Randy Orton vs. Edge (WWE Backlash, 2020)

At Backlash, Edge and Randy Orton worked very hard and had a genuinely great pro wrestling match. They told a simple story that progressed nicely across the surprisingly breezy 40+ minute runtime. Little things like Orton dodging an armdrag and dominating much of the early grappling were complimented by good facials that never veered into over-acting, and hammered home the story that maybe the more battle-worn Edge wasn’t quite able to hang any more. They worked with intensity and crispness, but never phoniness.

Like a lot of modern matches that intentionally shoot for ‘an epic;’ I would have trimmed more than a few nearfalls, and nixed the section where they imitated finishing moves of their peers — most matches like this need to be reigned in, and this was no exception. But beyond that, this was evidence that both men still have it in them to produce compelling matches — which is honestly as much of a pleasant surprise with regards to Orton as it is with regards to Edge.

Obviously there’s a big ‘but’ coming here.

Continue reading “Randy Orton vs. Edge (WWE Backlash, 2020)”

AEW Revolution

All Elite Wrestling came out swinging in 2020. After kinks in the armour started to appear towards the end of 2019, the company entered the new year with a sense of vigor and focus. Their first pay per view of the decade, Revolution, served as a perfect foundation for things – as it provided a destination for the television show to drive towards; telling a series of well structured stories weekly, that came to a head on Saturday night’s show.

While arguments could be made about what the ‘real’ main event was on paper; tradition dictated, and the closing match saw the coronation of Jon Moxley as the new AEW world champion.

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Top 10 Pro Wrestling Matches of 2019

Wrestling somehow got even stupider in 2019, and it was amazing.

I know it’s extremely cliche to talk about how ‘there’s never been a better time to be a fan!’ — and also somewhat gag-inducing with how overly cutesy and positive that is — but seriously; wrestling is anything but boring right now.

There’s a ratings war, and it’s getting competitive. There are bidding competitions for top talent, as companies try and compile as compelling a roster as possible. There’s been tonnes, and tonnes, and tonnes of controversies. There’s been returns, there’s been departures. New entities have sprung into existence, and established names have struggled to reinvigorate themselves. There’s been niche wrestling, and there’s been new faces in major league wrestling. Numerous companies have carved themselves out a unique sense of style, and pushed the boundaries of what the genre can be.

And then there’s the actual wrestling. It’s been amazing, and it’s been dreadful; both in quantities you would never have enough time to actually get through.

But ultimately, irony and cynicism aside; there has been an insane amount of great matches this year.

While not perfect promotions in their entirety, places like OTT, Riptide, and AEW presented styles of wrestling that truly made WWE near-unwatchable for me; as the industry leader’s deeply entrenched tropes and production ticks are as noticeable as ever, and other groups prove that theirs is not the only way to skin a cat. But even with that said; WWE themselves made a handful of moments this year that I would rank among my favourites they’ve produced in my 20 years as a fan.

I can also comfortably say this was the most wrestling I’ve ever watched in a calendar year. I watched every tournament match in the Best of the Super Juniors AND the G1 Climax — genuinely something I have never even come close to previously. While there are people out there whose watchlists dwarf mine; it felt good to seek out as much good wrestling as my free time would allow.

Hell, I even kept a SPREADSHEET (!) of my favourite matches this year! Over 150 matches in the four stars or over range! Across 16 promotions!

And that segues nicely to the actual list. The aforementioned ‘sheet was a wonderful tool to help me actually keep track of all the great matches I watched this year; although I won’t be copy-and-pasting my top ranked bouts from there to here, directly.

Some stuff withstood the test of time better than others. Some five star classics on a first viewing (or even a live viewing) didn’t quite hold up under scrutiny once the (figurative) ecstasy and (literal) cider wore off. Some matches that were ‘merely‘ granted a 4.5 rating upon initial viewing, actually ended up burning themselves into my subconscious to the degree that it would almost feel unjust to not include them on a list that should encapsulate all that was great in 2019 wrestling. Such as… Number 10!

Continue reading “Top 10 Pro Wrestling Matches of 2019”

Cara Noir vs. PAC (Riptide, 2019)

This match is available to watch for free here.

The post-WWE career of PAC has already been tumultuous and fascinating, despite us only being a year in.

In the ring; early reviews were mixed. But the former Neville quickly proved he still had it – with match of the year contenders with Kzy, Walter, and Will Ospreay in the first half of 2019.

From there, however, the conversation has shifted to PAC’s seeming inability to lose while he’s a champion in Dragon Gate — or perhaps his unwillingness to do so.

While the purpose of this review isn’t to speculate on that, or open the can of worms that is debating what amount of loyalty is “right” in pro wrestling – it’s a crucial bit of context for this match.

