve ever seen where you literally could not focus on anything. They had a split screen showing all three rings, including separate commentary, but it only really made the whole thing that much more confusing. Randy Savage won for some reason.

Starrcade was pretty cool because of the whole Americans vs. Japanese world cup thing, where giving us Jushin Liger vs. Chris Benoit as an opener pretty much is tantamount for nothing ever being able to top that. It’s also crazy to see Tenzan wrestle here in 1995 as me in 2016 is watching him in what probably will be his last G1 tournament. He’s so young then! The Ric Flair vs. Sting vs. Lex Luger match was entertaining, and especially because it got Flair the title later which is all I ever want to see.

Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Brian Pillman are so awesome in their own similar and unique ways and I could watch them all day and am so looking forward to their actual good matches among the terribleness that often surrounds it all.

Disco Inferno is the greatest gimmick ever because it’s dated as hell in 2016 and even in 1995 it was dated as hell.

I love watching Ric Flair on my TV screen no matter what he is doing. His promos are the best and him just being a heel all the way through is the greatest.

I’m relatively unfamiliar with actually seeing Lex Luger and his character, body, matches and all that and oh my god it’s so apparent right from the jump that he just doesn’t have IT to be the star that people thought he could be. Obviously, he has the insane body, but his mic skills and work in the ring is just so subpar. He’s just the most bland dude who always seems bored and like his mind is always half somewhere else.

Hulk Hogan is John Cena and John Cena is Hulk Hogan where dude will be main eventing one week and then he’ll just disappear off TV for a couple weeks then reappear like nothing happened. I can’t stand Hogan, but it’s entertaining watching him through all this.

I’m well on my way into 1996 now as I write one, so hopefully I’ll have more to say for that write-up, whenever I finish it, and hopefully I remember to take notes.

NXT: TakeOver: Dallas: Review/Recap

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American Alpha Defeated The Revival to win the NXT Tag Team Championship:

This was a great match to kick things off with, with the crowd always getting energized by American Alpha. They were of course going to win with the big push they’ve been getting, along with the even bigger reception from the audience. The Revival was always going to be a stop-gap championship team, because it’s not that they are particularly bad it’s just that they are so unmemorable and have absolutely nothing to make you feel true love or hatred either way, they’re so faceless voids that make you pause for a second to remember which one is Dawson and which one is Wilder.

Austin Aries Defeated Baron Corbin:

I’m a big Austin Aries fan and have really been liking Baron Corbin over these last few months as he’s been improving mightily, especially putting together some nice promos. Aries got the win, which I guess was expected, but I kinda thought Corbin might pull it out in a surprise as a sort of furthered push on his growing character, but I’m not mad at Aries getting his first win in his first match as an older guy. I knew Aries was a smaller guy and of course Corbin is huge, but jeez, Aries looked like a baby trying to attack a giant in this match, which was a great visual in Aries trying to take down this beast. Like, I said, I’ve been impressed with Corbin lately and think he has good potential in filling out a monster heel role, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he delivers in the next couple months.

Shinsuke Nakamura Defeated Sami Zayn:

Charisma’s a weird thing where you can obviously detect it, but it’s sometimes impossible to pinpoint exactly what it is and exactly how you can get it and fully utilize it. However complicated and undefined it may be, one thing for sure is that Shinsuke Nakamura has it in spades just after one second of entering an arena. He lives the cliche of looking up “charisma” in the dictionary and it’s just a picture of him.

The match itself was a well-booked masterclass in ring psychology in two geniuses in their own right. Little things like Zayn kicking out at one early in the match and then progressing through the match where he would then kick out at two as he got tired were nice small touches that unfortunately you don’t see much of nowadays where guys will get an unrealistic near-fall pin after a simple early suplex. That was a great thing about the match, they really played up the tired and exhausted angle as you would expect in any match really, but since it’s so rarely done, and especially to the level like this, it really played well into the big match factor. Nakamura got the pin, of course, and Sami went out on his back in his last NXT match, but really who better to do it to than Nakamura.

Asuka Defeated Bayley to win the NXT Women’s Championship:

After the last match I was a little worried what would follow since they were guaranteed to be in a lull after all the emotion spent in the Nakamura/Zayn contest. Fortunately, the crowd wasn’t that deflated and had some energy, although it wasn’t anything noteworthy. This was a pretty good match, through and through, but the ending was pretty weird and very anticlimactic. Asuka kept trying to put Bayley in her choke submission and once she finally got it cinched it looked to set up the idea that it looked like Bayley was done for only to see her miraculously find her way out of the move, except that totally didn’t happen here and instead Bayley just passed out and like that we have a new champion.

It wasn’t that it was a surprise or unexpected or anything to see Asuka walk away with the title, its just that how they finished the match in what looked to be an innocent move with the crowd fully expecting Bayley to wriggle out or the match to at least not end there, were shocked to see it finish like that when the crowd had to get their bearings for a few seconds to process what actually happened.

