What Is The Mixed Bag? A Twist on the Traditional Wrestling Review.
Welcome, everyone, to the fifth instalment of our ‘Mixed Bag’ series! For those unfamiliar, the ‘Mixed Bag’ is a slightly different take on the traditional title-recap-thoughts-rating review formula that is most often used in wrestling reviews from the Observer and Torch to Voices of Wrestling, and, yes, even the Cubed Circle Newsletter itself. Instead, the ‘Mixed Bag’ comprises very little recap, as a column that aims to provide worthwhile discussion of the matches in question, participants, and topics related to the match at hand, as well as pro-wrestling in general. Some weeks will feature more from specific shows and promotions than others, but generally speaking any bout from 2015/12/01-2016/11/31 is eligible for discussion. This is a segment dedicated to matches that I have personally seen and find worthy of prolonged discussion, and with only so much time, any match suggestions are always welcomed and appreciated. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope that you enjoy this week’s discussion.
The grandest and greatest weekend of the year in pro-wrestling concluded less than a week ago after playing host to some of the best matches and shows of the entire year. The weekend’s namesake drastically under-delivered, but even so, the weekend was one of the very best of its kind, perhaps the very best. This was thanks to an abundance of great wrestling, strong sense of community, rabid and feverous crowds, and mostly great shows from the likes of EVOLVE, Shimmer, and even WWE in the form of NXT TakeOver Dallas – an early show of the year contender.
The debut of Shinsuke Nakamura opposite Sami Zayn was monumental, Heidi Lovelace emerged as one of the better performers of the entire weekend, and Zack Sabre Jr., Will Ospreay, and company tore the house down day after day. Mania may have been poor, the main roster seemingly hopeless, at least with current management, but in spite of this, the WrestleMania 32 Weekend was in most every other way the ultimate cure for pro-wrestling pessimism – a joy to be a part of.
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016, EVOLVE 58, EVOLVE Title Match: Timothy Thatcher vs. Matt Riddle
Thatcher versus Riddle was in many ways the marquee program for the WWN team heading into the weekend with video packages, “documentaries”, a variety of angles, and so on playing out between Thatcher and the Catch-Point stable in the weeks and months leading into the weekend. Whilst this match was an effective progression of that story, much like their last bout, it fell flat with another DQ finish, as Riddle refused to relinquish a hold on Thatcher’s arm after a rope break leading to a disqualification.
Had this been the first finish of this kind in the program, or if the first hadn’t been as poorly received as it was, this finish would have made sense. But, as it stands this iteration of Thatcher/Riddle on Mania Weekend 2016 was a sore missed opportunity – in a sense EVOLVE creative (there is ambiguity here with the possible involvement of Canyon Ceman, NXT creative director) was tone deaf to the wants and needs of their audience, and even the pros and cons of their premier realistic style itself. One could argue that this series of finishes was realistic, in that disqualifications of this sort could have, in theory, arisen in a legitimate sporting contest. On the other hand, to see finishes of this sort on two constructive major shows appears convoluted at best. What indie promoters need to understand, and most often times do, is that not only is Mania Weekend WWE’s biggest weekend of the year, it is the biggest year for other participating promotions too.
This was a lesson that Shimmer learnt last year, as they booked a tournament whose quality was sacrificed for the purposes of building to upcoming local shows. This may be an effective strategy in hooking new fans for a television product, but for indie wrestling, where most events are offered exclusively À la carte, it is a foolish move.After all, the majority of these niche wrestling audiences seek great wrestling. Certainly, those sampling the promotion for the first time are in it for the wrestling alone. So, unless a promoter wishes to showcase an incredible new signing, or have an idea so spectacular that it is almost certain to succeed, sacrificing match quality for the sake of angles is a poor idea for exhibition shows such as these. *** ¼
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016, EVOLVE 58, Sami Callihan vs. Ethan Page
Everything that I have said about Callihan in the past applies here. His spit spots are cheap, overused, and reliably generate go-away heat with me, not only towards Sami, but EVOLVE as a whole. I love Mike Bailey, in fact he is one of my favourite wrestlers on the indies – I still didn’t enjoy Callihan/Bailey from CZW’s ‘Seventeen’ show in February. Given that I don’t enjoy Page as a wrestler (although he would make a very good, if not great NXT talent), and you can imagine how painful this match was for me as a viewer.
