Segunda Caida

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Saturday, November 05, 2022

Found Footage Friday: Second Annual Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Show/97 WCW House Show


Second Annual Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Show - WCW - 6/7/97

MD: This starts with Tony Parisi doing the national anthem for both Canada and the States, a pretty classy DiPaolo video with a ton of footage, and then switches from gallant to goofus for a martial artist (Gary Castanza) tribute video that really needs to be seen. Later on, they did a presentation on Buffalo boxing champs and brought out Carmen Basilio. The Legends presentation was nice, with guys like Ladd and Waldo Von Erich and Kurt Von Hess coming out and Thesz speaking. They did a presentation with Jim Kelly to set up the Savage match (more on that later). 

ER: The Ilio DiPaolo tribute video really was great, with an actual shocking amount of DiPaolo footage against at least a dozen different opponents. WWE owns more footage than any company in history and none of their video packages come close to using this many unique matches per package. Perhaps even more shocking, is how much footage they had for martial artist Gary Castanza's tribute package. I'm not sure my family has a photograph of me later than my high school graduation photo, but we somehow have hours upon hours of Gary Castanza footage to cull from, and he is one of my all time favorite breeds of martial artist: A man who looks like Randy Marsh who also invented his "own style of fighting". You should watch him fighting, but you won't be surprised that much of his "own style of fighting" involved standing in one place and throwing guys who grab him in a specific way, like a Steven Seagal exhibition. From the plentiful footage of this man's life, it appears like he fleeced a ton of police departments into paying for his self defense trainings, and I will always get behind a guy who got paid money to make cops look like idiots. Oh, and definitely watch 12:47 of the video to see Castanza screaming in full close-up while wearing some kind of bite suit helmet. After a warm and somber video tribute, Brian Knobbs brings Castanza's widow and three young children in the ring while yelling "MAKE SOME NOISE" into the mic. 



Greg Valentine/Dory Funk Jr. vs. Tony Parisi/Gino Brito

MD: This had the local newspeople announcing and seconding and was very much the legends match on the card. And then Valentine and Funk skipped the shine entirely and went right to heat, the jerks! It wasn't idle stuff either as they were getting it on Parisi and Valentine kept rushing over to elbow Brito in the skull to stop tags and draw off the ref. Valentine/Dory teamed a bit in 83 and they were a well-oiled machine here, really complementing one another. Valentine, of course, wasn't afraid to bump and stooge around the ring when it was comeback time either. After a spirited, but brief, comeback ending with a Brito figure-four on the Hammer, they went into a second round of heat, building to Parisi having enough and rushing in and a DQ-drawing blatant ref bump. The fans didn't love the non-finish but at least old-timer babyfaces got their hands raised. For guys who were very much inactive, Brito and Parisi more or less held up their own. I was expecting more matwork and feeling out, not a trip straight to heatseeking, but it all worked out for the best. And hey, post match newsman second for the heels, Art Wander went after the babyface second with way more fire than you'd expect, and was revealed to be nWo.

ER: This match did not have any right being as entertaining as it was, as 3/4 of the wrestlers were 55 years old and two of those men had not been working for a decade. Tony Parisi was an especially nice surprise, and after seeing him here I'm bummed we didn't get him working any northeast 90s indies. This was all about Valentine and Funk being assholes and throwing nothing but elbows and jaw rattling uppercuts, cutting off the ring and making blind tags. Parisi was a really great babyface here, and the crowd was insanely loud for he and Brito. This was a huge show, held in the arena where the Buffalo Sabers play, with a listed attendance of 13,000. It certainly feels like that number is correct. Heel Valentine and Dory were so entertaining, and Parisi was really great at getting more and more fired up until he was throwing punches with the energy of a babyface half his age. There were so many satisfying beats in this, some totally unexpected surprises, like Dory hitting a fucking brainbuster on Gino Brito, bringing him into the ring from the apron. 

