Saturday, July 24, 2010

Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling

Author, Ghost Writer, Editor: Ole Anderson, Scott Teal
Publisher: Crowbar Press
Released: 12/03

The Good
This book has that in common with Dynamite Kid's book and if it had come out then it might be held in the same high regard. Ole Anderson is one of the most important figures in pro-wrestling who is often overlooked, but now we can hear his side of the story of pro-wrestling's change from territories to national products. He does come across like a self-centered and greedy jerk at times, but he doesn't care and I like that. What sets this book apart is Ole goes into depth on booking, not as much as I'd like, but more than any book before this. I think Bill Watts and Dusty Rhodes might do better books, but only if they go into much more depth on the psychology of booking. It also tackles a time and area (Southeast wrestling in the late 60s through early 90s) that is somewhat unpublished territory. This is a must read for many reasons. He gives blunt opinions on people, but doesn't just spew venom like I'd been led to believe.

The Bad
There are a few details that are wrong (but really they're not grossly obvious) and some of his knocks on people are questionable (but they're his opinions after all) and that's about all one can say. Ole does seem bitter in parts, remember his appearance on WOL shortly after this, it just seems like an essential part of his personality. Some people probably think he puts himself over too much, but I think he's pretty humble considering his strong opinions. The book really turns a corner in the last leg after "Black Saturday" when he loses the last full authority he'd ever hold. Afterwards, Ole's bitterness toward the changes in pro-wrestling become stronger and they sometimes reach unbearable proportions. I can see some people thinking this is a dull and self-indulgent book by a grumpy old codger, but I personally think it needs to be read to be fairly evaluated.

The Rating: ****1/2

Friday, July 23, 2010

Black Bart [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
I had zero expectations going into this one.  Although Black Bart claims he's one of the most talked about characters in the locker room, I do not recall him coming up often or many statements of note being made about him in the many, many shoot interviews I've heard over the years.  That being said, he delivers the goods here.  If you like interviews with people who sling the mud, tell funny stories and are probably inserting a fair amount of BS, then you'll love this.  Black Bart puts over and buries a whole slew of people.  The claims that he makes about Vince McMahon's bisexuality sticks out as one of many outrageous pieces in this.  He is a helluva storyeller and in his Texas accent with periodic pauses for spittin', this is has to be one of those rare can't-miss shoot interviews.  Although he does not seem bitter, Bart has axes to grind with the typical people - Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler and even the Von Erichs, but some surprising arrows are sent the way of the Necro Butcher, Arn Anderson and Manny Fernandez.

The Bad
I hate to come out and call someone a liar, but Black Bart had so many facts wrong or confused that it makes much of everything else he says suspect.  Having a few times, places and such confused is one thing, but it gets to a point where stories hinge on details that are simply not true and the whole thing becomes hard to swallow.  I thought this was a remarkably entertaining interview and I'd strongly recommend it for that purpose, but like the shoots with Billy Jack Haynes, Brickhouse Brown and Jamie Dundee, you've simply got wonder.  Did he really threaten Jose Gonzales with a knife in Puerto Rico?  Did he and Sam Houston really steal the show from the Jim Crockett main eventers?  Did he really turn down a WWF contact in 1988?  It all makes for good listening, but I don't know how much, so to speak, is a work and how much is a shoot.

The Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Best of Pride 2002

1. Carlos Newton vs. Jose "Pele" Landi (Pride 19) - An awesome fight with each man showing their strengths fully. Newton struggles to get Pele down, but finally does and the excitement begins. Landi, always game, makes some great escapes and then delivers some hard shots. Newton some how gets him down and locks an armbar and gets the tapout. Pele displays his lack of sportmanship, while Newton cuts a promo in Japanese. Again my prediction was just right with Pele fending off Newton's matwork, until he can no longer.
Rating: ****3/4 (Combo/Combo)

