Jimmy Rave’s 2005

There has been a lot of talk recently about the resurgence of Jimmy Rave and how he is potentially the best wrestler in the world in 2016.  From the footage I’ve watched from him in 2015-2016, I’m not sure I could back that claim.  The more interesting thing to me is that Jimmy Rave had a fantastic 2005, that was viewed positively at the time and upon re watch in recent months.

Rave had super solid **** matches with CM Punk, AJ Styles, and later in the year as part of the Embassy versus Generation Next multi-man feud.  ****, what’s so great about that?  For one, Rave got over as a real heat drawing heel.  That just didn’t happen in ROH.  And while Punk and Styles were good workers in their own right, they certainly weren’t what they would become 5-8 years down the line.

I’d suggest checking out the following matches:

CM Punk (02/26/05 – Chicago)

If this match happened in 2016, move for move with the same crowd reaction, people would be saying it is an easy MOTYC.  It was viewed that way back in 2005 by most, but at the time, it was still a good match and an example of something different in the highly technical world of ROH.  Maybe the closest ROH ever got to being prime-Memphis like.

CM Punk (05/07/05 – New York City)

You would think a chain match, with a guy like Punk who doesn’t have the best body control, in front of a New York City crowd would be a disaster?  You’d be wrong.  Besides being bloody, this had the grit and intensity of a lucha apuestas match.  Once again, Rave easily holds up his end of the bargain.

CM Punk (05/14/05 – Chicago)

Okay, so this is the weird one.  Move for move, moment to moment, they execute a cage match that is arguably good, maybe very good.  But there is no heat.  That could have been due to the length of the show (which ROH was notorious for), the downtime to set the cage up before the main event, and the booking to have this be pin fall, submission, or escape.  It’s worth taking a look at, but unfortunately is a disappointing finish to a really well booked and well wrestled feud.

AJ Styles (07/23/05 – Philadelphia)

This is probably the most underrated match in ROH history, outside of Chad Collyer vs. Rocky Romero from July 2004.  It’s a street fight and once you get past Rave and Styles wearing designer jeans, there is nothing but positives.  Rave’s top notch punches, which he seems to have ditched in his most recent run, are on display here, as well as the bumping, selling, and intensity that was needed as Styles could only work sparse dates for ROH because of TNA obligations.  This even has a brain buster on a chair, a move that I shouldn’t like at all, but it fits in this match pretty perfectly.

There is also an angle on the April 16, 2005 ROH show that leads to the chain match.  It starts with Rave leaving because he doesn’t want to wrestle Punk, who then wrestlers Embassy member Mike Kruel.  Punk beats him and Rave comes back out and they have a great brawl, which ends with Rave attacking Punk’s second, Traci Brooks.  Well worth seeing but not certainly not essential.

Trauma I vs. Canis Lupus (IWRG – 09/04/2016)

Trauma I vs. Canis Lupus
September 4, 2016
IWRG
Mask vs. Mask
**** 3/4

Out of haste and my excitement to watch Trauma I and Canis Lupus’ IWRG mask match on Labor Day morning, I put on the only version available on YouTube at that time – an 18 minute video uploaded by Estrellas del Ring. That particular YouTube channel records all of marquee lucha indies but rarely if ever uploads full matches. An 18-minute runtime felt right for this match and a scroll through the video to look for obvious signs of clipping revealed nothing of the sort. So I ignored the obvious warning signs – from the video the match appeared to be only one fall which was odd and they seemed to skip to the overt violence section rather quickly – and convinced myself that this was the full (or near full) match.

I only mention that because after watching Canis Lupus and Trauma I destroy one another for the full duration of the video (and still believing I had seen the full thing), I was relatively sure that it was the best pro wrestling match I had watched in 2016. It was only later in the day that after I saw in the luchablog results post that the match was 2 out of 3 falls and checked out another upload of the match that I realized the version I watched was a couple of minutes of the first fall spliced together (very seamlessly I might add) with most of the third fall. The takeaway was that I had convinced that a match I had only seen the third fall of was the match of the year. The beginning of a match – how the wrestlers set a ton for what is to come – is as important in my overall enjoyment of a match as any other element. So I think it says something that a match with almost literally no beginning still registered with me at such a high level. A match has to be special when the third fall on its own makes that big of an impression on me.

