After nearly a year hiatus, LRTRM is back.
Here’s how this works. I watch ten completely random matches of recent vintage, from ten different promotions. I try to stay away from places like WWE, NJPW, Dragon Gate, and other companies heavily covered on this site, but will occasionally slip something in from those places if I think it’s interesting. You can find the first three editions of LRTRM here.
Are you clear on how this works? Great. Now this is the part where I tell you to disregard everything you just read in the previous paragraph, because in this edition I break nearly every single one of my own guidelines. Why? Because this is my column and I can do what I want, dammit. We’ll get back to the usual format next time, but you should have your snow shovel ready for this one because the first six matches are a collection of match of the year contenders, and OH BOY do the snowflakes fly.
We head to Europe for a couple of Will Ospreay matches, down to Mexico as I catch up on one of the top feuds of the year, and then it’s on to Japan for some Strong BJ, the latest casualty in NOAH’s war vs Suzuki-gun, and my bi-yearly Io Shirai match. Then we wrap things up with some crowd sourced bouts, which include a Kongo Kong squash, some southern wrasslin’, a John Hughes tribute match, and a NOAH bout so shitty that I might hunt down and kill the person who suggested it.
Promotions represented: Revolution Pro, CMLL, Big Japan, NOAH, Stardom, UCW, WrestleMerica, & UGW.
Matt Sydal vs Will Ospreay
May 11, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (May 2015)
Yes, this match is from May, which shows how far behind I am with my wrestling viewing. It features two sleeper Wrestler of the Year candidates. Sydal is enjoying perhaps the best year of his career, consistently killing it on three continents. Ospreay is basically my anti-“Hollywood” John Tatum. I’ve never seen a Tatum match that I liked, and I’ve never seen an Ospreay match that I didn’t like. Ospreay’s bout earlier this year against AJ Styles on February 15 checked in at ****1/2 and has a serious chance of cracking my Top 10 for 2015.
This aired on the RevPro TV show and featured some cool pre match promo work from both guys which really set the stage for the in ring story that they were about to tell, as a cocky Sydal talked about being a 15-year veteran, while Ospreay came off like the plucky local upstart who wanted to knock off the visiting star. The first act of the match continued that story, with Ospreay matching Sydal’s grappling, then matching him move for move on their feet. The early ground work was fast paced and super slick, and left me wanting more. I often complain about pointless early match grappling that goes nowhere, means nothing, and feels like time filler, but every second of this match played into the larger story being told, which was that Ospreay was trying to prove that he was ready to hang with a guy that he admittedly looks up to, and that he lost to a few months earlier.
The second act settled in to Sydal working over Ospreay’s left leg, with well placed hope spots sprinkled in. I loved Sydal here as the bearded, grizzled veteran working over the leg of the overmatched “kid”. While leg selling fetishists won’t like some of the comeback spots where Ospreay used springboard moves and top rope dives, as a man of many exotic fetishes leg selling doesn’t happen to be one of mine, so nothing he did bothered me, especially since his overall attention to the damage was pretty damn focused, including nice little touches like limping as he ran the ropes and the leg collapsing under his body weight when landing on his feet after a missed 450.
The finish was great, with Sydal getting his knees up on a Shooting Star Press, and then landing one of his own for the apparent victory until Ospreay surprise crucifixed him at the two count and held the shoulders down to pull off the upset. Every time I watch Ospreay, he does a couple of things I’ve never seen done before, and innovation matters a lot to me. The announcers were pushing for a third match between the two, this time for Ospreay’s British Cruiserweight Title. That match apparently happened in June, so hopefully I can track it down before the end of the year. ****
Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay
June 28, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (July *airdate* 2015)
An Ospreay match delivers again, this time at a MOTY level. As I was watching this, I was thinking about how Ospreay may legitimately be one of the best 20 wrestlers in the world this year. I started jotting down the names of guys who have definitely been better than him, and couldn’t get past 12 or 13 names. I came up with another dozen or so names of people who I could reasonably argue have been better, so let’s say that if push came to shove I’d put half of those names ahead of Ospreay, too. That would place Ospreay right in the mix of the top 20. Making this even more impressive is that I still haven’t seen the aforementioned June Sydal match or any of his BOLA stuff, so he has a real chance to move up.