For the last few months, PAC has been a world beater. He has dominated in Japan and Europe. He’s put away everyone from Chris Brookes to Pentagon Jr – and anyone who came close to scoring a win had their efforts go up in smoke via a disqualification. Coupled with the fact he’s jacked to the gills, as well as finely tuning the minutia of his sneering bastard character – and PAC has cultivated quite the aura. He’s an ass-kicking champion, whose primary objective is to win; he has no time for your post-match hug or ‘this is why we love wrestling’ promo. He sees himself above it.

And then he comes to Riptide Wrestling.

While the promotion’s billing as ‘Cinematic Professional Wrestling’ immediately makes sense to anyone who sees it — with their atmospheric lighting and super high fidelity video making them stand out from the crowd — the company has developed a new unique selling point in the last few months.

Riptide very much feels like the ‘Land of Misfit Toys‘ in British wrestling. A boutique promotion that feels almost hand-crafted in how it’s run. It’s a passion project, scooping up talent others seem to not believe in; or haven’t yet given a chance to. It hosts the rebounding TK Cooper on his journey to redemption; it gives a much more prominent role to Spike Trivet than its larger peers; and in this match it pits a top star on the international scene against a cult favourite among the local crowd.

Cara Noir

Cara Noir’s entrance coupled with Riptide’s production is a match made in heaven; an instantly arresting visual that will make immediate fans of anyone watching for the first time. It’s such a refreshing change from other promotions where so many people are varying degrees of ‘I’m the toughest guy’ or ‘I’m the zaniest guy.’ Cara is very much his own person.

And then we get PAC. Black trunks, title belt, thoroughly unimpressed look on his face.

The tone is set immediately for the character dynamic of the match; it’s like a full on culture clash — as though PAC is so out of his element in Riptide that his appearance is like something from a ‘What If’ edition of a comic book.

But when the bell rings, it doesn’t matter what the setting is for PAC. He is the man. He is the international champion. And he takes charge. He dominates things early, as Noir constantly gets back to his feet and requests a handshake. PAC doesn’t just ignore the handshake; he mutters something to Noir every time, in disgust. This is a fight for respect for Noir — and it doesn’t come easy.

Cara handshake

The thing about this match is that they don’t convey Noir is on PAC’s level by having him go 50/50 with the man, and having them exchange moves endlessly. Such is the way with matches like this, more often than not, and it’s starting to feel passe.  This wasn’t a squash by any measure, but the story of the match was PAC, the world-traveled champion, was the better man and won. Noir was elevated not by any kind of elaborate booking or “protection” near the finish — he was elevated by using his natural charisma to garner sympathy from the crowd — due in part to his tremendous selling in the second half. While wins and losses will always matter, there is so much more to being a successful pro wrestler than that – and earning sympathy in defeat will always be a pillar of the art.

With this match, PAC is confident and assured, and when the resilient Noir gets his flurries – the Dragon Gate star is caught unaware and is left flustered. They don’t need to do ten 2.999 nearfalls to illustrate Noir has heart; he illustrated that in the match regardless. Likewise, true to his character, PAC doesn’t raise Noir’s hand and tell the crowd what a sport he is — why would he? And with the match they just had; it wasn’t needed. The crowd didn’t need to be told ‘Noir came THIS close to winning!’ – his performance was so endearing that they respected him for fighting to the bitter end, despite the unbeatable aura of his opponent.

This was wonderful pro wrestling.

AEW Fyter Fest

With their debut event in May, AEW made an unflinching declaration of war. They have money, they have an eclectic talent pool, they have some fresh ideas, and most importantly; they have already amassed a cult following. The first show, Double Or Nothing, was energetic and memorable, with seemingly everyone working with a chip on their shoulder.

With June’s Fyter Fest, they had the unenviable task of following themselves, and proving that they could be more than a high-production super indie – especially as their shift to episodic television is looming.

The results were mostly positive, but as the promotion chugs along, with two fully fledged events and dozens of ‘road to’ videos under their belt; their identity remains muddled.

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“I’ll Never Forgive You”

As the familiar strings of ‘Allegro con fuoco’ rang around the National Basketball Arena, it was hard to process everything that had unfolded in the last ten minutes. Despite being over 20 chapters deep; the Walter/David Starr story continued to get my heart racing and keep me guessing. I was certain Walter was winning. Of course he was. This story that began in earnest in wXw was hardly going to culminate here in Tallaght, was it? And to be even more cynical; current WWE UK champion Walter wasn’t going to lose to outspoken WWE critic David Starr, was he?

