In the four year history of the newsletter, as surprising as it may be to some, particularly considering the archetypical modern pro-wrestling website of today, we have yet to have a true weekly series – not on the site, nor in the newsletter.
The closest we have ever come is the November and December series, spanning no more than two entries in any given year, falling under the rough banner of ‘Pro-Wres Catch-Up’, an admittedly bland euphemism for the eclectic hodgepodge of match of the year oversights, year-end list filler, and general misplaced meanderings on the happenings of promotions generally left uncovered in this newsletter on a monthly basis – lucha, Dragon Gate, and NOAH in most cases.
Not only did these ill-conceived series prove surprisingly popular, with the PWG version of Catch-Up ranking as one of the most viewed pages in website history, but they have also been some of the most enjoyable articles to write. It’s satisfying to both seek out obscure and intriguing matches, and investigate ones that have garnered significant attention, but are beyond the scope of what we usually cover. This is, in a sense, a silly personal diary of modern pro-wrestling viewing, but more so than that, hopefully a place for investigation and exploration for both writer and reader alike.
Prior to the debut of the Puro in the Rough Podcast on the Wrestling with Words Network, I may have heard of the long-running Japanese indie, Guts World, a couple of times, and taken little to no notice of it – passing it off as another micro promotion, with a stunted crowd, and few performers of any real note. However, upon seeking Daisuke vs. Tatsuhiko Yoshino from December out at the behest of Lawrence and Issac on the aforementioned Puro in the Rough podcast, all of my passing prejudgments of the promotion were proven wrong, specifically in terms of talent and crowd reactions. I can’t speak for the rest of the December 5th card, but the main event greatly overwhelmed in almost every conceivable way.
Daisuke appears, upon initial evaluation, fairly generic and unassuming, much like the 200 or so fans occupying the Shib-Kiba 1st RING arena in Tokyo. But, during the introductions and the moments that follow it became increasingly apparent that the GUTS crowd would be, at least for this major contest, hotter than most of NOAH and All Japan’s in recent years. 200 people were as loud as a thousand, even with the admittedly indie-riffic commentary over the house mic. Aesthetically acceptable and in shape, Daisuke’s key asset apart from ring work is his stoic charisma, something very much valued in Japanese wrestling, as a quality inherent in some of its biggest historical stars.
The Yoshino-Daisuke match itself was mostly uneventful during its opening moments. It, however, saw its first significant, and highly unexpected, moment when Yoshino ran at Daisuke, who was perched on the top rope, yelling “Daisuke”, elbowing him to the floor. That one spot was a decisive turning point, which elevated a bland, albeit technically sound, opening stretch to one that felt like a battle for a truly meaningful prize.
Unfortunately for the match as a whole, many extended simple exchanges followed, causing a significant drag mid-way through. Still, the closing stretch delivered on all fronts, with both combatants trading counters, and Daisuke ultimately finishing Yoshino with a sliding D and two frog splashes. The match would have been well served going ten minutes shorter than its final bloated total of 29 minutes. However, unlike many a US indie main event from the prior decade, Yoshino and Daisuke went home at their zenith, and didn’t follow it with a flurry of another 20 finishing moves. And in defence of its length, there were some far more familiar with the Guts product and the Japanese indie scene than I, who saw the middle stretch as a fine piece of mat-work on the part of Daisuke, which contributed to the magnitude of the closing stretch.
Daisuke and Yoshino work Big Japan undercards in addition to Guts, and at 32 and 30 respectively, ten year veterans, I sincerely hope 2016 to be their year. Daisuke in particular has enough innate charisma, technical skill, and main event timing to be something special for Big Japan and Guts.
I never get around to watching as much Lucha as I set out to on any given year. This isn’t a conscious decision, but one that arises from the limited amount of content one can consume and cover on a weekly basis. CMLL, in particular, usually produces at least a handful of highly touted matches that often times frustrate, not because of work, style, or crowd reactions, but due to poor production. In no way do I require great production to enjoy a good match, and fancam footage may even suffice at times. However, what frustrates me to no end when watching CMLL, is that they have the money to spend on great production, present a good visual product, and yet fail to properly mic the crowd. Whether this is a physical micing or mixing issue is irrelevant, what is important is the end result – commentary and the sound of the ring drown out what most times appear to be a consistently hot Arena Mexico crowd. I have learnt to ignore this effect somewhat, but it often times caps CMLL matches at a certain level for me.
