The 2010 Project
In 2009, after a lengthy time as a pro-wrestling fan, I stepped away from the pseudo-sport and didn’t return until 2013/2014. In order to fill in the blanks I decided to watch a bunch of 2010 wrestling. I started out by watching the Royal Rumble. While I enjoyed the show, on the whole, there were some huge issues with the standard of wrestling. This was still an era where Vince McMahon was pushing big galoots who I didn’t care about. On the next PPV, Elimination Chamber, everything that wasn’t inside the Chamber matches was just a deluge of boring one-on-ones between people I didn’t care about. This is why I stepped away from wrestling in 2009 in the first place. It was time to take a different tack…
I went onto Cagematch and I rounded up some recommended matches. It was time to see what I, as a lover of all pro-wrestling, had been missing out on. Not all the matches I want to see will be available but I will hopefully get to see a cross-section of what 2010 was all about. Which is what I should have done instead of walking away from wrestling altogether. Blame Vince. Blame TNA. Blame slow turnaround on tape trading.
January 4 2010
For modern fans, who only recently dipped into New Japan, it’s hard to believe there was a time so recently that NJPW had to cross-promote as heavily as it did, just to draw numbers. For Wrestle Kingdom IV they heavily co-promoted with Pro Wrestling NOAH. The NOAH GHC title match went on second from last. Also Go Shiozaki battled Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tiger Mask defended his junior title against Naomichi Marufuji. Other visitors to the Dome included Akebono, The Dudley Boys, Averno, Ultimo Guerrero, Abby, Terry Funk, Yoshihiro Takayama and Mohammed Yone. Modern stars were in less high profile contests. Naito found himself tagging with Yujiro Takahashi in NO LIMIT while Okada was in the opening match, tagging with Liger & Kanemoto.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Go Shiozaki
This match is billed as “NJPW vs. NOAH Battle Effusions Radiance”.
Go turns up aiming to take Tanahashi’s “Best Hair” crown. No fucking chance mate. That is a 1/100 year hairstyle. The crowd is notably quiet, showing how over the promotion got in the years since this. Most of the expansive Tokyo Dome remains chatty or downright silent until Go starts unloading with his mighty chops. It’s a match that’s strangely lifeless at times with Tanahashi trying to bring enough selling for both men and fighting from underneath. I saw Tana around this time and was never blown away. That’s the case again here. He has a great look and presence but his work isn’t mind-blowing and it doesn’t draw me in. The match works at its best when they beat each other up and strike back and forth. They don’t do this enough for my liking. Tanahashi must feel this lack of connectivity as he’s outright calling for more crowd noise at times and not getting it. They do a decent job of telling the story of Go wearing Tana down and Tanahashi himself working the leg of Shiozaki to even the playing field. This drives the crowd into getting invested and, although they blow a Go Flasher off the top, the match peaks nicely. The Go moonsault where he’s selling his knee during the pin is excellent. The form on that moonsault arc was a thing of beauty. Red Shoes near fall count after the lariat, where Tana kicks out at 2.9999999 is amazing. Tana hits a pair of High Fly Flows for the win. This struggled to get the crowd invested but once it kicked into the stretch it was pretty fucking good.
Final Rating: ***3/4
GHC Heavyweight Championship
Takashi Sugiura (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
The atmosphere, compared to the last match, is electric. There’s more excitement with more on the line. At least until the crowd remembers that it’s only Goto and it quietens down. 2010 Goto is pretty much exactly the same as 2017 Goto, which is one of the reasons why he’s such a failure. However there’s an air of success about him because he’s hasn’t repeatedly choked and failed yet. This is Optimistic Goto and he’s a lovely fella.
