#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – 2018 Year-End Chinese Check-In (Part 2)

In part one of this review of the second half of 2018 in mainland Chinese Pro Wrestling I covered the bulk of companies operating in, and around, the territory (Oriental Heroes Legend being a particularly odd standout for having a lot of matches featuring their talent, but very few of those in China.) This part will be dedicated exclusively to covering the company that pushed me over the edge from covering MKW occasionally to writing my first massive deep dive on the territory: Oriental Wrestling Entertainment.

Without even the smallest shadow of a doubt, Oriental Wrestling Entertainment had the biggest and baddest 2018 in the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. Debuting in February with immense potential right out of the gate, including an exemplary outing from a talented initial roster. They faltered only slightly, with plans to start their own weekly wrestling cards in Shanghai only coming to fruition in October instead of their earlier planned August start date. Nevertheless, a weekly show still puts them far ahead of the pack moving forward, as only MKW can boast regular monthly shows, and OWE’s biggest potential competitor ―KOPW― only had two shows by the end of 2018. When these recent weekly shows are put together with their earlier offerings their volume of output might be greater than any other company in the country.

Weekly shows also go towards reinforcing OWE managements goal of turning the brand into a pro wrestling-based “Young Men’s Action Idol Troupe.” Idol groups in Japan, particularly, often run numerous shows a week and to accomplish this will often have large rosters of talent which can, as need be, be rotated day-by-day. I would suspect that as more of OWE’s dojo candidates get their feet under them, and more international talent get brought on board to flesh out the roster and diversity of aesthetic, that one can expect to see them run more than one show a week. This is likely not a year one, or even two or three, inevitability but more a long-term output likeliness. Arguably one show a week is the best, safest bet for their young roster at this time as, unlike Japanese music Idol groups, pro wrestling has a high physical strain and chance of injury. But OWE does have its domestic talent signed to 10 year contracts, or at least their initial crop are, and have plans to expand internationally at some point.

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A lot of OWE’s YouTube and QQ Video channels are videos like this. I really hope they don’t go away. The “Idol” Aesthetic of OWE goes a long way to separating them from other brands globally.

Their talent are still training five or six days a week, and now have a guaranteed show every Sunday, meaning that their lives will be quite dedicated to this effort. The benefit, for the pro wrestling fan, is that we can expect to see remarkably quick development into quality performers from their domestic talent. To provide further content to a fresh market, OWE have even begun live streaming their weekly training matches from their dojo. While this effort is exciting, the video quality has not been the HD standard one has come to expect from their other video offerings.

For me, I’d like to focus on the exciting aspect of seeing the talent develop further and grow as performers. Unfortunately, to a degree, the very low video quality renders my enjoyment difficult as it can be hard to tell whom I am watching unless they are in their full performance ring gear.  If they could set up a high-def hard cam in their training centre, much the way CHIKARA have done for their training centre broadcasts, it would go a long way to improving the average viewers experience with these training matches. I also think that it would help forge connections for the international audience with these performers if they could see their development clearly, as being invited into their dojo to watch practice matches certainly feels a lot more intimate than just seeing their fully put-together shows.

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“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei’s match in NTW over the summer was a fun excursion, and he worked well with the local talent.

On top of becoming the most regularly running promotion in mainland China, OWE’s young roster are growing quickly, gaining rapid experience both in the mainland and, increasingly, overseas. While early efforts to get the OWE lads over to FSW shows failed due to VISA issues (something one can expect to see continue with the troubled trade relationship between China and the USA,) their roster has found other ways to be sent afield. While initial plans were for more talent to go abroad than did, 2018 did see A-Ben work on an Australian show, Fan Hewei work a gig for NTW in Taiwan, and both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have seen time touring Japan with the CIMA-led, OWE Affiliated #STRONGHEARTS faction.

In fact, #STRONGHEARTS has given the OWE lads a remarkable platform. While the roster is mostly composed of the Dragon Gate International members, at its core, and has been regularly fleshed out by the likes of Dezmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz, and now Trey Miguel, it has also given acts heavily associated with OWE a place to shine in Japan. While their in-ring time has often been heavily protected, giving them moments to shine but not over-exposing their greenness, Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan’s work in Japan with #STRONGHEARTS has been fundamental for keeping the OWE lads in the public eye during the times where there was not a lot of activity going on for them in the Chinese mainland. Furthermore, an investment of faith has been made by DDT when they had #STRONGHEARTS win their KO-D 6-Man tag titles with Duan Yingnan in the mix. He became the first ever Chinese mainlander to win a Japanese championship and, while the title reign ended on their first defense, this sets a milestone for Chinese talent in Japan and speaks to a potential-laden future.

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While wrestling abroad as a member of #STRONGHEARTS the OWE lads always get given spots to shine and are quite protected from being exposed. Here’s Duan Yingnan flipping like a genius in the match that crowned him as a Champion in DDT.

Wrestle-1 may have been the first Japanese promotion to open its doors to #STH after the Dragon Gate split, it wasn’t the last and the list looks to expand. DDT, as noted above, have put considerable faith in CIMA’s crew and other small Japanese groups, such as J-Stage, are also jumping aboard the #STRONGHEARTS train. With increased opportunities for the faction in Japan, and growing international interest elsewhere, one can hope to see more of the OWE trained lads make their way over to the faction outside of the mainland to expand upon their gimmicks and their skills in new environments.

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The Titan, Roger, claiming his first victory in his debut with OWE at their Big World event.

Starting with their fall shows, OWE began to debut a new group of talent. While I had heard that new talent would be debuting within the year, I was not prepared for how many nor how diverse they would be. This group, overall, seems a little weaker with their athletic prowess than those who debuted in February 2018.  However this potential weakness has been counteracted by some of them being focused more heavily upon comedy, or just being a giant, massive man.

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Wulijimuren and Xiong Zhiyu have formed a strong alliance as “Hengha.”

Of interesting note is that said giant, massive man, who has been nicknamed Titan in OWE advertising, actually has a background in China’s existing pro wrestling landscape. He is announced as Roger in OWE, a name he first took up while wrestling  in the CWF. Additionally he briefly competed under his real name while with the then-IGF Shanghai dojo, now Simon Inoki’s Oriental Heroes Legend. In essence this means that OWE poached talent from Oriental Heroes Legend. I was aware that, for several months, after their debut event in February, OWE had open tryouts for athletes of all backgrounds to join their team.

This expansion beyond their initial Shaolin candidates has added much needed depth to their roster in terms of body diversity and character archetypes. Within the new talent debuts there is a group of three who work together in what seems to be a more comedy-based wrestling style. Unfortunately I cannot speak to how effectively all of the comedy is landing with their target audiences, but it does carry well enough over the language barrier for me to get a glimpse the intent behind it. Much like DDT, a lot of it is physical in nature and doesn’t rely exclusively upon the spoken word.

I’m working on putting together an update to my roster guide for OWE which will feature the new talent and as much information as I can put together on the talent I haven’t already covered in my previous piece. I can say, at this point, that some of the gimmicks and names are fairly easy to unpack as they rely on English names, whereas others are proving more difficult. One of them made me laugh as, during his introduction, OWE VP and Ring Announcer Michael Nee spelled out his ring name after saying it: C-H-A-M-E-L-E-O-N… and then said it again to reinforce the idea! Part of this harkens back to the commentary I made on OWE tailoring its product to try and help make the experience more inclusive to the new-to-pro-wrestling Chinese audiences and, frankly, sometimes it comes off as silly to an outside viewer but I also always find it endearing.

During my writing of this article in the second half of December 2018 OWE started to have a flurry of information suddenly hitting their social media feeds and, surprisingly, it wasn’t just their Chinese-language ones but their English-language Twitter and even their YouTube account saw a large uptake in content. While their QQ Video page still hosts more content overall, as it dates back to before the shows they are uploading to their YouTube channel, this answers many unanswered questions I had about how they would handle content delivery.

When OWE geared up to start their weekly shows in September, an unfortunate false start which thankfully didn’t derail them for long and was the result of government regulatory issues, I inquired as to the future of the OWE/FSW Twitch streaming alliance. On September 13th FSW advised me that they did not have any insight on when more OWE would be available on their  Twitch channel and added that they had “been busy putting together [their own] stuff.” When I asked OWE directly about their plans to have FSW stream future shows on Twitch I was told that they had no plans to continue that element of their relationship. Furthermore, when I inquired about their plans for their fledgling YouTube page I was advised that they were still trying to figure out how they would proceed. Thankfully, while late in the year, they’ve figured it out and are delivering a larger volume of content.

Their most recent shows have had several exciting elements worth noting. The first is that they have been building up a series of tournament matches leading towards crowning their first champion. I, frankly, am very excited to see who will hold that gorgeous belt for the first time and what that will mean for the Chinese scene. Can they deliver high-end singles competition yet? There are a lot of questions worth investigating. They’ve also had a “Balloon Race” match, which I frankly think is a brand new match type invented in China ― but I’m certain someone will correct me if I am wrong ― and turned out far better than I thought it would. OWE have managed to get some of their content on to a sports TV channel in China, an accomplishment worth noting as getting a product onto TV in the mainland requires, as I recall, some governmental approvals. Additionally they have had talent from The Crash Lucha Libre work their cards and, in their published announcements of their upcoming tour, talk about it in partnership terms. Mexico could be a great place for Chinese talent to go on excursion.

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Like in Mario Kart battle mode on the SNES, you have to pop your opponents three balloons to win the Balloon Race match!

Furthermore, a good while after Fan Hewei worked a match in NTW, an announcement was made of an alliance, of sorts, between OWE and New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling. The first significant result of this alliance has seen Rekka, an NTW stalwart, report for duty to the OWE dojo at the beginning of 2019. This connection with NTW in Taiwan provides OWE with a place where they can send talent that are ready to go on an excursion to an easier to get to and from locale than some other places, one that sees a plethora of talent come in from Japan and the United States. Allowing their talent to work with different styles in a growing hotbed of the “Asian Wrestling Revolution” could only benefit them. Furthermore, NTW has a lot of interesting and diverse characters to offer up which could continue to help patch up some of the OWE roster’s physical and stylistic sameness issues while they develop more and more homegrown talent.

