Latigo vs. Toro Negro Jr.
May 21, 2016
Mask vs. Mask
Cara Lucha held their first ever apuesta match as the main event of their second anniversary show at Arena San Juan Pantitlan. This was not an epic feud by any means – a trios, singles match, and tag over a five month period leading into the mask match. For an indie, Cara Lucha does really great show to show booking and they did put together a feud for Latigo and Toro Negro, but it would be a stretch to call their feud a major one.
To be fair maybe that was just my personal perception because the fans in the arena were certainly pumped. Cara Lucha crowds are generally vocal and that often manifests itself with a lot of booing. Particularly early on in the promotion’s run the CMLL and AAA wrestlers seemed to draw most of the jeers but most of the time there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. It seems like every match there are some fans that do not like one of the participants. What is interesting is that in this high stakes match there is a lot of chanting and cheering in support of each wrestler, but very few boos to be found. It was different enough from the normal atmosphere in the building that it stuck out to me.
Latigo and Toro Negro went for the slow build approach. They wrestle straight up early on which I feel usually works in apuesta matches even though it’s natural to think that heated rivals who have arrived at their “last resort” should come out guns blazing. The counter argument is that with so much on the line, you don’t want to foolishly rush into things and risk making a big mistake. That is what this start felt like to me. It maybe could have been a little more heated – tentativeness and intensity are not mutually exclusive – but it was a fine opening.
It doesn’t last long of course and the action spills to the outside in short order. Latigo wrestled the match with a white shirt, which helped when he bled all over it. The brawling on the outside was quality as were the dives that got them there.
After several minutes of brawling in and around the crowd, the crowd itself gets involved. Toro Negro got into it with the ringside fans throughout the match. At some point, the fans themselves get into it. It is a wild scene for a couple of minutes as fans have to be pulled apart and the police were called in. It does not appear any serious physical altercations took place, which is a good thing of course. For the match itself, the extracurricular activity was a mixed bag. It made a wild, high intensity match even more so. At the same time, the wrestlers understandably froze when things threatened to get out of control. When the situation calmed down enough for the match to continue in the ring, they sort of rushed to the finish. It doesn’t help the ending that the fans were distracted by what was still going on outside the ring. Taken together, Latigo’s victory came off as anticlimactic.
I wouldn’t label Cara Lucha’s first mask match as a great one but it was entertaining. I have seen far worse mask matches on far bigger cards for major promotion. The effort was there. The structure was solid and had the fight outside the ring not happened, I would imagine that the ending would have been as well laid out as the other portions of the match were.
KUSHIDA vs. Gedo
March 20, 2016
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Amagasaki Baycom Gymnasium (Amagasaki, Japan)
New Japan has done a fine job in varying up its house show lineups during the ongoing Invasion Attack tour. In addition to this unique pairing, this same show included a Ring of Honor TV title defense by Ishii as well as a NEVER Trios title match. The day before, Shibata defended his NEVER Open Weight championship against Satoshi Kojima on a normal house show. I had reached the point where I was skipping entire New Japan house shows on their digital service because there was not a lot of substance there. Not that I am canceling appointments to watch Ishii wrestle EVIL or anything now, but the effort has not gone unnoticed.
Anyway, this was one of those unique matches in the sense that they could have given KUSHIDA a couple of partners and ran a trios match with Gedo, Romero, and Beretta as a means of building towards KUSHIDA’s upcoming Junior title defense with new CHAOS member Will Ospreay. Instead we get this rare pairing that is filled with all kinds of on-paper possibilities. The match didn’t bowl me over like it had the potential to, however. I thought the first 80% of the match was rather pedestrian, save for Gedo amusingly swearing and trash talking in English. I saw this hyped as a great sub-10 minute match. When I think of good sub-10 minute matches, I think of matches that are wrestled with a sense of urgency and are wrestled differently than your typical 15-minuter. A lot of times short matches will have a sustained theme to compensate for the lack of time. Gedo and KUSHIDA largely wrestled a standard house show match. I was hoping for Gedo to work his Memphis tribute match or spend eight minutes on the mat with KUSHIDA, but instead it was more or less a standard throwaway Best of Super Juniors type match.
The last 90 seconds or so were very good I thought and elevated the match a little. They wrestled a frantic back and forth finish filled with pinning and submission reversals. Had they done more of that stuff elsewhere in the match, it might have made more of an impression on me.
Gringo Loco & Skayde Jr. vs. Zema Ion & Bandolero Star
February 7, 2016
Lucha Libre Fest
Cicero Stadium (Cicero, IL)
My usual concern when it comes to non-Mexico lucha libre is that a match with a couple of dives and hurricanranas will be passed off as authentic lucha. That is probably an unfair outlook but I think it is PTSD resulting from years of ROH passing off sloppy arm drags between Joel Maximo and Chris Divine being sold as true, quality lucha. At best, I tend to assume these matches will be good US indie style matches rather than something I would expect to see on a lucha indie show from Mexico.
This match did not warrant those concerns. Gringo Loco and Skayde Jr. have extensive experience wrestling in Mexico while Ion has some. This was a decent match and one that would not have felt out of place at all on the undercard of a Cara Lucha or Lucha Memes card. The match would have felt out of place on the undercard of a CMLL show, but only because the riskiness and general nature of the match would have stood out in a positive manner.
