Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D, Sebastian, and other friends write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Espectáculos Promociones Panama: Mary Varela! Gata! Baby! Hiena!

Mary Varela/La Gata vs La Baby de California/La Hiena de Jalisco 7/30/89

GB: We’ve crossed over into a few new territories with this one. First of which is finally getting a glimpse of Panama lucha’s mecca, el Neco de la Guardia. Secondly, we’re wetting our toes again with a different promotion, as this is no longer Don Medina’s EPP but, rather, Empresa Arena Panama-Mexico (the same promotion that ran the Sandokan/Gigante Tataki handicap Matt wrote up all those months back). Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we seem to have encountered our first real piece of juicy drama out of Panama. Of course there’s the hilarity of el Africano’s debut and the stories of the riots and destruction of government property after Sandokan lost his mask to Anibal but those were anecdotes - words and nothing more. Here, though, it appears as if we have real footage of a wrestler exercising their “that doesn’t work for me, brother” clause.

disclosure: the interviews and the match are the only part of the feud we have on tape (among a few article clippings) so there’s going to be a lot of “connecting the dots” on my part. Apologies if something misses, but I’m really taking a stab in the dark here.

Over the course of around three months, from the end of April to the end of July, La Baby de California and Mary Varela were engaged in a programme with the eventual outcome of the apuesta match we are covering here. Throughout the feud, the American-Mexican La Baby would run Mary and, in turn, Panama down as “mugre” (filth) and you get the sense that Baby really did believe those words. You can also get the gist of it all with the opening salutations. Baby is all dolled up and carries herself as a slice of “better-than-you” hot shit. Mary, on the other hand, is a lot more plain, sporting a minnie Mouse shirt that’s sure to put her #1 on my 2 year old’s greatest wrestler ever list. Instead of Baby’s judgmental eyes, she appears warm, friendly and akin to an old friend you’ve bumped into waiting for the metro. You can see she’s proud by her stance, she knows she’s hot shit but she won’t tell you that and she won’t make you feel less than that.

As the promos move forward, Baby gets a little scathing in her remarks. Despite Mary’s career victories over other Mexican talent such as Lola González, Irma Aguilar, La Monster and Martha Villalobos, Baby calls her worthless. There’s venom in the way she spits things with almost a manner of truth to her words. Again, as if she is buying what she’s selling. In the second promo of the video, a week before their apuesta, Baby says she doesn’t want to keep Mary’s hair. Of course, she promises to humiliate Mary by beating her in front of her fans but she refuses to take her hair as a trophy. She doesn’t want something “filthy like [Mary]”. Mary is slightly more composed but there’s a moment where things seemingly breakdown on set and Ricardo Pitti almost rolls his eyes in a way to indicate he’s not amused by these two.

But that’s our build. We have three months of everything centering on Mary and Baby. Leading in, the Relevos Increíbles two weeks earlier even pits the pairings as Baby/Gata vs Mary/Hiena. Gata/Hiena feel like afterthoughts along the way and their lack of appearances in the promos is indicative of this, too.


Then, the match happens and it all goes out the window. Panama has this tradition of putting off the big attractions in a match until later. They don’t tease and puppeteer things as you’d expect, with the feuding heel egging the face into the ring before tagging themselves out. Rather, it’s something that is progressed to after the opposite pairings have had their workover/shine (e.g. Hiena/Mary and Baby/Gata leading to Hiena/Gata and, the draw, Mary/Baby). Here, after some decent bloodletting to fill out the pattern, we come to Mary/Baby. However, Baby is nowhere to be seen. She’s jackjacking someone in the crowd on the opposite side of the stadium floor. It appears Hiena calls for her but by then Mary’s made her mind up. She beelines for the approaching Baby but, as they’re about to lock up, sidesteps her and attacks Hiena instead.

By this point, I think we can understand why. By the end of the match, we can almost sympathise with why. La Baby, for all the positives she does bring to the match (her size and smack talk) has no interest in wrestling a match that’s not on her terms. Poor Gata has her work cut out for her in terms of having to reset spots because Baby has different intentions in mind. Speaking of work, Mary really went into overdrive from this point and starts wrestling Hiena as the centerpiece with all of the other bad bullshit going on as fluff the audience should ignore. Hiena’s game for the most part and it gives us some really great visuals between the gore and mask-ripping - you’d expect so with her maestros being Villano I and Shadito Cruz. In fact, there’s a moment where she collapses and, in complete panic, scoots backwards on her knees away from Mary as they brawl around the ring. It’s something I can’t recall seeing before but it’s such a logical way to get to the next point without things becoming too cooperative. A lot of much more acclaimed wrestlers could learn to steal that spot instead of the walk-and-brawl nonsense we see from them.

As the match wears on, Mary has the audience eating out of the palm of her hands. So much, actually, that the audience, for the briefest of seconds, completely forgets Baby/Gata is existing on the periphery as they erupt in triumph after Mary beats Hiena. A hushed silence envelopes the room before Gata forcefully puts Baby down and the crowd erupts once more. Not for Gata but for Mary and for the triumph of Panama’s “mugre”.

We’re always quick to note how passionate Panamanian fans are for their sport, even if the attendance figures don’t quite bode well. Here, though, Neco de la Guardia was packed to the brim with diehard fans. Despite a loaded card with Sandokan/Invaider 1 (not that one) and being fresh off Ciclon/Baron taking the masks of the visiting Ray Tony/Viernes Negro, the crowd was here for one purpose - Mary.


MD: This was a historical drawing match all from all appearances and it should be examined and known as that. It was worked in one fall and went against expectations, in as, from what we can tell (and as Graham expounded upon), the build seemed to be primarily between Baby and Varela but the pairings were primarily Baby with Gata and Varela with Hiena. That was true at the beginning, when Hiena rushed the ring at Varela, in the middle when Baby and Gata started the mask ripping, and at the end when Varela submitted Hiena and Gata submitted Baby.

Baby was quite the heatseeker. She had the size of a Wendi Richter (and maybe elements of the sportiness as well, with her football jersey with #44 on it) and, how do I put this... the unearned valor of a Sexy Star, full of swagger but sure as heck not smooth in there. At one point she had to bump through the ropes after a missed shot and I can't quite get the physics of what happened to make sense. But hey, the fans really, really wanted to see her lose. It does make me wonder if Varela worked Hiena (who seemed far more capable) by choice. You think they'd switch back for the finish but by the end of it, between the size-related bullying and the mask ripping, the fans wanted to see Gata give Baby her comeuppance even if Varela was the one they were chanting for. Varela, by the way, clearly knew what she was doing. I've mentioned it plenty, but what I look for in these matches as much as anything else is that golden moment of heroic comeback, that one reversal or punch or dodge where everything changes, and Varela knew how to milk it and maximize it, and if you can do that, the sky's the limit. This had blood, chaos, mask ripping, and big comebacks. It may have lacked smoothness and overall cohesion but you look the other way on those in mask matches when the pop at the pop at the end bleeds through the screen even thirty five years later.


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Monday, June 05, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 5/29 - 6/4

AEW Dynamite 5/31

Darby Allin/Orange Cassidy vs Gates of Agony

MD: This had a few masters to serve. It followed right after the massive heatseeking segment with Callis and Takeshita so you had to bring the crowd back to reality with something that balanced heat with big spots and a fun finish. They were rebuilding Darby after he took the pin in the 4-way at the PPV. They were hyping up the big house show draw of the Darby/Cassidy team. They were continuing the story of Cassidy going through a lot of pain and here doubling down on it with Swerve's heaters (they're all heaters for swerve really). 

I liked the Dustin vs Kaun match but I think this worked better. Here, Kaun didn't have to look up at his opponent which let him tap into just a bit more intensity and come off like a beast. I liked the bit where, once they took advantage off of Toa's pounce, Kaun rushed punctuated the transition to heat by pulling Cassidy in from the outside and taking him out. Toa, of course, always comes off like a beast. Except for in out of character interviews, where he comes off like the best guy. Someday, he'll be a huge babyface. Here, he was a monster. I liked how Darby and Cassidy didn't try all of their signature spots early. That's the house style, to try the familiar things, have them blocked, have them pay off later in the match. They did hit them early in the match but due to the unique qualities of the Gates, they got shut down trying even basic stuff early. It gave things a different feel and really put over the Kaun and Toa. It was a nice balance where Cassidy and Darby did some things that they could only do with larger opponents and Kaun and Toa did some things that could best be done with smaller ones. Nothing was forced or contrived based on spots that anyone felt like they had to get in. I know some people might complain but I'd certainly be happy to see this specific match up with a couple thousand other people in a C-town. 

Speaking of House Rules, as of the writing of this, there were only three matches fancammed and uploaded from the weekend shows. They're all worth watching. Ruby and Britt had a hilarious bit where Ruby tried to explain to Bryce that the spraypaint was for her hair. Lethal had to go far, far out of his way to get the fans to turn on him. And Caster found the best kid to do Bowens' part after having an exaggerated house show work the leg match with heel trainer Pat Buck. They're definitely working these differently than on TV and they're worth going out of your way to find. Hopefully whenever a streaming deal hits, we get to see all of these.

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Friday, June 02, 2023

Found Footage Friday: SUDDEN IMPACT~! VS~! DISTURBING BEHAVIOR~! IN A CAGE~! WITH DOUG GILBERT~!



Sudden Impact vs. Disturbing Behavior NWA Main Event 6/23/01

MD: The gameplan was to watch the one set up match and then the cage match, but then I realized this was actually a better set up match since it led to the Doug Gilbert save, so now we're just giving the week up to this stuff. I liked this a lot though, probably even more than the cage match. It was a non-title street fight (Disturbing Behavior were the champs). The heels took almost all of this, with Renesto just tossing his opponent into a wall to begin. He'd play crowd control whenever Lane started to fire back on Daniels, which was often actually; there was a real Jamie Noble style pitbull attitude he had here.

The match opened up when Renesto chucked a chair off the top rope to the floor and took out one of Sudden Impact. From there, they were both consistent and creative (but in a basic and straightforward way) with the violence. Gatlin took a great skidding bump, head first, into a chair lodged in the corner. They also absolutely took his head off with a knee drop off the second rope with his head stuck in the chair. Lane would channel that fire and eventually come back just long enough for them to get a fluke crucifix win. Post match continued the beatdown with Gilbert making the save to set up the cage match. My big takeaway is that I want to seek out more Renesto. Daniels was solid (and had a great elbow drop in this one, for instance), but Renesto came off like a scuzzy star, one of those guys that probably just needed a break to become a cult favorite on the undercard of a national promotion.



