Masashi Takeda vs. Takumi Tsukamoto, BJW 2018 New Year (1/2/2018)

This was a nail boards, light tubes, and cage death match for Takeda’s BJW Deathmatch Heavyweight Title.

As has been noted previously on this blog, with virtually any deathmatch in the last ten years or so that has really impressed me on any level, it is very hard once you have reached a certain point as a deathmatch fan to really be blown away by anything. It can be frustrating at times — and never was that more the case than with the large scale online reaction to Masashi Takeda’s 2018 — but not everyone has been watching deathmatches for a decade plus, or whatever. When you see so many things done over and over and over, it loses something, and innovation in this field is rarer and rarer the longer it exists as a subgenre. More than in probably any other style of wrestling, the uncommon can become common real fast.

Masashi Takeda and Takumi Tsukamoto do not have an especially inventive match together here.

However, there are certain things that will just always be cool as hell.

Several of them happen in this very match.

Things like wild bumping on a bed of nails, big moves off the apron onto a barbed wire mesh fence (somehow this is the cage? I don’t know, man, sometimes you gotta just lean into it.), cutting someone’s face open with the broken side of a light tube, stabbing someone in the face with an open pair of scissors, that sort of stuff is always going to work for me on some level, even when none of it is new.

It is never just about what happens, of course.

Composition matters a whole lot too. To count the amount of deathmatches with a few incredible spots that, at large, are not great overall matches, you would probably need more hands than exist at any of the shows these matches take place on, and maybe that exist in the world. It happens a whole lot more than the inverse. This is not a match that is necessarily a marvel of construction, and it has the same problem at the end as a lot of big BJW deathmatches, which is that the big stuff comes before the actual end, so the final minutes come after the actual climax of the thing, but by and large, they get the things right that they need to. The spots build up, the energy increases, and they (mostly) escalate as well as possible. It makes sense, more or less. Cool shit assembled in such a way to get near maximum value out of said cool shit.

Primarily what helps this match’s cool shit matter more though — and what makes so many of his matches like this work better than those of his peers — is just how fun it is to watch Masashi Takeda.

He has an energy to him, an aura or a presence if you’d prefer a classical buzzword, that few other deathmatch workers in the world at this point have. The hack bit is to talk about how Takeda is an Actual Great Wrestler (revolting, anyone who says things like this shouldn’t be allowed to watch deathmatches, your brain is soft and your spirit is weak), but the real thing is that he just has something. He has the thing most of the real pop-off-your-screen stars have, the sort of ability to make things feel important, to elevate almost every piece of material he interacts with, and to overuse a phrase on this site once again, the ability to simple wrestle big. Everything he does has a little extra to it, there’s a manic energy he puts into almost everything, and the result is that the sorts of spots that have become routine through repetition feel interesting and big, if not quite fresh.

Tsukamoto is far from a bad wrestler, he is mechanically solid, has a certain energy to him too, and is certainly no piece of luggage in this match, but as with all but the very best Takeda deathmatches (2018 spoilers), this is the Takeda Show, and he is simply this month’s guest.

Masashi keeps a hold on the belt with the Reverse U Crash after a series of nearfalls following all the big gimmicks getting used.

Probably not even a top five or ten Takeda deathmatch in 2018, but weirdly, it’s the one I would rather people watched first, rather than one of the big hits. For what it lacks in next-level insanity and bombast, it makes up for in being pitch perfect at establishing a kind of baseline for the rest of the year.

three boy

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Daisuke Sekimoto/Hideki Suzuki vs. Twin Towers, BJW 2018 New Year (1/2/2018)

It’s a lovely thing.

The Twin Towers reunite for the first time since the previous January 2nd’s stylistic masterpiece, once against Daisuke Sekimoto, and now with a wildly different partner. Hideki Suzuki largely replaced Shuji Ishikawa in terms of the big names in the strong division, ships passing in the night and all of that, so in addition to the rekindling of seventy-five percent of one of the decade’s very best rivalries, we’re also presented with something brand new.

Even if we don’t see nearly enough of it.

Big Japan being Big Japan, this incredible match both on paper and in reality only gets ten minutes and is third from the top underneath a Daichi Hashimoto title match (disgraceful, embarrassing) and a Masashi Takeda deathmatch title match (understandable, probably the correct call). It is a remarkably frustrating call, one of those classic baffling Big Japan calls that come almost constantly and always lurk around the corner no matter how great any individual thing might seem on paper or may even be in reality.

Even more frustrating is that even at only ten minutes, this whips a ton of ass.

The thing about not getting as much of this as I want is that (a) I want and probably will always want a whole lot of it, & (b) even a ten minute chunk of four of the best wrestlers alive in this sort of a match is a real thrill.

It is maybe a little too heavy to be a true and proper hoot, but if you’re making some kind of a checklist (short, mean, violent, angry, full of things that inspire hooting and/or hollering), this is gonna run down and tick off almost every box on there.