Bayley was seemingly going to lose the title sooner rather than later and Asuka was the perfect person to lose it to. Looking at the other women on the roster like Eva Marie, Nia Jax, Emma, Alexa Bliss and whoever, none of them are even close to the level of Bayley and are nowhere close to being believable in beating here. Whereas Asuka is this stone cold killer who wants nothing more than to wreck havoc on Bayley’s happy universe. And now I presume this will set up a redemption story for Bayley in getting here title back, because I really don’t see this title loss as freeing her up to go to the main roster, especially when the NXT women’s division is pretty thin and the main roster actually has a bunch of female talent who have the power to establish that division.

Finn Balor Defeated Samoa Joe to retain the NXT Championship:

I haven’t really been looking forward to this match until the last few weeks. And it didn’t really have anything to do with the participants, but with the rumours of what was going to the happen with the fallout with the idea that possibly the loser could be heading up to the main roster, along with the incoming Balor Club. I’ve tried and tried, but I really cant’ get into Finn Balor in any way, his ring work is fine enough, but his promos are just horrendous and often cringey. His title run has long grown stale and Balor as a babyface is just something that hasn’t worked well as he seems like someone which such little personality. I’m hoping the Balor Club institutes him turning heel and providing a spark to his character and at least lets them do some heel stuff with him which seems more naturally fitting to his character.

Thus, I thought Joe was for sure winning this thing and ushering in the age of bad ass Joe as champ. Joe is just the meanest looking guy on the roster and just personifies this animal in a cage mentality in every fight he’s in. The early blood that was drawn just adding fuel to that fire and provided a nice extra level in his menace. Unfortunately, because nowadays they medical staff have to be over every little bit of blood like a hawk, the momentum was severely halted in all the semi-stoppages and didn’t give the match the flow it had in the ending. It was unfortunate, but the match was still uniformly great throughout with both men believably until the very end in taking home the title. I have no clue what this means going forward, and am pretty disappointed that Balor will be retaining the title yet again, especially with rumours of his Balor Club direction popping up. Joe seems like the perfect guy to hold the belt for a bit until a younger guy makes his name by beating him for the title. But, maybe this all means that Joe is soon to see the main roster, and boy could they use not only his body, but strength at being a heel up there.

Overall I really liked the show and enjoyed it much more than the December show (although, it’s not like I hated that or anything). Not entirely sure of the direction of any of these guys after this, including their big guns like Nakamura, Balor and Joe, but they’e got gold in every one of them if they utilize them properly. Here’s hoping…

ROH: 14th Anniversary Review/Recap

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ROH finds themselves in an interesting spot coming into 2016. Things aren’t exactly booming, but things aren’t really heading into the dumps. Perhaps that’s a bit too unkind, the show and promotion is doing well, trending up, but it isn’t filled with a mass of huge angles that draw attention or super big stars that are captivating the world, when rather the wrestling world seems pretty neutral on the product that ROH is coming out with. It’s still really good, and pound for pound better wrestling than a lot of what you’ll be able to see on your TV screen. With the emergence and mainstream wrestling popularity of NXT over the “indie” brand and with others such as Lucha Underground with a fresh perspective on the business along with various indie indie (like, really indie) companies like PWG and EVOLVE, there’s certainly a lot of GOOD wrestling out there than ever before, making ROH fade into the background.

ROH has a ton of good wrestlers, potential stars and people behind the scenes to make not only a great show, but something that sticks out and becomes “must watch” to wrestling fans who already have so much content at their fingertips to watch.

The company runs a risk a lot of the time as still feeling like just a breeding ground for when their stars get super red hot and over that they’ll eventually get signed or poached away by WWE. That doesn’t have to be the case, especially if they make it a premium to push and foster the talent they have now, who have massive potential to build the company as this destination for top-tier wrestling where their characters make up the brand. They definitely took a step in the right direction locking down the Young Bucks last year and then at the end of the year re-upping Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly (who are a fantastic tag team, but seem destined for more singles pushes this year) and Jay Lethal who continues to kill it in the ring and on promos as the ROH World Champion. Adam Cole is another guy who seems to have unlimited potential, and thus is always linked to going to WWE, but with the right handling of him the guy could be a star in ROH and the guy to headline the brand in the coming years.

Tomohiro Ishii Defeated Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish to retain the ROH World Television Championship:

This was the match that came out of nowhere and largely thrown together after Ishii won the ROH TV title. I was very much looking forward to the Roddy/Bobby rematch after them having a pretty great match at Final Battle, and I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get it here since this match wasn’t very great and the story the two men had coming in was pretty good, only to get swept aside now that Ishii was involved.

Granted, it’s kinda cool that Roddy lost the belt at the joint ROH/NJPW show a wee before it was to be defended, since that never really happens and gives that shock value since you always assume once a guy is booked to defend his title at a big event, he won’t lose it between then, but not when you face someone like Ishii.

So, yeah, this match wasn’t bad per se, but definitely underwhelming especially when you have the talents of all three guys, especially ones who can crash and bang. Ishii’s style and first time in an ROH ring might’ve thrown a bit of a kink in it, but either way it wasn’t anything special, and didn’t even get much time to build until it was over pretty fast.