After watching the full version of the match (both the AYM broadcast version and the +LuchaTV version are full and on YouTube), it is even more clear just how special and awesome of a match this one is. Trauma I and Canis Lupus wrestled an epic and violent match that at least initially would seem to place it on the same level as other classic apuesta matches.

As I unintentionally proved to myself, the third fall on its own was full enough and strong enough as to standout. The match is going to receive its fair share of attention for the level of blood shed by Lupus during that fall. Admittedly, a couple of pictures posted by Black Terry Jr. that showed the aftermath of the blood shed was a big reason I hurried to watch the match in the first place. And yea, Lupus’ bleeds like his life depends on it and the end of the match – with the mat covered in at least one of pool of newly dropped blood – creates quite the visual. The third fall and therefore the match has to be considered a blood bath because of all the blood that was lost, but blood is not the match’s only defining characteristic. The decisive fall contains at least a couple of believable near falls and a three to four minute ending stretch that formed an indelible impression on me. That fall is not simply Lupus bleeding out while sitting on the mat. The action is well paced, violent, and appropriately dramatic.

In terms of the first falls, it was clear to me after actually watching them that as good as I thought the match was based on just the third, that fall is even better with the first two falls serving as a lead-in.

Lupus and the younger of the Trauma brothers have feuded for months now in Arena Naucalpan. This was a traditionally built mask feud and as such, the blow off match required a hot start. They accomplished that in the form of a tope suicidia from Lupus almost right away in the first fall. It was a great way to start a mask match by demonstrating explicitly that they (or at least Lupus) planned on forgoing all the usual formalities and getting right down to business. You don’t get a lot of matches that feature a tope suicida as the very first move – not now nor ever – which made the impression that this match was different and more important than the norm. Interestingly enough, the tope was the one real piece of action from the first fall that Estrellas del Ring left in their version. That indicates to me that they also saw that tope as a pivotal piece of the match.

The ending of the first fall is also pivotal, in that it makes what was already a great finish to the third fall an even better one. The Lo Negro del Negro (the Trauma brothers’ twisting leg lock submission hold) is one of the best submission holds in all of wrestling. It is the rare submission move that has a high impact and visual element to it thanks to the standing start and twist. It never fails to pop a crowd. The Arena Mexico crowd even went nuts for it when the Traumas appeared on Elite shows late last year and early this year. In the first fall, it is Canis Lupus who uses it to win. Trauma I sold his own move like the killer finish it deserves to be sold as. He flailed about in great pain before tapping quickly. Occasionally throughout the rest of the bout, Trauma I showed ill-effects from the move. Stealing your opponent’s finish might be played in some environments but it really isn’t in lucha and I think it came across like a big deal here. Lupus looked appropriately proud of himself post-fall; having taken the lead while also managing to work in a small insult as well.

In all three falls, the wrestlers balanced action outside of the ring with action in the ring. Far too many IWRG matches over the last few years have been content on being gore fests with uninspired ringside brawling filling the rest of the time. Trauma I and Canis Lupus effectively used in the ringside area to get across the violence and hatred but did not even come close to relying on out of the ring brawling as a crutch. They were in and out, never overstaying their welcome either in or out of the ring. Everything done out of the ring in the first two falls is used to escalate the violence and tension. At points in the first couple of falls the match teases a descent into an all-out ringside brawl but stops just short of getting there. So when the match finally descends into madness in the third fall – chairs and blood – it feels earned. That was perhaps the biggest difference between viewing just the final fall and the entire match. Falls #1 and #2 set up the violence of the third fall perfectly. By the time these two start whacking each other over the head with chairs, you feel like that sort of extreme action was inevitable.

