2017 · Braun Strowman · Brock Lesnar · Roman Reigns · Samoa joe · WWE

Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman-WWE Summerslam 20.8.2017.

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

2017 · Atsushi Kotoge · Katsuhiko Nakajima · NOAH

Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Atsushi Kotoge-NOAH 25.6.2017.

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

2017 · Kota Ibushi · NJPW · Zack Sabre Jr.

Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr.-NJPW 21.7.2017.

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. ***

2017 · Katsuhiko Nakajima · Mohammed Yone · NOAH

Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Mohammed Yone-NOAH 4.6.2017.

This is a battle of two kickers (well, Yone is a kicker when he’s motivated enough to be one) on a Misawa memorial show, and you get exactly what you’d expect. Aside from the opening sequence, there aren’t really any differences in the type of work throughout the match-they almost immediately get to striking at each other, with the intensity and urgence being the main difference depending on when it took place.  They in their shots nicely, the control segments aren’t huge, but Yone does get tangible control over the match and at point Nakajima just goes berserk, mounting Yone and just killing him with forearms, setting off the finishing stretch. Yone’s Lariats throughout the match looked great, Nakajima is great at using his kicks as cut-offs (espeacially in the later portions of the match) and the double slap spot was very cool and almost surprisingly fresh. They managed to get the crowd invested in the match without forcing an epic or going needlessly long, which was probably the right call for a “smaller” title defence. ***1/2

2017 · Koji Kanemoto · Minoru Tanaka · Mitsuyoshi Nakai · NEW · Yuyu Susumu

Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka vs. Mitsuyoshi Nakai & Yuya Susumu-NEW 2.6.2017.

Kanemoto was so great here-just playing a marvelous prick and bullying Nakai and Susumu. Nakai put on a really good performance himself, trying to match Kanemoto both in stiffness and dastardliness. Tanaka did his shtick, which is putting more effort into getting his pose in than the actual wrestling, and Susumu looked like a generic japanese indy wrestler, even busting out a Pedigree Codebreaker at one point. Assuming Kanemoto does more in NEW I could see him and Nakai having a great feud akin to the one he had with Kazuki Hashimoto a few years ago, we really could use more kicker vs kicker match-ups. Handshakes are refused after the match once again and NEW shines as a beacon of hope for japanese wrestling. ***-***1/4

2017 · NEW

Akira Jo vs. Katsumi Oribe-NEW 2.6.2017.

Akira Jo tells us he’s going to show us a new version of himself! I’m not sure exactly what the old version of Akira Jo was, but let’s not dwell on that. Apparently he made some changes on his gear and whatnot. In his way stands Katsumi Oribe, a senior wrestler nicknamed “Mr. Karate”. You will be shocked to learn Mr. Karate’s signature offence includes karate kicks. A fun little match-it’s weird some of these NEW matches manage to be eerily similar to modern puro matches but unique in that they get the important stuff right. They do a bunch of elbow exchanges here-and their elbow shots look fine, but it’s the way they sell the aggression and dedication that really makes it work, as well as all the other strikes and kicks they throw in to keep it varied. Most of Oribe’s kicks looked good, though he couldn’t really land the standing high kick properly. The crowd got into Jo’s comeback before he was inevitably put away. The post-match handshake turning into a mini brawl was nice, handshake and hugs have plagued everything from indy wrestling to the UFC, there’s a lack of post-match hate that I hope NEW can fill. ***

2017 · Lin Dong Xuan · NEW · Tatsuhito Takaiwa

Lin Dong Xuan vs Tatsuhito Takaiwa-NEW 2.6.2017.

A new challenge arises as I wonder how to accurately transcribe chinese names, almost wishing they’d just gimmick them in a full caps single word. Lin is a natural-his charisma and wit really shine in a match like this. It doesn’t look like he’s quite figured out what to do offensively yet, but here it didn’t matter much, as all he had to do was pinball was Takaiwa’s offence and make goofy faces. An entertaining squash. ***