On My Screen This Week
Jon Moxley vs. Yuji Nagata (AEW; May 12, 2021)
When it was announced that Yuji Nagata would be appearing on Dynamite as part of AEW’s first-base relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, the prospect was enticing. Nagata may be 53 years old, but he represents a style of wrestling that - particularly with the retirement of Katsuyori Shibata - has lately gone out of fashion. This appeared a great opportunity for “Blue Justice” to showcase his style in the fresh environment of national U.S. television, in front of an audience that was guaranteed to show reverence to him.
Nagata would have to take a two-week quarantine on his return to Japan, but he looked like he’d been through solitary confinement when he emerged for this opening match on AEW TV. Adding to what was a feeling of disjunction was Jon Moxley coming to the ring to the sound of The Troggs’ Wild Thing, which might still be an all-time classic track, but only conjures images of Moxley fantasising about being as charismatic as the wrestler synonymous with it, Atsushi Onita.
There was surprisingly little to this encounter, with the best moment being Moxley making perfect contact on a lariat about halfway through proceedings. Otherwise, the forearm strikes were simply “your turn, my turn” exchanges that, for example, couldn’t in any way match the aggression of those thrown in Nagata’s New Japan Cup bout with Minoru Suzuki - a battle notably better than this one.
To be fair, comparing Moxley to Suzuki is, to quote Bobby Heenan, like comparing ice cream to horse manure. Seemingly as part of his gimmick, Moxley flails and is clumsy, and has a bad habit of conspicuously offering himself to his opponent’s offence, which happened here when taking a boot in the corner, and when he scaled the turnbuckles himself so that he could eat a Nagata exploder.
Somehow, all of this garnered a “This is awesome!” chant, which at least proves that Moxley is over to this audience. However, it really only served to highlight how low the bar has recently been set for what is termed as great pro wrestling.
With a Paradigm Shift rather out of nowhere, this match reached a conclusion after just eight profoundly uninspired minutes, and yet given the pre-match hype, it was not a moment too soon. (**)
Arez vs. Tromba (Lucha Madre; November 6, 2020)
A promotion borne out of the pandemic, Lucha Madre (literally “Mother Fight”) is big on gimmicks and supernatural match premises, which isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but any recommendation from Adam Curtis is something I’m happy to check out.
If you were not aware, you’d get somewhat of a sense of how the promotion treats wrestling just from the first five minutes of this encounter which, while creative and even innovative, is nothing more than an exhibition in which the combatants allow each other into holds. In another spot, Arez literally tumbles along the ropes while Tromba holds onto him. If you can see past this, there’s a very cool stump puller variation in here that a junior-heavyweight or two ought to copy.
The bout does pick up at the 15-minute mark as Tromba hits a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker on Arez, and strikes with a death-defying moonsault from the top rope to the floor, which unfortunately is missed by the camera crew. Tromba completes a trio of spectacular moves by striking with an awesome Michinoku Driver, from which Arez only barely reaches the ropes.
The bout does at least finish here, at its highest point, as Arez takes back control with a reverse Northern Lights suplex, and then a beautiful one in the regular style, to pick up the pinfall.
You’re mileage will vary on this one, but I’d always recommend checking out any new promotion, and making judgements for yourself. (**1/2)
There’s never a bad time to watch a Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage match. The WWE Network now has several of their bouts available, and I’ve watched them all (and a few that have popped up on Youtube), so as an interesting comparison point I decided to take in their final televised bout, from Monday Nitro in 1999. It’s hard to believe that this was 22 years ago, but that was the last time I saw it.
While I was well prepared for this bout not to thrill me in terms of its ring greatness, I was surprised to see just how insincere both men - but particularly Hogan - were about the performance. There was not even an attempt to match the intensity of their classic encounters, as Hogan wandered down the aisle with a huge grin on his face, for a bout that in storyline ought to have been the most important of his year. Apparently, no-one in the WCW costuming department was taking the match seriously, either, as the nWo-style apparel each men wore made for a dull visual.
