Saturday, March 17, 2018

CMLL Homenaje a Dos Leyendas review/Intro to CMLL events

Read my top matches of January and February lists! Read my review of the Ring of Honor 16th Anniversary.

CMLL had its Homenaje a Dos Leyendas pay per view event on Friday, and seeing how I laid down $5 to watch it, I figure I should give my thoughts on the event.

It dawns on me, though, that if I had no idea about CMLL's wrestlers or format before getting into it, then most probably don't. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter and 411Mania don't really cover Mexican wrestling. Except for some people at Voices of Wrestling, the Cubsfan's Lucha Blog, and MLW's Lucha Talk podcast, I really don't see a lot of help on lucha libre from the English-speaking front.

As such, I figure I should work in some details about CMLL and background as I go over the matches from this card.

I'll start with what it is. Homenaje a Dos Leyendas is CMLL's second-biggest card of the year, like WWE Summerslam or NJPW's Dominion. It's one of the only cards they are sure to put on annually.

Each HDL honors two influences on the lucha libre world. CMLL founder Salvador Lutteroth is always one of the two, and this year's second legend is Mil Mascaras, a first-time honoree.

Sofia Alonso, left, along with Mil Mascaras (with mic)
Between the third and fourth matches, Mil was officially presented with a plaque and honored alongside Lutteroth's great-granddaughter, Sofia Alonso.

It's worth noting that CMLL is a family-owned business. Current owner Paco Alonso is the third generation to run the company (Salvador and Chavo Lutteroth). Sofia is in charge of marketing and seems likely to be the next owner when Paco retires.

She must be fairly competent because while my Spanish is still developing, he definitely spoke kindly about Sofia. From what I read online, he said she specifically brought him back into the fold. If so, good for her.

Anyway, on to the six-match card! I'll probably never say that again because with CMLL, it's ALWAYS a six-match card. The Friday night cards that CMLL runs at its own Arena Mexico are the company's 'A'-show, and the only weeks where six matches aren't the norm are tournament weeks.

Audaz, Flyer, Star Jr. d. Virus, Disturbio, Templario (2-1) - CMLL usually starts with either a four-man or six-man tag match featuring mini-Estrellas (wrestlers under 150 lbs) or low-card guys. It's worth noting that CMLL was NWA's Mexican territory for years, and it shows by the way the company believes in not out-shining the featured bouts. Usually, the opener is not allowed to do dives or other major spots so the crowd doesn't burn out early.

Not so for the major cards, though, I guess. This was excellent. Audaz has been pushed heavily, being honored with a new mask and name in January. He served as the captain for his team, which consisted of Star Jr, who I've only seen perform at Fantastica Mania, and Flyer, who I enjoy from his matches at the Monday Arena Puebla shows. Opposing them were Virus, a veteran rudo (heel) who is great at generating heat, fellow veteran Disturbio, and young, knight-gimmicked Templario, who I really enjoy.

Worth noting right now is how matches set up in CMLL. Técnicos (faces) and Rudos are in separate locker rooms and come out of different entrance sides (faces left, heels right). CMLL operates on old Texas territory rules: tag matches dominate the scene, and matches are 2 out of 3 falls unless otherwise noted. In trio matches, CMLL designates team captains. To score a fall, either the captain must take the fall, or both of the other members must be pinned/submitted.

The first and second falls seemed to get more time than normal, and Star Jr. pinned Virus with a frog splash to get his team the first fall. For the second, Star Jr was pinned following Disturbio hitting him in the corner with a double knee. Flyer got pinned when Templario did a dive from the elevated ramp into the ring.

The final fall saw dives that don't normally get to take place in the opening match, and the fall came when Star Jr. caught Disturbio with a top-rope kick, and Audaz wrapped around Templario for an armlock submission. It kind of reminded me of the Black Widow that AJ Lee used to do.

Anyway, this was the best opener I've seen from CMLL. Everyone was motivated and pushed the pace. 3.5 stars

Dallys, Zeuxis, La Seductora d. Princesa Sugheit, Kaho Kobayashi, Marcela (2-1) - The rudas picked up the win in this match. CMLL's women's division is like WWE's in the early 2000s: plenty of talent, but it's shoved to the back of the card and the booking can be nonsensical.

Everyone in this match is a solid hand except La Seductora, who was thankfully limited in her action after the first fall. But geez, this first fall got ruined by her segment. It was so slow and telegraphed the moves could have been called from space. I really wish Reyna Isis had waited to start her three months in Japan until after this card so she could have been in Seductora's role. Anyway, Marcela picked up a pin on Seductora with a Coup d'Grace, and Sugheit submitted Zeuxis to win the first fall.

