Remember When: Chris Jericho vs Triple H – Fully Loaded 2000

This is a first installment of what I hope to be a monthly thing.  I want to reminisce about something a match, angle, or moment that happened in this month in the past. My first one is a match that I love quite a bit that happened on July 23rd, 2000.

All images are courtesy of WWE Network.

Y2J_HHH_1

The first half of 2000 was pretty good for WWF.  WCW was in decline and I don’t think was seen as much of a threat any longer.  However, they were starting to lack star power at the top of the card.  Mick Foley had retired; Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker were both out with injuries.  This really only left Triple H and the Rock at the top of the card and boy did it get repetitive.  Undertaker eventually returned with his American Bad-Ass gimmick and that injected some new life, but these were three men that had been in the main event scene for quite some time.  This is where Fully Loaded 2000 comes in.  The event had three main event matches that were meant to introduce new blood.  The Undertaker was feuding with Kurt Angle, the Rock was defending his WWF Championship against Chris Benoit, and in the match I want to spotlight we had Triple H taking on Chris Jericho in a Last Man Standing match.

The build to this match was kind of a long-term one.  Chris Jericho challenged Triple H months prior to a WWF Championship match and actually beat him.  The decision was reversed due to the referee admitting that he administered a fast count.  Later on down the line Triple H would go on to defend his title against a mystery opponent that was revealed to be Jericho.  The match, like the previous one, was a good one and Jericho almost walked away with the championship again.  Each match the two of them had only highlighted that these two should eventually lock up on Pay-Per-View because they could tear the house down.

The lead in to this match was that Jericho had kissed Stephanie McMahon, Triple H’s wife, at the previous PPV King of the Ring.  This led to the rest of D-Generation X involving themselves in one of Jericho’s matches which in turn led to Jericho costing Triple H a shot at the WWF Championship.  Jericho would further involve himself in Triple H’s business by causing him to get a stinkface from Rikishi and losing to legendary jobber, the Brooklyn Brawler.  Things would escalate even further when Jericho came out to interfere in a match where it looked like DX was about to break up, but it was actually a set up.  The assault ended with Jericho being left battered and bloodied.  Jericho would go on to demand a Last Man Standing Match against Triple H.

This match was pretty important to Jericho’s career going forward.  While he was able to showcase his charisma, humor, and technical ability in previous feuds and matches, he hadn’t quite shown the toughness needed to be taken fully seriously by the fans.  He started this one off with a flurry of fast paced offense.  When Triple H went on offense Jericho absorbed a great deal of punishment to his taped up ribs but he wouldn’t stay down.  A wicked DDT, a sleeper with body scissors, a pedigree, and a few chair shots wouldn’t keep him down either.  He would keep getting up and asking for more.  Eventually Jericho was able to turn things around and bloodied Triple H with a chair shot.  Jericho would be ruthless after this by bulldogging Triple H onto a chair and locking in the Walls of Jericho for a lengthy period of time.  He only broke the hold when Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley involved herself in the match and was also put in the Walls of Jericho.  The finish would see Triple H laid out on an announce table with Jericho about to attempt a Lionsault but Triple H would hit a low blow and back-suplex Jericho and himself through the table.  Triple H would make it up right before the 10 count, but collapsed after the referee called for the bell.

This match really felt like Triple H paying forward the toughness that he got to show in his matches against Cactus Jack.  I know Triple H gets a lot of (justified) flack for burying talent back in the day, but his main event run in 99-01 was solid.  Jericho made the most of this match and Triple H made him look like a million bucks throughout by selling his ass off.  Even in defeat Jericho looked strong as Triple H needed to be helped to the back.  I highly recommend this match as it is one of the best Last Man Standing matches WWF/E has ever done.

Thank You Mick

Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the most famous matches ever, Hell in a Cell from King of the Ring 1998 between the Undertaker and Mankind.  The story of the match has been chronicled so much that one of the men involved is on a speaking tour talking about all that he can remember of it.  The match itself was only the second Hell in a Cell match in the WWE, but it can be argued that this is the one that raised the bar to make this particular match type a spectacle.

