Welcome, everyone, to the fourth 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 reports 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 and 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 we hope that you enjoy this week’s discussion.
After a three week absence we are back with another Mixed Bag segment, where we – more so over the past couple of weeks than ever – attempt to find out just how much a fan can get out of picking and choosing matches for five or so hours.
WWE, March 12th 2016, Roadblock, WWE Divas’ Championship Match: Charlotte w/ Ric Flair vs. Natalya
As has been reiterated several times at this point, including on this very website, Roadblock from an atheistic and presentation standpoint was but a glorified house show. With that said, there was something refreshing about the “House Show Plus” production in comparison to what has become a tiresomely homogeneous AAA setup on most every taped main-roster shows throughout the year. This isn’t to say that a minimalist approach is the way to go, but a change of scenery, as used to be the case for the monthly pay-per-views, can add to the novelty of what should be, by definition, a “special” event.
Apart from the match itself, Michael Cole’s call was better than any other perhaps of his entire career, as hyperbolic a statement as that may seem. Ric Flair, as Charlotte’s second is effective in getting audiences invested in her as a performer. At the same time, with Charlotte as a natural heel, at least at this time, one has to question pairing the consummate loveable Flair with the (intended) dis-likable champion. In this way the Flair/Charlotte pairing is in some ways similar to the ill-fated Miz/Flair pairing – although it is a more natural one for obvious reasons.
Charlotte and Natalya began with some crisp mat work in what would become the most riveting, logically-sound, main roster women’s match since AJ Lee versus Natalya from several years ago – and for my tastes this match was significantly better. In fact, this Roadblock outing may have been better than their stellar NXT affair, which was admittedly several tiers below the big Bayley, Banks, and Becky Lynch Takeover matches that would follow.
My main gripe relating to the AJ match from several years ago was one that has plagued most every Natalya match that I have seen, and that is her frequent vocalisations – a general issue for the main roster women’s division. As far as my personal viewing experience is concerned, I find unsolicited grunting and screaming not only grating, but distracting in most contexts, and thankfully it was kept to a minimum here. What made this bout better than most of the main roster women’s matches since the rise of Banks and Charlotte, was the crowd reactions, with an already positive Toronto crowd heavily behind Natalya, as expected.
Charlotte stole the win with her feet on the ropes coupled with a minor assist from Ric. Whilst that spot followed some weak looking strikes during a Minoru Suzuki-Tanahashi figure four slap sequence, the light work throughout most of the match didn’t detract from a match that exceeded expectations quite handily. *** ½
WWE, March 12th 2016, Roadblock, WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose
In short, this was THE Triple H match featuring Dean Ambrose – plodding, methodical, and deliberate. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t a good match, however, this can only be said when accepting the fact that it was not a match worked to get Dean Ambrose over in losing, as it could have been. Rather, conspiracy theories and speculation aside, it was a match positioning Hunter, at least throughout the majority of its run-time, as a babyface. He overcame leg work, refused to tap in the figure four, and other than his utilisation of the ropes on a pin attempt, fought clean and valiantly to regain his championship. He is at the very least a “cool heel” and at most a “fighting babyface” regardless of what the overarching story is meant to be, and this was blatantly obvious throughout this defence. *** ½
ROH, February 26th, 14th Anniversary Show, ROH World Television Championship Match: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Roderick Strong vs. Bobby Fish
The very existence of this match had me ask the same question as most every triple-threat match I see – why didn’t they just book a singles match? This is by no means a slant against the work of any of the three performers– but I don’t think that many would debate that a singles match between Ishii and Fish, or Ishii and Strong would have been far superior to what we received in this opener, this is especially true when Ishii pinned Strong again anyway. ***
ROH, February 26th, 14th Anniversary Show, Hirooki Goto vs. Dalton Castle w/ The Boys