Doug Gilbert/Sudden Impact vs. Ricky Murdoch/Disturbing Behavior (cage) NWA Nashville 6/23/01

MD: Thirty minutes of footage, half of which was Doug Gilbert, bloodied and battered, holding court in the center of the cage and goading heels to run into his fist and back body drop. Not a bad thing certainly. The match itself felt like a throwback. There were almost no set spots in here, maybe one or two big crotchings from off the top of the cage onto the top rope. Almost everything was violence and guys getting tossed into the cage. There wasn't even the normal sort of ebb and flow you'd expect out of it where one side holds advantage and the other comes back all at once. At times it felt like multiple singles brawls going on at once, with the advantage mixed. On some level that might have made it seem more real or natural or organic, but I don't think it made it more narratively compelling. I will say that some of was because of Ricky Murdoch's superior size. Compared to everyone else in there, he had a certain WALTER size and shape to him, at least relatively. He was still more than happy to go flying into the cage and bleed. He was mostly paired with Sudden Impact, with Renesto and Daniels more than happy to have their punches blocked and returned again and again by Gilbert. It got a little repetitive after a while but it was something I didn't mind seeing over and over. About midway through they started trying to climb over which is almost never the way you want a cage match to turn, but it led to a great post-match mauling where the heels had Gilbert alone in the cage and were just destroying him. That led to Doug's big homecoming promo and him getting revenge on his terms. This was solid chaos even if you won't necessarily remember much of it later other than what Doug did and maybe Murdoch hefting himself into the cage repeatedly.


Disturbing Behavior (Jeff "The Crippler" Daniels/Tim Renesto) vs. Sudden Impact (Chris Gatlin/Steve Lane) NWA Main Event 2011

MD: Bryan Turner posts a lot. He's a boon to the community. You should go out of your way to support him. He posts tapes as he comes across them though, so sometimes things are out of order or you don't get the build. Moreover, it's hard to get a sense of what to check out and what not to. If a name isn't entirely familiar sometimes it's tough to know when to dive in given limited time. Full disclosure here: I wanted to watch the cage match with Doug Gilbert but I wasn't sure exactly who I was dealing with in Disturbing Behavior and Sudden Impact, so I figured I'd check out this ten minute TV match.

Usually with these, you get a commercial break, maybe it comes in JIP, and they almost never give away clean finishes on TV (and well they shouldn't!). They didn't here as this ended shortly after the hot tag with interference. Everything about these indies at this time was to build to the live card and the TV was just a vehicle to get there. It means that it's often worth watching but not often worth writing about. Disturbing Behavior was Jeff "The Crippler" Daniels and the Modern Day Assassin Tim Renesto, Tom's son. He wrestled as Tim Tall Tree throughout most of the 80s, including a NJPW tour in 1981 (the third guy in an Inoki/Choshu/Fujinami vs. Billy Crusher/Hogan tag). Daniels was enhancement for Memphis and Smoky Mountain in the 90s.

The two of them, together stand out pretty well as a journeyman tag team in 2001 Nashville however. They take most of the footage we have here and are scuzzy and credible, just like you'd want, laying in shots, cutting off the ring, beating up the young guy. Daniels had more size and the sort of stomp-punches/kicks that feel like comfort food, but Renesto stood out more with a wiry explosiveness, looking like a strung out 70s prog rock bassist ready to skid across the ring with a legdrop or toss his bony frame into a guy in the corner with full abandon. I don't have a ton to say about Gatlin and Lane here, though I think Gatlin was the FIP in there and he did a good enough job crawling for the ropes and garnering sympathy throughout. Maybe we'll have more takeaways from the cage match.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 5/22 - 5/28 (Part 2)

AEW Double or Nothing 2023

MJF vs Sammy Guevara vs Darby Allin vs Jungle Boy

MD: We're almost a month from DEAN's passing now. I think about him all the time and about how he'd feel about this match or that. I miss his presence IMMEDIATELY after every single pro wrestling show was over, when he'd drop his train of thought, endless paragraph full of all the DEAN-isms you'd want. He was wildly positive, so much so that I kind of hate invoking him at the start of what's going to be a pretty negative write-up, but for all that the DVDVR guys disagreed on, there was one thing all of them, even the big guy, were all sure of: four-way matches are terrible. 

And sorry, but so was this.

Let's pull it back a bit and generalize. Why are these matches terrible? On paper, having more wrestlers in there should lead to more possibilities, more interactions. It should allow for more creative nearfalls due to break-ups, a better ability to hit and protect big moves. There should be different stories you can tell: temporary alliances, betrayals, fighting against the odds, etc. Unfortunately, all of that comes at a price. Wrestling is ultimately subjective. We all know that. Different people value different things. I put a lot on coherence and consequence. I want build and payoff. I want things to resonate and matter. You can only get that build and you can only achieve meaningful payoff if everything matters along the way. You get that resonance, that stickiness, that mattering through struggle and selling, through measured escalation and bringing things up and down and up again, through leaning into certain expectations and inverting others. The thread that runs through any match is suspension of disbelief and the ultimate killer of that is anything that raises a question in the mind of the viewer. If they're wondering why something happened or why something more logical or reasonable or simple didn't happen, then something's gone wrong. Thankfully, wrestlers have a lot of tools in their belt. It's not reality or an assurance of objective truth that guides the viewer but instead those tropes and expectations. It lets them accept an Irish Whip or a head going down for a back body drop, certain aspects of physics. It allows the viewer to accept a lot of things, so long as the execution is sharp enough. 

Not everything though, and any four-way is riddled with contrived moments. The language of pro wrestling tends to be communicated with two people in the ring at the same time. That's how lock-ups work. That's how most holds work. That's how struggle-filled competitive spots work. When you put a third or a fourth person in there, it changes the dynamic. All of the tropes and expectations start to fall apart. The natural state of a four-way is to have people asking "why?" and questioning things that are generally accepted in wrestling. It's not sustainable in the way a double team during a 5 second interval or even things breaking down towards the end of the match in a tag may be. When it's an exceptional state, it can work. When it's the baseline for a match, it becomes far more difficult. Therefore, much of the match is spent figuring out how to get wrestlers out of the picture, how to leave them prone on the outside so it can slip back to a more comfortable one on one engagement. 

Then, you couple that contrived necessity with the need to stress all the inherent possibilities in the most creative ways. What's the point of having a match like this if you don't push the envelope with it, right? That leads to guys waiting around for complex and cooperative multi-man spots for the sake of clever visuals. That's not bad in a vacuum but when you're starting from a point where that all important thread of disbelief being suspended is already frayed, it leads to one "Why" moment after the other, when the answer, more often than not, is that in a match like this, the spots are the point and the creativity is the point. Instead of trying to use the inherent possibilities to create a more compelling narrative end, the possibilities become the point in and of themselves. It means you might get one or two very clever, character driven, logical moments, but they get lost in an overflowing sea of sensation and creativity. 

So, those are the generalities. I don't want to get too into the specifics as this had the deck stacked against it to begin with by the nature of the match itself. What made it worse was the metatextual underpinnings of the specific storyline. You already had the dual-pressures of getting guys out of the match temporarily and the emotional need to push the creativity to the limit. On top of that, the wrestlers weren't necessarily wrestling to win but to prove their own importance and show off their legacy and cement their spot. In a controlled environment, you can still make that work. In a four-way with these specific wrestlers in this specific moment? Even the good things (and there were good things, the best of all being MJF's reactions) were drowned out. Let's just leave it at that. 

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Espectáculos Promociones Panama: Kendo! Tahur!

Kendo vs El Tahur 5/30/87

MD: Graham will have a better sense of the details, but this felt like a titles match to me, seconds and all, but I see no sign of titles. It was worked more or less how you’d expect something like that to be worked, though. They led off with holds, with Tahur’s stuff simple and solid, satisfyingly so. Kendo was a lot lighter and looser but here it worked. That might have come down to a confidence that smoothed things over or just how well Tahur was selling it (much more than Kendo was selling Tahur’s far grinder holds, actually). Tahur had enough and escalated into bombs, and they were big ones, a thudding press up pancake, an outright over the shoulder rocket launcher facebuster through a power bomb motion, and a huge back body drop, before picking up the submission.

He kept on Kendo in the segunda, and you kept waiting for a big comeback moment (the heartblood of all lucha) that never really came. It was more of a gradual reversal of holds until both men were on solid footing once again and Kendo was able to do all of his shtick, bounding, dancing, keeping Tahur off balance and ultimately rolling him up. I would have liked something more primal but the crowd was into this. The tercera had Tahur take back over after a lure-in handshake and the two of them cycle into a finishing stretch with dropkicks and submission attempts and ultimately the dives, with Kendo’s going fine and Tahur absolutely wiping out on the hard, hard concrete to bring this to a close. Tahur may have lacked an over the top charisma, but he sold and emoted well, was credible on the mat, had bombs, including one or two that was before his time, and wasn’t afraid to kill himself on the finish.

GB: We’re a couple weeks later now and, completely coincidentally, 36 years to the date since this match took place.

Quick confession, I got things wrong in the Barón post that this was the culmination of the feud between Kendo and el Tahur. I hadn’t found anything detailing otherwise until I came across a post from luchador Kuman Chu that this feud spanned out the year. However, Matt definitely got things right in his assumption that this is a title match. Tahur is walking in as the champion and we get a brief moment as the referee holds up the title as more eye grabbing things happen around him. Bad blood had definitely begun heating up in the feud between Kendo and El Tahur but this match was designed to delay that feud a little bit. Whet the appetite of the fans, as you will. Much like the Bunny/Barón match, this match was signed in front of the lucha commission, a rare occurrence for a title match at this point and something that hadn’t happened in quite a number of years. As such, that signing came with extremely strict parameters in terms of offence. Matt had wished things were more primal, and I concur, but this match was designed as its opposite. Both competitors had agreed to wrestle a straight, technical match where the only offence allowed were forearms and instep kicks.

Even though this match might have built better with things less restrictive, you still get the sense of escalation in how Tahur has to escape to his well of punches and stomps when things aren’t going his way. For instance, the tercera opens up with Tahur kicking out Kendo’s knee and walloping him with a punch as he reels in shock. I had wished the referee had played up the rules slightly more to get over this fact but that’s not a qualm we can really lay on Kendo/Tahur. As for the finish, I’m not sure how this match ends but it appears to be from a feigned injury that Tahur suffers on the last dive before the video cuts out. It’s a cheap finish, of course, but it did play into the booking leading up to this.