2. Antonio Noguiera vs. Enson Inoue (Pride 19) - After being put on two-year probation for stuff I won't get into, Inoue looks to get a huge win here. Noguiera uses a butt-scoot unsuccessfully early. Inoue is caught in an entangled kimura, but impressive brutes out, then gets a mount and punches away. Noguiera reverses it and puts Inoue through Submissions 101, Inoue really shows his escape skills. Finally the champ locks on his signature Triangle Chokehold and Inoue goes out. I picked the Noguiera, though I thought Inoue could take it the distance, he choose to give us an exciting fight.
Rating: ****1/4 (Ground/Combo)

3. Don Frye vs. Ken Shamrock (Pride 19) - A big money main event with some nice pro-wrestling hype and this is a career match for both men. The first round is heated at first with Frye outstriking early, then Shamrock successfully attacks the ankle. Then we get the infamous second round rest. The third round picks up with more Frye strikes and more Shamrock heel hooking. An exciting fight that delivered when "legends" matches seldom do, much better than Ortiz-Shamrock. They are both totally blown up, but embrace to a huge pop as the decision is pending. Shamrock hugs his girlfriend Alicia (the former Ryan Shamrock) and heads to the back. Frye apologizes for things he said, for not training harder and says he thinks his ankle's broken. Shamrock's best fight of the 3-fight deal with Pride.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)

4. Mario Sperry vs. Murillo Rua (Pride 20) - The first high-caliber meeting between Brazil's Top Team and Chute Boxe Academy. Representing BJJ and MTK respectively, Sperry and Rua give us one of the most epic fights of all-time. Sperry is the veteran, who was a whiz in his younger years and can still hang with the best in pure grappling. Murillo "Ninja" is an up-and-coming Brazilian fighter with great striking ability and respectable ground techniques. This fight just great in every area with only a resting second round to bring it down slightly. They roll around and do some great submission work, they stand and slug it out. I think this was the best technical fight of the year.
Rating: ****3/4 (Combo/Combo)

5. Vanderlei Silva vs. Mirko "Crocop" Filopovic (Pride 20) - Two of the premier strikers in their fields go head-to-head. Vanderlei might be devastating in MMA, but he knows he can't hang n' bang with Crocop. This is a great war from the promos to the staredown to the strategic battling and it's all good. Silva shuts up by the skeptics by not only not getting decaptiated, but showing he can execute great technique. He gets the better of the Crocop, using more effective standup and taking him down with skill. The other side of the "Axe Murderer."
Rating: **** (Standing/Striking)

6. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (Pride 21) - After a lackluster undercard, these two sometimes pro-wrestlers sometimes fighters have a donnybrook. Head-grabbing boxing fun with each landing a barrage of punches. Frye explodes Takayama's face. Takayama bloodies Frye. This is fast, furious fun and a must-see for sure. While not the FOTY, this is probably the most exciting on here and if the early UFCs had had stuff like this they'd be rich.
Rating: ****1/4 (Combo/Striking)

7. Jerome Le Banner vs. Don Frye (Pride/K-1) - I guess if you can obliterate a bigger man you can take out a top kickboxer in his own game...what was Don thinking? The most decisive loss of Frye's career, K-1's representative makes Pride's babyface tough guy look like a chump.
Rating: n/a

8. Antonio Noguiera vs. Bob Sapp (Pride/K-1) - Better drama than any fight this year, the 2-0 monster fights the heavyweight champ. Noguiera looks tough as nails here and every bit the world class talent he is as a bigger, stronger man gives him the fight of his life and he weathers the storm. After running the big man down, a battered Noguiera puts him away with technique. A great story in a fight that made Bob Sapp and told everyone that Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera is the best heeavyweight in the world.
Rating: ****1/2 (Ground/Combo)

9. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Mirko "Crocop" Filopovic (Pride/K-1) - While not the best fight on the tape, you've got to include Sakuraba somewhere. He was an important part in drawing the monster crowd over the summer and while his days in the sun seem to be two years removed he remains a popular star and always a gifted fighter. Here he tries to defend pro-wrestling against "pro-wrestler hunter" Mirko Crocop. Saku's return isn't a bust with him giving up 30 pounds and he manages to take some good shots, get in one and and get Crocop down. Unfortunately Crocop gets a lucky punch in that breaks Saku's orbital bone and that's that.
Rating: **3/4 (Combo/Striking)

