Sunday, February 4, 2018

Top 10 Matches of January 2018

You know what? Every wrestling site gives its own top matches of the year and rates them. Heck, 411wrestling has a writer doing a top 130!

With that in mind, I'm going to do my own. I watch enough wrestling each month to try it, so let's give this a go!

Please note: I currently record Raw and SmackDown, watch the pay-per-views and NXT: Takeover cards on the WWE Network, watch the major events on NJPW World, and I follow the Friday shows of CMLL on their Youtube channel. Anything else that I see will come from major events I find for free (like AAA's recent Guerra de Titanes card on Twitch) or matches recommended to me. Places like 411 or Cubsfan's Lucha Blog will help with lucha stuff, but for Impact, ROH, RPW, AJPW, NOAH and others, comments on this blog will have to advocate for them.

(Though I will be at the ROH anniversary PPV since it's in a casino near me.)

Anyway, on to the list!

Honorable Mentions:
3.75 Stars (6 matches, Listed Chronologically)
1) Hirooki Goto d. Minoru Suzuki - Hair vs. Hair Lucha de Apuestas for the NEVER Openweight Championship. This match was brutal and did a good job of getting people behind Goto's comeback. I just feel the heat went a bit too long to be believable.
2) Will Osperay d. Marty Scrull, KUSHIDA and Yujiro Takahashi for the IWGP World Junior Heavyweight Championship. Fun match, lots of spots, but much like most four-ways, a mess to follow.
3) Sobernaro Jr. d. Sanson for the Mexican National Welterweight Championship. This is from night one of Fantastica Mania. A high-flying affair with good psychology. Just nothing to put it into the must-see territory.
4) Niebla Roja d. Gran Guerrero for the CMLL Light Heavyweight Championship. From the same night. If I had to choose, I liked Sobernaro's match better, but this one actually had some hard-hitting moments that pushed it to even level.
5) Faby Apache d. Lady Shani for the AAA Reina de Reinas championship. These two decided to just beat the tar out of each other and it was a grand old time. It felt like it ended abruptly, but before that I was having a blast. The bright spot in an otherwise non-stellar card
6) Alestair Black d. Adam Cole at NXT Takeover. A brutal, extreme rules match that had a strong ending. It felt like it should have ended two or three times before it actually did.
4-star matches (2 did not make the list)
12th place) Jay White d. Kenny Omega for the IWGP US Championship. From New Beginning Night 2. It's more notable for the storyline that followed it than the actual match. It's the best I've seen from Jay White, but that's not saying much. Not sold on him yet.
11th place) Asuka wins the Women's Royal Rumble Match. A fun ride with plenty of nostalgia, but the early part of the rumble with the stable members getting in was a slog.

On to the top 10!

10th place: Kazuchika Okada d. Tetsuya Naito for IWGP World Heavyweight Championship

This was the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Admittedly, watching this for the first time after midnight didn't help it, but this felt a little more by-the-numbers than I was expecting. I didn't feel the desire from these two in a way that matched the hype. I do acknowledge it as a must-see match, and have given it a second look, but ultimately, this is the best I can give it.

9th place: Ultimo and Gran Guerrero d. Mistico and Dragon Lee - Fantastica Mania Final Night

This was the final match of a brothers tournament, and it delivered a solid main event. It never excelled into match-of-the-year territory like I was hoping, but all four guys did push each other and the outcome was in doubt the whole way. This is a great introductory match to CMLL tag teams.

8th place: Kota Ibushi d. CODY w/ Brandi Rhodes

This is from Wrestle Kingdom, and it was my match of the night. I really hope the former Cody Rhodes gets a run with a title this year because he has grown into an excellent heel pair alongside his wife. Ibushi remains my favorite Japanese wrestler and wish he'd just settle into a NJPW contract so they could give him a major title run. Honestly, this match suits my taste better than most other people, but it's still a must-see.

7th place: The Undisputed Era d. the Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Team Championship

I legitimately didn't expect anything to top this opening match on the NXT card last week. This was a great classic tag team match. Good psychology, good action, brutality; this match had plenty. I liked the cheap win from the champs, though I would have liked it to have looked a bit better, but a seriously great time.

The following matches are 4.25 stars.
6th place: Shinsuke Nakamura wins the Men's Royal Rumble Match

Nakamura-san's performance from the 14th slot was amplified by an excellent final 6 and final 4 competitors. It's about time WWE booked this thing the right way. It's hard to make a more-than-an-hour match into a MOTYC, but they got close.