After arriving in Panama, Kendo had shaken off the idea of betting his mask against el Tahur but he had no choice if he wanted to win Tahur’s championship. The last time out, in 1979, Tahur had taken Kendo’s Campeon de las Americas title and, so, Kendo was looking for revenge. Tahur laid out an ultimatum. If Kendo lost, Tahur would get his mask match. If Kendo won, Tahur would give up a title match to the foreigner. This led to a violent, bloody contest in San Miguelito where Tahur would ultimately lose - not for lack of trying on his manager’s behalf, though: 


The no-finish to our match gave Don Medina a way out to book both stipulations and propel the feud a good few more months, much to the fans content. Seven months later on the 11th of December 1987, Kendo would go on to unmask el Tahur as Rodolfo Linares Escartin, 19 years a luchador.


Tahur, as a kid, would sneak into the gyms and peep through the windows to watch the most famous luchadores of the time training. After being caught one night, he boldly claimed that “one day, you’ll see me in that ring!”. He was right, of course. While not quite reaching the heights of Chamaco Castro or the violence of Sergio Gálvez, el Tahur would go on to have quite an illustrious career as a rudo, spanning multiple decades.

In 1968 working for the promotion El Herrante de Colombia, El Tahur began his career as “La Rata”, donning a black mask with the image of a rat stitched into its right side. For whatever reason, he wasn’t happy with his look and quickly changed out to the gambler gimmick he would come to be known for. The rat now replaced by three playing cards offering stark contrast in colour to the still black mask Tahur fashioned. He now looked the part of a badass and it helped jumpstart his career.

El Tahur would go on to take a few masks and hairs over the years, most notably to us that of Kato Kung Lee in 1980. As difficult as it is to believe, it was said that the match lasted a few hours to reach its culmination but, groggy from exhaustion, El Tahur came out on top.

Interestingly, while he had faced many Mexicans in his time, and even became a great friend to Negro Casas (who had even taken Tahur to Mexico and paid for his arm surgery), we never got to see Tahur outside his homeland.

Sadly, el Tahur passed on the 10th of May 2012, still fondly remembered by promoters, fellow wrestlers and fans.

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Monday, May 29, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 5/22 - 5/28 (Part 1?)

MD: I'm only two hours through ROH, but it was a good show so far, with nothing that I felt an absolute need to write about. There was also a Fletcher vs Cassidy match from Dynamite. I like Fletcher as the guy who contrasts HOOK for the next decade. There's a lot of upside there. He's still at a stage where he's just giving up the struggle to set up the next spot at times, but his reactions are good. I would have liked a bit more character-driven rationale (immaturity from Fletcher) for the kickouts towards the end. Too many bombs. I get that they're getting over Cassidy's resilience under impossible circumstance, but it was a bit much. I'll start the PPV here and maybe do the pillars match on Wednesday if I get around to it.

AEW Double or Nothing 2023

Blackjack Battle Royal for the International Championship

MD: You can tell a lot about someone's love of wrestling when it comes to how they feel about battle royals. There's nothing wrong with a person not liking them, complaining about it being too hard to see the action or too much hugging in the corner, etc., not enough "action," the notion that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. I wouldn't necessarily hold that against someone, but I'm always glad when someone appreciates the possibilities inherent. 

Before my time watching, a Battle Royal, like the big San Francisco one, but others as well, was a chance to see wrestlers you wouldn't normally see interacting with the local stars. They built it up as the most dangerous sort of match possible (despite that lack of action) where a punch could come from any direction and a freak injury could occur at any moment. That made a lot of sense during in age where kayfabe was protected and strikes and holds, not spots, were the glue that held wrestling together. 

When I started watching, towards the late 80s or early 90s, WWF Battle Royals were a way to break up the stultifying structure of the WWF feud system. The British Bulldog would feud for eight months with the Warlord and you'd rarely see him up against else during that time. A battle royal would let him interact with the Barbarian or Haku or Ted Dibiase and also brush shoulders with some of the other babyfaces, a brief save, a little nod, a quick team-up. That stuff was magic for a kid who wanted a more coherent universe in his wrestling and not just a series of isolated feuds. So maybe there's some level of comfort food for me in battle royals.

In AEW, it's not that guys don't cross streams and interact. Khan books random matches all the time. It's more a case that we can never have enough of it. There's only so much time and there are hierarchical needs that keep certain wrestlers away from one another. That was true a few weeks ago in the Darby vs Swerve match. It was true in Ricky Starks vs Jay White. For us to get matches like that every week, it makes continuous elevation of certain wrestlers tricky. In a Battle Royal, though? There's very little harm in getting knocked over the top. Moreover, here the wrestlers are encouraged to interact with one another and, more often than not, the spots are frequent and clever. 

I have no idea who agented this one, but they absolutely earned their keep. While there was brawling and guys hanging from the ropes and certain guys disappeared from the action (Butcher didn't get much shine for a change), it was one signature spot after the next, one interesting interaction after the next. The Lucha Bros, working with Bandido and Komander, interacting with Jay White, for instance, were standouts. The most memorable moment of the match might have been Bandido hefting up Nese for a delayed vertical suplex as Fenix and Penta fought off all comers. Brian Cage and especially Big Bill got plenty of shine. Bill's a guy who has been delivering and entertaining week in and week out and this felt like the first step in moving him to whatever might be next. I know people were high on the Swerve vs Cassidy finishing stretch but I find Swerve best as a heel and against someone with a little contrast, a few less twists and rolls, someone a bit more conventional. I worry that a straight up match between the two would frustrate me. Here though, as just a taste at the end of a very well put together Battle Royal, just a taste of it was more than enough. Cassidy was especially good at selling the cumulative damage of weeks on his back and hand, in the midst of a match where that wasn't the narrative centerpiece. It was just another detail in a twenty minute stretch of AEW that had a ton of excellent ones.


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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Loosely Formed Thoughts on WWF WrestleMania XIV. A Strong, Easy WrestleMania


1. 15 Team Battle Royal

I miss this. I miss getting way too many men in the ring at one time so that even the smallest action stands out. It makes punches and facial selling mean so much more, when you're working to stand out in a crowd of 30. We don't have that. We don't have situations where guys like Bull Buchanan and Recon are in between gear and on shaky gimmick ground. The audacity to run a 15 team battle royal when you only had, generously, 11 teams on the roster. 

Remember the BRADSHAW/CHAINZ team!!?! They gave us a Bradshaw/Chainz team because they needed 4 teams, which meant we got a great moment where Dirtbag Windham ran in just to blindside Chainz and eliminate Bradshaw without having to touch Bradshaw. Dirtbag as Crafty Spurned Lover. 

Sunny is wearing the least amount of clothing possible. In a better world she would have been wearing this flame bikini throughout 1998 and beyond. 

Ultimate Dark Horse: Jose Estrada

Scott Taylor earns points by picking a fight with Henry Godwinn. Taylor punches him in the face and gets his eyes raked instantly. 

Ricky Morton, Scott Taylor, and Hollywood Tatum Bob Holly took high backdrop eliminations. The New Midnight Express was a go nowhere idea but the tights really were fantastic. That rich blue with the gold lightning is so aesthetically pleasing. 

Brian Christopher stands out among 30 men with his bright lime greens, one of the few guys in the match who understands the importance of standing out in a crowded WrestleMania ring. Henry Godwinn and Bart Gunn also felt like they got it. 

Mark Henry hits a great press slam on Christopher, dropping him on his stomach and then just watching while Christopher flops like a fish in the ropes. 

Henry Godwinn in a giant worn Confederate flag shirt vs. a Nazi biker in front of 19,000 Boston males feels like a Where's Waldo of finding a specific type of racist in every frame. 

But I mean Jesus this Sunny outfit really is incredible

 

2. Taka Michinoku vs. Aguila

Let me tell you how many times I watched this match when it was my turn to borrow the WrestleMania XIV tape that somebody's dad's co-worker at Marin Municipal Water taped for us. It's six minutes long and all highlights. Here is one highlight per every minute of the match: 

~That Aguila moonsault off the top to the floor, a beautiful arc

~Taka's no hands running plancha that holds up as one of the most iconic highflying spots in wrestling history. The Insane speed and distance plus the impossible hang time haven't really been duplicated since Taka, and there has been no shortage of wrestlers in the US, Mexico, and Japan who have tried to innovate something as impressive. The camera angle on this one also couldn't have been better, which only adds to this specific plancha's majesty. 

~I'm not sure Aguila's corkscrew dive ever looked as good as it did here. His 10 match WWF run as Aguila, pre-Papi Chulo, long before Essa Rios, was as exciting as anything Blitzkrieg did, but we reacted to Blitzkrieg as something we'd never seen before. Were we that entranced by a standing corkscrew splash? 

~Taka's fast flipping bump off the top turnbuckle, directly onto his hip

~Aguila's slick leaping rana off the top

~Taka had the most gorgeous belly bounce on all of his missed moonsaults. Full commitment, full extension, no idea how it didn't completely rearrange his bones and organs. 


WWF were so proud of themselves for landing Gennifer Flowers. I hope she landed a great payday. I'm not going to pretend to know what a great payday for Gennifer Flowers looks like, but I think I'd know it if I saw it. WWF was really giving the greater Boston area a lot of credit for following presidential scandals. 


3. HHH vs. Owen Hart

The Chyna/Slaughter are handcuffed together and they do a chin to chin showdown and it was one of those moments that WWF loudly said We Know What We're Doing. They knew what we wanted to see when these two were cuffed together. 

Owen's "sledgehammer hitting an anvil" guitar shredding music should have stuck around. His "Enough is Enough" intro became one of the worst intros of the era. 

Owen has a nice nice standing rana, HHH has a killer bump jumping off the apron into the guardrail

HHH trying to go into Flair mode and I guess I still kind of like it here? It felt more earnest. His high knee was a move that would have played in 1998 All Japan. I would have liked to see HHH's work on a Patriot-level All Japan tour, maybe form a Wolf Hawkfield team. Lose a couple matches to Giant Kimala/Jun Izumida. Get his hairline fucked up by a Tamon Honda headbutt. Lose to a Masao Inoue clothesline. There are a hundred wrestlers today who I wish had never seen an All Japan match, but I think HHH could have actually pulled some positive influence from working tours there. 

Owen gets a cut on the bridge of his nose and I'm not sure where it comes from but it looks good

HHH does some legwork that is interesting enough. JR had a bunch of cheesy pro wrestling bullshit about Owen's leg. Things like "He just got the cast off today!"

I hate Owen Hart as a babyface comeback so much. He is so unimaginative in so many ways. Here he gets worked over so much, building to a big comeback, fighting back and finally making HHH show ass, which had hardly happened. And when his big spotlight came, he just kind of blandly punched HHH across the ring with zero conviction. Just a total boner.  

