The 5 Count
Five Takeaways from January
1. Negro Casas was a busy man with a host of good trios matches and at least one major singles matches every week of the calendar month.
2. The two biggest shows of the month (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom and WWE Royal Rumble) delivered two very good big singles matches (Okada vs. Naito and Bryan vs. Wyatt, respectively).
3. Trios matches dominated the month with CMLL leading the charge, but WWE, IWRG, New Japan, and Dragon Gate chipped in a few good ones of their own as well.
4. Chris Hero and AJ Styles matches began popping up (with more no doubt to come) as they return to the US indie scene and the early results were pretty good.
5. CMLL had an incredibly busy and productive month adding five inter-promotional dates with NJPW in Japan mid-month to their already normally busy weekly schedule which produced a boatload of fun matches (with hopefully the two non-iPPV FantasticaMania events still to surface).
The Pay Window
Singles Match – Titan vs. Virus (CMLL – 1/28)
A Virus singles match (particularly a title match) is always a good bet to be amongst the best matches of any particular month. Virus’ bid for Titan’s Mexican National Welterweight Championship on January 28th at Arena Mexico was a very good match that surpassed my already heightened anticipation for it. A great blend of quality mat work, submissions, high-flying, and near falls earns this match the top singles spot for January.
The match Bryan and Wyatt had to kick-off the Royal Rumble clicked on almost all cylinders – good heat, a nice build, some big time moves, and a satisfying ending. After only have one truly great singles match on pay-per-view in 2013, Bryan gets off to 2014 on a strong foot.
Casas and Titan produced a match that was notable largely for how incredibly solid it was, while Volador Jr. & Mascara Dorada stood out in Japan by doing almost the exact opposite with their exhausting but grossly entertaining exhibition of spectacular high flying on the final day of the FantasticaMania tour.
Naito and Okada – after being bounced from the main even position – delivered what was hands-down the best match on this year’s Tokyo Dome card. The first half was hit-or-miss but the final 15-minutes were very good and produced a bunch of good near falls.
Tag Match – Real Americans vs. Brotherhood (WWE – 1/6)
Not the strongest month in terms of quality tag matches we have ever seen. The Real Americans and Brotherhood had a good television tag on Old School RAW in early January that wins top honors more or less by default. There were some others worth seeing including Rush & La Sombra vs. Nakamura & Ultimo Guerrero from the first FantasticaMania card, the Usos vs. the Wyatt Family form the 1/20 episode of RAW, and for a six-minute spring CIMA & Chihiro Tominaga vs. Kotoka & Ryotsu Shimizu was fine. There was nothing that I saw tag team wise that was truly very good in January.
I also wanted to make mention of (since I never wrote it up), that I thought there were some good parts to the 1/26 NAO vs. Brotherhood match from RAW. I particularly enjoyed Road Dogg being flabbergasted at even having to wrestle the night after winning the titles and spending the entire match doing his best stalling routine. Like most tag matches from January, it was really only okay though.
(Note: PWG’s DDT4 tag team tournament was on January 31st so the footage won’t be available for a while. It is possible there is a strong match within that tournament. Rich Swann & Ricochet vs. AR Fox & Samuray del Sol was one of my favorite move-for-move flying matches last year. Swann & Ricochet vs. Fox & ACH the 2104 DDT4 is getting rave reviews from live reports so I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up ahead of some of the matches mentioned above.)
Also Watch: Rush, Stuka Jr. & Titan vs. Terrible, Rey Bucanero & Virus (CMLL – 1/7); Tanahashi, Naito & La Sombra vs. Okada, Ishii & Ultimo Guerrero (NJPW/CMLL – 1/18); Jimmy Susumu, Ryo “Jimmy” Saito, Mr. Quu Quu Tanizaki Naoki Toyonaka Dolphin (c) vs. CIMA, Masaaki Mochizuki, Dragon Kid (DG – 1/18); Atlantis, Delta & Guerrero Mya Jr. vs. Negro Casas, Puma & Tiger (CMLL – 1/26); Bryan, Sheamus & Cena vs. the Shield (WWE – 1/27)
January was a great month for trios matches with CMLL doing the lions-share of the work. However, there was also a really good WWE six-man and matches from IWRG and New Japan that fall into the category just below the matches listed above.
The 1/7 match had Rush hitting and kicking people hard in between very nice interaction between Titan & Virus. The 1/18 match from Korakuen was largely a vehicle to promote the Naito/Ishii feud and set up Guerrero/Sombra for the following day’s show, but had a lot of good work throughout including a fun Okada/La Sombra segment.
The Shield’s run – at least in its current incarnation – appears to be coming to an end but that didn’t stop them from delivering a classic six-man tag RAW main event the night after the Royal Rumble. Bryan’s great work off the hot tag and a hot finishing stretch were amongst the highlights.