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SAKA, based out of NTW in Taiwan, would be an interesting element to see injected into OWE competition.

This increased connectivity with the existing scope of the Chinese Pro Wrestling scene lends credence to the rumours I’ve heard of a canceled show concept OWE may have had kicking around, one set to feature nothing but talent from the rest of the Chinese mainland (and possibly Hong Kong and Taiwan) pro wrestling scenes. Had this show come to fruition it probably would have benefited OWE less than the talent featured upon it and, were a similar concept to arise again in the future, I’d expect it to play out more along the “Us vs. Them” narratives commonly found on OWE’s earlier shows and those slated for their upcoming tour dates (Which I have confirmation will be filmed, at the least in Guangdong.) These shows place two OWE teams, one designed to represent Shanghai and one to represent the local city the tour is in, against an international faction composed of familiar FSW related talents, the Dragon Gate International contingent, and luchadors from The Crash promotion such as Arez.

With all of this exciting news coming from the company it would be easy to assume that OWE’s year has been without negatives. Unfortunately it hasn’t been uneventful in this way. Both Gao Jingjia and Duan Yingnan have suffered injuries, with Jingjia’s having kept “The Flowing King” out of action for far longer than anyone would like to see with such a promising young talent. Injury is just a part of the game when it comes to wrestling, but Yingnan’s recovery was rather quick and CIMA has proven that he is willing to nurture promising talent even through troubling injuries, so one hopes that none of these promising lads will be set too far back from any injuries they experience in these formative years.

Without a doubt there’s even more to say about OWE, and the rest of Chinese Pro Wrestling, that I haven’t covered in these articles. I’ve not talked about what talent is excelling, or the increasing quality of matches across the board in the country as more talent rises. The scope of these articles belies analysis of that nature. Nor have I talked about the fact that when I had had a chance to speak with OWE’s management in Las Vegas they said that they would like to have shows in key US cities with the first few years of their outfits operation. An exciting potentiality which seems to be built off of the increasing international success of brands like NJPW and also will, likely, draw upon the history and knowledge of touring Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations. Could 2019 see these events happen? Will 2019 see the best quality productions in Chinese Pro Wrestling emerge? Will more focus be put on attracting western attention than before, or will these promotions turn their focus more inwards to nurture their domestic markets before branching out more? There are a lot of questions I have, and only one certainty I can share with you: I’ll be there to enjoy it and share it with you as it all happens!

 

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#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – 2018 Year-End Chinese Check-In (Part 1)

On August 26th 2016 I published my first article about Middle Kingdom Wrestling, beginning my foray into documenting, detailing, and analyzing the fledgling Chinese Pro Wrestling scene. Then, on March 15th 2018 I published “#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – State of the Middle Kingdom: An exploration of the burgeoning Chinese Pro Wrestling Scene,” which was received well by both those in and outside of the scene, earning me the opportunity to publish a pair of follow-up articles on the Voices of Wrestling website. It has been six months since I last wrote about the scene and, while initially things were slow, there have been some significant developments and events. As such, I believe it is time that we check-in on these companies and see what’s developed!

In part one of this Check-In I’ll be covering the goings on in KOPW (King of Pro Wrestling,) MKW (Middle Kingdom Wrestling,) CWF (Chinese Wrestling Federation,) OHL (Oriental Heroes Legend,) and WLW (We Love Wrestling,) and part two will be dedicated to getting us caught up on OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment.)

KOPW

One thing King of Pro Wrestling cannot boast about is that it has had many shows in its debut year, as by the end of 2018 this big and bold company will only see two shows under its belt. Their third event was initially planned for a mid-December slot, but has been pushed to early January 2019. Those two, however, are both big deal shows boasting higher than average production values for the scene and strong international roster appearances, with each card featuring Joshi and WWE UK associated talent thus far.

Ho Ho Lun, one of the creative leaders behind the curtains and their current champion,  is optimistic about the future of Pro Wrestling in mainland China and has had KOPW work with OWE to help the Shanghai-based company run its shows in Macau, lending them KOPW’s vaunted ring. He envisions a future for pro wrestling in mainland China that is reminiscent of both the old US Territorial days and China’s Three Kingdoms period, with the country divided up between KOPW in the south, OWE in the middle, and MKW in the north. Of course, at this point in time, only OWE has the resources to create a dedicated roster exclusive to their brand and all other outfits in China see a high rate of crossover in talent. To bolster their brand’s, and the scene’s, futures Ho Ho Lun has told me he would ideally like to set up a school in Guangzhou to train new talent in the long run.

Ho Ho Lun’s belief in the “Asian Wrestling Revolution,” as he has dubbed it, has also seen him forge connections between the non-OWE associated main Dragon Gate group and his own Hong Kong Pro Wrestling, a small outfit that operates exclusively in Hong Kong that was formed before Lun hooked up with Ryan Chen to form KOPW to operate in the mainland. This led to a successful pair of shows for DragonGate in Hong Kong, an tour in Japan with DragonGate for rising Hong Kongese wrestler Bitman, and looks to have brought breakout Hong Kongese superstar Jason Lee back into the Chinese pro wrestling fold again, as he will be returning to wrestle for both the HKWF and KOPW in January 2019. Lun has also forged fledgling relationships with groups in the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Australia also appears to be on his radar.

KOPW benefited from Chinese combat sports league MMC (Mars Martial Championship)’s growing love affair with pro-wrestling in 2018, as they worked with MMC to livestream their second event. Unfortunately the service is unstable when accessed outside of China or on a PC, with my Smartphone working okay for streaming the event but it crashing regularly when run on a computer without a VPN to spoof a local-mainland Chinese IP address. Thankfully KOPW have uploaded much of their matches from their 2nd event to their YouTube page, which compensates heavily for this issue in their bid to get more eyes on their product from outside of the local scene.

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KOPW have one of the sexiest championships in wrestling right now.

Regrettably the main event is the only match missing from their 2nd event on KOPW’s YouTube page, and this points to a concern I had raised previously about KOPW’s usage of talent signed to WWE UK contracts. In the main event Ho Ho Lun defended his KOPW Championship against Sam Gradwell, and due to the nature of the contract he has with the WWE UK brand, a platform like YouTube cannot host wrestling content featuring him in it that is not directly in-line with what his contract allows. As such KOPW’s international audience has been forced, thus far, to miss out on both of their championship bouts thus far. In a smart change of direction, after establishing themselves with their local audience, which they arguably needed the foreign talent to help accomplish, their third event will most certainly not feature any talent presently signed to a WWE UK contract in the main event.

MKW

Middle Kingdom Wrestling have maintained a solid pace and slow build throughout 2018, running almost once a month throughout the year and having their most ambitious project, the Belt and Road Championship Tournament weekend, draw positive attention from government officials for representing President Xi Jinping’s flagship project in a positive light. Said tournament, hosted in Harbin, crowned Black Mamba as the first B&R Champion, and saw talent from a host of countries as far flung as Canada, the Philippines, India, Russia, and more make debuts in mainland China. Throughout it all they have maintained a steady release schedule of their content on their YouTube page, making them the most readily and steadily accessible mainland Chinese company for western audiences.

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Fact: That kick from Black Mamba legitimately knocked out Hong Wan.

During 2018 they saw the debuts of four of their schools students, with the first two, Cam Ferguson and Michael Su, being quickly worked in to their storyline-heavy product. The final two, KC and Bamboo Crusher, made their debuts on MKW’s most recent event to help close out the 2018 calendar year for the promotion. On top of delivering the first appearances of several new students, MKW also held the first rumble styled match and the first ladder match that mainland China has seen. Both in Harbin.

While MKW failed earlier in the year to get former-WWE talent to appear in China, due to no fault of their own, they did succeed in bringing in Kongo Kong to battle their champion Big Sam in the main event of their last show of the year in Shenzhen. This is notable as Kongo Kong is the biggest name in Western wrestling to be brought in to China, and in doing so MKW certainly earn points with the domestic audience who are hungry for the larger-than-life elements of pro wrestling.

2018 also saw a fascinating connection develop between my home of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Middle Kingdom Wrestling beyond myself covering them. A local independent ace, Buck Gunderson, found himself being imported and developing a strong following as the “Unsung Hero” of MKW. More importantly, however, is that he brought with him a young man name Junyan Lee, who is a Chinese expat living in Ontario and training to be a wrestler here in Canada. I’ve spoken with both of them and their story is one that deserves full elaboration in an article of its own, so please look forward to an interesting, heart-warming tale of the Chinese-Canadian connection in the near future!

Furthermore, it can easily be argued that they were the brand that got MMC interested in helping to bolster the fledgling Chinese pro wrestling market. MKW were the first brand who worked with MMC, having a test-run wherein in the middle of an MMA show run by MMC and MKW title match between Big Sam and Hong Wan was held. Very shortly thereafter MMC would reach out to and work with brands such as WLW and KOPW. They were also the final brand to benefit from collaboration with MMC in 2018, with MMC providing aide to MKW to livestream their final of the year show in China. All of which will be made available on their YouTube channel with full English language commentary, a strength which they still hold uniquely within the market. No other Chinese pro wrestling brand dubs English language commentary onto their western platform content releases.

CWF

The Chinese Wrestling Federation spent most of 2018 in silence, then in the middle of summer announced a truly bizarre event. Out of the blue, on their WeChat page, I was greeted by hype videos and articles about an upcoming even which would feature not only their talent wrestling, but also a bikini contest, HEMA competition, and several other elements.

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It’s a shame this event hasn’t hit the internet. I was really curious to see how they mixed it together out of these disparate elements.

Unfortunately this event seems to have either not been filmed or never been posted to their official video pages. With their youku page having last seen an upload on “2017-10-02” and their website presnetly giving me nothing but timed out errors, though the version associated with their WeChat account is still live. While I cannot say with certainty that they’ve folded, it seems likely that the CWF have fallen on hard times.

