Category Archives: US Other

Aztec Warfare II (LU – 03/26/2016)

Aztec Warfare II
March 23, 2016 (Taped: December 12, 2015)
Lucha Underground
*** 1/2 

First, a word from thecubsfan: “The first Aztec Warfare will be remembered as being better, because the show felt like it was making an unexpected leap. This show wasn’t really far behind, and I only wish they got a little more time or a second screen to watch it all.”

I think the first sentence is likely true. The Aztec Warfare match from Lucha Underground’s first season was extremely memorable because it came after the winter holiday break, was the show’s first consensus good match, and proved that their band of pro wrestling TV could and would include quality matches as well. It was a big moment in the promotion’s history so that match is likely to be remembered more fondly than the sequel.

However, Season 2’s version of Aztec Warfare was the better match in my opinion, even if only marginally so.

In terms of match participants – both in overall quality and in diversity – I thought this lineup outpaced Season 1’s. The first Aztec Warfare had more filler (Mr. Cisco, Bael, Cortez Castro, Ricky Mandel, and El Mariachi Logo vs. Argenis, and PJ Black). In this match, Joey Ryan and Marty Martinez were bit players but they each had their roles (Marty’s feud with The Mack, Ryan’s handcuff bit). Comparing the high-end wrestlers in each match’s reveals an even bigger gulf. The big names going into last year’s match were Prince Puma (who was still finding his footing with the character) and Johnny Mundo. This year, Mundo was a role player and Puma was at best third on the depth chart behind the debuting Rey Jr. and Matanza. With the exception of Mundo, all the holdovers from the prior year match are more over than they were at the same time in Season 1. In addition to the lineup feeling bigger it also felt more diverse in terms of different characters and personalities.

The first Aztec Warfare was lauded for its strong booking but this match was just as well laid out. Few – if any – eliminations were wasted. They managed to do the in-ring debuts of three wrestlers (Rey Mysterio Jr., Dragon Azteca Jr., and Matanza) in one match and get all three instantaneously over through the booking (not that Rey needed much help). I am not sure that is something that a Royal Rumble has ever accomplished, although to be fair off of the top of my head I cannot recall if they actually have ever tried something like that. Virtually every ongoing story line was featured and progressed in some ways. They stuck to their own stories by keeping Catrina’s main enemies – the trio of Angelico, Son of Havoc, and Ivellise – out of the match and also keeping Pentagon Jr. out because of his recent near-attack on Catrina. The non-match participants – Pentagon Jr., Famous B, Dario Cueto – were all used well. Every single wrestler got a chance to shine even if they are not figured into current storylines (ie. Mascarita Sagrada). Even the commercial breaks felt well timed as they tended to come at the natural break points. There were a couple of breaks that I felt added to the momentum of the match in terms of providing in-match cliff hangers rather than stalling the momentum.

There were maybe less dives in this match (I’d have to go back and watch both) but dive-for-dive this held up to the original. Puma got just absurd distance on his shooting star press to the outside. Dragon Azteca’s corner dive was stunning. King Cuerno’s tope continues to be on the very short list of best topes in current wrestling.

Matanza was good in his debut, although the obvious issues with a guy Jeff Cobb’s size playing a monster were . . . obvious. He looked good throwing guys around because that is what he has always done but the outfit and the size were a little off I thought. The outfit made him look to much like Abyss and nobody needs that association. Cubs’ observation that they booked him a bit like Taz (that is how Cobb generally wrestles( is right I think, but the difference was Taz being small but a killer was part of his presentation. With Matanza, he is just supposed to be a monster through and through. That was just my initial reaction and there is a good chance he will grow on me. I do think they booked him perfectly from an in-ring perspective by having him so thoroughly dominate in his first appearance.

I’ve said this before about LU but there are many times where they do traditional pro wrestling far better than more traditional pro wrestling products. The way they established Matanza as a major heel and the best wrestler in the promotion in one match was textbook but something that most other promotions struggle with these days.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to point out that Rey Jr. looked awesome. It started with the tilt-a-whirl head scissors that he pulled off like it was 1996 again and continued throughout the match. I wish Rey wouldn’t have done what felt like a dozen splashes on his knees but he was great in this match.

I have read some suggest that Aztec Warfare is a game changing take on a battle royal. I am not sure I would go that far as it isn’t all that different in nature than a fast paced cibernetico or something like AAA’s Alas de Oro tournament. A match concept can be very good without breaking new ground and Aztec Warfare is certainly that.

Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Roode (TNA – 01/30/2016)

Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Roode
January 30, 2016 (Airdate: March 1, 2016)
Wembley Arena (London)

Describing the pacing of this match without making it sound like ridiculous hyperbole from someone who dislikes Angle, TNA or both is near impossible. So I won’t even try to dress it up.

