Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Wrestling Game

Director: n/a
Distributor: Mountain Films
Released: 1963

The Good
I don't know how much 1960s British pro-wrestling is kicking around, but this is a nice sampling that shows how that style is different than elsewhere. Although it does not feature many legendary British stars, it does feature "Judo" Al Hayes, who became a star in the US. The real draw here is seeing the action. This was a feature, but it was not exactly an expose. I had heard Ron Garvin elude to an expose that killed British wrestling (I'm not sure if this is it), but this more showed and explained the draw of pro-wrestling. Also, I popped for the powerbomb in the opening bout...who expected that?

The Bad
At just over 10 minutes, this hardly gets at anything. It is a neat historical piece, but the lack of commentary and explanation could be a turn off for many modern viewers. It also did not really have the star power that you'd expect. It was more of a random filming that had a couple of familiar names, but mostly people that even I didn't know.

The Rating: **1/2

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skandor Akbar [57Talk Shoot Interview]

The Good
An excellent three-part series conducted by Gary Cubeta that focuses on World Class (in part 1), Tri-State, Mid-South and the UWF (amongst other things in part 2) and everything else (in part 3). I enjoy how Gary narrow focuses his interviews and pumps in questions that are both pertinent and personally interesting throughout the interviews. Despite some technical difficulties, he and Skandor seem to have a good rapport that leads to an honest and insightful interview. They talk extensively about the demise of World Class, the sale of the UWF and fall of Jim Crockett Promotions and even get into some areas I'd not heard Skandor discuss much. Gary is quick to jump on Amarillo (in its last days under Dick Murdoch and Blackjack Mulligan), Australia (under Skandor's cousin Frankie Caine) and his brief runs in Florida and the WWWF. Skandor is just a torrent of memories and Cubeta is able to direct him into some great aspects that RF Video simply could not do.

The Bad
I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg. Skandor Akbar is a fascinating interview and I always enjoy him, but I always feel like there's a stone that's been unturned. Gary Cubeta uncovers some of the parts that RF did not, but some are not really delved into deeply. I think his experiences in Tri-State, which is so unexplored, and post-Barnett Australia would be excellent if given the time. Skandor is never at a loss for words and has a sharp memory, but basically sticks to the interviewer's questions. As great as this was I still want more.

The Rating: ****1/4

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guest Booker with Luke Williams

The Good
Luke Williams has an unusual resume and a booking style that is not necessarily well thought of by some. His over-the-top antics arguably led to San Antonio's demise, yet they've worked well in the more violence-inclined pro-wrestling island of Puerto Rico. What was really interesting about this was the little details because the big picture was kind of goofy. The premise is to take the cartoonish WWF of the early-to-mid 1990s and transform it into a hardcore product more akin to the Sheepherders' signature style. Luke takes a few midcard feuds: Ron Simmons vs. Goldust, Godwinns vs. Headshrinkers and Bushwackers vs. Smokin' Gunns and makes them blood feuds complete with gimmick matches galore, cross-dressing, implied animal-slaying, double juices and all the rest of it. Luke's attention to detail for TV angles is interesting because many guest bookers seem to be mostly big picture people.

The Bad
As interesting as parts of this was, it did not sell me on Luke Williams as a great booker. He seemed to be the blood n' guts, hot-shotting, gimmick match pushing type that is so often buried. Although he has his strengths, this did not convince that he was great. The fact is there are only a handful of notable bookers still around today and it seems that Kayfabe Commentaries has exhausted much of the supply. Would I prefer to listen to Vince Russo, Ed Ferrera or some others do the same thing? Probably not, but I want to get excited by the glimpses of genius. Although many of the true legendary bookers are deceased, the likes of Paul Heyman, Red Bastien, George Scott, Dutch Mantell, Len Denton, Konnan, the Funks and Buck Robley are all great candidates for Guest Booker episodes that I'd prefer to see.

