Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Gangstas [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
A brutally honest shoot interview with both of the Gangstas. Both New Jack and Mustafa are basically retired, so they are a little more reflective and not so hung up on current events as can happen with active wrestlers. As with any New Jack project, this was entertaining in its own way. Jack talked his usual sh*t and acted the way he usually does. I know there are people out there who love that and I can say those people will probably enjoy this. Mustafa however, who I'd never heard before, made a good showing. He came across as a straight-up guy with integrity as well as a loyalty to New Jack as the team's mouthpiece. I thought he tempered New Jack's rambling well and it was a different kind of New Jack shoot.

The Bad
I don't really care for New Jack shoot interviews. He is repetitive, rambling and ridiculous. This lacked depth because not many questions were posed. New Jack talked and did his schtick, Mustafa put in his two cents when he could. This meant the answers to those few questions were actually vague and lacking insight despite the length of the "answer." Typical New Jack stuff. If you like that, you might actual think Mustafa's serious presence takes away from the New Jack show. About what I expected, but disappointing considering New Jack has been heard before and Mustafa did not get a great deal of talking time.

The Rating: ***

Friday, January 27, 2017

Eric Embry [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
Every once and a while, RF Video pulls off a real coup. They either score a guest who makes an exceptional showing (sometimes people who have been tight-lipped or dull elsewhere), they giving someone the time of day and they really deliver the goods or, in this case, they bring in someone who never does shoot interviews or has been MIA for years. Eric Embry has not been much seen or heard from in nearly 20 years and like Dave Schultz, Austin Idol and several other people who have done shoot interviews in the past few years, he has a lot to say! I am always a sucker for those laid-back Southerners who use the same phrases over and over ("sonuvagun worker") and put themselves over like a million bucks. Eric Embry certainly has his critics and if you believe much of what he says here, you'd think he had the "quickest mind for pro-wrestling in the business" (which apparently Jerry Jarrett stated), to here him talk about causing riots in Mexico, bringing Dallas back to life and keeping Puerto Rico rocking and rolling after Luke Williams' famed tenure. Embry details his whole career in good detail and seems to be fairly straight-forward. He has people he dislikes, did not see eye-to-eye with and developed heat with, but he does not really bury people out of spite. Even Jerry Lawler, who he admits to disliking more than anyone, he credits as one of pro-wrestling's greatest performers.

The Bad
I recall seeing Eric Embry in the Apter Mags as a kid and wondering what all the fuss was about. To look at him, he seems like a short, chubby generic heel. Once I saw him actually work though, I could understand how he amassed as much power as he did. He is an excellent worker, talker and entertainer. He has his critics still, but after hearing his perspective, I tend to feel he is unnecessarily blamed for killing World Class, ending wresting in Texas and overly pushing himself (he claims that Jerry Jarrett told him to push himself as the top babyface). Embry really needs to get some more media (KFC Guest Booker, perhaps?). I did feel that he embellished his accomplishments a tad, but not so much that I'd say this shoot interview is laden with with lies and falsehoods.

The Rating: ****

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Original Midnight Express [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
Dennis Condrey is one of those great shoot interviews that needs much more attention than he has received, Randy Rose had a solid career and has gone under the radar and these two had a successful pair of runs as the Midnight Express. This seems like a can't-miss shoot interview. It certainly is enjoyable as Condrey is his usual self and Rose inserts some good comments and they cover some irregularly covered periods and places. Condrey really runs the show and if you've never heard him before, you've got to catch this one. Randy Rose, despite sounding remarkably like Shawn Michaels, is a good storyteller and when he gets rolling shows me that he'd be a worthwhile shoot interview as a solo. I've heard Condrey with a variety of different people and this was as good as any of those and even though he repeated a handful of stories (a couple which Cornette tells often as well), it was a fun piece of business.

