May 2019 Catch Up
Hi. I’ve not been watching a lot of wrestling during May so I felt the urge to do a proper catch up of all the graps I’ve missed out on.
Risa Sera vs. Suzu Suzuki
(Ice Ribbon #957 1/5/19)
Suzuki has been wrestling for six months and is about due a lesson from her elder. Risa’s demonstration of how unpleasant wrestling can be involves a lot of old timey moves like the giant swing and the pendulum swing. Risa does a good job of putting Suzu through her paces. At one point insisting Suzu hit her as hard as she could. Suzuki’s timing and intensity need work but she’s a rookie and is probably still in high school so it’s fine for now. Suzu gets a lot of near falls, based on Sera’s insistence at not taking her seriously. I totally buy into how close some of them are. I love an underdog. Risa takes over and hits the diving double kneedrop to win. This was fun. The storyline of an underdog looking to take down an established star and getting agonizingly close to doing so will never get old for me. Never!
Final Rating: ***1/2
PAC vs. Dragon Kid
(Dragon Gate Dead or Alive 6/5/19)
As with all Open the Dream Gate title matches this is incredibly boring and long. It takes them five minutes to do anything of note. PAC on the Indies has been a disappointment for the most part with him insistent on playing his WWE heel character as he’d gotten comfortable with it. They do a lot of aimless mat work before a Tombstone on the apron sets up PAC with a target in Dragon Kid’s neck. It takes so long to get good. Why plod through ten minutes of sub-par shit? I don’t get it. Is it because of the Okada/Omega matches? Everyone feels the urge to do it now in big matches.
Then PAC just fucking murders Dragon Kid with this. I would have absolutely no problem with that being the finish. None whatsoever. After this the match picks up a ton. So basically skip ten minutes and get into the business part. This section of the match is excellent. The difficulty level is really high and they nail everything smoothly. Dragon Kid is 43 years old now and it doesn’t show…at all. Are we sure they didn’t switch out the guy behind the mask? Red Arrow finishes and PAC retains. This was perfectly fine but PAC’s approach to wrestling since WWE hasn’t done it for me at all.
Final Rating: ***3/4
T-Hawk vs. Shuji Kondo
(Wrestle-1 Tour 2019 Triumph 3/5/19)
I wish I had more time for Wrestle-1. I love the promotion. They’ve done an incredible job with limited resources and built from within. It helps that Shotaro Ashino turned out to be one of the best wrestlers of his generation I suppose. T-Hawk is another guy (like Shingo) who left Dragon Gate so he could show the world what he was capable of. This feels important from the start. T-Hawk is the invading dickbag and Kondo is the local hero. Shuji is a no-nonsense all business guy. He’s serious about being “The Man” and wants to leave his forearm print across T-Hawk smug jawline. The match is intense, snug and heated. The crowd are totally into this, as they were the tag that preceded it. So we get a high tempo, high impact battle in front of a red hot Korakuen. The bruising across Kondo’s chest makes me wince every time T-Hawk chops him again. It’s not just red skin here, it’s a nasty bruise up on the pec near the shoulder. I’m not 100% sold on all the strikes but Kondo’s big lariats and T-Hawk’s chops form the basis of the entire match. Plus T-Hawk’s knee strike, which is amazing. He kills Kondo with it, several times, out of sheer desperation. Nothing is working…knee him in the face! He doesn’t go the pin either, although it’s clearly his most devastating move. When Kondo kicks out of the Night Ride the penny finally drops and he knees Shuji into oblivion to retain. This was a kinetic, tight 22 minute main event. A lot of promotions could learn from this kind of main event. There was no dead air here. All killer, no filler.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Momo Watanabe vs. Arisa Hoshiki
(Stardom Gold 16/5/19)
Momo has had this belt for a year after unseating Io Shirai. Seeing as Io is now competing for the NXT Women’s Championship it’s about time someone else had a shot at the strap. Hoshiki is one of Mayu Iwatani’s pals who stepped away from wrestling and got persuaded to come back and be a part of Team Iwatani.
