Access makes the heart grow fonder (May 12, 2021)

On My Mind This Week

I had a heart-warming response to last week’s issue of Riffing On Wrestling, in which I wrote about the evolution of sports media and how it pertained to pro wrestling coverage. In particular, I’d like to thank Will Cooling and the co-hosts of the GRAPPL Spotlight podcast for highlighting the discussion. I wrote the article completely off-the-cuff - which is the style in which I like to write here - so I’m delighted that it connected with a lot of people.

It’s a push to call the topic important on a real-world scale, but certainly, any company with that sort of wealth and influence - and I include both WWE and AEW here - must be taken seriously by journalists. The genre has lived off the “oh, it’s only wrestling!” dismissal for far too long, even in the midst of sex and drug abuse, and when actual deaths have been inextricably linked to it.

This is not an argument over whether, for example, The Fiend is a good gimmick or not; in fact, just like in politics, the thrusting of that sort of discussion into the mix is often a smoke screen to avoid the exploration of serious topics.

This is about honesty, integrity, and making sure that difficult discussions, such as racism, sexism, and other forms of harm are not forced to the side by access journalists.

By writing last week’s piece, I have put my money where my mouth is, so I thank you again for your continued support.

On My Screen This Week

  • La Galactica vs. Jaguar Yokota (AJW; February 27, 1985)

When you think of Japanese women’s wrestling, especially from the ‘80s and ‘90s, what may come immediately to mind is speed. You can thank Manami Toyota for that, as her sheer celerity meant you couldn’t take your eyes off her as she planned her next move.

This February 1985 bout, however, showed that All Japan Women could also exist on a much different plane. At 23 years of age at the time of the bout, Jaguar Yokota had already been through the mill with La Galactica, losing her hair to her in May 1983 and winning the WWWA title back from her a month later, before besting her for the UWA title in Mexico in September 1984 . The pair would also go on to have a match of the year contender in August 1985.

This battle starts out with all that history seeping from its pores, as Galactica strikes hard with nunchaku (nunchucks). The payback for this is surprisingly immediate, as Yokota rips at Galactica’s mask, and then attacks her right leg in an attempt to get a grip on the bout. However, Galactica is intent on using all of the tricks at her disposal, and moves like rope rakes, biting, and literally just standing on her opponent’s extremities aren’t beyond her ethics.

Yokota’s right arm becomes the focal point of the match, as it again takes the brunt of a nunchaku attack, after which Galactica rather grotesquely bites at the bleeding limb. Unfortunately, the use of the weaponry does render these moments less meaningful than they should be, and a strike exchange between the adversaries makes for a far more exciting moment.

There’s a fine near-fall for Yokota after bridging back suplex, and an incredible spot in which Yokota levels her opponent with a Jackhammer off the second rope. After going in several different directions over the course of its 20 minutes, it is at this stage that the bout is at its peak, but an all-too-obvious dive/catch spot quickly leads to an unsatisfying count-out victory for Yokota, although her screaming fans at ringside take the result with the joy of spotless pinfall. (***1/4)

  • Bam Bam Bigelow & Scott Norton & Tony Halme vs. Barry Windham & The Barbarian & Jim Neidhart (NJPW; August 12, 1992)

    Look at those names! This is a motley crew of pro wrestlers if there ever was one, although they all did work for the WWF at some point between 1989-1994, as even Norton came in for a tryout in October 1994, losing to Bob Holly. Two years earlier, however, in this setting of Sumo Hall, they combined for a better bout that you can ever imagine occurring in the USA.

    It is Norton who is the star of the show, even from the outside of the ring, as he yells, “Watch the tattoos!” when Barbarian reaches for where you’d expect hair to be on Bigelow’s head. When “Flash” tags in, the pop is big, and Windham takes note of it by bumping big for a lariat and a powerslam.

    The pace is fast here, as it needs to be, although the bloated Halme does his best to slow it down with punches to the ribs that you can confidently take only if you’re as tough as The Barbarian. Speaking of fast, Bigelow gets launched backwards over the top when Windham pulls the rope down, in what is a both a nasty and impressive spill for a man of his size. In lieu of applause, the Tokyo crowd does its very best to chant “Bigelow! Bigelow!” despite the enunciation barrier. As a further part of the heat, there’s a lovely spot where Bigelow avoids a strike by The Barbarian, but eats a big lariat from Windham.

    With WCW EVP Bill Watts visible in the front row, Bigelow strikes an improbable sunset flip from the top rope, making the tag to allow Barbarian to be the unlikely victim on his team, taking powerbombs and German suplexes like he was a man half his size. Still, he manages to make a big impression in the right direction by getting a classic near-fall on Norton with his patented big boot.

    As noted, though, this is Norton’s show, and he ends the bout by reversing an Irish whip and drilling The Barbarian with a powerslam for the three-count. (***)

There’s a lot that I could write about the participants of this match without even delving into the Benoit family tragedy. Chris Benoit and Steve Blackman seemed like natural adversaries, but even though they were in the same place for the same time for around 16 months in 2000-01, this was their only televised match in WWE. Intriguingly, they did also battle back in 1989, by which time they’d both already had significant experience with New Japan.

Make no mistake about it, though, this is a WWF TV match and nothing more, even if it is for Blackman’s Hardcore title. They get right to it, with a trash can lid in play early, and smashed into Benoit’s head almost immediately thereafter. If, as Gorilla Monsoon used to say, it is true that “turnaround is fair play”, things are evened up by Blackman himself taking a nasty kendo stick shot from Shane McMahon, who was managing Benoit at the time, as the latter feuded with The Rock over the WWF championship.