The best part of the match is Sgt. Slaughter taking bumps over the guardrail at age 50, a true Mt. Rushmore Bump King candidate. 

They made Owen look like such a weenie. Just a dumb babyface with a little baby dick. It felt like that's how he looked for essentially the next year and then well. I wonder why I liked this match so much when I was 17. What was the allure? What appealed to me? Then, I thought this was one of the best matches on the show. Now, I think it's arguably the worst match on the show. Shamrock/Rock is the worst, but I could argue this one there if I wanted. 


4. Marc Mero/Sable vs. Goldust/Luna 

Every single Goldust punch in this was great, and it made Mero's punches look even better..Goldust's punches were more clobbering shots to the side of the head and face, while Mero responds with some of his best worked amateur boxing, including some of his best uppercuts. All of the Mero/Goldust segments rock.

I need to see a list of every backdrop from 1998 higher than Goldust's in this match. Any fed, any wrestler, let's see any that went higher than Dustin in this damn match. He does a tight tuck and gets launched straight up by Mero, manages to look super dangerous and also incredibly safe. It makes sense for Goldust to do a big backdrop early in a match as it makes his dropdown uppercut spot make more sense later in the match. You need to establish that your opponents have a good reason to duck their head, show that you're susceptible to rafters-reaching backdrops, then that dropdown uppercut just makes your opponent look like he's chasing that backdrop dragon. 

You'd have to call Sable's first hot tag - and her first match as a whole - a tremendous success, right? It didn't matter how raw she looked, her energy was perfect the entire match. Her apron work was really strong, which is something that plenty of actual wrestlers don't ever get. I thought it was great during the Mero/Goldust segments when she would be annoyed that Mero wasn't tagging out. "Come ON Mark," in an irritated voice, managing to come off not like a nagging wife but as a woman who wanted to beat their asses. 

When Sable does tag in it really doesn't matter what her offense looks like, because she's screaming and breathing heavy through clenched teeth and all of her body language and energy reads like a girl who just beat her enemy's ass and is now being blocked from doing further damage. You already ripped out her weave, you don't need to damage the girl's bridge work. 

This all built really well and you can tell everyone treated it like a big deal. Mero broke out his big moonsault press for the first time in ages, and there were a few very strong nearfalls down the stretch that all felt like the actual finish. You wouldn't think a match that was hyped around Sable finally getting her hands on Luna would actually need false finishes, but the ones here are great.

When Goldust accidentally charges into and knocks Luna off the apron? Marc Mero's inside cradle on him felt like a real finish. Great two count. 

When Luna splashed Goldust, after Sable moved out of the way, and then Sable only gets the TWO COUNT with her powerbomb!? That's a huge nearfall. People flipped out about Sable doing a powerbomb so loudly in the arena, and that pop stuck with me so much that before this match I would have bet on my memory and said the match ended with that Sable powerbomb. That they actually did such an excellent late kickout shows how serious they were about this match. You didn't need false finishes to give this crowd what they wanted. 

When Sable did win, with the TKO, I love the little piece of drama around Mero raising her hand. Mero staring her down, about to flip out on her for taking the pin, but instead giving her a brief but sincere arm raise was handled the precise correct way within character. This whole thing was really great, really well done, and looking back I'm kind of in shock at how well they executed it. Everyone played exactly the role they should have played, and there wasn't a better mixed tag match in WWF until the Beulah/Funk/Dreamer match the next decade. 


5. Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock 

How many years did The Rock take off Ken Shamrock's life with chairshots in 1998? How many years did The Rock take, collectively, off every wrestler, over the years 1998-1999? Rock swung his chairshots directly at the soft spots of heads and faces, and he brains Shamrock with an all timer straight to the face. Rock hits Shamrock in the face harder than any chairshot used in any ECW music video. I remember watching this match while eating breakfast before school, and when Shamrock started going wild eyed, JR was going into histrionics with all of the "DOES HE EVEN KNOW WHERE HE IS!? HE'S LIKE AN ANIMAL!" My dad looked over his paper, looked silently at the TV for a moment, and then said "Stupid" as he raised the paper again.  


6. Cactus Jack/Terry Funk vs. The New Age Outlaws

Finally we get Funk's first actual appearance as Terry Funk. This guy is amazing. Any 50+ year old that gets a regular wrestling appearances in WWF has had a great career, but none of them got to come back to wrestle in their 50s and wear pantyhose and the weirdest fitting jeans while swinging around a chainsaw. Finlay just came back and started beating the shit out of people, but he did it while dressed like a man, not like a scarecrow. Terry Funk left a note about a horse over a decade earlier and then got paid money to stumble around in pantyhose for a couple months, then gets to look like an old badass action movie star as TERRY FUNK at WrestleMania. Funk came off like the toughest guy in WWF in this match, and it turns out the match is the best WWF match so far this year. 

Funk starts the match by punching Billy Gunn in the side of the head a ton, then headbutting him, right in front of the ring. 

Cactus Jack runs his whole body into the dumpster just to knee Road Dogg in the face and then hits a somersault senton off the other side of the dumpster. It's a sick bump, off the side of the can and onto the floor in a heap. But an extra brilliant part of the spot is Cactus hit the dumpster - and not Road Dogg - because Billy Gunn had done a baseball slide to KICK Road Dogg out of the way after Cactus had already begun his senton! That's a really incredibly timed and executed crash. 

Funk hits the guardrail full speed in front of a bunch of kids, then gets backdropped into the dumpster. These guys are all firing off an amazing amount of creativity working within and around the confines of this dumpster. Every time either Funk or Cactus are in and around the dumpster it's total brutality. 

Billy Gunn pays Funk back for all the chops and this suddenly turned into a violent southern brawl and one of the great brawls of the year. Road Dogg holding Funk prone while Gunn rips his Funk U shirt off him, slapping his chest, punching him in the forehead. These guys are all so good at brawling that they're making cookie sheets look downright evil. I feel the stinging obnoxiously stiff rubber of the dumpster lids slapping off my back, because Funk and Cactus are taking these beatings. 

I don't even think the match needed a ladder, but the work they did with the ladder only elevated this already great match. Cactus and Mr. Ass saved their best brawling for their climb up the ladder, which was brisk. They walked quick up that ladder and punched each other in the head the whole time, and the second they got to the top they got knocked into the dumpster by Funk. Funk got punched into the ladder and flew back into it like he was telling his story of climbing Mt. Everest. 

Everybody's fall into the dumpster looked great, but I don't know if they topped that Cactus/Ass ladder spill. Or, maybe it was topped by old ass legend Terry Funk getting powerbombed off the fucking apron, into the dumpster, onto his old ass shoulder like he was working an FMW show in a baseball stadium. 

After this spills to the back and every single man falls into a bunch of concrete and wood and giant plastic Powerade bottles, and after every man gets hit in the head with a chair or equivalent, Terry Funk gets to use a forklift to move bodies in real time. I'm proud to be among the percentage of people who have had a forklift job. I have used a forklift to unload and load trucks at two different companies in my life, even if I've never actually had a job where I realized I would be using a forklift at the time of my hire. Two different companies trusted me enough to use a forklift. One of the forklifts was a stick shift. I can't even drive a stick shift car, but I knew how to unload expensive pumps and engines off a flatbed with a manual forklift. Two companies trusted me with a forklift, and Vince McMahon trusted Terry Funk to use a forklift at WrestleMania. 


7. Undertaker vs. Kane

I remember at the time this felt like a big deal to me and my friends. I am not as excited by it at age 42 as I was at age 17. Who could have guessed we'd see dozens of these matches. 

Kane does a Tombstone/Oklahoma Stampede and it's at least an interesting idea. 

This is kind of a tough match for Undertaker, as Kane has to stand perfectly still and no sell all of Taker's strikes, so they all kind of look like shit. Meanwhile he makes Kane's punches look excellent at times and throws himself into bumps in cool ways. His corner bump on an Irish whip looked great. 

There's an electric chair spot that is cooler than it should have been. Undertaker gets up on Kane's shoulders like he's Robert Gibson doing a headscissors, and Kane sits down fast and sends Taker kind of toppling down headfirst. 

The match starts to feel a bit long in the middle. Kane was an unmovable object but also an object that would lie in a long grounded chinlock. Two brothers sharing a small bed. Too old to be in the same room, let alone sharing a bed. 

Undertaker takes an insane bump on a tope, flying over the ropes and getting sidestepped by Kane, basically doing running dive into an empty swimming pool that had a big table and Spanish commentators at the bottom of it. 

Even after the big dive, the fans stay pretty cold. It gets quiet down the home stretch and it's really odd. You can argue whether the match layout is to blame: Did the match go too long even though it was the semi-main and at worst the third most anticipated match of the night? I don't think so. Kane's heaving wind sucking stomach might think otherwise. Maybe Undertaker made his comeback too suddenly after 13 consecutive minutes of Kane taking no damage? It felt like they were doing the right things down the stretch but the reactions were not there. The three tombstone finish is a good finish for this match, and the tombstones all looked like the tombstone that Hogan pretended he had taken to break his neck in PRIDE in 1973.

Kane worked singles matches this long against Bret, but that was a different style, and three years before. This man was tired and after 15 minutes of a physical match suddenly Undertaker had to pick up his dead weight into three different standing 69s. Kane was going to get dumped on his head. It was inevitable. 

I thought this delivered what it should have, but was surprised by the cold reception for the biggest moments. What matches are even considered the best Undertaker/Kane matches? Is there a consensus? 


8. Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels

God there were so many years I'd die to have an Austin/Michaels match. We got a big one at King of the Ring 97 and we got this one. Both ruled. Both could have been incredible in 1992, or 93, or 96. 1997 and 1998 were great and I bet if we had any of their house show matches from 96/97, at least one of them was bound to outshine their big stage PPV matches. These are two guys with house show work even stronger than widely seen work, because they were that good. 

This has a great chase to start, ending with a killer Austin Polish hammer. Michaels takes the Hennig bump in the ropes and stooges around with his tight little ass 2/3 out of his tights. HHH is such a coward. HHH spent the worst years of our mainstream American wrestling fandom aping the most boring stretches of Flair matches, but he was too much of a puss to literally show ass. HHH had a complete aversion to any type of ass showing. A pathetic pro wrestler. Shawn Michaels would hang his tight set out there for us all and it's a shame we didn't get more footage of 1998 Michaels. He was still on one. 

