These kinds of matches are really WWE’s forte, the indy workers they bring in to have watered down 2010 ROH matches but with more wear and tear on their body resulting in less actually impressive athletic spots, less room for creativity (for better or worse) and the same stupidity in match building and transitioning as well as shitty basics (Phil Schneider should have his reviewing license revoken for praising Seth Rollins’ punches). They’ve struck gold by not having heavyweight title contenders under 250lbs. Unfortunately much of what makes matches like this work is what also limits how good they can be. It is said “matches like this are great because you can hit finishers but have saves instead of kick-outs!”. But what happens then is that you have a million finishers done, and that’s just not that interesting. You start feeling the repetition, and by the time Strowman hits the sixth Powerslam and Roman hits the fifeenth Superman Punch, the crowd reacts less than they did to a Joe Senton. And feeling the crowd is important in a match that is essentially built on star power and glamour. Joe may have been my favourite performer in this-for years I’ve thought he was just never going to hit his stride again, let alone reach his previous heigths, and I’m not going to expect him put on performances like he did in 2003 since he just doesn’t have the athleticism to do so anymore, but his cunning character has given him new life. Picking his spots, making sure the timing is right (the roll-up, flash chokes and elbow suicida were all based on this) and, you know, not doing the same move fifty times-I appreciated it. Strowman’s amazing feats of strength made the match feel special, but they could’ve done a better job with the rest of the match. The stretches spot has been used so much it’s basically a waste of time, and Heyman’s terrible acting really just hammered the whole thing in. It’s not that against them being cartoony, but I think they’re undermining the intelligence of their audience a bit with assuming they are going to forget Lesnar got Powerslammed through two tables and got another one thrown on top of him if they don’t do a stretcher job. Offensively Lesnar didn’t offer much, but he was pretty great at pinballing for Braun, and a direction with more selling should provide more quality from him. ***3/4
Once upon a time I proclaimed Shinya Hashimoto the greatest wrestler of all time in the 2016 PWO GWE poll. I tend to change my opinions these things a lot, so nothing’s set in stone (especially with the idea of the *greatest* carrying so much imaginary stake-I very well could just make pace with Kikuchi or Angel Azteca as the 97th greatest wrestler of all time and just go on never thinking about it again). Luckily pro wrestling is more of a fun hobby than an unhealthy obsession for me these days and it looks like getting my stuff together correlates with my participation in silly arguments over fake fighting subsiding. Much like other posts in the “all things” edition, this is going to be a showcase that for those who do enjoy the worker in question, there’s no shortage of excellence to point to, as well as a general guide for those interested in a worker.
An improvement over their september match which retains pretty much all of its strengths and sees its flaws subside. The matwork is better, as the holds are more varied and there is a bigger focus on acquiring positioning, properly defending and adjusting instead of just going “let’s grab an armbar again and we’ll work from there”. Here Maeda doesn’t just do nice slams, but actively tries to counter Sayama’s kicks and drag him to the ground. The sequences in which they’re desperately trying to get on top rule. The stand up sequences are even more violent than before, with nasty slaps, soccer kicks and elbow drops (which I don’t remember seeing look this good outside of a Johnny Valentine match JIP) added to the mix. Really, if there was just a bigger sense of danger on the mat, this could’ve been so much more than a great match. But you’d have something amazing happen and the follow up would be a crowd killing half crab, and so on it went. ****
Similar structure to some of the recent Nakajima title defences, a little chain wrestling, some brawling outside and then the match starts proper. The weight Nakajima puts behind his kicks never ceases to impress me-they’re so incredibly sharp, it really shows he is a black belt karateka. This match needed more focus-there weren’t really any control segments, and the only things setting it apart from just *getting stuff in* was them building stuff around countering each other’s signature maneuvers. And some of the counters were good (Nakajima’s particularly-Kotoge’s signature spots are very unique in their elaborateness, and the stark contrast of Nakajima just cutting them off with quick head kicks made for a nice visual), but they didn’t properly organize it so that moments when those moves were hit later on would feel special, they’d just try them for the second time and be successful. Kotoge’s move-set is still quite juniorish and he doesn’t have much heavyweight offence other than the headbutt, but that’s not necessarily an issue, and after thinking about it I realised even if some of NOAH’s heavyweights are smaller there’s no one really working like that now other than him. They got the crowd invested without forced nearfalls (in fact the finishing stretch was really minimalistic) so I reckon this is a continuation of positive crowd conditioning. ***1/4
I can’t stress how much I love the commentary from the crew who filmed this. People tend to put japanese crowds on pedestals and draw comparisons to theater and whatnot, but this is an excellent reminder what you hear is just the collective sum of all the noise and that many people in the crowd have small talks like “what the hell is that idiot doing taking so long to make his entrance”, yelling “kill him” and what not. The match is pretty much perfectly laid out. So much is accomplished in so little time. Choshu’s inital flurry is amazing and sets the manic pace of the match-his offence looks great as is, but him busting out a Dropkick when after taunting for a Lariat was both a great shocking moment and a nice way to put over how big of a threat Hashimoto was to him. The way Hashimoto came back was absolutely stellar-he pretty much bulldozed through Choshu after taking his best shots and kicked him out of the ring. This could’ve easily come off as Hashimoto just totally no-selling and then an that awkward period which follows after a wrestler gets sent outside the ring, but he smartly sold during and after the comeback in a way that still somewhat protected Choshu’s offence and logically filled the “empty” time. Once Choshu got back into the ring Hashimoto had already recovered, and he started laying on one of the most memorable beatings in a wrestling match I’ve ever seen, completely dismantling Choshu with brutal kicks, Choshu sold it like an action movie star on death watch, and just as I’d start to think they’re running out of ideas something incredible like Hashimoto’s spin kick, brutal arm ddt or a Choshu comeback attempt would happen. Choshu throwing the towel out of the ring was a beautiful moment of machismo, pride and stubbornness, and it’s hard to imagine a better puchline to such a great spot than immediately getting beaten out by a brutal spinning heel kick. While already marvelous, you do see Hashimoto isn’t a *completely* formed worker by this point, as thoughts of repetition never even once entered my mind during some of his later matches which also have large control segments of him pretty much doing the same thing over and over again. some of it was probably how many variations of simple moves he came up with, and that’s the only thing preventing me from labelling this as nearing perfection. ****3/4
A fun little match featuring some of their “best of” spots, but nothing great. Sabre’s matwork is too loose for him to leave a big impression in control and his pastiche of jiu jitsu and Johnny Saint spots has reached a point where, at least in this match, it wasn’t flashy enough to impress with style or legitimate enough to impress with sheer danger and pain. Almost every big spot here was recycled from a big match these two have had previously, and even when there was something new it lacked in execution (I loved the idea behind Ibushi’s palm strike, but he chest slapped Sabre and Sabre sold it like he hit him in the jaw, it looked ridiculous. You want to see that same spot done right, watch the first Misawa vs Kawada match, there’s a kick which at first glance actually looks like it hit the neck/jaw and Misawa’s selling is of course a thousand times better). Maybe the biggest problem of the match is that lacked the glue to connect everything. There wasn’t a strong dynamic-Sabre going toe to toe with Ibushi in stand up when his offence looks so much worse in that department was ridiculous, they were more focused on getting in counters than getting over a struggle and actually milking the holds, even the finish felt abrupt in that regard, Ibushi just picked Sabre up and slammed him. I still enjoyed Sabre putting on some wacky holds and the little input Ibushi actually got in, but this was disappointing. ***