I’m not going to recap the match since many others have done so over the years, but I can give you my history with it, thoughts about the match, and the aftermath.  The match happened before my family had the internet or even cable at that point.  The only way I even knew about the match was a write-up in WWF Magazine.  The magazine didn’t go into specifics, but made the match out to sound like nothing anyone had ever seen before.  It sounded like a lot of hyperbole.  When I finally did get around to renting the tape from a local video store I couldn’t have predicted what I was about to see.  It was the first time I’d seen a match that blurred the line between reality and fantasy.  It was the first time I’d ever feared for the safety of one of the performers in a match.  What Foley put himself through to entertain the fans is nothing short of astonishing.  Both of Foley’s falls and the thumbtack spots are some of the most memorable in WWE’s history.

This match was also the one that got me fully invested in the Attitude Era.  I wasn’t necessarily a lapsed fan or anything like that at this point, but I was 18 and busy working and attempting to plan for the future.  I remember going to a Media Play store not long after I had seen the match and they actually had the tape for sale.  I had never bought a full wrestling event on tape before and they weren’t exactly cheap (about $35-$40 at the time).  I ended up going back and buying everything from Royal Rumble 1998 to the King of the Ring and absorbing as much as I could.  It made it tough to keep up with Raw, but I still had the magazines and we had gotten the internet not to long after this so I could follow the results.  I also remember buying the Three Faces of Foley videotape where he talked about this match out of character with Matt & Jeff Hardy.  It was one of the first times I remember a wrestler talking about their career out of character and Foley seemed nothing like the deranged characters he portrayed.  He seemed like a very humble, self-deprecating human being and I could relate to that far more than any of his three personalities.  Those qualities would start to show in his promos as Mankind later on.

In an interesting bit of “What If” does WWF still win the Monday Night War without this match?  Foley rode a wave of goodwill after this match that ended up with plans being adjusted to give him a World Title run.  When he won the title Tony Schiavone over on Nitro made the infamous “That’ll put butts in the seats” comment which caused people to switch the channel to see this respected wrestler finally get his due.  It’s also hard to speculate how much more of a career Mick Foley would’ve had without this match happening.  It was also several months, almost a year actually, before Foley would take time off to fully heal from his injuries.  It’s possible that we could’ve had Foley for a few more years, but we’ll never really know for sure.

A lot of the wrestlers from the Monday Night War era gave so much of themselves for the fans and for their respective companies.  Foley was one that always made sure that you left whatever show he was on entertained.  Either with a spectacle of a match, intense promo, or even a bit of comedy he always tried to entertain you.  The fact that this match is still talked about 20 years later is incredible.  It’s so much more than spectacle.  It’s the story of a man doing everything he can to make sure that you’ll be entertained.  I may never meet the man, but thank you Mick for everything you’ve given over the years.

Aggressive Expansion

So something weird is happening with WWE and I’m of two minds about it.  They seem to be more open to partnerships with indie companies.  Adam Cole recently defended the NXT North American Championship in Evolve Wrestling against WALTER.  Kassius Ohno wrestled in the Super Strong Style 16 tournament for Progress Wrestling this year.  Hideo Itami is going home to wrestling longtime rival and tag-team partner Naomichi Marufuji in NOAH.  It’s incredibly fascinating to see things that probably wouldn’t have even happened 5 years ago happening now.  It gets more eyes on these promotions and their talented rosters.  It also helps generate more buzz within the business so lapsed or new fans may want to check out new things.

There’s another side to this as well.  Ring of Honor was recently going to try to run a show out Madison Square Garden.  It had seemed like things were pretty much a go until they weren’t.  The scuttlebutt is that a high ranking person within WWE made a phone call and got the event cancelled.  ROH brass is understandably upset about this and it sounds like they’ll fight it.  Other companies, like Impact or MLW, seem to be flying just under the radar enough to gain buzz with fans but not enough for WWE to view them as competition…yet.

I wasn’t really a fan of wrestling at the time, or even old enough to have an opinion on the matter, but this does sound a lot like what the WWF used to do back in the territory days.  They’ve updated it for modern times so instead of squashing everyone, they’re going to partner with some, especially international promotions like Progress (United Kingdom) and NOAH (Japan) so they can get their foot in the door in a new market.  Once in that market if you’re seen as a competitor, something that ROH is due to their relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, they may try to cut you off any way they can.  It does seem that WWE is trying some aggressive expansion and now that they have some extra money to throw around due to their Fox deal, they might be able to pull it off.  What I think they may fail to realize though is that competition does make for a healthy market and if they decide to absorb their competition again, like they did with WCW and ECW, the current burgeoning boom period we’re in may come to a quick end.  We may soon find all of those available options on the WWE Network.