With this in mind, Rush and the original Mistico, original Sin Cara, and former Mysteziz, Caristico had a very good match at Arena Mexico in mid-January. It was by no means a classic in any sense, but was an enjoyable outing on the road to something bigger program wise, I would imagine. Rush tore Carsitico’s mask in the first fall, even removing it at one point, which exposed a good 50 plus percent of Carsitico’s face. At the risk of seeming ignorant, this has always been a confusing element in Lucha matches involving masked competitors – mask matches in particular, which this match was not. If the mask covers the face, and almost the entire face is exposed, it seems odd to pretend that nobody knows what the person under the mask looks like, when it is so clearly visible.
Regardless, Rush is one of the best heels in the entire world, likely the best, and even with poor CMLL micing, got aggressive and audible boos. I am unsure of just how much English he speaks, but if I was WWE going after CMLL talent and had the choice between Rush and Sombra, Rush would be my primary pick for as fantastic as Sombra is. Rush won the third fall with an assist from La Mascara off of a ref bump.
NJPW 2016/01/05, New Year Dash
For the past several weeks I have attempted to cover New Japan’s answer to the post WrestleMania RAW, New Year Dash in Korakuen Hall, but for reasons of time constraints and related issues, never got around to it. This is in some ways a positive, as the show was predominantly angle driven, with most of those angles covered in the post-Dome show newsletter. With that in mind, New Year Dash was a fun follow-up to WrestleKingdom, featuring the final appearance of AJ Styles in New Japan for the foreseeable future, and Nakamura’s last performance as officially recognized IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
They experimented some with the match order, which whilst not perfect, was a welcome addition to the show. Yano & The. Briscoes successfully defending their newly won NEVER Openweight titles against Bad Luck Fale & The Young Bucks in the main event, which surprisingly followed (chronologically) the great CHAOS vs. Shibata, Goto & reDragon match in the semi-main.
It was a show worth seeing, in that it featured the most major New Japan character development and angles of any non-Dome show in months. However, as the weeks go by, with little substantial in-ring content and more people knowing of the angles and their aftermath, the show becomes a less essential viewing experience.
Like many puro fans, I have had a tumultuous relationship with Pro-Wrestling NOAH over the past seven years or so. Whilst Jumbo Tsuruta-Mitsuharu Misawa from June of 1990 was the match that birthed my Japanese Pro-Wrestling fandom, late 2000s NOAH was the first then current Japanese promotion, with which I made any substantial attempt to keep up – even if it was strictly through shoddy YouTube uploads.
KENTA and Takayama brutalized one another in a 2009 match that I remember more clearly than many of my more recent top ten matches of the year; and Kotaro Suzuki’s GHC Junior Heavyweight title defences of 2011 against the likes of Ricky Marvin and Eddie Edwards were some of the best matches of that entire year. However, in the year’s that followed NOAH faced intense hardships. There was a Yakuza scandal in 2012, a news story of a similar sort to the one that killed PRIDE, and then the exodus of the BURNING group to All Japan following the release of Kenta Kobashi in 2013. These two catastrophes, coupled with the later departure of company ace KENTA, and retirement of Takeshi Morishima, played a significant role in an attendance decline of a promotion that was already dealt a brutal blow in the in-ring death of company founder and puroresu legend, Mitsuharu Misawa, in 2009.
In the years that followed, whilst All Japan has struggled to stay afloat, NOAH was aided (as they have continued to be) in some way financially by New Japan, and booked by former co-booker for New Japan, Jado. With these arrangements in place, things were looking up for the company and its talent leading into 2015 – especially with the Suzuki-gun invasion in the earlier months. But, despite the best efforts of management, the invasion didn’t take, and attendance fell from 2014.
Still, the Suzuki-gun angle was artistically appealing to some, but whilst they gathered good heel heat on occasion, NOAH crowd reactions, even for the likes of Suzuki/Sugiura or Suzuki/Takayama at Korakuen Hall, fell flat. But, for whatever reason, the notion of NOAH president, Naomichi Marufuji, battling Minoru Suzuki for the GHC Title, had greater appeal than any of those matches, and in the Ota Ward Gymnasium show on Keiji Mutoh’s birthday (and mine), December 23rd, Marufuji reclaimed the GHC Heavyweight Title in the presence of Kenta Kobashi in the most well received bout that NOAH has seen in years.
