Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ring of Honor - Top 25 in 2002 - Pt. 4 (of 5)

9. Low-Ki vs. Christopher Daniels vs. American Dragon (Ring of Honor - 2/23/02 "Era of Honor Begins")
Three guys with three styles and we know how three ways often are, don't expect the same here. Daniels establishes himself as a heel well with key mannerisms, moves and so on. While everyone gets a chance at controlling the other two, Daniels seems to get more in because he makes more of it. Dragon and Ki have more respect for one another and that shows to an extent, but they attack each other as hard as anyone. There is no shortage of unique 3-man spots, but they aren't overdone either. A great deal of this is big moves or strikes followed by sound selling, unfortunately the action seldom stops so quality selling does not mat much. The crowd remains strong throughout and are amongst the best at this first show and that makes this whole thing really exceptional. The finish really estabilshes the future angle with Ki and Daniels deciding the fall, while Dragon gets caught off guard and is kind of brushed to the side. Low-Ki is clearly going to be the company's golden boy, but the other two will be right there with him for sure. The match was more of a sprint and non-spot action as opposed to storytelling, which is fine since it was the company's first show. I think this was a great match to display who will be the top talent in ROH and why. Like the final part of a first episode of a new TV series, this has to set a high standard and stand up well regarding the future. It does.
Rating: ****
WON Rating: ****1/2

8. American Dragon vs. Doug Williams (Ring of Honor - 6/22/02 "Road to the Title") 
Both had what I would call unimpressive first round matches, but saved themselves for this it appears. They work a Euro/Puro match with fun, pro-wrestling grappling and things done a little stiffer than normal. Williams is strange, some really don't eat up his work, but I'd rate him amongst the best in the world, he's really slick and has those lil' tricks that I though died out in the mid-90s. Dragon might be the best Euro-style worker (Chris Hero's right up there) and he clicks well with Doug. Getting Williams over is the goal here, so he gets a lot of offense and it's sold very well. I think people believed Dragon was going to win because it just made sense, but "The Anarchist" got over as being too tricky for him. Williams escapes the Cattle Mutilation and sneaks in a pinfall for a big win that makes him in ROH and leaves a rematch in the wings. Williams gets the win back from KOI `01. This totally worked for me.
Rating: ****

7. Low-Ki vs. AJ Styles (Ring of Honor - 8/24/02 "Honor Invades Boston")
These guys had a really good match four months earlier and in Boston they have an even better one. The start out with exceptional matwork, which I'd expect out of Ki, but not Styles for some reason. It's damn good though and amongst the best I've seen in ROH. However they wanna go with stiffness instead and they really pound each other. Styles steps up on the striking and has amongst the stiffest match with Low-Ki that I've ever seen. He gets his nose is busted up from the Kawada-style face kicks and that's just part of it. This thing is saturated with counter-wrestling, which is done fluidly and provides for a lot of fun nearfalls. This had a great blend of that countering and stiff, intense striking that really livened this up. The finish was good, the heat was excellent and all and all I hafta say this is amongst ROH's better matches. Seems kind of straightforward to talk about much, so just go out and watch it instead.
Rating: ****1/4
WON Rating: ****1/2

6. Michael Shane vs. Paul London (Ring of Honor - 9/21/02 "Unscripted")
Two of ROH's best-introduced stars, these two TWA graduates were at each other's necks for the months leading up to this and things were to be settled in this "street fight." Shane was emerging as an excellent heel and London as a great babyface so these two just clicked. Great fast opening with London's athleticism getting the advantage and Shane sneaks in a few prick tactics. They get the crowd into quickly with a nice combination of big bumps and spots matching up with a sound story. Shane blades huge, which makes up for him not bumping as big. This is basically an unofficial TLC match and the gimmicks are used very well with innovative "holy shit" spots and the heat goes up accordingly. London is on with everything he does and pretty much does ridiculous bumping, but his stuff is near perfect. Hot nearfalls with Shane unable to put London, who is an absolutely awesome selling underdog here, away. London rebounds with a sick Shooting Star off a ladder and gets the win. A strong big bump-type match with a nice story and considering the experience level of these two it really showed a lot.
Rating: ****1/4

