Welcome to the latest edition of LRTRM.
A quick primer if you’ve never read this before. I take ten random matches of recent vintage, from ten different promotions, and I review them. Pretty simple. I try to stay away from places like WWE, New Japan, Dragon Gate, and TNA, which already get heavy coverage on this site, but occasionally something from those groups will slip in under the door.
In this edition, we’ve got NOAH, All Japan, Inspire Pro, CMLL, XMW, Zero-1, Wrestle-1, Big Japan, SEM, & TNA.
On to the matches, which feature a heavy dose of Masakatsu Funaki, good performances from a few wrestlers I usually do not like, and a match that probably should have gotten one of the participants arrested.
GHC Heavyweight Title – Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs Maybach Taniguchi, NOAH “Great Voyage in Niigata” 9/23/14 – I was dreading having to watch this, and put it off for a solid week before biting the bullet and hitting play. Marufuji is an all time favorite of mine, and I think he’s a great professional wrestler…when he wants to be. The problem, is he hasn’t been interested in being any good for a really long time now. Whether it’s age, injuries, NOAH malaise, or a combination of all of the above, Marufuji has come off as one of the most uninspired workers in the world over the last couple of years. This is the first Marufuji match of his current GHC title run that I’ve even bothered to watch, because watching Marufuji has become a depressing chore. But as a RESPECTED WRESTLING REVIEWER, I couldn’t hide from him forever, because no matter what you think of the current boring, indie level version of NOAH, the GHC title holds a ton of history, and watching major GHC title defenses is something that can’t be run from forever (which reminds me, eventually i’m going to have to watch some Joe Doering Triple Crown matches, which sounds about as enticing as prying my own toenails out). Taniguchi was a guy I really liked as a young wrestler, probably more than most people (I see some similarities to Yujiro Takahashi in that respect). The Maybach gimmick has felt out of place in NOAH from the day it debuted, and nothing has changed on that front. I went from enjoying Taniguchi to completely avoiding his matches at all costs once he made the transition. With all of that said, I came into this match open minded, and with very little context of the build since I’ve been actively avoiding both guys. And you know what? I really ended up liking it. It had some of the problems that all modern NOAH suffers from, which is what I like to call the “NOAH malaise” – malaise from the fans, malaise from the workers, a complete lack of juice, and a totally unexciting vibe. But the work itself was pretty good. Marufuji was smart to work this at Maybach’s pace instead of forcing the opposite (which would have been a disaster), and he worked hard in taking a pounding and selling. The structure and the placement of the big spots was good, but it was sad watching this and seeing where certain spots were designed to pop the crowd, but would barely register polite clapping. That’s the “NOAH malaise” in full effect. Marufuji won, and won decisively, and even if he’s going to be 75% of the peak Marufuji, he’s the obvious choice to be the champion in this struggling company. This match was a baby step in the right direction, but I found it fitting that literally seconds after Maru was done giving his post match speech, the ring crew was already breaking down the ring. Even the staff can’t wait for these dry as fuck NOAH shows to end. ***1/4
Joe Doering vs Go Shiozaki, All Japan “2nd Royal Road Tournament 2014” 9/15/14 – From a half full Korakuen Hall, the new Triple Crown champion takes on the guy who probably should be the Triple Crown champion. I mean at this point, what does All Japan have to lose? Jun Akiyama didn’t spark things. Akebono had a really fun run, but he didn’t spark things (and he also nearly died, as he’s reaching an age where being 500 pounds is a really bad idea). Suwama never sparks things. Joe Doering sure as fuck isn’t going to spark things. So why not put the rocket pack on Go and give it a real try? Have him run through the roster, put him over strong against everybody I just named, and see if he reaches his potential. NOAH never let him breathe in his two short GHC runs. All Japan has never given him a run. Go is in his prime, he doesn’t have the stink of a failed run on him, and AJPW is on the brink of extinction. They should give him an honest Go (get it? get it!) and try him. As for this match, Doering came out