#TorontoWrestling at #NXTToronto

On September 9th 2017 NXT made a house-show styled stop in Toronto, and tailored the event specifically towards the local market by having both Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode make their final NXT appearances at the show. A lot more seats went unsold than I had anticipated, potentially speaking to the dwindling flame of interest in NXT since TakeOver Toronto almost a year prior packed out a much larger venue. Nevertheless, my night was quite fun and I took notes and blurry photos furiously. Here is my review of the matches that occurred:

 

Match 1 – Tye Dillinger vs. Kona Reeves

The crowd was, as expected, hot for a home-town hero (at a Wrestling show, if you’re from anywhere in Canada, you’re in-front of a hometown audience.) Poor Kona Reeves came out and was met with nowhere near the enthusiasm of his opponent’s arrival. That mattered little as he put in a really strong performance, playing the heel nicely even from the very early moments of the match. Early-on in the match Kona acts the overconfident heel, celebrating tiny moments like he had won the match and escaping from harm by breaking the rules, but quickly Tye makes him look a joke with a series of deep armdrags.

Tye Dillinger’s easy to understand and chantable gimmick gave way to his opponent receiving “1” chants from the audience whenever he gained an advantage, berating the young man for attempting to stand up to the returning hero. Tye is granted a chorus of “10” chants all match long and the audience, in general, was very engaged with the match but I was bored. There was far too much pandering and waiting and by far not enough actual wrestling. This is, regrettably, the core problem with the E in general, and it is regrettable that NXT, which once showed signs of being better than that, seems to have been infected. The match ends with a flurry of action and Tye hits Kona with the Tyebreaker for an undisputable win in this solidly worked, kind of boring match.

Grade: B-

 

Match 2 – Aaliyah and Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose and Vanessa Borne

Mandy and Aaliyah start off for their respective teams and immediately they give Mandy a chance to impress, as she cartwheels out of a modified headscissors attempt. Prior to this the crowd had been sour on her, hyped for Aaliyah as the hometown hero herein. However, with this feat of fluid athleticism, suddenly the audience liked Mandy. It was a simple, effective moment.

The faces look impressive for a while, both putting on a good performance and looking strong until Vanessa Borne gets a handful of Aaliyah’s hair and turns the tide. The heels use standard babyface-frustrating quick tags to isolate the Canadian. In this flurry of action Mandy Rose came out with some nice throws and looked very dominant against Aaliyah, ostensibly the hometown hero. Mandy stays strong looking, getting a submission hold and nice impact off of a clothesline, before tagging in Vanessa. It is with Vanessa in the ring that the crowd begins to chant for Aaliyah to make a comeback. Even with the crowd chanting for Aaliyah, I swear the biggest sounds were still Mandy’s strikes.

As the match builds to a conclusion we see Aaliyah make a hot tag to Ember Moon, who hits a bunch of nice looking spots, even taking out both opponents at once. During the fracas Vanessa Borne and Aaliyah get tagged in for their respective teams and Aaliyah scores a Northern Lights Suplex hold for the three count on Borne. I had known from the beginning of the match that Borne would eat the pinfall herein, and it was the outcome that made the most sense for the builds these women are all at in their careers. Genuinely surprising me, however, was how well Mandy Rose performed. I’d even say she was too good. She has a lot of potential to make a splash in the scene.

Grade: B

 

Match 3 – Johnny Gargano vs. Killian Dain

Gargano starts off the underdog, as is to be expected of most people who would book men of this size disparity against each other. Dain is, simply, too big for Johnny Wrestling’s usual tricks to down people. Eventually, as this match-up type usually goes, Gargano tries for a backpack sleeper, but it too is no good. They tease a comeback with Gargano getting in a flurry of action, but Dain squashes him back down and abuses him. The large man stands on and splashes Gargano’s back and dips deep into the well of big man vs. little guy spots.

Eventually, after enough time for my mind to wander onto other subjects, a telltale mark of boredom, Gargano mounts his comeback with strikes and spear and tope suicida. This comeback builds into a sequence where the two men go back and forth, punctuated by some nice big moments such as Gargano hitting Dain with an Avalanche Hurracanrana. The flow relies of Killian Dain looking unbeatably strong, so he powers out of submission attempts and, in the end, eats a superkick to be put down.

