Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D and occasional guests write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Long Road Report to Hell 4/4/19, Show #2: Josh Barnett's Bloodsport

PAS: We really blew it by not pre-buying tickets early, Bloodsport sold out before we could buy some tickets and I assumed we were out of luck,  but the wrestling gods smiled on us and I was able to grab three seats on StubHub for half the face value.

ER: We got to go to lunch after Family Reunion and before Bloodsport, plenty of intriguing options within pleasant walking distance. We landed on a burger place that started playing Hootie upon us being seated, and Tom told a great story about an unearthed Pete Buttigieg "Dave Matthews Band in a Post 9/11 World" that is either impossible to believe or a bit with real legs. On the walk back we pass Mr. Brickster on his way to the PATH and he's wearing a full Pac-Man screen suit with a LEGO bowtie, and our day of gushing about Brickster gains strength upon refueling. A line was already 25 deep for Bloodsport when we left, and we come back to a sardine packed White Eagle. Thank god for these assigned seats. It would have been a real shame if we had missed this. We'd never done a Mania week before (I went to some WWN shows when they played San Jose in 2015 but the week wasn't as crazy filled with events then), and had no idea some things sold out so much earlier. Phil casually mentioned as we were walking to breakfast that he had found 3 seats to Bloodsport, and from the second we were seated at our 2nd row seat I was so glad we were there live.

TKG: After Family Reunion we go get food and I see some tall guy on the opposite corner walking from PATH in pleather wrestling gear but without a roller bag, and loudly start with, “Look at that greasy haired fat faced wrestling fan, spent his money on his cosplay leather” or something like that. Eric goes “yeah that’s Davey Boy Smith Jr.”

Dominic Garrini vs. Phil Baroni

PAS: Baroni is pretty great at getting heat from the crowd, he was always a hatable sleaze as an MMA fighter and that translates really well to riling up an indy wrestling crowd. I liked this a bunch with Garrini having some nice sprawls to try to get Baroni on the mat, and a brutal finish with Baroni full force punching Garrini in the face. Dom was really going to prove his insanity later in the evening, but letting a MMA fighter with 11 KO wins, punch you full force in the jaw may even be nuttier then some of the bumps he took in the I Quit match.

TKG: Baroni poses and yells at audience “Yeah this is steroids” and neat as I expected Barnett’s vision to be RINGS but instead it was PRIDE. Was trying to explain Baroni to Eric, and couldn’t remember if he was a teen tanning or teen bodybuilding champion or both but the point is he is guy who totally embraces being a Long Island Teen Tanning n. Bodybuilding star, this match was all him doing the same “I’m better than this” shtick that he does in his actual MMA matches and potatoing Garinni. Garinni impressively built a match around that while eating potatoes. If Bloodsport can get some Tony Khan money Baroni/Malignaggi v Berto Bros in Tampa could be super amusing.

ER: I obviously knew Baroni from early PRIDE and UFC shows, and his name on the card excited me for the exact reasons we got here, and I didn't even know about the teenage tan 'n' bodybuilding stuff. He comes out, grinds on a woman, flexes, talks about his steroid bod, and then punches someone. Later, he came out as a second and yelled out tips while eating a PowerBar. Felt like we also could have used Matt Serra yelling tips to Pete Drago Sell. I like gi Garrini, it's a look he should pull more often. This was a quick taste but it delivered and set the tone for the show, really made me happy to be there live and so close to the action. I would have loved to see Garrini control more, threaten another tap (and he did get a cool armbar reversal), but the finish was the kind of fireworks people wanted: Baroni decked Garrini with a right hand for the near KO and then went for a mocking pinfall, then planted him with another to stop the match (after getting a nice dramatic 9 count as Garrini struggled to his feet). Baroni certainly didn't look like someone who was holding back on his KO punch, and agree with Phil that in retrospect taking to straight shots to the jaw may have been Garrini's craziest move of a day with several contenders.