IWRG has been a soulless and directionless promotion for at least a few years now. Arena Naucalpan is almost always far closer to empty than full. For the fans that do show up, IWRG gives them little reasons to invest in the matches due to booking that relies on an endless series of copas, gimmick changes, and pointless title changes in lieu of anything meaningful. So it is striking to watch this match in that context and see Arena Naucalpan virtually full and the crowd completely into the match they are watching. Trauma I is the clear fan favorite – as expected and as planned – as evidenced by the way they continually serenade him with songs and chants of “Vamos Trauma!”. The heat speaks for itself and it is clear to anyone that the crowd is invested in the outcome. It stands out even more so in the context of the generally heatless environment IWRG matches take place in most of the time in 2016.

The match reaches a crescendo in the final four minutes. By this time, Lupus is a bloody mess. Both wrestlers are sporting badly ripped masks and looking the worse for wear. The official is bumped and it was difficult not to worry on first viewing that an overwrought ending was waiting on the other side. Those worries are quickly erased. For one, the referee was actually hit hard and fell hard so they avoided the phantom ref bumps that are all to prevalent in the poorly officiated world of lucha libre. More important, however, is what the bump sets up. Lupus recognizes that he has an opening and decides to go for broke by performing the dreaded martinete (tombstone piledriver) on his opponent. The martinete is an illegal move in lucha and would be grounds for immediate disqualification if the referee saw it. Lupus performs the move swiftly and expertly, like he knows this is his one shot and he cannot blow it by wasting any time.

Perhaps the best part of this entire sequence is that after Lupus has driven Trauma neck first into the mat he does not waste any time in following up. There’s no struggle to wake the ref or anything like that. He covers with a sense of urgency and the referee – who was knocked down rather than knocked out – gets in position to count in a timely fashion. The timing makes for an excellent near fall as I totally bought the idea that Trauma could lose in this manner, with the illegal move serving to protect him to an extent. Instead, it creates a great false finish as Trauma’s foot is under the ropes.

Lupus tries again for a cover. This time Trauma (who seemingly cannot move his neck at least not without great pain) lifts his arms straight up to stop the referee’s count at two. The referee scolds him and counts further away from Trauma’s arms to avoid a similar occurrence. Trauma has no choice now but to lift his neck and shoulders off the mat, which he does while still completely conveying the idea that the martinete has doe serious and potentially permanent damage. This is hammered home further when the match briefly stops so the ringside doctor can strap a neck brace to Trauma I. All of this sets up the actual finish which sees Lupus – in an act of desperation after not being able to pin Trauma following the martinete – go to the top rope for a plancha. Trauma I might not be able to move his neck very well but he can move his legs. He lifts his knees to counter the move. Lupus quickly moves back in, but Trauma I grabs his leg and trips him. This leads to as dramatic and effective of a submission hold struggle as I can remember seeing recently. Lupus knows Trauma is looking for the Lo Negro del Negro and he also knows that if he locks in the hold, the match is as good as lost. He kicks at Trauma and swipes at him with his arms, but Trauma fights it off. When Trauma eventually locks in the move, the crowd goes nuts and Lupus reacts like his legs are snapping in half. He taps in short order, setting off an awesome celebration that begins with Trauma II and Mr. Electro elatedly leaping into the ring to congratulate the winner.

If you are skeptical of this match because the location and the participants suggest that it is just a lucha indie match and will not have the emotion and presentation of a major CMLL or AAA mask match, rest assured those fears are unwarranted. The final minutes of the match are as dramatic as either of the big Atlantis mask matches from the past two years. The scale is different – a few thousand people in Arena Naucalpan is obviously different than 15,000 in Arena Mexico – but on a relative basis the emotion and reactions to the finish are close enough to be considered the equal. So is the post-match activity. The seconds – Mascara Ano 2000 Jr. & Mr. Electro – give speeches putting over the wrestlers, as does Trauma II (in a nice touch, Trauma II was forced to watch his brother defend his mask from the crowd since he was not an officially registered second). Canis Lupus also speaks eventually, surrounded by a throng of photographers and camera men. All the while, Trauma I continues to lay on the mat as doctor’s attend to him. The attention to selling and putting over the martinete rivals any sort of selling I have seen anywhere in the world in 2016. It is only after everyone else has spoken that Trauma I is able to get up (with the help of a neck brace) and give his speech.

To top it all off, a still bloody Canis Lupus lets his girlfriend remove his mask before reportedly proposing to her while still in the ring. If that’s not pro wrestling emotion at its finest, I don’t know what is.