10. Anderson Silva vs. Alexander Otsuka (Pride 22) - Last year Vanderlei Silva underestimated and was taken the distance by Alexander Otsuka. This time he has another smaller Silva and these two put on a clinic. The "Diet Butcher" hangs tough as Anderson tries every submission in the book. He seriously tries about every combo one can think of. The MMA purists like to downplay AO, but the truth is he is amongst the toughest and most tenacious. A great fight can only happen because of two people and to say Otsuka is worthless is a sad comment. My favorite fight from the "worst" Pride show of the year and it's the kind of fight you never see.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Combo)

11. Ryan Gracie vs. Shungo Oyama (Pride 22) - As heated a fight as Pride has ever had. Ryan Gracie is all about attitude and kickin ass, so he always brings an interesting intensity that only Sakuraba can spank out of him. Oyama beat Renzo in a boring decision that Pride wanted to capitalize on in an attempt to make a native star (which Japanese sports always need to be successful). Oyama tried his best to hype up this fight and he wanted to brawl for sure, but Ryan (who brags he's a helluva streetfighter) wanted no part of it and violently armbarred Shungo instead.
Rating: **3/4 (Ground/Combo)

12. Heath Herring vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Pride 23) - When Fedor beat Semmy Schilt in a dull fight, I don't think Pride would think much of it. Here he takes Pride's #1 contender and makes him look like a paper tiger (like Kimo perhaps?) by wrestling him down and rocking him with heavy punches. Herring can be outwrestled, but he looks terribly outclassed here. Fedor might not be as exciting as some, but he's everything Vladamir Matyushenko should be - a ground n' pound red machine.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Striking)

13. Antonio Nogueria vs. Semmy Schilt (Pride 23) - After Semmy lost to Fedor this was made a non-title match and with good reason - Noguiera is in another class. After beating another big man in Bob Sapp, Noguiera takes on a tall man, but has about half the problem.
Rating: ***1/2 (Ground/Combo)

14. Don Frye vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride 23) - As if his last KO loss wasn't enough, here in his first full MMA fight a Judo gold medalist makes Frye look like he trained at the Y. Frye could've probably boxed his ears and evened things up a bit, but chose not to. Like trying to brawl with a K-1 fighter, grappling with an world class judo master is just not smart. Yoshida makes him pay with the armbar (it sounds like Bas called it "arm-believable") that could force the retirement Frye talked about in January upon him, the irony is Frye promised to break Yoshida's arm.
Rating: *** (Ground/Combo)

- The Return of Sakuraba (Pride 23) - The third round of a really boring main event, where an injured Saku reveals a total tomato can, who he humiliates with slaps and half-assed submission attempts. The French fighter lacks defense and Saku can't get anything out of him. The worst Sakuraba fight ever, but that's why I only included a few minutes. But you can dig the music, new mask and Mongolian Chops!

15. Antonio Nogueria vs. Dan Henderson (Pride 24) - A great fight to close the year that will be a strong FOTY for 2003...if people remember it. Noguiera tries to avenge his only loss (from RINGS, which was very controversial) and Henderson tries to put himself in a top spot by fighting the Heavyweight champ. Well his task is accomplished. Noguiera applies every submission in the book and Henderson escapes them all, except one. They do some fun standup and nice wrestling and the size difference makes things more interesting because Henderson makes such a strong showing.
Rating: ****1/2
Bobby Jaggers [57Talk Interview]

The Good
A lot of the old-time territory guys have these labels attached to them - ribber, stooge, tough guy, etc. Bobby Jaggers has the label of "bull-shitter" attached to him. Now, I do not want to come out and say everything he says is bull and everything he did is bull. I will say he is a top-notch talker who needs few questions asked of him to deliver a great interview. I will say he had some extraordinary tales that I've never heard myself (and I've listened to hundends of hours of shoot interviews). I will also say that he does not entirely deny that label that he admits to having. Bobby Jaggers had a great career and he had many experiences that are surely worthwhile. If you go into this knowing that he might be a bit of an exaggerator, than you should enjoy this thoroughly. Gary Cubeta did three separate shows with him and it's hard to say which of them I prefer. He covered his career, he detailed the death of Bruiser Brody, he talked in depth about several territories (Amarillo, Kansas City, Florida, San Francisco) and he both put over and buried a lot of people. This was an all-out-there shoot interview and whether you love, hate or believe Bobby Jaggers, how can you not enjoy this?