Wrestling Meccas

NXT TakeOver Chicago 2018

My wife and I went and saw the latest NXT TakeOver in Chicago last weekend.  We had pretty decent seats and the action was amazing.  The crowd was hot, not to mention the arena, from the beginning to the end.  I barely had a voice the next morning; I think I blew it out right away during the ‘Adam Cole Bay-Bay’ spot.  It wasn’t until after we’d gotten home that I realized I was in one of my wrestling meccas.

It had slipped my mind that one of my favorite matches of all time had taken place in the Allstate Area.  The Stone Cold Steve Austin/Bret Hart submission match from Wrestlemania 13 took place there.  It’s one of the matches I watch at least once a year and is one of the various matches that cemented me as a fan.  I got to sit in the arena where Austin bled the WWF into a new era.  It got me to thinking about the various other important arenas that have influenced me over the years.  Going back quite a ways is the Dallas Sportatorium where World Class Championship Wrestling called home.  Madison Square Garden, although I was outside of it in 2017 for a brief moment, where a lot of the old WWF shows took place.  The ECW Arena still exists, but I probably won’t ever make my way there.  More recently is the American Legion Hall in Reseda, CA where Pro Wrestling Guerrilla made their home for almost 10 years which seems to have been sold.

Is it the building or the crowd that it attracts that makes or breaks a show?  I live in Green Bay, WI and we’re pretty much known for being one of the dirt worst crowds for Raw and Smackdown, but if you go 100 miles south to Milwaukee the crowds there are great.  Every time I’ve been to Turner Hall for any wrestling, the crowd has been super hyped from bell to bell.  You would think Green Bay would be better since we have the Packers, but maybe we’re just not a wrestling town?

There are two places I’d love to go to:  New Japan Pro Wrestling at the Tokyo Dome and I’d love to see Progress Wrestling at the Electric Ballroom.  So I ask of you, dear reader, what are your wrestling meccas?  Where would you like to have gone to see a show or where would you still like to go?

G1 Climax 28

G1 Climax 28

With summer here that means that New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 28 will be starting soon and it looks like it could be a great one.  This year the tournament runs from July 14th with the finals taking place on August 12th.  If you’re not familiar with the tournament it is a round-robin format and is not single elimination (that’s the New Japan Cup).  There are 2 blocks and whoever has the most points from their block will have to wrestle against the person who has the most points from the other block.  It makes for interesting match ups and sets up feuds for the rest of the year as well.  It’s a grueling schedule and the winner could go on to main event Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4th 2019.  I say could go on to main event because they will have to defend their spot.  Most often it’s defended against people that the winner lost against in their block.  If the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, currently Kenny Omega, should win the tournament he would be able to select his opponent.  This hasn’t happened since they started having the winner of the tournament receive a title shot, which started in 2012 at the 22nd G1 tournament.  The winner also hasn’t been successful in capturing the title at Wrestle Kingdom so far as well.  There are a lot of matches to look forward to and I’ll be spotlighting some of the matches from each block that I’m the most interested in.

­A Block

g1-climax-28-full-a-block

Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White (July 14th)
The first night has a pretty big match where both combatants have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.  Okada and White are both in the stable CHAOS with Okada being the leader.  Both men also have the shadow of Kenny Omega hanging over them.  Okada’s record breaking IWGP Heavyweight title reign was recently ended by Kenny Omega.  White beat Omega earlier this year for the United States championship, but hasn’t been able to take that title to the same heights as his predecessor.  There’s always seemed to be tension between the two (CHAOS is fine) and this will only add fuel to it.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Minoru Suzuki (July 14th)
Another first night match, but this one shouldn’t disappoint.  Earlier this year Suzuki basically tortured Tanahashi to the point where the ref had to stop the match and give Suzkuki the Intercontinental Championship.  Tanahashi never surrendered and never got a rematch with Suzuki.  These two have had wars in the past, but I don’t know if they’ve had one as emotionally charged as this one.  It remains to be seen if the rest of Suzuki’s group, Suzuki-Gun, will be involved in his matches but they could be a factor.