5th place: Roppongi 3K d. Young Bucks for the IWGP World Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships

I'm not a fan of these two teams constantly trading the belts, but it is at least distracting from the fact that the division is a wasteland. NJPW seriously needs to invest more in this division because while these teams are getting better with each other every time they square off, that trend will break eventually.

4th place: Minoru Suzuki d. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP IC Championship

The main event of New Beginning Night 1 got its position here almost entirely based on the last 10 minutes. The early match was too slow for me, but the brutality of the last 10 made up for it in spades. My only major gripe with the ending is that wrestling needs to really get away from seeing tapouts as a sign of weakness, especially in one-fall matches. It makes guys with submission finishers feel instantly outdated and less credible. Tanahashi should have tapped, if I'm blunt about it.

The following matches are 4.5 stars.
3rd place: Kenny Omega d. Chris Jericho for the IWGP US Championship

The match that got so much hype really did live up to it. It's worth noting that anything 4.5 or above will get a re-watch at the end of the year, so good on these two for earning that spot. I felt like the match should have ended after the table spot, but they at least made the part after-the-fact feel like time well-spent. Good stuff.

2nd place: Volador Jr. d. Barbaro Cavernario for the NWA Historic Welterweight Championship

This was the main event of Fantastica Mania's penultimate night, and it delivered big time. Cavernario did not grab my attention watching CMLL, but in the hands of a Japanese crowd, he stepped up to a new level. I loved the energy in this match and found a wrestler in Volador Jr. to look forward to on a weekly basis, as I go deeper into CMLL. It's not a super-long match, so give it a viewing.

And the No. 1 match for the month, and the only 5-star match from January 2018 (for now) is...

1st place: Andrade "Cien" Almas d. Johnny Gargano for the NXT Championship

There really couldn't be any other match, honestly. I thought I was going to be disappointed by this match, having only really been tangentially interested in these two before this match, but I was blown away by how good these two are. Most already love Gargano, and I get why. He's a great Rocky Balboa-esque character, making comebacks and pushing his limit. But I think the unsung hero in this match is Almas. He worked a great match as the heel, and Zelina Vega has found a real calling as a heel manager. I look forward to the next Takeover card to see Almas wrestle Alestair Black (in all likelihood), though I doubt it reaches this level.

See you at the end of February!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

NFL Conference Championship teams and their WWE counterparts (Year 8: 2017-18)

NOTE: To see the previous years, follow these links: 2010-112011-122012-132013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17).

It may not seem like it with the rarity of my publishing schedule, but I always look forward to sitting down and writing, and this is an article I am sure to prioritize.

This will be the eighth year of comparing WWE superstars and NFL teams playing for the AFC and NFC titles, but this year sat with me as a challenge this time around. In the last year, my passion for the NFL has waned in favor of the Premier League and the NHL, and my excitement for wrestling has drifted away from the WWE toward the international circuit. I'm subscribed to New Japan World to see all the NJPW events, and I have even taken to watching CMLL shows from Mexico City on their YouTube channel.

I actually started to consider using NJPW wrestlers in favor of WWE wrestlers because I had more interest in it, but WWE is still good at creating defined characters and has a slew of good male and female talent. Plus, the language barrier does make it somewhat difficult for me to fully define the characters of the Japanese talent.

It really took some time to match the NFL's teams this year with their counterparts, but I eventually was able to put this together by making a slight adjustment: The teams this year will be matched with stables, not individual talent. Makes sense, right? Team sport; use wrestling teams.

Let's give this a go!

New England Patriots - The Shield

The Shield made their grand return to WWE television this year, and I have largely thought the idea was a good one. If they want Roman Reigns to be a big deal at WrestleMania, then returning him some popularity by restoring the faction that made him popular was an inspired plan. Shame about the meningitis outbreak and the Dean Ambrose injury botching those plans.

Fact is, though, the Shield is the most successful of WWE stables post-Evolution, not only winning the tag titles multiple times, but also producing World title reigns for all three members. At this point, only Seth Rollins isn't a Triple Crown champion, and he only needs an IC or US title reign for that.

Likewise, New England has been the most successful team in the last decade-plus. Admittedly, the last couple of years have been the failure of the AFC to produce talented challengers, but still, it's an impressive feat.