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016, EVOLVE 58, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Osprey
If Ricochet and TJP did one thing besides put on a match that many enjoyed, it was warm up the crowd for the semi-main-event of Sabre vs. Ospreay. WrestleMania Weekend crowds are unique, with fans from all over the world converging in a small general area, and we saw a consequence of that uniqueness here, with the British contingent singing and chanting in much the same way that you would hear at a Rev-Pro or Progress show.
What followed was one of the better matches of the weekend, quite possibly the very the best, with Sabre and Ospreay going back and forth in what was akin to a more controlled version of the best Ospreay/Scurll matches. There was early neck work, which admittedly didn’t play all too greatly into the latter stages of the match, apart from a dragon sleeper or two from Sabre. Much like the Scurll matches this was worked like the greatest “go-go-go” mid-2000s Ring of Honor matches, in front of a crowd incredibly receptive.
Ospreay and Sabre are already indie stars, but with performances like these, with Sabre taking less punishment than many others of his stature on the indies and even in WWE and NJPW, and Ospreay at only 22 year old, these two will be worldwide superstars in at most five years. As Ospreay becomes more nuanced he may very well emerge as one of the better performers of the the next decade. **** ¾
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016, EVOLVE 58, Tracey Williams & Drew Gulak vs. Chris Hero & Tommy End
These four men had a very tough act to follow with, a match prior, Zack Sabre Jr. and Will Ospreay tearing the house down with one of the best matches of the weekend. However, they worked the right kind of match, in many ways a traditional Southern Style tag at points, only there was no clearly defined heel or face side – an important fact. There was a moderate degree of experimentation with layout and spots, as one would expect from a Hero or Gulak match, but despite the huge flurries in the later half of the match – as in their highly acclaimed tag match from earlier in the year – the sub-par crowd
reactions simply didn’t warrant the amount of offence that went into the final stretch. It was uneconomical in every sense.
This may seem hypocritical given the praise that we gave to Ospreay/Sabre, but of course the response to those final spots were quite simply several levels above what we saw here, and so in that sense the million moves and no selling was well justified. Still, this was a very fun main event, the second best match of the show, and may be worth your time. *** ½
WWE, April 1st, NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
There is a cliche, perhaps even a meme amongst match reviewers and analysts popularized by the Observer when stating that a match “started slow but ended strong” – but that was very much this match. To clarify, the work itself started slow, but from the onset the crowd was white hot. They knew that they were seeing something special. They knew that they were seeing something monumental in the development of their brand, and they reacted as such. There was even an uber meta chant that didn’t phase me in the least “fight forever”, because that’s what many of us felt in the moment.
This was a development in the Zayn/El Generico character, as much as it was one for NXT and Nakamura – in a match opposite a non-rival, in a “pure sporting context”, Zayn was as vicious as we have ever seen him. He kicked Nakamura on the ground with an intensity and aggresion we rarely see outside of the context of Owens/Zayn and Steen/Generico matches. It was a hallmark of Zayn’s career as much as it was one of Nakamura’s.
Coming in I expected to be disappointed, as I had been with Joe/Zayn, as I had been with many of Nakamura’s non-major performances, but everything fell into place in Dallas – the crowd, the performers, the time the match was given – and it made for a special moment in the histories of NXT, Nakamura, and Zayn. If you enjoy pro-wrestling, and if you consider yourself a pro-wrestling fan, track this down. What a time to be alive! **** ¾
WWE, April 1st, NXT TakeOver: Dallas, NXT Women’s Championship: Bailey vs. Asuka
The fact that NXT management decided to place the title matches on second to last is admirable, and is something that the main roster has picked up on. However, there is little doubt that this match suffered reaction wise due to the match that preceded it. And this of course isn’t a slant on Asuka or Bailey, two of the best all around performers in the entire company, but they had to follow something very special, the kind of match that happens only every so many years in a promotion.