I thought that Ishii would give up the title with Roddy pinning Bobby or something like that where Ishii avoids the pinfall, but I guess they’re sticking it with Ishii and I guess the TV title won’t be a thing going forward on the ROH tapings, since I doubt they’ll do much if at all with it at the TV tapings. I don’t know what this means for Roddy/Bobby and I guess we won’t see Ishii defending the belt until Global Wars in May.

B.J. Whitmer Defeated Adam Page:

This was really the only match on the card I could not have cared less for. I pretty much tune out any and all Whitmer/Page stuff on the weekly TV shows as it doesn’t do anything for me promo-wise or wanting to see these guys go at it in the ring. The only thing I will say is that Whitmer is a pretty good heel and great at actually attracting heat, but even still I find it hard to care about him or what he’s doing. Just that I know and recognize how good he is at doing it.

Also, I’m not really too sure about Adam Page. I haven’t seen enough of him to fully judge whether he has the chops to be a top guy going forward as some see him as. To me now he’s nothing special, but I’d like to see him be put with someone his more equal wrestling-wise and for him to have a feud where he can sink his teeth in a little more with someone more of his ilk.

Hirooki Goto Defeated Dalton Castle:

Since Goto’s original opponent Ishii was thrown into that defending his TV title, Goto had to have a new opponent and it probably worked out just as well with Dalton Castle getting a prime spot against the former IGWP Championship no. 1 contender. They had a really great match with a lot of strength moves being used, especially by Castle who showed no struggle putting his signature suplexes on the hefty Goto. I would’ve liked to have seen Castle win, since everybody loves him, all the other NJPW stars won and the company seems to slowly but surely be moving him up the card, but it’s not the worst to have him lose as he still looked fantastic in defeat and it’s not really going to do anything to his status.

Alex Shelley Defeated Christopher Daniels:

This was a really great match, too, as expected from two fantastic wrestlers who have come all the way from TNA and putting on great X division matches. This was really all to set up the reunited of the Moto City Machine Guns with Chris Sabin coming out and turning face to align with Shelley, and also helping him to get the win. This obviously sets up a feud between the newly reformed MCMG and The Addiction, which should result in some fantastic tag bouts.

Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin Defeated The Briscoes:

This was definitely the second best match of the night (behind the six-man tag) and it makes sense since it’s hard to find any better veteran journeyman workers like Tanahashi/Elgin and the Briscoe brothers. I absolutely love the Tanahashi/Elgin pairing, they seem so different, yet so perfect for each other and put in some great collaborative work as the best babyface tag team out there for my money right now. I heard some thoughts that they might challenge for the NJPW tag titles, which would be a fun program. Also, I’m no doctor, but Tanahashi’s shoulder looks pretty damn healed and he showed no issues with it or shied away from it at all. If it wasn’t already apparent that dude is the Japanese John Cena, he’s apparently got his freakish fast-healing skills as well.

It’s kinda crazy to me that Jay Briscoe had one of the biggest and longest ROH World title reigns and was the top guy in the company and then as soon as he lost to Lethal he was eventually just down doing random tag matches with his brother. I wonder what the plans are with him, if it’s just a holding pattern for now, as he seems like too good of a guy just to be stuck doing largely nothing matches. Granted, he’s been with the company forever and done it all, so who knows.

Kazuchika Okada Defeated Moose:

I definitely can’t say I was really looking forward to this because I couldn’t believe they booked this match, not only because it was the IWGP champ against Moose, but because Okada and Moose had such different style that I didn’t think anything that good would come out of it. It was actually pretty good, though! It wasn’t amazing or anything, but definitely not as bad or boring as I expected it to be. I mean, Moose is big obviously and also very athletic, which he did well to utilize to keep up pace with Okada and thus never devolved into a “big lug versus small guy” fight, and actually had a pretty nice pace to it. It was probably Moose’s best match he’s had and really you’d assume only good things would come out of this since it was actually pretty good, but I guess if you’re getting booked in a singles match with Okada in the first place you’re doing something right.

The Elite Defeated Kushida, ACH and Matt Sydal to retain the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship:

Everybody had huge expectations of what to expect and what they wanted to see out of this match, and it’s pretty safe to safe that they were all blown out of the water. There literally wasn’t a weak link anywhere in this match between any of the six guys, the spots and staging, everything was perfect and would literally be a blur if I attempted to type out every move these guys did. Kenny Omega and the Bucks were CRAZY over and treated these dudes like gods, especially Omega who now being booked as a top guy in NJPW just overnight seems like this huge star. While The Elite got the enormous reactions, Kushida, ACH and Sydal were more than up to the task of equally them in the ring and looked great all around. My love for ACH grows by the match, it’s no question he’ my favourite guy in the company (outside of maybe Jay Lethal), and he should be star wherever he is in the next couple years.