like a HOSS and battered Go for several minutes, in and out of the ring. From there is was Go working his ass off to make comebacks, but getting cut off every time. Very similar structure to the Akebono title defense against Go earlier this year, except Doering isn’t half as interesting as The Bono. To be fair, this was a very good performance by Doering, who while even trying hard not to like him, managed to win me over in this one. Go was pretty great selling and working from underneath, even if this type of match doesn’t fit my rocket pack narrative. Go finally made a comeback that sustained, hitting a big lariat and his Go Flasher finish, but Doering kicked out at two. Well shit, how the hell is he going to beat this guy then? Go slipped out of a powerbomb attempt and locked in a choke. He went for a cover, and the unconscious Doering kicked out again at two. Go picked Doering up, hit a lariat that didn’t budge him, then hit a second that took him down, and finally put the champ away, presumably setting up a title challenge down the road (this was a non title tournament match). Much like the Marafuji/Maybach match, this was way better than I thought it would be, but in this case both guys contributed equally. This felt like an incredible struggle for Go, and his exhaustion post match put that over. Doering has never looked better. Very good match, even if super underdog Go is not how I would personally book him. ***1/2
Icarus vs “Dirty” Andy Dalton, Inspire Pro Wrestling & Chikara “Battlewars” 10/5/14 – I was in the building live for this champion vs champion match (neither title was on the line), as the Austin based Inspire Pro welcomed the stars of Chikara for a big joint show that produced the biggest live crowd in the history of the promotion. Icarus, like Doering, is a guy that I have never enjoyed watching, but like Doering’s performance in the previous match, this was the best Icarus bout I have ever seen. Even more shocking, and I mean no disrespect to Dalton who I happen to think is a real hidden gem on the indie scene, and he was very good here, is that I think Icarus carried most of this as well. The match started with an angle, as Lance Hoyt (he’s Hoyt here in the States, not Archer) showed up unannounced to bully ring announcer Brandon Stroud (this is an ongoing storyline in this promotion). Icarus came out to make the save, which I thought was comical and totally unbelievable in an intergender style suspension of disbelief way, because I have a hard time taking a Chikara cartoon like Icarus seriously as a threat to run off a guy like Hoyt, who is very big and very believable as a bad ass, but Hoyt ended up kicking him in the face and leaving him laying. Heels don’t always have to be scared of the babyfaces, and it would have been pretty silly looking if Hoyt had run away from Icarus, so this was well played as it made Icarus look valiant, but also kept Hoyt strong. It also allowed Dalton, who I should remind you is nicknamed “Dirty”, to run down and take advantage of the situation as they teased the cheap pin. In hindsight that would have been one hell of a troll finish and would have put enormous heat on Hoyt & Dalton, because many of the fans, some of whom were devoted Chikara fans who flew in to Texas for the joint show gimmick, came specifically to see the Chikara wrestlers. Dalton is a tremendous grimy southern style heel, and the son of 70’s territory journeyman Frank Dalton (who at one point played the role of Kimala handler ‘Friday’). He was his usual grimy self here, and is at his best getting heat on babyfaces. Icarus was very good in his comebacks, and all of his flying & fast paced technical work was smooth & crisp. I was a little surprised that Icarus went over, because I figured with the angle they might have been setting up a future Icarus/Hoyt match, and it would have been an easy way out of trly jobbing out either title since the loss could be blamed on the Hoyt spot. But since Dalton is a cheating heel who weaseled his way into the belt to begin with, and the interference from his manager JT Lamotta backfired here, the loss played into his character and doesn’t really hurt him or the Inspire title, so this worked too. I may be giving this an artificial half star bump because I was there live and the crowd was red hot, but this is the second 4-star bout I’ve seen Dalton involved in this year, and along with Ricky Starks & ACH he’s been one of the three all time MVP’s of the young Inspire promotion. Seek out his stuff. ****