This match would be an easy one to make a music highlight video to. All four wrestlers had their moments both on offense and on defense. From an offensive standpoint, all the moves that you would want were there and more often than not the offense looked good. Ion seemed a little tentative running the ropes and when intersecting with his opponents in the ring. Otherwise, all of the guys were solid bases and rolled well.
The offensive highlight was a Mascara Dorada/Dragon Lee over the top rope hurricanrana but with a twist where the guy delivering it used his kneeling partner’s back as a spring board. They hit it rather flawlessly and I would be surprised if we don’t see that move pop up elsewhere in the near future.
That move exemplified the match’s strength – a lot of good looking offense that was innovative, of high degree of difficulty, or both. There were some rough patches too, but I think you sort of take those as a cost of doing business in a match like this. The more relevant reason why I thought this was only okay was that from both a structure and a heat building standpoint, the match was rather standard. They worked this 2 out of 3 falls and did not rush first two falls but there also wasn’t a great build to them (either within the falls or from fall to fall). Gringo Loco drew good heat for his pre-match singing routine but in the actual match I thought they did little to put heat on Skayde Jr. and Gringo Loco. Likewise, Ion and Bandolero Star’s comebacks weren’t anything that stuck with me.
If you want to watch four guys hit difficult and sometimes innovative offense well this is well worth a watch. There is a lot more to like from this match than there are significant issues.
Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero
February 21, 2016
Marvel Elite Wrestling
El Mercadito (Memphis)
Atlantis and Ultimo Guerrero brought their touring match to Memphis. If you are looking for any significant alterations from the normal match these two have worked all over in the 17 months since their big mask showdown, you are not going to find it here. With the exception of the number of falls, this was not a noticeably different match than the one they had in Japan last January, the Universal tournament finals in Arena Mexico last October or their Puebla matches from late 2015. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because their formula match is fine, just not much more than that. They played to the crowd in between quick, compact sequences. UG got his usual offense in. Atlantis hit a tope and won with the Atlantida. Even the Memphis location did not make for a dramatically different viewing experience. The fans in Memphis largely reacted to the match in a similar manner to a crowd in Puebla might react. They reacted to the high spots and the call for cheers. Atlantis was slightly more over thanks to the kids but Guerrero had his supporters as well. A match like this is often fun for the out-of-context vibe it gives off but there wasn’t much of that to be found this go around.
I did not regret spending 15 minutes with this one, but if you have seen several other Guerrero/Atlantis matches then I do not believe this one will really provide anything new.
A.J. Styles vs. Chris Jericho
February 9, 2016
Moda Center (Portland)
It is sort of shocking that WWE’s best feud of 2016 has involved the 45 year old, semi-retired Chris Jericho and the 38-year old A.J. Styles who is just a few weeks into his first WWE run.
Of course, much of the success of their feud is owed to the Miz, who has been a wonderful heel catalyst in what is (for now) an all babyface rivalry. The Miz has been the straw the stirs the drink (the Miana!) . He is also arguably WWE’s best pure heel at the moment. The rivalry has developed at a steady and logical pace which is of course rare for WWE in 2016. The story feels like it is going somewhere and it feels as if they are getting there naturally. That might not be a lot, but for current WWE it is.
The matches – for the most part – have been solid but nothing special, which is not nearly as unexpected of a development.
Jericho gained a reputation for being an outstanding worker by being just solid enough, just flashy enough, and in the ring with quality opponents on enough occasions in order to give off the impression of greatness. In this match, he didn’t blow anything outright. Jericho worked slow-ish submission reversal spots (a favorite of his going way back) while peppering in his moderate high spots (lionsault, code breaker) along the way. He was in the ring with the wrestler who might have been the best in the world in 2015. The match was sort of a snapshot of Jericho’s entire career if you are looking for a hyperbolic take.
Another Jericho staple has been his ability to have good or very good matches with quality wrestlers, but never great matches. Shawn Michaels might have wrestled his best matches with Jericho (and even that is not cut-and-dry) but I am hard pressed to think of anyone else who did. Styles is a great wrestler on a heck of a roll, but against Jericho all that meant was another good-not-great bout. Obviously, a chunk of that has to do with WWE bastardizing Styles in some ways. At the same time, Styles should be having significantly better matches with a supposedly great worker like Jericho than he is having with the Miz. That has not exactly been the case thus far.
This match – the second in their series – has received some hype as an excellent television match. It was good, but ultimately I thought it was empty and unremarkable. I’ve felt that way about a lot of Chris Jericho matches over the years. They did a lot of stuff that good workers supposedly do. They exchanged submissions in a Benoit/Angle like fashion (although slower). They went long. They rolled out a litany of near falls. But not once did the match feel like a truly great match. There was nothing exceptional about it.
The ending was also a bit clunky. Some have moaned about Jericho winning but the bigger deal was that the finish felt rushed and fell flat. There is nothing wrong with Styles trading wins with Jericho before taking the series (assuming that is where this is heading), but the ending came off poorly. I think the idea was for Jericho to “steal” a victory. Instead it just came off like Styles was had by some weak looking offense. I am sort of surprised they didn’t bother trying to edit the finish in some way to hide the flatness of it. I don’t know – maybe someone thought it looked fine.
Solid TV match – particularly for Smackdown – but great this was not.