Despite the Ospreay love, to be fair I thought Scurll was the better wrestler here, bringing his usual grit, grime and spit (disgusting), in a match that was very similar to the Sydal match in structure. Ospreay was better in the Sydal bout, particularly in the selling department, but this was worked like a crazy PWG or 2005 ROH tribute match, so the insane spots and athleticism down the stretch more than made up for it. This was by far the best Scurll match I’ve ever seen, and it immediately had me Googling and bookmarking more of his shit to get to later. Also, I have no idea how to pronounce “Scurll”. I feel like the “u” and the “r” should be reversed. This was every bit as good as the February Ospreay/Styles match. Borderline MOTY contender. ****1/2
CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship – Dragon Lee (c) vs Kamaitachi
CMLL “Guerreros del Ring”
July 13, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (July 2015)
So I’m watching this feud in reverse. I already saw the August 30 bout, which I rated at ****, and I’m told that match is even better if you saw this July 13 match first, with the added context of some callback spots and such. Alas, I watched these Memento style, like a dope, so unfortunately some of that will forever be lost on me.
It’s hard to believe Kamaitachi and Hiromu Takahashi are even the same person. Last we saw Takahashi in New Japan, he was putting up a goose egg in the 2013 Best of the Super Juniors, and looking very pedestrian in the process. I saw a few of his European excursion bouts, and nothing he did particularly impressed me. One gimmick change and a couple of years later, and this guy is being whispered as a fringe WOTY candidate and tearing it up in CMLL. He also looks like a completely different human now, too. I can’t think of a more stunning overall transformation in wrestling over the last few years. Caitlyn Jenner can’t hold a candle to this guy.
Like the August 30 bout, I loved this. Both matches were worked at a total break neck pace, with very little in the way of structure other than both men taking turns kicking the shit out of each other and working stiff as fuck. This is not a complaint. Storytelling comes in many forms, and sometimes the story is as simple as who will break first? They blow through the first two falls, which amounts to a waste of time, but whatever, that’s lucha and you just have to live with that sometimes. The third fall is 20 minutes of utter insanity. Both this and the August 30 match were essentially carbon copies of a high-level Brave Gate match, which has me confused regarding some of the reviews I saw from people who typically loathe Dragon Gate but loved these two matches.
Being invested in the stories matters, and that’s what I’ll chalk this up to, but somebody like Dragon Kid for example has probably had at least a dozen matches very similar to this over the years, with the lightning pace, crazy spots, a little bit of no selling, and just enough psychology sprinkled throughout to prevent it from being an over contrived farce. If you plopped these Dragon Lee/Kamaitachi matches onto any big Dragon Gate show or into a tiny building in Reseda, I’m almost positive we’d hear grumblings about a lack of selling and doing too much, and that’s a shame. When the work is this good, and this intense, all of that works, and it shouldn’t matter where it took place. I find it very suspicious that someone who enjoyed this series could at the same time completely disregard the Dragon Gate style as overly spotty. ****1/4
BJW Strong Championship – Daisuke Sekimoto (c) vs Yuji Okabayashi
Big Japan Wrestling “Ryugokutan”
July 20, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (July 2015)
This not only met my wild expectations, it exceeded them. An incredible exhibition of two bulls beating the living shit out of each other until one man could no longer get up. In fact, this was a lot like the Dragon Lee/Kamaitachi match, with an added 250 pounds of beef and a more deliberate pace. Okabayashi had blood trickling from his nose within the first 30 seconds, which was fitting, and immediately set the tone. The finish was brutal, with Sekimoto surviving a huge top rope splash (which looked GREAT), and then getting absolutely murdered with a high angle powerbomb. That was the perfect finish, one of the best of the year, and a kickout at that point would have severely hurt the match, but thankfully he stayed down. Put this on a high profile G1 card, and it’s making its way on to many match of the year lists. It’ll be very high on mine. One day I’m finding a money mark and I’m booking a fireplug tournament with these two beasts, #BigMike Elgin, Tomohiro Ishii, Big E, and Rusev. One block only, and they’ll all face each other over and over until only one guy is still alive. ****3/4
GHC Heavyweight Title – Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Yoshihiro Takayama
Pro Wrestling NOAH “Summer Navigation 2015 Night 1”
July 18, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (July 2015)
I was worried about Takayama coming into this one, because Ol’ Melty Face did not look good at all during the build to this match, and appeared to be completely cooked. I feared this would need to be a total Suzuki carry job, and make no mistake, carry he did, but Takayama has enough charisma and did just enough physically to make this more than a one man show.