But as the match entered the fourth quarter, all that rationale went out the window. In a true representation of everything that’s great about pro wrestling, and how the medium can physically pull you in like no other comparable genre of entertainment; the misdirections and elaborate plays on previous matches had me doubting everything. It speaks to Starr and Walter’s in-ring intellect, and their understanding of what wrestling fans understand about the art. It speaks to their understanding of the language of pro wrestling, that they were able to signify to fans three or four times that the match was over, usually by alluding to one of Starr’s previous errors that lead to his demise, only to flip the script yet again; all without feeling like overkill. I jumped to my feet, I bought every nearfall — and I was one of hundreds in attendance who did, all bellowing at the top of our lungs with every violent flurry and every defiant kick-out.

Beyond just being yet another great match in a series of great matches, this match represented the latest evolution of the story – a story that spans years and many promotions, but has taken a fascinating slant since arriving on Irish shores in June of 2018.

Continue reading ““I’ll Never Forgive You””

Jordan Devlin vs. Walter (OTT, Wrestlerama 2)

Watch this match here. (Sub req’d, $8/month)

When OTT finally announced they had booked Walter for their June 2018 event, their fans were delighted, and the match was obvious. The world-conquering Austrian versus our boy Jordan Devlin, whose gimmick has been putting down “imports” and banging out a four-star match in the process.

It would have been great, and the fans would have been satiated.

But great wasn’t great enough for OTT. They had NOTIONS, and those notions paid off two shows later at the company’s flagship August event.

With their Wrestlerama 2 singles match, Devlin and Walter produced something special. Concluding, at least for now, one of the most simple-yet-effective angles on the indies in recent memory, OTT wrung more out of a mere three Walter appearances than some promotions have in months of booking. They created something far beyond a one-and-done great match, and told an excellent story that felt distinctly OTT. With the rabid Irish crowd in Jordan’s corner, this really felt like a match that couldn’t be replicated elsewhere.

The story of the match was this; a more focused and intense Devlin was able to learn from what previously felled him, but Walter still had his number.

The song and dance routine of Devlin and David Starr in June was replaced with a no-nonsence power walk to the ring. Starr wasn’t the irreverent buddy cop partner, he was an earnest cornerman, and he added to the match in a very real way.

Devlin’s performance as the no-nonsence babyface was perfect. He came out strong early with leg kicks and a taunting feign of a chop. When it was time for Walter to, well, be Walter and lay a beat down, Devlin sold it like it was the fight of his life. His hope spots had a sense of urgency and panic, never quite feeling like he was kicking Walter’s ass, but occasionally feeling like he had him rattled and survival was possible.

The other big carryover from June was the ‘Gojira Clutch’ sleeper, which scored Walter the win when these two met in a tag match. On every occasion, Jordan either countered it or simply weathered the storm. This culminated in the finish which was so perfect I’ve had to re-watch it in isolation a dozen times, separate from the three times I’ve watched this match in full. After a 20 minute war, Walter gets the clutch on one last time and Jordan starts to fade. The crowd are on tenter hooks, rallying for Jordan to power through. In a spot as old as wrestling itself, that I would consider a tired trope 95% of the time, the referee checks Devlin’s hand to see if he’s still conscious. It drops twice. On the third drop, Devlin keeps his hand in the air, looks up at it, and makes a fist, causing a roar from the crowd so impassioned you’d swear the guy just won the whole match.

Before he can start his comeback, before he can even tease a package piledriver, Walter says ‘fuck this’ (at least in my head), scoops Devlin up, and drops him with a Rikishi Driver, or whatever you want to call it if you’re a movez-nerd, and scored the pin.

Devlin learned from his past mistakes; but Walter was still too good. A wonderful story, hammered home by a tremendous post-match segment. A gloating Walter and Tim Thatcher taunt their longtime rival David Starr, who then tends to Devlin, looking precisely as devestated by this loss as a former champion should.

I’ve seen a lot of great matches in my time as an OTT fan, and have a great attachment to them as a promotion and Devlin as a performer. But this was a match that felt like it simultaneously encapsulated everything great about the promotion, while also shattering the glass ceiling of what people think about as a “great OTT match.” It’s a detail-oriented, minimalist classic, where every second is treated as important, and the crowd reacts like the winner’s purse goes straight into their pockets.

With so much left on the table for a rematch (the match very intentionally shied away from any kind of finisher spam), the really exciting thing is considering what they’ll do when Devlin rebuilds himself to try again.

Wrestlemania 34 Review

Wrestling Christmas has finally been and gone.

Much like regular Christmas, following months of build up and excitement, after a few hours you were thankful it was done for another year. Time to… Take down the Wrestling Tree?

Anyway.

Wrestlemania 34 had fans reaching almost unheard of levels of uncynical hype before showtime. WWE had not only thrown together a fairly compelling card, but it was so stacked that people forgot that sitting still and watching anything for seven hours is fucking insufferable.