Sugiura is a magical ‘no fucks given’ wrestler on his day and his day is when all eyes are on him. True, he occasionally botches something horribly and lands on his head but he does it in spectacular fashion. For example here where they botch a super rana and Goto lands on his head because he’s trying to no sell it. *slow clapping*. They certainly try to kill each other for my amusement. Goto hits a neckbreaker off the top rope onto the apron for example, which is insanely dangerous. I love Goto celebrating that and getting a decidedly indifferent response when he’s supposed to be the home-town babyface. That’s just so Goto. Sugiura kicks out of his finish and then suplexes him into the turnbuckles with such force that I think Goto’s neck is broken. To say they’re careless in this match would be an understatement. However it adds to the atmosphere. You think one of them is about to get fucked up to the point where the match is over. Shoot style. Referee running in to wave it off like the UFC. Goto pops out of the Olympic Slam at one during a frantic stretch. Sugiura keeps going back to the Anklelock and eventually Goto gives up because he can’t take the pain anymore and NJPW turn themselves fully babyface by cutting U2 off the video. This was a little sloppy but Sugiura was in his ‘dangerous and entertaining’ phase so that’s fine. As I walked away from wrestling in 2010 Sugiura was one of my favourites but he had that spot because there was no one truly outstanding operating in Japan. Even the heavily lauded Tanahashi improved, like fine wine, with age.
Final Rating: ****
January 29 2010
Rey Mysterio vs. Shawn Michaels
This comes from the run where HBK was desperate for a shot at the Undertaker. It was a great storyline for the Rumble match, which continued through the Elimination Chamber and culminated in the big ‘Mania farewell. DX are still tag champs at this point so it’s not quite started to unravel for Shawn. This match comes from Michaels assuming Rey will lose to Taker at the Rumble, thus allowing Shawn to get his Taker re-match by winning the Rumble. As you’d expect, even with their advanced ages, this is fast and slick. Shawn was very ‘choppy’ toward the end of his career and he throws a boat load of chops here. They try and work a smart match, with Rey selling his leg and Shawn going after it. I like how Shawn’s ‘five moves of doom’ sequence gets cut off with a Rey rana. Rey springboards right into a superkick, a throwback to Michaels/Benjamin years earlier. Sadly Batista runs in for the DQ and there’s no finish to what was developing into a bit of a classic.
Final Rating: ***1/2
February 13 2010
El Generico vs. Davey Richards
I’m pleased this is on YouTube, courtesy of ROH themselves. Davey has Shane Hagadorn in his corner, Generico has brought Colt Cabana with him. The video quality is slack. This was right after Kevin Steen turned on Generico (the first time). Sami Zayn is rapidly getting the reputation of a dumbass who keeps trusting his asshole friend, despite being turned on repeatedly. He’s the modern day Sting. Generico is great at fighting from underneath, he’s the underdog from the underground yanno, so Davey takes great pride in beating the shit out of him with kicks and holds.
Sami takes a beating and I love it. Some people are so tremendous at taking a thrashing that it makes sense for them to be beaten up for twenty minutes. Davey is game for taking some silly bumps to make it even. Like an Angleslam over the top rope, off the apron and onto the floor. This isn’t ROH at its peak but it’s very solid action. There’s definitely a pick-up after Generico mounts his comeback too. Not just from Generico but also from Davey, who starts being nastier in his intent. There’s some clever selling attached where Generico can’t get offence going because his arm is bad. Switching arms on strikes, unable to complete an Irish whip. The nature of the stretch is all about big bombs with Davey desperate to avoid the Turnbuckle Brainbuster. The way they work around that potentially devastating finish is good. They do a bunch of stuff out of the same corner with counters and such. The false finishes after that are pure magic. With Generico getting trapped in an assortment of armbars and getting cheeky pins out of it before eventually having to tap out. This was terrific, although I would understand if you struggle to get to the good stuff because Davey’s initial control period is a little flat.