If the Pats are a long-running contender, then the Shield would be the recent faction that works best.

Jacksonville Jaguars - The Balor Club

I really lucked out that the Balor Club finally became a real thing in the last couple of months, but it is a group that kind of fits the Jags perfectly.

First of all, both have come into their own very recently, at least on television. The Balor Club has a history of success, but it was years ago, in another company, and with a better, cooler name.

Likewise, the Jags history of success pretty much stopped in the early 2000s. Their return to success is welcome, but it does feel a little out of nowhere.

Additionally, while Anderson and Gallows have been limited in their main roster success, Balor was the inaugural WWE Universal Champion before getting injured and shoved down the card. This has made the man fly well under the radar when he should be prominent.

Jacksonville has also been under the radar because defense doesn't catch attention the way that the offense does. But if people aren't careful, both the Club and the Jags will sneak up on you.

Philadelphia Eagles - Absolution

For those who have no idea who Absolution is, they're the stable Paige created upon her return, featuring Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. And yes, this team is getting the nod for the Eagles because their head member, Paige, is on the IR like quarterback Carson Wentz,

It's really hard not to immediately bring the injuries to mind when looking at these two. All I can think of when seeing both is how much better they were early when everyone was healthy and they were dominating.

That said, both teams have shown merit recently with how their non-focal members have handled themselves. Deville and Rose appear like they can be good hands on Raw, and the Eagles have done solid work the last few weeks in earning themselves this NFC title opportunity at home.

It remains to be seen whether Absolution breaks up in the near future, and the Eagles will most likely need to hope for Wentz to return regardless of the result this weekend. But the members that are healthy helped get where they are too, and they deserve the opportunity to make something happen.

Minnesota Vikings - The New Day

These two teams share more than just being excessively colorful and having eating being part of their histories (Booty-O's and the Purple People Eaters).

Both teams have qualities that would make you think they wouldn't be able to succeed, and yet somehow, the combinations make them great.

The Vikings have lost a running back and are using their third choice to lead their offense as quarterback. And yet, I don't think this team would be as successful at full strength and with either Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford behind center. It's just an offense that is efficient and does what it has to do.

The New Day's comedy schtick should have been enough to shove them out of the picture long ago, and yet they remain the biggest tag team act in the company. They probably should have gone over the Shield at Survivor Series, but then again, the Shield are a nostalgia act to some extent, and those always win in WWE... I'm not bitter.

At some point, this team may break and one of them may make a singles run that gets them up the card, but if I'm blunt, I'd rather they be successful in the tag division for as long as humanly possible. As for the Vikings, if I'm assessing honestly, they're the best team still standing.

My pick is the Vikings to win it all, at home, against New England.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

So... About that Sonic Canon...

I know what you are thinking. I post for the first time in ages, and I decide to talk the canon of Sonic the Hedgehog games. Yes, I really do want to go down this road.

As many of the gaming community know, Sonic has gotten his - I'm not kidding here - 26th and 27th games in the core series this year: Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces. Mania was universally acclaimed as a top-notch return to 2D platforming and a must-have deal. Forces is... Not.

To be clear, I have played both. I've nearly beaten Mania for the third time already and just finished Forces two days ago. And yes, Mania is better and almost hilariously so. The jokes about Sonic Team being incapable of making a better game than fan creators are well worth your Internet surf time.

But I can talk about that another day. I can offer my theories about what needs to be done in future Sonic 3D games another day. I can dissect why Sonic's move to the third dimension has been SO MUCH WORSE than Mario's another day. What I want to talk about is the set of cutscenes that made Classic Sonic an alternate dimension.

For those who haven't played yet, I am spoiling story elements, so duck out now of you want to wait until you have the game for yourself.

Anyway, when Classic Sonic arrives, he is said by Tails to be an alternate version of the blue hedgehog, rather than the time-displaced past version of the current one. Later cutscenes clearly introduce the Phantom Ruby from Mania and even lift the sound effects.

This could mean many things, especially since I am still working through the full Forces story, but what I am interpreting from this is that Sega wants the ability to grow Classic Sonic without the canon of Modern getting in the way of their game play and storyline ideas. (I mean, the drop dash was never a modern skill for Sonic, for example). Thus, Classic Sonic gets his own branch in the timeline.

Does this mean no classic games in Modern Sonic? I don't think so. Instead, I think the end of the Genesis/Mega Drive split the timeline.