The Rating: ***1/2

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pride FC - Best of 2000

1. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie (Pride Grand Prix Finals) - What can I say about this fight? Six rounds, 15 minuutes each, two of the greatest fighters ever and only one can win...this is an epic battle. I've watched this in its entirity and in that form it is excellent. I've watched each round by itself and that doesn't work well. Because of those facts I refuse to rate this fight. There is great action in here, but an even greater story that perhaps only an hour and half long could tell.
Rating: n/a (Combo/Combo)

2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Renzo Gracie (Pride 10) - Renzo is often called the most well-rounded Gracie as he is a capable striker and obviously a world class grappler as well. Renzo is aggressive and we see an excellent strategic striking battle with great leg kicks. After a dull clinch, we get more standing human chess. Close first round, but Renzo looked slightly better. Saku busts out the strangeness with a jump fake, a back kick (with Renzo in the buttscoot) and then a cartwheeling leg grab! The pro wrestler gets the first 1/3 of the round, Renzo turns it around though and amazingly gets Saku's back. With a minute left, Gracie tries to go for the kill, but it is Saku applying a Spinning Kimura for the win. Renzo's arm is dislocated and it's just nasty looking. Great finish and arguably the best Saku-Gracie match.
Rating: ****1/4 (Combo/Striking)

3. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Ryan Gracie (Pride 12) - The final Saku-Gracie battle. The badboy of the family, who mowed over Kendo Ka Shin (how impressing!) takes on the best fighter in the world at the time. Saku with dual-colored hair gets only ten minutes here (Renzo said Ryan was injured), but he wins decisively. Ryan is met with a spanking...literally. The end of the story for now, unless Rickson steps in. And just like that Sakuraba is 4-0 against the greatest fighting family.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Combo)

4. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Alexander Otsuka (Pride GP Opening Round) - In my opinion, the best fight in Pride's GP Opening round as they tried to manipulate stuff to set up future matches too much. Otsuka (seconded by the Great Sasuke) gives up weight, experience, skill and practically every other attribute that one needs to win a fight. Otsuka gets the crowd going as only he can and then fails in a sprawl. Igor starts pounding away. A bloody Otsuka does all that he can, but he's too tired (he wrestled in the afternoon...) and gets caught. Igor gets a mount and does his thing, but Otsuka goes the distance and maintains his reputation.
Rating: *** (Combo/Striking)

5. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pride GP Finals) - After an hour and half fighting Royce Gracie for Saku and a far less draining brawl win for Igor...we've got a very interesting semifinal. However the bigger Russian looks slightly less lively than the still undefeated Sakuraba. This has all the excitement you'd want with Saku putting up a great fight, while Igor gets some good punches in and is hardly dominated. The round closes with Igor picking up his aggression and using his weight and power to control the middleweight. The 15 minutes runs out and they rule to give it another 10 (essentially calling it a draw). Saku throws in the towel as he's competed with two of the best for nearly 2 hours and taking more punishment and potentially fighting a bigger, stronger Mark Coleman is not what he needs. However this was easily the best of the regular (so excluding Saku-Royce) tournament fights.
Rating: ***3/4 (Combo/Striking)

6. Mark Coleman vs. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pride GP Finals) - While this is the least exciting fight on this tape, this is the big finals of the Grand Prix tournament that spanned two shows. Coming off three straight losses (Smith, Williams, Takada), Coleman was able to beat Maasaki Satake, Akira Shoji and Igor Vovchanchyn to win it. His ground n' pound worked to perfection as he took down and battered Igor (to his credit though, the Russian had fought an extra fight and both were harder and longer than Coleman's one). A decent fight, but more historic than anything.
Rating: **1/2 (Ground/Striking)

7. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Daijiro Matsui (Pride 9) - I've gotten slack for overrating fights when they're just brutal beatings, but...whatever. Vovchanchyn is usually the culprit since his rights tend to mess people up big time! Regardless this is the only fight at this event worth seeing (IMO) because most of it was pretty dull.
Rating: **3/4 (Ground/Striking)

9. Gilbert Yvel vs. Gary Goodridge (Pride 10) - I kept the promo from Yvel's debut from the previous show, too bad his fight was a bust. This time we got two of the most powerful strikers in MMA's history to sqaure off. "Big Daddy" obviously wants to ground n' pound "The Hurricane," but he never even gets a shoot attempt in. If Yvel could throw high kicks that devastating and get KOs everytime, he'd be a superstar...too bad for him MMA doesn't work like that.
Rating: **1/2 (Standing/Striking)

8. Vanderlei Silva vs. Guy Mezger (Pride 10) - While not an unknown, Silva's wins in Japan were limited, while Mezger was a former King of Pancrase. Mezger promised an exciting fight here and he delivers. After controlling Vanderlei with striking and even drawing blood, Silva comes back and decks him hard for a knockdown. Silva peppers him with punches and puts the Mezger in trouble before finishing him off with a great KO punch. Short, but a really great stand-up fight.
Rating: **** (Standing/Striking)

10. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Enson Inoue (Pride 10) - A great striker and a great grappler this time. Inoue throws wildly and bloodies Igor, who throws as well and gets on top when they go to the ground. The excitement remains as Inoue attempts submissions, while Igor pops away in an stalemate of sorts. Vovchanchyn's powerful punches don't stop though and he wears Enson down into a strictly defensive position until the round is over. Inoue is dragged to his corner after the beating and they call the fight. A violent beating though not bloody and full of soccer kicks and stomps, this is one of the most brutal fights I've ever seen.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Striking)

11. Heath Herring vs. Tom Erickson (Pride 11) - This is a funny fight as the we get a lot of talk about how Erickson is being ducked by top heavies and how he's so great...than the youngster pops him and chokes him out. The win that put Heath Herring on the Pride map and the loss that took Erickson off of it. Here's what happens when a ground n' pound wrestler meets his antithesis and isn't expecting it.
Rating: ***1/2 (Ground/Striking)

12. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shannon Ritch (Pride 11) - Shannon "the Cannon" has had more fights than just about anyone (except Travis Fulton maybe). He finally gets a shot at the big time and a main event nonetheless. Saku is winding down off his biggest year and this instant submission shows that he's leagues ahead of Ritch i.e. experience doesn't necessarilly beat talent.
Rating: **3/4 (Combo/Combo)

13. Akira Shoji vs. Ricardo Almeida (Pride 12) - The bizarre match on this compilation as Pride's charismatic jobboy takes on a Renzo Gracie disciple. Almeida brings it in tight early on, but once they get out things heat up. Both work hard on the ground and bring a lot of excitement to the stand-up. The bigger Brazilian in his second MMA fight shows great skill from chopping legkicks to smooth takedowns. The second round is a killer for Shoji, who is low blowed, has his nose broken (I think) and eats more kicks to his bruised leg. They end that vital round with a brawling flurry and a takedown, which cements a win for Almeida.
Rating: ***3/4 (Combo/Striking)

14. Vanderlei Silva vs. Dan Henderson (Pride 12) - Two of the top middleweights in the world. Silva had been very good, but was not the "Axe Murderer" we all know and love. Henderson was the bigger star here with a shining reputation in MMA. Silva wins the intital stand-up with a knockdown then expounds upon that by working over the legs while Henderson works the butt-scoot. When they both stand up, Henderson lands a bomb and batters a bloody Vanderlei from the guard. Then Silva comes back, but hits illegal knees when Henderson drops to all fours. The Brazilian is savage with his strikes, even landing a couple stomps. The second round seems more excitement with Henderson trying his best to damage Silva, but he just cannot solve him. Finally he's just hanging on as Silva chops away and hands him a loss.
Rating: **** (Combo/Striking)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Roddy Piper [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
Roddy Piper is a tremendous talker who goes up and down, fast and slow, funny and serious and it all seems to work. Obviously, this is not a four hour promo, but he throws some of his personality in there (you might say). His autobiography was interesting, but like Superstar Graham, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair, you'd rather hear them tell their story rather than read it. This is sort of that in a way. It does not feel pieced together and revisionist like the WWE's, it does not lack the depth of a radio interview and a little less structured than his book. I think within a lot of blabbering there are some hints of great insight as he points to examples of Vince McMahon being ignorant to the true nature of pro-wrestling, how he got himself over and how he developed his character and promos. If you like Piper and even if you hate Rob Feinstein, you will enjoy this. Just when RF thinks they've got the questions, Roddy Piper changes the answers...

The Bad
The flipside of the previous statement, "Just when RF thinks they've got the questions, Roddy Piper changes the answers" is that Piper does not seem entirely direct and open. Could this just be his signature rambling run amok? Could he be more calculating and evasive than one might expect? Could he be working the entire time? My bet is that there is truth in all three possibilities. Roddy Piper is a self-admitted rambler and he seems to take a question and answer with a practically unrelated story. He is a good storyteller and all, but answering "what is your favorite match?" with a long story about working the Maritimes with Mad Dog Vachon is not really an answer. Although he has a rebellious streak in him, Piper is a shrewd businessman and this seems like just another "piece of business" at times as he makes some very measured comments about a host of people. I will always have a hard time believing that Roddy Piper has turned it off and is not still working to an extent.

The Rating: ****