Momo has had a fine year and cemented her position as one of Stardom’s best. Hoshiki is an intriguing prospect as the new champion. She’s only had 30 matches after returning from a six year absence from pro wrestling. She was still a child when she left too so it’s not like the experience is there. At a tender 19 years old Momo gets to look like a savvy, aggressive veteran. They don’t go mad here and try for a classic. They just tell a simple story. Momo is the tough established champion and Arisa is the pretender to her throne. It’s a story told through a sequence of moves. The most obvious of which is the trading of kicks where Arisa can duel with her opponent but the dropkicks are palpable. Arisa’s barely connects. Momo’s floors the challenger with aggression and stiffness. As the match continues Arisa shows more fire, understanding the gravity of the situation. Her kicks get harder and she starts to push and punish Momo. Even then Momo still looks like the firm favourite. She’s stronger and has an abundance of high impact moves. They don’t do a particularly good job of building Arisa’s potential to win. She spends the bulk of the match eating abuse and barely rolling her shoulder out of pinfalls. She catches Momo with a few knees and then the Brazilian Kick finishes. Hmm.
I’m still not sold on Arisa and it’s clear that Stardom aren’t either but needed to switch gears to stop Watanabe getting stale. Hoshiki has a lot of potential to improve in this position but I don’t expect a year long reign from her.
Final Rating: ***1/4
PAC vs. Hangman Page
(Wrestlegate Pro 18/5/19)
Gary Ward pulling off this stunt and getting a match that was supposed to be on AEW’s PPV and getting AEW to pay for it is a sublime masterstroke.
The pop Page gets for showing up here is incredible. People are going nuts.
Rumour has it that Page/PAC was called off in AEW for creative differences (jobberitis?) although I’ve also heard visa issues. This match clips along at a decent pace. PAC throwing out the occasional massive high spot just because he can. He’s so effortless coming off the ropes, or over them, that he feels the urge to leave those spots out there as a reminder that he’s that good. Page has spent most of his career being quietly good until he got over everywhere. He still has a terrible name and gimmick and yet his in-ring speaks for itself. Once Page is dictating the pace in this one it’s actually quite good. There’s a degree of one-upmanship with them pushing each other. Page making sure PAC doesn’t slack off. The running lariat is a prime example of this. PAC being forced to take a ridiculously evil looking bump. PAC has had enough at that point and punts the ref in the balls for the DQ. Page still twats PAC with the Buckshot Lariat to gain the moral victory. Stick a finish on this, like the Ospreay match, and it would have been really good. Adam Page came out of this looking like The Business. Post Match PAC manages to bust the ref’s nose (what did he do to you?) and then Pillmanises Page’s ankle to set up an angle at Double or Nothing.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles
(WWE Money in the Bank 19/5/19)
Comms references an Indie match these two had many years ago. I saw that particular match. A skinny young Tyler Black competing against an already outstanding AJ. Styles won there, with The Clash, but that was a very different guy he was in there with. That said the AJ that’s emerged since TNA has been a different beast too. My personal preference in wrestling is grubby indie stuff but this is a grubby indies match, cleaned up by WWE and all slickly produced. It’s not as intense as I’d like and it comes across as dancey at times. Which is fine but I do prefer to see some struggle. AJ is much better at the mannerisms of someone who is legitimately competing. They plan out some nice stuff going deep into AJ’s moveset (the Styles Special combo, complete with counter) and Rollins shifting his superplex into a reverse one. It’s a cleverly planned out match between two guys who’ve done their homework.
When they hit the highs; the counter of the Curb Stomp into the Styles Clash is *chefs fingers kiss*, it’s incredible. It’s the match they dreamed about on the Indies all those years ago. I hate the finish though. Seth hits the Curb Stomp and takes ages getting the pin. I want that last shred of strength to be a rushed cover. Desperation to pin after finally hitting the big move. The match had a lot of minor quibbles like that but the counters and planning were exemplary otherwise.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Shingo Takagi vs. Taiji Ishimori
(NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 31/5/19)
This was the deciding match in Block A. Ishimori went 7-1. Shingo is 8-0. Ishimori has to win.
Ishimori’s major advance, over everyone, is his sheer speed. Well, if you’re looking for a guy who’s accustomed to wrestling fast guys it’s Shingo Takagi. Everyone in Dragon Gate is Taiji Ishimori. Only with less abs. Shingo is in a bit of a goofy mood. The leg twitching DDT sell is weird.
And then there’s this spot. Oh my good giddy god, how did they nail that in such fashion? The speed of it alone. I adore the concept too. One big head drop and the ropes helping the guy taking it to bounce back and hit a desperation lariat. Honestly, it’s beautiful. They do other stuff like that too. The pop up into DVD being countered right into a crucifix bomb because of the momentum and balance. It’s all great logical stuff but done at breakneck speed. The best thing I can say about this match is they hit 20 minutes and I had no idea they’d been going that long. Last of the Dragon finishes Ishimori off. This was slick as fuck. 9-0 baby.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Will Ospreay
(NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 3/6/19)
Winner wins Block B. If Ospreay wins we’re facing a heavyweight final for BOSJ. There’s no way either Shingo or Will actually make weight. Crowd is very appreciative of Taguchi. They have a slightly goofy match too, with Taguchi’s comedy bleeding into proceedings but he’s quick to get focused on business. Ospreay’s improvements in striking are in evidence here. He drills Taguchi with chops. That added muscle backs up his existing accuracy. It’s a stark reminder that Ospreay isn’t even the finished article yet.