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ring of Honor - Top 25 in 2002 - Pt. 3 (of 5)

14. Christopher Daniels & Donovan Morgan vs. Dick Togo & Ikuto Hidaka (Ring of Honor - 9/21/02 "Unscripted")
The FEC come to America as part of a tour and they offered up some damn good matches. The fans always love the Japanese, so the Prophecy can be heels here and it really works. I really dig Daniels and Morgan pair, Morgan as the bully and Daniels as the prick. They make me think of Rip Hawk & Swede Hansen, though I imagine there's a better example. The last leg of this is great with hot nearfalls, see-saw offense and a nice heel win for The Prophecy, hopefully to set up a rematch. This would have been a better tag tournie finale, but that's only in hindsight. Everyone filled their roles excellently and the pacing and heat were right there. Best ROH tag team match I think.
Rating: ***3/4

13. Low-Ki vs. AJ Styles (Ring of Honor - 4/27/02 "Night of Appreciation")
The first high-caliber battle between these two exceptional indy stars, it's Styles' ROH debut and Ki's first match not against Daniels or Dragon, so you gotta be nervous. Styles is prone to being spotty and Ki can be dragged in as well, so it's a test to stay away from that. They warm things up with some matwork and Styles sorta surprisingly looks better and Ki makes him pay with vicious kicks. And that's how a lot of this goes - AJ starts to dominate and Low-Ki tries to kill him. Styles busts out some pretty intense offense. Donnie B makes this great analogy as Loki is the Angel of Death in Christian mythology and Styles is a born again Christian, so this is a battle of Biblical sure is. Ki gives Styles most of the advantage and the kid is on tonight, so it's damn good stuff. They do really good back-and-fourth nearfalls towards the end with the Philly fans starting to realize Styles might just beat their boy, especially after this sick head-drop DDT. The finish was a flash pin, which was good and bad. This match definitely made Styles in Ring of Honor and these two did far from the really weak match they had a few months later in NWA-TNA. A strong effort, but only the tip of the iceberg.
Rating: ***3/4

12. Amazing Red vs. Low-Ki (Ring of Honor - 6/22/02 "Road to the Title")
These two are familiar with each other, so I expect something strong. Ki KO'd Nana, so he's good to go and Red scored a win over Xavier in a "typical" match, so I want more outta these two. They start off great with the super-fun kung fu intro before Ki goes into "real" martial arts combat. They bounce between the two, which gets the crowd really into it. Sorta bad ass striker vs. great flyer, which is a really common theme in joshi. That comparision is flawed though because while this was more fun, Maekawa-Momoe this ain't do to experience, style and time constrants. This just has too much of a fun factor: goofy selling, very obvious spots and a the strikes were more "ouch!" than "ooow, son of bitch!" Red bumped big time though and the last leg of this really makes it more than a really fun match and one of the better matches.
Rating: ***3/4

11. Low-Ki vs. Samoa Joe ("Fight without Honor")(Ring of Honor - 10/5/02 "Honor by Glory")
These two had my favorite match at the KOI `01 tournie doing an MMA style that was really fun. They go right to the ground with aggressive action. Joe is a great bad ass monster here, giving Ki enough to stay competitive, but he's the man in charge here. So when Low-Ki goes on the offense he has to make it stiff and meaningful. Joe's offense is good, but I've seen it better, they most just pound the hell outta one another. Now that's psychology, actually it does make sense and it's an exciting contest. Joe's Otaniisms on top of his big man dominance get him more heat then the ROH smarts usually offer up. The tale end of this is excellent with some unique counter-wrestling shades of the UWFI. They add in some head-dropping as a little icing on top before sending it home with strikes. The finish lacked the "mmph" I wanted, but they really killed each other late and that's messed up. They shake hands and that's that.
Rating: ****