JR Kratos vs. Simon Grimm

PAS: Kratos is a Nor-Cal guy who worked a couple of matches in this style in the late lamented PREMIER fed, but I wasn't expecting this to be as good as it was. It was basically Grimm using his technique to try to minimize Kratos power advantage, there were some especially nasty elbows to the back of the head and ear, and some big slaps. The final mat scramble was pretty great with Grimm lifting up in Kratos's guard and raining down elbows, and Kratos transitioning into a head and arm choke. Loved the finish with Grimm using a schoolboy to grab an armbar, Kratos doing a Hughes lift for a powerbomb and wasting him with a brutal jumping forearm smash. I think this was better then any of the matches on last years show and it was only the second match.

TKG: This came out of nowhere and fuck that finish was beautiful. Kratos does the thing you want in pro/shoot hybrid match where he makes the pro-wrestling spots look as nasty as the legit spots.

ER: Kratos is primarily a Bay Area guy and is pretty popular around here, so no matter what kind of match we got I knew Phil would be touting him as my boy. Technically I was there for some *really* early Psycho Seth stuff, too, possibly even his debut way back in 2002, so this was a Bay Area represent match. Once Tom realizes both are APW guys he excitedly wonders if we might have gotten a triple threat with Moondog Moretti at one point. Seth could have crossed paths with Moretti but I think Kratos started too late. And this is weirdly seeming like Kratos' best wrestling style, as I loved his stuff in Premier and his performance in this match more than any pro style match I've ever seen from him. I thought this was great. It was a match that on paper was maybe the least match on the card, and it wound up being my 2nd favorite match of the show. I thought all the working parts were cool, dug how Grimm controlled the stand up striking (at one point he hits an open handed chop to the neck that made me scoot my chair back) with Kratos controlling more of the ground striking. Kratos had some cool takedowns including a couple where he yanked Grimm's arm through his legs and flipped him. Kratos did a good job minimizing Grimm's ground striking, maneuvering to spots where Grimm had no power, and both had some slick armbar attempts. I particularly liked Kratos pushing at Grimm's locked hands with his free boot. The jumping forearm finish was arguably the nastiest finish we saw all day, in a day filled with some nasty finishes. I've seen Kratos matches that were supposed to end in a KO stoppage that didn't really work. This worked so well it looked like Grimm would need to be helped out, and Kratos lifting up Grimm's lifeless body in case another move was needed for a stoppage was a sick touch.

Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Killer Kross

PAS: Another pretty great match which I didn't have big expectations for. They opened up with some kick boxing with Smith throwing some pretty heavy leg kicks. Kross would throw heat and did a nice job of scrambling into positions, much more competent at this then I would expect from TNA fake Batista. This is right in Davey's wheelhouse and he had some really slick takedowns and his final deadlift suplex looked great. Heck of a big boy punch out, and this show just delivered up and down the card.

TKG: DBS comes out in the shorts he wore underneath the tear away pleather pants. I remember DBS in some twitter thread agreeing with Kim Duk about an older credible style that NJ doesn’t do anymore. And thinking “hmm I wish DBS actually worked that style”. And here he is doing it and it is so much more impressive than anything else ever seen of him. This really felt like what he should be doing.

ER: Amazing that we saw DBS in the wild wearing a completely different set of ring gear while out and about. You see a guy walking the streets and taking the train wearing giant baggy pristine white vinyl pants with dog bones all over them, you assume that he's just wearing his gear and didn't feel like taking a roller bag. Then he comes out in trunks and you realize he just has custom walking around dog bone vinyls. But damn would I be so much more excited for DBS matches if he just wrestled like this guy every show. Tom turned to me right after the finish and asks "What other Davey Boy do I need to seek out?" And I responded with a non-word like "Ehhhhhhhhhhh". DBS looked like an absolutely fantastic roller and grappler for the duration of this, and the way he muscled Kross around the mat was really impressive. He really looked like he was moving a human sack of concrete at times, both guys really working the struggle. DBS even tried locking on a shoot Sharpshooter out of a scramble which was a great moment. Both guys threw nice leg kicks, Kross had a couple great Saito suplexes and DBS set up the finish with a bomb hardway backdrop suplex, drags Kross' body to the center and got the tap on a crossface. I thought some of the standing slap exchanges went too long, even though they all paid off nicely, and the throws and rolling totally overdelivered.