The match starts with as token of an attempt at a feeling out process as there could be. Angle and Roode locked up, did a “we know each other well!” standoff, and then moved on. That opening took less than a minute. The next minute was basically the entire body of the match. They did some mid-range offense and a little over two minutes in, collided with a clothesline for a double knockout spot. Just to make it clear – they did a double KO spot to lead into the finish roughly 30% of the way into the match. The final six minutes of this eight and a half minute match was the standard Kurt Angle finishing stretch. Roode and Angle reversed each other’s submission finishes, countered each other’s non-submission finishes, and kicked out of a signature move or two. It was your typical Angle ending that he became so fond of and reliant upon after his feud(s) with Benoit.

It has been a while since I have seen Angle roll out his hyper-finishing sequence. He wrestled sparingly in 2015 (TNA ran sparingly in 2015) and it wasn’t like I caught every one of his matches even then. His sprint finishes are a nice treat every now and then (you get a stomach ache having to watch them every week) so I kind of liked the ending portion of the match. The thing is, the rest of the match was so ridiculously compressed that it was almost laughable. They literally dedicated more than two-thirds of a sub-nine minute match to the finishing run. Due to that, I am not sure it even felt like a full match; more like a semi-entertaining segment. I know Angle’s matches have traditionally been more finishing run heavy than the norm but this felt extreme to me.

If you are yearning – or like me, haven’t seen a match of his in a while – to see Angle do the same finisher trading stretch run he has been using for a decade and a half now, then you are in luck. Otherwise, it is just a bizarrely structured match with tired action.

Jimmy Rave vs. AR Fox (AWE – 02/21/2016)

Jimmy Rave vs. AR Fox
February 21, 2016
Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment
The Enclave (Atlanta, GA)
** ½

In terms of individual performances, this was a pretty good one. Rave was in total big bumping heel champion mode. Rave went non-stop the entire match whether he was bumping for Fox or running around to set Fox up for his next big spot. It was one of those matches where it was hard to miss the fact that one guy was carrying it. Rave was the main reason the match got to the level it did. It was both a noticeable performance and a high quality performance from the veteran.

In terms of overall match quality, this was not anything special. Fox spent the entire match running through his usual assortment of spots. I am not what you might consider an avid AR Fox viewer and I still felt like I’ve seen him perform all the same high spots he used in this match dozens of times before. Making things worse is the fact that Fox’s high spots – which might have been impressive three or four years ago – are far less impressive now relative to his competition. He has not evolved much at all and is running out the same old tired spots. He’s been passed by in a lot of ways. That’s the risk you run when your main weapon is athletic high spots.

Most of the match was Fox on offense. Even when Rave took over, it was always in a manner where it was rather clear they were simply setting up the next Fox comeback or run of high spots. Given the poor quality of his offense, that layout hurt the overall match for me.

The story was essentially that Fox threw everything he had at Rave and Rave survived. Which was weird because based on the way he acted during the match, Rave was the heel. In a vacuum, that is a fine story but it was an odd one given the face/heel alignment. The last second kick outs also got to be a little too much for me by the 3rd or 4th one. The ending didn’t work for me for many of the same reasons they story didn’t. Fox – presumably the face in all of this – threw move after move at Rave only for Rave to survive and pick up a quick victory “out of nowhere”. It was confusing. Had Rave not been put over by constantly surviving and had then cheated to win, that had the possibility of working. As it actually was, the story and ending were full of contradictions.

Good performance by Rave, but only an okay match otherwise.

As an aside, boy were there some obnoxious people in this crowd! Attempting to make yourself part of the show by screaming and cursing loudly throughout a match is a major turnoff for me in any setting. The accents might have been different, but this was as obnoxious of a crowd as anything I have seen out of New York recently.

Fred Yehi vs. Colby Corino (TWE – 02/13/2016)

Fred Yehi vs. Colby Corino
February 13, 2016
Chattanooga, TN
** ½

As a preface to this review let me say that I think there is a widespread trend amongst current hardcore fans to be the first to praise a match and to find quality in unexpected places. I have certainly been guilty of this at times, although I am trying to be more cognizant of it. The issue is that someone watches a match as soon as it becomes available and without allowing even a minute for the match to sink in, the person races to a message board or Twitter to praise it. We get instant, adrenaline fueled reactions that are not carefully considered. The second issue was one that I saw raised on Twitter recently and something I have thought about for some time. It is the apparent desire to find quality away from the usual suspects. It has led to a general overrating of indie matches (in the US, Japan, and Mexico as well). I am not suggesting that any hyped indie match is underserving of praise, but I have been burned by overhyped matches from less visible promotions so many times that I am positive there is something to it.

The reason I mention that here is because I think this match exemplified both issues.