Jay White vs Hangman Page (July 30th)
These are both first-timers in the G1 tournament and they had a solid match earlier this year for White’s United States Championship.  I think this tournament helps advance both White and Page’s careers since a lot of eyes will be on them.  If they’re able to get over any jitters they might have, this could make for a very fun contest and could lead to bigger things for both men later on down the line.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs EVIL (August 2nd)
I think this has the potential to be a sleeper match.  EVIL had a solid showing in the G1 last year and is one of the only people in 2017 that held a pinfall victory over Okada.  So you can argue that EVIL is on his way up.  You can also argue that Tanahashi is on his way down, but for someone who is getting older he seems to only be getting better.  While it remains to be seen how the Ageless Ace manages to deal with an unforgiving G1 schedule I think he and EVIL have the potential to have a killer match.

Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki (August 2nd)
The last two times these two men have faced it has been a 30 minute time limit draw.  It’s possible that could happen here again, but I don’t think so.  This match is late enough in the tournament that the victor will be obvious once it’s clear what type of story is being told with Okada.  If it is a redemption story and Okada is on his way to his third G1 victory then he gets the win.  If Okada spends most of the tournament having issues with weaker opponents like YOSHI-HASHI or Togi Makabe then his redemption won’t be found in this tournament.  In fact Suzuki will probably torture the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion for most of the match before he puts him away.

Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (August 10th)
On the final night for Block A these two will look to add another chapter to their rivalry that has been going since 2012.  This contest will be fantastic regardless, but like Okada’s match with Suzuki it all depends on the story.  Tanahashi is older and has more injuries and was dispatched relatively easily by Okada earlier this year.  If Okada is still dazed after losing his cherished title, then Tanahashi picks up the win.

B Block

g1-climax-28-b-block

Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito (July 15th)
I was honestly surprised to see this one announced so early in the tournament.  Omega has taken some shots at Naito since winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and Naito has seemed to downplay them.  Naito is another one that has a possible redemption story to tell since he lost the Intercontinental Championship to Chris Jericho.  He’s also seemed to make it clear that he wants to headline Wrestle Kingdom again, but as champion or winning the championship.  These two have torn down the house in their matches at the previous two G1 tournaments so I expect nothing different.

Toru Yano vs Zack Sabre Jr (July 19th)
I hesitated to include this one since it’ll be the usually Yano buffoonery, but ZSJ is a part of Suzuki-Gun and his mentor Minoru Suzuki is 0 for 4 against Yano in G1 tournaments.  Can ZSJ succeed where his mentor has failed?  Probably not, but it’ll be fun to see him try.

Kenny Omega vs Tama Tonga (July 21st)
Kenny Omega is currently the contested leader of Bullet Club.  Tama Tonga is one of the original members of Bullet Club and seems to be getting sick of the Cody Rhodes/Kenny Omega drama.  I think things build to a head here and Tama could end up with the leadership of Bullet Club along with an IWGP Heavyweight title shot in his future.

Juice Robinson vs SANADA (August 1st)
This should be a good one.  Since coming to New Japan, Juice has improved so much and gotten himself over.  His over the top nature will make an excellent for the Cold Skull SANADA.  SANADA is another one that has improved since making his debut in New Japan and joining Los Ingobernables de Japon.  He definitely seems to be destined for bigger things, but it’ll be interesting to see if that time is now.

Hirooki Goto vs Zack Sabre Jr (August 8th)
Goto was involved in my favorite match at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom when he had an absolute war with Minoru Suzuki.  While I don’t expect the match to be exactly the same, ZSJ can bring the pain and Goto can absorb it pretty well.  I expect this one to be very hard hitting and Goto will probably get twisted into knots before the match is through.

Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi (August 11th)
The Golden Lovers collide in what will no doubt be an incredibly emotional contest.  These two have had death-defying matches in DDT Pro, but haven’t locked up in New Japan as of yet.  I see this match as advancing their story, but it’ll also probably be one of the best matches in the whole tournament.  Ibushi has hinted that he wants gold, but can he go through Omega to get it?