That being said, their roster, including head trainer Hell Shark, have made sporadic appearances on shows run by groups including MKW and KOPW, where CWF standout Coldray has had a pair of high profile contests against Chinese pro wrestling’s founding Father, The Slam. As such, whether or not the company carries on into the future, their talent will find a way to continue to leave a mark on the Chinese scene if they so desire.

OHL

Simon Inoki’s rebranding of the once-Inoki Genome Foundation (IGF) into Oriental Heroes Legend has seen its relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH provide a stable platform for its developing Chinese talent to perform regularly throughout the second half of 2018, with things looking to follow the same path into 2019. With the amount of ring time their students are getting in NOAH, and the mentorship they are being provided by the strict teacher assigned to them, the incomparable Hajime Ohara, it is most certainly a fact that they may have the opportunity to develop quicker than any other Chinese talent not under the OWE umbrella. Ohara is reportedly so strict that he has banned the trainees from smoking cigarettes, even on breaks!

From personal experience attending a NOAH event at Korakuen Hall in August 2018, and from anecdotal evidence provided to me by fans with their ear to the Japanese audience of NOAH, Sun Yilin seems to have garnered the most love from the Japanese audiences thus far. Amusingly, one of my contacts in the Chinese pro wrestling scene has called into question Sun Yilin’s legitimacy as being Chinese. They indicated to me that, since the Chinese pro wrestling community is so tightly knit and they had never heard of him before Simon Inoki rebranded the IGF, along with his being older and seemingly more skilled than the other talent debuting with him under the banner, all of whom were known to the Chinese scene beforehand, that he may be a Japanese wrestler working a Chinese gimmick. This is, without a doubt, something to classify as an unfounded rumor at the moment but I wanted to share it.

While the English language rendering of the brands name is different depending on if one is reading their logo’s English text, where I transcribed their name from, or translating their Japanese articles from their site, as this article does, it doesn’t diminish the fact that Oriental Heroes Legend have made some big strides. They self reported a turnout of approximately 1000 in attendance at a show they put on in Tianjin featuring cooperation from their partners in NOAH. While the article doesn’t mention whether or not they were paid attendees or how they were counted, if this number is accurate it would easily be one of the biggest crowds in Chinese pro wrestling history.

Certainly, Simon Inoki looks to be making history, as he believes that his talent will be the first Chinese wrestlers to hold GHC gold, and also has made comments to the effect of his talent being better than anything else China has to offer to pro wrestling. Unfortunately, there is no footage available of his groundbreaking events from China to see how the domestic Chinese audience are reacting to his brand’s form of pro wrestling and everything, thus far, has been filtered through OHL’s own press team for public release. I can’t even say that I’ve yet been able to hear from any Chinese fans in attendance via my connections yet.

Unfortunately, with their reliance on the Japanese puroresu scene to provide their talent with places to perform, and their limited outings in the domestic mainland Chinese market, they still feel very much like a Japanese company. It will be interesting to see what they have to offer in 2019, with the big questions being how many shows they will run in China, how much development their talent will have, and whether or not they do anything to make themselves different from just another puroresu outfit when they run in China?

WLW

While Gao Yuan’s We Love Wrestling may not have made the biggest waves in 2018, they have been quietly and busily plugging away, running events throughout the calendar year and uploading videos to their bilibili page. Importantly,  they served an important role as the first professional wrestling company to be granted a full backing by MMC (Mars Martial Championship) to run a large, livestreamed event. This event, from spring of 2018, saw a big roster featuring talent from WLW, their partners in NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling,) and even some Joshi workers including Shida Hikaru. It was a good quality show put on on the back of MKW’s one-match on an MMC even giving the combat sports league a tase for pro wrestling.

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Gao Yuan, to me, is almost always the highlight of any card he is on.

Had Gao Yuan’s troupe put on a sub-par performance when presented with this remarkable platform it is questionable whether or not MMC would have seen much further promise in the Chinese pro wrestling scene. With MMC’s position as one of the largest, if not the largest, combat sports entities in mainland China, their continued interest in pro wrestling could very well help to legitimize the art in the eyes of not only the domestic audience but possibly even the government as well. MMC have, as this article has made clear, spread their eggs across almost every single non-OWE associated pro wrestling act in China at the moment and one can speculate that this may carry on as a trend in 2019. A trend owed to a successful WLW show.

While their budget and social media profiles may not be able to compete with the likes of KOPW or OWE, and their fanbase isn’t as immediately evident or as vocal as MKW’s, and they don’t have the high-profile alliance of OHL, there’s something that tells me that Gao Yuan’s outfit is one to keep an eye on in 2019.

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Come back soon for Part 2, where we investigate the very busy year OWE has had!

#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s Good Things Only End Badly

On November 26th 2017, Smash Wrestling presented the oddly titled Good Things Only End Badly. I say it was oddly titled because the event, most definitely, did not end on a sour note. I feel that I must preface this review with the fact that partway through the show I started feeling terribly ill and had trouble focusing, so my notes in places were slim to none. The Opera House was an interesting venue for a Pro-Wrestling show. The set up felt very intimate and close, because of the architecture. So, let’s get to the matches!

Match 1 – Vaughn Vertigo vs. Kaito Kiyomiya

This match was built around a core pattern that repeated and escalated into a nice finish. The match started with some nice back-and-forth technical grappling work, depicting both men as skilled athletes near on the same level. Then Kaito Kiyomiya would get the upper hand by using his size and strength to overpower Vertigo. This lead to some really aggressive suplex variations, slams, and an absolutely beautiful vertical leaping elbow drop. With the hurting being put on him, Vaughn Vertigo would then use his tremendous speed and evasiveness to counter attack.

The match would repeat that before moving into an ending stretch demarcated by, in my opinion, the moment that Kiyomiya dropkicked Vertigo out of the air. Kiyomiya would follow that with a beautiful missile dropkick and then try to set up his finisher. Vertigo escaped the complicated manoeuvre and went on a brief tear, and looked for a swanton off of the top rope, but met with knees instead. Kiyomiya would hit his finisher and win the match.

Kiyomiya and Vertigo have both impressed me with their development over the course of 2017, but I have to give the young NOAH excursionee the edge in terms of overall development. He’s really showing a lot more personality in how he moves in the ring, and in the variety of his offense. I started off 2017 in Tokyo and I first saw him on January 7th at Korakuen Hall. He looked good then. He looks great now. Between the two of them they put on a really fun opening match, putting the crowd in a good mood.

Grade: B-
Match 2 – Halal Beefcake (Idris Abraham and Joe Coleman) vs. Heavy Metal Chaos (James Stone and Alextreme)

This match was a lot of fun. From the very first minutes both teams worked the crowd hard, eliciting numerous chants and really engaging the audience. The match gets started by Stone ambushing Idris and repeatedly knocking down the Sultan of Shawarma. The crowd turns on Stone with a “Get a Tan” chant after Coleman calls out the heavy metal fanatic for his pale complexion. This chant fires Idris up and he comes back off of an amazing rope-running segment that saw him build up tremendous speed and score a remarkable pop from the crowd when he finally downed his opponent.

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Heavy Metal Chaos (James Stone, above, and Alextreme, below) make thier Toronto debut for Smash Wrestling! Bienvenue a Toronto! Courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Abraham scores the hot tag to Coleman, but their comeback is cut short as Heavy Metal Chaos quickly isolate and dominate him. Their control is effective because of how impactful they make everything they are doing to Coleman look. I’ve seen both of the members of Heavy Metal Chaos before, several times apiece, when I lived in Montreal. It has been a solid four years since I’ve seen either man wrestle and, without a doubt, they have both improved a good deal. In particular, James Stone, who failed to make much of an in-ring impression on me back then and whose recent work is solid.

A beautiful spear by Coleman breaks the sheer dominance of Heavy Metal Chaos and the match builds to its climax as Idris gets the hot tag. Idris displayed a great sense of misdirection and understanding of ring space to set up some cool work in a fun, innovative diagonal turnbuckle-to-turnbuckle running spot. At one point Heavy Metal Chaos look ready to hit their Alley Oop/Knee Strike combo but it gets broken up, which is a shame because it would have popped the Toronto crowd hard. Halal Beefcake win after Idris hits the diving elbow on a downed opponent who had been dropped with Coleman’s driver style finisher.

Grade: B
Match 3 – Petey Williams vs. Kevin Bennett

Like the previous matches, this was a good deal of fun. It was not, however, a match built around the same kind of competitive storytelling as the previous two. Bennett, as ever, was accompanied by his cronies, Big Tank and The Muscle, to the ring and as such, we can easily anticipate their involvement in the fight. In fact, this match served mostly to reinforce Bennett as the top heel in the company and position him for a move up from the mid-card to the main event (we hope.) Of particular note is the fact that Bennett is pushing a new catchphrase about how he did it on his own.

The match saw Petey Williams in complete control from the very first moments of the match, showing off his athleticism and getting his beloved “Oh, Canada!” spot in early. He remains in control until Bennett’s cronies get involved and set him up for Bennett to make a comeback. The fun thing here is that when Bennett is on a roll, he’s a remarkable athlete and his moves I’ve not seen anyone else do, like his Tiger Feint Kick setup that leads to an in-ring body splash. It’s just nuts amounts of fun to watch him work. What’s more nuts is how much fun it is to boo him and chant “Fuck You, Bennett!” at him.

Bennett cheats to stay in control and hits Williams with big move after big move but can’t put him down. Petey Williams makes a strong comeback and hits Bennett with many great sequences, winding up in a sharpshooter that Bennett taps out to… behind the distracted referee’s back! Bennett winds up stealing the win with a roll-up in a lengthy, complex sequence that saw Williams let go of the hold and chase after the cronies.

Grade: B-
Match 4 – Scotty O’Shea vs. Kevin Blackwood

Like the last match, this one served the story more than the in-ring action. Smash have been doing a series of online vignettes that build to this match taking place, wherein the “Hacker” Scotty O’Shea tries to get Blackwood to become his disciple, based around him seemingly knowing something about the new and rising Smash Wrestling star. Backstage muggings from O’Shea have seemingly taken place at every taping the two men have both been present at, so emotions were high when the two men met in the ring.