For those of you who need some kind of a narrative, if you want to squint, there’s some material here for you. Playing just a little bit off of the near-success a year prior, the Twin Towers crowd old Dice-K at the start and never really let up. Hideki has his run, but as this is still a pure superteam and not one with any real chemistry, Shuji and Sato don’t have a whole lot of trouble stretching the ring and separating the two of them. Sekimoto finds his way back in, and when they can lean on him a little heavier, Hideki doesn’t quite have the power and force to bail him out that Okabayashi did a year ago. Kohei Sato hits his Piledriver, and finally gets his man, and that’s that.

Mostly though, this is just carried off by the performances themselves.

Shuji Ishikawa is maybe not what he was three years ago, but he brings the pain here like he hasn’t in, well, exactly a year. Everyone else is as on it as always. Hideki seems to totally and completely get what this sort of a match is, and while he’s been great in the last year and change at modifying these larger name Big Japan tags to his style, he slides into this one perfectly and throws with three of the best at it. The match seems to know what the new attraction is, and allows for a (relatively) long Hideki vs. Shuji run near the end, and it is as great as a few minute ran can be. Sekimoto and Sato, ever the pictures of consistency, are as great in this as they are whenever they meet. It’s a beautiful marriage, two wrestlers who hit real hard in different ways and do a bunch of different things, constantly meeting year after year to have great and just slightly different matches in the same vein. This isn’t quite their match, but they’re phenomenal in it. An all-star tag that is somehow this short doesn’t truly have any one star, but every one in this match is either as great as always in the way you have grown to expect, or great in either new ways, or ones they don’t often get to show.

More of a great DTV face melter than an in-theater popcorn epic, but I don’t mean that as an insult in any way, as many longer tenured readers and/or friends of mine would attest to. The world needs more A-level DTV facemelter style wrestling matches instead of simple epics, even if something like this would have satisfied no matter what its ambitions were. If we got a hundred of these a year, I’d be a far happier person.

***+

Joe Doering vs. Zeus, AJPW New Year Wars 2018 Day One (1/2/2018)

This was for Doering’s Triple Crown Title.

Could I praise this match glowingly and effusively for a few hundred words, maybe even a thousand plus?

Maybe! I’m not going to, but I could!

It’s a pretty great kind of a power fight, between two of wrestling’s pre-eminent power fighters at this particular point in time. Both Doering and Zeus not only have a great understanding of the mechanics of a match like this, the ways in which to slowly escalate it, tease things and pay them off in the back half of a match for maximum impact, actual good striking most of the time, all of that, but are also engaging enough personalities for the match to work on another level too. It’s a match between two real magnetic fighters who also happen to be really really good at constructing this sort of a fight as well.

They balance a perfect kind of lizard brained dudes rock thrill — the joy of seeing large men hurl their bodies at each other with enough force to create a delightful series of audible smacks over some twenty minutes — with something just a little more artful and skillful. As always, when a match is able to achieve that kind of balance and satisfy in more than just one particular way, it’s a wonderful thing. On its own, Zeus and Joe Doering have a great match for the most simple reasons that a match can be great.

Really though, it comes down to one sentence uttered at the very start of the match, and a sentence at that which may be the greatest thing All Japan’s contributed to wrestling this decade.

“COME ON MOTHERFUCKER, SHOW ME POWER.”

It’s a beautiful outcry, and the sort of thing that simply cannot be manufactured. Hilarious without seeming all that silly or phony, energetic, a perfect tone-setter and the sort of thing I’m going to remember for a billion years. Off the top of my head, you ask me to name one (1) individual thing (as in, specifically not just how good it somehow was in 2013) from All Japan in the 2010s, and the answer is probably going to be this.

For all the great strikes and sick power moves thrown out during this match and for its many delightful charms, it is the Motherfucker, Show Me Power Match, and there are a thousand many worse things that a wrestling match can be.

***

Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe, WWE Raw (1/1/2018)

This was for Reigns’ WWE Intercontinental Title, with the caveat that should Reigns get disqualified (as he had previously against Joe), he would lose the title.

Sort of secretly, it’s one of the better built up matches in WWE over the last year.

Not to say Reigns vs. Joe hasn’t happened a whole lot in the last year, but that through all of that, Reigns has yet to ever really beat Samoa Joe. Arguably, Samoa Joe has Roman Reigns’ number, and the more he beats him, the more confident he gets about it, resulting in Roman’s recent loss of temper, relatively speaking. What started as a little gamesmanship has slowly been spoken into maybe just being simple reality. The longer Roman Reigns is unable to disprove that Samoa Joe has his number, the more it feels like, well shit, maybe. More often than not, these have not been clean victories, but with someone as otherwise protected as Reigns, the minutiae of the claim matters a lot less than Samoa Joe’s ability to still make the claim itself.

It’s a wonderful set up, the sort of long-term work you almost never get out of this fucking company on purpose.

Now, should this have been thrown out there on free television in the middle of a pay-per-view cycle? Absolutely not. That’s a pay-per-view main event level scenario, not only a title match between two great wrestlers, but one with a real issue behind it. This is a slam dunk, but by this point, this is a company that can no longer get vertical like that, and we get what we get.

The match itself is pretty good and borderline great as well.

