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?

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

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.

Cole_Generico

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.

Cole_Edwards

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).

Cole_Callihan

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.

 

Cole_Elgin

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.

Cole_Steals_Title

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.

Cole_Steen

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.

Adam_Win_Win

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.