Here's my theory, the "Core Four" games (Sonic 1, 2, CD and 3&K) are shared. Classic Sonic gets the Game Gear games and Mania, bringing the total to 10 games in the timeline.

Modern Sonic might (but based on gameplay, I'd argue he probably didn't) get the GG games. Instead, after 3&K, 3D Blast and Pocket Adventure were the follow-ups. Adventure-2006 were continuations of the 3D game play, and the Dimps games (Advance-Rush Adventure) continued 2D. When 2D elements entered during Unleashed and Colors, the two styles joined to create the Modern Sonic in his current form.

This would make Sonic 4 (both episodes) a Modern exclusive, and turn Mania into Classic's Sonic 4.

Am I overthinking this? I am overthinking this. Oh well. Already written. Enjoy, Sonic theorists!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

NFL Conference Finalists and their WWE Counterparts (Year 7: 2016-17)

(NOTE: To see the previous years, follow these links: 2010-112011-122012-132013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16.)

This master's degree is a time-eater, guys.

It's been a busy last few months with teaching English, karate (2nd Dan Black Belt now!), and monthly classes for my master's. I also elected to coach basketball for my school. But good news is that my busy season will be wrapping up in March, which means I'll be able to log hours into Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

With any luck, I'll be able to do a year one retrospective for DC Rebirth, which will cover my thoughts on all the titles, and a Zelda retrospective that's been sitting in the drafts for a while. I also have fanfictions that have been gaining subscribers but decomposing for over a year. Summer is going to be a writing binge.

But that's a future event, unfortunately. For now, I can only do scattered posts. And of course, this post was one I was absolutely not going to miss.

This NFL season has been... just... awful. I don't know if it's the CBA or the decreasing talent in college, but I actually avoided watching most games this year. It just wasn't a pleasant watch for the lion's share of the year. Good thing I can focus on soccer and hockey next year (Golden Knights coming in fall!).

By contrast, WWE seems to be in a much better place than last year. Splitting the brands has given each show a unique feel. I have investment in every SmackDown feud, and everything in each of the show's divisions feels well-thought-out and put-together. Oh, and Raw happens each week too.

So for the first time since I started this tradition, I feel like I genuinely care about the wrestler counterparts more than the teams competing. Should make this interesting. Let's go!


Can I just take a minute to give the WWE props for finally realizing that the women's division can be top flight if taken seriously. The feud between Charlotte and Sasha Banks may have been the best thing on Raw in 2016 (from an in-ring perspective. Someone really needs to work on live promos with Charlotte.)

Charlotte is now a four-time Women's World Champion because of that feud, which puts her even with the Patriots, and also like the Pats, fans respect the heck out of Charlotte's accomplishments while finding her to be grating and a cheater.

(Oh please, Pats fans, don't even act like you didn't expect me to throw shade at The Deflater of Balls.)

But yeah, while I don't really like the Patriots or even acknowledge their accomplishments as legitimate, I respect that they got them, whether by hook or by crook. Same for Charlotte. There is something VERY lacking in her ability to speak, and I groan whenever she's alone with a live mic, but I definitely respect her in-ring. She plays the heel brilliantly and makes all the moves look devastating.

Whether loved or hated, both the Pats and Charlotte share large-scale success and should be known as central players in 2016.


Remember when the Steelers used to be defense-heavy? That's not the case this year.

Big Ben and Le'Veon Bell have been tearing it up as a unit, and Pittsburgh has been treated to some high-scoring affairs this year. It says a lot about the front office that this team was able to evolve into something so different from what basically everyone knows about them.

On the Chris Jericho side, the former Lion Heart, former Y2J, former Save_Us guy has a new gimmick: The List of Jericho. How this thing has gotten over I have no idea, but here we are.

This thing is so over it has made it into my classroom. I'm not even kidding. It's where I go to write up bad behavior.

Add in a more ground-based style and you have a career revival for a man who has been in the business for more than two decades. He even has the United States Championship to show for his efforts.

This was a tough call between Jericho and Randy Orton, but I went with Jericho because his success has yielded a singles championship run, and it seems like it will be more memorable than Randy Wyatt.


You know, this was the hardest one to pick this year.

The Packers had a weird season. There were those couple months where they sucked and everyone piled on that Aaron Rodgers was actually terrible.

