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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Paul Orndorff [57Talk Shoot Interview]

The Good
Paul Orndorff is a great interview in that he really was great, he really got the shaft and he has really been tragically lost in history. It is not simply bitterness, delusions of grandeur or anything like that, it is all true. That makes you really get into the interview. You know the sad story and it's so different from those of Buddy Landell, Chris Benoit, David Von Erich, Owen Hart and on and on. Orndorff had worked hard and developed into perhaps the most complete package that pro-wrestling had ever seen. That seems to be the narrative that Cubeta is trying to get across that from breaking in down in Florida and developing in Memphis and Alabama to bringing his game to a new level in Mid-South, Georgia and Mid-Atlantic, Paul Orndorff was one of the very best in the world when he came into the WWF. He drew as a top heel opposite Hulk Hogan and was a cut above guys like Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy and the other giants they fed to Hogan. He looked better, worked better and when paired with Piper was undoubtedly a better promo. Then he hurt his neck, worked to keep himself at the top level, but ultimately his body failed him and he was never a top star again (although still a great worker as late as 1994). Cubeta really gets that tragic story across and it makes me think he'd be a wonderful candidate for WWE Documentary.

The Bad
The 57Talk interviews are typically very good, but they are not as open-ended or pessimistically-directed as many of the others. Gary Cubeta wanted to tell Paul Orndorff's story through the man himself. You could say this is too one-tracked, especially for those who like the storytellers who go off in all kinds of directions in the 2-hour plus formats that RF Video, Highspots, SmartMarkVideo, etc. use. You might also feel that this is too favorable to Orndorff as Cubeta certainly strokes his ego throughout this. I've seen his RF Video shoot called "Return to Bitterness," which is very telling of its content. Orndroff certainly can come across as a bitter character if you do not take into account where he was prior to his neck injury. I think some people like to hear the angry tirades of people like Ole Anderson, the Honky Tonk Man, Bruno Sammartino and others and simply dismiss them as bitter old men. This is not that interview.

The Rating: ****1/4

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of ECW

Directors: Kevin Kiernan & John Philopavage
Released: 4/13

Don E. Allen, Angel, Bob Artese (Announcer / staff), John “Hat Guy” Bailey (fan), Blue Meanie, Charlie Bruzzese (production), Billy Corgan, Steve Corino, Tony DeVito, Danny Doring, Shane Douglas, Sign Guy Dudley, John Finnegan (referee), Kathy Fitzpatrick (staff), Joel Gertner, Tod Gordon, Johnny Grunge, Missy Hyatt, Mike Johnson (PWInsider), Mark Keenan, Wade Keller (PWTorch), Dan Kowal (staff), Ronnie Lang (security), Tony Lewis (fan), Jerry Lynn, Balls Mahoney, Dave Meltzer, Bruce Mitchell (PWTorch), New Jack, Nova, Jason Powell (, Dave Scherer (PWInsider), Raven, Rhino, Stevie Richards, Rocco Rock, Axl Rotten, The Sandman, Gabe Sapolsky, Frank Talent (Penn. Athletic Commission), Michael Tearson (radio show host), Mikey Whipwreck, Joe Wilchak (security), Ed Zohn (staff)

The Good
ECW is simply one of the most fascinating movements that pro-wrestling has ever seen.  Despite its short run, limited audience and niche product, it has this massive legacy that people are still cashing in on years later.  Curiously, the period between ECW’s death and the release of this documentary is greater than the period in which ECW existed.  That should indicate something about the influence of ECW, but also the scope of this doc.  When the WWE released the “Rise and Fall of ECW,” it was a huge success to the point that it led them to do the One Night Stand shows and eventually create an ECW brand.  The “Hardcore Forever” documentary that was released around the same time was a nice compliment, it had a different group of people, but it lacked footage.  This production is, simply put, amazing in many ways, but I will highlight three.  First, it maximized resources amazingly.  These interviews were shot over a long period of time, the footage was RF Video Fan Cam footage, the footage from panel / fanfest events, the still photos were animated and this will perhaps be the first in a long line of crowdfunded docs about pro-wrestling.  Second, the scope of perspectives is incredible.  The WWE production had a number of people who were never involved, this had wrestlers and personnel, it also had security, fans and journalists.  Although one could argue that it lacked many key voices, it told a story masterfully with the voices it had.  Third, it did not purely romanticize ECW.  This is a common trap and this doc explored the positives and tackled the negatives.  In showing a balance, this really gave itself credibility that the WWE documentaries seem to lack.  Whether you liked ECW or not, this documentary is worth checking out because it is so well done.