The match wasn’t as dreadful as it was simply sad. Several minutes in, Hogan grabbed Savage flunkies Madusa and Miss Madness (Nora “Molly Holly” Greenwald) and banged their heads together, which caused a fight between the pair that was a wildly unnecessary distraction to which should have been a title match with a storyline edge, especially since it couldn’t deliver at its previous levels of physicality. To his credit, Savage takes bumps off single Hogan punches in order to create the movement and sound that Hogan isn’t prepared to for the betterment of the contest.
Eventually, Savage has enough and really goes to work on Hogan with a chair and, especially, the challenger’s weightlifting belt. The beating goes on for some time, to where you wonder what it is attempting to achieve, but the bafflingly positive reaction for Hogan perhaps provides that answer. Savage misses his patented flying elbow at the contest concludes, after which Hogan’s comeback is rudely interrupted by Sid Vicious and then Kevin Nash, the latter of whom hands Hogan the victory by powerbombing Savage.
That was a typical WCW finish, and by 1999, this was a typical WCW main event. The allure of the nWo was at least two years in the rear view mirror, and there was now nothing about these personalities that could make up for the disappointment of the wrestling action. (*)
Genichiro Tenryu & Takashi Ishikawa vs. Riki Choshu & Shinya Hashimoto (WAR; April 2, 1993)
When you have heavy-hitters such as Tenryu, Hashimoto, and Choshu all involved in a tag team match, and then multiply their wrath with an inter-promotional storyline, you know you’re in for a tasty slice of wrestling violence. And so it is in this encounter from Sendai, which main-events a show also featuring such eyebrow-raisers as King Haku versus Dick Slater and John Tenta versus Rio Lord of the Jungle (Richard “The Renegade” Wilson).
This fight - and I do mean fight - starts off big, with the feuding Tenryu and Hashimoto stepping up to face off immediately. Their kicks and chops are rough and nasty, which is of course the idea, as they attempt to get over that this is a disagreement beyond the boundaries of sport. When Ishikawa tags in, Hashimoto’s strikes are almost derogatory, but just when you think that Ishikawa is going to be even more of a weak link than you imagined, he launches himself over the top rope with the kind of plancha dive that has long since gone out of fashion. Choshu sees it coming, but Tenryu is there to bust him open on the ring post anyway.
Choshu’s style of selling has always been one that accentuates his toughness, likely because he’s a relatively small man and this helps to make up for it. But here, he does actually get over that he’s injured and even a little confused by the blood loss, and it works well for this bout, which is essentially the story of four burly guys doing burly guy things to each other. The kicks to Choshu’s head are less vicious than they are unnecessary, disdainfully jabbing him in and around the back of the head, and naturally across the cut on his left eyebrow, too.
Interestingly, it is the Tenryu team that is more cohesive here, but a back suplex from Choshu on Ishikawa changes the tide of the match, allowing Hashimoto to fly into the ring with brutal kicks that send the audience wild. Ishikawa’s interference does briefly turn things back the other way, but when Tenryu gets sidetracked with old nemesis Choshu, Hashimoto takes advantage and pins Ishikawa with a jumping DDT.
Although there were rare powerbombs and choke slams, that finisher felt like one of the only big moves in this clash, and it was all the better for it. This was a grudge match, where only destroying the opponent mattered. (***1/4)
After I watched the 1999 bout, I couldn’t help but go back and look at one of the earliest video-recorded Hogan versus Savage bouts, this time from Detroit in April 1986. The reactions to both men are incredible here, like watching a Jim Crockett Promotions main event from the same period. What is further pleasing is that the look of this match is particularly old-school, as the cameras capture the ring at an angle and make it easy to see specific reactions from members of the first few rows of ringside.
Attacking Hogan before the bell, Savage lives up to his surname with electric offence, and when on defence bumping in a way that is big but not gymnastic. There’s a dirty, angry feel to this bout, especially compared to their programme of four short years later, when Vince McMahon’s vision for sports entertainment was far more evolved.