His high speed upside down bump in the corner landed his body in such a painful way, jarring his entire skeleton off the turnbuckles, a brutal bump no matter the condition of his back. This would throw any body completely out of whack. His bumping in the opening half is nothing but painful spills and extra leaps. He wrecks his balls on an atomic drop, goes chin first into the announce table off the apron (gorgeous bump). He finds great ways to get run into every single one of the turnbuckles.

Austin throws perfectly worked Hitman-style falling elbow smashes. His huge swinging punches look fantastic.  

Home stretch builds to a series of different great bumps, an incredible back and forth. The best of them were: 

~Michaels aiming to wrap Austin's legs around the post, but Austin yanking him chin first into the post instead. Michaels was an incredible ring post bumper in the early 90s and is somehow still best in the world in his retirement match. It's so infinitely more valuable than making funny faces on 2 counts. What the fuck happened to this guy? How did going cross eyed and born again make him shy away from sick turnbuckle and ringpost bumps and into goofy never had sex o-faces.  

~Michaels taking an in-ring backdrop that would have stood out on any house show match in Memphis in any year

~An even better backdrop bump: Austin going breakneck fast over the guardrail, onto concrete, inches away from fans

Do we actually know if Michaels' selling during the final minute or two of this is his back just seizing up, or is this dude just a perfect carny worker in his final match ever, working a back injury in one of his greatest selling performances of his career. 

This match was the literal LAST of the best era of Shawn Michaels. I don't know if there were 5 of his matches from 2002 to 2010 that he made better. It's one of my least favorite runs in wrestling history. 

He never returns after WrestleMania XIV, he's Barry Sanders. 


Best Matches: 

1. Terry Funk/Cactus Jack vs. New Age Outlaws

2. Marc Mero/Sable vs. Goldust/Luna Vachon 

3. Shawn Michaels/Steve Austin





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Friday, May 26, 2023

Five Years of Found Footage Friday: EARLIEST KOBASHI~! KAWADA~! A SAWYER~! A MICHAELS~! ARAI~! SATO~!

MD: We started this on May 25, 2018 given the weekly footage we were getting from the WWE Network and the wellspring of handhelds that were popping up from Japan ebay. Somehow, amazingly, we've kept it up for five whole years, at least three matches a week. It went from being New to being Found, but that's more for the alliteration than to smooth the possibility that some of this stuff had been out there before. While yes, some had, there's no downplaying just how amazing it is that we have been able to find three new matches a week, without fail, for five years. And that's with us first consolidating French Catch and now the Panamanian Lucha to Tuesdays. Let's face it, we live in remarkable times. In some ways, while getting all the way through the French footage was an accomplishment, us being able to find things to watch that have been outside of our broader community week in and week out for five whole years is more of a challenge. It's not all in one place. Someone posts it. We find it. We vet it. We expand the  knowledge of what's been out there. It represents the ethos of the blog as much as anything; digging in the crates, leaving no stone unturned, watching matches that might not pass some sort of old conventional wisdom test to ascertain their quality, spreading the news far and wide. The master list is mostly updated. We plan on foraging on so long as there is still footage to be found. Hopefully people have enjoyed this. Hopefully people find it useful and interesting. 


Toshiaki Kawada vs. Kenta Kobashi AJPW 8/30/88

MD:  It's just the first encounter between Kobashi and Kawada. It's just the earliest full match on tape of Kobashi. Totally outside our circle until the last year or two. No big deal right? And hey, it's good. Or at least, it's good for the experience level at play. There's a certain pluckiness to Kobashi here, a certain creativity towards the finishing stretch, certainly a willingness to lean into Kawada's kicks. Most of his offense is the sort of inexperienced technical stuff you'd expect: dropkicks, cross-bodies, a very fun short arm scissors. Kawada, meanwhile, was more fully developed, quick to throw kicks or just take Kobashi's head off with a back elbow or the clothesline that ended it. They played with the spin kicks, with Kawada missing as many as he hit. They worked in a missed body press and senton. Kobashi tried to contain Kawada by working his arm but it didn't help him against the kicks. Raw talent but full of potential. You get the sense watching this that these two were outright refusing to work the typical undercard match and that, as time would go on, they would absolutely refuse to be constrained. Kobashi had been a fan who refused to take no for an answer and in Kawada he had a game partner to stretch the rules. Even this early, there was an inkling of what was to come. 

ER: Nothing like a Kobashi vs. Kawada match as we all remember them: Kobashi in his classic blue trunks, Kawada in his classic red tights, just the classic Kobashi Blue vs. Kawada Red. As Matt said, this is the earliest Kobashi match we have in full on tape. And I love these early matches of favorites, because we get to see them working completely different from any era where people know them. Kobashi works like a full on young boy, with painful arm work and a snug short arm scissors, some crossbody blocks, and a super impactful back bump missile dropkick. Kawada was my favorite worker in the world for a stretch, but I do not and have not ever liked Footloose Kawada. Here, Kawada works literally exactly like young Misawa, like they were just trying to make a Misawa clone and Kawada was like 0.7 Misawa. Kawada threw sidekicks and a leaping solebutt almost exactly like Tiger Mask Misawa, hit a full weight senton exactly like him (which lead to a great moment later when he ducks a middle buckle Kobashi crossbody and then barely misses him with a senton which he had hit earlier). 

Kobashi works over Kawada's arm for 2/3 of the runtime - you know, all those matches where guys target Kawada's infamously lethal left arm and not his legs - and the arm work is painful enough that I don't really care that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the finishing "moves" stretch. Kobashi is someone I think had kind of middling stomach kicks, so it was cool seeing an 80-matches-in Kobashi just haul off on Kawada's arms with kicks thrown exactly like his stomach kicks, only really good. Kobashi's crossbodies land heavy and he leans into and bumps for offense differently than he would just a few years later. His bumping is faster and more upended, exciting. When Kawada lands a couple of his spinkicks (the ones thrown like Misawa spinkicks, not Kawada spinkicks) Kobashi gets just rocked with them, flying out with his heels in the air. Kawada's back elbow kind of whiffs (which could have been due to Kobashi bumping big and slightly early for it) but his clothesline is a 100% finisher level clothesline. Kobashi worked that left arm all match, forgetting that Kawada can hook that man's neck with impressive force with the right. What a clothesline. 


Bart Sawyer vs. Chris Michaels (Dog Collar) USA Pro 2001

MD:  So much of this worked for what I was looking for that I'm going to lead with what didn't work: 1.) While Sawyer bled plenty, Michaels didn't bleed despite the violence probably warranting it. There was a spot towards the middle where he went soaring into the ringpost. While I would have preferred the chain to open him up, I would have gladly accepted that doing it and then the chain serving as a focal point to woundwork. We got neither. 2.) The chain was too long. That had its pros and cons. It allowed for a few nice spots, including Sawyer pulling Michaels off the top to the floor into a dive. It meant that there was a ton of slack for hanging attempts or wrapping it around the fist or elbow and it allowed for crotchings in key moments. On the other hand, it took away from that intimate sense of desperation where the two parties just can't get away from one another that you expect in a dog collar match. This lacked that sort of close-quarters atmosphere. 3.) There was no finish; the New South came out to hang both wrestlers instead. But that's TN wrestling for you. It had to lead to the next thing. Between this and the Wildside channel we get bits and pieces of the Sawyer/Michaels feud and never all at once, so I'm not entirely sure what led up to this and where it was going, but this definitely would have made me want to buy a ticket to see what happened next. It just didn't make for the most compelling ending twenty years later.

As for what absolutely worked, the transitions were all great. Whenever there was a shift in momentum, it stemmed from either a mistake, an opportunistic moment, or just Michaels powering through and fighting back. They were varied and creative and used the chain well. They kept it moving. They kept it violent. The chain added to the match but it wasn't the entirety of it and sometimes, trying to utilize it too much backfired. It was a living, existent entity within the match just like you'd want it to be, and the hate and disdain between Michaels and Sawyer bled through, and not just through Sawyer's lacerated forehead. So not a perfect dog collar match, but certainly one with a lot going for it.


Kenichiro Arai vs. Yasushi Sato Mutoha Wrestling 11/3/20

MD: Grappling worked about as hard as grappling can be worked interspersed with larger than life yet entirely stoic character flourishes out of Arai. Sato had the intensity advantage, the striking advantage, probably the grappling advantage, but Arai's developed into a tricky bastard. Early on that'd just be a refusal to engage. By the middle, he'd be missing knee drops off the top and selling his knee to lure Sato into a figure-four so he could immediately turn it over and gloat. And then, towards the end, he'd just outright go for a eye. For most of it, though, he was cool, calm, and collected, biding his time, patiently waiting for a mistake or an opening, while goading Sato forward into either. Despite that, by the end of this, he was a sweaty mess, just a testament to how hard they were going and how much work, torque, and struggle was put into each and every hold. This was a Sebastian special but it was a great middle ground between pure technique and pure shtick.

ER: Kenichiro Arai is one of many criminally underwritten-about wrestlers in Segunda Caida's history. For a guy I've liked throughout his whole career, you wouldn't really know that by reading us. But he's great, and he's wrestled constantly with no kind of break since my teens, and no matter what fed he's spent time in he has always come across as someone wrestling and moving completely unlike anyone else in that fed. From his beginnings as weird headbutt offense guy in Toryumon, to his current vibe of grease monkey who moonlights as a carnival wrestler, he's stood out in unique ways the whole time. He moves and reacts differently. Moving differently is cool. Remember when all of us saw Johnny Saint for the first time and instantly knew that the reactions and timing was different? Kenichiro Arai moves different, and so, does offense differently than anyone. He works a busy yet simple style, acting calm while pushing the match in his direction; stylish, without style. He can grab a wrist or foot and not necessarily work a hold like Fujiwara, but just kind of twist and grip without letting up. Strong Grip based wrestling. 

The feeling out process is cool and has cool little things that you don't see, like Arai catching a dropkick to the ribs while sliding into a dropdown, or the way he just kind of knocks Sato down with a close shove and trip, like messy shootstyle. In fact, a lot of this match is pro wrestling style as theatrical shootstyle. They never treat it like shootstyle, but there's a sincerity in selling the pro wrestling holds that makes this come off as important. Sato is Mutoha's ace and in Arai he's up against a guy who's blowing into town for the first time and already working as the established ace. That gives things a cool energy. There are a lot of convincing cradled pins, and things jump up a level when Arai misses - intentionally or not - a kneedrop off the top. His missed kneedrop leads to an actual dramatic and painful looking figure 4 exchange, where he suckers Sato into doing one that he instantly reverses (complete with finger pointed to temple), before Sato reverses it back and it leads to a series of painful submissions. Grapevined legs, rolling heel hooks, a nicely leveraged trailer hitch, all of them looking like straight pro wrestling but with a BattlArts sensibility. Also, an excellent standing sub into a fought-for back suplex plainly shows that there is absolutely NO give in this ring, as Arai drops Sato in a way that makes it look like he was suplexed in a parking lot. How was this the first Arai match we've written about? Guess we need to keep watching wrestling. 


