The 5 Count
Five Takeaways from February
1. Antonio Cesaro opened eyes within the WWE in February as he was placed in a semi-featured role due to his participation in the Elimination Chamber match and on the live NXT Arrival special. As you will see below, he is heading to the pay window more than once this month. If rumors of a big post-WrestleMania push are true, Cesaro might be getting the platform needed to put up a strong WOTY resume.
2. Tag Team wrestling is not off to a very strong start in 2014. For the second straight month, the best tag matches clearly lack behind the best singles and trios offerings.
3. The WWE Network launched which is noteworthy in a blog about 2014 matches for a couple of reasons. First of all, in February we got the first live special on the Network (NXT Arrival), first-run offerings of NXT, Main Event, and Superstars which were previously only available via less-convenient means, and for the time being, live airings of Main Event. Like everyone else, I’ve also gone back and watched A LOT of historical stuff already (which we plan to use this site to write about as well) which gives you a little different perspective while sifting through 2014 matches.
4. In a move that could be interpreted as pure stubbornness, the WWE spent the month of February continuing to build towards a Randy Orton/Batista World Championship match at WrestleMania that few people want to see. The way they have handled the decision through acknowledging that the fans don’t like Batista, turning him heel, and running a heel versus heel WM title match has been downright odd.
5. Multi-wrestler matches continue to be highlights of pro wrestling programming all over the world! In February, there were good trios matches from CMLL, AAA and New Japan, plus the much anticipated showdown between the Shield and Wyatt Family at WWE’s Elimination Chamber. There were also several strong multi-wrestler matches including the Elimination Chamber match itself, an IWRG cibernetico, and some WWE c-show eight and ten man tags.
The Pay Window
Singles Match – Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto (NJPW – 2/11)
Also Watch: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW – 2/9); Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW – 2/11); Antonio Cesaro vs. John Cena (WWE – 2/17); Super Shisa vs. CIMA (Dragon Gate – 2/20); HARASHIMA vs. Masa Takanashi (DDT – 2/23); Antonio Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn (WWE NXT – 2/27)
On first watch, Okada vs. Goto stood out to me on the 2/11 NJPW show from Osaka as being superior to the perhaps more-hyped Ishii vs. Naito match that proceeded it. Goto and Okada worked a tight, well-layed out main even match that would not have appeared out of place taking place in a WWE ring or anywhere in the world for that matter. I tend to enjoy that type of match a bit more then a a near fall heavy match like Ishii & Naito put on, although that one is still worth watching.
The WWE’s two best singles outputs in February involved
Antonio Cesaro, both of which were long, featured television matches. The Cena match from RAW gets a little higher marks for me.
CIMA and Super Shisa continue to put on fun rope-break rules matches and while their February outing might be a notch below their February match listed here, it is still worth seeing. The DDT match was unexpectedly great and look forward to seeing if it holds up.
Tag Match – Real Americans vs. Sheamus & Christian (WWE – 2/10)
Also Watch: Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto vs. Kazuchika Okada & Yoshi-Hashi (02/09); (02/14) Soberano Jr. & Volador Jr. vs. Cavernario & Mr. Niebla (CMLL – 2/14)
Another barren month of tag matches or am I just not watching the right matches?
A Real Americans match once again takes the top spot via default, really. Their RAW match versus Sheamus & Christian as a prelude into the Elimination Chamber main event was the kind of good, hard-hitting slug fest that is not very common in the WWE. The finals of CMLL’s Gran Alternativa tournament were fun but nothing blow away. Same with the New Japan tag that was a good setup match for Okada/Goto and Okada/Shibata but in a strong month wouldn’t have registered as a top tag match.
Elsewhere, the once red-hot WWE tag division has slowed down with the New Age Outlaws holding the titles and the brother duo of Cody Rhodes & Goldust marginalized recently. I thought the Rhodes vs. NAO and Usos vs. NAO matches from February were alright, but nothing beyond that.
Part of the lack of quality tag matches recently does seem to be at least partially attributable to all of the trios and multi-man tags from all over the world this year.
Trios Match – Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan & Luke Harper) vs. the Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns) (WWE – 2/23)
Also Watch: Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito & Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW – 2/2); Titan, La Mascara & Rush (c) vs. Negro Casas, Felino & Mr. Niebla (CMLL – 2/18)
WWE’s two major trios teams (it is still weird that the WWE has major trios teams at all) squared off on PPV in a heavily hyped match that for the most part met the hype. Wyatt Family versus the Shield probably seemed like the good bet for best trios match of February when the month began but the New Japan tag on the 2nd day of the month gave it a run for its money. CMLL did not have as much in terms of quality trios matches as January, but the title switch on the 18th was fun.
Multi-Wrestler Match – Gym Skyade (Aztlan, Destino, Jorge Kebrada, Kanon, Onix, Operativo X, Prodigo & Vertize) vs. FILL Gym (Alfa, Dragón Celestial, Fulgor I, Imposible, Omega, Power Bull, Seiya, Sky Ángel) (IWRG – 2/4)
Also Watch: Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. Christian vs. John Cena vs. Antonio Cesaro (WWE – Goldust, Cody Rhodes, Los Matadores & El Torito vs. Ryback, Curtis Axel, Health Slater, Jindar Mahal & Drew McIntyre (WWE – 2/26)
The cibernetico between Skayde’s trainees and the IWRG (Black Terry) trainees gets the top nod. What I want out of a multi-man match is a lot of quick action, quick switches in and out, and for everyone to get a chance to shine. The cibernetico had that even if it was not always the prettiest or most refined match. The 10-man from Main Event was as good of a six-minute match as I have seen in recent memory with great stuff from Torito and a good supporting cast. Admittedly, I have not watched the Elimination Chamber match yet because it will be up on the Network soon and I figure I might as well wait one more week to see it in high quality, but I’ve read enough good things about it from people whose opinions I generally agree with so I’ll include it for now.