Grade: B

 

Match 4 – Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black

I won’t lie, this was the match I was most excited to see heading in to the event. It was unclear whether or not my long-time favourite NOAH star, KENTA, now known as Hideo Itami, would be making an appearance at this event but I had most-certainly bought my ticket in the hopes I’d finally get to see him wrestle in person. While it wasn’t all I had hoped it to be, it was meaningful nonetheless. It was also one of the better matches of the night.

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I’m a terrible shot, but this was a super cool moment for me!

Itami lays on his new heelish antics from the onset, frustrating Black by bailing on the ring. This nets him the upper hand to start, and he uncorks some strikes on Black. They have a good grappling exchange and Itami lays on the heel cockiness only to be faked out by Black who catches him in a hold. The clear, easily read though physical actions alone, characterization these men put forth goes to show that they know damn well how to work in the ring.

Itami takes control with lots of kicks and ground work, and adds insult to injury by mocking Black’s poses. Itami dominates the match for a very long time, using well executed kicks and submissions, At one point Aleister Black has a terrible landing on Itami’s head off of a springboard moonsault. Itami doesn’t lose pace though and busts out a flurry of action, capped off by a Fisherman’s Suplex, but he can’t secure the win. They tease a comeback by Black, which item suppresses until Black scores a huge running knee.

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This picture is much more in focus, but of course he’s facing away!

Frustrated, Itami shoves Black into the referee and sticks him with a solid DDT for another two count. Frustrated he heads outside and gets a kendo stick from under the ring and goes to wail on Black with it. Unfortunately for Itami the referee yanks the weapon away from him and, in his moment of distraction, Aleister Black hits him with the Black Mass and puts him down for the three count.

For some reason the crowd never bought into this match, even though it featured solid in-ring athletics and psychology. The end result was a bit predictable from early on, but it was expertly executed.

Grade: B+

 

Match 5 – The Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Roode

The Velveteen dream shouldn’t work so well, but for some reason I found it to be a very fun gimmick in a live environment. Patrick Clark, back on Tough Enough, certainly exhibited a passion for the history of wrestling and, more explicitly, the WWF. It seems terribly fitting that he wound up with such a gimmick driven, retro-inspired character. A character whose gimmick is reinforced by careful choices made about his in-ring performance. Also, because I can’t help but notice it, The Velveteen dream’s initials are VD. Childish humour. Hyuk-hyuk.

While Roode left NXT as a villain, here, in Canada and returning to the brand he debuted on, he has been emboldened and made a hero anew in his final appearance with NXT. Roode shows off his amateur wrestling skills and looks dominant to begin with, making Velveteen dream look like a joke. Somehow the Dream turns the situation around after some mess in the ropes and gets himself some big heel heat by teasing a top-rope dive to the outside, only to hop down and do a low double axehandle off of the apron instead.

When the two are back in the ring the Dream starts wrestling like someone out of the 80s or early 90s, doing a side Russian leg sweep, middle rope leg and elbow drops. He even puts Roode in a camel clutch, the ultimate old school heel submission hold. Once Roode starts going on the offensive again, with suplexes and throws all over the ring, the crowd gets more into it. The Velveteen dream does a good flipping Death Valley Driver, landing on his feet afterwards, but when he chooses next to fly at Roode he gets countered into a sharpshooter for the obligatory Canadian-wrestling-in-Canada-Bret-Hart-Tribute spot. Realistically he could have milked the Sharpshooter for far longer. As the match moves to its final moments the Velveteen dream is left looking really good as he escapes two attempts by Roode to hit the Glorious DDT and goes down to the third attempt for the three count.

After the match was over I was left with a very clear image of The Velveteen Dream. His aesthetic, both in attire and move selection, is decidedly and explicitly retro. His promo work before the show exuded a tinge of Golddust, with a hearty dose of the 80s. He excels at getting heel heat from the moment he walks through the curtains dressed like a cross between Prince and Hendrix all the way through the match as he talks smack and disappoints fan excitement. On top of all of that excellent potential, Bobby Roode made him look good.