Joe and Joe have never had a sort of easy and immediate chemistry, and they never quite found that perfect moment together in which everything goes right. Ideally a fifteen minute smoke and mirrors WWE-ass Last Man Standing sort of a thing, but that was never in the works for them. What they have going for them here is enough time to really dig into something (if maybe arguably like three or four minutes more than they absolutely needed) and the effort and natural skill in them to make most of it work. You can lob off some time and there are moments here or there that aren’t totally necessary, naturally there’s a very WWE play on the stipulation that feels both hamfisted and undercooked at the same time, but in large part, the match just works.

Samoa Joe is once again unbelievable. Yes, his physical prime ended nearly a decade ago. Yes, he cannot do the things he used to do all the time on offense and on defense anymore. However, he brings an air of legitimacy and urgency to the proceedings like few wrestlers in the world, let alone in WWE, are able to. His offense still looks incredibly painful and genuine, both in his striking and bigger impact stuff but also in the ways he goes after the bad arm of Reigns in ways that look painful but also feel more genuine to who Samoa Joe is at this point than just hitting the WWE formula arm holds, and his shit-talking is unparalleled in this company. Above all, he’s able to strike a real interesting balance as a wrestler who feels like a threat to Roman both because he’s physically dominant, but also because it always feels like he’s drawing him in in some other way too.

Reigns isn’t quite on that level here, it’s more of an understated (still very good) arm selling performance as compared to his work against Cesaro or Jason Jordan over the last month, but he does the things he always does well. Quality responses to everything that happens, a lot of energy and snap, and he meets Joe in the middle for the one thing they both do incredibly well, which is this natural ability to make wrestling matches feel important.

It’s not everything, but through force of talent and raw effort, it is just enough.

Roman gets the monkey off his back, and after the Spear with his good arm, finally gets past Samoa Joe.

WWE being WWE, they later run it back as a b-tier pay-per-view main event to fill space, resulting in the most listless absolute nothing match the two Joes seemingly could ever have against each other, and that tends to be the one people remember. It’s a shame, because while they never had that one real big hit together, this and the handful of matches they had in 2017, are all really really fun.

A great example yet again of the fact that, on some level, when kept simple and kept organized and built up with care and tact, classical professional wrestling like this is always going to work.

Big Van Vader vs. Shinya Hashimoto, NJPW Battle Satellite in Tokyo Dome (4/24/1989)

This was a commissioned review from Chris. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

This was the finals of a one-night tournament for the vacant IWGP Heavyweight Title, with Lou Thesz as the special guest referee.

As with almost any truly great tournament final, the difference between this and the rest of the flock comes down to how they got there, and the way that the idea of the tournament itself is used to not only create new and interesting narrative possibilities, but to also enhance what’s already there.

For Vader, this has not been an especially hard road.

That’s not to say it was easy, and in fact he has more ring time on the show so far than Hashimoto, but as it goes, it is more about quality of time spent than quantity. He just about stampeded through young Masahiro Chono in the first round, and when faced with former champion Tatsumi Fujinami, and never once looked like he was in trouble. They had a match for the title when Fujinami was the champion in 1988, and it went nothing like this. A stellar monster run through and through, carried off by a Big Van Vader who finally seems to have grown into the role in the year and a half since he first stepped into it.

Hashimoto, on the other hand, has not spent the tournament looking like someone who has arrived so much, but more like a puppy with big paws first starting to grow.  The quarterfinals saw a major upset over Riki Choshu in four minutes, but it was off a flash cradle, and not as if Hashimoto completely supplanted him in one night. Likewise, his semi-final win over Victor Zangiev (Hashimoto defending pro wrestling against a shooter in the Tokyo Dome? can’t imagine there’s any future in that.), despite being a remarkable match in its own right, is tempered somewhat by Zangiev only having made his professional debut two months prior. It’s not to say this is some Cinderella story, someone in entirely over their head and in a situation where they do not belong, so much as that Hashimoto maybe doesn’t belong here yet.

Whereas Vader has spent the night displaying a dominance and maturity, painting a picture of someone who is supposed to be here, Shinya Hashimoto — despite having less ring time and maybe a slightly easier path — has clearly and significantly overachieved tonight. He is not supposed to be here, and merely getting this far is a massive step forward, even if he clearly has no chance at winning the thing.

The thing is, nobody ever told Shinya Hashimoto that.

It’s a wonderful a gigantic monkey wrench thrown into what seemed like an otherwise fairly predictable tournament on paper (Fujinami and Vader on one side of the bracket and Choshu on the other? c’mon.), and a fairly novel approach for such a big show. You get the monster Vader vs. underdog story you were probably always going to get, but now with an even more genuine underdog, and that ultra powerful but maybe floating there in the air after Hashimoto already for this far. It’s one of the best booked tournaments ever with a super interesting narrative going into the final, but as always, none of that means a single God damned thing if the match isn’t there with them.

Thankfully, this whips a ton of ass also.

Vader and Hashimoto only fight for nine minutes and forty seven seconds, but in the hands of true all-time greats, none of that matters quite so much.

Like so much else on this show and in this tournament and in this era of New Japan in general, it is tight and mean and super fascinating and genuinely stunningly efficient, stellar performance and outstanding narrative walking together hand in hand, a match full of things that are satisfying for so many different reasons.