Masashi Takeda vs. Jonathan Gresham

PAS: Takeda is a guy who started out in Style E, BattlArts, FUTEN and U-Style before he decided to grotesquely scar himself in death matches, so he was very comfortable doing worked shoots. This was a middleweight fight and worked at a much faster pace then the rest of the show. Gresham is really skilled on the mat, and he kept moving to improve his position, while Takeda would have these almost acrobatic leaps into submission attempts. The match changes dramatically when they both spill to the floor, which opens up Takeda (honestly a sneeze might open up Takeda at this point), we get some very aggressive stand up with Gresham aiming hammer fists and slaps to the open wound and Takeda moving forward, finish was great with Takeda landing a flash knee KO. Really energetic stuff and a nice contrast with the previous match.

TKG: I've watched enough Fedor to know if a guy is made of scar tissue you should try to open that up immediately to get the stoppage. They tease a fall to floor once or twice before actually doing it and not sure how I felt about it. I liked the first match having a DQ for touching ref, Promotion establishing its own unique rules....maintain them. But once got back in the ring it got right back.

ER: I actually didn't remember Takeda as a Tamura guy. He's been a grimy death guy for so long. Is Jun Kasai an Anjo trainee? Takeda comes out and Tom asks "So this guy is a death match guy?" Takeda takes off his shirt. "Yep, that's a death match guy." Gresham's performance in this match really highlighted what a colossal disappointment that Orange Cassidy match that started our day was. There was Gresham generously letting a guy take 100% of a match with his shtick, totally thankless work, here he gets to work several cool can openers and throws down with Takeda and looks like a total badass. They made really good use of rolling to the floor (guys had been broken up while getting to the edge of the ring before this, but nobody had rolled out mid-move) and they really hit the ground hard when both took a tumble. Gresham looked really talented on the mat and I'd love to see that pop up more in his matches, and at one point he was throwing trapped hammer fists to the side of Takeda's head that were among the nastier shots of the show. The finish is the real nasty business with Takeda stunning with a strike, then rushing in with a brutal knee for the instant stoppage. That knee, man. Show was absolutely bananas at this point. We were literally sitting in our seats giggling.

Chris Dickinson vs. Andy Williams

PAS: Williams looks like a Peaky Blinders extra, and Dickinson comes right out into him and they wildly throw for a minute which really fired the crowd up. Williams gasses right after that and they move pretty quickly to the finish with Dickinson getting a choke. Short match, but the first minute was really electric.

TKG: Two guys volume punching with no defense till they couldn’t volume punch anymore is always going to be a winning formula. Two heavyweights doing it always is going to get a crowd riled up.

ER: I flew out here from California, but it's pretty cool they flew Williams in from Branson. And I somehow only found out after this weekend that Williams has been a guitarist in Every Time I Die for over 20 years, which is information that would have been much cooler to me in the early 2000s. And I think Phil and Tom are underselling this one as I thought the coolest stuff in the match came after the big throwdown opening. The throwdown is obviously cool and something we hadn't seen yet, but then you got Williams muscling up Dickinson for a powerbomb, and later a sic gutwrench that looked like it was going to be a ganso bomb, plus Dickinson throwing disgusting shots to Williams' ear and back of his head, and the finish was another classic: Dickinson works his way into a backpack choke with Williams gamely gets to his feet with Dickinson locking in the choke further. Williams knows it's locked in and does a forward roll as a desperation escape, but it doesn't work and just opens him up the rest of the way for Dickinson to lock in the choke. The final choke was a great visual as Williams spits out his mouthguard a bit before tapping, felt like the guy in Casino whose eye starts to pop out when his head is put in a vice.

