Cubed Circle Newsletter 213 – Pro-Wrestling Guerrilla, News & More!
We are back to our pre-hiatus schedule this week looking at some of the top stories in the world of wrestling this week, including AJ Styles’ Tokyo Dome threatening injury, tremendous PWG shows including several match of the year candidates, Dragon Gate’s Shingo-Mochizuki Battle, RAW, and Mid-South from 1982!
The Pro-Wres Digest for November 27th – December 6th 2015.
Those of you following the New Japan World Tag League will be already aware that AJ Styles is suffering from what has been described by those in Japan as a “serious” injury and has been pulled from the tournament altogether. The report is that Styles is suffering from a herniated disc in his lower back and is in serious pain every time he moves. Styles has been banged up for a while and reports of a back injury emerged a couple of weeks ago when he missed some ROH dates to rest up for the Tag League. There is obviously never a good time for a top guy to go down with a serious injury, but the timing of Styles getting hurt couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the companies he is booked for over the next month or so. He has big matches coming up with Jay Lethal at Final Battle on 9/12 and is in the semi-main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10 at the Tokyo Dome on 4/1. On top of that, Styles is advertised for some major dates in the UK in January. 5 Star Wresting announced last month that he would be facing Rey Mysterio on 14/1 at the Sheffield Arena and the promotion was relying on the first time ever dream match to draw a big crowd in the 8,500 seat building. Two days later on 16/1, Styles is booked to defend the RPW Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship against Zack Sabre Jr for Revolution Pro Wrestling in the main event at the York Hall in London. There is no word yet on what is going to happen; I can’t imagine Styles working with a herniated disc, but to cancel the Nakamura match would be a huge disappointment for everyone as that has been a match that people have wanted to see since Styles first went to Japan.
Last week Kurt Angle was sent over to the UK to promote TNA’s upcoming tour in January. TNA posted a video on their YouTube channel of Angle doing a couple of high profile radio shows on BBC Radio One Extra and TalkSport, the most listened to sports radio station in the UK. Angle announced in the video that this would be his “retirement tour” and said he couldn’t be happier that it was happening with TNA in the UK. Whether this really is Angle’s goodbye tour remains to be seen; I was at TNA’s first ever show in the UK at the Liverpool Olympia in 2008 and on that show Angle cut a teary-eyed promo about how it was potentially his last ever time in the UK because of how messed up his neck was. That was 7 years ago and Angle went on to have at least two more neck surgeries since that time and he also continued to do things in the ring that a man with a bad neck should never even think of doing. I suppose it is possible that Angle has finally realised that he needs to call it a day for the benefit of his long-term health, however there has been talk of a Kurt Angle retirement since 2006 when he couldn’t get cleared to come back to WWE so I remain sceptical about this whole thing.
Some disturbing news regarding Tomoaki Honma and his girlfriend of 18 years, Kiyoko Ichiki, broke this week. In an interview with Weekly Women’s PRIME, a popular women’s magazine in Japan, Ichiki, a former pro wrestler with Big Japan and IWA Japan, accused Honma of systematic domestic abuse stemming back four years. Ichiki claimed that she and Honma were at a restaurant about a month ago, when a woman came up to them and said that she had dated Honma four years ago. In addition to this incident Honma had been involved in a non-New Japan TV storyline with Tomomi Kahala, a 41 year-old 90’s pop-star whose career took a nosedive after rumours of drug abuse emerged, but she made a successful comeback in 2012 and is once again in the public eye. The deal was that Honma had a crush on Kahala and would repeatedly ask her out only to get rejected every time. Honma’s 18 year relationship with Ichiki wasn’t widely known to the Japanese public, however it was known by those within the wrestling industry that the two were a couple. Ichiki claimed Honma’s actions during the TV angle with Kahala had sent her into depression and when they got home from the restaurant she and Honma got into a heated argument. Ichiki’s story goes that she said something to Honma that crossed the line and she got on her knees to ask for forgiveness, a common gesture in Japan for someone who is ashamed of their actions. When she lifted her head to look at Honma, Ichiki alleges that he kicked her in the face and began to yell at her mother, who it is claimed witnessed the incident, and questioned the way she had raised her daughter. Ichiki told the women’s magazine that the domestic abuse went back at least four years and she gave a story about Honma knocking her out by hitting her in the head then dragging her through the hallway of their apartment. She said the police had been called several times to break up their fights and Honma would be apologetic after every violent incident. Ichiki went on to say that she had considered leaving Honma but it was hard to cut