The Bad
One of the common knocks on Gary Cubeta is that his personal knowledge is not great, so his interviews can be scattered, unorganized and some key issues can go uncovered. Isn't this the knock against most every shoot interviewing outfit? I'm simply not one for chronology unless it serves a real purpose. Why do I need Bobby Jaggers to share his Amarillo stories first and when he has a sidebar from a later period it gets the "we'll get into that later" treatment? I can understand how people feel that this is the logical setup and an overview is needed, but this linear focus is not a must. At least not for me. As for this specific interview, Jaggers strong opinions are contrary to many popular opinions (Pat O'Connor was a terrible worker, Roddy Piper was only pushed due to his politicking, Buck Robley's booking tenures were cut short because promoters feared him, etc.). Was he originally going to be the third Freebird? Was he really Dusty Rhodes biggest drawing opponent (up to that point)? If you can assume that Bobby Jaggers' reputation as an over-the-top storyteller is warranted, then you can enjoy these interviews.

The Rating: ****1/4

Monday, July 19, 2010

Best of Pride 2001

1. Renzo Gracie vs. Dan Henderson (Pride 13) - The most versitile Gracie takes on perhaps the well-rounded American wrestler go head-to-head. Henderson strengths really show here as he fends off takedowns and shows us his right-hand bomb. This one is fast so keep your eyes's vicious.
Rating: ***

2. Mark Coleman vs. Allan Goes (Pride 13) - Another BJJ fighter and American wrestler. Only this time one isn't a middleweight, he's a heavyweight and the Grand Prix champion at that! While neither is as talented as their counterparts in the first, this is another quick KO with Goes doing some crowd-pleasing shadow-kicks and that's it...again this has a violent finish.
Rating: ***

3. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Vanderlei Silva (Pride 13) - With UFC's Tito Ortiz giving out the flowers, we have the three best active middleweights in the world. Sakuraba's New Year's Eve drinking catches up with him as he definitely isn't at 100%. While 2000 was the year of Saku, Silva conquers him and begins what would be his year! Another gruesome finish and the beginning of the type of money feud which MMA had never seen.
Rating: ***

4. Daijiri Matsui vs. Jose "Pele" Landi (Pride 14) - Takada Dojo vs. Chute Boxe Academy again. Matsui is a spirited fighter, but is often considered a jobboy, while Pele is a talented fighter, who was finally getting a shot in the big leagues. I'd call this the biggest upset of 2001 and it rejuvenated Matsui.
Rating: ***1/4

5. Guy Mezger vs. Chuck Liddell (Pride 14) - An excellent standup battle between two guys with a nice share of kickboxing experience. Liddell became the first UFC fight er to come into (and not stay in) Pride. Liddell had a great summer with a big KO of Kevin Randleman and then a win here, which was another solid right to the chin knockout. While this wasn't a complete fight, this is as good as standup in MMA gets.
Rating: ***3/4

6. Dan Henderson vs. Akira Shoji (Pride 14) - This fight shocked me as Shoji brought his best game and though it wasn't enough he made for an excellent and exciting fight. This is more of a MMA hardcore-type fight, but it is not wholly precise matwork or anything. If Pride had fights like this every single show, I know I'd be happy.
Rating: ***1/2

7. Kazayuki Fujita vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (Pride 14) - Two pro-wrestlers from athletic backgrounds, whose pro careers are very different than their MMA careers. Fujita (New Japan), was a strong amateur and weak pro, who was skyrocketed after winning his first Pride fights. Takayama (NOAH) trained in Muay Thai and fought in the UWFI and Kingdom before getting into more traditional pro-wrestling. This is a great fight with Takayama showing he's all man and Fujita brutalizing him regardless.
Rating: ***1/2

8. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Maasaki Satake (Pride 15) - Two kickboxers who have taken different routes in their respective careers. Vovchanchyn, a decent kickboxer, went into MMA and took to it instantly. Satake, went from karate to K-1, where he was the first native star. However Sataka is in Pride and Igor's world and though he's always an exciting and spirited fighter, he just lacks the experience. A brutal fight centered around strikes that pleases the bloody fans, but adds fuel to the critics.
Rating: ****

9. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Quinton Jackson (Pride 15) - Saku's "return fight" after getting damn near killed by Silva at Pride 13. Jackson is a powerhouse of lesser-known MMA groups who makes for an excellent opponent. Saku brings his style, but it is "Rampage" really having the best showing with all his slams and charisma. This is not only a fun fight, but a surprisingly diverse one with something for everyone. It's fights like this that really pop the crowd.
Rating: ****

10. Murillo "Ninja" Rua vs. Daijiro Matsui (Pride 16) - Takada Dojo - Chute Boxe Academy look for a tiebreaker of their feud. "Ninja" makes his Pride debut here against one of the company's long-running fighters. Rua also fights to avenge the upset of his teacher, Pele, and in the process shows he is one of the most vicious fighters ever. This is (IMO) the most merciless fight of the year and one that should make any human wince.
Rating: ***3/4

11. Semmy Schilt vs. Akira Shoji (Pride 16) - A surprisingly good fight despite a HUGE size difference. Schilt, making his Pride debut, against lil' Shoji, the Pride veteran, in what could never be allowed in the States. Shoji, despite the odds, scores an amazing takedown and gives Schilt way more than he had any right to. A visual fun fight with an underdog gimmick that can have anyone marking out.
Rating: ***1/4

12. Don Frye vs. Gilbert Yvel (Pride 16) - Some people just loved this fight. Personally, I thought it wasn't great, but had an interesting story. Frye came back to MMA after a five-year hiatus with a torn quad (same injury as Triple H only not so severe) and took on a dangerous striker. Yvel showed why he's considered one of the dirtest fighters around getting DQ'd and rightly so...he hasn't returned since.
Rating: ***

13. Mark Coleman vs. Antonio Noguiera (Pride 16) - The Pride Grand Prix Champion taking on RINGS last King of Kings. Coleman is so overmatched here it's scary with Noguiera making him look almost overrrated. This fight doesn't last long and ends with as good of a submission application as you'll ever see. If his first win over Gary Goodridge didn't convince people this match certainly did.
Rating: ***3/4

14. Antonio Noguiera vs. Heath Herring (Pride 17) - Take my rating of this one with a big grain of salt because this may very well be the best fight ever and definitely one of the top five. How appropriote to have the first Heavyweight champion decided in such an outstanding contest. This fight really has everything and is fundamentally as good as it gets. Though Couture-Rizzo had more drama, this was a strong vote for FOTY of 2001.
Rating: ****

15. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Vanderlei Silva (Pride 17) - The first fight was brutal and one-sided, but this one shows how well Saku can hang when he's at 100%. This only lasts one round, but it is a damned good one with both man looking excellent and a super fight shaping up. Unfortunately a slam by Silva injures Saku, who is disappointed to tears that he let down his fans. However he just got a bad shake here against Silva...again.
Rating: ***1/4

16. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Valentijn Overeem (Pride 18) - The third fight of the RINGS star in Pride against a Pride favorite. Overeem to seem to be shaking off his funk early on, until he underestimates (IMO) Vovchanchyn and gets hooked. Not very long but a good fight with another Igor submission win, this time against a grappler and using that grappler's speciality (leglock).
Rating: ***1/2

17. Semmy Schilt vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (Pride 18) - While not a "great" fight and MMA hardcores would armbar me for putting this on a compilation, I think puro-fans (who haven't already seen this) may enjoy it. Takayama shows he is a true warrior, taking on a bigger man in Schilt and in Schilt's domain (stand-up). A fun fight, I guess, that ends with Schilt raining punches down on Takayama's blonde hair that prompted a "it looks like he's punching a cat" out of one of my friends.
Rating: **1/2