War Machine Defeated The All Night Express to retain the ROH World Tag Team Championship:

These poor guys. Nothing could have followed that six-man tag match and as soon as this thing began it was like all the air was released from the room. The crowd was deflated as they just spent all their energy going crazy for the six guys before that they really couldn’t care less about this match. The match was no DQ which involved weapons into the melee, but that did nothing to help entice the crowd. I mean, it wasn’t the greatest match with the best guys to begin with, but it wasn’t bad, just stuck in an unfortunate spot where the guys got nothing from the crowd and seemed to reflect back the same.

Jay Lethal Defeated Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly to retain the ROH World Championship:

Even the world title main event seemingly was still feeling the hungover effects of the six-man match as while this thing was a bit more lively than the tag title match, the crowd was still very quiet throughout and never really gave the match any of that main event energy, with the match suffering because of it.

It was a good match, though, not an all-time classic or anything, but really good. I didn’t think they’d take the belt off of Lethal this soon, but it does feel like it might be soon and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did take it off him. Granted, I love Lethal and think he still has a ton more run left as the champ and is doing great work, so I think there’s still time with him, but it wouldn’t shock me to have him lose. I was shocked that Adam Cole took the pin and not O’Reilly, so maybe it will indeed be O’Reilly who eventually takes the belt, as he definitely has the wrestling skills, although nowhere near as good as Lethal or Cole on the mic.

O’Reilly is just so fun to watch and if you somehow think technical wrestling is boring, Kyle is never not boring and always has some flair with his chain wrestling. One of the best spots was when O’Reilly had both Lethal and Cole in a submission at the same time.

I’m not really sure how this review came off, but overall I wasn’t really all that enamored with the show. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t really leave me with anything all that positive going forward out of it outside of the six-man tag match. It feel into good, not great, territory, something that as I mentioned above I don’t think ROH really has that liberty to put on something just good and not all that memorable. The year is early, though, and I really don’t see any reason why this year shouldn’t be as good as the last as they got a lot of fundamental pieces to build off. Their TV taping set got a massive upgrade with a new lighting grid and a whole new entrance stage, so they definitely are trying on all ends to make the product as appealing visually as possible (I never had an issue with it before, since I kinda like that gritty, dingy look, but I get how people would be turned off by it). ROH and NJPW are probably my two favourite companies, and not coincidentally the two companies I have the most trust in when it comes to booking matches and creating long-term angles and thus serving their characters. That’s why when they don’t hit it out of the park I’m more forgivable on one hand, but on the other it continually seems like in this day and age with all the competition out there’s becoming less and less of a safety net.

The New Beginning In Osaka/The New Beginning In Niigata: Review/Recap

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Unlike I previously do I’m not going to go match-by-match on these shows, as I’m combining them together and I really don’t have much to say about these shows outside of the main events and big angles moving forward.

With the departure of two of the four main draws from the company in Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles to WWE, it was clear immediately that some new blood needed to be injected in the main event picture, especially since the remaining two of those four, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, had just finished a lengthy program (and years at that if you want to go that far.). Enter Kenny Omega, the loony second string Bullet Club member who has been enjoying the last year contending for and defending the Light Heavyweight championship to excellent measures. With AJ’s departure from NJPW and the Bullet Club Omega was earmarked to not only establish himself as a singles star, but be the one at the top of the company with the likes of Japanese favourites Tanahashi and Okada.

While we were robbed of Omega going after Nakamura and his Intercontinental belt (they just made things easiest with Nakamura’s swift depature and just had him give it up), we got the next best thing with Tanahashi stepping into Nakamura’s place to defend the honour of the belt against the vociferous Omega. Tanahashi himself is in an interesting spot because of this, long the golden child of NJPW and the Japanese fan and while he still is, at the age of 39 he’s not getting any younger and he’s just coming off passing the torch unofficially to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, failing to capture the title and thus taking himself out of that main event spot, that we’ve so used to seeing him compete in. Not only that, but Tanahashi suffered a shoulder injury about a month back, about the worst thing the company would want to see when they’re already hemorrhaging from top star losses, but Tanahashi being Tanahashi he’s worked through the injury and hasn’t missed any time (though, one could argue how foolish that could be in the long run.

So, The New Beginning In Niigata spurned by needing to establish another top singles star without damaging what few they already had did what New Japan seemingly always does when the boot is to their throat, they came through looking better than ever. Of course the talents of Tanahashi and Omega are going to put on a great match no matter what, the real jewel of this match was the storytelling authored by both men, telling a believable and well-rounded story that elevated Omega to a spot worthy of being up there with Tanahashi and Okada. Omega won about as cleanly as you possibly could with the likes of the Young Bucks interfering and doing all they could to weaken Tanahashi. The whole match saw Omega work over the injured shoulder of Tanahashi, targeting it with every move and making sure he suffered as much as possible. Tanahashi would get his own measure of revenge working over the leg of Omega, with boys guys doing terrific job of selling their injuries and showing the worsening of their condition as the match went on. Eventually after all his outside help and hitting Tanahashi with the Bomaye (Nakamura’s move) and the Styles Clash (Styles’ move) Omega hit the Angel Wings and got the win, the Intercontinental championship and NJPW got a top guy to help push the company forward.