ties with someone she had been with for 18 years and that verbal abuse from Honma was a bigger factor than the physical violence in the decision to leave him. New Japan has not made a statement about the situation, however Honma himself came out and robustly refuted Ichiki’s allegations and he even accused her of abusing him. Honma’s side of the story is that Ichiki began abusing him four years ago and most of the time the fights consisted of him grabbing Ichiki’s wrists to stop her from attacking him. In regards to the incident when Ichiki was knocked out, Honma claims he was attacked first and shoved Ichiki against a wall then immediately drove them both to the hospital, where Honma was also treated for facial injuries. Honma is also threatening a lawsuit and noted that Ichiki’s allegations could have a negative impact on his career. Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer that many key people in the Japanese wrestling industry were unaware of the story even after it had been covered in Japan and talked about on numerous English language news sites. Meltzer also came under some criticism, unfairly in my view, for his comments on the 12/1 Observer Radio show when he explained that the culture in Japan is very different from in the West and that had it been a WWE guy they would have been taken off TV and even possibly released, whereas New Japan are unlikely to do anything that drastic. Some people seemed to jump to the ludicrous conclusion that Meltzer was advocating domestic abuse, when in reality he was simply making a very factual statement about the differences in Western and Asian cultures. I’m sure there will be more on this in the weeks to come, but the last thing New Japan needs before Wrestle Kingdom on 4/1 is a bunch of negative publicity surrounding one of their most popular performers.
Act Yasukawa announced her retirement on 12/1 at a Stardom press conference in Tokyo due to injuries she received during the now infamous match with Yoshiko on 22/2 at Korakuen Hall. Act was hospitalised with Graves Disease in the summer of 2014 and suffered life-long damage to her eye as a result. She underwent surgery to repair the vision in the damaged eye and returned to Stardom in September 2014 and won the Wonder of Stardom championship for the second time. In the 22/2 match at Korakuen, Yoshiko shot on Act and beat her up in a way that would have got her arrested if it happened on the street. Yoshiko targeted Act’s bad eye and landed some disgusting punches which resulted in Act’s face swelling up worse than Yoshihiro Takayama’s after the Don Frye fight. Act suffered a broken cheek, broken nose, and a broken orbital bone over her already impaired right eye and was hospitalised for a month while she underwent surgeries to repair the damage. She was told by doctors before her comeback in 2014 that if she continued to wrestle that her eyesight would never fully recover and she was risking losing her sight altogether in her right eye. “There’s really no helping that I lost my eyesight. I intend to move forward with my life, rather than grieve over my past. I want to have a fun future,” Act said. “Gamushara,” a movie about Act’s life was released in March and word is another movie is planned for next summer. Act began wrestling in 2012 and before that appeared in a play called “Wrestler Girls” in 2011.
Unbelievably, rumours of WWE being interested in Shinsuke Nakamura came out this week. – I know, ludicrous isn’t it? Court Bauer first made the claims on the Bauer & Pollock podcast and Dave Meltzer gave the story more credence by discussing in this week’s Observer. Apparently, WWE is interested in Nakamura and although he would likely start in NXT (just imagine that for a minute), the goal would be to get him up on the main roster. The knock on Hideo Itami by the higher-ups is the usual “he’s too short” deal, while Nakamura is much taller, at 6’1. Nakamura is 36 though and WWE doesn’t usually bring outsiders in of that age to work on the main roster; Samoa Joe & James Storm are different cases since they are pretty much only with the company to work as top NXT names, whereas , allegedly, Nakamura would be used on the main roster. Dave Meltzer noted that Nakamura is “intrigued” by the idea of being a star in America and the huge reactions he has received in ROH and RevPro in the UK might have given him the idea that he has the ability and charisma to connect with a global audience. Takaaki Kidani has stated in the past that the top New Japan guys are on seven, or near-to seven, figure contracts so WWE would have to offer Nakamura a hell of a big contract if they really want to bring him over. I find it hard to believe that this story will go anywhere. The idea of one of the top five workers in the world being brought into WWE’s developmental system is just inconceivable to me and then there is the deal with how he would be actually treated on the main roster. Can you imagine Vince McMahon’s reaction when seeing Nakamura for the first time? He would instantly focus on Shinsuke’s lack of a bodybuilder physique and no doubt be baffled by all the Nakamuraisms that make him great in the first place. “Goddammit, Paul! What the hell is this guy posing and vibrating for?! I don’t like it. Tell him to stop it. Get him one of those bathrobe thingies and have him throw salt in the eyes, goddammit!”