Remember that whole thing where we all decided Rodgers hated his family and that that had to be the reason he wasn't the BAD MAN Stephen A. Smith thought he was?

And yet, here we are. Once again, it was all about keeping cool and busting out wins. That was what Rodgers did this year. Now it's hard to imagine a time where we thought of Green Bay outside of the contender category (though I still have a hard time buying they are the best the NFC has to offer).

Bliss basically did this in WWE on SmackDown. She was brought in from NXT during the supplemental draft. (Yes, I watched the supplemental draft.) She was greeted with a resounding "Why was Bayley snubbed for you?"

While I thought she was improving, I didn't buy her as especially credible, and the image of Nia Jax laying her out at Survivor Series did not help matters. But against all odds, she is the SmackDown World Women's Champion; has main evented the show in only the second women's cage match in the main company's history; and owns some of the best promos on the Blue Brand.

She's an elite for sure. I still don't see her as Becky Lynch caliber, but she's getting there.

Anyway, time for the last team!


Relax, guys. I'm just screwing with you.


Believe me, I'd love to call out the Falcons as an overrated fraud who is here on blind luck, much like Ellsworth. That said, I do think there actually are some legitimate reasons the Falcons got here and skills that are worth noting.

Talent-wise, the Falcons are strong enough to contend. Matt Ryan has had a career renaissance this year. And his offense is strong enough to score on anyone.

This team is certainly deserving of respect. It just so happens, though, that they pad their record bt playing in the worst division of the NFL, have a history of screwing up royally, and lack a quality that indicates (at least to me) that they can hang at the grandest stages.

Owens at least doesn't have that issue. I know from his skills in the ring and on the mic that he could carry a show. Thing is, he doesn't. He's paired with Chris Jericho, which limits his ability to be seen as his own man.

Additionally, he's never been the focal point of the show despite holding the WWE Universal Championship for months. The focus has been on the women's feuds, or whatever Roman Reigns is doing, or Goldberg. He just habitually is lost in the shuffle.

Sound familiar? Between the Packers' resurgence, the Seahawks' known ability to be a threat. the Giants and their weird Florida yacht club, and the Cowboys in general, did you even realize the Falcons were in the playoffs, let alone as a No. 2 seed?

Honestly, looking at the final four teams this year, I can say for certain that this has been one of football's least interesting years for me. I'm rooting for Packers-Steelers round 2, but after the silliness of last week's locker room shenanigans with Pittsburgh, I'll expect the Super Bowl XXXI rematch of Green Bay vs. New England. Here's hoping for a repeat of the result, too.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Comic Blog Rebirth: DC Rebirth #1

Those who know me know that this blog has fallen into a state of inconsistency since I started training to become a teacher. Well, my first year is over and I have summer now to get myself back into a groove!

It's actually great timing that this last week of summer tutoring has happened because I am still in a position to tackle DC Comics' biggest alteration since the 2011 Flashpoint book - DC Rebirth.

If you followed my early blogs on here, you would know that I began reviewing comics (and returning to the medium as a whole) because of the DC universe-wide reboot that Flashpoint caused. The "New 52," as it was called, has been in effect for the entire four (almost five) years that I've been following DC's books, and while I absolutely loved the books I purchased over the years, there is no question that returning to comics and exploring that which came before has affected my view of the New 52.

Reading the Ted Kord era of the Blue Beetle solo series made me lament the fact that a character so focused on his legacy and using his power to help those less fortunate was not around for me to enjoy new stories of him. The New Teen Titans books of the 1980s, easily my favorite running series that has been retired, have left me unable to enjoy the melodrama that the modern incarnations of the Titans have attempted to pass of as nuanced character arcs.

And while I may have been an infrequent comic reader as a kid, whenever I think of the Flash in print or broadcast media, I think of the personality reflected in the Wally West Flash, the only Flash I knew until I started looking at the New 52. The fact that he was gone threw me for a loop, and his initial return as a moody whiner left me unable to get into Flash comics when he returned.

So I've stuck with books where I could trust the creative teams - Greg Pak's Action Comics, the Lemire-Sorrentino run on Green Arrow, Scott Snyder's Batman, and so forth. I became less willing to branch out because I knew a creative change could kill the momentum of a book dead in its tracks.

DC Rebirth, though not a proper reboot, is a chance to give the books a fresh start creatively and tie back to the main narrative when unsure where to go next. Think how Infinite Crisis didn't reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths; it just added stuff back in that had been lost.