Hashimoto explodes at the start and never really loses that intensity, and the result is that every second of this thing feels frantic and desperate on his end. They don’t achieve that simply through Hashimoto rushing him, it isn’t just a fast match elevated by the set up, making it easy to ascribe certain feelings to the shadows on the wall, but Hashimoto accomplishes so much through facial expressions. Few wrestlers ever have been able to convey not just a kind of focused intensity like Hashimoto does, even in his relative youth here, but he’s also so specifically great at communicating the idea that he is on edge. Not just a likeable young wrestler hurling himself at a heavy task with reckless abandon, but someone who seems like he specifically knows how hard this is. It‘s a small distinction, but one that is a thousand times more interesting. 

Vader doesn’t have the same kind of desperation in the match, but he comes at the same general idea from a pretty interesting place too.

Thrown off by the attack, it’s not just that Vader takes big bumps and sells his ass off, or that when he does come back, he mauls Hashimoto with a different kind of energy than he had in either match in the tournament before this. Primarily, what is so great about this Vader performance is the way he reacts to Hashimoto targeting the arm, which really gets to what works about the entire thing. It’s a strategy Fujinami tried in the semi-finals only to be shrugged off and destroyed, but when it works for Hashimoto and Vader feels really and genuinely hurt, it not only feels like this victory in and of itself for Hashimoto — doing what the Ace wasn’t able to — but it feels for just a moment like instead of simply trying hard and doing a great job, that Hashimoto might actually be able to win.

Of course, that doesn’t happen.

Not even close, and the match is so much better for it.

Big Van runs through Hashimoto with one of the gnarliest and biggest feeling heavyweight dropkicks in the history of the genre, and in another lovely choice, Hashimoto never really has another shot at it. He’s not swamped, but the match makes it super clear from that moment on that this is a match between someone who is and someone who will one day be, and that this is far from the end for these two.

Vader knocks Hashimoto out with a Lariat alone (featuring a really neat pause before three, making it feel for just a second like there’s supposed to be a nearfall maybe that doesn’t come, adding this slight air of legitimacy to Vader’s force at the end as well), and wins the vacant title.

Along with the tournament at large, a match that accomplishes so many different things. Shinya Hashimoto completes his breakthrough night with the sort of match that through booking and performance that firmly puts him on the map as the clear heir apparent. Vader looks more dominant than ever, likewise established by the narrative and his success in pulling it off as

Beautiful professional wrestling.

***1/4

The Briscoes vs. Rush/Dragon Lee, ROH Wrestling (7/28/2019)

This was a commissioned review from friend of the blog/frequent contributor @beenthrifty. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I am watching this in the early AM hours of January 20th, 2023. This is the first Briscoes match that I have watched since Jay Briscoe passed away on January 17th. It is entirely possible that, given the circumstances, I am higher on a Briscoes match, more forgiving of any mistakes, and more inclined to like this than I may have been even a week before. That is simply the way life works sometimes, especially when one of your favorite wrestlers of all time and someone who you grew up watching suddenly passes away, and when it is only just starting to feel real in real time that you are never going to experience something like this again. Thinking about using the past tense to talk about one of my favorite wrestlers ever is a genuine mother fucker. If you come across this months or years later, watch it, and maybe don’t think this match is as great as I do, well hell, there are maybe reasons I liked this so much at the time of writing.)

This rocks.

Being a mid 2019 ROH television match, it both (a) is maybe not all it can be, (b) suffers from a less than stellar crowd in response to all that goes right in it, & (c) has gone largely unappreciated since.

Very little of that matters to me.

First of all, being not all it can be means very little with a match up that is this promising. All it can be, in this match, feels like a bloody war in which Rush breaks a glass bottle on Jay Briscoe’s head and prompts the man who may have been (fuck man) the greatest bleeder in wrestling history (certainly of the twenty-first century) to hit another gusher and take the match to another level. All it can be feels like a set up tag to a Jay Briscoe vs. Rush singles bloodbath that we never quite got.

All the same, this is so much fun.

Rush and Dragon Lee, especially, break out a bunch of the coolest and meanest things that they can do, and one of the best tag teams in the world and of all time matches them every step of the way. Every second of this thing is packed with something that is either very cool or that, at minimum, feels genuine and real in a way that precious little other wrestling at this point in time did. The goal is really getting over Rush as a new top guy when ROH badly needs it, complete with beating Jay Briscoe at the end with his corner basement dropkick, but even independent of that, the match simply works in every way that it possibly could given the circumstances. A bunch of cool moves, tight composition, and at all times, feeling like a real and genuine contest.

The Briscoes are, for my money, the greatest tag team of all time. This is perhaps not the place to go entirely into this, as you can read all about Jay Briscoe on this blog and his mid 2010s singles push that earned him two different Wrestler of the Year list berths in that time, but I put this match on my list of post-mortem Jay Briscoe recommended matches for a reason. Not only does it whip a ton of ass, but it shows just how great even these later-period Briscoes matches could be, and how great that they were against all kinds of new opponents, and how they gave a shit even when almost nobody else in the company did. As good of an example of why I think this is the best tag team ever as almost anything else.

Man Up.