Final Rating: ****
February 27 2010
Kenny Omega (c) vs. Davey Richards
This was the start of Kenny Omega getting noticed on a larger scale. He’d been doing some stuff in ROH and had gotten a minor reputation in DDT. His outlandish larger than life character is bumping all over the place for Davey here. Davey himself is a brutal combination of stiff strikes and mat grappling. Davey was at the forefront of the hybrid revolution where all wrestlers had to work at their all-around game. He does try too hard to mimic Chris Benoit at times but he’s met by Kenny’s crazy outta nowhere offence and it’s a good contrast between the off-the-wall, wave of the future Omega and the reliable, consistent meat and potatoes approach of Richards. Davey looks so fucking intense in this match. All out to shut down Kenny’s whole approach to the business, one brutal kick at a time. Kenny comes in with his arm taped, which is an obvious target for a guy who loves armbars. Happily that’s the finish, Kenny failing to bridge on Kroyt’s Wrath with only one arm and Davey taking Omega out with an armbar. This was Davey’s first big singles championship and it felt like a special match and a special moment. The style used here would become highly prevalent in the Indies in years to come. It’s very spot heavy and there is a minimum of selling, however the injury does play directly into the finish so bonus points for that.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Part of my wrestling catch-up needed to include wXw’s 16 Carat Gold tournament. I’d hardly seen anything before my return to wrestling in 2014 and 2010 immediately had a match that I really wanted to see;
March 5 2010
Big Van Walter vs. Daisuke Sekimoto
WALTER is still trying to find himself and is “Big Van”. Sekimoto looks exactly the same as he does now. The venue is so small, compared to what they run now and it’s weird the way the wXw banner in the background is cut off by a curtain. Also the canvas is plain black. CMJ and Thumbtack Jack are on commentary. It’s nowhere near as polished as wXw would get over the years. Walter hasn’t gotten his act quite right and it lacks intensity and purpose. He almost looks clumsy, which is a huge contrast to the beast he would become. Progress like that should serve as encouragement for newcomers to the business. Not everybody starts out great. Sometimes it takes time. I’m kinda excited that I get to see this rivalry develop as they wrestled each other in 2011. And 2012. And 2013. I love the crowd encouraging Walter when he heads up top with chants of “shooting star”. Lads, that’s not happening. Sekimoto is the more impressive both with his power (lifting Walter in the torture rack) and athleticism (hitting a fucking Pele Kick). It deflates the room a little when Walter powerbombs Sekimoto down for the three count and advances in the tournament.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Bad Bones vs. Chris Hero
Looking back into the past it’s always weird to see tattooed wrestlers before they got tattooed up. Hero is at the peak of his powers as an Indie superstar, ruling ROH and NOAH and looking in the best shape of his life. The crowd are highly supportive of Bones. Hero has a clear size advantage and uses this to control the match. When they hit the mat is highly competitive. Hero having a tonne mat skills, learned from different corners of the world. Bones does an excellent job of hanging with him. He looks more advanced than Walter. They started around the same time and, now I recall, Bones probably had more hype circa 2009 when I stopped watching wrestling. He’s a little over-safe if anything, clearly pulling his strikes. This is the wXw way though. You make sure you’re safe first and then get good later. Hero works around this with great fluidity. He’s so incredibly gifted at making shit look intense and realistic. When he walks through a chop and forearms Bones clean off his feet it’s beautiful. Every time Hero finds himself at arms length another tremendous forearm clocks Bones in the mush. If it wasn’t so terrific it might get repetitive. The stretch is banging, a familiar thread of 2010 so far. When a match gets into the near falls, and the fans are actually invested, it’s fucking great. Eventually Bones eats so many elbows that’s he’s too full to stand and kiels over, allowing Hero to pick up the duke and advance. I must now watch night two’s big matches as well.
Final Rating: ***3/4
The same day, over in Japan, there was a fairly impressive bout between two junior wrestlers…
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Naomichi Marufuji (c) vs. Koji Kanemoto
Although Marufuji comes in as champion Kanemoto is absolutely no mood for his shit. This leads to an expression of ‘respect’ via the medium of slaps. There is a genuine air of distrust and aggression about the match, which is hard to achieve. Kanemoto is great at making a match feel like a real fight. Marufuji isn’t exactly shy about throwing lumber either so it’s a tasty contest.
