Tag Archives: *** 1/2

KUSHIDA vs. Volador Jr. (CMLL – 07/08/2016)

KUSHIDA vs. Volador Jr.
July 8, 2016
*** ½

CMLL bringing in the foreigners for an extended period around the International Grand Prix has been a welcomed change of pace from the normal monotonous CMLL cards but I am not sure it resulted in significantly better matches & shows until this one. As mentioned in the second match trios review, normal upper card workers were pushed down the opening matches which made for a better all-around show. Then this match was easily the best of the foreigners versus CMLL guy matches, unless Elgin/Ultimo Guerrero miraculously causes me to rethink that opinion. I liked this better than the Grand Prix and thought it was an impressive resume building performance for KUSHIDA.

The way the match was worked felt like a bit of a compromise. Volador got in a lot of his big offense, but the pacing was more deliberate and the moves were more spread out than in your typical Volador Jr. singles match. Kushida mixed in some cool stuff of his own as to not be overshadowed by Volador in the neat offense department. Kushida catching Volador in a cross arm bar when Volador was attempting a spring board move was hit as smoothly as I have ever it done. I know stuff like that is a Kyle O’Reilly staple, but I think that’s the best I have ever seen that counter look. It was an appropriate capper for the first fall. This had more limb work than the usual Volador match as well, with Kushida locking in on Volador’s arm. Volador sold the arm rather well and sold it consistently, so it added a nice little thread throughout the match that Volador Jr. matches are sometimes lacking.

What impressed me the most is that the third fall went really long – almost 15 minutes – but I never thought it reached the point of near fall tedium. They did a nice job in allowing the action to continue to build and progress, rather than flat line into a row of consecutive near falls. The pre-match promise from Kushida was that if Volador Jr. won the match and retained his title, that he would give Volador a shot at the IWGP Jr. title. I am hoping against hope that wasn’t a typical grandstand challenge because based on this match and Volador’s work in the BOSJ, that’s a match I wouldn’t mind seeing on a New Japan card. Almost zero chance of this happening, but that would be a cool special attraction match for the G-1 finals at Sumo Hall. The Super J Cup will still be going on which means Kushida won’t have a new challenger yet (assuming he doesn’t lose in the first round). Volador has reason to be given a title match and just wrestled a New Japan tour in May/June, so it would seem like a good match choice assuming they want to highlight Kushida in some way at Sumo Hall.

Black Terry vs. Aeroboy, hair vs. mask (06/10/2016)

Black Terry vs. Aeroboy
June 10, 2016
Hair vs. Mask
*** 1/2

This match was promoted in Aeroboy’s hometown of Tulancingo. The idea seems to be that the local boy putting his mask on the line against a notable wrestler and frequent opponent like Black Terry would make for a bigger-than-usual main event. From thousands of miles away, I never got the impression pre-match that Aeroboy was in any danger of losing his mask. However, you never know what is going on behind the scenes. If for someone reason Aeroboy was retiring as a luchador or heading in another direction, dropping his mask in front of his hometown fans against a strong opponent like Terry would not be completely out of the question. So while I wouldn’t say there was a lot of drama and intrigue going into this one, there at least existed the possibility that there might be.

To their credit, Black Terry and Aeroboy worked a rather intense match that resulted in an overall solid apuesta match. I am ambivalent on Aeroboy for the most part. When Black Terry Jr. records an Aeroboy match, it is not necessarily a must-buy match like it is for others but I don’t just gloss over his matches like I do for some others. That said, this might be the most I have ever enjoyed an Aeroboy singles match. He gave one heck of a babyface performance. He was good on offense, but he was even better on the other side of the ball. Aeroboy bled heavily, took a beating from Terry, and screamed his head off when trapped in holds. The painful screaming added a lot of drama. That might sound like the typical exercise of finding something minute to praise about a match but trust me, it is not. At on the BT Jr. handheld, Aeroboy’s painful screams do more to get over the danger he is in than any normal level of facial selling ever could.

The structure is about what you would expect. They go at it right away and keep up a torrid pace throughout. The match is a definite brawl, as it should be. We know Terry – even at 63 – can brawl with the best of them but Aeroboy kept up. He took Terry’s punishment, threw some hard kicks that he should use more often (they will help him stand out), and wrestled with the intensity needed for this type of brawl. There were some wicked head butts and post shots as well, both of which are Terry staples.

After both guys were bloody and beaten, they went to an extended period of submission finish teases where we got Aeroboy’s screams. I thought that section of the match was strong. It didn’t get great heat or anything but it worked in the sense that the holds – Terry wrenching on Aeroboy’s arm in particular – were violent enough that they didn’t feel like a letdown after the brawl. The tough thing to get right in a match like this is following up on the great brawling section. Flashy moves or mundane submissions don’t necessarily work in that instance. I thought they got it right both in theory and in execution by following up the blood and brawling with a section where they mixed in-ring brawling and limb pulling. Likewise, Terry’s way of performing a back cracker makes the move look rough and painful in a way few others are able to convey. I didn’t mind the Canadian Destroyer too much. While that move is way overused, I thought it felt relatively natural the way they used it and in line with the rest of the match. If I had any complaint about the near fall portion it is that Terry kicked out way early (barely two) on a flash pin from Aeroboy. The move suckered me in to thinking that might be it, but Terry kicking out early killed my reaction (it didn’t get much from the crowd either). Aeroboy did eventually win with a small package. While I didn’t mind the actual move, it was kind of telegraphed and the ending fell a little bit flat as a result.