***

The Embassy (Jimmy Rave/Alex Shelley/Abyss) vs. Generation Next (Austin Aries/Roderick Strong/Matt Sydal), ROH Redemption (8/12/2005)

This was a commissioned review from frequent contributor Kai. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

I don’t know if this was something that the reader who commissioned this piece ever knew, but this is genuinely one of my favorite matches of all time.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s one of the best matches of all time, of course, so much as that if someone hypothetically paid me to list my 100 favorite matches, or maybe even 50, this is one that would probably make the cut. Not that it isn’t a genuinely incredible match, but that when discussing it, I do need to admit my bias. Not only in the sense that this has several of my favorite wrestlers of all time in something near the peaks of their powers (in Jimmy Rave’s case, 2005 is absolutely is the peak, and Aries’ is 2004-5 for certain, but longer-term successes like Shelley, Sydal, and Roddy have far more open cases), but because I actually saw this live.

I used to have grandparents in Dayton, Ohio, where this show happened, and I had this habit in the mid to late 2000s of visiting them in windows that JUST SO HAPPENED to line up with Ring of Honor shows. This habit ended with November 2008’s truly awful show, and it isn’t like I went to Dayton shows anywhere near as often as Chicago Ridge or even Detroit shows, but I went to a nice little handful here, including this one. It wasn’t my first Ring of Honor show ever, that would be NOWHERE TO RUN (5/14/2005), in which I genuinely bought a ticket to see CM Punk destroy Jimmy Rave inside a steel cage, an experience that sounds like it should have died out in like 1987, but that only speaks to the power of both men in those roles. This show, REDEMPTION, was my second. I had a very rare opportunity here in that I would be going back to Illinois early the next day with my cousin, and actually made both this and PUNK: THE FINAL CHAPTER, and outside of like Money in the Bank 2011 or All Out 2021, it’s maybe my favorite experience as a wrestling fan. This match isn’t quite as much of a reason for that as something like James Gibson winning the ROH Title in the main event or CM Punk’s departure on the next night’s show were, but it’s a really great match that I just so happened to see with my own eyes in person at a formative age.

Now, this is a great match without all of that attached to it, of course, but if your opinions on this match do not totally line up with the megaton of praise I am about to heap upon this bad boy, that’s why.

It also helps that, given what it is going for, it is absolutely perfect.

This is not a match that necessarily aims to be a Great Match, but that through the complete airtight perfection in every facet of the thing, winds up there anyways.

Really, truly, and genuinely, every inch of this thing is great. We don’t often think of ROH midcard matches — even Peak ROH ones — as being the kinds of matches I often describe as being alarmingly self-confident and surefooted, but this really is. Stunningly so. This is maybe sixteen or, at most, seventeen minutes, and not an inch of it is misspent. The offense is pristine and crisp as hell. The selling is very good. The construction is immaculate. Every single thing that happens in this match either rocks or matters, and more often than not, they tick off both of those boxes, while also featuring six (6) different outstanding performances.

Each member of Generation Next is great in this.

The real strength of this match lies in the fact that while it is a window into several of the best wrestlers of all time at their very best, it is hard to pick out any one of them as the MVP of the match. Everyone contributes something real and important to the success of this, it is hard to imagine this without any of the six of them, and yet, they all feel like they contribute in equal measure.

Generation Next, first of all, are phenomenal babyfaces.

Firstly and most obviously, there is the all-time best wrestler of the six, the Rod Dog. Roderick Strong in 2005 is as good as it got for the guy before he really figured it all out in 2014. Booking helped, but as a new force on the scene doing a lot of things people hadn’t seen before, Roderick Strong was one of the most exciting wrestlers in the entire world, and it is all on display here. His hot tag in the back third of this thing is incredible. Fast, furious, cool as hell, super efficient, it’s all there. Part of that has to do with raw construction, but his execution and the fire he brings to this help so much. If the match has a weakness, maybe it is that with current eyes, it is hard to feel any sympathy for Austin Aries. Even at the time, he was never all that natural of a babyface. And yet, he does very well in peril here, and the snap on everything he does is another thing that helps the match out so much. Matt Sydal gets the least attention of the three, which is maybe odd in a match specifically framed as Sydal’s test to get into Generation Next, but he is just so great as an underdog babyface. Naturally likeable on top of being one of the most remarkable athletes of the generation, he’s the best underdog babyface of the mid 2000s, and maybe the entire decade. It is not on its absolute best display in this match, but everything Sydal gets to do here from his early offensive to his crucial cut off in the clutch is really great.

As great as Our Heroes (and also Austin Aries) are on one side, The Embassy is maybe even better on the other.