10. American Dragon vs. AJ Styles (Ring of Honor - 11/9/02 "All-Star Extravaganza")
Dragon's coming off a good match with Paul London by way of gauntlet series and Styles always is pushed pretty hard and treated like a star by the fans. They open up with some strong matwork, which the crowd respects as well as one can expect. Then spill out to the floor and things pick up for a bit physically and you know that's how this is goin'. Dragon hits the Malenko Bottlecap on the arm and goes to town on it. Styles busts open Dragon with something and we have a weird heel bleeding and face with bad arm story going now. Dragon looks dynamite here as a slightly-off Styles is kept right in there and he heels it up very well. The finish is excellent as Dragon fits for his life to avoid the Styles Clash, but he falls to it in the end. Dragon gives him the "#1 Contenders Trophy" and plays the babyface again, dammit man commit to being a heel. Dragon looked really strong here working a very basic match, letting AJ do his things and keeping them decent, but AJ was really a step off here.
Rating: ****

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ring of Honor - Top 25 in 2002 - Pt. 2 (of 5)

19. Christopher Daniels vs. American Dragon (Ring of Honor - 3/30/02 "Round Robin Challenge")
The opening match of the night starts quickly and fairly intensely. Dragon grounds Daniels with his plain matwork, but they don't stay there for too long. The pacing is great here as it's fast and slow with just the right amount of both, which keeps the crowd into it, but neither burns them out nor bores them. Daniels breaks down the neck and Dragon sells it very well and you can almost see it happening. The final few minutes are back-and-fourth, but Dragon's offense is hindered by his hurting neck. Strong clean win by Daniels and Dragon will only have a short while to prepare for Ki. The length here was fine, but trying to sell an injury in such a short match is kind of lame. I think stretching this and Daniels going after Dragon's neck.
Rating: ***1/2

18. American Dragon vs. Paul London (Ring of Honor - 12/7/02 "Night of the Butcher")
The finals of a really poor #1 contenders tournament with these two knocking of new comers Chad Collyer and EZ Money respectively in the first round. London emerged as a major in a few months earlier in a "street fight" against Michael Shane. These two are the top workers (IMO) out of the two waves of Shawn Micheals' Wrestling Academy. This is a great match here with them working a nice combination of stiffer than average strikes, limited matwork and some campy face-heel stuff to make this different. Dragon, who was starting his "call me Bryan Danielson" phase, heels it up here beating on the young up-and-comer. The fans don't really get into that stuff like I'd prefer, but you can't depend on the smart marks for making good marks. I think he figures that out and decides to lay in the strikes rather than play a prick. It works really well because I think a lot of indy heels mail it in on the working side and just do the cheap heat. He studied under Regal though so he knows where it's at. London is a superb underdog type and hits plenty hard here, so we actually get one of the stiffer ROH matches. The finish is excellent with Dragon getting pounded down again and again, but refuses to die before London hits the Shooting Star and scores the upset win. Dragon could be a great touring junior working an Otani style where he punks out people and lets them win every once and a while. It's a role that everyone gets into, yet few do it. A nice step in the right direction for him and London looked as good as I've ever seen him look in his typical role.
Rating: ***1/2

17. Samoa Joe vs. Homicide (Ring of Honor -11/16/02 "Scramble Madness")
A logical battle after Joe choked out Homicide at the last show in a six-man tag. Homicide played a big part in the popularization of puro-influenced wrestling on the East Coast and Joe has been doing that style on the West Coast for a few years now, so it's a fun battle in that sense. Homicide's shoulder is taped up and you know he's gonna taken an ass-whoopin here. Joe interestingly works on his eye early on, making Homicide's offense seem more desperate because he's smaller and all hurting. Nice seesaw action with both guys hitting hard and doing some head-dropping too. The end is strong with Joe pounding the dog outta Homicide, but he manages to sneak in a flash pin. A nice simple story where it was all visuals with no real intricacies. One of the lesser talked about ROH matches worth checking out.
Rating: ***1/2

16. Low-Ki vs. Christopher Daniels (Ring of Honor - 3/30/02 "Round Robin Challenge")
The feud that would become the main program for ROH in their first year is the second in the Round Robin Challenge, where Daniels made Dragon tap. Daniels turns down the handshake early and Low-Ki explodes on him, controlling the opening segment of the match with all the stiff strikes you expect and a few submissions here and there, it all being well done and Daniels selling puts it over the top. Daniels turns it around with a slower, more methodical pace as is appropriate for heels. Ki gets strong hope spots in the last part before leading into a slick reversal into a clean submission victory that sets up the last match big. A great 12-minute match, but producing a classic in that span of time is nary impossible.
Rating: ***1/2