Kaho Kobayashi is on a three-month stay in Mexico and is a great talent. She is the CMLL-REINA champion, but with REINA being infrequent, this has been a better use of her talents. Still, she has been getting the brunt of the beatings because of her smaller size. Zeuxis pinned her following a series of double knees, and Seductora walked the ropes (with Zeuxis as a balance) to hit a frog splash on Marcela.

The third pin saw Seductora pushed to the background, so energy picked up. Sugheit and Kobayashi eventually got submitted by Dallys and Zeuxis to earn the win. It was a good women's showcase, but a real storyline needs to develop for these girls. There are more than enough to make a good division, but something needs to happen. 2.75 stars

Rush, Mistico, Dragon Lee d. Mascara Año 2000, Forastero, Sanson (2-0) - This is a clash of two families, as the Munoz family (captained by Rush) took on Dinamitas' clan (led by MA2000). Worth noting on the Munoz boys: Rush is the founder and leader of Los Ingobernables, who have a Japanese branch that is huge in NJPW; Mistico was originally called Dragon Lee, but when the original Mistico moved to WWE and became Sin Cara, he took on the mantle and his brother became Dragon Lee. Now, the original Mistico is back under the name Caristico. Let all that sink in...

For the first fall, Dragon Lee stomped Forastero for a pin while Mistico submitted Sanson. MA2000 is by far the weakest of the six in this match, but he actually took a big bump that then allowed him to be featured minimally. Good booking work here.

The match went into full brawl mode between falls. It's about at this point that I realized the crowd was one of those bizarro world hardcore crowds that roots for the rudos. They were intensely behind Los Dinamatas here and even turned on Rush, who was técnico by default tonight. MA2000 got in minimal offense before Rush got in a dropkick and used the ropes as leverage to score a straight-fall victory. I love straight-fall victories and wish more would happen. This was essentially a 3-on-2 handicap match much of the way, and the booking was very smart. Good work. 3.75 stars.

Atlantis, Niebla Roja, Matt Taven d. Ultimo Guerrero, Gran Guerrero, Euforia (2-1) - Atlantis has been struggling with knee problems and being well over 50 years old. Matt Taven is still shaking off the stink of his ROH 16th Anniversary performance in my view, and the first fall was almost completely lost due to a bad PPV stream. This match was in a rough spot.

For the positive, Niebla Roja got a showcase before accompanying his brother to the ring for the main event. The two Guerreros are consistent top-of-the-card talents even in their 40s, and Euforia is being set up for a lucha de apuestas at the Arena Puebla shows, so there were good aspects to this match.

The first fall, of which only the end was caught, featured the rudos winning via triple submission pose... Yeah... Second fall saw Atlantis hit an actual dive spot outside the ring. It's impressive due to his age, his injuries, and the fact that he has long since moved into "maestro lucha" style, which is more ground-based. Anyway, Taven splashed Euforia and Roja eliminated Gran to even the match.

The third fall was quick and painless. Atlantis pinned Ultimo to win the match. Overall, hard to tell if this was a good match or not. It had its positives but it was weak in a lot of spots. 2.25 stars seems fair.

CMLL World Tag Team Championship: Volador Jr./Valiente d. Terrible/Rey Bucanero - CMLL's tournaments are an interesting thing. They take place over the course of three shows and consist of 16 competitors in two blocks of eight. The first two weeks feature a block-wide battle royal to set seeding, followed by a series of one-fall, single-elimination matches to decide block winners. This match is the 2-of-3-fall final of a tournament for the vacated titles.

Volador is already CMLL World Trios Champion and NWA Historic Welterweight Champion, so it didn't make sense for this team to win, especially with Valiente filling in for Caristico. But then, Terrible just joined Los Ingobernables and broke up his team with the Pirate King. So unless they planned to swerve everyone and have Bucanero join LI, I'm not sure who thought this was a good set of tag teams for this match.

Terrible, being a more grounded luchador, and Bucanero, being very limited, did not match with the style the other two wanted at all. The first fall came very early, when Bucanero tapped out Valiente with an arm lock, and Volador got hit with a Styles clash by Terrible. (Oh yeah, both members must fall to score in a four-man tag.)

