Watch This Wrestling 7 (2/17 – 23)

WWE Match of the Week:

The Big Show vs Braun Strowman

Monday Night Raw, 2/20

The last time the Twitter timeline blew up this much was … well, last week’s Festival of Friendship . But seriously, folks, if you didn’t think Strowman deserved his own Mania match, this is the moment that elevated Big McStronghuge past the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

Not only did Strowman deliver a good match with (or out of?) Big Show (who’s been less than relevant as of late) but he did so during his first 1-on-1 match in a main event. Oh, and that (assisted) kip-up! Maybe this is a case of lowered expectations, but damn, it was a fun time.

Honorable mentions go to SmackDown Live’s Nikki Bella vs Natalya (which would have been my pick it if not for the finish) and 205 Live’s Mustafa Ali vs Noam Dar

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Christopher Daniels vs Jay Briscoe in the Finals of The Decade Of Excellence Tournament

Ring of Honor, 2/20

This match is the culmination of an 8-wrestler tournament to decide the next number one contender to Adam Cole Bay Bay for the ROH World Championship. In the build up to this match Daniels’ long-time tag partner Frankie Kazarian has done at least one, if not multiple, promos talking about this being his aging buddy’s last shot. This has been awkward, teasing some kind of turn.

The match on its own, is excellent, and it all begins at the commentary table. Adding Mark Briscoe and Kaz to the commentary table is the first time Kevin Kelly hasn’t been drowning since Nigel McGuinness left. Kazarian over-emphasize the story of Daniels’ last chance tempts fate about the split-up of The Addiction.

This episode of Ring of Honor is available for free on the FITE app. After watching the match, you can spoil the next four weeks of tapings by googling “ROH taping results.”

WWE Segment of the Week:

The SmackDown Live Women’s Title Picture, featuring Daniel Bryan and Naomi, and then Alexa Bliss

SmackDown Live, 2/21

I thought Naomi had cemented herself as a popular fan favorite with her new entrance and title win over Alexa Bliss, but this segment proved that the glow is more widely felt than I’d realized. Naomi’s heartfelt, teary-eyed promo was only enhanced by having the retired-by-injury Daniel Bryan be the person she had to return her title to, and for the fans in the arena to be so vocally on her side.

Making matters even better, Alexa Bliss (the latest ultimate opportunist?) coming out to demand the title be handed to her was icing on the segment.

Unfortunately, while I read this segment as a storyline, and not the result of a legitimate, shoot-injury, I was wrong. Rumors point to her injury being as bad as the one recently suffered by Rollins, leading to her liable to miss Wrestlemania.

For now, I’ll hope that even the injury rumors leaking out are all a part of the work. If it is, Naomi’s win at Mania 33 could be huge.

Honorable Mention: Kassius Ohno’s actual return, which could have gone higher, but it’s all a little too meta for me. I’m loving it, but I don’t know if the whole audience is too.

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

Laurel & Braxton’s Wedding ft. Mike Bennett gives Braxton Sutter advice

While Lucha Underground is off, it’s up to Impact Wrestling to create televised non-match segments outside of the WWE that are worth noting. And for once, they did it without the Hardys.

Wrestling Weddings are a great way to get a ton of performers (Allie, Mike Bennett, Maria Kanelis Bennett, Aron Rex, Rockstar Spud, Sienna, Braxton Sutter … and a few more later on) into the ring at once to play off of each other and create some great (or at least lively) dramatic moments.

While I couldn’t stand Mike Bennet, Worst Bachelor Party Host Ever, his role as drunk best man fits this whole awkward rom-com thing a lot better. This whole story is based on manipulation and misinterpretation, so for him to push Sutter closer to breaking off the wedding, that works.

Also great were the fact that the wedding is entirely about Maria, but what I wish I understood was how Rex and Spud connected to the story. They’re heel, sure, but with no background in this, and only being used as “flower girls” because homophobia.