The Bad
The obvious knock on this documentary would be the talent that is not interviewed.  It is a substantial number of key people, but most of them gave their perspectives in the “Rise and Fall of ECW” or the “Forever Hardcore” documentaries.  I am curious why they did not tap into shoot interviews that are already out there.  It seems like since they worked with RF Video to use the Fan Cam footage, they could have also dipped into their vast collection of extensive shoot interviews.  They did a great job using Fanfest footage of Paul Heyman to give him a more active role in this, but it seems like they might have done that for others.  I have also heard the complaint that they relied on journalists too much, although if you think about it, those people tend to provide the most objective and coherent perspective.  Their tying this to the Extreme Reunion/Rising promotion seems to date it.  However, they are trying to convey ECW’s unusual legacy and a reunion more than a decade later seems to demonstrate that fact.  When you look at this and recognize its limitations, it seems like a documentary that, like the company it is exploring, was fighting an uphill battle and trying to simply produce something for the fans even if there is little money made.  This is a labor of love.

The Rating: *****

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Matt Borne [SmartMarkVideo Shoot Interview]

The Good
At the time of this recording, about ten years before his passing, Matt Borne was seemingly pulling himself together.  He had long been a notorious drug abuser who never lived up to his potential.  In this fairly standard shoot, Borne goes over his career, the characters in it and seems pretty honest about his failures.  While he had some good runs in World Class and Mid-South, which he talks about, most remember him best as the original evil Doink.  The gimmick was over-the-top, but he really did it perfectly for the short time he was working it.  Borne definitely had a dark side that he tapped into to play the role.  Ultimately, his demons spoiled that run and he never quite got another chance as he slipped into a deep depression and his personal and professional life were in shambles.  This is lengthy interview that flows pretty quickly.  Borne has some great anecdotes and worked a number of territories, so this was interesting for an overview of the pro-wrestling scene of the 1980s.

The Bad
It seems like ripping on a shoot interview that is not full of vitriol is a bit unfair, but it certain can make them dull and uninteresting.  Borne seems at peace during this and does not want to say much about people like Rip Oliver, Buddy Rose, Bill Watts or others that he had issues with.  Thankfully, Borne is honest about his personal problems and gives the impression that he recognizes how they harmed his life, career and opportunities.  Understandably, he still had issues as his death was linked to pain medication.  This shoot is not going to blow anyone away with its insight, controversy or humor, however, it offers a glimpse into that period of the early 1980s through the mid-1990s when pro-wrestling was probably its wildest with all the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll that you could expect.

The Rating:  ***1/2

Saturday, August 24, 2013

CM Punk - Best in the World

Distributor: WWE Home Video
Released: 10/12

Featured Talent
Daniel Bryan, Colt Cabana, Cassie (“sister”), John Cena, Chez (best friend), Chez’s Mom,
Chaleen (“sister”), Lars Frederiksen (friend / Rancid), Curt Hawkins, Michael Hayes, Chris Hero, Paul Heyman, Kofi Kingston, Lita, The Miz, Joey (Matthews) Mercury, CM Punk, Justin Roberts, Jim Ross, Zack Ryder, Natalie Slater (former girlfriend), Ace Steel, Triple H

The Good
This documentary came out with great anticipation as rumors of it being very different had people talking.  For all intents and purposes, it delivered.  CM Punk, a completely unique sort of underdog, had a great story to tell and, like with much of his material, he wanted to dictate how it was told.  While this doc did have some WWE formula to it, the inclusion of many people not associated with the company, the amount of footage from IWA Mid-South and Ring of Honor and some of the harsh criticisms of the WWE really shocked some people.  Those elements really set this apart and made it excellent.  Perhaps when they tell the Daniel Bryan story, they will take that to another level, but this is true breakthrough.  The discussion of the Punk-Hero matches on a WWE DVD were kind of mind-blowing as I remember watching them through tape trades.  Hearing Dave Prazak on a WWE production seemed so bizarre.  Realistically, the story of CM Punk is so different and the WWE has reached a point where people are no reflecting on their time in WCW, their runs with ECW or any of that, they are coming from the independents.  This, like most WWE documentaries, featured chapters about dimensions of his personality - punk and hardcore music, the straight edge subculture, comic books and tattoos.  This seems like an above average WWE doc and one that I would recommend anyone to see.  CM Punk’s story is one of perseverance and self-reliance that could inspire many.

The Bad
What bad can you say about a documentary that basically delivers what you expect?  I think this was better than most WWE docs, but it still had that formulaic feel to it.  It was different in that it included music by Rancid and interviews with Colt Cabana and Ace Steel, but it was distinctly a WWE production.  Obviously, contractual obligations and bad blood would prevent this, but I think the absence of Samoa Joe, Raven and Gabe Sapolsky jumped out in the context of things.  I was also kind of hopefully for some really shocking inclusion like Ian Rotten or Chuck E Smooth.  The other issue was the constant reference to CM Punk’s detractors, but they were never given a voice.  Michael Hayes played the role of explaining those views while saying that he never agreed with them.  Vince McMahon was definitely a notable absence, but it seems like some of those who took issue with Punk never really shared their thoughts here.

The Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Guest Booker with JJ Dillon - A month of WWF TV [KayfabeCommentaries]

The Good
JJ Dillon is one of my favorites to listen to because he is very articulate and is able to express a deep understanding of the business. I knew this "Guest Booker" would be excellent and it truly delivered. The premise is that JJ will book a month of WWF TV around the 91-93 era that will include a late night special and build up to a pay-per-view. The catch is, it's an inter-promotional deal, so people like Sting, Nikita Koloff and others who never set foot in a WWF ring are thrust into fresh matches with Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart and The Undertaker. While JJ does not touch on angles and such for all the matches, he hits on the big ones and has some very simple, politically aware and effective stories that help build everything up. They spend ample time talking about Vince McMahon's creative style, his micromanagement, the process of writing TV and the use of "A" and "B" shows. While getting into one of the great minds of pro-wrestling is great, it is the sharing of that process that only a few have been privy to that is so amazing.

The Bad
"Guest Booker" is always limited by time and scope, but usually it works out. They spend so much time going into the details of weekends at Vince's that JJ does not have as much time to develop his TVs. He keeps it basic and is working in the old squash match format, so the TV expectations are a bit different nowadays. Instead of numerous angles, intricate details and every match having a backstory, Dillon keeps it simple. Some might find this less interesting in that regard than, say, Kevin Sullivan or Jim Cornette when they were the "Guest Booker," but that is largely up to your perspective. JJ Dillon is certainly an acquired taste as he is not particularly funny, does not cuss out or bury people and has a very measured approach. I guess that is why he was such an effective Head of Talent Relations for over five years.

The Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"The Patriot" Del Wilkes [One-on-One Shoot Series]

The Good
Japanese promotions brought in anyone who was anyone up through the 1990s, but very few had extended runs and even fewer of those people have done shoot interviews and talked extensively about their experiences in Japan.  Del Wilkes, in this nearly three hour shoot, talks about his career in an engrossing way.  An accomplished collegiate football player who broke in with the Great Moolah and had a few unique chances before hooking up with All Japan, this is a guy who can really pull listeners in.  He was a man with a dream and he worked hard to accomplish that dream.  That is one of the charming aspects of this shoot.  However, Wilkes is honest about the people he liked, disliked and worked with over the years.  Without coming across as bitter, he goes into his thoughts on people like Jeff Jarrett, Eric Bischoff, Bret Hart and Giant Baba and his justifiable issues with those people.  He talks about how Tom Brandi "stole" his Patriot persona and gives some very candid thoughts on the matter, which are among the more noteworthy parts of this.  While some of his anecdotes about WCW, the WWF and other American companies are interesting, the meat of this is his reflections on his time in All Japan.  From the workrate and workers to the hierarchy and cultural differences, Wilkes goes into all of it.  What is unfortunate, to an extent, is there is not a lot of specific questions and there is not much chronology.  Luckily, Wilkes is a good storyteller and does not need much direction, even better, they periodically stop so he can collect his thoughts.  Actual editing in shoot interview?

The Bad
I sometimes listen to interviews and realize that while I enjoy it, others might not.  The Patriot obviously had a more significant career in All Japan than in the States.  If you have little knowledge or interest in 90s All Japan, you might not think much of this.  There is also the issue that hearing about him breaking in through Moolah's camp, starving in Memphis, working as The Trooper in the AWA and becoming The Patriot in Global and some of those might be irrelevant to some folks.  If you were a Monday Night Wars fan, he has a some stuff about his WWF run, but it is limited.  Overall, this is great shoot, but it probably only has interest to a smallish group of hardcore fans.

The Rating: ****1/4

Friday, July 12, 2013

Terry Funk [RF Video Shoot Interview]

The Good
Conducted in 1998, not too long after Terry Funk's WWF run, Terry Funk delivers what was perhaps the best RF Video shoot at this point in time. He is a natural storyteller and this was at a great point in his career for him to look back. Before his autobiography, his numerous interviews and coverage in "Beyond the Mat," this was an amazing piece of pro-wrestling history. Several parts of this such as looking at Amarillo, his NWA Championship run and the early days of ECW were interesting, but have been covered in greater detail in various places (including in future shoots by Funk himself). I felt the highlights of this, which stand up are the details concerning his time with All Japan and relationship with FMW head Atsushi Onita. Stories of Japan are not uncommon in shoot interviews, but Terry Funk's experiences are distinctly different as he worked in the All Japan office, saw many changes and worked with many of the top wrestlers (like Onita) when they were "young boys." This is also back in the day of matches being integrated into RF Video shoots, so you can catch some great (and not-so-great) action from Terry Funk's career.