Kanemoto is mightily pissed off because Marufuji came into his company and won a NJPW title. 2010 was the start of Kanemoto winding down his career. The following year he’d split time between NJPW and AJPW and it was all downhill from there. It feels like he has a point to prove. He’s going to prove it by giving Marufuji one of those ’30 minute beatdowns’ you used to get. Marufuji doesn’t take kindly to this and stamps on Kanemoto’s head. The kicking, combined with a general refusal to sell shit, is outright marvellous. Kanemoto is the kind of guy some people hate because of his tetchy attitude in the ring and the ‘no selling’ business. But his approach to wrestling makes other guys raise their game when their stiffest looking shit is getting no sold.
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) December 7, 2017
Poor Red Shoes tries to stop some unlawful behaviour. This goes badly for him.
Red Shoes wants @k_kanemoto to break in the corner.
Not happening. pic.twitter.com/jhtGqNGjKC
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) December 7, 2017
I could literally GIF this whole goddamn match. It’s wonderful. Kanemoto is so giifable because he gives no fucks. I love when Marufuji goes for his finish, the shiranui, as Kanemoto just push him off when he’s upside down. It’s a stupid move and Kanemoto hates it. And also your face. At one point he tries to DDT Marufuji off the top and he spikes the poor bastard with it. How is that not the finish? It’s not even close! The match goes on for another five minutes afterwards! Kanemoto has a running thread of leg work that Marufuji sometimes ignores but anytime Kanemoto hooks a submission the crowd go nuts. Kanemoto ends up doing a better job of selling the knee and this contributes to his demise. Holy shit, this match was awesome. Two guys beating the shit out of each other is my aesthetic. They held nothing back here. The slaps in particular were brutal. I loved every minute.
Final Rating: ****3/4
March 6 2010
Strong BJ vs. Oberhausen Terror Corps
Back to 16 Carat Gold and a night two scrap between the BJW guys who got eliminated on night one and Bones & Carnage. Dominic “Carnage” Brackner is a guy I’m not too familiar with due to him being out of wXw for the past couple of years. He was in Shortcut to the Top and AMBITION 7 but that’s all he’s done in the past two years. Yuji Okabayashi is looking positively slim here. I’ve not seen much of his work from pre-2015, if at all. Carnage is the smallest guy in the match but he’s very muscular. He moves a little like a young Prince Devitt. The Strong BJ lads are here to impress. I’m particularly pleased with Okabayashi slapping Carnage so hard he collapses. Carnage, to be fair to the lad, gives as good as he gets, backhanding Sekimoto and leaving the big man startled. “Terror is real” says Jakobi on commentary. It’s a two-way thrashing and an enjoyable scrap between some strong style lads. Sekimoto proper clonks Bones with a headbutt, which I wish was sold more. There’s no sense in taking something so savage if you don’t make it mean something. It is a hard-hitting contest throughout though and both teams get gradually worn down. Klinger’s timing on breaking up pins is so good in this that Sekimoto actually looks nervous because he doesn’t see him coming. The stacker German suplex from Sekimoto gets the crowd seriously fired up and poor Carnage tries to fire up himself until Sekimoto hauls him off the mat and plants him with a German suplex for the pin. This was all kinds of a good time.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Chris Hero vs. Martin Stone
This is the heavier Stone versus the lighter Hero so there’s a lot closer than they are currently. The crowd are all fired up for it and the winner goes to the semi-finals of 16 Carat. This follows an Ares-Castagnoli match that got really good towards the finish. The combination of a lively crowd and two guys willing to beat the shit out of each other makes for an entertaining contest. Hero absolutely bodies Stone with one of his trademark forearms. I find Stone’s work less convincing as he throws too many gimmicked punches and blatantly hooks chinlocks to give himself a breather. When compared to Hero’s more dynamic elbow smashes there’s no contest. Nikkan Lee is the referee here. I’m guessing she was part of the BJW crew that came over. To compensate for having less convincing strikes Stone starts throwing wild clotheslines. They’re pretty snug. Unlike Hero, he looks to be making a legitimate run at winning the match. Hero seems inclined to just bash Stone with elbows until he stops moving. Take Stone’s punches out of this match and you’d be looking at a worldy. It’s that close. Hero’s strikes are all so great and I love that he pulls out the Hero’s Ending for the win, having failed to get it done with the Death by Elbow. Jakobi clearly doesn’t agree with my assessment of Stone, claiming he has “the best punch in wrestling”. Punches are illegal mate.