I am always leery of making grand claims about a match that just happened days ago. The fact that I enjoyed the match so much even when I only watched the third fall and enjoyed it even more in full a day later makes me think that Canis Lupus and Trauma I wrestled a truly special match that will stand up as such over time. I am not positive of that, but I think there’s a good chance.

For now, I feel confident stating that Canis Lupus vs. Trauma I is my favorite mask match in recent years surpassing Atlantis vs. La Sombra from last year’s CMLL Anniversary show. The match contains all the attributes of a classic apuesta match from blood and false finishes to a dramatic ending and post-match drama. This is my MOTY for 2016 as of this moment (lucha or otherwise) and will be pleasantly surprised if another match surpasses it.

Sangre Azteca vs. Dragon Rojo Jr. (CMLL – 12/16/2008)

Sangre Azteca vs. Dragon Rojo Jr.
December 16, 2008
CMLL
Mexican National Welterweight
*** 3/4 

I am not sure how this match was viewed at the time. It appears on the list of recommended matches for Dragon Rojo Jr. at Cage Match. Matches don’t randomly end up there, so somebody somewhere at some time must have praised the match. The closest I could find to praise, however, was a single third place vote for the match in the 2008 Tapatia Awards. Otherwise – not much. So maybe I am out to lunch here, but I really enjoyed this match on first viewing and its up there with the better late 2000’s lucha I’ve watched.

The first fall – which runs about nine minutes – has this really interesting step-by-step progression to it. Azteca and Rojo Jr. begin with basic, almost US style exploratory holds. They lock up, work hammerlocks, waist lock, and similar holds, and are either standing or kneeling the entire time. That period of the fall is as ordinary as it sounds but it is also not boring. They countered and switched up holds enough to keep my attention. I much prefer that sort of slow burn hold-intensive start (even if the holds are not anything special) to a WWE-like start where the guys sprint out of the block only to strap on chin locks at certain points for no reason. This portion of the match lasts for about two and a half minutes without either wrestle truly establishing control. That changes after the second or third restart. Rojo establishes control by grabbing ahold of his opponent’s arm and not letting go no matter what. I love “holding onto a body part” segments in matches, especially when the escape attempts are as interesting as they were here. Azteca tries several neat attempts at escaping Rojo’s grasp, but has no such luck. After about a minute, he frees himself with a monkey flip leading to another reset.

That monkey flip escape marks the midway point of the first fall, if not as much in actual time elapsed as in momentum. When they get going again, there is a greater sense of urgency. The pace quickens slightly but even more than that the holds become more dangerous (and possibly fall ending) and they start to roll out the pinning holds as well. Essentially, they work what I guess would be the “usual” lucha title match opening fall from that point on. I like that they built to that stuff rather than just jumping into it. It made their good-not-great submission wrestling mean more because it was a step forward from what came before. Abdominal stretches and octopus holds are personal favorites of mine and they did plenty of them here. With about a minute left in the fall, they start running the ropes a little more while still working stalemate stuff. Rojo never actually gains a sustained advantage, but instead catches his charging opponent with his signature rebound power bomb to take the fall. I liked this fall a ton but for the slow build and the quality of the offense.

Both the pace and type of offense take another step forward to start the second fall. The tentativeness is entirely out the window. Dragon Azteca shined during this fall when he was on offense. It is a short fall – only a couple of minutes – but Azteca makes each move count. He lands a beautiful spinning kick (Ultimo Dragon style) that hits as well as I remember seeing that move ever land. For the finish, he counters a top rope jump from Rojo with a drop kick. That’s a move that at best looks good 50% of the time. That counter led directly to the second fall pin so fortunately for Azteca, this was one of those times where the move was timed and executed really well.