The RAW ratings were up this week by 210,000 viewers, but even so the 30/11 show tied the 9/11 show for the second lowest non-holiday episode since 1997. Show did a 2.20 with 3.16 million viewers and they lost 300,000 viewers of the course of the three hours. 8pm did 3.31 million, 9pm did 3.19 million and 10pm did 3.01 million. The NFL game was down four million viewers from last week and the Ravens/Browns game did 10.11 million, however those missing four million people certainly didn’t tune into RAW instead.
ROH finished up its run on Destination America with the 25/11 show which featured Roderick Strong defeating Jay Lethal for the TV title in an excellent match. They start their new TV deal with COMET this week, with the first show airing on 2/12. Interestingly, the Observer noted that Lethal’s contract is expiring soon and there is apparently interest from the WWE in him for NXT. With the ROH/New Japan deal, Lethal likely set to defend the ROH title at the Tokyo Dome on 4/1 against Michael Elgin, providing he doesn’t lose the title to AJ Styles at Final Battle on 18/12.
Speaking of ROH, some of the companies top stars were in the UK last weekend for the second annual Superstars of Honor weekend with Preston City Wrestling. Adam Cole, Silas Young, Kenny King, Dalton Castle, War Machine, Hanson, Cedric Alexander, reDRagon, Lethal & Delirious were part of a four show three day weekend from 27-29th. Some of the highlights included, on 27/11: Cole won the PCW cruiserweight title in a three-way over champion El Ligero & Bubblegum. Roderick Strong lost to PCW Champion Dave Mastiff. PCW tag champs T-Bone & Rampage Brown over reDRagon in a street fight when T-Bone pinned O’Reilly with a Steiner Screwdriver. Main event saw Jay Lethal retain the ROH title over Noam Dar. The afternoon show on 28/11 saw Strong win a six-way over Dave Rayne, Charlie Garrett, El Ligero, Bubblegum & Kenny King. Dave Mastiff retained the PCW title over Silas Young. Main event saw Lethal retain the ROH title over Doug Williams. 2/118 evening show had War Machine over reDRagon. X-Pac, Dave Rayne, Roy & Zak Knight beat T-Bone, Rampage Brown, Bubblegum & Iestyn Rees. Scott Hall was in the corner of X-Pac’s team. Noam Dar downed Drew Galloway. Main event was Dave Mastiff vs. Adam Cole in a 30:00 Iron Man match for the PCW title and it finished in a 3-3 draw. Final show was 29/11, T-Bone, Iestyn Rees & Bubblegum beat Delirious & War Machine. Adam Cole retained the PCW Cruiserweight title over Bubblegum. Roderick Strong beat Jay Lethal with the Strong hold in a non-title match.
After 25 years in the wrestling business, Kintaro “WING” Kanemura announced his retirement on 26/11. Kanemura, who stated he had destroyed his body working the death match style and is suffering numbness in his left leg, plans to do a retirement match in December 2016 and said he wanted one final singles match with Atsushi Onita. Kanemura became a big star of the W*ING promotion when he won the titles with the top star, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga in April 1993, had a run in the IWA where he worked Cactus Jack in May 1996 in a Caribbean Spider Net Glass Double Hell match at Kawasaki Stadium, then went to FMW in August 96 with Matsunaga & Mr Pogo as the outsiders from W*ING who wanted revenge on FMW for putting them out of business. In 1997 Kanemura turned face and teamed with Masato Tanaka & Onita for a feud with Terry Funk’s Funk Master of Wrestling and after that program Kanemura challenged Onita to one final match with Onita’s career vs. the W*ING stable on the line. On 28/9/97 at Kawasaki Stadium, Onita beat Kanemura in a No Rope Barbwire Dynamite Time-Bomb Death Match with the Thunder Fire Bomb and the three-year FMW vs. W*ING angle came to an end. The match wasn’t very good at all due to Kanemura working with a shattered knee, however Onita made sure the match would have a spectacular finish with probably the biggest ever exploding time-bomb which completely engulfed the ring in fire and smoke. Kanemura had a short stint in Smokey Mountain in 1993 and was involved in an angle with Kevin Sullivan, who sliced open his arm with a spike on TV. He worked in ECW briefly in 2000 and after FMW folded in 2001 worked sporadically as a freelancer, even working an Exploding Barbwire Death Match against Shinya Hashimoto in May 2003 at the WEW Kodo Fuyuki Memorial Show.