Most obviously, Abyss is perfect in Ring of Honor in a way that he never really was anywhere else. TNA being TNA restricted him in a lot of ways, a big-but-not-monsterous guy at the whims of often suspect booking, but as a big man in a promotion full of mostly smaller wrestlers and cast in the perfect role to accentuate that, I’ve never liked Abyss more. Shelley and Rave are just as great in what they get to do. Shelley is a perfect stooge, who also has the ability to get really and truly mean when the period of control on Austin Aries calls for it. Jimmy Rave, as previously mentioned, is on the roll of his lifetime in 2005. I genuinely do not believe there was a better working heel on the planet than 2005 Jimmy Rave, or that there have been too many better ones in wrestling history. Everything he does is disgusting and contemptable. As opposed to Shelley and Abyss — presented as capable wrestlers who can turn the tide cleanly through scientific ability and raw power respectively — Jimmy Rave is an all-time great example of the sort of heel that cuts off anything respectable about themselves. He doesn’t spend the entire match cheating, of course, but nothing he does is cool on any level. Basic offense, cheap little shots here or there, and even when he does a little thing that kicks ass or a cool move, the smug little look on his face or the way he carries himself undercuts it. Again, Jimmy Rave is the only wrestler who I have ever explicitly paid to see get beaten up, and while this match is not his best work of this period, it is a stellar example of just why I was motivated to do that only three months earlier.

This is one of my favorite stable iterations of all time, and in this match — as with the few others they ever got to have together — you really get to see why. Not only three wildly different wrestlers all doing career level work, but working together in perfect synchronicity as well. A genuinely perfect act.

Something else this match does so well is that it never goes exactly the way you think that it’s going to.

Certainly, this is a formula tag team match, but the small changes make such a big difference here. They are all so gifted at just slightly modifying things in a way that is unexpected, opening you up as a viewer for greater hits down the line. You expect the smaller man Matt Sydal to get isolated here, especially with the way that this was built up for him. In actuality, it is more impressive for him to face those odds, only to fight through it and not suffer that fate, proving himself in a different way than one might expect, even down to him providing the big cut off at the end rather than the obvious pinfall win. It makes him look better for doing so, while also making The Embassy itself look stronger for isolating the leader of Generation Next in Austin Aries. Similarly, the match is full of these great teases and payoffs, things like Roddy being unable to lift Abyss initially, but building to it and him succeeding with help from Aries and Sydal.

Following a great Strong vs. Rave run at the end, it’s Sydal who comes through by cutting off The Embassy’s tank in Abyss with his all-time gorgeous Moonsault dive, allowing for Roddy to get Rave one on one. He hits him with the Half Nelson Backbreaker, and then Aries follows up immediately off of a tag with the 450 Splash for the win. It’s not only an outstanding finishing stretch, but one that wastes zero time, and that leaves so much on the table for the next four months. There’s a real urgency to it, on top of everything else that it does so well.

It feels rude to call this a miracle in any sense, given the talent involved, but an all-time great example of what I am looking for when I talk about things like raw efficiency and talent and booking working together perfectly. Every centimeter of this thing is great for a million different reasons, every wrestler in it more than delivers on what they are asked to do, everything goes as perfectly as it ever could, and the result is one of the best ever versions of the kind of match that this is going for.

While not the spreadsheet monster or widely heralded epic that like twenty other 2005 Ring of Honor matches are, it’s as great an example of any of them of why, truly, there may not be any greater year for a promotion than this.

***5/6

The Heavenly Bodies vs. The Thrillseekers, SMW Night of Legends (8/5/1994)

This was a commissioned review from friend of the blog/frequent contributor @beenthrifty. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

Again, thanks to Thrifty for coming through in the clutch with the sort of wrestling I want to be paid to write about, or at least that I might just have kept putting off forever without such an incentive. SMW is something of a blind spot for me, even this real famous match. Sort of exists in my mind as the place where New Jack cut that one all-time great promo and then that’s it. Like, I know there’s more and I know I would probably like a lot of it. So, you know, if anyone is keeping a list of the sorts of commission topics I really enjoy (pre-1980 wrestling in general, French Catch in particular, Portland/AWA, lucha blind spots, etc.), you can add SMW to the list.

This was theoretically a Street Fight, according to Cagematch, but you would have never known that if you didn’t look it up, as it is pretty much just a regular tag.

Not that that matters, given that this rocks as much as it does.

It would be easy to simply put this down as an incredibly Heavenly Bodies performance (and it is), but really, this is a victory not just for the idea of pure tag team formula, but also for an entire system of wrestling.

Chris Jericho and Lance Storm, as your Thrillseekers, are not great here. To what extent either ever becomes truly great is a fair point worth debating, but both are clearly young wrestlers here. Not everything looks perfect, some things like their superkicks and the occasional awkward chop or punch look outright bad, there’s a whole lot of foot stomping and hand clapping to encourage the fans in a classic young wrestler way, and it would be hard to pinpoint anything either man does here that is really great. That isn’t to say it’s bad, they are a totally passable slightly-above-replacement level little blowjob tag team who executes everything will and completely lives up to what the match asks of them, but you get a sense here that they could have been a bunch of other wrestlers around their skill level and — save Chris Jericho having a talent for dramatic bleeding and his broken right arm forcing him to use the left, which is naturally sympathetic — this is probably just as great.

The trick is that this match simply does not ask a whole lot from them.

Of everything this match does right, what it does the most correctly (outside of having a ton of blood, of course) is the way that everything in the match not only makes sense on a why-is-this-happening level, but is always exactly what the kids are capable of handling, and no more. They’re competent enough to bump and to sell and the match not only primarily asks that of them, but adds in a wonderful little shortcut to help them out in the back half. They’re not super great at everything they do on offense, so the match doesn’t really let them do a whole lot of it outside of the initial burst to start the match. They also don’t feel like they should be able to kick the Bodies’ asses or hang long-term, so the match simply does not allow that to happen. After the burst, they just get their asses kicked, and so you have this thing that not only works mostly on a mechanical level, but one that makes sense in every way that a match can make sense.