I am getting all the "Rebirth" books to get a feel for how each hero/heroine/team will be handled, and I will be auditioning new books to follow now that Rebirth is running. And I can already see a major problem - everyone is on their A-game.

I can't buy all these books consistently, so I feel like I'll be cutting muscle when I narrow my purchases down. Fact is, though, that DC is now doing a lot of books with twice-monthly schedules. Even with the uniform cut down to $3 a book (which I LOVE. PLEASE KEEP THIS, DC!), that's two books per title in some cases, which will eat up two slots I can afford.

Anyway, enjoy over the next few weeks my binge-reading of many books at once. Admittedly, my summer reviews will be like rapid-fire thoughts until I narrow my field of titles (and summarize my thoughts on the final New 52 books I bought and have yet to read), but I think it will be a fun journey.

My first rapid-fire will end this blog, and it will be on the DC Universe Rebirth one-shot that started this whole thing.

This book was, in all likelihood, the final Geoff Johns-penned title for quite some time. Johns, who has been a major force in DC creative for some time, is now being asked to oversee creative for both the TV and film universes, which means his time writing books will be very limited in the coming years. My guess is that his main writings from here on in will be his Batman: Earth One graphic novels. (Don't give those up, Geoff!)

Anyway, this story is told from the perspective of Wally West. Not New 52 Wally, mind you, but the original, humorous, optimism-in-the-face-of-the-darkness Wally West. This story reminded me on a few occasions of Terminal Velocity, which is my favorite Flash story, and that's absolutely not a bad thing.

What tied it to Terminal Velocity was Wally's conflict of trying to stay around despite the speed force seemingly seeking his doom. Wally is fighting through three-quarters of this book trying to find someone who remembers him so he can anchor himself back into the world. His relentless attitude to keep pushing in the face of an increasingly hopeless situation is admirable and certainly one that many Flash fans will recognize as being so distinctly Wally.

His attempts to reach Batman first lead to a unique encounter where Bruce does not recognize Wally but can tell the speedster is aware of something worth noting. There was a weird Batman v. Superman vibe to this sequence, as it reminded me way too much of the Barry Allen dream sequence in Bruce's mind, but it was handled much better here because there was an actual reason for the scene to exist and pre-existing characterization that made the motivations work.

What was less brilliant was the idea that three Jokers are around and have just never run into each other. This has to have been a recent development following the events of Multiversity or something. (As I said, I can't read every book and I do tend to avoid books that feel like event comics.) One cool thing to note, though, is that the story seemed to reference all three Joker incarnations (pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, post-Flashpoint), which is cool.

I also liked the check-ins with the Justice Society and the post-Crisis Superman, who it seems will be taking over as the main DC Earth's Superman. The scene-stealing section, though, was the third part, where Aquaman finally proposes to Mera (in defiance of DC's 'no happy couples' edict) and it inspires Wally to talk to Linda Park who... does not remember him.

I will admit - that was a good spirit-breaker for the story. It also led to a great sequence where Wally oversees his Earth one more time. He explains how two Wally Wests can exist, which is great for those who have grown to care for the new Wally.

His final conversation is a heart-to-heart with Barry Allen, which I thought was handled beautifully. Of course, this review is weeks old so you know all the big moves that happened.


Barry finally remembers and anchors Wally, so now Wally is back in the DCU. He says someone has affected the memories of the Earth and that the heroes need to be ready to take the force on, and it's revealed that Batman discovered the bloody smiley face from Watchmen in his cave, which makes no sense why it's there, but it does reveal Dr. Manhattan to be the antagonistic force behind the New 52.

Honestly, I'm taking a wait and see approach with the Dr. Manhattan thing. It's a great idea from a meta-standpoint. Watchmen did help take superhero comics in a grittier, more 'realistic' direction, and DC Comics at its best has always embraced the over-the-top and crazy as much as it has the dark and grim.

On the other hand, it's disrespectful to Alan Moore to keep milking a franchise that has effectively been held hostage by the company, and this crossover could easily go catastrophically wrong. I'll withhold my judgment for now.

As for Wally being back and the older continuity elements being worked back in... I am all in favor of it. While I've enjoyed the New 52 book I follow, there are plenty of elements that have left me ambivalent. Giving the legacies back to the books puts some new emotional spectra at play, and with any luck this will give the creative teams plenty with which to work.