Still, this isn’t to say that the crowd wasn’t hot for this, because there were, and whilst as I mentioned earlier that I don’t generally enjoy meta chants, the switch from a light “both these girls” to a strong “both these women” chant filled me with great joy – progress.*** ½
WWE, April 1st, NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor
Miraculously, threw a demonstration of intensity unseen since his 2004-2006 peak, Samoa Joe (and Finn Balor) came close to following Zayn/Nakamura in the main event of what will undoubtedly finish as the “show of the year” for many. As much credit for bringing the match up should be given to a freak accident – one that inevitably took it down – than to Joe or Balor. Joe was busted open early, as was Nakamura to a much lesser extent two matches prior both due to forearms. However, the boiling intensity of the match and fire in both men was quelled with repeated blood stoppages, most of which served very little purpose other than to remove blood from site for but a few moments. Eventually the cut closed, after resounding “f**k PG chants” and numerous stoppages.
Of course, the stoppages had very little if anything to do with the PG label, and were due to the wellness policy and recent lawsuits more than anything else. Indeed, Hunter and Reigns used blood capsules one week and hard way the next but a few weeks ago. However, one can’t help but observe a double standard here, with the likes of Triple H and Lesnar clearly aiming for hard way on several occasions throughout the last year (and admittedly Lesnar had to push officials away at Hell in a Cell, something that very few others in the company could get away with), when a superficial cut, one that can aid greatly in the storytelling of a match, must be attended to in the matches of other performers.
This bias isn’t necessarily a negative, as it demonstrates an interest in the health of lower level performers unseen in many larger sporting and entertainment companies. However, if a cut isn’t serious enough to warrant total stoppage, then applying repeated pressure at the detriment to a match and against the wills of both performers seems silly.****
EVOLVE/WWN, April 2nd 2016, EVOLVE 59, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Matt Riddle
It should be stated that for many (probably the majority) of us viewing the show live on WWN Live, this was the first match that we were able to watch without flaw with 90 or so minutes of persistent buffering issues that led many to simply quit the stream outright.
This was, however, another showcase for Matt Riddle as one of the most talented naturals we have seen in years, perhaps the most naturally adept performer we will see in this era. He and Sabre, as one would expect, grappled realistically together, with Sabre utilizing small joint manipulation and wacky submissions, catching Riddle off guard, allowing them to grapple as equals. It looked as though Sabre was bound to clinch another victory, but Riddle grabbed a last minute armlock for the submission concluding one of the best matches of Riddle’s career thus far. *** ¾
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Nicole Savoy vs LuFisto
This was different than just about everything else on the show. A grimy, mean-spirited, mean guy/women/girl match that was very much welcome after the lighter, albeit well worked, matches that followed and preceded it. Lufisto probably isn’t someone that you will see show up on NXT considering her age and style, but would be valuable to the Performance Centre and NXT as a whole in much the same way Kana .
Regardless, technical tragedy struck five or so minutes into this match, when my feed died, not due to any fault of WWN, but rather because the UPS on my PC, which was in turn streaming to my Chrome Cast, died a selfish death. I will track this match down at some point this year – this I promise.
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Heidi Lovelace vs. Veda Scott
Lovelace is someone who has been around for a few years, but has recently garnered a lot of cult hype due to consistently good in-ring performances, as well as her unique look. And despite getting hot and bothered to an immense degree at that wretched UPS ordeal of mine, I still managed to get into this, which is many ways a testament to just how good Lovelace is. I wish I had seen the end of the Lufisto match, I wish that I had seen the start of this one, but such is life. Then again, I do have some VOD credits lying about after this weekend. *** ¼ (estimated)
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Heart of SHIMMER Tournament Final, Nicole Savoy vs. Heidi Lovelace vs. Candice LeRae
I have a rule – take any good triple threat match, and no matter how good it may look on paper, a singles match between some combination of the three participants, generally speaking, will be better. There are exceptions, albeit very few, one of the most recent of which was the 2015 Royal Rumble triple-threat of Brock Lesnar versus Seth Rollins versus John Cena. However, the majority of the time singles matches will work out better, which is why I can’t truly fathom the rationale behind the decisions from both PWG and Shimmer to have their biggest yearly tournaments end in triple threat matches – BOLA in particular.