Valentine really cracked the ref to draw the DQ, and the ref had this great backward leap into a flat back bump landing. The post-match with local newscasters was insane! Art Wander was a Buffalo sports radio personality who was definitely older than any of the match participants, and he went after another sportscaster like a fucking psycho. He tore the guys' sick jacket and they scrapped and got thrown to the mat in a way that...honestly looked like what an actual fight between two men in their mid 50s/early 60s would really look like. If two of the weird older guys at your office got in an unexpected fight over something stupid, it would look exactly like this, which means this ruled. You can still find websites that list Jim Neidhart as a onetime member of DX just for getting tricked by them, and I think that means Art Wander should be listed as an official nWo member. 



Dean Malenko vs. Alex Wright

MD: Eric can speak much better than I can about 97 WCW and Dean in specific. That said, they really did adapt to the crowd for this match. Wright trashed the town on the mic to begin and it was for the US title so there were some stakes, but they crowd just didn't go up for the early matwork. It was good too with Wright using cartwheels to position himself. The second Dean started to lay in some shots and throw a suplex, they came alive, and they loved booing Wright's dancing and loved it more when he ate a dropkick over the top as comeuppance for it. They shifted to a formula where Wright would cheat to stay on top, throw uppercuts and stomps to keep the crowd simmering, and then Dean would come back by beating him around the ring until he cheated to get back heat. There was a pretty good near-fall laden finishing stretch with the crowd hating Wright's cut-offs and going nuts for the Texas Cloverleaf. I'm not sure if this one was because they had more freedom to adapt as it was a house show and not a PPV or what, but they did a good job of it here.

ER: The two Ilio DiPaolo shows he worked were literally the only times Alex Wright worked Buffalo, and it's to our benefit as he immediately recognizes that he is going to be booed as the Eurotrash heel and fully plays up that archetype. Because of the defined face/heel dynamic, and because Wright works a lot of this getting heat on Malenko, it is a much better match than they would have had on actual WCW TV or PPV. It lengthens sequences that would have been outright eliminated on TV or PPV, like Wright working the mat with Malenko, and allows for that extended Wright heel control that there wouldn't have been time for on TV. WCW was not a house show company at this point, and we don't have anywhere close to as many WCW house show fancams as we do WWF, so I loved this look at them working to a crowd rather than working to an Orlando television studio. Malenko's best matches during this era are when he is the active underdog, fighting to comeback against a larger opponent. Wright was often presented on TV as a cruiserweight and here he more correctly works as a big tall guy who can keep a little guy down. 

Malenko had a really nice corner clothesline and hard vertical suplex, but instead of getting the long and pointless Malenko chinlock, Wright quickly broke that chinlock with a jawbreaker and took over. Wright worked uppercuts, leaping kicks, hard ground and pound, axe handles, all good control and that fans hated him. Malenko really benefits from working as fast underdog, as he's good at timing and good at quick execution, so his brief comebacks (like when he dodged a Wright charge and hit a cool quick crossbody off the top) work really well. The finish was sudden but worked nicely within the context of the match, as Malenko again dodged a Wright charge at the last minute, sending Wright neck first into the top rope on a missed crossbody, allowing the quick Cloverleaf application. This would not have been the match we'd have otherwise gotten from them in 1997, so this was like some cool alternate timeline look at what could have been happening on WCW undercards. 


Public Enemy vs. Steiner Brothers

MD: We have several Steiners vs. PE matches but they all tend to go around 6 minutes. This got at least double that and they used the extra time for pure, glorious house show BS. They jawwed on the house mic, insulted the Bills, insulted the crowd, and then Rocco refused to lock up with Scott. He stalled his way right into Rick's fist on the apron, then got upset and tried to leave until they threatened to fine them $1000 if they didn't make the ten count. Unsurprisingly, the fans loved the mad scramble back to the ring and Rocco had so much heat that someone was shining a laser pointer at him. That's pure 1997 heat right there.