Immediately the two men start brawling, throwing wild fists as they spill out of the ring and brawl throughout the audience. This lead to a tremendous moment where, on the way back to the ring, Blackwood leapt from nearby railing almost over my head and crashed into Scotty and a bunch of Smash staffers in spectacular fashion. I love it when people leap off of things and Blackwood seems extremely willing to take that risk.

Back in the ring the match built up in violence and intensity until Scotty grabbed Blackwood’s head, whispered something in his ear, and then screamed that the audience didn’t know what he knew. This prompted Blackwood to give up the fight and let O’Shea hit him with his finisher and pin him. Post match O’Shea baptized Blackwood with his own blood and a new alliance was formed. Good story building that regrettably cut short a match that was rather fun.

Grade: B-
Match 5 – Mark Andrews vs. Sebastian Suave vs. Tarik

Regrettably this is the match I have the least notes for. I started feeling remarkably ill at around this point and, on top of that, the action moved at a blistering pace. The purpose of this match, from Kingdom’s opening promo throughout, was to position Sebastian Suave as one of the Pillars of Smash Wrestling, and due his time in the limelight of the main event scene.

Suave jumped Andrews during Kingdom’s confrontation with Tarik to start us off fast and furious. This lead into an immediate fracas, with all three men moving in and out of the ring at high speeds and doing incredible things. Mark Andrews really impressed with how well he moves live and, frankly, I cannot understand why we haven’t seen more of him on major TV shows. I also find it immensely charming that at the same time as he is touring Canada to wrestle, his band is touring as well. It really fleshes out his character. While all three men looked good throughout the match, and were all given the opportunity to hit their signature spots, Suave was definitely given the lion’s share of the time in action.

In fact, the only time I can remember him not being involved actively in the fight was after Andrews wiped out both Tarik and Suave on the outside. Suave stayed down long enough for Tarik to hit Andrews with his finisher and then he pounced and stole the win.

Grade: B
Match 6 – Joe Hendry vs. FTM

This is one that was a bit of a miss for me. For all the logical reasons why I can say Joe Hendry is a talented, funny, athletic performer… he just hasn’t clicked with me yet. His entire entrance was a hilarious gag at mocking Frankie the Mobster, in song, and then coming to the ring with a mask that had croissants taped to it to mock The Beast King. It was genuinely funny stuff that you had to be there, and know who FTM is, to get. Hendry clearly cares a lot about this gimmick he has constructed for himself, and is remarkably good at it. Both outside and inside the ring.

Yet something bored me about the match itself. Outside of Hendry looking amazing when he hit a fancy escape into a DDT and a comedic gag spot where both men hit each other with the big boot and said “You stole my move!” simultaneously I have nothing great to say about it, or Hendry. In fact I noted down specifically “Frankie hits his finisher to put this boring match to rest” live at the event. Only miss of the night, for me.

Grade: C+
Match 7 – The Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) vs. Two Single Matts (Matt Sydal and Matt Cross)

This match started out with some tomfoolery between Sydal and Uno, but quickly picked up the pace into a flurry of action highlighted with some amazing spots. Early on Sydal gets in his signature spots and tags in Cross against Uno. Cross, as is to be expected, moves through the ring and his offense like the definition of fluidity. The Matts double-team Stu Grayson but Uno comes back in with some dirty moves to turn the tide and the SSB isolate Sydal, working him over hard as he fights back.

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“Two Single Matts” is a team loaded with so much athleticism that it almost sickens me. I genuinely hope I have the chance to see these two tag together more regularly. Courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Sydal won’t stay down and turns the tide for his team with an amazing leaping hurracanrana that tosses Grayson into Uno and allows for Sydal to tag in Cross. Not to be outdone, Uno and Grayson unleash some phenomenal double team offense that tosses the Matts into one another as well. Unfortunately for the Super Smash Brothers, Cross hits his unique springboard cutter on both of them at the same time, and he and Sydal seal the deal with a pair of stereo dives for the double pinfall. Great ending to a solid fun bout.

Grade: B
Match 8 – Brent Banks vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Wrestling Championship Match

This match was, without a doubt, the best match of the night and saw both men show me things I haven’t seen from them before. The fact that Brent Banks isn’t being booked everywhere right now baffles me. The match starts with a lock-up and some scrambling that depicts both men as entirely equal at the basics of wrestling mat work and power, which sets the audience up very well for the two men to show us what makes them excel as individuals. Furthermore, it allows for us to understand that, from the very beginning, the contest will be a hard-fought, narrow victory. It was a cleverly performed, almost insignificant portion of the match, but meant so much to me in that moment.

The match builds into a really exciting back-and-forth pacing that gives both men equal opportunities to look good… and boy do they not disappoint! Brent Banks is given ample opportunity to look good and shows off his speed and agility with aplomb. Regrettably, for him, Dux interrupts his control of the match with an apron suplex that echoed through the venue.

Nevertheless Banks keeps rolling on with killer offense as both men lay into each other to set up for a wicked superplex spot. Dux can’t capitalize on the big move and the match continues, and Banks continues to impress, looking the best I have ever seen him be. During a monkey flip into the corner spot Banks botches his landing but recovers and adjusts so quickly and fluidly that it doesn’t even break the breakneck pace of the match.

To be frank, I felt so wretched that at points during some of the matches I could hardly keep my eyes open. This match, however, yanked me viscerally back into focus with its mounting quality. The two men The men exchanged a barrage of strikes too numerous to count and Banks comes sickeningly close to beating Dux with two Death Valley Drivers, Dux’s signature move, one of which was into the turnbuckles. Sadly for Banks, Dux kicked out and managed to work his way back up to win with an incredibly inventive arm-trapped Boston Crab variant that forced Banks to verbally quit as he couldn’t even tap out!

Legitimately the best Smash Wrestling championship match I have ever seen, and the best performance I have seen from both of these men. I know I can’t expect every match to be this good, but I can certainly want them to be!

Grade: A+
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Post-Match a bloodied Tyson Dux is ambushed by the Super Smash Brothers to set up his next defense. Photo courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Conclusion:

I’ve been to some Smash shows that have had an overall higher spread of A-rank matches, but this one was an amazing experience only truly marred by my illness. I’ve been critical of Dux on occasion for being somewhat formulaic and a bit dry in a lot of his defenses of the belt, ranking his matches lower on the show than others, but this performance is the kind of thing that makes me love wrestling and Smash keep giving me that. Bang for my buck, Smash Wrestling is consistently the best product I have been to in Toronto and many other cities.

 

#TorontoWrestling at Impact Bound For Glory in… Ottawa?

Being a fan, and wanting the survival, of Impact wrestling over the last several years has been an interesting experience. It comes with a lot of recognizing flaws and trying to point out successes, often at the nasty end of belittling fans. The entire experience of Bound For Glory reflects that pattern, boiled down to a grimy, tangible, personal experience that was, in the end, more fun than foul… yet left something to be desired.

Arriving at the Aberdeen Pavilion the only indication that an event was occurring was the lights emanating from the large windows. There was no signage for where we should line up, no indication of how those who had purchased VIPs should separate themselves from the plebes like me in GA seats. Once inside the venue there were food stands set up and the facilities were porta-potties, all kept blocked from view by the black curtains that were set up for the live filming area. The setup inside of the filming area was very clean and crisp and I could tell immediately that it would look good on camera. Up until the moment I was in my seat there was a distinct air of disorganization and the sense that something second rate was right below the high-sheen finish.

Once in my seat I let that go and got excited to finally see the brand after oh-so-many years, regrettably that feeling would, at times, crawl back up to the surface during the event.

Match 1 – Trevor Lee (c) vs. Dezmond Xavier vs. Petey Williams vs. Sonjay Dutt vs. Matt Sydal vs. Garza Jr. – X Division Championship Match

This match suffered from being put on first. While, in theory, an exciting match like a 6-way X Division match could get a crowd pumped up, this one’s biggest flaw was that it was over too quick for me to really get invested in the ending. Both the X Division as a whole, and that Championship, deserve better than that feeling.

Dutt and Sydal opened us up with stereo moves and a near miss on Sydal’s standing moonsault. They set up some early match gag moments that see Trevor Lee on the receiving end of both a quartet of superkicks and of dropkicks. It was a moment of satisfaction that the division needed with the very peculiar booking the championship has received in recent months. Each man was given his chance to look good in the match, for what little time it had. Dezmond Xavier’s brilliant flippy stuff and Garza Jr’s headbutt stand out as particular moments of worth. Much of the match was built around Petey Williams looking for the Canadian Destroyer. He had received a remarkable pop upon his arrival and the crowd was hot for him to win. Sydal missed his Shooting Star Press to kick of the final sequence of action that culminated in Petey Williams hitting the Destroyer but having his win stolen by Trevor Lee, who shoves him out of the ring and takes the win, retaining his belt.

Grade: B

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Match 2 – Tyson Dux vs. Taiji Ishimori

The shame of this match is that it was designed, from the beginning, to be the backdrop for Laurel Van Ness to meander through the crowd as her “Hot Mess” gimmick. For those in attendance live it was a right distraction from two great performers having an earnest attempt at a short, quality match. To those at home, it was impossible to look away from Laurel as the cameras mobbed her as she went around. She plays her role very well, and the booking is certainly not within her direct control. She was doing the job they asked of her. It is simply unfortunate that they had to do this during the very limited screen time they had given over to showcasing both a local workhorse talent in Dux and their Japanese partner promotion’s often-champion in Ishimori, who was escorted to the ring by an official of the NOAH offices.

The match itself was pretty fun, even though I was not able to focus 100% on it. It started off immediately with both men putting their all into it, clearly aware of the truncated time and, I hope, advised in advance of the audience shenanigans they had to compete with. Ishimori put his speed and agility on display, executing feints and murderous foot stomps. Dux , as the bigger man, used size to his advantage and threw or grappled with Ishimori as the flow of the match dictated. Ishimori picked up the win with a lovely 450 Splash. Solid fun, but definitely too short for a meeting between men this good.