This was my mind-set heading into this final, and whilst I may still affirm that a singles final featuring two of these women in any of the three possible combinations would have been better than this match, this was an outstanding match. With that, LeRae wasn’t in for all too long, which helped the match. This is by no means a slant on LeRae as a performer, who I almost always enjoy, but rather a compliment to the match’s booking. They got some good triple threat spots in early, even if they were forced to resort to the standard triple-threat fair of sending Lovelace out to the floor, reducing the elimination three-way to an approximate singles match between LeRae and Savoy for some time. However, with LeRae submitting Candice, we got a good 15 or so minutes of intense, and passionate combat between Savoy and Lovelace.
Some of the strikes were a little too loose, but on a macroscopic scale Lovelace and Savoy performed at a level at and beyond what was expected of them. Savoy came out of this tournament as a Cheerleader Melissa-esque dominant champion, whilst Lovelace emerged in losing even more the lovable underdog than she had entered. In short, the final stages of this match witnessed a battle between two of the brightest prospects in women’s pro-wrestling, both swiftly rising to elite status in the US indie scene. Take note of Lovelace, take note of Savoy, because regardless of whether NXT is ready for them or not, they are ready to set the world on fire, and will do just that in the coming years. **** ¼
PREMIER, March 6th 2016, XII Kratos Vs. Graves, Shayna Baszler vs. Colleen Schneider (Thanks to @BohsJohnny for the Recommendation)
This was the very first pro-wrestling match in Coleen Schneider’s career, and not too far from the first in Baszler’s. Despite this, the pair had a perfectly engaging and competent match. Sure, Schneider hesitated at times, and looked a little lost at points, but far less so than is to be expected from someone in their debut match, let alone when that person takes the majority of the match’s offence.
There is something about MMA fighters, particularly MMA fighters that grew up as fans and admirers of pro-wrestling, that allows them to excel very early on in their careers. There is no doubt that Baszler has had somewhat of a head start due to her years of catch training with Josh Barnett and Billy Robinson, and the same can be said for Riddle, who did extensive training prior to his debut, but even so, the likes of Coleen Schneider are far too good this early on to ignore. Whether it is a sense of in-ring movement, body control, believability, presence in front of a crowd, or a combination of all of these factors, combat sports practitioners seem to debut better than most others.
Regardless of their backgrounds, Baszler and Schneider are both very good for their experience levels, and they put on a match that they can be proud of on this PREMIER show. ** ½
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Hero
Sabre and Hero after months of build were able to once again progress what, for my money, is the very best program going, not only on the indies, but in pro-wrestling as a whole. Was it their best encounter? No, at least not for my tastes. But, you could certainly make an argument that it was. They brought a higher degree of intensity than in any other match in their series, especially when you take away the freak luggage accident that cut Hero’s finger open in their magical
Mystery Vortex III match from last year. It was a 30 minute war, and an admittedly strange opener, but it worked, showcasing precisely why Hero and Sabre Jr. are two of the very best wrestlers in the world today. **** ½
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, Fred Yehi vs Drew Gulak
I love Fred Yehi. I love Drew Gulak. I love Mercury Rising. Four knees. One knee pad. This is self explanatory. *** ¾
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, Matt Riddle vs. Tracy Williams
In a year of constant, rapid, and in recent times at least, unprecedented improvement and accomplishment for Matthew Riddle, he turned in his third consecutive “best Riddle match ever” alongside his Catch Point partner, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. This was as close to a match in the standard American indie/NXT style that I have thus far seen from Riddle and Williams, with dives, baseball slides, and brief work on the floor. At the same time they kept the elements of Catch Point that make the style so invigorating: beautiful transitions, believable submissions, and generally exceptional ring work.
