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.