Current Watch List:
- Angelico vs. Son of Havoc (Lucha Underground)
- Pentagon Jr. vs. Famous B (Lucha Underground)
- Aero Star vs. Drago (Lucha Underground)
- Johnny Mundo vs. Brian Cage (Lucha Underground)
- Adrian Neville vs. Baron Corbin (WWE NXT)
- Hideo Itami vs. Finn Bálor (WWE NXT)
- Taka Michinoku vs. Yoshinari Ogawa (NOAH)
- Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Taichi (NOAH)
- Naomichi Marufuji, Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste vs. Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. (NOAH)
Angelico vs. Son of Havoc
The announcing was ridiculous during this match. Both Striker and Vampiro were at their worst with question or wrong insights and references throughout the match. The funniest was Vamp saying that Cross landing on his feet on an attempted 450 splash was reminiscent of Jushin “Thunder” Liger. That’s at least the second incorrect reference to Liger made during LU’s run. Striker also referred to Havoc as the “SD Jones of Lucha Underground”. I could almost hear the groans.
Match was okay. I thought Angelico had a good night. He has weak-ish strikes for someone who throws so many of them, but they were tighter against Son of Havoc. Ivelisse cut a heel promo pre-match and got some heat for it (though there was also a good but piped in) but Havoc was way over during the match. Ending saw Havoc spear Ivelisse after miscommunication, allowing Angelico to get the roll up win. Okay.
Pentagon Jr. vs. Famous B
Pre-match vignette had Pentagon Jr. beating up guys of various martial arts disciplined. It was over the top but in a good way. It was shot really cool and like a lot of stuff on Lucha Underground, they took a traditional pro wrestling setup but presented it with more of a traditional TV sensibility. Liked that a lot. The match itself was a Pentagon Jr. showcase. He methodically took apart with Famous B with his quality offense, before beating him with an arm bar. Post-match, Pentagon “broke” Famous B’s arm which was a nice touch.
Aero Star vs. Drago
Could have used more time. They did some cool stuff (of course) but they had to fit too much into too short of a time frame. Aero Star had the move of the show (again, of course) with his step up straight plancha. The straight up plancha looked really cool with the step up. Okay, but rushed.
Johnny Mundo vs. Brian Cage
It took a few minutes to get going, but once it did it was a quality indie style sprint. Mundo’s kicks are unnecessarily complicated and look bad more times than they looked good. His straight flying his very good though. The dive he did over the post was good. Cage continues to provide nice variety to the shows as the non-lucha power wrestler. Teased non-finish as King Cuerno attacked Mundo to start a new program. The match was thrown out but Dario Cuerto (who earlier in the show insincerely made peace with Mundo), re-started the match as a “favor” for Mundo. Cage attacked the leg for the rest of the match. He looked good tearing the leg apart. The re-start was better than what proceeded it which I think is sort of rare. Great spot where Mundo went for a kick and caught the post with his shin. Also liked the over the head leg wrench./half crab submission from Cage. The end was booked well in that Mundo got enough spots to show his heart but Cage still looked strong in going over. Liked this more than I expected to.
Baron Corbin vs. Adrian Neville
Besides being tall, nothing about Corbin’s look screams “monster” even though that is what they are pushing him as. He looks facially and even a bit body wise like an overgrown Bo Dallas. He certainly did not wrestle like a monster in the match. It was like someone told him that the key to being a good monster is to methodically pace around the ring and nothing else. The presence just is not there neither are the monster moves/actions (swatting your opponent away, not bumping easily right away, ect.). It just doesn’t work. Neville could potentially have a fun match with a good big man, but this wasn’t it. Not the best match to build momentum towards the tournament finals.
Finn Balor vs. Hideo Itami
Good TV match. I imagine there will be some criticisms around the fact that they slowed it down at the start, with Balor using chin locks and other neck-focused submissions for much of the way until the commercial break. That’s what WWE teaches these guys and it is what they should be teaching. They were able to keep the crowd interested through a slower and more basic (by modern Japan and indie standards) start. It helped that both guys are over to the NXT live crowd, but even in a different environment I think the match would have worked. They peppered in enough spots in the early going to keep the crowd engaged, but the slower build allowed them to keep a lot in the tank for the stretch run without going overboard. I think both Balor and Itami are adjusting fine to the WWE style of working, but Balor so far has had the better connection with the crowd. If I had to handicap it now, I think he’ll do alright for himself but Itami is going to after land in the right gimmick or right role. Both guys are definitely benefiting from the WWE developmental engine toning done and honing their ring work.