They made good use of the back half of their time, with Grunge really throwing himself into all of the Steiners' shots, Scott returning the favor for Public Enemy, Rick cleaning house on a hot tag with the suplexes and Steinerlines you'd expect, Rocco and Scott setting up the finish with a great bit of chair choking to keep them out of the way, and said finish being Grunge own-goaling himself through the table. Scott's frustrating by this point (and probably far earlier) as he has all of the tools and the size and the look to go with them, is perfectly willing to sell and hit hard, and has a real affection for Rick, but just refuses to connect with the crowd. That animosity for them that he channeled so well as Big Poppa Pump a year later, made him a tough babyface to get behind here. Rick would be mimicking a chicken and driving Rock nuts and Scott barely wanted to revel in things with the crowd when they were loving the ten count. Really good stooging performance by Grunge and especially Rock here. All the stuff you probably only got on house shows.

ER: There were actually a lot of Steiners/Public Enemy tags but never ever one like this. As I say a lot, WCW was NOT a house show fed at this point. They were a TV product, and they had a LOT of TV. This tribute show was nearly halfway through 1997, and WCW had only run 23 house shows that year so far. For comparison sake, WWF had already run 56 house shows, but they also only had 3 hours of TV a week. Anyway, as I said, even though we got a ton of Steiners/PE TV matches, I've never seen one like this, with Public Enemy playing overt crowd-antagonizing heels with the Steiners almost as after thoughts. If you somehow saw this match, and had never seen either team before, there's no doubt you would leave thinking that Public Enemy were the big stars and the Steiners were more of a generic meathead team. 1997 Steiners just do not have the same appeal as they had even a couple years (one year even?) prior. Scott just looked tired. He had no energy, barely engaged the crowd, often stood on the apron leaning on the ropes listlessly waiting for his hot tag. And really, in this match, that's all he needed to do. 

Public Enemy were perfect at stalling, hitting all the beats, sprinting back to the ring to get one hand under the ropes to break the count, Rocco getting up on the guardrail to get in people's faces, and throwing stiff shots at Scott until getting caught in a press slam and thrown into Grunge. Any time PE would take a single piece of offense, they'd roll to the floor to stall more. Grunge gets upended by Rick's high powerslam, rolls to the floor selling his back while Rocco called for time outs and got on the railing again. I loved Grunge taking over by blindsiding Scott with a lariat from the apron, turning the match briefly into a PE brawl, with Rock choking Scott on the floor with a chair. Grunge went through his own table often in 1997, and this was a great version of that spot, as you're watching him set up his table and knowing that he's taking too long, and of course crashing right through it and into a pin. Heel Public Enemy could have been a real great use of them in WCW, but I also understand their value in dancing with Orlando grandmas. They were a fun babyface team, but after seeing them here it really feels like we missed out on a potentially great WCW run. 


Randy Savage vs. Diamond Dallas Page

MD: Savage and his dad interrupted the Jim Kelly presentation and the back and forth was just a bit too long as Kelly obviously was stretching outside of his skillset. Still, due to both the angle and the sheer star power, Page was super over and Savage had tons of heat. They worked something of a sprint, with Savage explosive in his cutoffs and cheapshots and Page putting it all out there including a dive. Finish had a ref bump and Kelly knocking Savage off the top to set up the diamond cutter, with him going into business for himself with a couple of elbow drops that the ref had to ignore. Jim Kelly was not a top-tier celebrity interloper but they worked around him well enough and the crowd was happy anyway. 

ER: Missy Hyatt called Jim Kelly an absolutely clueless lover, and he appears to be equally clueless at doing wrestling angles. Unlike his encounter with Missy, this went on much longer than a few seconds. When Kelly and Macho Man were shoving each other, it didn't even look like Kelly had been involved in any kind of physical altercation in his life. The man has no sort of physical charisma and you wouldn't have even guessed he was an elite athlete, looking and moving much more like David Flair appearing on Nitro before becoming an actual wrestler. The "elbowdrop" Kelly dropping on Savage after the match-ending Diamondcutter was one of the least athletic things I've seen, and I had to watch it a couple of times just to make sure that he didn't slip and fall on Savage. A slip and fall probably would have looked better and made better impact. 