There is not a whole lot to write about the third fall other than it was a super solid and polished fall that felt like an appropriate capper. It is about two and a half minutes into the final frame before we get the first dive of the match. It is worth waiting for as Rojo hits a beautiful spring board cross body block going from inside the ring to outside. Both wrestlers pull the other away as they attempt to get back into the ring, which becomes important later on at the finish. Azteca ultimately gets the better of it and rather than immediately re-enter the ring, he one-ups Rojo Jr. by doing a plancha from the top rope down to the arena floor. A lot of pinning holds for near falls late along with a few more major flying moves, including a fine tope by the challenger. They do one of those “slap each other from our knees while exhausted” bits shortly after the tope. I thought it worked here. It felt earned based on what came before it. I was also a fan of how they teased the finishes of the first two falls. First Dragon Rojo catches Azteca again with the rebound power bomb but Azteca struggles out before Rojo can slam him to the mat. Later on Azteca once again counters a top rope move by Rojo with a drop kick. The fans buzz for the move but Azteca is slower to cover this go-around which allows Rojo to kick out.

Not everyone will love the finish and maybe that is the reasons (or one of the reasons) why I found very little praise for it. Azteca lands a cannonball dive off of the ring apron for the fourth and final dive. They don’t stay down on the floor very long – not noticeably longer than before – but after briefly slapping back and forth while standing outside the ring, they suddenly notice that the referee is almost through the count out. By the time they slide back into the ring – at the exact same time – the referee has finished his count and rules the match a double count out. In theory this was an interesting and logical finish. They worked the match in an even manner, they got across the idea that they were near spent, and the moves used to end the first two falls had already failed in the third. All of that was a strong way of building to a double count out finish. The problem is they sort of seemed to combine two reasons (tiredness and being distracted by their battle on the floor) for getting counted out into one not entirely satisfying excuse for the finish. It was a finish that made sense given the body of the match, it just seemed a little rushed which meant they didn’t get the big “oh no!” count out reaction from the audience that they were probably looking for.

That is a small complaint for what I thought was a very strong title match.  I would be interested in reading other opinions on the match. My guess it the lack of opinions is that it is an overall solid match that is neither impressively progressive nor worked in a completely traditional manner. It is somewhere in the middle – which I personally enjoy as long as the execution is on point – and I could see how that might lead to general apathy.

Dr. Cerebro vs. El Hijo del Diablo (IWRG – 01/31/2010)

Dr. Cerebro vs. El Hijo del Diablo
January 31, 2010
IWRG
IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight
*** 3/4

One of those matches where there is not any one thing all that extraordinary about it but where there are a lot of things that are done very well. It is a tremendously full match that manages to cover a lot of ground and equally as important, covers that ground in effective and interesting ways.

The match is for Cerebro’s IWRG Intercontinental Lightweight title but there is quite a bit of heat and animosity, two things you don’t always get in title matches. The Arena Naucalpan crowd is hot for the entire match. There are some mixed reactions, but by and large the fans are behind Cerebro. Diablo is a solid heel and is able to keep the crowd against him for the most part even as he does stuff in the ring that they like. Black Terry seconds Cerebro and is awesome in that role. Initially the extent of his involvement is cheering on Cerebro and getting the fans to do the same, but he gets physically involved in the third fall when things start to get personal. Having a second that throws haymakers and tries to tackle the rudo can be overkill and distracting but they ramp up the intensity in the match to the point where it makes sense and for his part, Terry pulls it off like only he can.

The match is “full” in the sense that this isn’t just mat work or just brawling or just near falls. They move around and do a little bit of everything. The first fall is heavy on mat wrestling. Both the champion and challenger bleed. They brawl and as mentioned, the seconds brawl. There are high impact moves in the third fall and some really great dives on both ends. They earn at least one big time near fall reaction. Sometimes matches that want to be everything to everyone become messy and bloated. This match avoided that because of the way they segmented the different parts and built to them. The mat work becomes heated and it leads to the blood. The blood fuels tempers even more and it leads to brawling. Terry gets involved. The brawling gives way to the dives, high impact moves, and eventually the near falls. It is a very structured match even with so much crammed into it.

It cannot be oversold how much the general atmosphere helps this match, particularly if we are comparing it to the present day IWRG presentation. The arena is full(er), the crowd is loud, and the wrestlers are able to convey the idea that this match means something. Black Terry Jr.’s excellent ringside filming is also a plus. For whatever reasons, it does not look like this match aired on TV. IWRG and/or Teleformula opted to air two undercard matches instead on the weekly TV for whatever reason.