15. Christopher Daniels vs. Donovan Morgan (Ring of Honor - 4/27/02 "Night of Appreciation")
Morgan's ROH debut as both West Coast wrestlers meet on the East Coast...weird. Too bad Daniels never mentions how he beat Morgan in the first King of the Indies tournie, but I guess that'd mean Morgan would have to get one back here and you don't wanna spoil anything. They do straight wrestling with Morgan doing headlock work, which is fine. This is simple stuff with not many highspots, but the work is solid and it's busting with nice, lil' intricies. They limit the big bumps, so that when they actual deliver them the fans like it, which is how you work boys. This was very much a APW type match minus about 5-10 minutes of matwork because they just don't have the time. Morgan was made to look like a great counter wrestler and that's how he got it done. This made Morgan to a degree, but the chorus of boo's after doesn't tell if he's over or the fans just hate him. Too short to really make the impact that a 25-minute match with more meaningful matwork would have had, but they got the crowd going with their aborted NoCal style, which is cool. Nothing looked sloppy, but they were tired with the closing sprint, but they kept it together.
Rating: ***3/4

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ring of Honor - Top 25 in 2002 - Pt. 1 (of 5)

In the past couple years, Ring of Honor (ROH) has made strides to become a bigger and more significant pro-wrestling company. It's unique brand of pro-wrestling has made an internet darling for years, but the company has certainly had its growing pains since its inception in 2002. The product is undeniably excellent in terms of in-ring match quality, but in recent times it has tried to develop in the realm of storylines and angles.

In that first year, ROH took their approach, secured top independent talent, notable free agents and made an impressive go at it. While that product differs from the current product in many regards, it is still significant in looking at how far the company has come in the past near-decade.

I will be presenting a series of reviews I did from 2002-2004 featuring the top 25 matches from ROH in those formative years.  From the time of Ring of Honor being designed largely to fill the coffers of RF Video until the sexual solicitation scandal that led to Rob Feinstein selling his shares of the company and ROH taking a new turn under the ownership of Cory Silkin.

**Please excuse some of my ratings if they seem low, basically they are to be taken with a grain of salt.**

25. Christopher Daniels vs. Doug Williams (Ring of Honor - 10/5/02 "Honor by Glory")
These two competed in the big ironman match and are the first of any of the pair to wrestle each other since that match, as weird as that seems. The big Briton shows great agility and that Euro-goodness we all love. Daniels re-establishes that he's the heel here by "breaking the code of honor" in an effort to stay even early on. Williams' offense is so excellent and Daniels gives him a lot of room and sells like a champ. The finish is strong with Daniels escaping again and again, before using the ropes to get the pin. Decent, though it lacked something. Williams is yet to have a "off" match in the US from what I've seen.
Rating: ***1/4

24. AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels (Ring of Honor -11/16/02 "Scramble Madness")
These guys had an tremendous match in June, so I'd expect something of that level at least. Styles is pretty on here, which means as long as Daniels can keep everything in order this'll be good. This is kind of more of the same, a lot of counter-wrestling, big moves and a fair amount of hard strikes. It was the indy-style countering though that was the best here as these guy's appeared to be in one another's mind. Not a slick and story-driven as the June match, which is amongst ROH's best matches for was the best match on their best show after all. I expect more out of high-caliber rematches and this didn't deliver on the level it should have I didn't think. I guess the heat between thew two was kind of lacking and they were more "having a good match" than telling a story. AJ gets his win back, which is fine, the post-match brawling with ROH guys and the Prophecy is fine as well. This just seemed to lack most of the qualities that made first so excellent.
Rating: ***1/2