They used ample shortcuts, including lots of Suzuki-gun run ins that were the subject of much criticism, but I thought the SG stuff added to the sympathy factor, got genuine heat, and greatly enhanced the match. The story here was not only the battle weary Takayama getting his ass kicked by the merciless asshole, but also having to overcome the merciless asshole’s asshole pals who kept yanking the ref from the ring and bashing him upside the skull with chairs. If you aren’t rooting hard for Takayama by the end of this thing, you are a cold hearted bastard with no soul. Even though some of Takayama’s stuff these days comes off super cringey and looks like it can’t break eggs, he still has an aura about him and his presence commands an odd respect, so simple moves like an exposed knee to the face or double underhook suplex still look menacing. We’re probably very close to the end of the road with Takayama, but I’ve also been saying that for probably close to ten years. If this is Takayama’s last great match, I’m OK with that. ****
Io Shirai vs Mayu Iwatani
Stardom “5STAR Grand Prix Night 1”
August 23, 2015
Featured in VOW’s Match of the Month (August 2015)
I watch about a half dozen joshi matches per year, and they almost always involve either Io Shirai or Kana. With that frame of reference in mind, combined with whatever I’ve seen from WWE, TNA, and the American indie scene, this was the best bell-to-bell women’s match I’ve seen all year.
Most people reading this probably know how good Shirai is, so let’s set her aside for now. I want to talk about Iwatani, who blew me away here with her big bumping, super crisp rope running (which always stands out in women’s wrestling, which often features awkward or flat out god awful rope running supVedaScott), and overall athleticism. I love the way she moves around the ring, with her wiry frame and slightly out of control (but totally in control, if that makes any sense, which it probably doesn’t) natural movements that make it seem as though she’s part of a real struggle, as opposed to someone who is visibly and carefully thinking her way through spots, which is another pet peeve of mine with lower level (and unfortunately, some upper level supNikkiBella) women’s graps.
When it comes to mannerisms and facial expressions, few are better than Shirai. Her offense is more precise than Iwatani’s, who was a bit sloppy with a few of her spots, and you get the feeling when watching this match that Shirai is the one holding it all together. Shirai ate three very risky bumps from Iwatani (a wild and out of control crossbody frogsplash to the floor, a Dragon Suplex on the floor (!), and the utterly insane reverse rana at the end of the match), all of which were key spots in the match that allowed her opponent to shine, especially considering the result. I hate hate hate long draws (and super long matches in general), but really like short ones (30 minutes or less) when they are done well. This was a 15 minute draw that legitimately caught me by surprise (which is the key to a good draw), and had perfect pacing for the time they were given. I loved this. ****1/4
Kongo Kong vs Aarron Matthews
July 28, 2015
Let’s have a chat about this indie ref. Aside from the world’s worst haircut, this kid is wearing a hockey referee shirt (which I admit is some decent improvising), New Balance high tops (I wasn’t even aware that New Balance, who make the low top sneakers that your dad is probably wearing right now, produced a basketball shoe), and is busting a sag with his jeans like this is 1995. I couldn’t take my eyes off of this goof, even as Kongo Kong was destroying Aarron “Double R” Matthews, which I suspect is a typo, but hey, that’s how it’s listed on the YouTube page so that’s what I’m going with here.