Mexican National Light Heavyweight Title – Mephisto (c) vs Valiente, CMLL Arena Mexico 9/23/14 – This was a Kris Zellner rec. Mephisto is a guy I am mostly familiar with as an Averno sidekick in trios matches, so I was excited to see him in a long singles bout against a guy I always like, Valiente. First fall was a bunch of nifty grappling, with a fun finish. Mephisto leap frog, Valiente drops to his back as Mephisto comes off the opposite ropes, but instead of leaping over, Mephisto drops straight down, hooks the legs, and scores the pin. Good first fall and not the usual rush job where it is obvious that neither guy is interested in working hard until the third fall, like you often get in lucha. Valiente quickly takes the second fall, but he did it in such cool fashion that it didn’t bother me. With Mephisto up against the ropes, instead of throwing him off the ropes with an Irish whip, Valiente leaped straight up to the top, did a springboard backflip/armdrag in one smooth motion, then rolled Mephisto over into a sit down kimura for the quick tap. Valiente sold this like he was shocked that he managed to pull it off, and like he knew he stole the fall. Great stuff. Third fall featured a heavy dose of Valiente’s flying (he is mighty smooth & graceful for a hefty man), and some Mephisto rudo antics. The finish was Valiente placing Mephisto on the top turnbuckle, possibly up a top rope rana. Mephisto reversed this into his Demon Driller, which is similar to the Pedigree, but in this case from the top turnbuckle (think: the old CM Punk Pepsi Plunge). Valiente wasn’t surviving that, so Mephisto retains the gold. I liked this match a lot, with my only minor gripe being a third fall that dragged a little bit towards the end. ***3/4
PDM Light Heavyweight Title – Arez vs Pentagon Jr, XMW “3. Aniversario” 6/21/14 – Rob Viper suggested this bout, and even though it’s a bit older than my “nothing more than a couple of months old” parameters, he talked me into including it with his promises of epic VIOLENCE (this was the a rematch of the match where THIS happened). XMW stands for “Xtrem Mexican Wrestling”, and whoa boy was this Xtrem. I can’t even call this a match. This was aggravated assault. Pentagon Jr goes right after this kid with a shiv, and promptly carves up his head. Arez was bleeding like a stuck pig two minutes into this thing. He powerbombed him through a chair. He powerbombed him through chairs on the outside of the ring. He carved his head up some more with random shit handed to him by fans. Arez’s blood was all over the arena and splattered all over the mat. All of this was taking place in a venue that resembled the demon spawn of the old ECW Arena & the sleaziest dive bar in whatever town you live in. The kind of place where you risk catching hepatitis (or a beating from Penatgon Jr) by simply walking through the front door. Things manged to get even worse when Pentagon Jr busted out the light tubes. Then, in an act of total humiliation, he ripped the pants off of the kid, wiped off his boots with them, and tossed the torn pants into the crowd. Yes, you read that correctly. HE RIPPED AREZ’S PANTS OFF. In between all of this brutality, Pentago Jr found time to dance, which was some amazing trolling. Arez (now in his red underwear, resembling Howard Finkel on the losing end of a Tuxedo Match) managed to hit his first offensive move of the match roughly 10 minutes into things, as he dodged a corner charge and hit a back cracker. This wasn’t a true transition move however, as it simply set up the most disturbing spot of the match. Pentagon Jr rolled to the outside, and Arez attempted a tope suicida. Pentagon Jr casually stepped aside, and as Arez was flailing in the air, Pentagon Jr added momentum to his fall by shoving him down to the floor with both hands. Thud. Back inside, Arez’s second clocked Pentagon Jr in the head with a chair, allowing Arez to hit a reverse rana and score the banana peel Hector Garza/Scott Hall win. No sell doesn’t do this justice. I mean Pentagon Jr hopped right up from the pin. RIGHT UP. I have no idea what the politics of all of this are, but it sure reeked of “sure, i’ll wrestle in your dust bucket indie and lose to your local boy, but i’m maiming him first and I dare anybody in the building to stop me”. The beating didn’t end with the match. There is a solid ten additional minutes of Pentago Jr and his exotico second beating the two babyfaces with chairs and doing more head carving, an then they talk what was probably some very high quality shit on the mic. I don’t know what the fuck I just watched, but i’ll give it ** for the match, and ***** for the attempted murder.