The Bad
Although this was the first Terry Funk shoot I heard and was, at the time, one of my favorites, this seemed so old and limited looking back. I don't think RF Video really started delivering quality shoot interviews for another five years, but they sure secured some great names, did longer interviews and had one of the only forums for shoot interviews. I've since heard Terry Funk partnered with all kinds of people from Harley Race and Bob Backlund to Shane Douglas and Steve Corino. I have to say, I've preferred those. His interaction with others and that necessarily limiting structure just work so well for a rambler who has seen so much. This "was" amazing nearly fifteen years ago, but it is not as great today.

The Rating: ****1/4

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Timeline of the WWF - 1987 - Honky Tonk Man

The Good
The Honky Tonk Man is always a cut-up and this different venue does not detract from his ability to make you laugh. Whether he's ripping on road agents, the druggies backstage or the wacky things that he saw, he is always good for a laugh. Here, he talks about the build-up to Wrestlemania III, the fallout and the goings-on around that epic event. This was about 75% his own angles, matches and such, but you have to expect that. This was certainly funnier than the Don Muraco Timeline, but I'm not sure that it was better. If you prefer stories about Roddy Piper being insane, Jake Roberts' guitar-shot-induced drug problems or Adrian Adonis' fabulously expensive set to the intricacies of angles, changes in talent and development of the company, than you'll really prefer this.

The Bad
I like the Timeline concept and think it has great potential, but these are just going to be hit-or-miss it seems. Honky was not an office guy, so he lacks some significant perspective. Although he can share his thoughts on Tom Magee and why he flopped based on his experiences with him in Stampede, he cannot really explain why the WWF chose the Pontiac Silverdome as the site for Wrestlemania III. I almost think this series needs to have multiple people talking about multiple years, but I can realize the logistic problems there. This is the second one I've seen and it seemed to be enjoyable, but lacked the insight I was hoping for and that I felt Don Muraco provided more of in his contribution.

The Rating: ***3/4

Saturday, June 15, 2013

GLOW - The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Dierector: Brett Whitcomb, Bradford Thomason
Distributor: Window Pictures
Released: 3/13

Featured Talent
Americana, Roxy Astor, Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, Big Bad Mama, Steve Blance (Head Writer), Ashley Cartier, Cheyenne Cher, Daisy, Ric Drasin, Johnny Gafarella (Manager), Godiva, Mando Guerrero, Hollywood, The Houswives / Heavy Metal Sisters, Jailbait, Lightning, Little Egypt, Ivory, Matilda the Hun, Mountain Fiji, MTV, Ninotchka, Susie Spirit, Larry Zbyszko

The Good
Pro-wrestling documentaries seem to work best when they have a narrow focus, great characters and a concise story to tell.  While an hour on the history of GLOW seems ridiculous, this was really fun.  Other than a few clips, magazine features and such, I had little interest or background knowledge.  GLOW always seemed like a wacky short-lived promotion that never really produced anything or anyone of note other than Ivory.  This really sheds lights on the product and how special and innovative it really was.  An Israeli mogul backing his b-film director buddy and taking the concept from David McClane led to a product that combined sex and violence with campiness and characters.  While it seems like a tiny piece of pro-wrestling history that is easily dismissed, GLOW had something special and was in many ways a precursor to products like MatRats, Wrestling Society X, Chikara Pro and Kaiju Big Battel that have tried to create a very distinct and different brand of pro-wrestling.  Although GLOW was lacking in many areas, it was really successful in other ways that are worth exploring.  This documentary packs so much into an hour and really leaves you thinking that this was a cult favorite that shouldn’t be forgotten.  Largely the failure of subsequent revivals and the lack of talent going on to great fame (save for Tina Ferrari who became the WWF’s Ivory), GLOW has always been remembered with a negative conotation.  This documentary did a great job to change that.  The show ran only for a few years and did not have a massive roster, so pulling together so many of the players really added legitimacy to this.

The Bad
I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched a documentary about quite a small niche thing.  While that can allow for a focused story, it is often subject to excessive romanticization and very limited voices.  Matt Cimber, the director and real brains behind GLOW, was featured at a reunion, but was not interviewed for this specifically.  David McClane was absent as well, which was perhaps more surprising.  So basically this featured a number of the performers, a couple management guys and Chavo Guerrero (who trained the initial crew).  No fans, no journalists, no surprising celebrities and no other pro-wrestlers (other than Larry Zbyszko for a moment).  GLOW definitely did something unique and had its strengths, but it was not exactly the pop culture sensation that this documentary would lead you to believe.  It was different, it got some exceptional attention because it was different, but then its time passed.  In comparison to All Japan Women in the days of the Beauty Pair in the 70s, the Crush Gals in the 80s or even cross-promotional workrate era in the 90s, GLOW does not hold up at all in terms of popularity, quality or even character development.

The Rating: ****1/4