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Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina vs. Carmella vs. Natalya (WWE, Money in the Bank 2017)

Watch this match here. (Sub required, $9.99 monthly)

This was the first ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.

As is often the case with WWE, most of the talk surrounding this match centred on the finish, so I’d be remiss to start anywhere else. For those who didn’t see it, James Ellsworth, Carmella’s squeeze, knocked Becky Lynch off the ladder, climbed it himself, unhooked the titular briefcase, and tossed it to a prone Carmella on the mat, who was then declared the winner.

There’s a lot to wrap your head around here, but your tolerance for this finish will vary depending on how much stock you invested in the idea of this as a ‘historic’ match – and I don’t refer to it as such because WWE chose to use that verbiage. Bar the odd street fight here or there on very rare occasions, weapons-based gimmick matches were not the domain of women in WWE until very recently. To participate in a heavily promoted ladder match, one of the most popular stipulations in all of wrestling, after decades of men making their names this way, is a cool milestone – and an important one. I can 100% understand anyone who was frustrated with this finish if they were hoping for a more… traditional conclusion. I think people, especially WWE’s long-suffering female fans, wanted something that would be used in video packages for years to come. They wanted their version of Razor Ramon standing atop the ladder at Wrestlemania X with two Intercontinental titles. As Carmella herself alluded to on Twitter, they wanted their ‘boyhood dream’ moment. They didn’t get it. They didn’t even get the simple visual of a woman, be she heel, face or whatever, climbing the ladder and retrieving an object. That seems like a pretty low bar for WWE to miss.

Were this not a ‘first time ever’ occurence, I don’t think I or anyone else would care as much. The finish was a new idea to get some heat on a young heel, for a show that is sorely lacking one on the female side, so that much I can get on board with.

It’s an overly-cutesy finish, which I’ve grown to hate, and that’s WWE’s bread and butter these days. Any match that isn’t just two dudes trying to pin each other becomes a game of ‘how creative can we be?’ in this company. This was akin to Big Show losing a tables match by accidentally stepping on one and breaking it because he’s so fat. It was a cute idea; some people even loved it. But a lot of people just groaned. When a push comes to shove though, it just irks me because you only get so many ‘first time ever’ moments. This will always be the first ever ladder match with women in WWE. It will always be James Ellsworth. It will outlast both his and Carmella’s careers. And in years to come I think even people in favour of this finish will realize that.

As for the match, well, I don’t have another 500 words to say on that. It was a pretty lame ladder match, near the bottom of the Money in the Bank rankings, were you to be a big enough loser to sit down and actually rank them. While Charlotte wowed near the finish with another beautiful dive from the top rope to the floor; there wasn’t much to speak of here in terms of high risks, innovation or thrills. There were several instances where people came off very shakey and nervous, which is understandable, but the end result was a very underwhelming match, bell to bell. There was good heat though, with most of the nearfalls (is that what you call it when someone almost gets the thing in a ladder match? Answers on a postcard) generating a lot of crowd noise – but that only took the match so far.

Sami Callihan, Jake Crist and Dave Crist vs. Shane Strickland, Dezmond Xavier and Lio Rush (WrestleCircus, 31-April-17)

Watch this match here.

This was the exact kind of match that a lot of people hate but I have a great amount of time for.

These guys did ten million moves, tonnes of innovative stuff, some of which was innovative to the point of being overly-cute, and everyone got their shit in. There was no real rhyme or reason, in the sense I couldn’t recall who had taken what moves or what the throughline was supposed to be (there probably wasn’t one) but everyone was doing cool stuff so I didn’t care.

Lio Rush in particular looked incredible, with some spots that were obvious homages to classic Low-Ki trademarks, usually with a small twist to make them his own.

For such a young promotion, WrestleCircus already has a tremendous group of regulars, who were loud and engaged like a peak-PWG or top level UK indie crowd. The venue seems cool, and everything I’ve seen from them has a red hot atmosphere.

The main drawback here was the production which, frankly, sucked. The camera guys were completely unable to keep up with the early crowd-brawling, and even some of the early in-ring stuff – several spots were missed early on, enough that I could easily see people tapping out on this a few minutes in. They had two stationary hardcams, which were fine, so I suppose the editor(s) also deserve a slap on the wrist for neglecting to use them when the ringside crew was fumbling. Likewise, the commentary was total low-level indie noise and the promotion (like many others) would do well to offer alternate, commentary-free audio tracks on their video-on-demand service.

If you’re not into mile-a-minute move fests, avoid this like the plague. If you are easily bothered by shoddy production, you might want to give this a miss. If you like crazy move-a-thons, this is a treat of a freebie, featuring some of indie wrestling’s current hottest names.