23. American Dragon vs. Paul London (Ring of Honor - 11/9/02 "All-Star Extravaganza")
This is the final match in a gauntlet series that was very well booked in my humble opinion. We saw London defeat his rival Michael Shane (who had a previous match with CM Punk) that saw him take a pounding. Then after a strange Tommy Dreamer promo and a cheapshot by Shane, a fast-paced match with Red, he met American Dragon. The strategy is simple, break London down with submission holds and stiff strikes. London is banged up, but still has fight in him, but is it going to be enough. The finish makes sense, Dragon going over a weakened London and it strongly sets up a rematch, however the actual moves made it fall flat. London got a nearfall, but Dragon came back with a Dragon Suplex and Cattle Mutiliation for a quick tap. I prefer pinfalls in this situation and at least a fight until the very end. Contextual this is hit-and-miss, stand alone this is hit-and-miss. I would have preferred they worked more for the context, however Dragon still had a match with AJ Styles after this. The rematch is far more interesting methinks.
Rating: ***1/2

22. Steve Corino & Low-Ki vs. Shinjiro Otani & Masato Tanaka (Ring of Honor - 11/9/02 "All-Star Extravaganza")
A so-called "Zero-One Challenge match." Ki's place would be filled by CW Anderson the next night at Corino's PWF show, which was a fun *** match. What's funny is Anderson and Ki are juniors in Japan, even though they're top guys in PWF and ROH respectively. So basically this is the top tag team in Japan against two gaijins who aren't really on their level as far as status, but who cares? The fans love Otani and his tactics, so there are no real heels here, which makes it funny. Tanaka is the big worker here because that's just how is, while Ki hangs best he can and Otani & Corino just do their schticks. This is decidedly better than the PWF match as its a little more innovative and more fun in my opinion, however gauging Emblem's efforts in America is kind of ridiculous because it's a different world to them and they work differently.
Rating: ***1/2

21. American Dragon vs. Spanky (Ring of Honor - 4/27/02 "Night of Appreciation")
This was the final match in the Heartbreak Gauntlet Series that featured some pretty uneventful short matches, but it started the Shane-London feud I guess. London over Hope in a clipped match, Shane over London in like 4 minutes, before a nifty little Shane-Spanky match. After Shane played a bleeding babyface who takes Spanky the distance before going down. Big pop for Dragon and you knew you'd see these two in there somewhere, so why not make it the final match. Dragon busts out his garb from the TWA days for this match and I'm diggin' it. Dragon controls most of this as you'd expect and you just dunno which way this'll go. Spanky, after being the heel in the previous bout, is slowly getting over as the lovable goofball (how can't you love a guy with Hawaii print pants with a torn out crotch?) This picks up really well with Dragon killing the kid, who's getting over great because he can take a beating and is spunky and stuff. A fantastic final few minutes and finish that made this just awesome. These two needed a rematch, but we'd never get it. For something so short this was really all one can ask for. Despite some of the shortcomings due to Spanky working around 30 minutes at an elevated rate, but he sold really well and got over well with Dragon really carrying him when he needed to. Really enjoyable match.
Rating: ***1/2

20. Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Donovan Morgan vs. Low-Ki, Doug Williams, Homicide (Ring of Honor - 11/9/02 "All-Star Extravaganza")
The first tag title defense and it's a six-man. Fine by me as long as it has some order to it unlike the "scramble tags." Ki and Morgan open things up nicely with fast-paced counterwrestling. The big men check in (Williams and Joe) and pace things a bit. Then Daniels and Homicide (the respective capitains) do there thing. Ki-Daniels is given no fanfare as Daniels is merely playing the weak link of his team, which makes sense because he's the smallest, but he is the leader after all. Williams ends up playing his team's for much of the match, which again is fine, but he is the big man so it looks kind of funny. They did the dive-after-dive deal, the finisher teases and hits towards the end. The finish is kind of anticlimatic, but served its purpose. This has qualities of those great early 90s AJ tags, but it's obviously not on quite that level.
Rating: ***1/2
Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All

Author, Ghost Writer, Editor: Bobby Heenan, Steve Anderson
Publisher: Triumph Publishing
Released: 9/02

The Good
Hilarious in parts, kind of funny in others, dull in other areas. Heenan's career is condensed greatly and he mostly delivers humourous little stories and puts them in some sort of order it seems. There are some great ones about ribs, wrestlers being dumb, wrestlers being funny and so on. The more serious parts are nice and his humor makes them more interesting than the typical rambling childhood/parenthood/family stories.

