Keep It Simple

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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.

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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

The Future Is Now (Bay-Bay)

Adam Cole recently made his debut at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III flanked by Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly.  He made his intentions clear by laying a beat down on newly crowned champion, Drew McIntyre.  I recently wrote about Cole’s connection with O’Reilly for the PWSA.  I wasn’t always a fan of Cole though.  His first run in Ring of Honor was kind of bland following that match with his ex-Future Shock partner.  Don’t get me wrong it was decent, but he was just a standard babyface.  They gave him the ROH TV title, but nothing about that reign really stood out.  It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 when he posted a promo about being in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s prestigious Battle of Los Angeles tournament that I started to change my mind.  I was moderately aware that Cole wrestled heel in Combat Zone Wrestling earlier in his career, but this was the first time I saw the smug, arrogant prick that he’s so good at portraying.

Cole had been wrestling in PWG since the end of 2011, but never as a singles competitor.  He was always in tag-team matches with his Future Shock partner, Kyle O’Reilly.  This tournament would be the first time he wrestled solo in front of a PWG crowd and they can be notoriously smarky.  His first round opponent, El Generico, wasn’t going to make things any easier for him either.

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BOLA Night One: Adam Cole Vs El Generico

The match is a great showcase of how different Cole is as a heel.  He’s not above breaking the rules and he’s incredibly cocky.  He jumps Generico while he’s being introduced and any time that he goes for his standard offense, Cole is able to shut him down.  This is how Cole ultimately wins the match. When Generico goes into his finishing sequence Cole is able catch him in a small package and kept him down for the three-count.

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BOLA Night Two: Adam Cole Vs Eddie Edwards

After what many would consider an upset against the generic luchador Cole advanced to Night 2 of the tournament to take on a former tag partner, Eddie Edwards.  This one starts off with Cole getting in some stretches before locking up with Eddie.  Cole even gets the crowd to clap “We Will Rock You” before changing it to “Suck My Dick”.  Cole absorbs a decent amount of punishment in the match before he’s able to hit one of his finishers, Florida Key (it’s a German-Suplex where the opponent’s arms are crossed).

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BOLA Night Two: Adam Cole Vs Sami Callihan

Cole’s next opponent would be someone he had a lengthy and bitter rivalry with in Combat Zone Wrestling, Sami Callihan.  The match starts with the two of them yelling insults at each other before Sami charges Cole and starts kicking the hell out of him in the corner.  Cole takes more punishment from Sami’s lightning quick, high impact offense.  Eventually Sami makes a mistake and Cole works on Sami’s leg for a bit before locking in a figure-four leglock.  It’s too much for Sami and he taps out.

 

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BOLA Night Two: Adam Cole Vs Michael Elgin

For Cole’s last opponent he would have to break the unbreakable by going head to head with Michael Elgin.  Cole doesn’t seem to be as cocky as the contest starts since he knows Elgin won’t be an easy win.  The match quickly makes its way outside and they fight through the crowd.  Both men use every move that brought them to the final, but Cole is able to get the win by hitting a Destroyer, a pair of superkicks, and Florida Key in rapid succession.

After being presented with the trophy Cole calls out PWG champion, Kevin Steen.  Cole eventually kicks Steen low and clocks him with the PWG belt.  He takes his trophy and Steen’s belt and leaves.  This would set up the main event of the las PWG show 2012, Mystery Vortex.

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Bye Steen Bye

Steen and Cole would collide in a Guerrilla Warfare match, which means that there are no rules.  Both men made creative use of the stipulation.  Once Cole hits the ring he tries to lay out Steen again with the championship belt.  Steen avoids it and mauls Cole at ringside and crotches him on all four corners of the ring.  He follows this up by powerbombing Cole on all four sides of the ring apron.  Amazingly Cole would battle back from this onslaught.  Trash cans, ladders, chairs, and thumbtacks would all be introduced.  Somehow Cole would withstand Steen’s onslaught and win the PWG title.

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Mystery Vortex: Adam Cole Vs Kevin Steen (I’m not sure how anyone survived this either)

With Cole capturing the PWG championship he would start a reign of terror that lasted over a year.  He turned away challenges from Sami Callihan, Drake Younger, Kevin Steen, Johnny Gargano, and many others.  He would eventually start a faction with The Young Bucks and, surprisingly, Kevin Steen.  They would refer to themselves as the Mount Rushmore of Wrestling.  Cole would eventually be dethroned by his shadow, Kyle O’Reilly.

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He’s Been Through A Lot

I personally love this run a lot.  The matches are generally really good and you want to see someone eventually dethrone Cole the longer the title reign lasted.  It’s not that it was boring; it’s just that he was a little shit.  The crowd was always excited to see him, but they also hated his actions which is a tough thing for modern day heels to do.  They’re either boring (see Corbin, Baron) or they pander to the crowd too much and they may as well be faces at that point (see Owens, Kevin).  This run went a long way in cementing his credibility with fans  It also helped start a heel run in Ring of Honor that led to him being the only person to win ROH’s World title on three occasions.  During this time he joined New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Bullet Club.  His NXT debut may not have been much of a surprise, but the way they did it was.  He’s immediately looked at as a major player and there isn’t that awkward face run when indie guys first show up.  He’s way better as a heel and it’ll be fun to see how a new audience reacts to him, bay-bay.