Final Rating: ****1/2
March 7 2010
Chris Hero vs. Ares
Ares was a wXw regular up to this point but he’s pretty much done after this tournament. He was best known for his run with Claudio Castagnoli (aka Cesaro) as Swiss Money Holdings. He was always the inferior guy in that team but being inferior to Castagnoli is par for the course. You could argue Hero found himself outclassed by Claudio too, when they teamed as the Kings of Wrestling. Hero is definitely a more interesting wrestler than Ares though. This match has a few gaping flaws where one guy isn’t in position quickly enough for a missed spot to work. Hero gracefully carries on about his business but it’s clear there’s a gulf in quality. I don’t think Ares belonged this deep into the tournament but here we are. Ares doesn’t have Hero’s intensity and doesn’t work as snug. Where Stone’s punches were an issue for me personally, Ares’ offence is an issue for everyone. Luckily Hero absolutely batters him for the majority of the match. Unfortunately that also causes issues because I don’t find it believable that Ares can hang with Hero for twenty minutes. This idea being that Ares looks stronger for being able to hang but seeing as he was leaving the promotion it would have been more beneficial to have him battered in half that time. They do run through a sequence, deep into the match, where Hero takes a shellacking and multiple big moves but keeps kicking out. The idea being that Ares throws everything at Hero and still can’t win. I kinda wish they’d got to this quicker. Then they take it way too far with Hero landing a shoot headbutt and Ares responding with his own. By the conclusion I am chuckling at the sheer number of vicious elbows Hero is landing though. Cackling with glee when he batters Ares with one final elbow screaming “KO” at the same time.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Matt Jackson vs. Nick Jackson
The Young(er) Bucks collide! This is not a tournament match but instead the spot-heavy contest placed before the final. Duelling “let’s go Jackson” chants break out. That famous European sense of humour. These two are brothers so know each other extremely well. They’ve probably wrestled this match more than a few times. It’s a bit too lucha for my tastes. As the elder brother Matt decides to work heel and that creates a really interesting dynamic. This was prior to the Bucks exploding into parody, amidst a sea of superkicks, and it’s actually pretty cool. Matt’s heel work is accomplished and well thought out. Nick hardly has to do a thing with his character. He lets the wrestling do the talking and his stuff is very spotty. Matt is naturally happy to go along with it. The work is effortlessly smooth and although I had no interest in the match coming in, I find its easy to watch. Sure, they probably starting wrestling each other before they went to school so it’s not a shock it’s a good match but I’m still somewhat taken aback at how good it is. The striking is tidy, the counters are aggressive. It’s not just a bunch of orchestrated flips. I like the story of Nick being unable to put Matt away, causing Matt to verbally abuse Nick into killing him off with multiple superkicks. Forced into parody to destroy his own brother. The humanity.
Final Rating: ****
16 Carat Gold 2010 Final
Big Van Walter vs. Chris Hero
Big Lads Wrestling! Hero symbolically strips off his superhero gear and starts parading around in his NOAH gear. He’s up for a fight. I love it. “Come on, bitch, you wanna win 16 Carat?” he yells at the big Austrian and they begin to batter each other. This isn’t peak Walter but all his selling is near perfect.