Prichard and Del Rey being, maybe, the best tag team in the entire country at this point helps too, of course.

Jimmy and the ol’ Doc, as mentioned previously, put on an absolute clinic in this match. A near perfect antagonistic heel tag team performance. With Cornette in the corner, the obvious comparison will always be there and while neither of them is Bobby Eaton, there are no problems to speak of here and nothing but benefits. The bumping and stooging is pristine, and the offense is even better. What’s more impressive than simple mechanics is the thought put into what they do. When initially controlling Lance Storm, it’s all pretty moves and double teams. Execution via raw science. When they isolate Jericho in the back half, once he’s covered in red, it is all brutality. Punches, knee drops, stomps, all to the face. The difference between the two not only makes the latter period of control stand out, but also feel so much more serious. We saw what the Bodies were like usually, but the back half of this is different, and it helps this so much. Not only in the sense that different is memorable, but in the sense that because they’re kicking ass in a newer kind of a way, it feels a little more dangerous and serious and therefore casts Jericho in a more sympathetic light and makes his survival all the more impressive.

The finish of the match is the real gem here.

Following minutes of this brutal and basic attack solely on the kid’s face, without Jericho being able to fight back, the referee calls the match off, only for Jericho to beg for a restart. He still can’t do much outside of buy a window of time, and in that time, Lance Storm sneaks in with a superkick, sending one of the Bodies falling back into a Jericho cradle to just barely get it done.

Like with any good finish, it sums up the themes of the match completely and totally. An overmatched young babyface team surviving just long enough to get lucky, partially because of the villains overreaching and partially because of Jericho’s guts. It is maybe not the cleanest thing in the world, a left-armed Jericho not being great at grabbing what was probably supposed to be a schoolboy like that, nor perfectly captured on film, but it just works. That’s the match, really. There are problems, but through careful booking and construction, all this blood, and a stellar performance on one end especially, none of that really matters in the end.

Ultimately, as good an example as there is in the world that there is precious little that cannot be accomplished in wrestling through perfect formula tag team wrestling and a whole lot of blood, including even making these two half sympathetic for a brief moment in time, and part of a match this great so early in their careers.

A hell of a thing here.

***1/4

Jimmy Lloyd vs. Jake Lander, GCW Wasted Time (12/3/2022)

This was a commissioned review from one of my ten thousand sons, Packers Fan Brandon. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

Would have loved to write about another Jake Lander match in this part of the country in 2022, but this is fine too, I guess. 

Some good things happened here. Lander is a sick bumper and it is always fun to see a little guy get absolutely throttled. Lloyd is okay too. They did some cool moves, like a stage bump and then stage dive by Lander. Lander’s bump off of Jim Lloyd’s Essex Destroyer (if this isn’t called the Essex County Destroyer, what are we even doing here?) is especially nasty. The size difference is also such that when Lloyd does bump for the little fellow, it’s pretty impressive. There’s also a bunch of stuff that isn’t so good, be it through miscommunication or simple bad ideas, and the finish being a real mid tier Jim Lloyd Cop Killa after the gross DDT right before it is sort of wasteful to in its own way.

This is the worst sort of commission to get. 

Not great enough or inspiring enough to really gush over, but not really bad enough to inspire much in the way of vitriol either. I have nothing to say about it, besides listing the good and bad things that happened. There were more good things than bad things. That might be a miracle on the GCW midcard, Lander is certainly a promising enough wrestler, but outside of that sliding scale, shit man, I don’t know. I do not think strongly about this match one way or the other. I will not ever think about it again once like half an hour passes and I forget about it. Someone paid for this review though, so you know, here we are, trying our best to get through to an amount of writing that makes me feel like I’m giving somebody what they paid for.

Really though, whatever.

This was fine.

If this match has a moral or some message to it, it does not lie in the match between Jim Lloyd and Jake Lander itself, and that maybe I have to teach all of my horrible children and, at large considering many of the commissions, stylistic acolytes as well, to spend their money a little more wisely. It should still go to me, obviously, but you know, give me something a little more substantial to work with here, you know?

 

Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia, AEW Dynamite (8/17/2022)

This was a commissioned review from RB. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out. 

(photo credit to @willh94 on Twitter.)

This was a Best Two of Three Falls Match.

Is this a great match?

Yes. Of course. Right behind the Hangman Page bloodbath, Anarchy in the Arena, and a few others, it’s one of the best Bryan Danielson matches of the year.

I don’t love it though.