Valiente got revenge by submitting Bucanero in the next fall while and looked like he knocked Terrible's wind out. The third fall is where the pace finally quickened, and we got some real wrestling. Volador got a roll up pin after a second submission fall from Valiente on Bucanero. Overall, this match was a disappointment. I enjoyed the Parejas Increibles tournament earlier this year, and that had a MOTYC as a final match. This one was merely good. 3 stars.

Lucha de Apuestas - Mask vs. Mask: Cuatrero d. Angel de Oro - Niebla Roja, who lost his mask last year, accompanied his brother to ringside, while the rest of the Dinamitas clan watched Cuatrero. This match was made to be a big deal for weeks and it paid off here in spades.

They told a great story from the beginning, as Angel de Oro tried to dive outside the ring to blindside Cuatrero to start the match and failed, allowing the rudo to beat him down for nearly three minutes before scoring the first fall, submitting him with an upside-down bear hug. Sanson tried to help Cuatrero win in straight falls, but when it got into the ring, Angel racked up enough offense to get some breathing room. He eventually submitted Cuatrero to level the match.

Angel took Cuatrero outside the ring between falls and dove off the staging area to hit Cuatrero. There were a lot of near falls, with Angel nearly locking in the same full-body submission he used in the second fall again for the third, but he was weakened and couldn't hold the body weight. Cuatrero eventually got the pinfall to protect his mask.

Honestly, with how the Dinamatas clan all have similar matches, it is probably best the family stable keeps their matching white and black masks. Plus, Angel de Oro without a mask looks like a more square-jawed Niebla Roja, so the two could be a great matching tag team.

I love the CMLL's lucha de apuestas setup. It's played as a big deal, and they never back down on the gimmick. It's enacted immediately. There was real emotion when Angel de Oro asked for his parents to come down and untie the mask on his behalf. Another great thing about lucha de apuestas in Mexico is that the athletic commissions do not release luchador names, so Angel de Oro had no identity under the mask until the loss. For the record, he is 29-year-old Miguel Angel Chavez Velasco.

This is why the mask is so key in lucha, I think. The quick moves, the high-flying, the masks that conceal a secret identity... They all serve to make luchadors into true superheroes, and their matches like real-life superhero-supervillain battles. Think back to when Spider-Man revealed himself in Civil War. It was controversial not only in the story world, but in real life. Fans were divided on the choice and it even made national news. Angel de Oro's mask may be smaller in scale, but the idea of a hero and villain putting their identities on the line is rife with comic book ties.

As for the match, it's a must-see. It fell slightly short of MOTY contention for me, but it's a sure-fire top 10 entry for March unless the next two weeks go completely crazy with quality. 4.25 stars.

Overall, this show was well worth the $10 price of admission. Three matches well worth watching and a new pair of champions, in addition to hearing from Mil Mascaras. Not a bad night. This is also why full-priced pay-per-views are dying. Between the WWE Network, NJPW World, and the fact that CMLL airs 50 free Friday shows and 2-3 $10 PPV events, there is more than enough quality wrestling to not seek full-priced cards anymore.

But yeah, CMLL did good work with this card, and I recommend it. I don't rate shows on any kind of scale. Instead I just give the average match rating. If you need a 1-10 scale, just double my average. Yeah, no card will ever approach a perfect 10, but on a good note, anything above a 6 is worth your time.

Average Match Score: 3.25
Doubled for an out-of-10 score: 6.5/10

Ring of Honor 16th Anniversary Live Review

Read my top matches of January and February lists!

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to finally attend a Ring of Honor show. It's been some time since I followed ROH with any type of regularity, but thanks to their working relationships with New Japan and CMLL, I have been able to keep up on what the major feuds are, and I had an idea that the show was going to have some good stuff on it.

ROH has been coming to my area - the Las Vegas metropolitan area - for a few years now, and from what I've read of old reviews, they tend to put on a good show, so I made sure to pay attention to the storylines this year and... Has the anniversary card stopped mattering?

It's one month away from Supercard of Honor, which I feel is getting far better matches and more buzz. The anniversary card, I had come to understand, was one of the four quarterly major cards. Still, there were some good matches, and the card looked more trustworthy than the Elimination Chamber card that happened the week before, so I paid the $35 for my ticket and made the trek to Sam's Town with my brother and 2 cousins.

First things first: Sam's Town is a surprisingly good wrestling venue. This is the only casino that does watch parties for WWE events, and as one of the oldest casinos (not only for Boyd Gaming, but the city as a whole), it shows its age constantly. It was built to look like an old saloon and the smoke that fills the video poker area certainly maintains that image.