Overall, I gave this story a 9/10. Good start to the new era.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

NFL Conference Finalists and their WWE Counterparts (Year 6: 2015-16)

Oh, how I've missed this.

For those who didn't read my on-and-off wrestling blog when it was getting occasional updates, one constant was the annual article where I took the four teams who qualified for the AFC and NFC conference championship games and selected current WWE Superstars whose persona and performance best emulated those teams.

If you'd like more of a picture of what it looked like, you can check out my articles for 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Those who elected to follow these links will notice last year's was a bit of a chore because of WWE's lackluster booking making it so that I couldn't create anything resembling hype for the wrestling part of this wrestling-football equation.

I have solved the problem this year.

Don't get me wrong: The current WWE product is still an absolute nightmare. Awesome characters are being shoved down the card. The Authority is putting itself on the screen far too often. The "Divas Revolution" is the same nonsensical booking with a face-heel alignment that makes no sense (though at least the matches are better, I guess). And almost every notable Superstar is shelved with an injury.

So what have I done to fix it? Suck it up and just enjoy the product? Of course not!

Throw up a bunch of RKO Vine videos? Please, I was going to do that anyway.

Maybe some "And his name is JOHN CENA" videos? Heck no! I've got that page bookmarked. Here's a sample:

In all seriousness, though, I do have a solution: Use NXT's Superstars instead!

I thoroughly enjoy NXT and have tremendous respect for the product. It's still owned by WWE, so I don't feel like I'm cheating by going outside the company. And who knows? Some of these guys may end up in the Royal Rumble match.

The only rule I set for myself is that the competitor must have been an active member of the NXT roster for a period of time this past year. No one-shot deals or guest spots. NXT had to be their home base.

(For the record, if I'd gone with WWE guys, I'd have used Cena for the Patriots, Roman Reigns for the Panthers, Seth Rollins for the Broncos and Dean Ambrose for the Cardinals. I've used Cena far too often and while it would be cool to mention all three Shield members, I don't feel like all three are as fitting as the NXT competitors are.)

So let us move on to the main event!

New England Patriots - Kevin Owens

So when it came to finding an NXT force to take the Patriots' run, I asked myself a few questions:

Who won the title and proceeded to continue being a dominant force?
Who can win clean and yet insists on playing the cowardly heel role and putting themselves in obvious cheating positions?
Who loves to win, whether by technicality or brutality?
Who is identified by many fans as part of a unit (Belichick and Brady; Steen and Generico)?

The answer to all those questions is New England.

Though it continues to irritate me that this team is still showing up in major spots, and though I still stick to my guns that the Pats would not be the current defending champions had ball deflation never been an issue, I have no gripes with giving the former NXT Champion and easily the most successful NXT-to-WWE transfer in the last year to the champs.

And heck, Owens got famous in WWE by beating Cena, so this is just perfect in many ways.

Now for the opponent. And speaking of names joined at the hip:

Denver Broncos - Sami Zayn

If one thing on Twitter irritated me in 2015 more than anything it was those stupid Zayn hashtags. The reason being that it annoyed me that the most enjoyable male wrestler on the NXT roster gets zero hashtags in favor of a dude no longer in the now-defunct boy band who made him famous.

Denver, too, gets overlooked, though it's mostly been due to Peyton Manning being absent from the team for the middle of the season. His injuries were a plague on a Bronco unit seemingly destined for success early in the season.

Likewise, Sami Zayn's star, which had been rising into the main roster this past spring, hurled itself back to earth after his injuries forced him out of a roster call-up and NXT title reign.

Nonetheless, don't assume that Zayn and the Broncos both belong in the scrap heap. Zayn is back and making noise in NXT once again, and the newly-restored Broncos surged at the end of the season to take the No. 1 seed.

Zayn and Owens could have been the feud of 2015 had Zayn been healthy, and it's only fitting that their NFL analogues feature Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as quarterbacks.

One heck of a match-up awaits fans on Sunday.

Now for the NFC Championship Game:

Arizona Cardinals - Baron Corbin

I almost feel like I'm cheating here. Who should be the Cardinals' representative? How about the guy who actually played for them?

Kind of weird, right?
But let's be clear here: That is not the only reason I picked Corbin. It's the main one, but he works here in other ways.