Closing Thoughts

It was really hard to pare down both blocks to a few matches.  Especially since literally every match in B Block is one that I’m looking forward to.  I think A Block is definitely the weaker of the two and I’d probably make substitutions if I was booking everything.  I’m not sure who will win the whole thing, but I’d love a final of Minoru Suzuki vs Kota Ibushi with Ibushi winning the whole thing.  I think it’s too soon for Okada’s redemption since he just lost the title.  I could see Naito winning it again, but he just won it last year so I don’t think he’ll get it.  I really think this tournament could end up being something special though and it does have a little bit of something for everyone.

In Memoriam: Vader

Vader_With_Helmets

I saw a Vader squash match live back in 1996, but not in the way you’d think.  My mom, her boyfriend at the time, my sister, and I went to the post King of the Ring 1996 taping of Monday Night Raw.  We had pretty decent seats and I can pick us out on the hardcam pretty easily.  We didn’t realize that it wasn’t just the episode that was airing live, but the next three weeks’ worth of episodes were being taped as well.  It made for a long night.

The matches were okay and there were a few Austin 3:16 signs in the crowd, but not nearly as many as there would be in the coming years.  The big angle they were building up to for the next pay-per-view  was a 6-man tag team match that would pit Camp Cornette, which consisted of Owen Hart, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, and Vader, against Ahmed Johnson, the Ultimate Warrior, and Shawn Michaels.  There was an angle midway through the tapings where Owen Hart took on Warrior and it ended in Warrior getting beaten down by all of Camp Cornette.  This would actually be the last time Warrior would be in a televised match with the WWF/WWE.  Warrior was taken to the back and later on there was an announcement that he had been taken to one of the local hospitals.  Vader was advertised to wrestle him in one of the main events of the show so my sister and I were really bummed out that the match wasn’t going to happen.

What we didn’t realize was that after the tapings the matches that were advertised as main events were “dark matches” that wouldn’t air on television.  We got to see Undertaker and Mankind brawl a few feet away from us and Michaels put down Goldust with one superkick.  We did get to see that Vader/Warrior match as well.  Warrior came charging out from the back like a bat out of hell wearing a hospital gown and hit Vader with three clotheslines and  splash to pick up the win to send everyone home happy.  It was so strange seeing the guy who took Sting to his limit and could take a beating from Cactus Jack get squashed, but it made sense the older I got.  All of us in the crowd were tired after being there for 4+ hours of wrestling and just wanted to go home.  It was, unfortunately, the only time I ever got to see Vader wrestle live.

That squash also sums up Vader’s stint in WWF pretty well where it was something you were looking forward to, but they never got it quite right.  But honestly, he didn’t need a WWF run as by the time he got there he was already a legend in Japan and had carved out a spot in WCW’s history as well.  His stiff brutal style, quickness, and ability to go to the top rope inspired so many other “big men” wrestlers over the years.  It’s hard to watch a Keith Lee match and not spot a little bit of Vader’s influence.  If you’ve got the time and inclination, I would strongly suggest checking out more of Vader’s work.  A lot of it still stands up today.  His matches with Sting never disappointed and his feud with Cactus Jack was a brutal one.  If you can though, his match with Ric Flair at Starrcade 1993 is a great David vs Goliath type match and may be one of the best matches that tells that kind of story.  He’ll be missed by many, but his work will live forever.

The Independent Era

ALL-IN-777x400

The tickets for the All In event being held in Chicago on September 2nd sold out in less than 30 minutes and with it, possibly ushering a new era of wrestling.  The event itself is being put together by Cody Rhodes and Matt & Nick Jackson, who are known as the Young Bucks, without a major wrestling organization sponsoring it.  The event is featuring talent that is widely featured in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.  They’ve only announced talent and the only match that is even on the card at the moment is Cody vs whoever the NWA champ is (currently Nick Aldis).  Is it safe to say that we’re living in the “Independent Era” of wrestling?