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) December 9, 2017
As I’ve noted during this tournament, while Walter is good at this point in his career it’s notable where he’s a little out on his timing and how he’s still using stuff like basic stomps where he’s not found his own way of doing it. The match somewhat loses its way during a Walter control period, which again is down to his inexperience at this level. Hero is enigmatic and has devastating offence, which helps matters. Hero’s offence is so crisp here. He’s hardly carrying any weight but he has the same impactful strikes and power moves. It’s Hero at his best. Even when he had that great Indies run in 2016 he was carrying too much weight. The matches were amazing but his performance was limited. It’s not here. This Hero vs. 2017 Walter would be easily five stars. As it stands it’s an awesome display of two guys battering each other but they don’t quite have the pacing down. Walter avoids the big elbow by slapping Hero in the face and hits the powerbomb to win 16 Carat. This was step one for a young Walter onto the road to success. wXw saw something in him and felt the need to push him hard. In 2010 he wasn’t quite at the level they wanted him to be at but the experience of 16 Carat was a huge boost and he hung with Hero here. Walter promptly destroys the trophy himself because he doesn’t give a fuck and throws down the microphone. That poor trophy never stood a chance!
Final Rating: ****1/4
Mar 28 2010
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
To cap off this first catch up session I thought I’d refresh my memory of HBK’s final match. I didn’t see this in 2010 but I have seen it since. It’s the only match for this project that’s an actual re-watch. I remember watching Shawn’s retirement speech on RAW the next night (on YouTube of a Tuesday morning). That was about as current as I got. I was certainly invested in Shawn’s departure from Pro Wrestling, having spent most of my adult life watching him. After 2009, where they stole the show but didn’t go on last, WWE smartly put them on last. Michaels himself is a smart guy. He wanted to bow out with something spectacular. He’d seen too many guys rumble on for too long (hell, Taker himself would make the same mistake) and didn’t want to taint his legacy by doing the same.
They do some excellent storytelling here, where Taker injures his knee but Shawn doesn’t see it and it’s only later in the match where Taker sells the knee that Shawn ‘notices’ and goes after it. It’s not like Shawn will get a submission but he could slow Taker down and leave him open for the superkick.
You get a lot of modern matches where they take ages over working a body part but it goes nowhere. Here that criticism is null as Shawn knows he can’t get a submission on Taker, who has never quit, but wants to wear him down. So the protracted leg work, which would normally be pointless and irrelevant simply isn’t here.
Shawn has spent a year obsessing over ending the Streak. So he comes up with different ideas to usual, like a quebrada to the floor but Taker is ready for almost everything. Regardless of whether it’s expected. They pull out some excellent counters, showing how well they know each other. Shawn drags Taker down in the middle of a Last Ride, Taker gets his knees up on the Savage elbow, Shawn flips Hell’s Gate over to get a near fall. They also fire off the hits and do all the kick-out stuff that every top Indies match has but they throw in little layers of psychology in between. Especially Taker’s knee playing into his failure to hit offence. The match has spectacular highs. Shawn opting to hit a moonsault through the announce table is all about his desire to do whatever he has to in order to win. It might be the greatest high spot of his entire career. I also love Shawn not stomping on the mat when warming up the band, because he doesn’t want Taker to hear it coming. So much is at stake! I also love Michaels kicking out of the Tombstone because Taker has to stop off to do his stupid theatrics. Shawn throws that back in his face, followed by a slap and that’s his career done with a sensational jumping Tombstone. The match was excellent and multi-faceted but the atmosphere tips it over the edge. I think I prefer WrestleMania 25’s match but this was excellent. Hell of a way for an all-timer great like Shawn Michaels to go out on.
Final Rating: *****
WrestleMania seems like a decent place to finish up Part 1 of my 2010 Project. There’s lots more to come. I can hopefully track down some wild ROH stuff and if anyone knows of a place I can watch Dragon Gate USA that would be neat. Any recommendations appreciated – AF