Category Archives: 2015

Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi (CMLL – 01/09/2015)

Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi
January 9, 2015
Arena Mexico
** ¾

Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi were allotted five minutes of match time as part of the weekly Friday Arena Mexico card. With 3,000 spectators in attendance that night, the arena was at less than 20% of its maximum capacity. There was a good chance the match would not even make television. In fact, it was skipped over for CMLL’s Fox Sports Mexico program, only showing up weeks later as part of the promotion’s Lucha Azteca show that airs on Azteca America network.

The two young wrestlers would have been forgiven if they “took the night off” and mailed in a five minute lightning match full of cursory mat work and basic rope running spots. Instead, they packed all that they could into their five minute allotment. The match stood out because it was far more physical and interesting than might have been expected given the surrounding circumstances. It is a good example of a two wrestlers working harder than the conditions might dictate and producing an unexpectedly quality match as a result, which can turn an otherwise normal match into a memorable one.

Much grief is given to wrestlers who have earned a reputation for “taking a night off” and not much praise is given to those who work hard even when the stakes are not very high. Quality professional wrestlers like Jumbo Tsuruta and Bret Hart have come under fire for dialing back in certain circumstances. Dave Meltzer wrote in 2003 that “. . . . his [Tsuruta’s] reputation was that he was a lazy worker unless there were TV cameras.” Meltzer went onto describe a conversation he had with Mick Foley concerning his March 26, 1991 match versus Jumbo.

“He [Foley] said when he worked singles with Jumbo, Jumbo only wanted to do three moves, didn’t want to give him anything, and only worked to work 5 to 6 minutes (and that was a TV match).”

The implication from both statements is that a wrestler should work hard regardless of circumstances. Jumbo should have worked equally hard whether the cameras were on or off. At age 40, he should have work as hard against a young Mick Foley working his first All Japan tour as he did against Mitsuharu Misawa in a Budakon Hall Triple Crown title match three weeks later.

That is misguided idealism. Pro wrestling is such a physically demanding profession that wrestlers dial back on occasion out of necessity. It is difficult for me to find fault with a wrestler like Jumbo who saved his best stuff for the highest profile situations, assuming that is indeed what Jumbo did. Instead, we should praise the occasions – like this match – when two wrestlers do go all-out in a less high profile situation.

To be fair, Kamaitachi and Dragon Lee did have some incentive for working hard in a five minute match in front of a mostly empty arena. As the third match from the top on the card, their burgeoning feud was given higher placement than usual. Nonetheless, the intensity and physicality they packed into the five minutes was still impressive given the other circumstances.

They bypassed the standard lightning match opening mat work in favor of a stiff slap exchange that ended with a dual knockout on high kicks. When Kamaitachi got Dragon Lee in the corner with the match still well shy of one minute old, he aggressively laid into him with kicks to the head. Lee hit a trio of stiff drop kicks before landing a wonderful straight tope on his opponent outside the ring. All of that went down in the first minute of the match.

They kept the intensity level up for the final four minutes. They hit the ropes hard and every strike connected squarely. Dragon Lee took an over-the-top-rope dropkick by bumping right on his neck. For an encore, he took the beginnings of a spin bump on a lariat and landed right on his neck. Not to be outdone, Kamaitachi took a German suplex right on his lower head/neck area. There was some heated mask pulling as well, which led to the finish. Kamaitachi rolled Lee up, took his mask completely off, and was able to get the pin fall as Lee was more concerned with covering up his face than kicking out. The fun ending completed a five minute whirlwind of a match.

In all of the relevant ways, Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi’s match was reminiscent of a match between Raven and Kaz Hayashi from March 20, 1999 on WCW Worldwide. After a series of re-introductory vignettes that aired in prior months and before forming his team with Saturn, Raven was not doing much. Kaz was almost entirely relegated to C-show and jobber duty at that time. Yet for whatever reasons, the two wrestled an energetic sub-5 minute match that was as good as it was unexpected. Like Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi, Kaz took some big time punishment that was well out of line with the importance of the match. The most memorable spot of the Raven/Hayashi match was Kaz wiping out on a somersault plancha after Raven had moved out of the way. The match is fondly remembered today for being unexpectedly great and brutal given the context. That is not too far off from how I view Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi.

Under different circumstances (like if it were on a bigger card and a feud ender) the match might not get much of a second look. However, it is one of those legitimately good matches that came off even better in knowing that the two wrestlers went full-tilt in a situation that probably did not deserve that kind of effort. It is understandable when wrestlers take nights off, but it just makes it that much more fun when they go in the complete opposite direction.

Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitach (CMLL – 03/20/2015)

Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi, mask vs. mask
March 20, 2015
Arena Mexico
*** ¼

Talk of opportunity in pro wrestling often rings hollow. Vince McMahon talks about millennials and the need to grab brass rings and it all sounds fine until you realize that it means absolutely nothing. WWE will push who they want to push and no amount of brass ring grabbing is going to change that. Daniel Bryan serves as a prime example of that unfortunate reality. As far as I am aware, CMLL does far less yapping about young wrestlers needing to seize opportunities, but their track record of pushing wrestlers who put in an effort to rise above the rest is just as spotty as WWE’s track record.