I think ground zero for this current movement ironically begins with WWE starting the WWE Network.  Without its success other independent, and international, feds wouldn’t have tried switching to streaming instead sticking with the DVD/Blu-Ray model they had.  Some feds still use this model, PWG for instance, due to having talent that is currently under contract for other organizations that would not allow them to appear because they would be featured in a pay-per-view type event.  Being able to stream various matches and promotions makes it easier to find the next big thing, be it a new promotion or finding the next Daniel Bryan, and to see them evolve.  Another contribution from WWE has also been not listening to their fans as they continue to seem to push talent that the crowd is reluctant to get behind.  This has also led to people beginning to check out their local indys or check out other promotions that are streaming.

maxresdefault

In addition to independent bookings, merchandise is a major way for indy wrestlers to make money and connect with fans.  The launch of prowrestlingtees.com has helped make it easier to get merch from your favorite wrestler.  The Young Bucks have basically created a model for how to avoid having to do business with WWE and create your own path.  They’re consistently selling new t-shirts and this helped put them in a position to control their own destiny with regard of where they want to work.  Cody Rhodes may have taken a play from CM Punk’s playbook, but instead of walking away he asked for his release.  Upon getting booked on the indy scene Cody’s stock went up almost immediately and he’s become one of the best villains around.  He knew that given an opportunity he could make it work and so far it has.

The viral nature of gifs, YouTube videos, and social media has also helped any number of indy wrestlers gain exposure.  Joey Ryan’s YouPorn-Plex seems to go viral at least once a month.  The Japanese promotion, DDT Pro, also seems to have things go viral periodically.  Especially their weird match types (empty apartment, empty stadium, train, etc) or any match revolving around the Ironman Heavymetalweight championship that can be won by anyone or anything.  A ladder recently had a retirement ceremony.  The Young Bucks even have their own YouTube channel/show, Being the Elite, that not only features Cody, but many other indy superstars like Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, Adam Page, and others.  The show started as a sort of “on the road” type show but has turned into more than that and has been influencing wrestling angles in ROH and NJPW for a little while now.

I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets for this event.  I really believe that we’re at the beginning of a new era of wrestling and one that seems to be lacking in WWE’s active participation.  Sure they have NXT, 205 Live, and Seth Rollins helping to take care of the in-ring side of things, but they produce so much filler content a week that you don’t really need to watch Raw or Smackdown live anymore.  You can either wait until the PPV or catch clips on YouTube.  With the times changing and there no longer really being “appointment TV”, you can give something else a try.  I’m all in on seeing what this “Independent Era” has to offer.

The Inevitability of Zack Sabre Jr.

ZSJ - New Japan Cup 1

There’s been a march taking place in March over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Zack Sabre Jr won the New Japan Cup by submitting a good portion of the NJPW main event scene. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Sanada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi all fell to Sabre in their quest to win the tournament. Because he won that tournament he now has his sights set on Kazuchika Okada and the IWGP heavyweight championship, but he faces some pretty long odds. Okada is in the middle of an all-time run as the champ. You can make the argument that it seems like Okada ALWAYS WINS, but when you’re the Ace of the company that’s how it’s supposed to be. Losses feel unique and if an Ace loses, they need to pick themselves back up and redeem themselves. The match itself should be interesting because Okada has only faced one opponent similar to Sabre and that would be Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki is the leader of Suzuki-Gun and a mentor to Sabre. Both men wrestle a submission based style and while Suzuki is much older and possibly more sadistic, Sabre is younger and inevitable.

ZSJ - New Japan Cup 3

What do I mean by inevitable you ask? Sabre has won gold in just about every promotion he’s wrestled in: Evolve, Rev-Pro, PWG, just to name a few. His submission style isn’t necessarily to work on a limb until you’re forced to tap out. It’s to work on ALL of them and this causes opponents to wonder where he’s going to strike next. He’s composed and calculating and he WILL win eventually. If Okada is able to survive, which seems to be the popular consensus, NJPW has a new star to contend with and he will not stop until he gets gold. It may not be in the form of the heavyweight championship, but it will happen.