Dewey Foley, son of Mick, has landed himself a gig as a writer’s assistant on the WWE Creative team. According to Dave Meltzer, Dewey will start his coffee and sandwich fetching duties in January and will most likely have very little input when it comes to actual creative. This does explain why Mick Foley did a complete U-turn on Facebook after burying RAW two weeks ago and the funniest thing is that this week’s RAW was much worse than the show that Mick flipped out about.
A ton of old content has been added to the vault section of the WWE Network. Of course, they didn’t bother uploading full years and just put a handful of episodes up from different promotions. Still, it is at least a start and the selling point of the old footage seems to be that most of the stuff features big stars from the WWF before they came to New York. There are some Stampede Wrestling shows from 1979 with Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid, Junkyard Dog & Jake Roberts, AWA from 1987 with the Midnight Rockers & Curt Hennig, GWF from 1990 after the USWA invasion with Steve Austin & Jeff Jarrett, Smokey Mountain from 1994 with the Thrillseekers, Chris Candido & Sunny and various episodes of Mid-South from 83-86 with Ted DiBiase, Jim Duggan, JYD & Jake Roberts. This is on top of the run of Crocket WCW 6:05pm shows from 86-87 that were added last week and they also have added a few more World Class shows. So far I’ve got through four SMW shows, two AWA shows, and a single episode of Global & Stampede. Of course it would be nice if everything was uploaded in order, because there isn’t much point of getting invested in this stuff if you can’t watch it week-to-week. Still, everything I have watched so far has been a lot of fun and incalculably more entertaining than anything on RAW.
Playing Catch-Up: All of the PWG!
Following the publication of last week’s newsletter, I felt somewhat dejected as far as my recent wrestling viewing had gone, three days after the conclusion of examinations. This is somewhat understandable, considering that the only wrestling I had watched up until that point for the past several weeks was the Tenryu Retirement show and Survivor Series. The former had its fun moments, and even two very good matches, but sitting through both shows felt like a chore, and there is no getting around that. In the case of Survivor Series perhaps this was more understandable, as the show was quite terrible, with a finish that has left me perhaps as disinterested in the WWE product as I have ever been. Thankfully, this past week was vastly more positive, producing some of the best pro-wrestling related thrills of the entire year.
I owe most of these thrills to PWG, a promotion that I have had my high and low points with as a fan. My fandom of the promotion saw its last peak in 2008-2010 when the Reseda crowd started picking up, but I fell off shortly after through a combination of inaccessibility (South African Postal Service), and lack of interest with a focus on The Super Smash Brothers, Young Bucks, and Ricochet, performers who I didn’t have particular appreciation for, and still don’t in some respects. However, the isn’t to say that I didn’t miss out on some quality content, because I did in all likelihood — El Generico and Kevin Steen, men whose work I do very much admire, were key figures in the years that followed. Whilst I may have been wrong about some of what PWG had produced during the 2010-2014 period, they won me back as a promotion last year through the introduction of Zack Sabre Jr., Trevor Lee, Biff Busick, and so on, with Kyle ‘O Reilly versus Zack Sabre Jr. finishing as one of my favourite matches of 2014.
With this in mind, I went into 2015 with the intent of keeping up with the promotion, which I did through the release of ‘Don’t Sweat The Technique’, but with time as a limiting factor I fell behind, which is a situation that I sought to rectify this past week. Watching three or so shows per day this plan was successful, as I burned through ‘Threemendous IV’, ‘Mystery Vortex III’, ‘DDT4’, and BOLA nights one through three. This kind of binge viewing cannot be done with every promotion, but it works for PWG thanks to its constantly hot crowd, diverse match-ups, and great commentary.
