HARASHIMA vs. Isami Kodaka
March 21, 2016
Sumo Hall (Tokyo, Japan)
It does not bother me much if a luchador working a show in front of 200 people tries a bunch of stuff that doesn’t quite hit its mark. It doesn’t bother me when CMLL under card wrestlers do the same (Flyer!) or when student matches on IWRG shows are nothing but wrestlers trying shit out. There is a time to try things and situations like those are that time. While I am not exactly worked into a tizzy when a main event match in a fairly big promotion is rough around the edges due to the wrestlers trying out complicated spots, it does have a more substantial effect on my enjoyment of the match.
Harashima and Kodaka wrestled a main event title match in one of Japan’s most historic pro wrestling venues in front of over 6,000 fans for a promotion that is the 3rd biggest in Japan currently. There are certain expectations that come with that. The main one being the expectation of quality execution and an absence of overt sloppiness. I might not like what the wrestlers do, but at the very least I expect a big main event in front of a big crowd to be fundamentally sound from an execution standpoint. While I would not classify this match as overtly sloppy, there were more than a few execution issues that I felt were damaging to the match on the whole.
Most of these moments were the result of trying high precision spots that could have easily been replaced with spots that could have been pulled off cleaner. The problem is not with innovation or complicated moves in general. The problem is that this match should have felt like the two best wrestlers DDT has to offer fighting for the top title. When there are numerous spots that are off or at times hard to tell what they were supposed to be, that hurts that perception. Kodaka and Harashima tried a bunch of counters and moves that sounded cool on paper but were difficult to pull off correctly. I would have personally traded a few “high degree of difficulty” spots for better overall presentation.
Aside from that complaint, I thought the match was decent. Harashima went after the ribs of his opponent which is his usual strategy. Kodaka in turn targeted the leg. The build was okay. They ratcheted the action up really early (like two minutes in) but Kodaka brought things back down with leg-focused submission holds a few minutes later. That allowed them to ratchet up the action again for the proper finishing run. The elongated stretched run was what one would expect. Lots of big moves back-and-forth and some fighting spirit stuff, although the latter was kept largely in check. This match did have one of the better one-count kick outs in recent memory. Harashima hit one of his signature moves after being behind most of the match. It was early enough in the ending that I am not sure a late two-count kick out would have drawn a bigtime reaction so it wasn’t like they left a big moment on the table. Harashima smirked after landing the move, effectively indicating that he felt he had just turned the tide. He paused for a few seconds before covering and Kodaka kicked out at one as if to say “not so fast“. Kodaka kicked out in such a way that it did not come off as goofy or as if he had summoned super human strength. He merely kicked out of a signature (but non-instant death) move in a situation where I am not sure they could have gotten a strong near fall. I am not sure it necessarily added to the match but unlike many other late match early kick outs, it did not detract from the match.
Negro Casas, Gran Guerrero & Kamaitachi vs. Volador Jr., Stuka Jr. & Dragon Lee
February 18, 2016
I do not know why these six decided to wrestle at such a breakneck page for a match whose only purpose was to move along the Voaldor Jr./Negro Casas issue but I am glad that they did. Whatever the reasons, it was a pleasant surprise that they went down the path they did. The hectic pace gave this one a different feel than your normal single-minded CMLL TV trios. So often in these situations the two feuding wrestlers feud in an obvious manner while the other four become background players. That was not quite the case here. All six wrestlers – yes, even Gran Guerrero – had a memorable moment or two. Also while Volador and Casas’s interaction became contentious there was not nine minutes of choking, brawling, and fouls in an attempt to get over the hatred. That stuff was there, but used in a complementary fashion as opposed to consuming the entire match. Casas was fantastic here (no surprise). Stuka Jr. might have been the second best. I am a sucker for the form of his dives. During the match, he hit an out of nowhere splash and a picture perfect plancha to the outside.
The takeaway from this match was its relentless pace. That was really the differentiator between an okay but forgettable match and a match that that was a little more memorable.