ZSJ - New Japan Cup 2

I’d love to see Sabre win, if for no other reason than to just put one over on everyone who thinks that Okada always wins. However, I’m fine with Okada winning as well because I think he’s on a run that will be talked about for many years. Both potential outcomes could lead to interesting things as well. If Sabre wins, he’ll find himself at the top of the company and his mentor as the gatekeeper to get to him. Suzuki is also the current Intercontinental champion. The Intercontinental championship is the second biggest title in the heavyweight division. It could also lead to internal strife within Suzuki-Gun since Sabre would have surpassed his mentor. How long before Suzuki-Gun becomes Sabre-Gun? If Okada wins he’ll find himself closer to having broken another broken. He will be tied with longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi for successful title defenses in a single title reign at 11 defenses. If Okada wins, I think Tanahashi will come out and be the next challenger for IWGP heavyweight championship.  Either way I think the match is going to be a great one and will set the pace for what is already a jam-packed week of wrestling.

My Favorite Matches: January 2018

I thought I’d start keeping a log of my favorite matches throughout the year.  However, because I don’t watch EVERYTHING and sometimes end up watching things late due to only getting them on blu-ray (looking at you PWG) or just not knowing about it until later there will probably be additions throughout the year.  There will also be spoilers since these are matches that have already happened.

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 01/04/18 – Junior Heavyweight Title Match:  Marty Scurll © v Will Osprey v KUSHIDA v Hiromu Takahashi

Scurll_WK12

Screencap from NJPWWorld.com

This match was a great showcase for some of the best Junior Heavyweights in the world right now.  Each man had opportunities to shine.  It’s pretty clear to me that Hiromu is SUPER over at the moment since he got a huge pop when he went on offense.  KUSHIDA was pretty great too, but I’m almost at the point where I’d like to see him try out the Heavyweight division.  I thought the ending was perfect because Osprey always loses to Marty so it was nice for him to finally get a victory over him on such a large stage.

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 01/04/18 – United States Heavyweight Title Match (No Disqualification): Kenny Omega © v Chris Jericho

I’ve already written at length about the build and the match and it was a great way to kick off 2018.  A much different match than what I’m used to seeing from Kenny and a very ruthless Jericho made for a very fun match.

NWA Empty Arena Match 01/15/18 – Tim Storm v Jocephus

I wasn’t sure what to make of this one when it was announced.  I’ve been reeled in by the NWA relaunch and how low key it has been so far.  This was a fun brawl in the empty Impact Zone and I think it helped re-establish a good gimmick match type the NWA can use going forward.  The bump that Storm takes at the end is very painful to watch.  I’m hoping that more talent gets brought on board since it’s largely just been Storm, Jocephus, and current champion Nick Aldis.

New Japan Pro Wrestling New Beginning in Sapporo Night 1 01/27/18 – Intercontinental Title Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi © v Minoru Suzuki

Tanahashi_Suzuki

Screencap from NJPWWorld.com

Tanahashi came into this match pretty banged up and accepting the challenge of a sadist like Suzuki was probably a bad idea.  The match told the story of a champion that would not quit even though he probably should have.  Suzuki worked on Tanahashi’s bandaged arm and battered knee to the point where the referee had to stop the match because Tanahashi couldn’t break free of the submission hold he was in.  Suzuki cut a chilling promo while the Forever Ace of New Japan was stretchered out of the ring made for a very powerful image.

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia 01/27/18 – Extreme Rules: Adam Cole v Aleister Black

109_NXT_01272018jg_2064--03fdf4a664b503980045a5cf53b61a9e

Photo courtesy of WWE.com

In my opinion this match told two stories:  Adam Cole can take a beating and Aleister Black doesn’t need weapons since he is one.  This was a pretty good “hardcore” match and Cole and Black meshed together well.  It had some pretty decent spots that seemed to make the notoriously blood thirsty Philly crowd happy (see above photo).  I’m not going to lie, but I popped when Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish showed up and hit Black with the Total Elimination finisher that The Eliminators used to do.  A very small ECW chant may have broken out in my apartment.

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia 01/27/18 – NXT Championship Title Match: Andrade Almas © v Johnny Gargano

This is another that I’ve written more about, but I loved this match.  It followed the Cole/Black match, which was going to be a tough act to follow, and surpassed it.  I think Gargano is the best babyface that the WWE has right now and I loved how Almas has been salvaged after a very rocky start in his NXT run.