But the match kicked plenty of ass. DDP and Savage had great chemistry, both knew how to bump really well for each other, and DDP's aggression played well into Savage's stooging (I loved DDP flying out of the ring with a pescado when Savage rolled to the floor to stall). Every Savage punch felt was treated like a big moment due to DDP's selling, the way he staggered with split legs after a standing blow or the way Savage blocked a sunset flip with one pointed shot. I thought DDP's offense looked really great with Savage taking it, like that awesome high lift atomic drop or the pancake piledriver, but I wish we could have seen a couple more beats before Kelly shoved Savage off the top. All cameras missed the Diamondcutter, but somehow captured two different angles of Kelly falling on Savage with far worse form that Art Wander had earlier. They did hilariously cut to one of the Bills linemen at ringside immediately after Kelly's "elbowdrop" and he was making this great "yeah I don't know about that, man..." face. 


Chris Benoit vs. Meng

MD: If not for FFF I don't really see Benoit anymore. They have to come to me. That said, I wasn't as against seeing this one as I might have been five years ago. I wouldn't have sought it out, but I didn't avoid it. And it was ok. This crowd was very much into guys hitting each other hard and when they did that, the match worked for me. That was the first half or so (which instilled some broader issues with everything overall maybe). Benoit would charge forth and really put himself into his kicks and chops and punches. Meng would absorb. Benoit would make a mistake, like slamming Meng's head into the turnbuckle or go for one too many chops. Meng would take back over until Benoit was able to miss a move. Eventually things built to Meng pile driving Benoit on the floor and then leaning on him with chokes and what not. It was fine but I don't think the fans were along for the ride. They wanted more of the early stuff and not heat and comeback. Benoit would get a hope spot or two but again, it wasn't scrapping. The finish had a German and a dive, but when Benoit went for his second dive, Meng caught him with the Tongan Death Grip, Benoit in the ring, Meng on the apron. He got counted out, a finish that satisfied no one and didn't accomplish anything that an agent might hope it would on paper. If they cut out the middle and end and just had them throw themselves at one another for another five minutes until the thing got thrown out, I have a feeling this particular audience would have been all the happier.

ER: I've been writing ALL about 1997 WCW for an upcoming book project, and Chris Benoit is someone (maybe the literal only one) that I am getting tired of writing about. Before starting that project I was like Matt, not actively seeking out Benoit and only writing about him if he was part of a show or match that I was only writing about for other, not-Benoit guys. But writing about 1997 WCW means that I'll be writing about 60-80 Benoit matches and well, that was my choice. I did really like this match but I appreciated how Meng worked it much more than I appreciated Benoit's contributions. Meng is the most feared man in the last 30 years of pro wrestling, at least to me, because the thought of a person biting my nose off my face is basically my biggest nightmare. My nose is easily my best facial feature. It ties the entire face together. If I lost this beauty I have no idea how I would go about my life. I do not actively seek out fights with huge Tongans, so I should be safe, but just knowing there are people out there who could conceivably bite off a nose has haunted me. 

BUT, this Meng who bites noses clean off faces is not a Meng that shows up in the ring very often. With all the stories you've heard about Meng, you'd expect more savage in-ring beatdowns from him, and those matches just don't really exist. Here, we get more of a glimpse of what that Meng would look like, and it's great. He throws two chops to Benoit that would end the day of a normal man, and works a lot of this like a real freight train. His big arm swinging strikes all looked great, he would punctuate strike exchanges with a big smashing headbutt, and he would throw transition moves like bodyslams with real big move energy. Benoit's big strength is that he has no problem weathering the kind of beating this Meng could throw out, and I liked how he fought back by timing boots to stop charges, and that suicide dive he built to was great. Meng's Piledriver on the floor was the kind of mean badass shit he rarely did on WCW TV, another glimpse into an alternate WCW that this show has given us. I didn't mind the Tongan death grip cool down sections, even though I agree that this would have been better received as a 7 minute all out war that just ended with a DQ or count out, if it was going to end in a count out anyway. The cool down kind of built to a finish that they weren't even doing, so why not just lay waste to each other and go out in an explosion? 