The Bad
I get a kick out of this one because it was done during the same week as the Continental Shoot Series interview that Dennis Condrey did and that shoot was so much better than this one. Condrey is a great solo interview, but for some reason people always partner him up with people and it just is not as excellent. Randy Rose seems like he'd be very interesting on his own, but much like their tag team he seems to be playing second fiddle. One of my huge pet peeves of shoots is when people are put together and it detracts from the potential quality. Jim Cornette interviewing Dennis Condrey would rule the world, but this RF production was simply a letdown for what it should have been. There is also is the ever-present issue of poor research as the focus seems to shift away from this version of the team to the Condrey/Eaton incarnation unnecessarily and does dig deep enough into the team's first run.

The Rating: ****

Monday, January 16, 2017

Don Muraco [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
Don Muraco is one of pro-wrestling's greatest heels and that run came after years of being a great babyface in the mold of Jack Brisco. Here, he shoots with RF Video in one of their earliest interviews and he really delivers. This was back when they traveled to interview folks in their homes and the relaxed atmosphere, the different feel (although at the time there weren't really many other shoots out there) and the length of the interviews make this a different kind of entity that is in many way preferable to their current shoots in hotels with the giant RF Video banner and even better video and audio quality. Muraco, infamous for leaving a territory to go back home to surf, has to be more relaxed and perhaps more honest in his own Hawaiian home. As for the content of this, it is great. Rock-N-Wrestling era fans will probably be satisfied with Muraco's thoughts on that era, how things changed from the WWF period before that and what the whole atmosphere of non-stop travel, drugs and working does to a man. He was honest about his own steroid use (and how couldn't he be when you look at his body's change in the late 80s) and is pretty frank about other individuals. Outside of that era, Muraco talks about his early years touring around from the Pacific Northwest and the AWA to Florida and San Francisco. He has fond memories of many people and angles, so he doesn't come across as bitter in the least. Although it was brief, I really dug his reflections on Hawaiian wrestling. It is such an overlooked place and it was so unique in its day that any recollections are appreciated, especially since few of those stars remain. The highlight of this had to be listening to Don Muraco talk about the WWF era right before the national push. His feuds with Jimmy Snuka, Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales are legendary and I loved listening to him reflect on that un-romanticized period of WWF history (it was no surprise that KFC brought him in for their 1983 WWF Timeline shoot). I went to the RF Video website recently and noticed the people pictured at the top were people who are big stars or majorly controversial and Don Muraco's face stuck out. Now I can understand why he was included - he's a fantastic interview.

The Bad
RF Video traveled to Hawaii and didn't secure interviews with the various legends of the island? Curtis Iaukea (who has since passed away)? Lord James Blears? Ed Francis? I sometimes feel like RF Video was kind of short-sighted in there early shoot interviews. They at least interview seemingly anyone and everyone now, but they tend to limit themselves to convention attendees and more modern performers. Perhaps they tried, but after hearing Rob Feinstein's own shoot, it seems like he and Doug Gentry were flying by the seat of their pants with these early shoots. It just makes me sad because it seems like their work is so important to preserving aspects of pro-wrestling's history, but they seem more into the bottom-line than that dimension of it. Although I guess Gary Cubeta and 57Talk would be the flipside and their free content, while amazing, was plagued with server issues and grumpy bosses. Now moving past that tirade to my actual gripes about this shoot interview. Feinstein's lack of product knowledge was just glaring here as it occasionally is. It's as if he has certain people attributed to certain times and places and he just name-drops. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes it is disastrous as people who don't fit in are mentioned, people are brought up out of context and others are left out entirely. I kind of expect that going in, but it always annoys me because it definitely detracts from the quality.

The Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Danny Spivey [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
The career of Danny Spivey seems to be a succession of bad luck that prevented him from ever reaching a pinnacle he could have. He had been a curtain-jerker in JCP even though Dusty liked him, so he couldn't move up the ladder there. He was too much like Hulk Hogan, so he could not get far in the WWF. He did well in Japan, but kept chasing opportunities in the States that never panned out and prevented him from becoming a top gaijin in All Japan. He had the size, look and ability to be a top heel in WCW, but they kept squandering him as he was still committed to Japan. He had a fantastic character in Waylon Mercy, but the WWF just did not get how to push him to the next level and gave up on him. In spite of all of this perceived failure, Danny Spivey had a respectable career and had some great experiences to share. While he was not bitter, he did seem frustrated that people like Ric Flair, Bret Hart and the Road Warriors used their stroke to hold him back. Sometimes, you hear a guy who had a career like Spivey's and it really seems like he was lacking something, but Spivey seemed to really have that untapped potential. His honesty about his stiff style, his drug use and his burn-out from being on the road, makes you think that he is a pretty straight-shooter. Enjoyable and informative as a good shoot should be.

The Bad
Danny Spivey's career included a fair amount of bouncing around and never quite living up to his potential. To listen to him, you'd think it was mostly poor booking, poor timing and bad luck that cost him superstardom. While there is truth to that, there is also the fact that he continually went back to WCW, despite the fact they misused him several times. If he had stayed in Japan, it might have shaved a few years off his career, but he would have had the chance to reach the echelon that Stan Hansen, Steve Williams and Terry Gordy reached. Danny Spivey might come across as bitter to some, but when comparing him to many of his colleagues, he seems pretty down-to-earth and content with his career.

The Rating: ****

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pro-Wrestling: Tricks of the Trade

Director: Rick Bassman
Distributor: Travel Channel
Released: 2002
Featured Talent

Afa Anoa’i, Lynn Anoa’i (Afa’s wife),Tovale Anoa’i (Afa’s daughter),Ariel,Rick Bassman, Jonathan “Raging Dog” Cedillo (School of Hard Knocks Trainee), Christopher Daniels, Dylan Dean, Rob Feinstein, Jungle Grrrl (Erica Porter), Terri Gold (Heather Lee Millard), Havoc (Heriberto Irizarry Jr.), Jesse Hernandez, Tom Howard, Frankie Kazarian, Joanie Lauer, Low-Ki, Shelly Martinez, Steve Masters (School of Hard Knocks Trainer), Big Dog Molson (Chris Fisher), Roddy Piper, Gabe Sapolsky, Smooth Tommy Suede, Sugaa (WXW wrestler), Robert Taylor (School of Hard Knocks Trainee), Wild Child (Ron Rivera),

The Good
A very generic one-hour show that looks at most aspects of pro-wrestling offered up by the Travel Channel.  It explores independent wrestling throughout the US, namely Ring of Honor in their first year, the forgettable WOW (Women of Wrestling) as well as Jesse Hernandez and Afa’s respective schools and small companies.  It is about what would envision - tons of highlights with an emphasis on stunts, discussing the basics of pro-wrestling and an endless stream of tongue-in-cheek narration.  Looking back at this footage that is more than a decade old reveals some interesting gems - Ring of Honor getting started, Shelly Martinez training and some UPW trainees hoping to get a break with Zero-One.  This was being produced in the wake of “Beyond the Mat” and the height of the WWF’s popularity, but this was during its descent.  This seems to have more value within that context than as an actual informative and educational production.  It all comes back to the director of this - Rick Bassman.  On of the most successful hangers-on in pro-wrestling history, Bassman has been able to tie himself to a number of low-level operations in the LA area and at this time he was running UPW and working to hook them up with Zero-One in Japan.  Perhaps in an attempt to mirror what "Beyond the Mat" and MTV's "True Life" did for APW and the HWA respectively, Bassman promotes the indies, the small schools and in the end makes UPW look like the necessary bridge to big success.