So while there is no guarantee that Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi’s performances in their mask match at CMLL’s Homenaje de Dos Leyendas is going to provide them with increased visibility, it will certainly not be for lack of effort.

It is clear in watching this match that Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi were well aware of the major opportunity they were given and were going to do everything in their power to make the most out of it. They wrestled an insane match with big time high spots and a cut-throat pace that will likely rival any match from 2015 to those ends. If making the most of an opportunity for a young wrestler means leaving everything he has in the ring, then these two certainly made for the most of this one.

The feud between the youngest of Toro Blanco’s three luchadore sons and the young New Japan wrestler was marked by high intensity and a noticeable level of physicality. That is to say, Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi routinely tried to kill each other and themselves. The blow off match was no different. The two went at it right away, working stiffly and throwing in enough dangerous looking moves to fill up an entire card. Dragon Lee’s rollover German suplexes that won him the first fall had a ton of impact behind them and looked very cool. The first two falls were short – as tends to be the case – but were not in any way dull. There was not even an obligatory attempt at submissions or mat work in any of the falls. I am not sure that is a positive but it is not exactly a negative either. Their in-ring rivalry was never about that sort of work and cutting it out altogether felt like an understandable choice.

The third fall was where the show was at. There were a half dozen dives/flying moves to the floor. Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi pulled off the fence hopping apron-to-floor hurricanrana perhaps as flawlessly as it has been done. Maybe it was just the camera angle, but the move looked as good if not better than anytime Mascara Dorada has used it. Kamaitachi’s picture perfect high back bump in particular looked as good as I have seen. The bump is the hardest part of that move in some ways and Kamaitachi handled it perfectly.

While both luchadores came to the ring with a full slate of high quality offense, they were less prepared when it came to bridging the gaps in-between those moves. The third fall was almost entirely one big move after another. They struggled on occasion to get to the next spot and other times, they simply went right into the next move without any sort of bridge. Even a move heavy match like Mascara Dorada vs. La Sombra from this year’s FantasticaMania flowed from move to move in some manner. At times during the bout, they simply hit one spot and then got themselves into position for the next. It was not a fatal flaw by any means but the match was disjointed at times as a result.

The match also seemed to lose a bit of steam before the finish and might have been better served wrapping up a few near falls earlier.

The one thing that is for sure is that nobody can accuse Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi of not leaving it all in the ring and attempting to make the most from their opportunity. As said, I will be surprised if we see another match in 2015 where the wrestlers put in as much effort as these two did here. They put on a show of big times moves and fast paced, physical action. The execution on the moves was there, even if the flow was lacking a bit. Most importantly, the crowd appeared completely enthralled with the bout and 100% behind Dragon Lee. Dragon Lee has done his part. He has shown to be a hardworking, quality luchadore who the fans are willing to get behind. He has seized his opportunity. Now it is time for CMLL to make good on their end of the deal.

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Kamaitachi lost the match and his mask. The next New Japan wrestler to journey to CMLL as part of his excursion would be wise to avoid getting involved in any apuesta matches. That never works out well for them. Kamaitachi was unmasked as Hiromu Takahashi which was also in no way a surprise. The reckless abandon that Takahashi showed both in this match and throughout the entire feud could potentially serve him well when he returns to Japan. The New Japan junior division is in desperate need of a spark. The CMLL luchadores generally get over in Japan in because of their tendency to throw caution to wind. If Kamaitachi can bring those same elements back with him to Japan – the big back bumps and overall high impact offense – he will almost certainly stand out amongst the junior heavyweight pack.

As for Dragon Lee, the sky appears to be the limit. He has proven himself a quality worker not only in all-out matches like this one but also in his strong title match versus Virus from late last year. He is way over in Arena Mexico which is not an easy accomplishment for a young tecnico these days. As previously stated, the ball is now in CMLL’s court. The promotion has already begun to tease a title re-match with Virus which is a good start. One would assume that getting a re-match so soon after the initial match would make Dragon Lee a favorite to end Virus’ lengthy Lightweight title reign.

For anybody out there who wants to see two young guys – warts and all – grab the bull by the horn and give all they can give, then this is the match to watch. The match had its fair share of problems, but there is no denying the effort that was put into it.