What makes Omega so great is that he perfectly fills a role in NJPW that is an easy gimmick to fill, but his skill and dedication take everything so far beyond that. While NJPW is obviously filled with tons of great talent, including Tanahashi and Okada who are your prototypical Japanese wrestlers wrestling under honour, class and dedication to those who came before them, Omega is a perfect yang to their yin (yes, I realize that is Chinese). Omega is the stereotypical boisterous foreigner who often talks a lot more than he backs it up (although, he’s been backing it up lately) and the rude guy who could care less about Japanese customs and culture in the wrestling ring and just wants to perform a mass takeover however he can get it. With the stoic Tanahashi Omega proves a nice foil and one going forward that hopefully can maintain his position that he attained. Sure, Omega is goofy and doesn’t present the immediate qualities of a serious consistent main eventer, but sometimes in dire needs the thing you constantly glaze over may just be the perfect antidote that you’ve had under your nose this whole time.

After finally dispatching of Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, Okada needed a new opponent, at least one for the time being, and Hirooki Goto proved to be the perfect stop gap. No question Goto had no chance of winning, and of course he didn’t, they had a pretty good match all things considered, but after this defeat in Osaka and pinning him the next night I don’t see this feud lasting much longer. I’d love to see Tetsuya Naito get a run at the belt and at least a decent program against the champ, especially since they’ve been building up Los Ingobernables de Japón.

Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii had another classic match, which you could argue was just as great as their Wrestle Kingdom match. You could literally only show me Shibata/Ishii matches for the rest of my life and I would die happy. I’m so glad Shibata is finally getting a run with a belt and don’t see any reason to take it off him for a long while, and only doing so to build someone up or elevate a blood feud with Shibata. Whoever it may be, the bar has been set and you’d expect nothing less than a war to pry the belt out of Shibata’s hands.

I still have no clue why they introduced the NEVER Openweight 6-Man tag team belts as they flopped around in these two events and seemingly get won each match they’re in. It doesn’t do to well for the status of your belt when it’s constantly being flip-flopped from team to team and has no staying power or relevance, deeming it useless.

Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows continued finishng their last few dates in the company, as they, too, are off to WWE leaving the NJPW tag division further damaged as I don’t know who Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma’s next opponents are, especially since they got that dumb 6-man belt floating around, ugh.

So, all in all it was a solid group of shows and one that did a good job reshuffling the deck and starting to put some pieces into play for how the rest of the year is shaping up given all the departures and turmoil put upon the company over the last month and a bit. This is NJPW, though, and any other company I’d be nervous if they were put in this booking position *cough*WWE*cough*, but they have the track record to show that it’s nothing to worry about and these two events that clearly show the ship is headed in the right direction and the stormy conditions don’t look as bad as they previously thought.

WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2003

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Honestly, this year wasn’t very noteworthy, judging by the fact that I write hardly even wrote notes during this year (that being said I’ll probably blab like normal in this and it’ll end up being just as long as the past ones). It’s all just pretty run-of-the-mill stuff with nothing amazingly good, but not too much that’s horrible, just kinda bland maybe. Both shows are fully set in their ways of being separated, especially with the split pay-per-views now where one show gets a PPV and they alternate and only come together at the big events. I always said I’d try to make it to WM20 to match up with when I started watching back in the day and maybe stop there, but I got here a lot quicker than I thought, so who knows. Things are getting increasingly clear that the product isn’t what it used to be in the true Attitude years or even the ones following, and now it’s just in kind of a boring and un-flashy groove. People complain about the HHH reign of terror, but I like him generally and as such him always on top doesn’t bother me as much. Anyways, I’ve been thinking it’s time to go back and watch all the Attitude era WCW Nitros and stuff since I’ve never seen them. But, before all that, let’s get into this thing…

The first two pay-per-views were pretty void of anything special. Lesnar wins the Rumble, of course, not only because it cements him of having one of the greatest first years in WWE history with winning the King Of The Ring, beating The Rock at SummerSlam for the title, main-eventing with Undertaker and just generally being on top, to the Rumble win now. It has been telegraphed for awhile that he was going to get his big match against Angle, with their whole shared background of amateur wrestling, so it worked good in storyline as well.

Royal Rumble is also where Scott Steiner got finally had his top feud with HHH for the title, and as expected this whole thing was a mess and not really engaging at all. They had dumb little test of strength competitions because of course Hunter is self-conscious about that going against Steiner. Steiner had no chance of winning and after he had this little program, Steiner would wallow in the mid-card doing worthless stuff with Stacy Kiebler and Test, which somehow they stretched for, like, the whole year. Not like he was that great in the first place, but WWE seemed to be placing him for something good coming into the company, and nothing happened, as should really be expected for their track record.