Jack Gallagher vs. Timothy Thatcher
February 14, 2016
The Ritz (Manchester, England)
The matches Timothy Thatcher has been booked in over the past year or so have gotten awfully repetitive. Go down a list of his singles matches since the start of 2015 and a lot of the names repeat. Case in point, during the tour of Europe Thatcher was on that encompassed this match he faced Zack Sabre Jr. twice in the span of 10 days and it is not as if that match was never ran before then. If nothing else, Gallagher represented a fresh opponent for Thatcher. Beyond that, Gallagher was also an opponent who stylistically felt like a good match for Thatcher. That’s opposed to say the now-canceled Tier 1 match with Michael Elgin which, while also with fresh opponent, was not a good fresh opponent.
Gallagher and Thatcher wrestled the exact match you would expect from them. Holds and counter holds ruled the day. The more athletic and interesting stuff was largely performed by Gallagher (flying arm bars and the like) but Thatcher was fine as well. To their credit, they stuck to their respective strengths which meant little striking and few periods of prolonged standing. The match was also easily digestible at under fifteen minutes. The ending came before it felt overdue which is always a welcomed sight for me. My painfully obvious recommendation is that if you like Thatcher, this is worth watching although do not expect a classic. If you don’t like him or are largely indifferent to him, then the match is probably worth skipping.
Caristico vs. Rush
January 15, 2016
Taka Michinoku vs. Daisuke Harada
Pro Wrestling NOAH
January 9, 2016
It is a joy to watch Taka Michinoku in singles matches these days.
He wrestles with the acumen and proficiency that can only be obtained through decades of in-ring experiences. A lot of wrestlers have long careers. Far fewer wrestlers are able to parlay those experiences into applied knowledge. Taka has been able to do just that during the later stages of his career. For a lack of a better description this match – as well as many Taka singles matches from the prior few years – is Taka’s own take on the maestro match. The way that Taka crafts these basic but entertaining (and rarely repetitive) matches is not all that dissimilar from a great Virus, Black Terry, or Blue Panther maestros match.
Taka has a ridiculous number of tricks and tools lining his pockets. In this match alone he wrestled standalone mat sequences, worked a match long submission story, utilized fun pinning combinations that indirectly set up the finish, did some heel shtick, incorporated high impact/quick strike spots, and even did my personal favorite “holding onto a headlock” routine for 30-seconds early on. It was not just the fact that Taka possessed all of those tricks that made this match work. Those segments were also arranged so that they built on one another. The match flowed excellently and felt like a full match rather than a collection of individual segments. For example, even though the match progresses from opening match basics to Taka in control to Harada’s comeback to the higher impact ending, Taka’s attempts at his signature submission hold and both wrestlers’ attempts to score a quick fall off of a pinning hold recur throughout.
Much of the praise for Taka recently has surrounded his mat work, but the higher impact offense in this match was almost as strong. I loved the knee strikes from guys, both in terms of how they were utilized in the match and how well they generally connect. There was one rough spot where Taka tried to kick (or knee) a seated Harada in the face. Taka pulled up without really connecting and Harada half-sold it on a delay. It did not help that at that moment the TV shot was taken from a camera right behind Harada’s back making the entire thing impossible to miss. To be fair, it was not a big deal. Taka showed off his well-honed instincts yet again by going right into a submission after a very brief pause.
Harada more than held up his end of the bargain, although I believe that comparing this match to other Harada matches would reveal a difference in style that likely can be attributed to Taka’s involvement. At the same time I am not sure this match would have worked like it did if Taka had another opponent (Taiji Ishimori, for example). It is uncertain that Ishimori would have had the offense needed to make a convincing comeback while still selling the effects of the earlier beating in the way Harada was. He threw a couple of nice suplexes and landed some knee strikes – while still showing the impact Taka’s offense had on him – in a manner that someone with a different set of offense might not have been able to.
If you enjoyed Taka’s singles matches last year for NOAH and K-Dojo, this one is definitely worth checking out. It is below the top level Taka stuff from ’15 but on part with the Ogawa singles match from early last year.