Grade: B-

After this match Alberto El Patron showed up and cut a “Go Home” heat generating promo about how Impact had abandoned him when he was under investigation for domestic abuse, and then he invoked his children. It was cringey and the audience wasn’t booing him because he was turning heel.

Match 3: Grado vs. Abyss – Grado Loses he Leaves the Country Monster’s Ball Match

This was an overbooked mess. A Monster’s Ball match, in and of itself, is already guaranteed to be spot heavy. This match doubled-down hard on it, having Laurel Van Ness do a run in to hit Grado with the Unprettier. This only prompted more run ins as Rosemary came down, misted LVN in the face, and then ate a chokeslam from Abyss. It felt remarkably forced and unfortunate. Match ended with Abyss hitting a particularly hard-working Grado with a Black Hole Slam on some barbed wire. Match was further marred by a premature bell being rang just before the ending, deflating any momentum that match had even further. I kind of want to see this match again, only without all the mess.

Grade: C+
Match 4 – Team AAA (El Hijo del Fantasma/Pagano/Texano Jr.) vs. Team Impact (EC3/Eddie Edwards/James Storm)

This was my personal favourite match of the night. It got a bunch of things right. It had a big event feeling from the very beginning. Team AAA felt like a big deal from the moment they made their entrance, were the first wrestlers on the card to really make an effort to work the crowd, and as the match built they were given a lot of opportunities to look good in the ring. The match, furthermore, had bits worked into it expressly designed to set up continuing story content as well. This is the kind of feud I would genuinely hope to see more of, in the future, with maybe an Impact vs. NOAH bout to come. I’ll admit to being biased towards anything that gets more international talent in front of my eyes, so this match and Impact’s present multi-promotion alliance are completely in my wheelhouse.

The story of the match is built, primarily, around two elements. The first is that Team AAA will cheat to gain the advantage when necessary, even though they are positioned very early on as incredibly capable combatants. the second is that EC3 refuses to tag in for his team, leaving Impact disadvantaged even further. Eddie Edwards took a good deal of the beatings in this match, even taking El Hijo del Fantasma’s finisher on the apron. James Storm gets the win with the Last Call on Pagano after EC3 finally tags in and gets a double low blow followed by the One-Percenter to set his partner up. There was a bit too much going on to properly pay attention to it all from a stationary live seat, and that’s really my only complaint. It was a fun match that let me see three Mexican stars, two storied Impact talent, and one Global Honoured Crown champion at the same time! Wow!

Grade: B+
Match 5: LAX (Santana and Ortiz) vs. OVE (Jake and Dave Crist) (c) – Impact Tag Team Championship 5150 Street Fight Match

The biggest problem I had with this match was that I was in attendance instead of watching it at home. From the sounds of it, a lot was going on. Regrettably it was almost all out of my view. The thrilling dive from the scaffolding was but a brief flicker of a man visible near the bleachers as he leapt, only to disappear behind the bleachers and leave me with only a tease of violence. Most of the ringside brawling, likewise, was on the opposite side of the ring and difficult to track and make sense of. I’ve been told it was a banging match by those who watched the stream. It’s a shame I can only say I saw about a quarter of the match clearly.

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What I was able to see was some pretty thrilling violence. Chairs collided with flesh in brilliant spectacle. Sami Callihan made his debut and the ensuing carnage was one of the most effective double turns of recent memory. OVE with the win after Callihan put Ortiz through a table with a piledriver off of the apron.

Grade: B-
Match 6 – Gail Kim vs. Allie vs. Sienna (c) – Impact Women’s Championship Match

A lot of people made a big deal about the fact that Gail Kim won this match. While I would have certainly made the opposite decision regarding the outcome of this match, I nevertheless was very happy to see Gail win. I loved Gail Kim’s push in her early time with TNA that proved to me something I had been wanting proved to me for a while, and that the big Connecticut company wasn’t giving me any of:  that women’s wrestling was just as good as men’s. I can’t help but think, in hindsight, that I’d have rated this match higher if Gail had gone out in a way that set up a new generation better, but I won’t begrudge her her moment. She’s given me too much.

The match started with Gail and Allie working together to beat down Sienna and, when Sienna would retreat from the ring, they would grapple with each other. They would, of course, resume their alliance when Sienna would return to the ring. This seemed to be working until Sienna cuts Allie off, catching her unawares. Sienna begins a comeback which sees her toss Allie with an Avalanche Fallaway Slam and nearly secure the pinfall on several occasions as she used her two opponents against each other. The ending came when Sienna was interrupted by Allie in her attempts to defeat Gail Kim. Sienna dumped Allie out of the ring with her AK-47 finisher but gets caught with an Eat Defeat off the top rope and Gail Kim caps off her career with a nice bookended championship victory.

Grade: B
Match 7 – Stephan Bonnar and Moose vs. Bobby Lashley and King Mo – Six Sides of Steel Cage Match

Many of my complaints about this show stem from heavy overbooking, turning personal vendettas and new rivalries alike into messes of tangled humanity. Herein, however, the story that built to this match warranted the interference that was to come. The MMA folks involved in the match, from Bonnar and Mo through every single member of American top Team that would interject themselves into the match all were willing to take bumps and put on a pro-wrestling spectacle.

The match kicked off as a fairly even exchange between the two teams that saw King Mo repeatedly thrown into the cage walls face first, to my personal delight. The match featured a lot of great feats of Pro-Wrestling extravaganza, such as Lashley catching Moose into a powerbomb, or Moose’s eventual leap off of the cage. It also featured a nice MMA inspired grappling sequence between Bonnar and King Mo. Eventually American Top Team invaded the cage and locked Moose out to beat on Bonnar, eliciting Moose to scale the cage and leap in. Regrettably, even after the biggest babyface heat getter of the match, American Top Team beat the team of Bonnar and Moose by sheer numbers alone. Thus prolonging a feud that should have blown off in this match between Pro-Wrestling and MMA. I hear they’re playing it out more over the tapings, and I don’t think it’ll bring much return on investment.

Grade: B
Match 8 – Johnny Impact vs. Eli Drake (c) – Impact Global Championship Match

The best thing I can say about this match is that it happened and Johnny Impact is cool. While Johnny Insertnamehere was a pleasure to watch, as he moves unlike any other performer in the business, the match was marred by three distinct factors: 1)Eli Drake, who is just about as interesting to me as a piece of cold, unbuttered, stale toast. I’ll give him credit for his remarkable athletic ability with his leaping superplex. Maybe he’ll grow on me. 2) “Vanilla Muscles” Chris Adonis, a man who can only trade on his looks. I want to like the man, but he’s just so “there.” He kept interjecting his bland self in the match, riddling it with heel lackey interference. 3) Alberto El Patron’s absurd, confusingly executed run-in. People nearby me were openly saying that it made no sense. I agree. El Patron, a man thoroughly booed and unwanted by the audience, ruins the ending of the main event of the biggest show of Impact’s yearly schedule and I’m supposed to be excited to see more? The match, up until El Patron got involved, would come in on its own at a B/B-… but that shitshow booking knocked it down to the lowest grade of the show. Nobody even got over out of that ending!

Grade: C
Conclusion:

Much like the history of Impact as a brand and Laurel Van Ness, Bound For Glory 2017 was a bit of a hot mess. The show genuinely had some fun matches, but something just felt off throughout the show. The fun repeatedly punctured by these unsettling moments where I question what in the sweet hell the company is doing. Ending the show in such an unsatisfactory manner, in a match already riddled with interference, just derailed the entire experience. It’s a bit stupefying how a company with access to the vast wealth of talent Impact has access to continually hangs its hat on tired ideas the company has burned through before and performers whom the audience is, rightfully so, sick of seeing and hearing from. Even when they do something new and fun, like the LVN gimmick, they do it in such a way that it distracts and detracts value from other performers. They have a really long way to go before they genuinely pack houses, instead of giving away seats, for their TV tapings.

#DiscoveringWrestling #031 – Can Anthem #MakeImpactGreat Again? (Part 3)

The list of international promotions who have had working relationships with Impact, in its various incarnations, is a lengthy one. I’m not going to lie and say that they’ve always made excellent use of these relationships, and the talent that has moved through their roster because of them, but, for a variety of reasons, they have always excited me.

Right now, Global Force Wrestling has working relationships with Pro Wrestling NOAH, AAA, and The Crash. Perhaps not too surprisingly they have already begun to lean on these relationships to bolster their roster and provide fresh, distinct match ups to their viewing audience. Most prominently featured, thus far, and becoming semi-regulars in the process, are the team of Garza Jr. and Laredo Kid, courtesy of The Crash. For many weeks now this pair have featured in the Tag Team landscape and have garnered for themselves a fair bit of love from those paying attention to the product.

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Look at how happy they are! But Garza Jr. recognizes this fan can’t spell his name right…

In more recent weeks, Impact Wrestling’s audience have been treated to the spectacle of Drago and Taiji Ishimori being entered into the latest installment of the Super X Cup, a four-company interpromotional tag team title match at Slammiversary, and the sheer bewildering absurdity of a Naomichi Marufuji versus Moose match for the Impact Grand Championship. Impact Wrestling talent have also found themselves abroad, working in NOAH and The Crash themselves this year.

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Drago picks up the win over Sammy Guevara and moves on to the Semi-Finals in the newly reborn Super X Cup! Seriously, guys, this X Division is good!

While many will cling to the well-documented story of Okada, as a young lion on excursion, having his time in TNA be a completely missed opportunity – and as hindsight would have it, woah yeah that’s a missed opportunity – few will give them credit for their successes. At present they have repeatedly used their inter-promotional guests to great effect, booking them to look strong in victory and defeat, making certain to set up their losses in ways that do not tarnish their value as special attractions for the brand. In doing this well enough they have elevated both the X and Tag Team divisions, injecting meaningful depth into a roster rife with instability, both looming and present. This presentation is respectful to their partner promotions and beneficial to making their own talent look competitive.