That said, their staging area was large enough for the full setup, and there really aren't any bad seats in the building. My only gripe is that the second biggest wrestling company in the US really should be able to fill more than a 750-capacity ballroom/convention hall at the Casino that Time Forgot. Why not the Cox Pavilion? It only seats 2,500-3,000, it's closer to the Strip, and UNLV seems receptive to charging decent rates.

I got there about a half hour before the rest of my group because I wanted to see the pre-show festivities. The Kingdom was shouting a bunch of cult-like madness at the merchandise table, and SoCal Uncensored's members were signing copies of a comic book in the main area. I chose to pay a little extra for the meet and greets since I'd never tried one.

I met three of the talents: Hiromu Takahashi, Tenille Dashwood and Cody Rhodes. Takahashi seems pleasant enough. There was a language barrier, but he carried himself cordially. Dashwood was nice, but her match was a half hour away at that point so she did try to move people along quickly. Rhodes was absolutely a great guy. He was one to make a show of all his meet-ups and make them memorable. We talked about Stephen Amell and his "Dashing" gimmick. Fun stuff.

Anyway, on to the card itself:

Pre-show: WOH Tournament Eighth-Final: Sumie Sakai d. Hana Kimura - This match was more posturing than anyone else. The story was that 20-year-old Kimura tried to sell the arena and the tournament as her time, and that Sakai was no longer relevant. This led to a lot of taunting and a very slow match. It was decent in places, but I am surprised Sakai went over here. Why bring a young talent in from Japan if she's only there for one pre-show match that lasts less than 10 minutes? Oh well. 2 stars.

Pre-show: WOH Tournament Quarterfinal: Tenille Dashwood d. Brandi Rhodes - Clash of former WWE talents here. Dashwood came across as far more adept here, as she should have. The match was shorter, and moved a little quicker because the taunts were more blended into the action.
2 stars

My brother and cousins arrived just before this match, so I'll include their reactions to the main card, as their perspective is unique. Of the three, only one has watched any ROH this year, and even he had only seen 2-3 episodes. I actually follow it closer than any of them.

Main card time!

Hiromu Takahashi d. Flip Gordon - I'm not a big Flip fan, but he brought it more than usual tonight. Takahashi did his comedy with Daryl, but it wasn't too in-your-face, so it was fine. I was impressed with it. This is where I had a disagreement with my group. They all enjoyed Flip's style and thought Takahashi was breaking the action. I thought Takahashi wrestled a consistent match while Flip just tried to be over the top. Overall, a good match, though. 3.25 stars.

Marty Scrull d. Punishment Martinez - We all agreed, however, that this was the match of the night. Both men came out swinging and thoroughly impressed me. I knew Scrull was going to be good (and his entrance is amazing live), but I had never heard of Martinez. His match here made me a fan quickly. He reminds me of a more competent Baron Corbin, and that's a high compliment. Nothing on the card came close to this. 4 stars.

ROH TV Championship: Kenny King (c) d. Silas Young - It was in this match that I realized this was not a local crowd. King is a local boy who I've actually seen make appearances at FSW shows. He should have been big here, and my group certainly tried to cheer him on. That said, this building must have had a lot of Wisconsinites and midwesterners because Silas got a lot of support. A "Last Real Man" gimmick should NOT be getting face pops, but here we are. It threw off the match to me, and it wasn't going that well to begin with. They mustered a decent effort on talent, but it's not a must-watch. 2.5 stars

ROH 6-man Tag Team Championship: SoCal Uncensored d. Hung Bucks (c) - This match felt like an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight tag team bout: a spotfest. The match had everyone invested early on, but by the time they started setting up multiple table spots and the spot with the metal barriers, it started to feel contrived and I started losing interest. At one point my youngest cousin and I both heckled Kazarian for taking a punch, clearly laying down on a table unforced, and waiting nearly 30 seconds for his opponent to scale a ladder and jump off onto him. It looked so bad. Maybe it came across better on TV. For me, it's a top-flight spotfest, but there's a limit to that, and that limit is 3.5 stars

Cody d. Matt Taven - I am a huge Cody fan, and I looked forward to this, but this was a disappointment. Taven and The Kingdom are not interesting in any way, and this actually made me unsure of the CMLL pay-per-view since Taven was booked on the card.