Yehi and Corino had a perfectly reasonable match. Yehi is a fun, talented and interesting in this match. Corino was a game opponent and brought both quality bumping and selling to the match. As my rating reflects, the match was right in that solid to slightly above average range and a match that I didn’t regret spending time to watch. To me, that’s passable.

But for me, that’s all the match was. It was not a MOTYC or even a good+ match in my eyes. It goes without saying that people should feel free to rate a match however they see it but I really do get the sense that if this match did not happen in a Tennessee gymnasium for a non-major promotion that it would not have been met with the same praise. Colby Corino’s offense was below average. The limb selling was fine but didn’t add anything major the match. A 25+ minute match time was excessive for what they did. There were obvious issues and even the stuff they did do well did not seem superlative. I tend to defer to the majority opinion unless there are clear stylistic reasons why a broad group might not enjoy a specific match. In this case I feel like there are no such barriers and if you showed it to a wide audience – even a wide audience of hardcore fans – that the consensus opinion would be far more subdued.

I saw a good match that went on too long to fully hold my interest. I am scratching my head to see what the MOTYC elements of the match were.

Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan (EVOLVE – 01/22/2016)

Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan
January 22, 2016
The Orpheum (Ybor City, Florida)
** ½

This first round EVOLVE tag team championship tournament match was not shy about being what it was.

Chris Hero, Zack Sabre Jr., Tommy End and Sami Callihan built a match on the precept that bigger equals better.  That was accomplished through the use of heavy striking and high impact offense, as well as an exhaustive stretch run.  The match beats you over the head with these concepts and just when you think it is done doing so it comes back for more.  The match is thirty minutes of big bombs and nearly non-stop action.  There is little in the way of subtleties.  It is as unapologetic of a fighting spirit bomb fest you will find this side of Ishii and Shibata.  There is no hedging going on here or attempts to please a diverse audience. The match was going to live or die by its blunt approach and was unapologetic in doing so.

Objectively – from a consensus viewpoint – that approach worked.  The superlatives have come fast and furious for the Chris Hero/Tommy End versus Zack Sabre Jr/Sami Callihan tag team bout and they have come from nearly all directions.  The Indy Corner called the match “one of the best tag matches I’ve ever seen in my life.”  Voices of Wrestling’s EVOLVE 53 review referred to it as a “perfect tag team match”Kayfabe Today asserted that “no tag match will come close this year”.  The reviews have been nothing short of glowing.  For the overwhelming majority that watched the match, the decision to build a match in the manner in which they did was an all-out success.

My opinion is clearly a dissenting one.  It also might not be the “right” one – I am not arrogant enough to believe that everyone else is wrong but me – but the match did not strike the same chords with me as it did with most.  As mentioned, the match knew what it wanted to be and to its credit it was unrelenting in its focus, but the high impact offense and stretch run was not enough to create a real sense of drama.  Rather those elements – at the expense of other techniques –served to create a match that felt both tedious and overwrought.

One central element of the match was the focus on striking and the physicality of the high impact offense.  Nearly every review makes mention of the strikes and physical nature of the offense in a positive manner.   Kayfabe Today praises End and Hero’s strikes for the way the strikes “retain a degree of realism and produce a wince every time.”  The Indy Corner put over the Hero and End tag team and noted how well their striking abilities complement each other.  411Mania included “striking and violence” amongst the match’s best attributes.  Pro Wrestling Torch wrote positively about the way all four “beat the living hell out of each.

The largest issue with the striking was that the strikes did little to instill a sense of danger or drama to the match.  Hero is probably the best there is right now at producing great looking and sounding “slap” strikes but he often uses those moves the same way another wrestler might use a hard chop or repeated punches in an American pro style match. As good as Hero’s forearms and kicks might look and sound, they are utilized as mid-match offense.  End works a different striking gimmick – he is ostensibly a kick boxer although his offense owes more to KENTA than Bas Rutten in reality – but his kicks and other strikes suffered from the same issue.  In this match, for all of the good strikes that Hero and End threw at Sabre Jr., there was almost no reason to buy any of them as match-altering moves.  Sabre Jr. shrugged some off, sold some before comebacks, and survived an almost laughable number of would-be major blows.

The announcers told us that the strikes were of high quality.  The wrestlers sometimes did, mainly through Sabre Jr.’s selling of them or the shocked facial expressions from all four wrestlers when Sabre Jr. would somehow survive again.  That was not enough for me to believe that the strikes were effective.  As in all Hero matches – and most End matches – I would have far preferred for there to be less strikes in favor of all (or more) being utilized like knockout or near knockout blows.  That might have been more effective in getting across the idea that they are dangerous moves.  Telling me they are dangerous moves but then having guys survive a veritable barrage of them is far less effective.