No Way Out was centered around the return of The Rock and his rematch with Hulk Hogan from last year, which was really just a set-up for the Vince/Hogan match at WrestleMania. The Rock comes in with his new Hollywood Rock heel gimmick and it’s a lot of fun since Rocky hasn’t played a heel in a long time, and it actually works well with his real-life persona of being an actor now, the conceit that he’s this major actor only concerned with himself and thinks that he’s better than everyone else now that he’s making movies. He gets some heat, mainly when he directly insults the fans, but mostly he still gets cheers. The most hilarious thing was Hogan getting screwed out of the win by The Rock and Vince and WWE played it up like it was at the level of the Montreal Screwjob, since the PPV was in Montreal. Also, I had no clue Sylvain Grenier had his introduction (before the La Resistance thing) as the French ref that screws over Hogan. I always love seeing in WWE when guys you know from their major gimmick actually have debuted earlier in some two-bit role.

Alright, so the WrestleMania build:

HHH/Booker: This feud just makes no sense and has NO business being a Mania-pseudo main event or world title match. I mean, I love Booker and all, but I still didn’t think he was main event level at this time and for sure not enough to go against HHH at this time. I’m obviously looking at this from the far future, but it just seems so unmatched and random. Like, it would be more than fine for any other PPV, but for Mania it’s so underwhelming. Also, it’s SOOO goddamn racist, like overtly, not even subtle. When HHH saying people like YOU don’t get to be in my spot etc. It’s was so dumb because with all this overtly racist stuff you would assume that they did it all to have Booker get his comeuppance over HHH at the biggest event of the year, but nope, HHH goes over and it all just falls beside the wayside. I heard the original plan was indeed for Booker to go over, but HHH nixed it, and thus it doesn’t make much sense, besides HHH always wanting to win here.

Rock/Austin: Rock is super fun as the Hollywood Rock and his whole heel business. It at least brings some more interest to his character who is just so sporadic in his appearance anyways that it provides another angle and isn’t just boring face Rock popping up. Also, it’s a cool way to play off him being this whole big Hollywood star now and he is always good at gaining heat. Austin is doing really nothing at all, but I guess it’s to be expected as this would be his dipping of his toes back into WWE before he was out again. It’s basically him feuding with Bischoff. Also, the Rock/Hurricane stuff was fun, giving a guy shine like that in the main event. The match was pretty fun in the end, it was short and almost like a greatest hits of their previous Mania matches, not that it was close to any of those, but just both guys giving everybody all their hits for their last match together.

McMahon/Hogan: This was fine enough, at least it had some real world history so there’s weight to it that had been building for all these years, although it just started in storyline very recently. But, for the love of god, keep Hogan off the mic, he was always fumbling his words. The match was surprisingly good and it’s always hilarious to see Vince McMahon, the supposed non-wrestler and boss of the company, with his buff body looking way more muscular and in shape than the flabby supposed greatest wrestler of all time.

Lesnar/Angle: This was obviously the most hyped match and the one with an actual lengthy backstory and heft to it. They’ve been feuding since, like, November of last year, and although it seems like it’s going on forever, there is at least the goal of Mania which you know will be a grand culmination of it all. I can’t wait for it. They did have a match on SD, but Angle won it sneakily, so it wasn’t that much of a takeaway from the Mania match. Benjamin and Haas is a good addition, giving Kurt his collegiate stable or whatever you wanna call it. The match was fantastic as expected and really I think the best thing to main event the show, since they had several options and were supposedly wavering about what to put on last. The Brock shooting star press botch that has him land on his head will never be easy to watch, and I always yell at my TV for Brock to drag Angle closer to the corner so he wouldn’t have had all that pressure to make that huge distance while flipping, but he never listens.

Taker/Jones vs A-Train/Show: Before all this stuff I was wracking my brain to think of Taker’s match for this and thought it was Show, but then I remembered it was A-Train and then this tag match pops up that I never heard of happening before. I’m almost certain it doesn’t happen, though? Because I only recall Taker facing A-Train and never heard of a tag match around it. Off that, I only sparingly have heard of Nathan Jones and thus he must be around for such a short time, but surely I would’ve heard of him being in a  Mania match, or maybe this match is just that unforgettable. I think he gets gone fast somehow. Also, it was so so stupid how they were building him up in the vignettes as being this Australian prison badass ready to rip someone’s face off, and he comes in and turns face right away and becomes Taker’s little delicate padawan who needs wrestling lessons. It was so bizarre and sudden and took everything away from what he was seemingly built to be. I guess they just lost their luster on him. I really should do some actually research into him and why WWE soured on him so quickly, I mean, it’s so obvious that he sucked in and out of the ring. But, it was hilarious how quick they pushed him high up the card, only to yank him back down just as quick.

Jericho/HBK: I was really looking forward to this match, as they’re both fantastic wrestlers. The build was pretty lame with each basically just interrupting each other’s matches and randomly attacking each other.

Goldberg coming into WWE finally happened and one of the last debuts I was waiting for and I was super stoked to see, as I’ve seen none of his short WWE stuff, besides WrestleMania 20 (ugh). The Rock stuff was the perfect feud and one for The Rock to go out on, for now, and put Goldberg over, not that he needed it. I don’t know how much The Rock has left even beyond his part-time player thing, because I know his Mania 20 match is like his last match for a whole long while. Goldberg actually got a bunch of boos, but I think that was mainly because how much people liked The Rock.