The Bad
One of the drawbacks of these short documentaries is that they often give a simple overview and lack depth.  In essentially 45 minutes, how much can a feature focus on anything substantively?  It tries to get at the blend of art and sport, trying to pull apart what is real and what is worked with mixed results.  This, like several other similar productions of that time period, focuses on the Los Angeles area, which was not a hotbed until PWG really caught on years later.  They have a hodge-podge of stereotypes - the legends who give back, the veterans still hanging on, those who are on the cusp of “making it” and those just starting the journey.  This was an uplifting approach that did not dwell on all the problems like “Beyond the Mat” did.  They talk about Afa’s training of local at-risk youth, people doing it for the love and get the desire and drive as opposed to the struggle and sacrifice.  This is a fairly shallow documentary that is not worth going out of your way to watch, unless you have nothing better to watch.  As stated, this seems like a carefully crafted tool by UPW's Rick Bassman, which ultimately did not work.

The Rating: **

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pride - Best of 2003

1. Dan Henderson vs. Shugo Oyama (Pride 25)
Henderson is coming off a very strong performance against the Pride champion, Antonio Nogueira, and Oyama is trying to become the native star that Pride is begging for. Both have pretty good rights and are ballsy fighters, but only one can win. Both go straight at one another for the first few minutes before taking it to the mat for a breather. The war continues and the winner is clear.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Striking)

2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Elvis Schembri (Pride 25)
The ever-injured Saku and a high-end BJJ fighter. This seemed like a safe fight for Pride's top draw as Schembri isn't much of a striker and Saku has a slight size edge. He really dominates too with standup that has Elvis in major trouble and it almost seemed like Saku might score an unlikely KO. However Schembri scores this knee out of nowhere and follows it up with the strikes to get the job done. An amazing upset that had people calling for Sakuraba's retirement.
Rating: **3/4 (Standing/Striking)

- Vanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson (Pride 25)
The confrontation that had the fight world buzzing. Following a convincing victory over Kevin Randleman, Jackson called out the champ and they had an intense meeting. We thought they'd meet in the near future, but we had to wait a while...they meet though and it's everything you'd expect.

3. Antonio Nogueira vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Heavyweight Championship) (Pride 25)
A big match here with two of the very best heavyweights you'll ever see. Nog is a submission wiz with good standup and Fedor is a GNP monster. When we look at common opponents: Kohsaka, Herring, Schilt and we get some interesting insight. Fedor lost to TK from a cut, beat Schilt in a snoozer and destroyed Herring; Nog drew TK in a majority draw that he had an edge in, beat Herring in a close decision and handily beat Schilt. Theoretically, Nogueira is the favorite here. Fedor changes all that with his devastating punches and he neutralizes the BJJ completely. Exciting parts, slow parts, but a major fight without question that sees Nog's first loss in Pride.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Striking)

4. Anderson Silva vs. Daijyu Takase (Pride 26)
Silva is a heavy favorite in this one, coming off a win over Carlos Newton and Takase has been fighting on Pride's B-shows. Coming in with Saku-spoof shorts, Takase summons the MMA icon's skill here showing great submission knowledge. A huge upset here in what is the unusual match on this tape, but this is a really good one.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

5. Quinton Jackson vs. Mikhail Illhoukhine (Pride 26)
Jackson takes on a skilled Russian Top Team Sambo practioner whose RINGS career is impressive and his losses are understandable and he holds wins over Couture, Kohsaka, Han, Vovchanchyn and others of strong skill. However people from RINGS often struggle with loose brawlers like Rampage. Mikhail really struggles with the striking and even half jumps out the ring to avoid it. Jackson shows the depth of his striking ability and he's developing into a war machine.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

6. Fedor Emelienko vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (Pride 26) After a lengthy absence, Fujita returns to challenge the new champ in what is likely to be the Pride FOTY. Two good wrestlers here with different strengths: power to Fujita and balance to Fedor. Also how will Fujita's iron head work against Fedor's iron fists? This is really fun and shows that GNP fighters aren't all Mark Coleman. Fedor does a Terry Funk stagger that adds a funny spot you seldom see in MMA. Finish is sudden and decisive, but it is fitting of this barnburner. Quinton Jackson is on color too.
Rating: ****1/4 (Combo/Striking)