Most Memorable Angle – Chikara Returns (National Pro Wrestling Day – 02/01)
I’ve seen some people rag on this but I don’t get. It is certainly arguable whether it was a prudent fiscal decision to not run real Chikara shows for nearly a year while running a confusing storyline that bored even some devoted fans of the promotion. That makes sense to me. I don’t get ragging on the return angle which I thought was well-executed (despite some low volume microphone issues). It came off looking as large scale as anything in Indie wrestling does and most importantly got over HUGE with the modestly big live crowd. Something that gets over that big and gets the genuine shrieking and yelling reaction like this angle did can’t be anything but good. The fact that they are selling a bunch of tickets to their Pennsylvania and Chicago returns at least disputes the notion that the time off decreased interest in the promotion. Maybe they won’t sustain it, but there is a lot of interest in the promotion now and this well-received angle was the start of that.
Wrestler(s) of the Month – Kazuchika Okada
Match Resume: w/ Tomohiro Ishii & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito & Hiroshi Tanahashi (2/2); w/ Yoshi Hashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto (2/9); vs. Hirooki Goto (2/11)
Match Resume: w/ Jack Swagger vs. Sheamus & Christian (2/10); vs. John Cena (2/17); vs. Sami Zayn (2/27)
Okay – second month in and I am already cheating a little bit by picking two guys. If pressed, I would go with Okada because I thought the Goto match was better than either of Cesaro’s big February singles matches (versus Cena and Zayn, respectively). Both wrestlers had really strong months however, so you probably cannot go wrong either way.
Promotion of the Month – WWE
Sort of a toss up between WWE and New Japan this month in terms of events and matches, but my gut says I enjoyed first-run WWE matches in February a tad more. I gave best singles match to New Japan, best tag to WWE, best trios to WWE, and best wrestler was a tossup between a WWE and New Japan wrestler (leaning towards NJPW) which also indicates that I thought WWE high-end stuff from this month was a smidge better. WWE is not exactly rolling or anything but they had a decent month with two big shows that delivered (Elimination Chamber and NXT: Arrival) plus some good TV matches mainly involving Cesaro.
CMLL TV was a bit more all over the place this month and lacked any high-quality matches. There was more watchable ROH in February on TV than perhaps ever in their Sinclair run, but that speaks more about where they came from then where they are now.
A Look Ahead
Top Matches on tap for March (what’s left of it)
First, for what has already happened in March. New Japan ran their anniversary show on March 6th with a battle between the junior heavyweight and heavyweight singles champions (Ibushi and Okada, respectively) that turned out to be a quality match. We got an Elimination Chamber re-match between the Shield and Wyatt Family on RAW and not much else from WWE so far. Skayde and Black Terry had a singles match in IWRG that hasn’t popped up yet but hopefully will at some point.
Coming up later in the month, CMLL has the Dos Leyendas event headlined by a Shocker/Rush hair match. Neither wrestler has ever lost their hair so there is intrigue there, plus Shocker is over big time as a rudo these days which should help the heat and it should at least be a decently wrestled match. Casas gets the winner sometime in the future or presumably steps in if Shocker backs out at the last minute. That same card will have the finals of the parejas incredibles tournament that is ongoing with Maximo and Rey Escorpion already in the finals.
AAA has Rey de Reyes on the 16th and it feels a bit underwhelming. A couple of four ways (tag titles and Rey de Reyes final) that could be okay and a Blue Demon versus Chessman match that probably has the best chance of being a standout match. IWRG has a pair of cage matches where the losers advances to a hair/mask match on the 16th involving some good guys in Skayde, Black Terry, Golden Magic, Trauma 1, and others so something good could fall out of that.
New Japan cup will star and conclude in the next couple of weeks. Standout first round matches include Nakamura versus Davey Boy Smith Jr. (a re-match of their good first round match from the 2013 Cup) and Ishii vs. Naito in a re-match of their highly-toured February match. Nothing much potentially on tap in the quarterfinals but the semi’s could be something like Nakamura/Goto and Naito/Shibata (although Suzuki stands a strong chance of advancing over Goto) both of which have some potential. Nakamura probably needs to be rebuilt a bit after a back-to-back title match losses and making it to the finals would accomplish that. Shibata is a favorite to win the whole thing so a Nakamura/Shibata final might be in the cards and should be good.
ROH is running Chris Hero versus AJ Styles in a couple of weeks. I liked their SMASH match from January well enough that IF (big “if”) they build off of the good elements of that one, that could turn into something good (particularly by current ROH standards). Who knows what TNA will have going on but a good chance none of it will be all that good. Not much in NOAH, Dragon Gate, or All-Japan either.
WWE will likely be angle-heavy going into WrestleMania and with no PPV in March, there is not a whole lot on the horizon the next two and a half weeks for them as well. Looks like a relatively quiet month for hyped matches before a busy start to April between WrestleMania, all of the adjoining indie shows that run that weekend, ECWA Super 8, a New Japan PPV, and more.