This is classic pro wrestling.
It’s particularly noteworthy that Savage strikes with three double axe-handles from the top turnbuckle to the floor, yet the commentary team of Ken Resnick and Jack Reynolds barely mention it. A someone with more than 30 years of football in his knees but not a single jump from the top rope to a concrete floor, I find it astonishing that this level of fearlessness is so easily dismissed.
Eventually, Savage gets Hogan back in the ring to hit his big elbow, only for Hogan to kick out and rally in typical fashion. This doesn’t lead to an immediate finish, however, as Savage falls out of the ring on a big boot, and Elizabeth threatens to involve herself in the action until Hogan simply lifts her out of the way. This allows Savage to get back on offence, before rather obviously awaiting Hogan’s boot as he jumps off the top rope. The WWF champion then scores the pinfall.
This match has something that later bouts between these nemeses do not, but the same can also be said in the other direction, as the Wrestlemania V bout, for example, is the perfect balance of storytelling, action, and grand stage.
If you’ve enjoyed any of their other bouts, you should certainly see this one, even if it won’t go to the top of your all-time list. (***)
On My Podcast App This Week
I’ve linked to a podcast under the Wrestling Observer umbrella here, but the show I actually listened to is now removed from its archive after the site was bombarded with complaints that Dave Meltzer had invited Bruce Mitchell onto Wrestling Observer Radio. Mitchell, you might recall, wrote another since-deleted article for Pro Wrestling Torch, questioning whether the death of Jon “Brodie Lee” Huber may have been linked to COVID-19, which was a point Huber’s wife Amanda had made sure to cover in a statement about her husband’s death.
When Mitchell initially refused to retract the comment, and indeed doubled down on it, many wrestling fans were furious, and he was let go after 30 years of writing for the Torch. To make matters worse, the article had not gone through the usual “vetting and editing process”, according to Torch editor Wade Keller.
Nearly six months had passed since the column, and four since Mitchell’s apology, so it seemed fair that Meltzer might have his long-time friend on for a chat, and that might have been the case had the pair stayed on the topic of Roddy Piper, as Meltzer has claimed was the initial concept. Instead, the pair laterally took to discussing the “social media mob” who Mitchell believes took his column out of context.
However, the clear fact of the matter is that Mitchell attempted to re-write history with how he described the column to Meltzer, and Meltzer incorrectly backed him up, opening the old wound of Mitchell’s coverage once again, including to Huber’s widow.
On Twitter, Trevor Dame did a fine job of expressing where what Mitchell wrote and what he said in this podcast did not tally. It was not originally my intention to write about this topic at length, so I’ll leave it to Dame to explain exactly why this was so offensive to so many people. What I will say, however, is that this entire debacle - which included Meltzer also having to apologise “for anyone who was offended” the following day - could have been avoided by Mitchell reiterating a heartfelt apology and asking for a clean slate as he returned to writing and podcasting.
Everyone involved here should have known better, and it’s up to them to ask questions as to why they did not.
I’ve linked to the latest episode of the Pro Wrestling Torch Dailycast here, but what I actually listened to was Alan Counihan’s ProWres Paradise podcast, also available at PWTorch.com, in which Alan, Case Lowe, and Mike Spears discuss their Greatest Wrestler Ever voting. I found myself nodding in agreement with much of what Lowe suggests, but I did enjoy hearing the other opinions, especially when it came to the wrestlers most famous from the 20th century.
Another podcast behind a paywall? Sure, why not?! This one - again, not linked, but available here - from Kris Zellner and David Bixenspan of Between The Sheets goes deep on what was written in the Wrestling Observer, Pro Wrestling Torch, and Matwatch about Ric Flair leaving WCW to join the WWF in the summer of 1991. More than that, it details the downfall of WCW EVP Jim Herd, which is inextricably linked to the departure of Flair. This is a really enjoyable and informative week-by-week breakdown of what happened and, fascinatingly, how it was reported differently by each of the sources.
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. It seems boastful to list 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 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.