Dean Malenko vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. 

MD: This was supposed to be Rey vs. Juvi and Juster came out saying Juvi wasn't there but they still wanted to give the crowd WCW's best high-flyer and he had an open challenge. Dean came out to put the title up. In front of this crowd, I don't think Juvi would have done the trick either. You probably needed Fuerza. Dean did an admirable job hitting his wrestling-someone-smaller-than-him offense and getting Rey everywhere that he needed to be to hit his stuff, most spectacular being the press up to the top from what felt like the middle of the ring so he could hit a twisting body press. He caught all the dives too. Even though Dean was de facto bully and the crowd oohed and ahhed at Rey's hope spots and comeback, Dean and Wright had managed to get the crowd behind him earlier and he was all the more admirable for putting the title on the line with no notice in his second match of the night. Rey wasn't exactly drawing the usual amount of sympathy, even when he was writhing on the outside. Still, you can't fault the action, especially considering Dean was doing double duty. Another finish (a double pin) that the fans hated. There's very little reason for these sorts of finishes on a house show. I'm not saying they could have made Dean in Buffalo by having him cleanly staving off Rey's challenge, but it might have helped for future appearances without hurting Rey in the least. 

ER: I think this era of Malenko and Rey were both a good match, and a match that could play into each other's bad traits. Juvy was supposed to be in Malenko's spot, and even though we got a lot of Rey/Juvy TV matches from this time I would have really liked to see a house show Juvy/Rey. Despite what Juster said, I think Juvy was definitely the craziest and even most inventive high flyer WCW had on the roster. Rey is a legend and deserves every piece of praise, but 1997 Juvy was on some whacked out shit. You watch months of Juvy matches, and you see how many different pieces of offense he was coming up with every time out. Rey had certain spots he always hit and tended to hit them the same way; Juvy had a higher error rate but also tried a ton of new material. I've seen comics who can work their classics, and then there are guys who go out there constantly working new bits and throw in twists on old material. Rey could surprise with the greats, but when he was in with a Technically Good Base like Malenko, you were almost going to surely get the exact same match Rey and Malenko often had with each other. There's less Wild Card factor when they wrestle each other. Juvy - in the best of times and worst of times - truly embodied Wild Card Spirit. This also made me think about Juvy vs. Malenko, which is a match that barely happened, despite both guys working constantly on TV at the same place for 3 years having exactly these style of matches with everyone else. 

Rey/Malenko matches always have several incredible looking moments, and also seem to be paced exactly the same: They go go go for a couple minutes, then we go into a series of Dean just holding Rey on the mat until Rey gets up and runs fast for 20 seconds, and then Dean holds onto him for a minute, and eventually one of the times Rey gets up leads to a disappointing finish. Dean is a great base for Rey, and knows how to set up spots to end with spectacular Rey showcase, but also there's a completely detached artlessness to some of it. You get one of the most insane and perfectly executed spots, like Rey getting whipped up onto the turnbuckles and flying back with a corkscrew moonsault that Dean runs directly into, but then it's followed up with Dean looking downright bored waiting for 5 o'clock to hit while holding onto a rear naked choke. Whenever Malenko is wrestling anyone smaller than he, there never seems to be any kind of sense that he's using these holds to advance the match. It almost always, only seems like he's using these holds so that both can catch their breath for the next stunt. Resting is somewhat essential when you're moving like they do, but it doesn't have to feel so blatant. Malenko in control often makes it feel like there is no sense of an actual match or fight, but much more two circus performers that are catching their breath before their next trapeze stunt. Rey doesn't help that feeling, either. 