The All-In bear thing was odd, but it made sense by the end when Kenny Omega revealed himself. Because I don't keep up with all the promos online, the Omega-Brandi kiss confused me, but having gotten the full context it makes more sense. Kind of. Worth noting: Some jerk jumped the guardrail and had to be carried out during Cody's entrance, and you can see Brandi and the bear waiting at the top of the entrance ramp until it gets taken care of. Not sure if it showed up on PPV, but it was interesting nonetheless. 2.5 stars

ROH Tag Team Championship: The Briscoes d. Motor City Machine Guns (c) - Admittedly, this was the match I looked forward to the most. I loved the MCMGs in TNA, and the Briscoes know tag wrestling. Because of this, I felt very let down by the brawling-type match they had. I know there is a better match in these two team, and the fact that it went so short and barely used any traditional tag-team wrestling disappointed me. Hopefully a rematch will give a better performance. 3 stars

ROH Championship: Dalton Castle d. Jay Lethal - I had a lot of fun with the crowd in this match. One of my cousins absolutely loathed the fact that a gimmick that was so over-the-top could take the title, so he began openly dumping on Castle throughout the match. Since we all liked Lethal from his TNA days anyway, all four of us joined in. The ROH hardcores in the row in front of us gave us multiple sideways looks, and having now seen an ROH crowd, I take that as a badge of honor.

As for the match itself, it was ok. Technically, there wasn't anything bad in it, but Lethal's heat segment ran a long time and never felt convincing. Castle never did anything to grab my interest, and combined, the two's effort became wasted as the match never entered 'great' territory. Not really worth going out of your way to see, but good enough, I guess. 3.25 stars

As to the crowd itself, I like the "us against the world" mentality the crowd has, and Bubba Ray Dudley is a great enforcer to push that narrative, but the company clearly has flaws that the crowd exacerbates. No one's face or heel work functions right because the crowd does whatever they please. In many ways, ROH fans remind me of ECW's fanbase: They recognize quality, and they are great support, but they overwhelm the show and cause the wrestlers to do too much. It makes the show very hard for newer people to get into because the crowd, wrestlers and announcers are all pushing different agendas.

Big spots are blown way early in the card, so the show feels like it peaks in the first hour. Later matches have to contrive increasingly ridiculous ways to push the envelope, and it leads to laughable spots like in the 6-man tag match. And with a face-heel dynamic that's fluid, the storyline is lost and you can only judge on the quality of moves.

Channel Awesome just talked about the movie Legend for "Tamara's Never Seen", and I think the problem with ROH is summarized in their review of the movie. Production values can be great, everyone can be acting at 100 percent, and the direction/cinematography can be gorgeous; however, if you forget to provide a story for people to follow, the whole thing becomes a boring mess. A beautiful boring mess, but a boring mess nonetheless. ROH isn't at that point yet, but there are plenty of signs of this company losing the narrative of their own feuds.

Don't let this critique take away from the fun of the show. I actually did have a great time, and my whole group agreed it was a better use of time and money than Elimination Chamber. I would definitely check out another ROH show if the storylines and matches get me invested.

Here's hoping ROH play their cards right so I'm back at the 17th anniversary.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Top 10 matches of February 2018

Check out January's list here.

February was a much less successful month than January. Without any major shows in the month, most wrestling companies showcased transitional feuds to set up their more notable shows in March and April.

Nonetheless, there were some quality matches, and I will still give my top 10 (or top 9 + 1 because only the top nine are, in my opinion, must-see TV).

Here we go!

Honorable Mentions (all at 3.75 stars out of 5, listed chronologically)
Los Ingobernables de Japon d. CHAOS, 10-man tag match, Road to New Beginning
IWGP Jr. HW Champion Will Osperay d. Takahashi, New Beginning in Osaka
Kalisto d. Lince Dorado, 205 Live Cruiserweight Title Tournament Eighth-Final
Roderick Strong d. Hideo Itami, 205 Live Cruiserweight Title Tournament Eighth-Final
Angel de Oro/Atlantis/Dragon Lee d. Forestero/Sanson/Cuatrero, CMLL Friday Show, 2/23

10th Place: IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: EVIL/SANADA (c)  d. Kazuchika Okada/Hirooki Goto, Road to the New Beginning

I had trouble picking a 10th place since the ranking would be even with the 11th-15th places, but I went with this one because it proved to have a real high-stakes feeling to it. With the actual New Beginning matches, in my mind, hinging on the result of this match, I actually had a feeling that this match had higher stakes than were apparent.