Something about these Bryan/Garcia matches always felt a little off for me in a way that is hard to totally define. That’s not to say this is all on Bryan, as Garcia still feels like a very unfinished product in these matches, occasionally being just a little too psyched to be in a Bryan Danielson Match to make the most of it (a common problem in AEW). Mostly though, it’s emblematic of a trend with Bryan in 2022. There’s a very 2009 Bryan Danielson feeling to this, and to so much of the G.O.A.T.’s work this year, following up a year in which he was the Wrestler of the Year (EDITOR’S NOTE — as of the time this is being written, 1/19/2023, I have not explored 2008 in depth, but outside of maybe Nigel, maybe Jimmy Jacobs, a few others, that feels like a safe thing to say) and having very little to do, and feeling like — even in matches that are objectively good to great — like there is something missing. An absence of something, call it urgency or a certain feeling, or whatever you’d like.

That feeling permeates these Garcia matches, among others in his return from injury in the last third or so of 2022, in a way that I find hard to put into language that I think totally encapsulates it. There is simply something to Bryan Danielson that (as of January 2023) has not felt entirely right since his return from injury in July 2022. Not going through the motions exactly, but having seen what it looks like when Bryan has something to prove or has something real meaty to bite into (2004-2007, 2013-2014, 2018-19, the last third of 2021), this is not exactly that. It’s real real far from being bad, and it’s also not unfair to suggest that this is simply a case of the bar being raised too high, so mere good to very good work feels lacking when coming from a wrestler with a ceiling as high as Bryan Danielson’s. But, all the same, something is not right. Like in 2009, Bryan Danielson feels a lot of the time as if he is trying to have Bryan Danielson Matches and crossing things off of a checklist, rather than anything else.

All that being said, part of being the greatest wrestler of all time is that even when something feels off for most of the year in a way that is hard to totally pin down, Bryan Danielson can still have a match this great, in which many of those issues are absent, or at the very least, significantly minimized.

That’s not to say there aren’t still some problems here.

Generally speaking, the match isn’t the most narratively coherent match there is on a more granular level, focusing on big themes rather than any kind of mechanical lines through from start to finish. Given the clear choice there (and how good they are at playing to those themes), these things aren’t the end of the world. Still, the first fall ending with a callback to classic and current Danielson concussion/head injury issues only for that to kind of fade away is something of a bummer, given how great Bryan is at selling that sort of a thing. There’s also a DDT on exposed concrete at a point that I wish had mattered just a little bit more in the grand scheme of things, given what it is. (I cannot make out clear shapes, but I feel somewhere in the distance that a whole lot of people who were really mad at John Cena for the way he handled a DDT on the concrete at SummerSlam 2010 had no problems with this.) On the whole, this match has a lot of real cool sections and awesome moments, but doesn’t tie them together or organize them in the tightest fashion.

Having said all of that, there is so much to love.

Narratively, it’s your classic story of ambition and experience, a young shitstirrer throwing rocks at the throne and suffering the natural consequences, and one that works for the reasons that stories like this almost always do. It feels good to see these things we know as facts of the world (Bryan Danielson is the greatest technical wrestler alive) called into question and then answered emphatically. It feels good to see an annoying little cretin step a little bit too far by not only trying to hurt Bryan but to take his spot using a bunch of Bryan’s own moves, and be horrifically punished for both his hubris and inexperience by one of the most likeable wrestlers of all time.

If it is not the most tightly assembled match of all time, Garcia and Danielson still get a ton out of what they do, in terms of spelling these ideas out across the length of the match, and then some. Garcia overreaches constantly in what he chooses to do, not only in the attacks on the floor, but in how much of Bryan’s offense he outright steals. Even more impressive is the way the match slowly turns against him the more he does that, as if there is some cosmic limit he has surpassed, and now the Wrestling Gods have decided to punish him through one of their favorite emissaries. The theft stops working, either avoided or countered, and when in trouble in the later falls, the inexperience comes through when he tries to repeat moves to less and less success. His second try at the Dragon Sleeper leads to his loss of the second fall, and in the end, his try at a repeat Piledriver out of the Triangle Choke — a counter that won him the first fall, more or less — leads to Bryan having thought up a counter and escaping into the match-winning LeBell Lock.

More than the narrative at large or the way they choose to communicate it though, what stands out the most is just how mean Bryan Danielson is here.

The match is full of these really nasty little attacks. Punches to the body, rabbit punches, elbows to the ear, especially nasty head stomps, things like that. They’re the moments that really elevate this match past the things I didn’t love quite so much about it, little moments of violence that spell out the entire story, showing both the punishment of Garcia for his crimes, as well as the experience advantage he just can’t overcome.

Both themes come together perfectly at the end, as Garcia tries to steal the head stomps for himself, only for Bryan to adjust, throw headbutts to the chest in that position instead, fight out of the Piledriver and again slightly modify an old hit with crucifix position hammerfists instead of elbows, before putting the LeBell Lock on to win. In addition to the beautiful display of inventive violence, every theme of the match is also perfectly laid out, as Garcia not only overreaches and pays for it, but also pays for not adjusting in the way Danielson is effortlessly able to. Garcia can emulate and steal all he’d like, but what he lacks is the thing that really made and makes Bryan Danielson so great in the first place. The experience is part of it, but at his core, he simply does not have the guts that Bryan Danielson does, and until he does, he will never be Bryan Danielson.

A great match, even considering a lot of the problems I had with it, and with this match up in 2022 in general. There’s an even better one in there somewhere, I think, which is less of an insult to this series and more of a complement to the two wrestlers in it.

***1/4