2020 MOTY MASTER LIST


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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Espectáculos Promociones Panama: Silver King! Mascara Negra! Sergio Galvez! Cirujano de le Muerte!

Silver King/Máscara Negra vs Sergio Gálvez/El Cirujano de la Muerte 5/15/87?

MD: This one had a lot going for it and a couple of things working against it. Galvez was, of course, an absolute bastard in all of the best ways. There is a category of scuzzy heel wrestlers from the annals of time that would make amazing terrible uncles to any kid. Mocha Cota is one, Chris Colt another, Bobby Bass a third, and so on and so forth. Inca Peruano was that guy on the French set. Sergio Galvez is here. He can stooge and beg off, can get in a slugfest, can base and feed, but he’s at his very best when he’s swarming an opponent, as he does with Silver King towards the end of the segunda, just forcing him out of the ring and following with a hundred mean shots. The good Cirujano is of the line of thematic Médico Asesino descendants, with white gear. He reminded me of Gran Markus, Jr. as much as anything. He hit hard enough, big hefty shots, but I have some, shall we say, concerns about his overall basing.

That made the primera a little dodgy. Silver King (who still had his mask and boundless energy) tried a few things like walking the ropes and none of it went quite as well as you’d have hoped. It came off as two guys who maybe knew what they were doing, but hadn’t drilled together? Mascara Negra worked with him a little better. I liked this guy a lot. He had a real sense of rhythm and a unique style, able to throw some interesting kicks but also hit a bound up leaping ‘rana off the turnbuckles (taken a bit askew by Cirujano). And when he was up against Galvez? Very quick to hit an awesome straight punch to the gut and follow it by tossing him around by the beard. He impressed.

You can’t fault the structure here, dubious basing aside. The tecnicos one-upped the rudos early, living through Galvez stalling and refusing to get in with Silver King at first, with the fall ending with a big quebradora and tiling slam by Silver King. He looked best there and with the work against both rudos at once that started the segunda. The rudos took over quickly thereafter, however, though the tecnicos got some hope, including Silver King handspringing into the ropes a little too exuberantly. It all led to the rudos playing the numbers game and Galvez’ swarming of Silver King and a really great caballo where the partner stood behind and yanked the poor victim’s arms back. I’d never seen that particular tandem submission variation before. The tercera kept the beatdown going, with Galvez ripping Silver King’s mask. It led to a rousing comeback, but one that quickly spiraled through Cirujano’s interference and the ref getting distracted, allowing for a Galvez low blow. Obviously this led to something more and we, and the fans, were left unsatisfied by the comeback on this night. You have to appreciate how well they ramped up the pressure for it though.

GB: It’s always a good day when we get to watch Sergio Gálvez, especially versus a foreign talent. There’s something more primal, almost xenophobic, in the way that he wrestles if his opponent isn’t Panamanian. With his trusty choice of plunder, he made sure that the only warmth foreigners felt on their way into Panama was the blood coagulating on their skin.


Silver King would be no exception here in what I presume to be his debut into Panama. I’m not entirely confident on the date but it does go somewhat according to how King described things in the sitdown interview alongside el Barón. Silver King was the clear fan favourite here, despite this being his first outing. He was most certainly coasting off his father’s coattails but you can’t really blame him for that. Papa Wagner was a beloved star across South America and saw numerous successes in apuestas wherever he went with his most notable feud culminating in him retiring the Guatemalan legend José Azzari in September 1976.


It’s interesting, then, that Silver King would make his first mark out in Panama, considering his father was less than a year removed from still taking names in Guatemala. Either way, Wagner was a household name and a surefire way to get yourself a nice little booking fee as his kid. Despite playing second fiddle to the bigger names in Anibal and Rene Guajardo, Dr Wagner Sr was a formidable opponent whose fight and technical skill won over the people of Panama throughout the 1970s, most especially in the Panama/Mexico tag tournament in mid to late 1977. His partner, Septiembre Negro would go on to much bigger things (and much bigger losses!) but the people of Panama still fondly post about their memories of the triumphing Dr Wagner.



It was undeniable thus. Wherever he went, Silver King had big shoes to fill and he couldn’t let a bully like Gálvez get the better of him. Perhaps a little too quick off the mark, Silver King would take this match as a personal insult to him and an attack on his pride. Though, as for the reasoning behind the feud, I’m unsure what Gálvez had against the young Silver King here. King’s father beating up Gálvez’ partner (Panther) a decade earlier would be a little too much detail even for Don Medina to book out so I’ll just point to exhibit A above that Sergio Gálvez is simply a psychopathic human being. Where this feud goes, well, we’ll find out if things get posted again. There’s rumour of a mask/hair match but that’s all I’ve found it to be so far. Rumour.

As for Silver King’s escapades throughout Latin America, he, along with Texano, would finally travel to Guatemala at the turn of the next decade. Considering how formidable his father was, Guatemala would see fit to not have the next lineage run rampant, too. With their hopes laid on the backs of two very unlikely allies in Astro de Oro and Skeletor, Los Cowboys would drop their WWA world tag titles to the Guatemalan heroes after a hard fought match on the 12th of December 1991.


Embarrassed by a “fluke”, Texano and Silver King anted up their hairs in exchange for a title shot, again losing to the would-be duo of Skeletor and Astro de Oro. The latter would go on to successfully defend against, in order, Los Villanos IV & V, Tony Arce y Vulcano, El Signo y El Negro Navarro, Scorpio Sr & Jr and Los Crazzy Boys I y II before losing the titles to La Ola Blanca; Doctor Wagner Jr and Rayo Láser (who substituted for an injured Angel Blanco Jr).


Speaking of mystery men in white, the El Cirujano de La Muerte gimmick is dime-a-dozen so you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s someone else. It most certainly could have been anyone under a mask here. Well, almost anyone. It definitely isn’t *that* El Cirujano de La Muerte from Guatemala, he’s too big a national star to be stuck in low-card matches working Mascara Negra whose better days were a decade earlier. Though, if it was, there’s an almost ironic twist to Matt comparing them to Gran Markus, considering he was expelled from Guatemala for “unpatriotic” comments about their people. I guess the Guatemalan government never got the memo that wrestling was fake. People give Tony a lot of grief for watching Punk nuke his money out the window but imagine the horror as a promoter after flying in someone from Mexico, giving them a mic, and watching them go scorched earth for heat only for the programme to be cut before it could ever begin.


In all seriousness, our Cirujano here is, in fact, Dominican so it’s almost surprising that there isn’t a note of them in the Dominican Republic groups I frequent. I assume they underwent a gimmick change or two along the way, with this pitstop to Panama falling into otherwise obscurity.





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Monday, May 22, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death 5/15 - 5/21

AEW Dynamite 5/17

Darby Allin/Orange Cassidy vs Lee Moriarty/Big Bill

MD: One brief thought. I'm only going to speak for myself here, because Eric really has his own way of looking at things, even though the two of us agree a lot. When you watch as much wrestling as we do and are just awash in so much discussion about wrestling, you're often juggling multiple contexts. This is where some of the old prevailing thought (and I won't name names) that people can't judge old wrestling because they're not looking at it with the specific context of its time is silly and dismissive and throttles conversation instead of encourages it. This match is a great example. Do you know what excited me the most about this? The fact that I saw a couple of spots that Allin and Cassidy tried out in the House Rules match against QT and Hobbs (and maybe the Moriarty/Bill match from the day before which we don't have). There was the ref-missed hot tag hope spot while Cassidy was trying to knee his way out of Bill's suplex and then the combo Stundog/Code Red. I was legitimately happy that they were using the house show run as an experimental proving ground to see see if something worked or not in front of a crowd and that we had video proof of this.

Now then, if I were to watch two Rockers vs Powers of Pain matches from January 1990 at MSG and Philly (which I wouldn't because we don't have Philly that late) and they ran almost the same match both time, I'd probably be disappointed instead of happy. I'd forgive them given the travel schedule and the fact that there would be almost no way that someone would have seen both matches, but I certainly wouldn't be excited about it. There's a joy in watching Buddy Rose in Portland where we have him on a week to week basis, often against subpar opponents, in front of the same crowd, where he has to constantly keep things fresh. Likewise with Negro Casas in Arena Mexico year in and year out. You almost always see something, an action, a reaction, and interaction, new and different in each match. It's not dissimilar with modern television workers. They're in front of the same TV audience ever week and have to switch things up to a degree. But here we really got to see Cassidy and Darby workshop something in front of a controlled crowd and then immediately, just a few days later, unveil it on a national stage, and that was exciting to see.  

AEW Rampage 5/19

Dustin Rhodes vs Bishop Kaun

MD: There's not much in wrestling as comforting and reliable than Dustin getting an AEW feature match in Texas. On paper, including him in the extremely prolonged Swerve vs Keith Lee feud might not be the world's best idea, but I'm not going to argue about additional Dustin matches. He and Kaun matched up pretty well. Kaun's obviously a few inches shorter but he's presented, with Toa, as monsters, and he carries himself decently along those lines, though I would have maybe liked to see him somehow swallow Dustin up more when he was in control here. I'm not sure what that would have looked like. It probably would have looked like more woundwork and less neckbreakers, actually. 

The opening was very good. Dustin had an answer for everything Kaun had, leaning into his size and expertise. He could come back on every chop. He was dealing with Skandor Akbar in 1990. Prince Nana isn't going to distract him all that much. It took the reversal into the corner and amazing bump into the camera to change the direction. Really, that was one of the best transitions of the year, and as it was on a time-shifted Rampage, it's something they should steal for a PPV match at some point. I'm not sure if anyone on the roster could execute it as well as Dustin did here, but even half as well to lead to blood and a beating would be memorable. Kaun was focused after that and of course Dustin drew sympathy and brought the crowd up and down for his hope spots but given the amount of blood at play, I could have used just a little more viciousness. Dustin's string of signature spots on the comeback were as crisp and perfectly timed as ever, and everything worked out well post match to set up, hopefully, a singles match at the PPV. They could have gotten here quicker and more directly, but if they're going to have an extraneous player, better Dustin than almost anyone else.