Multi-Wrestler Match – Eléctrico vs. Astral vs. Stukita vs. Shockercito vs. Último Dragoncito vs. Demus 3:16 vs. Mercurio vs. Pierrothito vs. Pequeño Olímpico vs. Pequeño Nitro (CMLL – 1/5)
Also Watch: Okada, Ishii, Yoshi-Hashi & Nakamura vs. Naito, Tanahashi, Captain New Japan & Goto (NJPW – 1/5); Royal Rumble (WWE – 1/27)
The CMLL minis churned out a match stuffed to the gills with cool high flying spots to take the top spot. The New Japan eight-man tag was a generally well-wrestled match that effectively set up the promotion’s big February match ups. The Royal Rumble will be remembered for the crowd turning on the finish, but until that point it was a relatively well-laid out Rumble and the best one in a few years.
Most Memorable Angle – Daniel Bryan turns on Bray Wyatt following tag team cage match versus the Usos (WWE – 1/13)
It doesn’t matter if what happened was not in the WWE’s initial plans in regards to Bryan and the Wyatt Family. Even if they made a mistake and this was their fix, give credit to them for recognizing their error and rectify it with a very memorable angle. The crowd reaction in Providence was something else.
Wrestler of the Month – Negro Casas
Match Resume: vs. Titan (1/3); vs. Volador Jr. (1/10); vs. Blue Panther (1/21); w/ Puma & Tiger vs. Delta, Guerrero Maya Jr. & Atlantis (1/26)
Casas basically had one big singles per week this month. CMLL’s booking certainly set him up with the opportunity to have a great month. He delivered in all four of those singles contests, however, and was his usual stellar self in several January trios offerings, as well. I am not sure if any other wrestler was given the stage Casas was in January but even taking that into consideration, there are no other wrestlers particularly close to his production in January. The Atlantis match from Arena Puebla is not even yet available. It would likely only have strengthened Casas’ position.
Promotion of the Month – CMLL
CMLL has a ridiculously deep roster which I sometimes think might be as much of a hindrance as it is a benefit. You can see how it might be difficult to weed through the deep roster to come up with the best pairings and matches on a regular basis. There are so many capable wrestlers to account for that it is not always easy to place them in the best possible positions to succeed. It also means they sometimes do not ride the hot hand as much as they could in order to get everyone in the mix.
In January, the promotion pushed most of the right buttons. Sure, placing the red-hot Negro Casas front and center seems like a no-brainer but it has also been who they have paired him with. Casas’ feuds with Blue Panther and Atlantis have gotten great crowd reactions in Mexico City. His pairing with Puma, Tiger & Felino as the Four Fantasticos also feels a lot more fresh and exciting than his prior alliance with Peste Negra. Casas has been great but he also been booked in the right spots which is a credit to the promotion.
Add on the usual great Rush trios matches, Titan being featured in a pair of big singles matches (versus Casas and versus Virus), the Rush/Shocker issue that is heating up, and a good showing in Japan for FantasticaMania and it was a very good month for CMLL. Hopefully the momentum continues because a strong CMLL means the top promotions in three different countries (Mexico, Japan, and the US) all being relatively hot at the same time which is a great thing for wrestling fans.
A Look Ahead
Top Matches on tap for February
The Big 3 promotions (NJPW, CMLL & WWE) all had an eventful month of January, but February should be a tad slower.
New Japan runs just five shows during the month, but three are internet pay-per-views with “big” shows scheduled for the 9th in Hiroshima & 11th in Osaka. The Hiroshima show’s best bet for a great match is the main event rematch putting Shinsuke Nakamura versus Hiroshi Tanahashi. The Osaka event features a handful of title matches and good match possibilities including Kota Ibushi vs. El Desparado, Naito vs. Ishii, and Okada defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hirooki Goto.
CMLL will continue its build to its annual Homenaje a Dos Leyendas event in Match. The mere subtraction of the FantasticaMania events will mean a less busy month for the promotion. The promotion is seemingly building towards an Atlantis vs. Negro Casas mask vs. hair match and certainly a Shocker vs. Rush hair vs. hair match, but if either are to happen it will probably be at Dos Leyendas and not in February. Nonetheless, CMLL is on a bit of a roll match making wise right now so there will likely be more than enough good stuff to watch from them in the upcoming month,
The WWE hypes February as part of WrestleMania season, but truthfully it is a placeholder month until the real build can begin post-Elimination Chamber. The big February news for the promotion is the launch of the WWE Network, which could mean less time for matches on RAW (if they go into promotional overdrive mode which they will) but also means a special live NXT show on the 27th that already has two big matches sign (Cesaro vs. Zayn in a 2 out of 3 falls re-match and Bo Dallas defending the NXT Championship in a ladder match versus Adrian Neville). Elimination Chamber will have the Wyatt Family taking on the Shield in six-man tag action in what could be a special match.
Elsewhere, Ring of Honor runs three shows during the month with the big matches being Adam Cole title defenses versus Jay Briscoe (2/8 in San Antonio) and Chris Hero (2/22 in Philadelphia). National Pro Wrestling Day returns on 2/1 with an underwhelming announced lineup and no big time matches that stick out. EVOLVE/Dragon Gate USA has big shows line lined up as part of a New York double shot at the end of the month with potentially good matches already announced in Chris Hero vs. AR Fox and Roderick Strong vs. Johnny Gargano, plus the return of CIMA. AAA will continue taping television during the month as their Rey de Reyes tournament continues.