While the tag division, post-Slammiversary, has been on a simmer with LAX’s involvement with El Patron, the X division is at a full boil with the Super X Cup, the budding feud between Sonjay Dutt and Trevor Lee, and the ascendancy of Matt Sydal all going on at the same time. That’s a lot of TV time dedicated to the division. The fresh match ups and high quality performances brought to Impact Wrestling by their international guests are a strong component in making that time worth watching. Not only do they book them into matches up and down the card, they spend a decent amount of energy introducing their audience to who these guests are, getting them over and giving them depth enough so that the audience feels it is safe to invest in them. Realistically I do not know how long the current selection of talent will be in play, but it doesn’t feel like they’re just going to be here for a short time and have no meaning to the greater whole. That feeling, in the moment, is possibly more valuable than whether or not they actually succeed at it because it has generated intrigue and buzz enough to get people talking.

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This match was really quite amazing, and the set up here for Low-Ki’s double stomp had me excited. You knew it was coming and you couldn’t wait!

This formula reminds me of when, in times past, TNA had successfully utilized their international talent. I remember a young Hiroshi Tanahashi, then the IWGP U-30 champion, having matches with AJ Styles that excited me. Back then, much like the recent match between Moose and Marufuji, run ins marred the match itself but helped to keep the question of who would have won without it in the mix. Furthermore, Impact’s marketing of Wrestle Kingdom III as Global Impact  gave fans a window into a world that only tape traders and hardcore fans had had access to. This is arguably not something that was remarkably beneficial to them back then. Nevertheless  it did draw me further towards Puroresu which I am thankful for. However with the increased power of social media and the increasingly tightly-knit nature of the online fandom, I have seen people talking about and watching Impact who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to pay it any mind at all. Most notably English speaking fans of their foreign partners, such as NOAH, who were abuzz about the announcements of the partnerships and the action that has unfurled from these relationships in those domains.

With the return of the Super X Cup, one must wonder if these partnerships could be leaned on to populate the roster of a potentially rebooted team-based World X Cup. The previously annual World X Cup events were always a highlight of TNA’s calendar year for someone like me. It put a lot of new talent in front of my eyes and introduced me to new companies, new styles of wrestling, new fan favorites. Indeed, I can say that I likely would have walked down my path into Puroresu fandom a lot later in life if Then-TNA hadn’t put so much of it in front of my eyes. If I had never discovered that Global Impact WAS Wrestle Kingdom III then I don’t know where I’d be as a wrestling fan now.

Right now, Global Force (a.k.a. Impact Wrestling f.k.a. Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling) sits at the crux of a fascinating international inter-promotional alliance. In the current landscape of Pro-Wrestling you have a handful of alliances building and consolidating their power bases. The WWE has its own, with Evolve, IPW, and Progress being willing underlings and talent farms for them. Then there is the second tier, featuring Ring of Honor, NJPW, CMLL, and Rev Pro. Then you have the third tier, consisting of AAA, NOAH, GFW, and The Crash (and, in an indirect way, Lucha Underground). This third alliance is seen by many as the black sheep of the industry.   GFW has a well documented, turbulent history full of highs and lows, with rumors of the company’s imminent shut down circling about every few months (or so it seemed). NOAH, once a shining star in the constellation Puroresu, now a brown dwarf barely visible in the night sky, were undone by untimely deaths and financial troubles which led them into an unfavorable relationship with NJPW. AAA is plagued by rampant rumbling rumors and twitter beefs about their backstage politicking and talent disputes. Only The Crash escapes the negativity-storm unscathed, and that is realistically because it’s very young. Humorously, The Crash spawned out of a splinter group of talent who left AAA because of their dissatisfaction with management.

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It was kind of surreal seeing NOAH’s logo on an Impact show, partly because I grew up watching both in my Post-E days.

Brought together, however, their leadership stood united on the ramp at Slammiversary, and their talent have worked matches together on Impact. 2017 has been a year of rebirth for GFW Impact and NOAH, seeing both companies turning out good shows and rededicating themselves what made them work in the first place. During their dark times the two companies didn’t feel like themselves, they felt like a bad version of another place. Can they lean on each other, and their turbulent Mexican partners, to revitalize, reinvigorate, reinvent, and rebrand themselves as themselves? Or will the immense potential presented by this pool of exchangeable talent go to waste? If I were to base my verdict on the past several months of Impact television, I’d say we’re in store for some amazing wrestling over the next few years… but the specter of the past looms large, and the only way to know for sure is to tune in each and every week to find out!

Do you have any feedback or questions? Leave a comment here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #030 – #TorontoWrestling at Love Life, Love Wrestling #SupportTheScene

On July 16th Smash Wrestling held their first event in the city of Toronto since they announced their new television deal with the Fight Network, and it was all being recorded for their new show. The recent weeks have seen a sea of big news for Smash Wrestling alongside the TV deal, including unveiling a new logo, and announcing an official partnership with Leduc’s Federation de la Lutte Quebecois. This show was named #SupportTheScene and it rang true for me, as I have not felt more like supporting the scene, spending my good money, on local indie Pro-Wrestling than I do now, than I do since Smash moved from the outskirts of the GTA in to Toronto proper and started making baller moves. It’s a good time for #TorontoWrestling and, more excitingly, a good time for Canadian wrestling as a whole.

Match 0: Mark Wheeler vs. Benjamin Boone

Boone is dominant right out of the gate, but Wheeler is very aggressive and turns momentum to his side. The match is built around some good striking and both men take big bumps off of a running lariat spot from Boone. Boone shows good energy with his suplexing, but for some reason the crowd was very cold. Wheeler busts out a pretty moonsault but misses. Boone hits him with what I can only describe as a package vertical suplex for the three count. Simple, short, fun opening match. Both men look like they have more to offer if given expanded time.

Grade: C
Match 1: Evil Uno vs. Brent Banks

Uno puts his superior power on display early in the match. Banks, on the other hand, uses very lucha libre styled work escape. Evil Uno plays up to his name and uses dirty tactics to get Banks outside of the ring and slams him hard, spine first, on the ring apron. The crowd reacts well, and on cue, to this violent display. Uno uses his nefarious upper hand to grind Banks down slowly. He snaps fingers, uses shenanigans, and gets a solid neckbreaker for a two count. Uno, in full heel mode, rakes, pokes, and bites Banks at every indecent opportunity.

Brent Banks turns the tide with a huge comeback slam, which he follows up on with an Asai DDT for a near fall. A huge corkscrew crossbody gives Banks the perfect opportunity for a Tope Suicida, but Uno catches him out of the air and drops him with a vicious tombstone piledriver on the hard concrete floor. The crowd explodes. Banks makes his way back into the ring at the nine count and Uno pounces on him, hitting a brainbuster for two. Banks gets his own near fall off of a surprise jackknife pin, and Uno gets another near fall on Banks off of an electric chair dropped into a neckbreaker on his knee. This build up of intensity leads to a sequence with a flurry of hard strikes exchanged between the two men and avoided attempts at finishing each other off until Banks gets his springboard cutter on Uno and puts him away for the three count.

I think this match would have served the Super Smash Bros storyline heading into Smash’s next show better had Uno won off of the electric chair neckbreaker so as to not have a loss heading into battle with the hottest tag team in the company, and it would also have truncated a match which in the end felt like it went on just a little too long.

Grade: B-
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Look at Kiyomiya’s intense death-glare.

Match 2: Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Stu Grayson

Kiyomiya controls the opening portion of the match with solid, fundamental wrestling. He grinds down on Grayson with submission holds and pin attempts. Unfortunately he cannot maintain the momentum after Grayson takes him down with a huge uranage like slam. This gives Grayson control and he starts working over Kiyomiya with strikes and ground and pound. They switch control back and forth based on their striking skills but Grayson lands a huge belly-to-back suplex on Kiyomiya for two to stuff his momentum. Grayson keeps cutting off the much younger competitor at every possible turn.

With all the speed his body has contained in it (and it’s a lot, folks! (gif link if I can find it) Kiyomiya lands a forearm to reverse positions, and gains control. He lands a series of good looking strikes and a ridiculously high angle missile dropkick, but can only get a two count. He follows that up with just the prettiest, most beautiful Fisherman’s Suplex Hold, getting himself another two count over Grayson. Unfortunately for the Young Lion on excursion, he cannot secure the victory and succumbs to Grayson who lands a nasty Torture Rack transitioned into an over-the-knee backbreaker for the win. Easily the most brutal looking backbreaker I have seen live.

Definitely an entertaining match that went to show how much potential Kiyomiya has, and also how undeniably great Grayson has been getting these last few months. He’s been around a while and yet I don’t think he’s ever been this exciting to watch before. Keep that up!

Grade: B-
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Here I am with Kaito Kiyomiya, after the show. Great flashback moment to me seeing him perform at Korakuen Hall on my trip to Tokyo.

Match 3: Scotty O’Shea vs. Matt Cross

Cross opens the match with a huge boot to O’Shea’s face. The action immediately spills outside the ring and they brawl near the corner post and then Cross hits a crazy elbow drop after hanging himself off of the post horizontally. It was very gymnastics-esque, and also very cool. Cross dominates until O’Shea catches him with an ear clap from behind. He keeps knocking Cross down, but cannot secure the three count after many pin attempts. O’Shea is shown to be forceful, but Cross is too resilient to be worn down. Each time Cross fights back, O’Shea stuffs his momentum back down, resisting the comeback with aggression and bravado.

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The goddamn manliest beard on the show!

Unfortunately for O’Shea, his bravado sows the seeds of his undoing. He taunts too much and lets Cross breathe. Cross flips his way out of danger and takes control by force of will and iron body combined. He springs around the ring like a musclely, beardy super ball. O’Shea tries to mount a comeback but misses a corner cannonball and this sets up a sequence with many attempts to hit moves but Cross comes out on top with his crazy shoulder springboard cutter for the win.