In terms of recent indie lucha apuesta matches, I have this comfortably above Latigo and Toro Negro’s mask match from Cara Lucha. That was a higher stake match on paper and felt like a bigger deal when watching it, but this match had the better work. It sounds like the upcoming Freelance/Impulso hair match will not see the light of the day which is too bad because it would be nice to compare that one to this match.

Caifan vs. Ultimo Guerrero (ERLL – 03/20/2016)

Caifan vs. Ultimo Guerrero
March 20, 2016
Arena Jose Sulaiman (Monterrey, Mexico)
*** 1/2

I cannot watch a 2016 Caifan match without wondering how in god’s name he is not currently working in Arena Mexico. The first several minutes of this mano a mano match from Monterrey are spent exclusively on the mat. Caifan was as smooth and fluid as we have come to expect from him. Caifan’s reversals in the early going are a joy to watch. There are several where he is almost Virus like in his ability to perform a complicated reversal in short order without ever losing contact with his opponent. There was very little visible feeding of reversals here so if you are someone who is turned off by that, don’t fret. What makes Caifan standout for me among the maestros he even often works and other proficient lucha mat workers is that he blends in realistic take downs with a sense of struggle better than most. Those that think lucha mat work is just a bunch loose exchanging of holds (which is of course itself a ridiculous assertion) should at least give Caifan a try.

I cannot watch a 2016 Ultimo Guerrero match without wondering if this is the same Ultimo Guerrero I was watching just two years ago. The post-mask loss work bump is not a UG-specific phenomenon. Villano III suddenly morphed into one of the more entertaining wrestlers in the world for six-months in 2000 following his historic mask loss to Atlantis. For Villano III, the bump was short lived. Guerrero has kept going and going. Some of it is circumstance. He is getting booked in more featured singles matches on indie shows that Black Terry Jr. and the gaggle of lucha YouTube uploaders are graciously taping for us so there is more opportunities for him to shine and more opportunities for us to see him shine. At the same time, Guerrero is clearly working on a different level since his late 2014 mask loss to Atlantis. You hear far less jokes about Ultimo Guerrero filling out his move bingo card during a match (that is, ticking off all of his usual spots one by one). He is wrestling with far more variety. He is also working harder and showing a technical acumen that quite frankly I did not know he had. Guerrero kept up with Caifan every step of the way here. The chop battle on the outside was well placed (the opening mat work wasn’t getting much heat) and it is hard to imagine the UG of a few years ago allowing his chest to be chopped up in a half-empty Monterrey arena. It is impossible to imagine him doing the hip check dive he did into the seats on Caifan if this were 2013. UG is working really hard these days and getting great results from it.

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.

Negro Casas vs. Volador Jr. (CMLL – 02/15/2016)

Negro Casas vs. Volador Jr. © for the NWA World Historic Welterweight championship
February 15, 2016
Arena Puebla
*** 1/2

I have a confession to make. In a recent moment of weakness, I allowed myself to think that time finally caught with the inimitable Negro Casas and his days as a good pro wrestler were behind him. This match proved me wrong.

I do think the 56-year old legend is slowing down and is a couple of paces behind where he was even a few years ago. However – as this match clearly demonstrated – Casas is still about as good as anyone could reasonably expect a wrestler his age to be. There has been a drop off in production from him going back roughly to the end of the feud with Rush in August 2014, but that almost certainly as has much to do with CMLL not giving him much to work with as it does a significant decline in skill.  At least, this match would suggest that was the case.

They rushed the first two falls as one would expect, though the first fall – and both falls taken as a whole – had enough to them that they did not feel like a total waste. The third fall (also no surprise) is where most of the action was. In other words, it was the usual modern (non-Virus edition) CMLL title match from a general structure standpoint. What elevated it above the pack was that Casas and Volador Jr. substituted big moves (though there still were some) with a hectic finish centered on the budding rivals trying to outsmart each other. I will not spoil the last sequence of moves, but it was very well done and a great payoff to the feud up to this point.

I cannot stress enough how good Casas looked here. Trading Volador for Jr. no doubt has had a positive impact on Casas’ performances. Volador Jr. is the best tecnico in Mexico right now (looking at all aspects of his game) and that shined through against Casas. He was crisp on offense and worked really hard in the third fall. The match also had a lot of the smart little touches that Casas has demonstrated throughout his storied career. I don’t want to overdo it; the match was not a classic performance. It was however a very good “older Casas” performance which in and of itself is a rather major accolade.