7. Mirko Crocop vs. Heath Herring (Pride 26) Crocop's first time under Pride rules and he's with a strong opponent. Herring is trying to get back in the mix after being slaughtered by Fedor. This is similar to Rodriguez-Sylvia as you can tell Herring realizes he's in trouble early and is just trying in vain to do anything. Crocop senses this and it is all a matter of time after that point. He's arrived in Pride and he wants the championship.
Rating: ***1/2 (Standing/Striking)

8. Mirko Crocop vs. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pride GP - Total Elimination) Another heavyweight coming off losses, who needs a big win to jump back in the fray. Herring and Vov were about even in a decision, but Herring won and Crocop destroyed him. So what becomes of the hard-hitting Ukrainian? This does not take long and this is even more decisive and we see what we never have before - Igor Vovchanchyn knocked out! Who's next?
Rating: *** (Standing/Striking)

9. Mirko Crocop vs. Dos Caras Jr. (Pride Bushido) Looking at Crocop's past opponents, each had a fighting chance. Dos Caras Jr., despite a 3-2 record is not exactly a world caliber MMA heavyweight. He does have the power of lucha libre on his side though. Dos Caras claims to be confident, despite taking this on two weeks notice, but really this is the fight that will make him an even bigger star. Convincing win though for Mirko and he wants the heavyweight title.
Rating: **3/4 (Standing/Striking)

10. Mirko Crocop vs. Antonio Noguiera (Interim Heavyweight Championship) (Pride GP - Final Conflict) After Fedor was injured a little while before this fight, Noguiera jumped in and we get this so-called "interim" fight. Nog, after looking great last year, has not had an important and decisive since Semmy Schilt (a year prior to this bout). His goal is simple - ground the Croatian killer and submit him. He gets Crocop in his guard early, but he does not get it done as Crocop is too fresh and fiesty. The remaining minutes of the round are spent trying to get things back to the ground and taking a lot of damage in the process and never having success. Then he gets a break in the second round and he ceases this opportunity in a great finale to a dramatic contest. The Crocop train is finally stopped and in a very fitting manner. While this is the best technical fight or even the most action-packed, this has a great story that is hauntingly similiar to Noguiera-Sapp from last year. A FOTYC for sure.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)

11. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Kevin Randleman (Pride GP - Final Conflict) Kevin Randleman, after blowing a
lot of hot air about how great he will be manages to have a dull fight with Saku. "Donkey Kong," as they call him in Japan, is conquered by Super Mario here in what could be a considered an upset. I edit out the first and second rounds because, well, they're boring. But the entrances, flower presentation by Couture and armbar victory are all worth seeing. Basically, Randleman was poised to explode the whole fight and never did. I save the highlights though and you can get the jest of the rounds and get all of the third, which is really all you want to see of this. I'd probably rate this aborted version like ***, but I drop half a star for the fifteen minutes of Randleman's impression of his mentor Mark Coleman against Don Frye, i.e. having a snoozer with one of the most exciting fighters in the world.

12. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Akira Shoji (Pride Bushido) The Pride debut of "Shogun", younger brother of "Ninja," who are actually Brazilians. Here he takes on a Pride veteran who has turned into something of a stepping stone. Shogun is coming off his only loss thusfar to Renato "Babalu" and Shoji has done well since slimming down. A really fast and action-packed fight that was the best on the first Bushido show in my opinion.
Rating: **** (Combo/Striking)

13. Carlos Newton vs. Renzo Gracie (Pride Bushido)
The first fight in the 5-on-5 series of Gracies versus Japan. After Hayato Sakurai was injured, the Japanese-speaking Newton got into one of the biggest fights of his career. While most of the fights from this series are good and worth seeing, this one was perhaps the best and had the name fighters in it. Some might say it does not live up to its full potential, but it's good stuff.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Combo)

14. Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
Liddell's return to Pride where he hoping to meet the Middleweight chamipon, Vanderlei Silva. Furthermore, he's coming off a stunning loss to Randy Couture. Overeem looks good early and cuts Liddell, who comes back with knees on the ground and punches standing. A convincing win that eliminates the tournament's dark horse and makes one wonder why Liddell got him. A good brawl, while it lasts.
Rating: ***3/4 (Standing/Striking)

15. Quinton Jackson vs. Murillo Bustamante (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
After Arona was injured late, stablemate Bustamante jumped in and rest assured, he gives us a better fight. Jackson cuts the promos you expect, but you can sense a lack of something in what he says. Busta is smaller than Arona, but has better cardio and is better technically. This is the fight makes Rampage look very human as Busta counteracts much of his offense and nearly hooks some submissions along the way. A stoppage to pull up Jackson's shorts arguably saves him as he gets a valuable rest and it cuts off Bustamante's momentum. It comes down to a split decision that really could have gone either way, but Jackson gets the nod.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)

16. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
I'd dare say the two of most popular three or four fighters on the card meeting - this has to be heated. Tamura, sporting a new goatee, comes right at Yoshida and exposed his inability to deal with strikes. This is really one of those fights that many might not be into because of those involved, but the ramifications were huge and Tamura showed some real skill. Once he gets pulled into the gi game though he's in a new world. Great battle of styles and the heat is spectacular. I'm tempted to call this the best fight of the tournament.
Rating: **** (Standing/Combo)

17. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Vanderlei Silva (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
The third meeting between these two and this has no controversy to it, though Saku's always banged up. Silva, coming off double knee surgery, looks like he has not missed a beat since his previous fight (nine months prior against Saku's former Kingdom mate - Hiromitsu Kanehara). This stays standing and Sakuraba is just not able to really do much. Jackson is on color here as well and he continues to hype a fight with Silva.
Rating: *** (Standing/Striking)

- Quinton Jackson and Chuck Liddell (UFC 44 - Undisputed)
Joe Rogan hypes the pending Rampage-Iceman battle from UFC 44, both men comment on the fight and this is a nice little deal rather than the unnecessary lengthy package Pride puts together. The fight is good, but all the hype they give it kills the thing in my opinion. Also Nobuhiko Takada is in the house and announces Sakuraba and Fujita will come to the UFC to represent Pride in 2004.

18. Quinton Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
A nice battle of styles. Jackson is a better wrestler, Liddell is a better striker, however Jackson can strike and Liddell can wrestle. Basically it becomes a standup battle, where cardio makes all the difference. Liddell strays from his gameplan and gets pulled out of a quick, technical fight into a grinding brawl. It seems like a toss up, but Chuck is tired and they throw in the towel.
Rating: ***1/4 (Combo/Striking)

19. Vanderlei Silva vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
The match that convinced people that Yoshida's fights aren't worked. This is brutal and entertaining bout that sees a conflict in styles can provide super fights. Yoshida goes right at Silva and shows no fear. His strength is amazing and he gives the champ a tough challenge and you almost think he might actual score the upset a few times. Yoshida really controls the action much of the first round, but he does not in the second, in fact he's pulled into Silva's game, and that makes all the difference.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

20. Vanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
The fight that was hyped up in March for June finally comes true. Many thought the bracketing here was dangerous, but we get the finals that everyone wanted to see and it delivers...while it lasts. Both had tough prior fights, but Jackson is able to get things on the ground and you'd think he'd be able to GNP Silva significantly. Fatigue is a factor though and Wand just plays rope-a-dope on the mat it seems. Once it gets up standing Silva opens things up with knees, kicks and punches to get the win. A strong tournament finale that is so much better than Coleman's win in the first Grand Prix, mostly because he didn't fall on his head after like a jackass. Takada presents flowers and stuff in a nice closing ceremony.
Rating: ***1/4 (Combo/Striking) 1