Marufuji is highly creative move-set and movement wise, but has quite frequently let his excess of creativity, his quirkiness, interfere with delivering good matches. However, on the 23rd Marufuji was precisely Marufuji enough to have a great match, and as Suzuki had his working shoes on they delivered with one of the best NOAH matches I have seen in well over a year. It was worked like a big match, and unlike so many other matches throughout the year in NOAH, AJPW, indies, and elsewhere, felt like one – it wasn’t a match of the year contender necessarily, but is a match that is worth going out of your way to see nonetheless: especially considering the outstanding (albeit logically flawed) Sugiura turn in the post match.
Satomura is someone I have desired to follow in greater detail since her stellar performance at the Bull Nakano Retirement show in 2012, but unfortunately never have. Regardless, 2016 will be the year that I satisfy that initial goal and have begun with one of the first Sendai Girls shows of the year, following Satomura’s outstanding December outing with Io Shirai in Stardom.
Syuri and Satomura started off with some beautiful, ultra realistic, kicks and footwork. Unfortunately, the tempo slowed substantially in the moments that followed, and didn’t pick back up to any great extent in the minutes subsequent. Unlike the Marufuji/Suzuki match, they worked the closing stretch as if it were a Budokan Hall main event, in front of a couple of hundred moderately interested fans, which didn’t work for obvious reasons. A true 15 minute progression from the first two or so minutes of this match would have been gold, but what we got on the 9th was not that.
WWE Royal Rumble 2016/01/24, Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens, Last Man Standing
Given the amount of punishment that Ambrose and Owens put themselves through in what was my first live Royal Rumble opener, I felt bad. I felt bad not for watching the spectacle per se, but rather for viewing it with such negative eyes. I have great respect for both Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose as performers, and in fact believe that if given the chance, they could be two of the top stars in the company – and I have reiterated this opinion regarding Ambrose since his 2011/2 FCW matches with William Regal. However, in a similar fashion to the Bray Wyatt/Roman Reigns Hell in a Cell, this Last Man Standing match, like so many in WWE history, lacked even the faintest sense of hatred, legitimacy, or unpredictability, for as much as Owens and Ambrose wished to scream “I hate you” at one another – the highlight of the match.
We know that Owens and Ambrose are capable of great things in a setting of this sort, Owens did it with El Generico, and Ambrose across CZW and the independent scene. However, since the death of the Shield, and with the exception of all things involving Brock Lesnar, the 2016 WWE product is too formulaic, too sanitized, to draw the visceral emotion that a match of this sort, the blow off to a blood feud, should convey. Instead of watching two men struggle to construct elaborate set pieces from tables and chairs, I should feel something. I should be invigorated, and not think on a strictly clinical level “that was good”. And it is for that reason that many of the Last Man Standing matches and most other stipulation affairs have failed in my eyes. The set pieces are still there. The bumps are still there. But, the emotion isn’t, and that’s something I need from a supposed blood feud.
Meiko Satomura vs. Io Shirai 2014/12/23 **** ¼
Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Cheese Burger, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask & Yohei Komatsu vs. Yuji Nagata, Sho Tanaka, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi & Shiro Koshinaka
In terms of pure fun and pro-wres joy there was no beating this match. Sho Tanaka gave Fujiwara a stiff chop early, and paid for it dearly with Fujiwara slapping Tanaka with pure venom. Liger then unleashed Cheese Burger on Nakanishi, with Nakanishi of course no selling Cheese Burger’s wonderfully pitiful offence. Team Koshinaka, or as they should have been dubbed, Team Hip Attack, did just that to cheese burger before he finally made the tag to Tiger Mask. Fujiwara didn’t know quite what to make of Cheeseburger whilst his team was running wild, but promptly swatted him away regardless. Taguchi hip attacked a Liger propelled Burger before going at it with Komatsu who he pinned with the Don Don. As was the case with the RAMBO, the following rating should mean nothing in your mind. **
Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Jay White & David Finlay ** ¾
Juice Robinson vs. Jay Lethal w/ Truth Martini ** ¾
Tama Tonga, Haku, Yujiro Takahashi & Guns & Gallows w/ Amber Gallows vs. Ten Cozy, KUSHIDA, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe ** ¾
Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & EVIL vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin & Mascara Dorada *** ¼
Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI vs. AJ Styles & Kenny Omega *** ½
Kazuchika Okada, RPG Vice & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto & reDragon *** ¾
Toru Yano & The Briscoes vs. The Young Bucks & Bad Luck Fale *** ¼
Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose *** ¼
Kofi Kingston & Big E w/ Xavier Woods vs. The Usos ***
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto ** ½
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch *** ¼
Royal Rumble Match ****
AJ Styles vs. Chis Jericho *** ¼