Since the match did a poor job in making me see Hero and End’s strikes as potential high consequential moves, the only function left for them to serve was the role of “good-looking offense”.  As mentioned, Hero is as good as anyone with the slapping strikes he does and End had some good kicks (the early counter sequence with Sabre Jr. was well done).  The quality of the striking was fine – it was not a significant factor in my enjoyment of the match either way – but it was also not breathtaking enough in order for the match to succeed on that element alone.  Matches can be very good on the strength of the moves alone.  A lot of matches have succeeded on that alone.  Personally, the quality of the offense here did not reach that level.  The offense was fine, but not to the level where it could carry the match.

On a different but connected note, the match also received heavy praise for the prolonged ending.  The Torch wrote that “the exchanges down the stretch were mind-blowing”.  The Voices of Wrestling review put forward the idea that the end stretch was filled with believable false finishes.  “The crowd and the good brothers following along at home bought each false finale. Think about that, how many matches in the last decade have accomplished that? Not many.” 

I respectfully disagree that everyone bought each false finish.  It goes back to the way the strikes were utilized.  After an entire opening and body of the match where Sabre Jr. withstood loud strikes from his opponents, it was difficult to believe that these same strikes would all of a sudden do him in.  The same could be said for the other high impact offense that was utilized.  I get the impression that I was supposed to buy the near falls simply because Sabre Jr. had already taken so much punishment but in fact, the excessive nature of the offense throughout only served to accomplish the opposite.  Rather than believe in the near falls for that reason, I was incredulous about them.  A good near fall is often off of a move that is clearly a step above what came before it or is off of a counter after a possible match ending move is teased but not executed.  End and Hero had already done so much 22 or 26 minutes into the match that there was little room to escalate the action late.  Much of the late offense was more of a continuation from before rather than an escalation.  They also had Sabre Jr. survive so much that it was difficult to believe they would the match on a counter like a roll up or quick strike (and if they had, that ending certainly would have fell flat).

The only falls where I bought the match might be over were a couple after the 25-minute mark and I bought those largely because Sabre had survived so much already and the match was more than long enough along to wrap up at that point.  Even those did not resonate with me totally because when Sabre kicked out those pin attempts, it didn’t exactly illicit an “I really thought that was it!” response that you want from a false finish.  Rather it was an “I thought that had a chance finish the match but am not shocked it didn’t” response.

When you rely on excess for near fall reactions, that is often what you end up with. Cageside Seats wrote “…but then all hell broke loose and the back half was epic, both teams trading bombs and breaking out all the stops to try and win.”  “Breaking out all of the stops” was clearly what the wrestlers were going for near the end but that did not necessarily equate to a more dramatic ending.  When the wrestlers do “break out all of the stops” – and they certainly came close here – they are going to eventually reach a point of diminishing returns on near falls and drama.  I felt this match hit that point relatively early on – before the 25-minute mark – and then kept going.  Yes, they “pulled out all of the stops” but did that really make the ending more dramatic or the false finishes more believable?  For me at least, it didn’t.

Whether talking about the ending or the strike-heavy offense, the difference in opinion between my take and the consensus is that bigger/more did not equal better in this instance.  There are a lot of matches in modern wrestling that bludgeon the viewer over the head with the idea that the match is great, dramatic, and impactful because of the volume of offense and the fighting spirit displayed by the wrestlers.  For me, this felt more like a talking point that the announcers got over during the match and that the wrestlers occasionally played lip service to, rather than the match layout and execution drawing that response out of me.  Compare this to the best of the Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi matches.  Those matches had a lot of big offense and many near falls but also offense and near falls that built off of one another.  This match rushed to the big offense and near falls and it lessened their overall impact as a result.

My last critique deals with the idea of this not just being a great match but also being a great display of tag team wrestling.  By no means do all tag team matches have to follow a southern tag team structure.  There are far too many quality tag matches that have gone down a different path to believe that to be true.  However, there are concepts that are unique to tag team matches and when a match fails to utilize those concepts (or utilize them in a positive manner), then is the match deserving of the label “great (or perfect tag team match”?  With the exception of a few near saves from Callihan late in the match (which played into that impromptu team’s eventual break up), this match likely could have been wrestled as a four way match and not lost any of the offensive or near fall elements that were so heavily praised.  The drama surrounding an increasingly necessary tag, double team moves, quick tag outs, and partners saving partners were either downplayed or nearly non-existent.

It is easy to see what people liked about the match as all four guys really did hit the audience over the head with strikes, high impact offense, and kick outs to the point that you kind of become buried by all of it.  The difference for me is that none of those elements served to make the match more compelling or dramatic for me and as mentioned above, some of those elements served to diminish the drama and overall entertainment value in some respects.  For me, it was a match with a lot of ingredients – some good ingredients – that ultimately never came together in an exciting and compelling manner.