BOLA has been hailed by hardcore fans of the product as perhaps one of the greatest wrestling tournaments of all time (for a more in-depth discussion of BOLA 2015 see Ben’s review of all three nights, and the impact of the European talent in issue 207), and whilst I wouldn’t feel at all comfortable going that far, it was a great tournament regardless with ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey, Marty Scurll, Mark Andrews, Will Ospreay, and Zack Sabre Jr. all shining throughout. The addition of the Lucha Underground crew also yielded some interesting results, although didn’t manage to out perform the European talent or regular work horses. More impressive than the Battle of Los Angeles, in my view, was ‘Mystery Vortex III’, which was better than any non-Tokyo Dome show I have seen this year. Of particular note were the Chris Hero/Zack Sabre Jr. and Roderick Strong/Mike Bailey encounters, both of which served as strong match of the year candidates.
Technically speaking, Hero and Sabre Jr. were a step above Strong and Bailey, however, Bailey, much like in his match with Biff Busick on the first PWG show of the year, ‘From Out of Nowhere’, managed to outshine most everything else on the show. Bailey, around 25 years old, has been one of this year’s breakout indie stars, and will, despite his current physique, become a main indie fixture and beloved star — on this I would bet money. He has the underdog qualities of an El Generico, and is too from the Quabec area. Of course, El Generico has far more than just underdog quality, but for his age Bailey is already an outstanding worker.
The Strong match wasn’t as cerebral and methodical as the Hero-Sabre Jr. match, which saw a cut on Hero’s finger worked over in addition to the usual precise limb work that you would expect from 2015 Chris Hero and Zack Sabre Jr.. However, the match was, even more so than his PWG debut opposite Biff Busick, a star making performance. There is little doubt that Strong was the general here, making Bailey look golden from the onset as you would expect from perhaps the best wrestler in the world, but Bailey was no athletic broom stick, showing great facials, babyface fire, and intensity. One of the key moments of the match occurred in the first 15 or so seconds when Bailey dropped Strong with a high kick, which Strong sold like an MMA fighter knocked out cold, legs folding against one another, arms at his sides. Obviously this match took place months before the Holm/Rousey fight, but had that fight been CGIed, Strong could have done the knockout motion-capture with his selling of the early high kick.
Bailey’s offence failed on occasion, with a standing corkscrew knee-drop only catching Strong on the arm, but Strong acted quickly and adapted accordingly, resulting in very few breaks in continuity. In fact, the match was so perfect for what they looked to do, an underdog challenger versus overdog champion story, that I came very close to adding it to my five-star match list. As nit-picky as it may sound, Bailey’s finisher, a shooting star knee-drop to the back of a kneeling opponent, is a move that even “indie veterans” like Hero and Strong can’t even find themselves naturally in position for. This isn’t a comment aimed to denigrate their timing, or Bailey’s work, but rather one that seeks to highlight the very unnatural and choreographed setup that the knee-drop requires — the opponent awkwardly leaning over for excessive amounts of time waiting to have the knees put to their back. What this says for Bailey as a performer isn’t much, and realistically as he matures, which he is already doing at a consistent rate, the move will be replaced by something else, or perhaps a more believable variant. Unfortunately, this spot isn’t one that I can safely ignore such as the botched backdrop in the Cena/Punk Money in the Bank match that all too many attacked during reviews of that 2011 show, but rather a spot that brought me out of what was an otherwise stellar and absorbing match, taking the slightest of edges off of what would otherwise be an indie-classic. Your philosophy as far as moves of this sort are concerned may vary, and even if it somehow detracts more from your enjoyment than it did mine, you will still find an outing more than worth seeking out if you wish to build a confident match of the year list — one of the very best matches of 2015.