Ohtani’s Jacket talked this match up at the time and I think it definitely holds up, maybe even more so when directly compare a spirited match like this one with the soullessness of contemporary IWRG. As usual with most matches he is a part of, Dr. Cerebro was the standout but Hijo del Diablo (and Black Terry) were also on their games. If you are looking to purchase some “older” matches from Black Terry Jr., this is one that is definitely worth getting.

Brazo de Plata vs. Gran Markus Jr. (CMLL – 05/29/1998)

Brazo de Plata vs. Gran Markus Jr.
May 29, 1998
CMLL
Hair vs. Hair
** 3/4

Watching Brazo de Plata these days – on the rare occasions when he can actually still make it to the ring to wrestle – it is hard to feel anything but pity for the guy. He can hardly carry around his sub-5 ½ foot 300+ pound frame and is sadly (another) heart attack waiting to be happen. As of the posting of this review, Porky is currently sidelined with a femur injury but cannot undergo surgery to repair it until he loses twenty pounds. Porky is in a sad state. The irony is that his entire appeal – especially after embracing the “Super Porky” nickname – centered on the fact that he was such a pitiful and therefore easy to root for wrestler. Porky has always been pathetic. That was his appeal. It is just now that it is no longer funny or entertaining, it is just sad.

When all I have seen recently is 50+ year old Porky struggling for deep breathes while standing on the ring apron, it is easy to forget how great he was in his role before his obesity started to seriously damage his body and abilities. This match is a great reminder how Porky used to be pathetic in the good, sympathy-drawing babyface way and not in his present “this is hard to watch” state. The Porky in this match is one of the more sympathetic, easy-to-root for wrestlers of all time.

Obviously Porky’s look – the bulging waistline, short stature, messed up hair, droopy eyes – go a long way to drawing that level of sympathy. It is hard not to root for a guy that looks like that. However, Porky’s ability to elicit sympathy opposite of Gran Markus Jr. goes far beyond his looks. For starters, he bleeds almost as soon as this match starts after taking a headfirst shot into the steel post. It’s a short match (under ten minutes shown for three falls) so Porky does not waste any time in in that regard. He stumbles around the ring looking tired and hopeless. It might be fair to state that no other wrestler has used their poor looks to their advantage as much or as well as Porky.

The capper to Porky’s appeal in his prime is that he was far, far more athletic than his frame would ever suggest. There is no reason a guy with Porky’s body type should be able to do a really good tope suicida or a beautiful twisting plancha to the outside but Porky does both in this match. Not only that, but Porky realizes that those spots are more effective if they are used sparingly. Porky has other offense he uses against Gran Markus, but it is largely standard fare. For the most part he sells and stumbles around. When he pulls out the two awesome flying moves, they have such a greater impact because they seem to come out of nowhere and have the feel of true desperation-like offense. It is a cliché, but in this match Porky understands his limitations and gets the most out of his impressive high spots as he possibly can.

There is not a lot of comedy in this one, which I think was the right choice. Porky is of course a talented comedy wrestler but too much comedy would have seemed really out of place in a hair match, especially once Porky starting bleeding. If the match had a lot of comedy, it also potentially would have served to diminish the impact of Porky’s great selling in the match. It is more difficult to get behind an underdog wrestler who is taking a beating if mid-match he pauses to get some laughs.

As mentioned this is a short match and if it was clipped, it wasn’t clipped significantly. That is obviously a smart decision. Markus is not as big or as oddly shaped as Porky but he’s not someone who should be working a 15+ minute match either. The falls don’t seem rushed because Porky bleeds right away and is so natural at conveying fatigue. Any longer than they went probably would have been too long. They got in, did what they needed to do, and got out. Porky’s victory gets a huge reaction, which is proof that the layout and Porky’s selling were very effective.

This is a good short and simple match if you have ten minutes to kill. Porky’s flying provides the necessarily hook but the whole match is so quick that it would have been fine even without those moves. Porky (and to a lesser extent Markus) got as much out of the match as could reasonably be expected. If you only know the Porky of the last ten years are wondering why some consider him a very good worker, from a singles match perspective this is as good of a place to start as any.