Taka Michinoku vs. Yoshinari Ogawa
On paper, Taka versus Ogawa seems like one of those perfect stylistic match ups. Both were one among the best juniors in Japan. Both took plenty of short cuts (they cheated) in their prime years and still do today. Even past their prime, both Taka and Ogawa are good workers in the sense they have a solid foundation to fall back on and know their current limitations. It also had the additional “dream match” element of having never occurred before. Ogawa went from All Japan to NOAH in the split. Taka went from M-Pro to WWF to All Japan, but arrived in All Japan post-NOAH split. Two good, similarly styled juniors in a first time ever match sounded great, but it is rare that those matches actually deliver. The reality rarely matches the expectations.
This time, fortunately, the actual match delivered on its potential.
Taka and Ogawa wrestled a refreshing match that focused on basic storytelling elements, easy to follow spots, and well-executed classic offense some of which is rarely seen these days. The thread throughout the match was Taka trying to use his usual underhand tactics to gain the advantage. Ogawa basically invented the grimy, underhanded Japanese junior routine so he was not falling for any of Taka’s tricks. They play off that several times to good effect. The match keeps a quick pace (it is only seven minutes long). Ogawa puts on a cross arm bar the old school way (sit up and pull back with the arm out stretched in between his legs) and a neat World of Sport style arm wringer take down. Most of the offense was neat stuff you don’t see a lot of anymore but should. The roll up finish was also really well executed and felt like the appropriate ending.
At the risk of being that guy who praises a mid-card, throw away match as something more, I thought this was pretty easily the best juniors match of 2015 so far. It was the kind of basic, well executed match that I love and wish we had more of in modern wrestling.
Taichi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Fans of quality stalling, rejoice!
Taichi brought some high level stalling to the beginning of this match. It was truly great work in what is becoming an increasingly lost art. Good stalling does not mean simply doing nothing. It means doing a lot, but not doing what the fans want to see the heel do (actually wrestle his opponent). Taichi worked as hard in the first two+ minutes of this match as he would have had he locked up with Sabre Jr. right at the bell. He backed off and ducked his head in between the ropes. He slid out of the ring to avoid contact. He ran away from Sabre as he was chased around ringside. The Korakuen fans bought right into it and he got good heat that carried throughout the match. It was good stuff.
I think I liked Taka vs. Ogawa a little bit more. Both matches incorporated elements that are underused in wrestling today (stalling here and the general offense in Taka vs. Ogawa) but I thought the Taka match was a bit more solid all the way around. When they weren’t stalling here – particularly when Taichi was on offense – the match was just okay. Sabre Jr. looked good on offense again (also thought he had a good offensive showing versus Nakajima recently). Solid and worth watching for something that felt refreshingly different.
Minoru Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer vs. Naomichi Marufuji, Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls
There is no doubt that the Suzuki-gun invasion of NOAH has been a breath of fresh air into what had been a very flat promotion. I think much of that perception is a result of how lifeless NOAH was before the feud. This is a well booked invasion feud. At the same time, there have been many, many well booked invasion feuds in Japanese wrestling history (some of the bigger box office feuds of all time have been built on that premise). I am not sure this one was done much to separate itself from the pack. The matches have been good for the most part and the Suzuki-gun wrestlers have added much needed depth to the cards. It is not getting a ton of heat though and even putting heat aside (because that does take time) it doesn’t feel like a big angle overall; just a big angle for modern day NOAH.
This match encapsulated all of that. Suzuki continued to work hard. He is a larger presence than many in NOAH but not the larger-than-life “I can’t believe this guy is here!” presence that ideally would come with the leader in an invasion angle. When he tagged in, there was no huge anticipation. There are reasons for that which I am going to delve into at a later date, but it is definitely palpable. Archer & Smith Jr. have looked incredibly competent (that is a compliment) and this match was no exception, but again their presence in the match doesn’t feel as big as it really should. They just feel like two more solid mid-carders in a promotion that could use more solid mid-carders. All of those same things could be said about the home team. I can’t help but think this feud would mean much more if it was something like Kenta at the helm with Akiyama & Marafuji has the other two big NOAH wrestlers. When Marufuji is the de facto leader of NOAH and his two lieutenants are foreigners with only a year and a half of a heavy push behind them, the matches are going to struggle to feel epic and special. The work was fine in this one, but the feud is a month old and it already is spinning its wheels just a bit.