The Evolution stable stuff was weird to start the year. They were establishing it right before WrestleMania, but all of a sudden Orton and Batista disappeared, like not wrestling or just hanging out ringside for HHH, only Flair. Is it because of the Nash thing? I knew they came back later in the year as that’s when it really kicked off. But, it’s weird they were establishing/introducing them as this group and then half of them vanished.

I couldn’t believe that John Cena actually won the tournament Smackdown was having to see who would face Brock for the title. I know we look back at Cena now and be like, duh of course he wins, but I didn’t think he’d win here this early before his MAJOR push. I guess watching all this, though, it’s clear that Cena was pushed from the very beginning as soon as he started. And now especially with his hip-hop gimmick. And it was an actual match too, I thought Brock might squash, but Cena actually dominated for most of it until Brock surprised and hit him with one F5 and got the pin. It’s hilarious to see this mini-feud between the two, looking back with 2016 eyes and how much they’d fight and feud over a decade later. It’s crazy to think that in theory, the seeds for their 2014 feud were planted all the way back in 2003.

Also, they have Roddy Piper being Sean O’Haire’s manager type guy to try and get him over, but it’s not even close to working. O’Haire is just so boring and not engaging at all. They tried to reignite the feud with Rikishi where years ago when Piper hit Snuka with the coconut. Boring, and short match.

Judgment Day was pretty lame. I can hardly remember stuff from it. The Battle Royal was fun for the IC title. And I love Christian like this, he’s perfect as the smarmy heel which he’s been playing forever with no need of a face change.

The classic short singles match for the world title with HHH that ends in a DQ just to keep extending the feud and get to the big gimmick match. So pointless.

Lesnar/Big Show in a stretcher match was at least a fun change of pace as this was the first one in forever. They fought a ton outside the ring more than I thought and thus it wasn’t the most high paced match, not that these two would give that, but it was good enough.

Bad Blood was better. The HIAC match was pretty good, but there was no need for Foley to come back to guest referee. Just another dumb gimmick every year for Foley to pop back up.

Michaels/Flair was good. And Goldberg/Jericho was fine enough for a little stop gap feud for Goldberg. But, you can already tell that Goldberg is just always getting the short-shrift and he’ll never do anything of actual note in the company.

Vengeance was fine enough, I guess. I could care less about Zach Gowen and the whole Vince angle. Undertaker/Cena is a pretty great feud and decent match. Guerrero/Benoit single match, enough said. The triple threat title match was decent enough, but I was shocked Angle won, but it becomes clearer later when Vince turned on Angle and aligned himself with a heel-turned Lesnar.

So, without me looking it up, I never really understood the Zach Gowen thing. Vince must’ve just had a huge crush on the idea of a kid with one-leg who always wanted to be in the WWE, just so he could constantly squash him and beat him up. Dude had zero charisma and is just a bore, especially when they focus sooo much on him. But, then they just got sick of him and turned on him, as it always happens in this company, and eventually just used him as someone for Brock to destroy on his mean streak.

The Kane unmasking was so dumb, there was zero build to it, just one week Bischoff saying if Kane loses against HHH he’ll lose his match. They weren’t even feuding, it would seem better to have it at the end of an epic feud or something, but nope just off the Hell In A Cell against Nash. Obviously they probably wanted something of note to do since it’ll be awhile until their next PPV with them alternating with SmackDown now. It definitely adds a new dimension to stuff, but it’s really just oooh Kane is crazy and a monster, but I guess it does give his character some teeth since he’s been pretty neutered and de-monsterized over the years.

I do like that since each brand doesn’t have a PPV each month to build to that they have to spread things out and have semi-big events like this and later SmackDown has the Angle/Lesnar Ironman match to provide some spark in the downtimes between getting to that next pay-per-view. At least WWE back here was able to stretch together some decent stories from week-to-week and it wasn’t completely aimless like nowadays.

Kevin Nash like Goldberg just seems to have fizzled out so quickly after their one big feud that entered them into the company. It’s such a pattern with the company where their one big obvious feud that kicks them off onto the show will be fun, but once it ran its course they just languish behind-the-scenes. Just like Scott Steiner, too. They didn’t even give Goldberg/HHH its due and buildup and quickly turned it into the Chamber match, but I guess their singles feud would resume later in the year.

Elimination Chamber match was alright. I was semi-surprised that Goldberg went over for the title and thought he would destroy everybody until HHH, then HHH would cheat for the title, but I guess they decided this would be the best time to give Goldberg the title, for at least a couple months. Hey, at least he got one up on the likes of Nash and Steiner.

It’s crazy that leading into SummerSlam in August the WWE title has only been contested by Lesnar/Angle and Big Show since like Survivor Series in November. It’s legit just the same dudes contesting for it. I mean, it doesn’t feel that long, but dang it would be nice if they spruced it up and brought in some new guys.