Like the other matches up to this point on the card, this match doesn’t quite make the transition from being entertaining into being great. Likewise, it also features good banter from the performers. This show was very vocal.

Grade: B
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There’s a whole lot of great talent in this match.

Match 4: Sebastian Suave, Braxton Sutter, and Tarik vs. Greed, Psycho Mike, and Kevin Blackwood

The bell rings and Braxton Sutter faces Greed to start us off. Sutter tries to get the upper hand on Greed, but he’s too strong. Frustrated and turned around, Sutter tries to tag in Psycho Mike, which generates a good moment of levity and builds on the story of their falling out as tag team partners. Instead of tagging himself out to safety, Sutter gets slammed by Greed. They switch it up and Psycho Mike and Sebastian Suave are in for their teams. They run the ropes and Mike knocks Suave down. Greed comes in and body slams Mike on to Suave, whom he is feuding with.

Tarik and Kevin Blackwood are the next two men to rotate in. It quickly breaks down to a scramble and brawling, and Blackwood comes out of it with a series of kicks to Tarik. Tarik and Suave work together and beat down on Blackwood, but he escapes and tags in Greed. In the ring Greed goes after Suave and it’s about this time that I realized how good a job this match is doing at building the storylines for these wrestlers heading into the next event. In that aspect this match is a great success, but without the appropriate commentary or having seen the last several months of matches, some of the nuances would be lost on an incoming fan.

The heels triple team Greed to get the advantage, and then isolate him with frequent tags to wear down on the biggest man in the match. They can’t maintain control over Greed and Blackwood gets a huge backstabber on Tarik after the beleaguered Greed finally tags out. The action spills out of the ring and Psycho Mike takes to the air, landing on all of his opponents. He is followed quickly by Blackwood and, inevitably, by Greed as well, leading to a massive wreckage of humanity on the floor. Back in the ring Greed dominates Tarik and Sutter with throws. But things aren’t all rosy for the faces, as Suave absolutely murders Blackwood with a torture rack drop.

Heading in to the closing stretch of the match, Mike hits suave with a huge Fisherman’s Buster, but Sutter is in to break up the pin. The match then descends into absolute chaos. Psycho Mike comes in with “the box” that has been a part of the feud between himself and Sutter and wails on people with it. Tarik and Blackwood then duelled each other with chairs. All of this in front of the referee and there were no DQs handed out. All of this leads up to Suave kicking Greed in the gonads, behind the referee’s back, setting up a flying knee from Tarik, and getting the win for his team.

All in all this match was very fun and filled to the brim with feud building and storytelling. Unfortunately, the rules suddenly not mattering in front of the referee neutered the impact of Suave low blowing Greed behind the ref’s back. If that had been the only shenanigans that happened in the match and the weapons had only been used afterwards, it probably would have made more sense.

Grade: B
Match 5: Fight or Flight (Vaughn Vertigo and Gabriel Fuerza) vs. Tabarnak de Team (Mathieu St-Jacques and Thomas Dubois)

The match opens with St-Jacques dominating Fuerza with brutal heel antics, but Fuerza recovers and Fight or Flight use teamwork to fight back against their physically domineering opposition. Regrettably, this leads to Tabarnak de Team stacking them in the corner and wrecking them. Fight or Flight try to mount a comeback with a good high-flying sequence, but TDT counter it with brutality and isolate Vertigo. They wail on him and he fights back, valiantly, but he can’t outsmart Dubois, who just keeps on top of him. St-Jacques tags in, rinse and repeat, Vertigo is no match for the Quebecois wrecking crew.

Vertigo finds his opening on Dubois with a huge Tornado DDT and promptly tags in Fuerza. Very surprisingly Fuerza clears the ring of both Dubois and St-Jacques with remarkable German suplexes on the burlier Frenchmen. He strings together some boss offense but TDT, in the end, are just too big for him to handle. The biggest Fight or Flight moves are kicked out of, and TDT intercept attempted dives with a tandem spears. Dubois and St-Jacques nail a combo hanging European uppercut and Powerbomb but only get a two count. Fight or Flight tease a comeback off of a sick backstabber and swanton bomb combo, but French power overcomes all and Tabarnak de Team turn the tides in their favour again. They absolutely murder Vertigo with a phenomenal moonsault slam from the top rope followed by a double team Alabama Slam, securing themselves the victory.

This match was filled with super great tag team action, and was built on easy, fun, clear storytelling. Both of these teams improve each time I see them, however TDT have really been amping up their performances lately. This match in particular gave me a sneak peek into one of my most anticipated matches of the summer, where TDT will be defending their IWS Tag titles against The Young Bucks. I expect to see that same moonsault slam from the top rope again. That move was amazing. At first I thought it was going to be an avalanche fallaway slam, and then he was moonsaulting while holding Vertigo in his arms. These guys are great.

Grade: A-
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Man, Smash’s match graphics always look so well made!

Match 6: Jay White vs. Kevin Bennett

Jay puts on a great display of technical aptitude to open the match, with a beautiful arm drag and then locking Bennett up tightly. Jay shows great charisma in how he deals with Bennett’s heel behaviour. He maintains firm control and looks really good. He lays chops in to Bennett, taking him on a tour of all four sides of the ring as he does so. In fact, for Bennett to mount any kind of an offense at all on Jay White he has to rely on the interference of his cronies. Once they start interfering they keep it up and Bennett takes every advantage he can out of the situation, looking like the most cowardly and opportunistic of heels.

No matter how heely Bennett acts, or how hard he hits Jay, each time Jay survives. Jay mounts his comeback with a series of strikes and a beautiful suplex. Bennett finds an opening and hits a spinning neckbreaker on Jay but cannot secure the pinfall. Jay comes back hard with a trio of beautiful suplexes and wrecks Bennett, throwing him hard into the corner with the final suplex. With the distraction provided by his cronies Bennett crotches Jay on the turnbuckle and throws him down hard from the top. This pattern plays out through the whole match, each time Jay looks to capitalize on his beautiful, crisp, clean, devastating offense the cronies get involved and delay him or distract him. Infuriated, Jay hits Bennett with a huge brainbuster and locks on a crippler crossface, Bennett tries to roll out of it but Jay keeps hold and turns it into an Anaconda Vice. Bennett taps out but his cronies distract the referee. Jay decides to take the cronies out of the equation but when he returns to deal with Bennett he gets a low blow. Suddenly a message from Frankie the Mobster plays, tying in with the long-term storylines between Bennett and Frankie, which distracts Bennett and gives Jay the opportunity to finish him off with a Cobra Clutch Suplex and a vicious flatliner.

Jay White is absolutely excellent. Bennett is a well-booked, well=performed heel. Regrettably the video from Frankie being what clinches the ending sequence was a bit detrimental to the overall narrative and weakened the quality of Jay’s face heat.

Grade: A-
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Ladies and Gentleman, your main event of the evening!

Match 7: Colt Cabana vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Championship Match

They scramble for position to start and quickly Colt gets up to some of his comedy antics, prompting Dux to ask him to “not be silly.” The two masters put on a great technical sequence, going hold for hold with each other, and putting on a display of action that is very favourable to me. So far I have seen Dux defend his title a handful of times and each defense has felt quite different from the last. This is both a compliment to Dux as a performer and to Smash’s booking of high quality, diverse talent for him to work with.

Clever and skillful work is on exhibition throughout this match. Both men move so fluidly from hold to hold, sequence to sequence, that it can only impress. Dux is the first to resort to striking, as neither man can outwrestle the other, and he is willing to take things to the next level to keep that championship in his possession. Colt Cabana gets angry over the transition from grappling to striking, almost seeming offended that a fellow technician would resort to crude fisticuffs. But Dux isn’t phased and comes out of a scramble of moves with a stupid hard DDT.

Dux decides that to maintain control of this match he has to get violent. He strikes Cabana with intensity, transitioning into the very aggressive side of his in-ring style. Cabana tries to turn the tide but Dux is unwavering, until the crafty Colt scores a nice flying head scissors and sends Dux for a tumble.  There’s a nice, lighthearted sequence where Colt looks to hit Dux with an elbow but can’t find it, he tries several times before eventually connecting and Colt injects his usual charm into the whole shebang. They go back-and-forth with each other in a fun series of moves where Dux can’t put Colt away. He tries for a single leg Boston Crab but to no avail. Colt finds his opening on Dux and gets in a hopping splash, but Dux kicks out and hits a death valley driver, resetting the momentum. They go back and forth again and shortly Dux counters Cabana into a brainbuster for the win.

A fun match that appealed to my sensibilities but was missing a certain element for a title match: At no point did I feel that Colt “Boom Boom” Cabana had even a chance of leaving Toronto with that title. Something about the atmosphere and presentation of the match didn’t tip it over that line.

Grade: B+
Conclusion:

Overall, this show was really great from a continuity perspective. The in-ring action may not be at the peaks I have seen it at previously, but the real meat of the matches came from watching the long-term stories of Smash Wrestling unfold.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #018 – A Muy Bien Addendum

So, last week I posted a quickly put together introduction to Hajime Ohara, as part of my efforts to promote the great wrestling that people aren’t aware of or aren’t paying attention to. I was lucky enough to receive some good feedback from different corners of the internet I shared it with. So, this week, we’re going to address some of the things that were brought to my attention.

First, it was brought to my attention that I mention “Muy Bien” a bunch but I never make it clear why I use the term. It’s simple, really. It is Hajime Ohara’s catchphrase. It’s on his trunks and his merch and he says it in promos.

But, why does a Japanese wrestler spout seemingly random Spanish? Well, this ties directly into another frequently brought up point! I didn’t go enough into Ohara’s history. In the interest of, as my intial article proclaimed, this being part of a brief introduction I’m not going to go into tremendous detail here. Just the big stuff.  He started his career under the tutelage of two legends of Lucha Libre, Ultimo Dragon and Skayde, and spent the first portion of his career in Mexico. Throughout the 2000s he worked for a plethora of promotions, across the globe: CMLL, Dradition, Toryumon Mexico, Nu Wrestling Evolution, HUSTLE, and Zero-1. During this time he held few titles but did have an impressive 291 day reign with the NWA International Jr Heavyweight title. He worked in a few of Tajiri’s short-lived promotions in the early 2010s before finding his home with Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2013. He held tag gold in the junior division twice with Kenoh, but his January 7th 2017 Korakuen Hall victory has provided him with his first singles reign in the company.