The Bad
This is light read and a fun one...that's all. Anyone can do this in an afternoon and not get much out of it other than a few laughs. Heenan doesn't give much insight aside from how he thinks things are flawed nowerdays, which is more being out-of-touch than being insightful. Everything is so here and there that it's hard to say any number of things add up to equal a sound argument. The WCW stuff could've been better as he'll say they did this and that and it's so stupid, but doesn't always provide an alternative. This guy KNOWS wrestling, he knows how to work a match and even better how to work the crowd, but you'd not get all that from this all too short story.

The Rating: ***

Sunday, June 27, 2010

David Schultz [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
The shoot interviews that tend to pique my interest are those with very honest and out-spoken or those with people who I've never heard in a non-kayfabe setting. With David Schultz you know you're getting all that. Based on his reputation and even his Dr. D character, Schultz seems like he'd have to necessarily be highly enjoyable even if he's a fraction that personality he portrayed. Although he is more low-key and does not smack Feinstein around (or even berate him!), Schultz is not afraid to speak his mind at all. Without seemingly overly bitter, Schultz explains his distain for liars, wimps and `rasslers who can't work. He is really positive about many people in the business, especially if they can work. Even someone like Jerry Lawler, who is not a fighter, he can respect them as master of psychology. An unexpected highlight of this was the part about being a bountyhunter, which brought him more fame and success than pro-wrestling. I expected this to be really good and it pretty much delivered.

The Bad
I honestly expected David Schultz to be very bitter toward pro-wrestling and specifically Vince McMahon and the WWF. While he was not really negative toward the business, he was very negative toward the WWF/WWE and especially Vince McMahon who he feels lied to him. Most of this revolves around the John Stossell incident where Schultz slapped the 20/20 reporter around as part of an expose on pro-wrestling. Although he proclaims Vince put him up to it, he was fired soon after (although that could have just as well stemmed from an altercation with Mr. T) and has been kind of written out of WWF history. He tries to explain his legacy there - getting Hulk Hogan over as a white-hot babyface coming off their violent feud in the AWA, getting his manager Roddy Piper over and defending the business by smacking around Stossell for Vince. There is validity to all of that, but his brief run, lack of big main events and departure before the big pay-per-views have made it difficult to really substantiate his role. Obviously David Schultz is highly opinionated and some of his opinions you'd disagree with, some of his views on race you'd disagree with and some of the political views he shares towards the end you might disagree with. I try not to hold it against people in these shoot interviews, but there is certainly a couple parts that made me cringe.

The Rating: ****1/4

Icons of Wrestling: Lou Thesz

Director: Dale & Claude Barnes
Distributor: TWC (The Wrestling Channel)
Released: 1/06
Featured Talent: Pampero Firpo, Hard Boiled Haggerty, Antonio Inoki, Charlie Thesz, Lou Thesz

The Good
If you have never seen any footage of Lou Thesz, this is a neat little featurette about him. It offers a lot of photos, video and comments that gives some insight into why many have considered him the greatest pro-wrestler ever. This gives a very brief overview of a long and full career breaking up the story into two halves. First are the early years with him cutting his teeth and being managed by “Strangler” Lewis. Then after explaining his hand-to-hand combat training during World War II, it covers the post-war period. This second part features the advent of television and focuses on his time in California. There is quiet a bit of footage of him and his family on the beach, hosting a party and playing on his ranch. Then fast-forward to the mid-70s when he is working periodically in Japan as a legend and meeting his third wife Charlie. It is difficult to cover such a career and this is about as good as one would expect to get in less than thirty minutes. Lou Thesz is pretty candid and there is a semblance of order to the story.

The Bad
While this came out a few years ago, since the advent of youtube, something like this seems dull. While there is only a fraction of Lou Thesz’s matches saved on video, most of it is him as a balding forty year old man. He was a great athlete, a great performer and a great champion, but it is difficult to dress up this footage and get that idea across. Things just look so different and he looks so old that some explanation is required to pull out the positive aspects and that is not really done here. Another issue is that everything that Lou Thesz said had a reason behind it, whether it was to put someone over, protect his own legacy or whatever. It is part kayfabe, part fuzzy memories, but it adds up to a not-so-honest version of history. While Hooker is a great book, it has that dimension to it and so does this. Lastly, if you want to memorialize someone, spell their name correctly.

The Rating: ***