The way to make ridiculous offence credible is to sell it. So as Taguchi lands a series of hip attacks Ospreay quite happily sells them all. The shtick from Taguchi, albeit somewhat toned down, is combined with Taguchi also pulling out nifty counters and reversals in between. It’s clever stuff. It’s a nice mixture of lighthearted and serious.
The Oscutter attempt into the anklelock is tidy. Also the Dodon kickout into the anklelock. Lovely. Taguchi seems to have counters for everything…apart from the Stormbreaker. Ospreay just overpowers Taguchi and he’ll be facing Shingo Takagi.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Juice Robinson vs. Jon Moxley
(NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/6/19)
This is Mox’s first match back on the Indies and it is for one of the biggest promotions in the world. He looks pretty energized though and excited to be here. The crowd seem happy with him too and familiar with his work. When Mox drills Juice with Dirty Deeds there’s a definite pop. That’s not the finish though. He finishes with the Death Rider, an elevated version of the Dirty Deeds.
It’ll take time for Mox to adjust to the Indies and the level of workrate that’s required here. Juice Robinson took a long time to get adjusted to Japan but he’s great now. Cody took a long time to figure out who he wanted to be on the Indies. Mox is in a good position after this match. He looked solid, as he has always been, but perhaps he doesn’t have that showy or dynamic style that makes him an instant fan favourite. He’s closer to Cody. He’s a storyteller.
Where this match succeeded is through accidental blood from Juice and Mox putting his character over. The mock apology to Red Shoes for pulling a table out is great stuff. My favourite aspect of the contest is how far Juice has come since their last encounter (in FCW or early NXT or whatever). It’s his heart that drives the match. As for Mox, it’s a good first step on his New Japan journey. He showed the same aggression and intensity that got Jericho over here. He comes in as a big enough star to elevate his opponents. He’s already in a better spot than Cody. It makes me very hopeful that he can accomplish what he wants outside of WWE, where he clearly wasn’t happy anymore.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay
(NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Final 5/6/19)
This final didn’t occur to me when the blocks were drawn but it makes perfect sense. The two biggest guys, the ones with big heavyweight futures in this promotion, going head to head. The pace, the timing and execution in this is simply incredible. You’d think they’d wrestled each other a hundred times or more already. These two have such instant, and phenomenal, chemistry that it makes you wonder what other magical clashes are out there. Are there other Dragon Gate guys who’d mesh well with Ospreay? Are there other Indie guys who would have incredible bouts with Shingo? A lot of dream matches come up short because of a lack of chemistry and shared experience but here it’s an instant classic.
Ospreay needs to wrestle more power dudes because the bumps he takes are sensational. The multiple rotations on the backflip bump are amazing. Even by his own lofty standards Will is ON here. The crowd is gasping in appreciation of some of the sequences. The near misses stuff is unreal at times. The Ligerbomb is insane. I don’t think it’s executed as intended but it’s Sick. With a capital S. They repeatedly do things I’ve never seen. The wheelbarrow into the buckles is astounding. Something so basic but the execution is all in. The Oscutter on the apron has me cackling for joy. The 630 SSP senton to a standing Shingo is off the charts hard to do. The best part of the match isn’t how difficult everything is and how well executed it all is though…it’s the crowd. They fucking love this match and you can hear that appreciation. A lot of this contest lives on the fucking edge too. I love that. It’s so gritty. The head spike on the poison rana is totally unnecessary. It’s wonderful. Hidden Blade, double springboard Oscutter and the Stormbreaker inflicts Shingo’s first ever NJPW defeat. Ospreay must have been saving some of this shit for a special match. This is probably the best Ospreay match, which is a very high bar to clear and a promise that Will is here to be The Guy in New Japan. Rating is easy here, this is my Match of the Year at this point.
Final Rating: *****
That’s it for the time being. I had a much longer list of matches that I’d got cherry picked but I want to get this part of the review up while we’re still anywhere close to the end of May. You might have noticed my output has been down a bit in May. This is a summer break of sorts. I am tired. Expect an improvement around G1 time.