Having found that match you might as well watch Hero/Sabre Jr, which one could argue was better than the Strong/Bailey bout. Despite the calibre of both matches, neither was the main event, and instead a supposed headline singles attraction between DDT4 winners Trevor Lee and Andrew Everett was booked. This proposition was of course ludicrous, and as expected, from behind the curtain emerged the Young Bucks to reclaim their Tag Team Championships. How they did this was more important however, as Roderick Strong emerged to interfere, handing the Bucks the victory, which led to the return of Super Dragon to save the day, but of course he turned on Lee, Everett, and the rest of the roster by joining Strong and the Bucks as Mount Rushmore 2.0, a reboot of the Mount Rushmore stable of Kevin Steen, The Young Bucks & Adam Cole, which were PWG’s premier act for a large portion of 2014.
The formation of this stable, whilst not directly contributing to BOLA, will influence the creative trajectory of the company moving into 2016, and are the kind of group capable of providing heated six and eight man matches, as were already conducted at ‘Threemendous IV’, and the first night of BOLA. For as beloved as Super Dragon is, the Young Bucks and Strong, Strong in particular, have found ways of drawing heat from an audience that at first glance would seem impenetrable as far as hating such talented performers go.
What this observation ultimately relates to is the understanding that the promotion and performers have of their audience, which is why seemingly every match on a given card, whether it involves the comedy detective Team Tremendous, Rick Swann, Timothy Thatcher, Roderick Strong, or The Young Bucks, is able to garner a strong reaction and is most always well received. This is also why the 200 or so seat Reseda sells out as quickly and reliably as it does, and why merchandise sales related specifically to the company are seemingly so positive. And of course, a conclusion that follows from this recognition of promotional know-how is that PWG may be a potential candidate for promotion of the year (behind NJPW, personally), for as much as one could argue that PWG is but a minor promotion with little major business success, they, more so than any company that I regularly follow, maximise their existing resources, which makes for a welcome change from the likes of WWE, TNA, and even NJPW (at least to some extent), who with far more on which to build, often times waste what lies beneath their feet.
*Next week we will be looking at wXw’s 16 Carat from earlier this year, as well as Beyond Wrestling, Lucha Underground, EVOLVE, and Revolution Pro on our road to the conclusion of 2015 in the World of Wrestling.
Dragon Gate: Mochizuki & Shingo Tear The House Down
It should be stated outright a fact that long-time readers of the newsletter will know, I am no Dragon Gate aficionado. I am only vaguely familiar with intricate story lines, and I don’t view the working style most generally associated with the product all too highly. This isn’t to say, however, that I denounce the company and its performers outright, because as much as I may harp on some of their talent, Shingo and Mochizuki, CIMA, and even Yoshino and Akira Tozawa, to some extent, are performers that I attempt to keep up with; whose work I very much admire. With this said, the fact that I am writing about Shingo/Mochizuki so close to the date on which it occurred has to do with hype from outside the usual Dragon Gate fanbase. Regardless, Masaaki Mochizuki versus Shingo Takagi from 11/01 in Osaka was tremendous.
There is little doubt that a significant portion of the match’s subtlety was lost on me, but whilst I lacked as strong an emotional investment as avid fans, the core elements of the story shone through with but a cursory knowledge of the current storylines, back story, and promotion in general to lead the way. Masaaki Mochizuki is the grizzled veteran of Dragon Gate, a former member of the Toryumon roster, and Dragon Gate generation one star. The match was for the Open the United Gate Championship, and from the onset mean-old Mochizuki wanted to not only show mean-young Shingo that he was his equal, but he sought to venture a step further by taking his title. This simple overarching story was incorporated to near-perfection throughout, with Mochizuki coming out like a house of fire from the onset, and barely letting up through to the finish. However, it would seem that for as much as Mochizuki threw at Shingo, the age differential remained a barrier. Mochizuki would unload with a kick flurry, Shingo would respond with a lariat. Mochizuki would bust out a springboard dropkick, Shingo would rebound and knock him back to the mat. Mochizuki would fight valiantly for the advantage with the hardest kicks he could muster, only for Shingo to slam him back down, taking his time in doing so.
As big of a difference as age would play in the story, Mochizuki took everything Shingo had with a couple of well-placed one-counts towards the closing stretch, and managed to leave Shingo answer-less, but simply didn’t have enough left before he was finally put away with the Last Falconry. This was the classic Japanese sports tale of an underdog summoning all his fighting sprit to teeter on the brink of improbable victory, only to fall, and yet still emerge a hero — a stellar outing and match of the year candidate. **** 1/2