Rey goes along with all of it, as whenever he's pulled to the mat he is always immediately unmoving and practically comatose, tongue literally hanging out the side of his mouth like he's a vegetable, until it's time for him to "fight" to his feet (in quotations as it's usually just him standing up while Dean loosely acknowledges his headlock) and then sprinting and jumping for another 20 seconds. Rey was just not very engaging in holds, which I think is the main reason that they weren't drawing any sympathy from this crowd. It feels like too obvious an exhibition, when Rey simply flips a switch to go from innovative flyer to a bedridden grandmother too weak to reach for her pain pills. Rey got better at drawing sympathy in holds the older he got, and he's been one of the best at sympathetic selling for ages now. The pacing for this pairing will just always be lifeless holds interspersed with some of the coolest movement you've seen, and I don't think it would take much to tweak that formula into a more formed match. Rey's rope flip seated senton to the floor looked amazing, and the springboard version into the ring looked just as great, and Malenko catches each of them like a real pro...but watching Malenko matches at this stage of my life means that I'm always going to wish that Malenko could have acted like a small human man actually landed ass first on his chest, instead of thinking of every single move as an opportunity to start a series of seesaw 2 counts. The moves all look spectacular, but they sure would mean a lot more if every single one of them didn't lead to Malenko just turning them into his own pinfall sequence. 


Lex Luger/Giant vs. Scott Hall/Kevin Nash

MD: Fun house show Hall performance here. At one point he was stooging around after three inverted atomic drops by Luger and you can see Nash breaking on the apron. Giant was on the apron for the entirety of the match until the hot tag as Luger worked the shine on Hall and Nash took over on Lex from there. You could do a lot worse than having a massive bellowing presence in the corner slamming the turnbuckle and cheering Lex on. Nash, to his credit, took a big bump over the top off of a Giant dropkick after the hot tag. Lex flew around a bit when he was knocking Hall about, but then didn't go down on the power slam towards the end, which was a little weird. Finish was Luger (the illegal man) racking Hall (the illegal man) while Giant stopped Nash from using the belt and used it himself to draw a DQ that also looked like Luger and Giant might have won the belts. There was a lot of trash in the ring at the end and the funny image of Hall and Nash laid out as the Fugees played over the loudspeaker. They probably ran this exact match a bunch in this era.

ER: This was a big house show match in 1997, and it's a good match with big star power. But I also think it's a repeat example of how Giant/Luger didn't ever quite fully click as a team, and yet another example of what incredible chemistry Hall and Nash had. This was a great Hall performance, and a great Nash performance, and watching them felt like they would have been the most popular, charismatic team of any era of US wrestling. The Outsiders bumped for a significant portion of this and felt like huge stars the entire time. Hall stooged around for Luger and took several inverted atomic drops, never going full Rick Rude, but knowing exactly what they were doing. But I thought the best parts were Nash going after Luger and then bumping big down the stretch for both Luger and Giant. Nash throws his big knee lifts, back elbows, and big boots, while Hall runs some distraction from the apron (including getting forearmed off by Luger into a big bump on the floor) to allow Nash to remain in control.

I...actually think Giant's bigger strength is a role reversal, as he's better at taking a beating and building to a Luger tag, than he is standing on the apron. The weakest part of his apron work is that the more verbal he gets, the more ridiculous he sounds. There's just something insanely dorky about the biggest man in the arena yelling "Come on Lex, you're #1!" You're a fucking GIANT, dude, just yell a bunch of words that aren't. You don't need to form sentences, just fucking shout. Kevin Nash somehow got summed up as a lazy worker who always took the night off, and the more Nash shows up from this era the more ridiculous that summation looks. Nash is also a giant, and the way he bumps in this match is yet another example of how he was one of the best bumping big men of that era. There's one gigantic bump, when Giant finally makes the hot tag and is running clotheslines through the Outsiders, and he throws a dropkick that sends Nash flying over the top to the floor. Nash takes a Berserker level bump to the floor, and he's one of the few guys from the 90s who was actually bigger than Berserker. But it's not only his big bumps to the floor (which he almost always used in big matches, and in different ways), but it's the way he goes down like a light for that belt shot, or the way he takes big man bumps without slowing down the offense feed. The man was a really good bumper who somehow got the reputation of someone who barely moved in the ring. 


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