I can hardly keep track but Angle is heel leading into Mania, Brock face. Brock reigns for a bit as face, then Angle comes back after a few months all face and buddy-buddy with Lesnar which lasts for a couple weeks. Then on a SmackDown Lesnar on the side of Vince turns on Angle and is now heel with face Angle and being the Champ heading into SS.

The match itself was pretty great, as expected from what Lesnar and Angle always deliver. I love to that Lesnar tapping was built into the storyline for the coming months, as this huge thing that not only did he lose but he tapped, and the crowd would chant it at him.

John Cena is now fully in his rapper gimmick to the point where he has a full handle on it and you can begin to see him getting over and the popularity of it with the fans that skyrockets him. I’m a sucker for his raps.

I barely remember anything that happened at Unforgiven.

Oh, yeah, and so Evolution gets established with their theme and all. Which I fucking love. It’s weird because at the beginning of the year it was Orton-less with Batista the guy in the mix, and then it was Batista nowhere to be found and Orton is around. They never mention it either, so I dunno what was up. But, Batista would come shortly after.

No Mercy was pretty unforgettable, too, as these Pay-per-views were back then at the end of the year, outside of when Survivor Series was actually relevant. There was probably no match in recent memory that I could’ve cared less about than the Vince vs. Stephanie “I Quit” match and it was just as terrible as expected. It was all just an excuse to get Stephanie out of the GM chair and put Heyman in.

Lesnar/Undertaker in a Biker Chain match was pretty decent. I always have hated the concept of a weapon on a pole match, as they make a big deal about the first person who retrieves the object off the pole, but it’s not like they automatically win once they get it, or the other person can’t use it. It’s just the weapon is now fair game for both, and isn’t really much of an advantage getting it first, because it’s not like they ever win right after getting the weapon down and using it.

I love watching Survivor Series pay-per-views back in this time, because they actually have Survivor Series matches with a built in storyline and a reason to have them, and not just thrown together today. The RAW one considered the ongoing Austin/Bischoff GM feud that would eventually get Austin kicked off and the SmackDown one was the continuation of the Angle/Lesnar feud. The Lesnar team was hilarious because they somehow got Nathan Jones back from the dead and had the slightly less of a bore of Matt Morgan.

Also, I know Chris Benoit wins the Rumble in a couple month here and I was thinking about it around this time how it seemed so random that they hadn’t even been building Benoit up and was in zero story to speak of. But, then they had Benoit make Lesnar tap out, which was a pretty big deal, and so begins his subtle climb into the serious main event picture and eventually to where he explodes and wins the Rumble and the title (except it was HHH’s).

On the same theme I’ve been paying attention to Eddie Guerrero and his treatment as he’s the one to take the belt off Lesnar in a few months, similar to Benoit, but his rise isn’t quite as apparent. Sure, he’s super over with the fans, but not much is happening storyline wise. I knew he was give up his United States title to Big Show, to clear his way for the WWE title, and for Show to give the title up to Cena at Mania to really get Cena cooking.

Also, it was hilarious how they bring Hardcore Holly back and immediately push him into feuding with Lesnar, like he comes back with these vignettes about being mad that Lesnar was the one to injure him, yet I’m pretty sure nobody remembered that or even cared or knew that Hardcore Holly was gone. I guess they just needed a a stop-gap feud for Lesnar for the Rumble.

The Vince/Undertaker Buried Alive match wasn’t anything special, and obviously just a set-up for Undertaker to return in his Deadman gimmick. This was a pretty underwhelming year for Undertaker, and really had no top feud or main-eventing match, beside the one at No Mercy. The Biker gimmick was getting a bit stale, even though I kinda enjoy it more than most, but it was time for the Deadman to come back.

And then Armageddon was all about putting all the belt on Evolution, because of course. I was so stoked, though, because it’s the beginning of the Randy Orton push and when they start establishing his Legend Killer moniker. I never got to see this stuff and I love this Randy, especially the early days when he was my favourite wrestler when I started watching in 04/05, so I can’t wait to see him keep getting pushed and the eventual Evolution fracturing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Triple H got his title match, with WWE simultaneously satisfying both needs by getting the title off Goldberg and onto HHH, while also giving Kane his shot at the title, which you woulda thought they were going towards earlier with the unmasking, but they kinda just threw it away here. Then to add to the craziness, HHH and HBK would start feuding again after this, with Michaels actually winning the belt over HHH on the last RAW of the year, which I didn’t think they’d actually do, even though it was in his hometown of San Antonio. And so the build to the Rumble and WrestleMania 20 begins.

It is bonkers to me to think that I’ve watched seven years of WWF/E from the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2003 in the real-time frame of a year. I never thought I’d actually watch it this fast, but it’s been a lot of fun (if a bit less so the last few years) to see all this stuff I’ve known bits and pieces of and especially how it all leads into when I started watching. I first started watching right after WrestleMania 20, and while it’ll kinda suck when I eventually get there since I know all the major storylines and where everything goes, I’m looking forward to seeing it with my 2016 eyes and seeing how I remember it.