Frank Mir vs. Dan Severn

PAS: Short exhibition, with Mir grabbing an arm pretty quickly for a the tap. Mir didn't show much in his pro wrestling debut, would like to see if he could provide a bit more spark with an opponent not in his sixties. Severn still looks awesome though, someone should sign him as a troubleshooting ref or something.

TKG: Not at all sure what happened here. This was weakest match on show where never made it to the next gear. Post match Mir says he’s getting into wrestling to take out Lesnar and turn Lesnar into the first pro-wrestling in ring death.

ER: I really liked what we got here, but wanted at least a couple more minutes. The finish felt a little sudden, but the work within was good. Severn is 60 and looks the same as he's looked for the last decade plus, body still looks exactly the same, and it looked cool when he dragged Mir down into a north south choke and gator rolled him. I really liked the maneuvering from both guys while Mir is trying to lock on an armbar or triangle, Mir trying to shift his hips and Severn trying to power up with his legs and advance. The heel hook finish looked really good and the application felt natural, I just wanted more stuff before we got there. At minimum, I thought it was awesome being this close to Severn.

Hideki Suzuki vs. Timothy Thatcher

PAS: This was much closer to a MUGA match then a shootstyle match, which works perfectly to both guys strengths. Suzuki is so great at switching speeds, he will deliberately shift into position, only to snap a limb or flip into a submission.  Just everything in this match was applied so tight and twisty and every shot was thudding, Suzuki stomped Thatcher in the head and it looked like he was smashing a grape to make wine. The backbreaker/double underhook suplex finish by Suzuki was just super impactful. Between this and the Ishikawa match, Thatcher is having a monster 2019.

TKG: This wasn’t shoot style at all, this was just super tight mat wrestling and was my favorite match on the show. There was a couple enziguiri, a spinning toe hold, a bow and arrow, a desnucadora, etc...but all of them were sold meaningful. Thatcher's sell of the early toe hold and just his selling throughout left a real impression. We get so used to reversal of reversal wrestling that we forget how exciting changes of momentum can be in match where both guys are actually fighting for control, fighting to apply moves. Just lots of dramatic changes in momentum that crowd almost treated like finishes and two guys who looked completely committed to what they were doing.

ER: On paper this was the match I was most excited for this weekend, and it totally delivered everything I could have wanted it to. It would have been cool just seeing Suzuki's first and only match in the states, but having it actually live up to being the banger we all wanted was extra special. This was the most airtight match of the show, and one of the meanest MUGA matches we've seen. The headlocks and grappling alone would have made for a great match, seriously Suzuki's headlocks look like something that would pop a head right off a pair of shoulders, and it was fascinating being up close and seeing him work exchanges. Phil mentioned how Suzuki will deliberately shift into a position or move a limb to set up something different, and there are a bunch of cool examples of that here, like Suzuki trapped in a sub but moving Thatcher's calf higher up on his own thigh, which then provides him space to turn, which shifts pressure. We get moments where he digs in an elbow before passing, or applies pressure with his palm to Thatcher's knee, or smacks Thatcher in the shin. By the time Suzuki threw a stomp to the back of Thatcher's head, kicked him in the jaw, and hit a Rockette kick to the chest, they could do no wrong. Thatcher gets a nice gutwrench (love how Suzuki sold it with his arms out, like he was getting nerve pain shooting down his fingers), and when Thatcher locked in a side headlock to hit a Saito suplex I said "Uh Ohhhhh" aloud. Sure enough, Suzuki hammers down with his elbow and drops Thatcher with a backbreaker. Suzuki has done more for legitimizing the backbreaker than any wrestler I've seen. His looks like a genuine finisher and the move is actually treated as seriously as the name sounds. Great match, whole card would have been completely worth it if this were the only watchable thing we got. Instead the match had to set itself apart from a totally great show, and it easily did.