Grade: B+

 

Match 6 – Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss vs. Sanity (Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe) (c) – NXT Tag team title Match

Before the match Tino and Riddick talk smack and, for their sin against Sanity, are dumped out of the ring. The disheveled rebels Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young take the self-aggrandizing jocks on a tour of the building, introducing them to all the sights and surfaces of the arena.

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Blurry again, but the E at least knows how to let you see during a brawl!

Once the match was actually contained in a ring it seemed the structure bolstered Tino and Riddick’s efforts, as they successfully isolate Alexander Wolfe, keeping the demented mastermind Eric Young out of things. This lasts a good long while, and when Young finally gets the tag he comes in and wrecks both of his opponents. This leads into a sweet sequence that ends with a diving elbow drop on Tino for a two count. There’s a little more back and forth action. Sabatelli and Moss are given a chance to hit a cool Gory Special/Facebuster combo move but can’t put Eric Young down before he tags in Wolfe. Together Young and Wolfe hit a tandem move for the win.

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Good old crazy EY! It’s been crazy watching his career!

Usually I find wild brawls outside of the ring to be boring because of the inability to see the action in a small venue through a sea of people. The E, however, in this larger venue with spotlights, made it work much better. Sabatelli and Moss didn’t make me want to watch more of them, but they didn’t bomb on their half of the match either. Quite fun.

Grade: B
Match 7 – Lacey Evans vs. Nikki Cross

This was a simple, quality outing. Lace put on a good show, holding her own for most of the match with strikes and submission work. She demonstrated particularly entertaining ring mobility as she manoeuvred around the posts and ropes with unique kicks and elbows. The crowd booed her solely because she repped the American flag. Cross made the comeback w/ lariats and a spinning fisherman buster for the win. Really, Lacey was doing just fine and the win was very fast and almost out of nowhere.

Grade: B-

 

Match 8 – Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Drew McIntyre (c) – NXT Championship Title match

This match started with Almas being a brilliant heel, attacking McIntyre while the Champ was down on one knee and still wearing his entrance coat. . Almas shows his brilliance early on in how he uses the ropes to evade his pursuer and, simultaneously, aide him in targeting the larger mans arm. Almas is a smooth worker, making it all look good, as he controls the situation.

McIntyre is no slouch though, as early on when Almas has him down, he bridges out of a pin in a way you would expect a man half his size more likely to do. They demonstrate this with the two men working a nice reversal sequence which McIntyre capped off with a brilliant display of muscle power as he hoisted Almas over with a beautiful vertical suplex. Sometimes it’s the simple things that you really pop for. Then again, sometimes it’s things like McIntyre catching Almas out of the air for an Air Raid Crash that you pop for. Take your pick. McIntyre’s got things in spades.

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McIntyre, the champion, is an imposing presence!

Almas does make an incremental comeback, building up towards nice, strong Tornado DDT. This leads into them really taking it to each other and Almas taking some mighty big hits from McIntyre. Almas works the arm again to weaken up the much bigger Scotsman. McIntyre powers out of a Fujiwara Armbar and plays up his sore  arm but nonetheless gets the kill with a Futureshock DDT and the Claymore kick in sequence.

It’s of particular importance to note that Almas kicked out of many big, hard hitting moves during this match and was made to look like a real contender. This being published after he faced  McIntyre again, this time on a TakeOver special, makes me excited to see the true spotlight, high-stakes version of this match. See, the one downside to this match that kept me from truly buying in was that, in it, the winner was too obvious.

Grade: A-
Conclusion:

While I may not be fond of the presentation  the E is known for. the NXT brand has a certain charm and edge to it. They present their product, and their stars, in a different light. It still has the high gloss and sheen in terms of set-up and production values but there is something inherently exciting about seeing how they are prepping talent for the big time and building new stars. The Velveteen Dream made one hell of an impression at this show and I have heard that, as of this writing, he has just impressed many more people. The future for these talents, and the WWE as a whole, is bright if they don’t get in their own way.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #015 – 5 Reasons you should give IMPACT WRESTLING some bloody respect.