Corbin is an absolute force and appears like he could be a real player at the main roster level. His offense packs an awesome punch and the man is deceptively nimble despite being known for power.

Likewise, the Cardinals' unit, built by head coach Bruce Arians, is a major threat. The team owns a suffocating defense (until they lost a linebacker, anyway) and an offense that can rack up the points.

The drawbacks for both is the inability to show success in major tests. I will grant that in Corbin's case it's because 90 percent of his 2015 matches were squashes and in Arizona's case it's because Carson Palmer simply hasn't had many playoff opportunities. Regardless, the comparison is fitting.

I would not be shocked to see Corbin or Arizona hold titles in 2016.

On now to the final team, whose counterpart is a trailblazer for this blog:

Carolina Panthers - Sasha Banks

Yes, everybody, after years of waiting, there is finally a female wrestler deserving of a spot on this blog!

In spite of WWE's attempts to kill any momentum NXT's ladies had when joining the main roster, there is no changing what we all saw during the NXT Takeover specials. What we saw was the dawn of a competitor worthy of being the next big draw in this company.

Though I don't consider Sasha's to be the top of the Four Horsewomen in terms of actual wrestling (Becky holds that mark), intimidation (Charlotte) or authentic likability (Bayley), Sasha is a master at getting the exact crowd reactions she desires and possesses the "X" factor that so few can claim to have. When her music hits and she walks in, there's no doubt who owns the room.

Over the last year, Sasha has produced five matches that topped anything the WWE Diva roster produced in the previous eight years. And it comes from her ability to push the pace, beat opponents in a variety of ways, and taunt in just the right way.

And geez, if any NFL star is getting under people's skin for taunting, it's Cam Newton. His touchdown celebrations are a thing of brilliance, getting on people's nerve in that 'right' way that makes him a must-see player.

The team can win through the air (though it's harder because of the receiving core), on the ground or through the defense. They are the total package and my pick to take the title this year.

I hope everyone enjoyed this year's entry in the NFL-WWE saga, and to close out I give you my picks for WWE's ill-timed Royal Rumble card! (Seriously, nothing is happening next week. Who the heck decided to run this during the NFC title game?)

WWE World Tag Team Championship - New Day defends successfully vs. The Usos
United States Championship - Alberto Del Rio defends successfully vs. Kalisto
Intercontinental Championship - Dean Ambrose defends successfully vs. Kevin Owens
WWE World Women's Championship (I refuse to call it Divas title) - Becky Lynch beats Charlotte by DQ, leaving Charlotte as champion
WWE World Heavyweight Championship/Royal Rumble Match - Brock Lesnar wins championship

Sunday, January 17, 2016

UFC Fight Night: Dillashaw vs. Cruz preview

Dominick Cruz came onto the UFC scene a few years ago when the company absorbed the WEC bantamweight division. He lost the title, not because he was bested by an opponent, but because he suffered an unfortunate injury. And then another. And then another.

Cruz has been a tad injury-prone since it was announced that he was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. To date, fans everywhere still must wonder how the fight would have gone between Urijah Faber and him.

Nonetheless, the man who has fought one time in five years is finally getting a shot at regaining his title when he faces TJ Dillashaw for the UFC World Men's Bantamweight Championship.

Cruz's most recent fight was two years ago and it barely lasted a minute. He's going to be dealing with ring rust. The question will be whether Cruz's incredible ability to frustrate and out-strike his opponents has carried over after all these years.

In many ways, Dillashaw is the replacement for Cruz in terms of style. The two each have an unorthodox style and can frustrate their opponents. Cruz certainly has done it longer, but Dillashaw has earned his stripes since dominating Renan Barao twice in his last three fights.

Most of the time, my pick would be Cruz, but the gap in time is so great that I can't say he's the same fighter I remember. I'll take Dillashaw by decision, but take it with a grain of salt.

Also on the card is a clash between Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez. The winner will most likely be in position for a title shot once fight is over between Rafael dos Anjos and...

Oh hi, Conor.

This should be a clash of strikers for certain, but Pettis is far from a slouch on the ground, so be ready for that. My pick is Pettis by KO 2 to earn his return match for the lightweight crown.

Rest of the Main Card

Heavyweight Bout: Travis Browne vs. Matt Mitrione - Taking Browne on this one by KO 1.

Lightweight Bout: Ross Pearson vs. Francisco Trinaldo - Pearson wins in a secure decision.