Masakatsu Funaki (c) vs Kohei Sato, Zero1 “Tenkaichi Special” 9/19/14 – Wrestle-1, prior to crowning their own champion in October, had been recognizing the top Zero1 title as their de facto championship. Sato is sort of Zero1’s dollar store Funaki (sounds like an insult, but I say that with affection), as the the ex-shooter who now does an old man veteran gimmick, except in Sato’s case he’s more of a sassy heel type. I guess that would make him more of a Masayuki Kono than a Funaki, to be fair. If you’ve never heard Sato speak, he’s absolutely terrifying, like a horror movie villain. He sounds like he swallowed a beehive, and then gargled bleach to wash out his mouth. This opened with some cautious stalking by each man, then some grappling, where Funaki took over and nearly won with a cross arm breaker before Sato made the ropes. Funaki pounced after the rope break and went for a rear naked, that Sato barely fought out of. That woke up the crowd. The rest of this was Funaki working submissions and Sato working to get out of them, usually with throws or suplexes, with the story of Funaki being the superior grappler. The finish came quickly and out of nowhere. Sato fought out of a triangle choke with a power bomb. Two count. Then he spun out of a Kimura and hit another powerbomb, but this time it was something closer to a package piledriver. He quickly followed up with a German suplex and scored the surprising pin. The crowd did not expect that, especially at the 8 minute mark of the match. Odd match structure, with the hometown guy positioned as the far weaker of the two who had to score what amounted to a flash pin without the benefit of a huge fiery comeback, but I like non traditional match structures and this sort of worked for Sato’s character anyway. It would have been silly for Sato to out grapple Funaki or beat him in strike exchanges when you consider Funaki’s background & gimmick. They weren’t trying for a classic world title match type of feel, and what they did go for worked, so I liked this. ***
Masakatsu Funaki vs Tajiri, Wrestle-1 “First Championship Tournament – Round 1” 9/22/14 – With Wrestle-1 creating a championship, you can see why Funaki lost his match to Sato. So here we are with Funaki again, this time attempting to win his own promotion’s title. To do so he’d have to first get through Tajiri, who has finally looked like his age in his recent TNA bouts, but you always have to account for TNA taking guys down a notch or two, so who knows. Funaki had a huge shit eating grin on his face during his ring walk that said “I’m going to tear this little shit apart”. Tajiri attacked before the bell, and the sprint was on. This was Tajiri playing keep away and working for things like roll ups and crucifix backslides. Funaki avoided the mist several times, including Tajiri cleverly spitting the mist on a pin attempt, forcing Funaki to dive away at two. Funaki had enough of the games and locked in a choke, with the great visual of blood pouring out of Tajiri’s mouth as he desperatey spit the red mist into the air. The ref called for the bell, and that was that. A neat & tidy first round win for Funaki, and I have to say that i’m enjoying these short Funaki matches where he doesn’t fuck around and just goes for the kill. **1/2
Tsutomu Osugi & Hercules Senga vs Manabu Soya & Ryuichi Kawakami, BJW “Saikyou Tag League 2014” 10/6/14 – Holy shit, Speed of Sounds! I remember Osugi & Senga having a pretty cool tag team run around 2008 or 2009, a few years after all of the Ultimo Dragon guys splintered off following the Toryumon split. I hadn’t seen them work in years though because they’re regulars on the indie sleaze circuit that I just don’t have the time to follow closely anymore (case in point, I had no idea they were Yapper Man #1 & Yapper Man #2 until I looked at their Wikipedia pages). I don’t know what went on before this match, but the mat looked like it had been set on fire at some point. Big Japan, everybody. This was part of Big Japan’s tag league, so Osugi & Senga were paired with a couple of bruising heavyweights in Soya & Kawakami, which meant we were probably in for a vicious beating once the bruisers got a hold of the flippy dudes. Instead it was more like the bruisers toying with the flippers like a cat fucking around with dying mouse, but not wanting to kill it too quickly to ruin the fun. SoS made their share of flashy comebacks, and showed some spirit by kicking out of some big power moves, but you got the sense Soya & Kawakami could end it at any time, and once the little fellas forced them to work hard, it was time to put them away before something stupid happened. So they did. Decent little match, which like the Funaki/Sato bout didn’t do anything to insult the viewer. Big guys smash, little guys show heart and fly around, big guys get tired of the mouse and finally kill it. ***