With their troubled history it is easy to lump blame and negativity miles high, like giant pillars of owl dung, upon IMPACT WRESTLING, but to openly wish for their failure and to take up the rallying cry of “Fuck TNA!” shows a fundamental lack of respect for the company’s high points, and what their legacy is. I’m not certain that I can convince everybody to give them some respect, but I hope to make some strong attempts to do so. So, in no particular order, here are 5 good reasons that you should give TNA some respect.

Honourable Mentions: It’s another place for the boys to get work and it disappearing would mean a lot of talented people looking for new work for one. Then there is the often brought up X-Division and how phenomenal it really was at its peak (and I’d argue the talent has always been stellar).

1) AJ Styles. For eleven years of his absolutely brilliant career, AJ Styles called Total Nonstop Action home. In TNA he held the vaunted NWA World Heavyweight Championship and Tag Team championship, the TNA X-Division championship, the TNA Tag-Team championship, the TNA World Heavyweight championship, and pretty much every other accolade the company could concoct. You’d be surprised to note that they never tried having him cross-dress for the KnockOuts titles. He moved all over the card, competing in all sorts of matches. Through TNA’s foreign partnerships, he wrestled in AAA, CMLL, NJPW, and Wrestle-1. The point is, he did everything the company had to offer.

Certainly not all of it was the best. Some of it was total shit. But some of it was brilliant, and all of it was AJ Styles putting his heart, soul, and body, into becoming the best performer he could be in any given booking circumstances. You can’t spend eleven years working in one place, and doing everything that can be done there, and not have you come out the other end undeniably affected by it. AJ Styles has certainly proved that he is self-motivated and insanely talented since he left TNA, but for those who were watching him develop in that company, there was never any doubt that he truly was The Phenomenal One. Without TNA giving AJ Styles all of that time, on air and in front of a television audience, for him to hone his craft, it is doubtful that he would be in the same position he is in now.

2) It was the first major point of exposure for a lot talent. The rosters of WWE NXT, RAW, and SmackDown! are now replete with talent that got their first major break with TNA. Samoa Joe,  Austin Aries,  and Bobby Roode all put on career defining matches and spent many years with a company that, at one point, was considered the upstart that might challenge the E one day. Sadly TNA had an addiction to insane booking and faded stars. Nevertheless,  countless other incredible talent all called the company home. To this day they continue to do so, more recently giving Grado a huge potential audience out of pretty much nowhere.

Even if we expect that IMPACT WRESTLING can never rise to that speculative challenger height again, as a company with high production values and fifteen years of establishing itself a fanbase, however degraded it may be from its heights, they can, and will, have an important role to play in many future stars careers. They’ve done it before and can, certainly, do it again. Just look at the names these two entries contain for evidence.

3) It was a place where people could reinvent themselves. I fondly remember seeing Christian Cage debut in TNA. I had grown frustrated with the WWE in how they were treating him, and his start in TNA was great. He was given an opportunity and proved himself to be what he had never been allowed to be before: the guy. Over the course of its ups and down, IMPACT WRESTLING even provided perennial tag team wrestler Bubba Ray Dudley/Brother Ray the opportunity to invent the Bully Ray character, one that gave him a solid storyline built around himself and a place in the spotlight as a world champion. Even unto today, with their post-separation actions inciting jeers and hatred from the wrestling community, this oft maligned company provided Matt and Jeff hardy the creative freedom and platform to create the #BROKEN gimmick that has launched them into a brilliant career renaissance. I am confident that if they had never left the WWE, there would never have been chants of DELETE! echoing across wrestling venues throughout North America, indie and WWE, at this time.

4) International Exposure. International cross-promotional events and talent exchanges dot the landscape of TNA’s rocky history. I first watched Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestle on a TNA pay-per-view, in 2006, against AJ Styles, a full eight years before the two would meet again in New Japan. The first NJPW full show I watched was Wrestle Kingdom III, which featured heavy involvement from TNA who were advertising it as Global Impact. I tried to find it online for a price I could afford at the time and came across the complete unedited version on a DVD sellers site and bought that. It was a bootleg burned DVD, but it was a launching point for me headfirst into Puroresu, right alongside the Fight Network’s English-announcing dub of Pro-Wrestling NOAH. It’s funny how things come full circle with Anthem now owning all of my original gateway drugs for Japanese Pro-Wrestling.