Riddle tapped, suffering his second ever loss in EVOLVE, which is better for him than it seems, as he is very quickly becoming one of the fans’ “own” in EVOLVE, something that would be very difficult as a rookie with a long win streak. ****
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, Kota Ibushi, Johnny Gargano & TJ Perkins vs. Marty Scurll, Tommy End & Will Ospreay
As everyone wanted and expected this match was completely off the wall madness. Ospreay and Ibushi are clearly mad and the jury is still out on TJP and the rest of EURO TRASH. The spot that everyone will remember from this match is Ibushi and Ospreay stereo moonsaulting off of the saloon balcony at Eddie Dean’s Ranch (someone had to do it) – it looked like Ospreay actually wanted to flip off of some mounted Texas long horns, but decided against it for what should be obvious reasons. The WrestleMania ladder match was very good and all, but this was far and away the best flippy match of the weekend. **** ½
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Intercontinental Championship Match: Kevin Owens vs. The Miz vs. Stardust vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolf Ziggler vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder
People don’t simply gravitate to the likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, and company because they are great in-ring performers although that is certainly what attracts many to them in the first place. No, what creates an intimate emotional connection is the observation of these performers, at the very top of their game, the finest artists of their kind in the world, toiling away at their craft. For years, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens warred across the indies, putting themselves through more punishment than they likely should have, all for the sake of pro-wrestling and the betterment of their lives and careers. This is why witnessing both men garner their biggest reactions in front of the biggest North American wrestling crowds yet was so very special.
There are other performers of this sort, not necessarily indie stars; not necessarily having put their bodies through the hardship endure by the likes of Zayn and Owens for years on end, that are admired in a similar light. One such performer is Zack Ryder, who after being put down year on year, hustling like few others on social media, and remaining over when he should have faded into obscurity, received his career moment years too late in front of the continent’s biggest crowd. And whilst not as personally emotive for me as a fan as seeing Zayn and Owens get their time in the sun, Ryder’s big Mania victory was well deserved.
Wrestling is a performance art, wrestling is scripted, but Ryder overcame like every great babyface in wrestling history. And so did Zayn and Owens in different ways. Sure, this match wasn’t the ultimate revelation and historical moment of Daniel Bryan’s title victory, but was still an admirable moment in a years’ long battle against bullying and belittlement. **** ¼
Other Star Ratings:
PREMIER XII Kratos Vs. Graves, March 6th 2016, Joe Graves vs. JR Kratos ** ¾
WWE, April 1st, NXT TakeOver: Dallas,American Alpha vs. The Revival *** ½
WWE, April 1st, NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin ** ¾
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016,EVOLVE 58, Ricochet vs. TJ Perkins *** ¼
EVOLVE/WWN, April 1st 2016,EVOLVE 58, Marty Scurll vs. Fred Yehi *** ¼
EVOLVE/WWN, April 2nd 2016,EVOLVE 59, Timothy Thatcher vs. Marty Scurll *** 3/4
EVOLVE/WWN, April 2nd 2016,EVOLVE 59,Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay *** ¼
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Leva Bates vs. Cheerleader Melissa ** ¼
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Cherry Bomb vs. Cheerleader Melissa *** ¼
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Nicole Matthews vs. Crazy Mary Dobson ***
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Cheerleader Melissa vs. Candice LaRae *** ¼
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Nicole Savoy vs. Kimber Lee *** ¼
SHIMMER, April 2nd 2016, SHIMMER 80, Heidi Lovelace vs. Nicole Matthews *** ½
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising,, Ethan Page vs. Anthony Nese ** ½
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising,Nicole Matthews vs. Taylor Made ** ¾
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, FIP World Title Match: Jason Cade vs. Caleb Konley vs. Maxwell Chicago vs. Gary Jay ***
WWN, April 2nd 2016, Mercury Rising, Timothy Thatcher vs. Sami Callihan *** ½
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho *** ¼
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, New Day vs. League of Nations ** ½
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose ** ¾
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks **** ¼
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker DUD
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal *
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, The Rock vs. Rowan N/A
WWE, WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016, Roman Reigns vs. Triple H **