Benoit’s Summerslam opponent, Chris Jericho, is at ringside to drop in some passing homophobia, as he states that Benoit and McMahon are “special friends”. If that sounds like a remark that might be on Peacock’s to-do list, then there might also be consideration for the untold physical damage Jericho does to Benoit by then hitting him, seemingly as hard as he can, in the back of the head with a chair.

This allows Blackman to get the pinfall, and for the viewer to go away and do some thinking about the real consequences of something as dangerous as pro wrestling. (**)

  • Satoshi Kojima & Kaz Hayashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada & Ryuji Hijikata (AJPW; July 6, 2003)

If you immediately think of today’s 50-year-old wrestler when Satoshi Kojima’s name is mentioned, you’re really missing out. The bread enthusiast (yes, really) had a mean streak in his youth that made matches against Genichiro Tenryu and Toshiaki Kawada true classics of the 2000s, and some of that is evident in this tag team affair in which both he and Kawada team with up-and-comers, in what is a staple formula of Japanese wrestling.

This version of the match clips the first eight minutes, but arrives just in time for Kojima to bounce Kawada’s head off the canvas with a lariat, taking “Dangerous K” out of the bout for several minutes. It’s brilliant work from Kawada, who even has his opponent, Hayashi, checking on his well-being at one point.

Before the official tag is made, Kawada heats things up by booting Kojima hard in the face, to the point where you’re on tenterhooks waiting for Hijikata to reach out and bring his partner into the ring. Surprisingly, however, the actual Kojima versus Kawada confrontation doesn’t live up to the hype, as there’s more emphasis on moves than their apparent hatred suggests.

The strikes, especially the kicks, are still stiff from all concerned, and particularly from Hijikata, who is also ferocious with one of his favourite moves, the fisherman buster, with which he gets a near-fall on Hayashi. The latter’s German suplex is equally beautiful with its high neck bridge, but when Kawada and Hijikata get a few seconds to double-team Hayashi, a second fisherman buster finishes the bout spectacularly, and at its peak. (***1/2)

  • WALTER vs. Rampage Brown (NXT UK; aired April 8, 2021)

This match hit the WWE Network the day after Takeover: Stand & Deliver and, I must say, was the Walter bout I was more looking forward to. Tommaso Ciampa is certainly a fine wrestler, but this was Rampage Brown.

If you know, you know, and if you don’t, you’ve missed out.

Anyway, to get over that Brown is just as fearsome as Walter, he manages to run through the Austrian’s deadly chop at the start of this bout. Thereafter he’s dumped onto the apron with a back suplex and struck with a massive boot to the neck and chest, but all the while displays the priceless talent of selling without ever appearing timid or weak - he’s on the ground only because Walter’s offence is that intense.

Walter’s strategy is to grind Brown down, particularly utilising a sleeperhold, but when Brown is able to get back to his feet, the two men stand in front of each other and strike as hard as you’d hope. There’s plenty of unique offence on Brown’s part, as he catches Walter while Brown is running and twists him into a Rick Steiner-esque powerslam, before hitting a big lariat, and knocking Walter down with a shoulder block off the second turnbuckle. The most devastating move is an incredible powerslam off the top rope by Brown, which could easily have been a title-winning finish, but which only got a two-count from referee Chris Sharpe.

Incredibly, the action only escalates from here, as Brown strikes an astonishing Doctor Bomb, only for Walter to be too close to the ropes. Walter is getting Walter’d at this stage, but he sums up enough energy to strike with a chop to the throat, a knee lift, and a thumping lariat. At this point, the big, stiff moves are at a Misawa versus Kobashi level, climaxing with Walter hitting a German suplex and a powerbomb for a thrilling near-fall, before a splash from the top rope secures the three-count.

This is by far the best match I’ve watched this year, and is significantly better than the aforementioned Walter versus Ciampa contest. It’s certainly on the level of October’s Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov bout, and is absolutely unmissable if you are a fan of heavyweight wrestling. (****3/4)

On My Podcast App This Week

The link above is for a clipped version of Between The Sheets’ two-part podcast on the sale of WCW, from their Patreon page. There’s some deep research in here, and a fascinating exploration of where members of the media were clearly getting their information. As part of that, Kris Zellner and David Bixenspan are able to tackle several myths about the roles of WCW executives in its final days, and this does include the oft-vilified Jamie Kellner, the new chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting. As such, this is highly recommended on Between The Sheets’ $5 Patreon tier.

The guys from GRAPPL are really putting in the work at the minute (they too have a Patreon page) and their Spotlight show is a refreshing look at the week’s happenings that routinely avoids the pitfalls of covering wrestling news. This edition is highlighted by discussion of AEW’s Blood And Guts special that really nails the basics of pro wrestling booking in a way that shouldn’t be quite so unique.

Joe Versus The World #91: WWF 1997, Part 4

Given that its first episode was posted in April 2006, for a number of wrestling fans Joe Versus The World is the first fan-made wrestling podcast they listened to, and 15 years on co-conspirators Joe Gagne and Justin Shapiro are still as irreverent and humorous as ever in going back to look over the WWF in 1997. If someone could bottle the tone of this edifying and occasionally glib podcast and apply it to modern Raw reviews, they would actually have podcasts worth listening to. If you enjoy this, the archives are free to download.

On My Twitter Feed This Week

A Little Bit Of Housekeeping

  • I’m really interested in your feedback to the first several issues of Riffing On Wrestling. Please comment here or reach out to me at brian(at)hardcopy(dot)ie.

  • I am available for further editing and occasional writing work. I rather dislike listing my credits here, but I have over 15 years’ experience in newspapers, magazines, and as a freelance correspondent for various news agencies. You can inquire about the details, and my rates, by emailing brian(at)hardcopy(dot)ie. I can also provide professional editing feedback, or offer advice or mentoring, by prior agreement and through the same email address.