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Friday, May 19, 2023

Found Footage Friday: HANSEN~! SPIVEY~! KOBASHI~! ACE~! PUTSKI~! FUJI~! KUWAIT~! SMOTHERS~! EATON~! ROCK 'n' ROCKERS~!

Ivan Putski vs. Mr. Fuji WWF (Kuwait) 1982

MD: The Rex match might have been technically better and even more primal and straightforward in some ways, but this had astoundingly glorious bullshit. At the two minute mark of the video, Fuji starts to play "hide the salt" and they milk it for another three and a half minutes before locking up, with the fans getting more and more into it as the ref can't catch him. Fuji eventually gives up with it and they start cycling through holds that Putski can power out of. Fuji gets an advantage on an armbar by pulling the tights to get Putski down but he ultimately gets a hyper noogie for his trouble. The crowd is loving every second of this so far, much like the Rex match; Putski just has a special relationship with them and Fuji isn't at all afraid to make goofy faces and flail about. Around twelve minutes after the goofiness with the salt started, Fuji finally gets it in Putski's eyes. This triumphant moment earns Fuji a bit of karate and a nerve hold before Putski shakes it off, hits two back body drops, and chases a retreating Fuji to the back. Another good time had by all. I don't know what this says about me, but I can watch Fuji hide salt in front of an irate crowd all day.

ER: People cannot get enough of Kuwait superstar Ivan Putski, and they show nothing but confused indifference for Fuji's salt ceremony...until they clearly see that Fuji is saving salt for Putski's eyeballs. I wish I knew more about the average Kuwait wrestling show attendee's familiarity with classic wrestling heel tropes. I want to see Bobby Heenan hiding a weapon for 20 minutes in Kuwait, slipping it in his boot and back in his trunks and even standing on it. Imagine Lawler hiding a weapon that doesn't actually exist and getting these men (No Women Allowed in the Kuwait Wrestling Club) to lose their minds, tearing their keffiyehs from their heads. Fighting Ivan Putski is like fighting a person in one of those inflatable dinosaur costumes. Much like the Moondog Rex match this week, there are some tremendous strength spots. 

I could see a lot of these spots done by a skinny fat super indy undercarder and played for hack laughs, but the exact same spots done by a completely gassed 5'4" man in early 80s Kuwait play like the pinnacle of the genre. Fuji breaks Putski down to his knees with a nerve hold, both hands digging into Putski's armpits while clutching his pecs, and in an incredible moment Putski rises to his feet and begins loosening Fuji's grip by flexing his large pectorals, Fuji's eyes growing wider, hands still gripping Putski's fleshy muscular breasts, Putski going through every posedown challenge to break the vice, a Most Muscular pose with unbroken eye contact finally freeing him. Putski's strikes get better the longer the match goes. His headlock punches have more intensity than Nolan Ryan's, and his elbow strikes to Fuji's chest in the ropes bounce him wickedly. But when that salt finally comes back into play, it's glorious. Fuji sneaks it into Putski's eyes and Putski swings his short T-rex arms blindly at him, while Fuji stays just out of arms reach throwing throat thrusts and headbutts. But Ivan Putski is the Most Powerful Man in the World and, much like the Philistines blinded Samson and still felt his full wrath, Fuji is soon tossed hardway by two backdrops, and flees the building before it all gets pulled down on top of him. 


Stan Hansen/Dan Spivey vs. Kenta Kobashi/Johnny Ace AJPW 11/20/90

MD: Pulling this back from the middle of the handheld card as it's the last major match we haven't covered yet (there's a Ricky Santana/Doug Furnas vs. Dick Slater/Joel Deaton match which isn't all that interesting and an opening match Teranishi/Kikuchi vs. Fuchi/Ogawa match that I don't promise I won't cover in the weeks to come). It's always fun to hear Kobashi come out to Kickstart My Heart. The contrast here is good. Early Kobashi/Ace (the All-Asia stuff) can be frustrating if they're up against a small, quick team and you get a lot of action and not a lot of weight to anything. But there is nothing but weight when you're in there against Hansen and Spivey. Obviously, Hansen is the real muscle, but Spivey starts this match out by catching Ace off a cross body and just SOS-ing him over his head and shortly thereafter, when Kobashi tries to get technical with him with a leglock, just jams his leg down upon Kenta's face in the nastiest way possible. Spivey wasn't a bad Hansen partner by any means. He was big enough and had some presence but it was also believable for Kobashi to bounce back off the ropes and drop him with a heart-filled shot.

Whenever this hits the outside, it gets great. Hansen just uses the rail and a chair and even this big wooden table. He was better smashing Ace with it than going for the lariat against it, though, as he took out his own arm opening up a fairly lengthy "contain the beast" bit from the two of them. You can't keep Hansen down (in 1990) for long though, and they rotated about until they were beating Kobashi down, with him surviving despite the odds and some nasty shots (including the aforementioned chair shot). At one point Ace broke up a submission by running in and bounding off the ropes with a clothesline but he got absolutely nailed by Hansen the second time he tried it (which was happening more and more in AJPW at this point and was always a great spot). The comeback was wonderful and imaginative, with Kobashi ducking a double shoulder block that sends both Hansen and Spivey to the floor. A dive on Spivey and a suplex on Hansen followed and Ace and Kobashi got in some hope that they might, maybe, steal this one. But of course it wasn't to be. Hansen got fed up and lariated one after the other in quick succession to end it. At this point in their development (where they may have won the secondary titles but were still losing to Jumbo/Partner and even Misawa/Kawada), Kobashi and Ace just hanging as well as they did meant something to the crowd.

ER: I'm not sure how many things in wrestling make me smile wider than Stan Hansen running to the ring through a parting see of fans, chasing after some, swinging his bullrope at others. Danny Spivey looks huge here, like the World's Largest Wings Hauser. He's several inches over Hansen whenever they're next to each other. Did Stan Hansen gift every touring gaijin tag partner his own set of chaps, like a leather goods Ribera Steakhouse jacket? Underneath his Gifted Chaps, Spivey is wearing Daisuke Ikeda's future ring gear, larger. There's a woman in the crowd who loves him and yells SPIVEY all match long. For her, he leans into a strong Ace clothesline and bumps big for a Kobashi back suplex. I love the precision and speed that Spivey and Hansen used to get Kobashi to the floor, slammed face first into a table, and rolled back into the ring. It was like 5 seconds flat. Hansen just threw Kobashi's body like he was a bag of autumn leaves. Stan Hansen was the first guy I ever saw do the Ringpost Chop and I thought it was incredible. Here he tries to take Johnny Ace's head off with a lariat and instead Western Lariats a thick table as hard as he would lariat a man. Hansen was a genius at hitting offense into inanimate objects, thrown as if he never once expected he would miss. 

Nagoya, in one night, got to see over 10 minutes of Stan Hansen and Abdullah the Butcher getting cut off decisively from their tag partners, and I love whenever Hansen is the Man in Peril. He is both great at selling while in offense, and also a constant threat. Kobashi and Ace are like two cops trying to take down a guy on PCP, just swinging chops and feet, always a second from lashing out. Hansen is great in peril, and he's even better getting his revenge. Cower at the ease with which he throws Kobashi with a head whipping bodyslam, or the way he and Spivey launch Kobashi with a backdrop and Stan is already falling on top of him with an elbow. Hansen and Spivey miss a tandem 3 point tackle into the ropes like two men who weren't expecting to hit the ropes, because Stan Hansen tis a man who has considered the concept of object permanence. Kobashi's pescado into Spivey hits flush. Hansen just beats the shit out of him. There's a really great sunset flip nearfall, where Ace does an unconvincing sunset flip and Hansen balances himself and starts knuckle punching Ace in the head, but Kobashi does a mountains-moving dropkick to send Hansen flying back into a close pin. He shuts that shit down swiftly and suddenly, putting Ace down hard on his back with a shoulderblock, backing into the corner as he calls for the Lariat. Kobashi screens into frame to save his dude and takes the absolute worst swinging hell arm to the nose, a fool of a man for startling a large blind man who never chooses Flight. Ace loses the match, but absorbs a comparatively polite lariat. 



Tracy Smothers/Bobby Eaton vs. Ricky Morton/Marty Jannetty Wrath Pro 2/18/07

MD: Speaking of glorious wrestling bullshit. This had Smothers on the mic to start (of course), with the usual threats to leave to get the fans chanting and then a great bit about having no heat with Morton. Tracy graciously said that if Ricky turned on Marty, he'd not only give him the right to ride with them, he'd give him five whole bucks. Morton didn't take the deal. That and Smothers making a show out of taking his shirt was the first ten minutes of the video.

Of all the various ways to watch and enjoy wrestling, there's only one that is unquestionably wrong: you can't quantify wrestling; if you're counting the number of kickouts or punches, you're doing it wrong. But you can speak about things more broadly in terms of time, especially in a narrative sense, sure, and with that in mind, I'd like to report that the next six minutes were Jannetty and Smothers goofing. Jannetty would get a takeover or reversal; Smothers would complain about the tights or the hair even if it made no sense given what actually happened; Jannetty would then do the move to the ref slowly to show him it was impossible. At one point he even had the ref do a counter on him to show him. It was six minutes well spent.

After some more stooging and clowning from Eaton and Smothers, they got about a minute of heat on Morton, before he came back and they went right to a double roll up and some more Smothers jawing including the singsong promise never to come back and yelling at everyone to go home. The entire video was around twenty-five minutes; 35 with ten more minutes of heat would have been preferable, but it's hard to complain too much about what we got given the venue and the age and filled out bump cards of the wrestlers involved. 

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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

AEW Five Fingers of Death (and Friends) 5/8 - 5/14 (Part 2)

Ring of Honor TV 5/11

Athena vs Skye Blue

MD: There's just so much to like about Athena matches right now. She's always on. Always. There was a spot in here where she cartwheeled out of Skye's moves, because she can, because she has that extra bit of athleticism she always had, and it set up Skye doing the same a moment later, the old tit-for-tat heel getting oneupped sort of moment you get at the start of a match like this. Then Athena floored her with a big boot for her indignity. Any of the elements at play that I just mentioned, the athleticism, the standby oneupmanship, the furious cutoff, is absolutely worth noting, but the best, most potent part? In the midst of the cartwheel, Athena was already laughing with malicious delight. She has the ability to come out of complex movements already emoting. We take certain things for granted sometimes, but I can't tell you how rare that is. She never takes a breath and focuses on hitting her spot. She's always living in the moment. There's nothing I personally want more in a wrestler than that level of commitment and immersion. 