Josh Barnett vs. Minoru Suzuki

PAS: This was a match that felt like a main event. Barnett is such a hard man, and everything he did had some real force to it. First fifteen or so of this were pretty perfect as Barnett brought Suzuki back to PWFG as they were really twisting and pulling at limbs and landing big time knees, forearms and slaps. There is a little nonsense with a ref and a chair on the outside, which really felt like Suzuki taking unnecessary match short cuts. I really liked the finish of the match before the restart, and I thought it built nicely to the five more minutes, but you really need to do a finish if you are going to do a five more minutes. Going to another draw really took some steam out the match. Excellent main event for an all time great US Indy show, but I dug other stuff a bit more.

TKG: Barnett’s current look is ridiculously cool. He looks like Kurt Russell’s bad ass cousin and this match felt like main event wrestling. Everything the two did together was as good as you wanted and all the shoot near fallsish stuff, teased submission, teased going to close to the edge etc were as dramatic as anything you were going to see in wrestling. And the eventual escapes had folks on the edge.The show was excellent top to bottom but the semi and the main were the matches that really got you caught up in the drama of false finishes and changes in momentum, the pop of “is this gonna end it?”….being able to feel that drama again. Years of the goofy cliché 2.9, “one, two, nooooo” followed by three minutes of bug eyed Shawn Michaels faces "How did that not do it?, what will it take to put him away? Where in my reserves will I find what it takes?" almost killed the idea that false finish can have any emotional value. At this point I just treat it as a stock lazzo bit to fill time. Was great to experience drama of false finishes again. They work to a 20 minute draw and the crowd was excited as ending with two guys just swinging for fences while crowd counted down. I watched UWF and PWFG and have no problem with a draw finish. They did the five more minutes and it all fell apart, as they went into octopus and fighting spirit shtick. Either do the draw or do the Fujiwara guy taking a hellacious beating slips in a sub for the win. But going into horseshity overtime, hurt the match. Still this was an amazing show top to bottom and left me on a real high.

ER: This one had a real special atmosphere, with Barnett looking like the flat out coolest version of Jaime Lannister, and Suzuki bringing an impossible amount of charisma to a small room. Barnett looked leaner, more intense, and in better shape than any year during his long MMA run, and it was awesome seeing Suzuki immediately snap back into limb twisting savage. Barnett is even wearing his Inoki Genome pads, so we got a decades in the making interpromotional shootstyle war here! And there's not an easy move made in the match, everything is a fight, and by the end they both looked to have lost about 5 lb. of sweat. This was all ankle snapping heel hooks, sunk in headscissors, elbows yanked up to ears, knees driven into chests, twisted bodies trying to scramble out of chokes, and rained down palm strikes and elbows. At one point Suzuki had one of Barnett's legs grapevined, was controlling his wrist, and was shoving Barnett's free leg up towards his shoulder. Suzuki looked like he was a one man drawn & quartered machine, and it made me literally jump out of my chair and look around to make sure everybody else was seeing what I was seeing (which is in full view of the camera, my expression looking like a rube shocked by a magic trick). Honestly the match could have ended on that sub and it probably would have been stronger for it. Obviously we go past that, and get rewarded with more nasty shots and yanked limbs, but also lose some of the steam and magic that had been created. When we went to a bomb throwing countdown, I was fine with them ending on a draw (even though I was hoping Suzuki would feint his way out of the throwdown and get a last second tap with a heel hook). And the draw did lead to an undeniably great moment, as the crowd is chanting for 5 more minutes, and Suzuki looks like he's having none of it, rolling his eyes he quiets the crowd...and then calls for 5 more minutes. It was a great moment. But not really as great if we knew that it was just going to lead to another draw. The New Japan-ness of the restart didn't help, but it also didn't negate the genuinely great majority of the match. Flat finish or no, this was a tremendous live experience. It flashed in my head at one point that Suzuki might take the night off a bit, but this was among the hardest worked matches I've seen from him all decade.

ER: This should go down as a top show of the year contender, an absolutely thrilling 2 hours of pro wrestling. We put FIVE of the matches on our 2019 Ongoing Match of the Year list, and that seems like a near impossible mark to beat.

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