It was suggested that I should illustrate some of his backbreaker variants, which is quite difficult to do without having GIFs. In the future I will try to make GIFs. For now, I will try to describe my favourite variation, which is when he stars with his opponent iin a Fireman’s Carry position and then flips them over his head onto his knee in a sickening looking backbreaker. He does it with such speed and snappiness that the change of position makes it genuinely look more wild and dangerous than a regular backbreaker, even though the bump is essentially the same.

Okay, then, to top it off, here’s some more videos:

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#DiscoveringWrestling #017 – Muy Bien! A brief introduction to Hajime Ohara

Until January 7th 2017 I was uninitiated into the ways of Muy Bien. I’ll admit to having a bias towards wanting to enjoy the show I was at. I sat on the hardcam bleachers in the legendary Korakuen Hall on my dream vacation, days removed from seeing Wrestle Kingdom 11, at a NOAH show. Thanks to the Fight Network and Mauro Ranallo, Pro Wrestling NOAH had been a powerful part of my indoctrination into the wonders of Puroresu. It was magical. Then Hajime Ohara fought Taiji Ishimori for the vacant GHC Jr Heavyweight championship.

I thought it at this event, and started reading it online afterwards, that Hajime Ohara is the New Messiah of the Backbreaker. This match was hard hitting, fast, crisp, and innovative. Ohara did things I have never seen before. He was quite exciting. Since then all of his title defenses have been solid entertainment and I find myself often imagining dream matches since the ever deepening number of inter-promotional relationships have come to light. With Impact Wrestling, AAA, and The Crash all partnered directly, or indirectly, with NOAH as of late, there is good opportunity for Ohara to have a wealth of diverse, interesting matches.

I’ll admit to having drifted away from NOAH for a long while after the death of Misawa, as many did. I regret it, but it had lost its heart for a while. During the whole muckaboo with Suzuki-Gun and NOAH’s very one-sided partnership with New Japan, Hajime Ohara performed admirably. I’m sad that I missed so much of his development in years past, but the wrestler he is now is a phenomenal, smooth performer. He is remarkably explosive, and this applies not just to the force he uses in his offense, but also his ability to suddenly burst forth with speed seemingly out of nowhere. This impressive, innovative, explosive performer is the culmination of Ohara’s thirteen year journey as a Pro-Wrestler, and I’m certain his rather impressive 11-3-0 MMA record has helped in how smooth and fluid his grappling is. Every single one of his wins came from submission.

With NOAH posturing for a rebirth, and putting on incredible title matches and solid shows on pretty much every card, Hajime Ohara sits at the cusp of a possible explosive year. He has all the tools he needs, and the landscape is primed for him to use them. These are the reasons I believe that he is someone whom, in 2017, you should discover for yourself. Get your eyes on him!

If you like this idea, of me writing not just about promotions and events but also spotlighting performers, please let me know. I would also appreciate any feedback you have about what I could say or do to help better present and provide valuable information to you.

Do you have any feedback or questions? Please leave a comment here.

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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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#DiscoveringWrestling #008 – My Journey to Japan for Wrestle Kingdom 11 (Part 3)

How could I go to Japan and not get a whole bunch of wrestling merch? Well, the answer is: I couldn’t! So, we’re gonna talk about all the cool things I grabbed, and where you can find similar things for yourself! Once you’ve got your feet on the ground in Tokyo, I’m sure you’ll love these places.

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Who says print media is dead? It’s just in another language!

At the merchandise tents outside of the Tokyo Dome purchases and  those inside Korakuen Hall, I procured my NJPW and NOAH Programs and my awesome Wrestle Kingdom 11 banner towel. Programs nowadays in Pro-Wrestling feel like such a thoroughly Japanese thing. Certainly thay have a history outside of just Japan, but I haven’t seen a true program readily available at pretty much any western shows. Sadly for me, but potentially beneficial if you wear a Medium or Large size T-Shirt, they had a tonne of gorgeous T-Shirts for sale at both shows. Sadly, the largest size I’ve seen is an XL, and a Japanese XL is a North American Large, at best. Being a 2XL prohibited me from getting any of the really cool shirts for myself. Obviously it is always good to buy merch directly at live shows, particularly for smaller promotions as it is a big driver of income for a lot of talent and promotions

The awesome Japanese Pro-Wrestling magazines are from Lawson convenience (konbini/combini) stores, but 7-Eleven or any other major konbini should have them as well. And while you’re there, get yourself some of their hardboiled eggs. You’ll never have a better, tastier hardboiled egg experience. I’ve tried to replicate it at home, and it’s proving impossible to get that velvety consistency to the yolk while ensuring the white is fully cooked… but I digress, we’re not going to talk about Yudetamago… yet.

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Aristrist, NJPW Shop, and BackDrop, respectively.

On my trip to pick up tickets for the January 7th NOAH Korakuen Hall show, I had just enough time to hit up one of the Suidobashi area stores. Since I had a specific purchase in mind, I chose to hit up the NJPW store, which is a short walk from Korakuen Hall, along with other famous Wrestling stores like Todokan. The NJPW store filled to the brim with cool shirts and hats, collectible card games and rather hefty title belt keychains. It is, regrettably but expectedly, overpriced in general, however it is also the only place you can find certain things reliably, such as my all-too-adorable Tana-kuma. I’ll tell you, I had a hard damned time picking out which of the Teddy bears I wanted most, as the Okada-kuma and Naito-kuma are equally adorable… and at ¥8000 each, I could only afford one. For the record, there’s also a Nakamura-kuma, but you’ll have to hit up eBay or another reseller at this point.

On this trip I also had the incredible pleasure to make my way to the physical boutique for Masahiro Chono’s Aristrist clothing line. I had been a fan of this venture of Chono’s since late high school when I first discovered it. I grabbed a slick black-on-black nWo hat, one of the few hats i have ever bought that fits my giant cranium properly, which has his cross-branding all over it. Very well made, and comparably priced to other boutique-type stores at approximately ¥5400 after taxes. Again, I was hit with the curse of nothing-fits. The year before a good friend who was attending Wrestle Kingdom did me the amazing solid of getting me a T-Shirt from his store, autographed by the man himself. Sadly, even at a 2XL from Aristrist I’m a bit hefty for s comfy fit. But that’s more due to my recent weight gain than an issue of it being small for a 2XL, as it is well within the parameters of shirts I used to fit into. So if you need an XL or 2XL and are on the smaller size of that range, Aristrist’s amazing designer clothes will fit you. But watch out, the awesome dress shirts and jump suits can often go up towards the ¥80,000 range.

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Check out those signatures!

On, literally, my last day in Tokyo I made the effort to swing by BackDrop in Akihabara. They import a lot of western stuff, like WWE and ROH T-Shirts and action figures, but also have plenty of NJPW merch, mostly t-shirts that wouldn’t fit me, but I did score a signed Young Bucks SuperKick party hat, and another one that fits my damn giant head, at about ¥4000.

As someone with varied interests, such as a love for mecha model kits, anime, and video game goods, Akihabara was easily my favourite part of the city. I loved exploring the arcades, cafes, stores, and restaurants. It felt like I was meant to be there. The fact that BackDrop was easily accessible and located right along a main stretch of the area, made it seem all the more like a place meant for me.  photo

On one night towards the end of my stay I ate at the original Ribera steakhouse, seated at a counter infront of the chef as he cooked steaks and handed them out to the at most 10 people who could fit in the restaurant. The steaks were tasty but nothing super tremendous. But the atmosphere was termendous. I sat under a picture of Bam Bam Bigelow, and surrounded by other photos of an absolute who’s who of Pro-Wrestling and MMA’s long and often intertwined history. I’d say it might be better to try the newer location, for likely more comfortable seating.

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Warsman, Robin Mask, and Candian Man come home to Canada!

One of the best things about my trip was the awesome endurance of the Kinnikuman franchise. It seemed everywhere I went I ran into it. Whether it was S.H.Figuarts at every Tokyo Toys R Us, life-size replicas in Malls, an Aristrist themed figure in their boutique, an entire line of NJPW merch or, the holy grail, the little rubber figure themselves, Yudetamago‘s franchise followed me around on my vacation. , A good distance outside of Tokyo proper lies a hidden, dusty gem in Godzilla-ya.  I almost didn’t find this store, Google Maps tried to tell me it was in some poor blokes office when I relied on GPS, but it was destiny that I go there. I expected something much different. When I finally got to this toy store it was like someone had taken all the dustiness and crampedness of your grandparent’s attic and  shoved a cornucopia of retro Tokusatsu, Anime, and other toys into this mess and decided to place a cash register awkwardly balanced on a table.

Located in what appears to have once been someone’s fancy cabinet, in a drawer at foot level that stuck out just enough to make the already severely limited footspace inhospitable, was a mountain of retro Kinnikuman mini figures. Better known in the west as M.U.S.C.L.E.. In my excitement I shot my hand down and drew up one figure, In my hand lay Canadian Man, looking at him I knew I would have to wash him with soap to clean off the grime, but he had to be mine. What a treasure of a find!  Next time I’m in Japan I want to visit there again, with the aim of getting a complete set of Kinnikuman figures out of that drawer. But on a serious note, it really isn’t clean. My girlfriend has allergies and asthma and she literally could not stay in the store for longer than 2 minutes. Be warned.

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Part of me wanted to negotiate with the store owner to buy this life-sized Kinnikuman satue.

There rests one souvenir that only a handfull of people I know have, and you can’t buy this one anywhere, as it was a wonderful gift from a man I met there.

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Thank You, Fumi! I’m getting this framed!

Have you been to Wrestle Kingdom? Do you have any advice or questions? Please leave a comment here.

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