The thought of Dalton Castle versus Hirooki Goto was not one that screamed “must see wrestling”, but did very much say “Fire Pro” as something that I needed to seek out. I knew of Dalton Castle leading into this viewing, and had seen him on various shows over the past year or so, but as an irregular viewer of the Ring of Honor product, Wrestling Twitter and podcasts were the only sources of documentation that I had of his meteoric rise to cult stardom up until viewing this match. Castle entered as the biggest star on just about the entire show. Sadly, ROH hasn’t gotten the better end of the NJPW deal with Strong and Castle both falling to upper-mid card NJPW stars with little in the way of compensation other than the presence of NJPW talent on ROH shows. ** ¾
ROH, February 26th, 14th Anniversary Show, The Elite (Young Bucks & Kenny Omega) vs. KUSHIDA, ACH & Matt Sydal
Make no mistake, as far as international-independent stars are concerned there are very few bigger, at least to the American audience, than the Bucks and Omega – amazing considering where Omega was in the indie fan psyche but a couple of years ago. There isn’t much to say about the match other than that, for the most part, it was a near out of control spot fest – albeit a great one nonetheless. The final spot of the match, however, was brilliantly laid out from a storytelling perspective with Sydal going for the shooting star press but hesitating as he watched his partner, ACH, take a tombstone piledriver on the outside at the hands of Omega. There was a similar spot in a AJ Styles/Kota Ibushi match from last year with Omega at ringside, which leads me to suspect that the finish to this match was, at least partly, due to Omega. ****
There simply hasn’t been a mean guy match meaner than this one in 2016. Even watching through a feed whose audio and video was entirely out of sync, this was a tremendous hard hitting outing. There were several needless headbutts of varying magnitude, which gave me pause in my praise of this bout. However, we clearly don’t have a yet well accepted way of evaluating matches of this sort. If you enjoy the style this may very well be one of your better matches of the year, if not, best keep a safe distance. ****
I was admittedly unfamiliar with both men heading in, although Hidaka was clearly the veteran working opposite the much younger Nakatsu, who wrestler in a similar hard hitting style. Sometimes it is difficult to connect with completely alien participants, but that was far from the case in the opener to the first ever BASARA show, with Nakatsu taking all that he could and more from the more skilled, tougher, stronger veteran. Every no sell made sense in the later stages, as did every near fall, and I got into them as someone not even familiar with either man’s move-set. In a five or so hour session of some great wrestling, this may have very well been the runner up, and is a 15 or so minute outing that deserves more recognition. **** ¼
Revolution Pro, January 16th 2016, High Stakes, Big Damo vs. ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey
Mike Bailey is one of my favourite performers on the 2016 independent scene and has done some of his best work against bigger stronger men such as Drew Galloway and Chris Hero. I expected much of the same here, with Speedball attempting to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. And whilst this story was told on commentary, unfortunately it wasn’t one that I saw in the ring. Bailey knocked Damo off of his feet early and often, losing much of what makes the David v. Goliath story so captivating. This is a shame, as they had a very good match regardless, but in attempting to have an impressive back and forth battle, lost much of what could have made the bout special and memorable.
Revolution Pro, January 16th 2016, High Stakes, Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay
As far from the greatest Ospreay fan up until this point, the idea that Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay could be one of my favourite matches of the year thus far seemed ludicrous coming in – even more so when the match was worked in what has become 2016’s answer to the “go go go style” of the 2000s. But, on the 16th of January 2016 two of the European indies’ biggest stars put on one of the very best matches in the style that I have ever seen – whether we evaluate across the current indies, 2000s ROH, or early 2000s WWE. York Hall was electric from the onset and only got hotter from there on in.
One could argue that the match went about five or so minutes too long, and that the pair did too much, but for the crowd and audience it worked, and so in that sense they crafted just about the perfect match for the audience. Few matches this year or in the last five have seen as crisp, innovative, and flashy sequences as this one, let alone in its near unequalled volume. You may not enjoy the style or the competitors, but for what this match was meant to be – an extravagant all out showcase – it couldn’t have gotten better. In this single performance Scurll and Ospreay made a fan out of me in what is not only Match of the Bag, but a possible match of the year. **** ¾
Other Match Ratings:
Revolution Pro, 2016/01/16, High Stakes, AJ Styles vs. Zack Sabre Jr. **** ¼
ROH, 2016/02/26, 14th Anniversary Show, Kazuchika Okada vs. Moose ***
If you enjoy The Mixed Bag you may also enjoy TJ Hawke’s ‘Views from the Hawke’s Nest’ blog.