WWE Monday Night Raw 01/30/18 – Sasha Banks v Asuka

127_RAW_01292018dg_2031--42d62aaf4c5af19855f9f4c0c355075f

Photo courtesy of WWE.Com

This felt like it could be an opening chapter of their rivalry.  Sasha struggling to remain relevant even though Asuka won the first women’s Royal Rumble and the appearance of Ronda Rousey could make for a compelling story.  Sasha wrestled this match with a chip on her shoulder and wanted to prove more to herself that she is still relevant.  This was my favorite Asuka main roster match and I thought their chemistry was good.  If WWE decides to call an audible and put the Raw Women’s title on Sasha and we get a rematch at Wrestlemania I would definitely be on board.  You’d have the story of Sasha Banks, who has never successfully defended the Women’s title after winning it, against the unstoppable inevitability of Asuka.  I can’t think of a bigger stage to tell that story.

Keep It Simple

135_NXT_01272018ej_8162--5f3d321306eceb0a4b93518f9793eaaf

Sometimes it’s the simple things in wrestling that make a match great.  Emotional investment in wrestling is so crucial to a successful match.  You might be invested in one of the competitors because you’ve been following their career for years.  The storyline building up to the match might also hook you and you want to see where things go.  The athleticism or brutality of a match will also keep you interested.  Last night Andrade “Cien” Almas and Johnny Gargano had one of the best main event matches in a WWE ring I’ve ever seen at NXT TakeOver:  Philadelphia because they adhered to keeping things simple.

Just within the framework of NXT the story was a pretty simple one to follow.  Both men had a rough 2017, but for totally different reasons.  Almas started it with a career that seemed to not be going anywhere.  He was well received in NXT, but didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to showcase his abilities.  This all turned around when Zelina Vega became his manager.  He developed more of a focus and with Vega’s help he set his sights on the NXT championship.  Almas would eventually get his opportunity and wrest the title from Drew McIntyre.  Johnny Gargano started his 2017 off as one half of the NXT tag team champions known as DIY with Tommaso Ciampa.  They would drop the titles early in the year to The Authors of Pain.  DIY would challenge for the titles a few more times and come up short.  After losing on their final attempt to recapture the tag team titles, Ciampa violently attacked Gargano effectively ending their partnership.  Ciampa was gone dealing with a knee injury for the rest of the year while Gargano attempted to carve out his own path.  Gargano would face Almas two other times prior to their championship encounter and came up short both times.

So the story for both men going into this match was a pretty simple one.  Almas’ story is that he needed to beat Gargano to show that his championship win wasn’t a fluke and to show doubters that he was a legitimate champion.  Gargano’s story was that could he beat Almas and recapture championship glory without a partner.

Now full disclosure from your author:  I’ve followed Gargano’s career for a while but was never that big of a fan.  I always enjoyed his work, but never fully invested in it.  I also haven’t seen Almas’ work in Mexico as La Sombra.  However, after watching their match last night I can safely say I may be a fan of theirs for life because this match completely hooked me.  The build was incredibly simple and well done.  The ringwork was top-notch with some great technical work from both men.  Their chemistry was off the charts as they strung together counter move after counter move.  I was on the edge of my seat and I bit on damn near every near-fall.  Toward the end when Almas’ assault shifted to slamming Gargano’s head into the ring apron repeatedly I just wanted it to end because he was selling the damage so well.  When the match was finally over, it wasn’t a completely clean victory for Almas since Zelina Vega did interject herself at numerous opportunities.  Even when Gargano’s wife, fellow wrestler Candice LaRae, ran Vega off it still wasn’t enough.  And to make matters worse, Ciampa showed up after the match to pour salt on the wounded Gargano by cracking him in the back with a crutch.

149_NXT_01272018dg_9160--fc5462a82abb9bdafc22aed48bdfd518

Both men have interesting stories going forward as well.  Gargano has to sort out his business with Ciampa before he can move forward and capture the NXT championship.  Almas has now legitimized his title reign and will look to defend it by any means necessary with the assistance of Zelina Vega.  I could make the statement that’s been made so many times damning WWE for being overproduced and under-delivering on any emotional content, but I won’t (even though I sort of just did).  NXT, and pretty much all wrestling for that matter, excel when they keep things simple (but not stupid).

All images taken from WWE.com