Maybe that is a cheap way to decide the tie-breaker, but the matches really were about even, and I'm splitting hairs with this ranking. All the 3.75 matches are great watches, but none mandate you see them like the top nine do.

The following matches are all 4 stars.

9th Place: Mustafa Ali d. Jack Gallagher, 205 Live Cruiserweight Title Tournament Eighth-Final

These two helped close out round 1 with a bang, and they showcased a revival of sorts for Jack Gallagher. I remember being invested briefly in Gallagher, but much like the rest of the cruiserweight division, interest waned as WWE's interest waned. It's nice to see the division getting back on the map.

8th Place: 2/19 Raw Gauntlet Match, Braun Strowman d. Finn Balor, The Miz, Elias, Seth Rollins, John Cena, Roman Reigns

This match lasted nearly two hours on its own, but kept each singles match from overstaying its welcome. I don't think a match this long can hold attention the whole time by its nature, but this one certainly tried.

7th Place: Soberano Jr. v. Niebla Roja, 10-minute Broadway draw, CMLL 2/23 Friday show

This lightning match was more impressive than I was expecting. I liked both Soberano and Niebla Roja during Fantastica Mania, but I was thoroughly surprised by the amount of action they crammed into the 10-minute limit. I would be more than happy to sit through another.

6th Place: Raw World Women's Championship Elimination Chamber: Alexa Bliss d. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Mickie James, Absolution

This was kind of a by-the-numbers chamber match with only a few major spots and a fairly simple setup. There were no real surprises and the eliminations came in the exact order you would expect, but that's kind of what made this match work. Sometimes it's best to just keep it simple and tell a story that you know will work with your audience.

5th Place: Drew Gulak d. Tony Nece, 205 Live Cruiserweight Title Tournament Eighth-Final

Drew Gulak was rambling about PowerPoint presentations and using politician mannerisms when I saw him for the first time this past January, and I thought him to be annoying beyond belief. The dawn of his new gimmick as a hard-hitting ground fighter with dirty tactics, however, is a great contrast from the high-flying style that dominates the cruiserweight division. The bout with Nece made me a fan and has me rooting for him to reach the final.

4th Place: WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne (c) d. Roderick Strong, NXT

I have heard many good things about the UK title matches that have been going, but this is the first I've seen of them. Roderick Strong looks every bit the star that people have made him out to be, and I now feel like I need to check out the UK title tournament to see more of the work of Pete Dunne and the UK wrestlers.

The following matches are 4.25 stars.

3rd Place: The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega/Kota Ibushi) d. CODY/Hangman Page, NJPW/ROH Honor Rising Night 2

The return of the Golden Lovers was anticipated since New Year's Dash and they did a good job of leading an excellent match between Cody and Hangman. I'm still not sold on Hangman as a top-flight talent, and he was the weakest element of the four, but he held his own here with Cody's heel tactics and the long-time tag efforts of Omega and Ibushi. I am looking forward to the Lovers facing the Young Bucks at New Japan's US show, in addition to the Cody/Omega match at Supercard of Honor.

2nd Place: NXT Championship Lucha de Apuestas (Career vs. Title): Andrade "Cien" Almas (c) d. Johnny Gargano, NXT 2/21

This is the fourth match between these two, and it shows. Their match from January was definitely better, but this one had a great crowd in Florida and a high-pressure feel the whole way through. The dirty finish was not my favorite, but the rest of the match more than made up for it.

And the top match of the month, the only 4.5-star match, and the only MOTY contender from February is...

1st Place: El Gran Final del Torneo de los Parejas Increibles: Los Ingobernables (Rush/Terrible) d. Volador Jr/Ultimo Guerrero, 2 falls to 1, CMLL 2/23 Friday show

I initially was not sure about the idea of the incredible pairs tournament. It's an odd mindset that faces and heels are acknowledged to be faces and heels, but it does lead to some solid drama, and that showed here.

Volador and Guerrero are probably the top face and heel in the company, and their history of success allowed them to show good teamwork despite normally being rivals. Rush is the founder of the Los Ingobernables faction, and it was interesting to see him induct Terrible into the group with this match.

The match told a great story and the final fall hit all the beats it needed to. The early falls weren't perfect, but I enjoyed the match all the way through.

March is going to be a big month, with ROH's anniversary (which I attended live), New Japan's anniversary show, the New Japan Cup, Strong Style Evolved, and the Homenaje a Dos Leyendas will be making up most, if not, all of the spots.

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.