Kongo Kong’s physique is unlike any I’ve ever seen in wrestling. He’s tall, and it appears as though 80% of his body weight rests between his lower chest and his hips, making him appear like the disproportionate reflection of a giant looking into a funhouse mirror. He didn’t show it here, but he’s also incredibly agile, especially for a man his size, and gives off a dangerous aura with his face paint and crazy hair. Double R was a good squash opponent, with the perfect “pasty white chubby guy in generic tights” 80’s jobber look. My only regret is that after putting away Double R, Kong didn’t also murder indie ref, which means that guy is still prowling around North Carolina in his $800 car with the $2000 rims, with his New Balance high tops and goofy haircut, and probably dating the daughter of a very unfortunate mild mannered accountant. **
Tyson Dean vs Matt Hardy
WrestleMerica “Summer Sizzler”
August 15, 2015
MATT HARDY WON WITH THE SIDE EFFECT! ALERT THE MEDIA! Well, I guess I am the media, but this is genuinely shocking news. Part of me hopes that Hardy, who never ever wins on TV with the Side Effect, was doing some super meta psychology here, demonstrating that the move that never quite puts away the big boys on national TV is good enough to beat the likes of Tyson Dean in Barnesville, Georgia.
As for the match itself, I’ll be nice and just say that the kids in audience were having the time of their life, and that’s what it’s all about. This match wasn’t meant to entertain a 30-something year old smarky match reviewer, and not locking up until the 11:00 mark (c’mon Hardy, let’s go, I’ve got shit to do…jeez) was my clue that this wasn’t going to be in my wheelhouse. This was the most basic match layout ever (shine, transition spot, heat, comeback, finish), with the 40-year old millionaire taking as few bumps as possible and getting in and out without breaking a sweat. Skip this one. *1/2
Scumbag Nation vs The Tryout Show Rejects
Underground Wrestling “Sacrifice”
June 13, 2015
Scumbag Nation do a Reno SCUM gimmick. RudeBoy Riley looks like a young blonde hair era CM Punk, and his partner Logan Black resembles CHOO CHOO era Erick Stevens. The Tryout Show Rejects (Reed Bentley & John Wayne Murdoch) immediately scored an extra quarter star out of me for walking out to Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, and then added another quarter star for their insane top rope Canadian Destroyer finisher, dubbed “The Judd Nelson Driver” (because it ruins careers).
Listen, if you aren’t digging all of these Breakfast Club tie ins, we probably wouldn’t be friends. This was all action from start to finish, with Scumbag Nation working towards their Severe Chest Trauma finish before getting Judd’d. Bentley, who in a trivia note was a guest on one of the very first VOW podcasts, has packed on some pounds over the last few years, but he & Murdoch are deceptively agile and energetic for two guys who look like they grew up idolizing grimy side headlock heel teams like Southern Posse & Bad Crew. This was fun. ***1/4
Takashi Sugiura & Daisuke Harada vs Minoru Suzuki & Taichi
NOAH “Summer Navigation 2015”
August 22, 2015
“The Young Boy” Case Lowe (@_InYourCase) suggested this match, and I think I’m gonna have him do 1,000 Hindu squats and then sweep the dojo for forcing me to waste a half hour of my life on this boring dreck.
Let’s compare this match to the previous offering from UGW. Is the work cleaner in the NOAH match? Yes. Is it a “better” match from a technical standpoint? Sure. But the UGW match was fun, faced paced, and exciting, while the NOAH match was long, dry, and totally unsatisfying…kind of like the difference between a quick, sloppy romp at the Motel 6 with Suzie from accounting, and functional, robotic coitus with your wife for the seventh night in a row, as you desperately work the rhythm method trying to get her pregnant with your battle weary half chub.
This was a title skirmish, with the two challengers (Suguira & Harada) facing the promotions two singles champions, which in theory should get you hyped for the two upcoming title matches, but this made me want to see those matches less. I could break down Sugiura’s quality strikes or praise Suzuki for being Suzuki, but the bottom line is this was boring as fuck and I can’t imagine anybody enjoying this. I’m not even going to link this shit. *3/4