Their annual World X Cup tournament exposed me to wrestlers from AAA, CMLL, AJPW, and Dragon Gate. Their announce team was never shy to tell you who they were, where they came from, and what they had done in their careers outside of TNA. This stood in direct opposition, and for the most part still stands that way today, to how the WWE handle international talent. I loved Abismo Negro. I bought a CMLL show with a Team TNA vs Team CMLL match from that same DVD seller. I discovered Mistico and Averno. My tastes diversified and I fell in love with how Pro-Wrestling transforms across cultural contexts. I can genuinely say that if TNA had never existed, I likely never would have become the fan I am today. The fan who had the trip of a lifetime in Tokyo fueld by my desire to attend Wrestle Kingdom, the fan who has made friends with performers and other fans alike, the fan who wants to contribute something back to the art I love. Maybe I’m an extreme example, but I cannot be the only one whose spark was kindled in this way by TNA.

They had the prescience to blaze a trail into India. In securing themselves TV deals in the highly populated foreign market, scouting talent from the country to bring onboard to make the product attractive to said population, and having a hand in setting up the short lived Indian Ring-Ka-King promotion, they assured that they are an indellible part of the face of Pro-Wrestling to this massive market, right next to Dalip Singh and the WWE.

Now, in 2017, under new management, they have a talent exchange with NOAH. Based on the March twelfth GREAT VOYAGE in YOKOHAMA showing, it looks promising, at the least for the quality matches it has generated in Japan and giving more international exposure to potential breakout stars like Moose. Considering the absolute tear that Pro-Wrestling NOAH has been on under the NOAH the REBORN moniker, it certainly couldn’t hurt either company to put their best people together to generate interest in both brands and to forge a new reputation for IMPACT WRESTLING, one that highlights impactfuland internationally influenced wrestling and sheds the bad habits of its heritage. But, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

5) Women’s wrestling. Before NXT and the Women’s Revolution was even a twinkle in Paul Levesque’s eye, TNA was putting on some serious women’s wrestling matches. The company dedicated far more air time to women’s wrestling than contemporaneous WWE did and it let its female talent go at it just as hard as the men. Gail Kim excelled in TNA. Her tenure in the WWE before heading to TNA had made me curious about her, but in TNA’s Knockouts division she truly shone her brightest and excelled far beyond what she had ever accomplished in the E.

Indeed, there was a general attitude in the way TNA treated its women that was a step up from the WWE at the time. In an era where the WWE would phase the Women’s Championship into the Diva’s belt, emblazoned with a delicate butterfly, TNA had both the KnockOuts Tag and singles titles and women routinely, to this day, compete in hardcore matches. They were ahead of the curve, by a long shot. It wasn’t always perfect, but it generally outclassed what the WWE was offering contemporaneously. Like everything with TNA, it went through its ups and downs, but it fueled and helped shape in me a desire to see more intense women’s wrestling. It was around that same time that I would first start to look into Joshi wrestling.

I also find it useful to remember that TNA didn’t come up with an angle making fun of the beautiful Mickie James for being overweight and calling her Piggie James on national television. So there’s also that. Yeah…

Look, I get it. TNA dropped the ball. They dropped it so hard that they lost it in the crust of the Earth. But somehow, amongst all that mess, they still managed to do some incredible good. The story of TNA and IMPACT WRESTLING is one of peaks and valleys. But no one ever seems to remember or care about the peaks, preferring to mock and throw verbal rocks at the company. They have done a lot for the industry, for the talent, and for me. Yeah, I stopped watching them when they got really bad, and every now and then I would check in to see how they were doing. It really wasn’t all bad, and learning to acknowledge and respect it for what it did right, well, it could go a long way towards helping them recover. Anthem is gonna need all the help it can get to rehabilitate this damaged brand, and they have a lot of cool talent and great archive footage to forge a new path with. Give them some credit. Tell them what you want to see more of, and leave the hate out of it.

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