To point, about half of her spots don't even feel like spots. They feel like organic violence, linked together by those in-between moments that aren't simply moving from spot to spot but instead swimming through a sea of malice and rage and fury and fear and despair and desperation every other emotion imaginable. You'll note that I said half and I said it like it was some sort of giant accomplishment. In 2023 when almost everything in the match is a spot and not just systemic flowing violence marked with a few called high spots, it is exactly that. Almost no one else on the roster is able to manage it. That's ok for the most part. It's just how wrestling is now. It's the house style, but in this facet, she's able to make it work at a different level more often than almost anyone.

And then there's the layout. We're maybe seven, eight months into this character. She has a 23-0 record in ROH. She's had a string of Proving Ground and title matches. She's had matches now without TV time constraint. She's able to play with callbacks (the stairs), unique traits (controlling the outside and the apron), multiple finishers and now multiple submissions. Certainly she has the forearm of doom that she likes to hit at the start of the matches and plenty of variation on how she does it. Here she was also stealing Skye's finisher (better than Skye can hit it) and Skye snuck in the O-Face (not better than Athena could hit it). Skye brought plenty of intensity and some nasty bumps to the floor. They don't have to cut the camera on each forearm which is well appreciated. And she's able to channel a plucky throwback babyface with her flying body press and even the shock of the all heart one-count kick out and desperate crawl towards the ropes at the end. This was so strong down the stretch that people seemed to even believe Athena when she was raising Skye's hand post-match and there was absolutely no reason in the world to believe. But that's just the hot streak Athena's on now.

AEW Dynamite 5/10

Orange Cassidy vs Daniel Garcia

MD: Cassidy, is, of course, someone else who can work variations. Other than Athena's forearm, the mind games with the hands in the pockets is the other best entry point in wrestling. He also has one of the best ongoing stories in wrestling, the simple, logical, reasonable notion that he's a fighting champion without much care. He'll defend the belt against anyone at any time, on an amazing streak, and it's starting to weigh heavily on him; it's the price of apathy. He may not care but his body certainly does. This match wasn't at all an end to itself but a means to further that along. It built from the 8 man last week; it set up the exhausted promo and the ambush by Fletcher later in the night. It made Garcia look like a beast but also one lost in his own world, completely full of himself and adrift in his sports entertainer persona, and still pretty damn effective past that. Watching, you saw him weighing himself down with it and couldn't help but wonder what he might be without it. Garcia targeted the hurt hand, the hurt knee, the hurting back. Sometimes cutoffs or transitions would be indirect, Cassidy being a half step slow because of the hand and walking into something two moves later because he'd ended up just a little behind. Sometimes it'd be overt, the two of them jostling on the top rope and Garcia striking Cassidy's hand to block a punch. The moves that always seem so smooth out of Cassidy felt labored here, as if he was barely getting over for them by the end. For the second week in a row the Stundog came at an askew angle. He couldn't hook the head on the Beach Break.

I found myself kind of dreading sitting through it though, which took me a minute to parse. This is the stuff I love in wrestling, wrestling-driven storytelling, deep application of creative consequence, the weight of what came before hanging over every moment, allowing the wrestlers to craft possibilities and inversions. This is the good stuff and it doesn't seem overwritten or overwrought. So why wasn't I into it as much here? Why was I dreading it? I'm not sure if this is shameful or admirable, but it comes down to this: there's only one endgame for the scenario. Cassidy loses the belt. His body gives out. His spirit can't sustain. A monster approaches to take advantage. There's no other logical end point. And I, more than a tad too old and too experienced to be so emotionally invested in something like this, don't want to see Cassidy lose and the run end. It's as simple as that.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Espectáculos Promociones Panama: The Ballad of Bunny Black, Part 2

El Barón Vs Bunny Black (mascara contra mascara) 5/30/87

MD: The first three minutes of this has Bunny Black slamming Baron twice onto the floor, followed by a senton to the apron, mask ripping, forehead bitting, a posting, more forehead biting, more mask ripping, blood, and a running kick the skull, all punctuated with a swinging chairshot and Bunny Black tossing chairs at Baron. It's exactly how you'd want a mask match to start, violent and bloody. Here and between falls. The rest of the primera was Bunny leaning into the blood and the beating before getting the submission on a nice cradle double-underhook submission he walked around the ring with.

Bunny had a way of presenting Baron's bloodied skull to the crowd that really got under their skin. That's maybe what he did best, milk moments like that, whether it was him driving the action or his spasming sells and desperate begging with his hands behind his back after Baron reversed a whip and mounted his big comeback in the segunda. The fans flocked in as Baron started on the mask and began to bloody Bunny up around the ringside area in revenge. He even had a similar lifting submission to end the fall, his being a full nelson instead of a butterfly stretch.

The tercera was back with the sort of drama and pressure you'd want from a match with these stakes. They had a lot of stuff (Bunny with a double underhook slam, both guys with plenty of submissions, etc.) with the pace measured and the toll grueling. By this point, both masks were ripped, with whatever remained entirely stained by blood. They cycled, starting with submissions, building to dives, ending with nearfalls. Baron hit a giant dive through the ropes only for Bunny to recover and flip off the apron. That readied things for the finish, as they cycled through roll ups and Bunny got more and more frustrated when he wasn't satisfied with the ref's count after his slams. That led to a Baron pin, a ref fast count, and an absolutely elated crowd. The rudos had won handedly last match and that makes me wonder if every rudo win we see isn't followed up by some super heated mask match we just haven't gotten yet.

GB: I seem to have jinxed things with my post last week where I lamented the lack of historical information surrounding Panama. As, unlike other countries, Panama at least had a notable source for footage, a source that was uploading new matches weekly like clockwork. However, it seems what Matt and I had passed off as nothing more than just a blip, might be something more serious as we haven’t had a new video in nearly a month now. CollectorPTY, the uploader behind these videos, noted that their health was suffering as of late so here’s hoping they are taking this time to rest and recuperate before returning to their regular posting schedule. While I do have some videos to offer, and a notable fancam we’ll get to soon, this will be a rather large blow to our project as it keeps our coverage rather finite. Of course, though, as they say, the show must go on and *boy* does Bunny Black have a show for you.

We’re a half month after our last match and well into the first calendar year of Don Jose “Chacho” Medina’s run as booker/promoter of Espectáculos Promociones Panama. Normally, you’d not make a claim otherwise if Negro Casas is a regular guest at your dinner table, and maybe it’s perhaps presumptuous to think this, but there’s this strong vibe from the booking that Don Medina might have had the most talented mind for wrestling in his family. Casas might be altogether wily yet it’s a skill we can watch him pick up, mold and master as his career unfolds. As for Casas’ father-in-law, there’s a savantlike approach to Medina’s booking philosophy in that there are so many layers to his feuds within mere months of him approaching wrestling.

What I do know, Don Medina started his journey into fame as the baritone saxophonist (and indirect nomenclator) of Bush y sus Magnificos in 1968 after/while being a prominent member of La Gran Orquesta de Panamá. What I believe to know, is that one of the other members, more specifically the congos, was none other than Shazán. A rather small world in a rather small country. What I assume, it would be Shazán that hooked Medina on the idea of professional wrestling as the second greatest love of his life. Well, third after his daughter Dalys la Caribeña but you get the idea.

As for my claim of his skills, Don Medina booked a promotion that seemed to take the idea of Panama’s singularity and turn it on its head. Foreigners in Panama were nothing new but it was usually seen as a special attraction for special wrestlers. On the day of Black/Barón’s apuesta, Medina had five. Medina not only saw to book foreigners up and down the card but also shuffled his wrestlers in the same way, too, week-to-week to provide freshness in their presentations. Everyone was linked in one way or the other. No feuds happened in vacuums and wrestlers would look out for each other, no matter their hierarchy - a rather alien concept to many promotions to this day where babyfaces only really care for the actions of the heels when it directly affects them.



Let’s recap the timeline a little, just in terms of foreign talent, we have: Bunny Black bloodying El Barón in the midcard. Silver King leaning into challenging Sergio Galvez for the hair/mask to put over their biggest heel. Kendo bloodfeuding with Tahur over the latter’s belt in the upper. All three programmes were running concurrently at this time with two, Bunny/Barón and Kendo/Tahur culminating on the 30th of May, 1987. Los Brazos giving prestige to trios wrestling in August. We have Casas/Celestial in December (rerunning their title match from 1986) and then La Parka (Principe Island 1) fighting in the main event opposite Sandokan about a half year later. There’s obvious gaps we’re missing, and this is only taking into account foreign talent, but that’s a lot of prominence that Medina is working on in such a short amount of time. It was as hot as a promotion could presumably get in late 80s Panama.

Taking the Black/Barón feud as an example (caveat: it’s really the only fleshed out example we have), the match we covered last week was run in Nuevo Panama and then rerun in Orlando Winter Claro and el Neco de la Guardia the following Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and another two times with dates unknown. While the focal points of the five cards all remained connected, they would be re-paired at different places along the card. For instance, on the Saturday show, the visiting Dominicans, el Cirujanos de la Muerte, got bumped from second-billing to the main event alongside Galvez to help rough up Silver King while Kendo/Tahur took a backseat, allowing the different feuds more opportunity and spotlight to grow (considering the differing match lengths offered to each placement).

As for our man of mystery, this would be Barón’s first taste of blood, quite literally. He had never encountered someone run so roughshod over him quite like Bunny. His bravado and eagerness would have him quickly offer his mask to avenge the humiliation he suffered from Bunny leaving him battered and bruised in front of his local fans. But this was his first mask match. He was someone famous for his flying and one whose skills lay more on the mat than in the hand. Noting this, Silver King and Kendo would be booked into helping him. Nothing comical. Nothing overbearing. Just the thought that, as Silver King put it to interviewer Rafael Ventura, “Los técnicos son los que deben de ganar” (the tecnicos are the ones who should win”). King was appalled at how his fellow Mexican Bunny Black treated Barón - it wasn’t the gracious hand that King had hoped both of them would offer Panama in their debuts that week - and he wanted to correct that wrong. Bunny Black would pop his mouth off a few more times as the proceedings wore on but their contract signing on Tuesday, May 26, 1987, went without confrontation. Perhaps that comes with having beat Barón in each of their 5 tag encounters. Either way, signed in front of Eric Arce, the president for the Professional Wrestling Commission of Panama, the apuesta was on.



Honestly, I’m a little sad we don’t have more of this feud. Bunny Black is absolutely perfect in his role. He talks shit and he backs it up. I joked with Matt when this match dropped that Bunny Black (Salsero) of all people is going to be the one from Panama in Phil’s book. And here we are. The little engine that could. Stupendous match.



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