Timothy Thatcher vs. Oliver John (WCA – 06/29/13)

Timothy Thatcher vs. Oliver John
June 29, 2013
Wrestling Cares Association (WCA)

Review by: Tim Cooke

I love shoot style wrestling but also know it is a dead style in terms of being relevant in Japan or the US in 2015.  The appeal and requisite heat that shoot style was able to draw in Japan was partially based on some of the fans believing what they were seeing was real.  As MMA started to gain traction in Japan in the late 90’s, along with other events like the infamous Yoji Anjoh visit to the Gracie Dojo, UWF style was exposed as fake and quickly died off.  Even Kiyoshi Tamura’s U-Style revival in 2003-2004 was well funded but couldn’t draw beyond the appeal of Tamura; an appeal that was already tending downward due to lob sided losses in RINGS and PRIDE.

UWF/Shoot Style has never really been a thing in the US.  Jerry Flynn and Goldberg worked very quick Americanized matches but it is a stretch to call them UWF style.  Low Ki and Bryan Danielson came as close as anyone to working the style, adding high flying spots after 10-15 minutes of UWF style mat work.

I’m not sure I’m willing to call Timothy Thatcher vs. Oliver John as a UWF style match, but it certainly is the closest thing to it in the 2010’s.  This match has a 10-minute time limit where pin falls count and count outs can occur after 10 seconds either on the floor or the apron.

They open with John throwing some leg kicks and Thatcher countering.  John takes it to the mat and works some impressive grappling from the side mount and mount before trying for a cross arm breaker.  John hits a really nice flying leg scissor take down, a worked version of the 12/31/04 Anderson Silva vs. Ryo Chonan spectacular finish.

John continues with palm strikes from the guard, which was probably not a nod to the 5/13/95 Frank Shamrock vs. Allan Goes Pancrase fight but certainly reminded me of it.  John hits PRIDE style knees from the side mount and they look very nasty.  Thatcher gets an Achilles heel hold but John hits the ropes and manages to hit a nice back drop driver for the first pin of the match.  As an aside, one thing I have noticed about Thatcher matches, especially in recent times, is his lack of taking bumps.  It’s probably a very smart move from a health perspective but he ate the backdrop driver here really well, so he could be missing out on another dimension to his game by not taking more well placed bumps on a regular basis.

Back down to the mat, both guys continue fluid transitions through their mat work.  John hits a Billy Robinson back breaker but hurts his knee in the process, which Thatcher jumps on to eventually tie the match at one fall apiece.  During this portion of the match, John also hits a tentative flying guard spot.  It wasn’t Tamura level great, but I thought it looked good for a guy who isn’t known this style.

Oliver John bails out for the final 10 seconds and the match goes into a 3:00 minute sudden death.  Thatcher hits a roll through from an abdominal stretch and locks on the Achilles leg lock for the win.


This is the best Thatcher match I have seen but Oliver John wins the performance of the night.  For a guy who has done a lot of mediocre wrestling with El Hijo del Santo, you wouldn’t expect much from him but he was the glue here and the key factor in what was 11:00 minutes of strong in-ring action.

I’d probably go **** – ****1/4 if I was rating this and would definitely recommend this to fans of either guy or good mat work in general.  I guess this fits into the Grapplefuck category of matches, but I’m often confused by that term so I can’t definitively put that in this category.  This won’t make you forget Tamura vs. Yamamoto (6/24/99) or Kohsaka vs. Tamura (6/27/98) but it was the best mat match I have seen in the US since Danielson and Ki transitioned away from it by late 2002.

2015 Lucha Ongoing Lucha Match Recommendation List

This is not necessarily a 2015 lucha libre MOTYC list, but rather if I was making a match compilation of the year in lucha these are the matches I would put on it.  Matches range from merely good to excellent but all are worth watching for one reason or another.

The You Tube playlist as every match or highlight (in chronological order) assuming the match/highlight exists for free.  Every match that only has a highlight can be purchased from Black Terry Jr. which I highly recommend doing for any match that is of interest.

The list will be updated periodically through the end of 2015.

Last updated: 11/02/15

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Cross Arm Breaker Match Guide: 2015 G-1 Climax Special Edition

August G-1 Cover

This special edition Match Guide examines the 2015 New Japan Pro Wrestling G-1 Climax tournament wrestler-by-wrestler, match-by-match.  The guide includes match by match analysis of all twenty wrestlers in the field for 180+ write ups in total!  The guide was written in real time as the 25th edition of the G-1 Climax unfolded.  Included inside:

  • The benefits (and drawbacks) of Toru Yano’s comedy act in a tournament environment;
  • Michael Elgin:  improved wrestler or a beneficiary of the environment?;
  • A.J. Styles might be the best wrestler in the world currently but did he the best output in the G-1?;
  • A look at Tetsuya Naito, his new (borrowed) gimmick, and what he did to make a difficult gimmick work for him;
  • Two very different attempts at creating a sense of of resiliency, struggle, and drama as displayed by Ibushi/Shibata and Tanahashi/Nakamura;
  • And much more including Tomoaki Honma’s balancing act, Yuji Nagata’s (worked) injury) Shinsuke Nakamura’s (real) injury, and the ineptitude of Togi Makabe.

Click HERE to download!