Takeshi Morishima vs Quiet Storm, SEM “SEMex In SHINJUKU vol.3” 10/2/14 – OK, i’m cheating a little with my rules here, because this is technically a NOAH match and I already reviewed a NOAH bout, but I’m using the SEM loophole to get out of that. SEM is sort of like Dragon Gate NEX, or WWE NXT, or the old New Japan NEVER shows that they gave up on, which in theory are supposed to be a chance for younger guys to get in some work but in the case of SEM these days it’s really just all of the NOAH regulars, so I don’t know why they even bother pretending these are SEM level shows. I mean, the GHC champion worked this show. That would be like Brock Lesnar showing up at NXT or BxB Hulk defending the Dream Gate at the dojo vs Yuga Hayashi or U-T. Now for the disclaimer – I hate Morishima. Not as a person. He was actually very nice to me in a brief encounter we had at an ROH show many years ago. But in the ring he’s a fucking bore and hasn’t done anything of note in years, probably since the Bryan Danielson matches in 2007. In fact, if you take away the Danielson bouts, his career is basically one hot run up to the GHC title circa 2006, and a giant pile of underachieving ever since. This guy was supposed to be the next great King’s Road superstar, and he ended up being a tubby Margaret Cho impersonator. He has a new utterly ridiculous haircut (Pete Rose bowl style, dyed blonde), so he doesn’t look like Margaret Cho anymore, but he’s still an uninspiring bore. I’ve ripped on Quiet Storm in previous LRTRM’s, so i’ll leave him alone here. This was a nothing match. Cliff Notes breakdown: Quiet Storm trying to take down a beast that nobody sees as a beast, lots of stupid Quiet Storm grunting, Morishima hits his stupid backdrop driver and wins. Then Morishima’s stupid heel faction hits the ring, cuts a stupid promo that nobody cares about, and pose for stupid looking pictures that include the stupid Maybach Tanaguchi. Why did I watch this shit? **
TNA World Tag Team Title – The Wolves (c) vs Team 3D vs Matt & Jeff Hardy, TNA Impact 9/16/14 – I had two primary thoughts while watching this match. One, was that this would be a sure fire MOTY contender…if this were like 1999. This was an absolutely insane stunt show featuring some of the craziest & most mental bumps you’ll ever see. The problem is we’ve seen so many of these types of matches over the last 15 years or so, that I think we’ve gotten numb to how death defying some of this shit really is. But if you stick this exact same match on WrestleMania 15 or something, we’re talking about it as if it’s an all time classic. My second thought, was that D-Von & Matt Hardy could disappear tomorrow, never to be seen again, and I probably wouldn’t ever notice that they were gone. D-Von really did disappear (after the Aces & Eights angle), and I totally forgot he existed until he came back. Matt Hardy has just never done a thing for me as a performer. He’s charismatic, but in the ring he’s always been the epitome of average, and sort of “just there”. I hated his ROH run, mostly because I would get annoyed that he was on whatever show I was watching, forcing me to sit through whatever **1/2 star snooze fest he was participating in while waiting for the ACH or reDRagon match. But back to this match. I’m not a big fan of gimmick brawls and usually don’t like ladder matches nearly as much as most people. I can’t stand the “climb, tease, repeat” style ladder matches, so I was glad they didn’t overdo that trope here. This wasn’t so much a match as much as it was a series of stunts set up one after another. The bumps were very impressive, and this was fun to watch because there is inherent entertainment value in watching people nearly die, but I can’t help but think these kinds of matches are dated. In moderation I guess they’re fine, and this did entertain me on some 20-year old me level. I’m giving this ****, if for no other reason than I respect the hard work that went into it and the balls that all six men displayed in putting their bodies on the line as they did.