Flaws and all, though, the Impact Zone crowd ate this one up like they were stoned at the buffet. Tons of expected chants (“We object!”) and even the Delete! let this simmer to a boil and explode. Earlier, during a spot where the Broken Hardys fought in a dark high school gym, I wondered if Impact would be better in a tinier venue, but this showed that given the right prodding, the people passing through at Universal Studios Florida can make it work.

The Good, The Bad, and The Shindie

 (An Indie Pro Wrestling Audience Member’s Notes)

This past weekend, because I’m a glutton for pro wrestling, I consumed three heaping portions of it on the indie scene. That was Five Borough Wrestling in Flatlands, Brooklyn on Friday the 17th, House of Glory in Jamaica, Queens on Saturday the 18th, and, well, Sunday the 19th featured Entrar En El Circulo Del Dragon, presented by Tier 1 and Lucha Libre Promotion NY. I’m going to try and keep this positive, so I’ll bury my grievances at the bottom of the notes I took away:

Five Borough Wrestling: Back 2 The Legion in Flatlands, Brooklyn – 2/17

  • For those unfamiliar with one or both of them, Fire Ant vs. “Croatian Sensation” Mario Bokara was much better than it sounds on paper. I’d seen Bokara before (in a gauntlet match at Battle Club Pro in The Bronx) but this was the first time he wowed me, as he benefitted from the 1-on-1 focus. 
  • Dude was the angry, arrogant heel who couldn’t believe he wasn’t able to put Fire Ant down, and did work with the audience when we taunted him for being a failure.
  • Lucha Underground’s Matt Striker was a fun performer that night, acting as some sort of general manager and doing a lot of interaction with the kids in attendance. Then some verbal sparring with Tier 1 World Champion Darius Carter before actually going toe to toe with him. The match wasn’t a show stopper, but gave them both a chance to connect with the audience.
  • Carter, though, is solid, solid heel. I saw him at both FBW and the Lucha show, and I look forward to seeing more of him going forward. Not only is the guy a natural smug villain, but he also works that chicken-shit heel angle. I’d like to see more reason to take him seriously as a threat.
  • “Pro Wrestling Savior” J.T. Dunn vs. “The Rogue” Anthony Gangone was probably my favorite match of the weekend, and if you don’t know these guys already, you will soon. Dunn’s a protoge of Chris Hero and works an appropriate style, while Gangone (pronounced Gang•Own) feels like CM Punk with Serj Tankian’s hair.

House of Glory Wrestling: With Glory Comes Pride, in Jamaica, Queens – 2/18

  • Wrestling is silly nonsense, and when it’s done right, I love it. Take for instance the team of Super Savages, which pairs Caveman who doesn’t quite understand (but loves) shoes and Mantequilla, a knockoff version of Hurricane Helms. They faced EYFBO (Angel Ortiz & Mike Draztik) who I don’t really ‘get’ … as I think I’ve just got to see their other stuff.  They’re a part of the faction Team PAZUZU with the Chris Dickinson and Jaka, who I’ve come to enjoy in Evolve.
  • I’m not the biggest fan of mixed-tag matches, but Sonya Strong and Big Daddy Cruz vs. Violette and Sasha Jenkins was beset by a lack of anything. Sonya Strong was the only person in that match who seemed to deserve to be in it. The rest of them seemed like jokes and just gyah. 
  • I’d heard the name Ken Broadway on Trina and Damien’s Indie Pop podcast, but damn his defense of the HOG Crown Jewel Championship in a Fatal Four Way Match proved why he’s carrying the title. Dude can GO and I love his look, which seems like something out of Smash TV.
  • Also in that match was Rudeboy Riley, who really needs to figure his gimmick out. He’s athletic and had some fun moves, but Hype Bro Zubaz-esque ring gear plus tons of tattoos and blonde tips doesn’t add up.
  • Anthony Gangone had another strong outing, carrying a segment where he attacked my buddy, HOG Management Representative, Rob Blatt. The segment featured Gangone creating his own House of Gangone stable, again, this guy’s got a lot of attention on him and earns it. His match with Matt Sydal (fka Evan Bourne) was fun, but the damn crowd almost ruined it by heckling Sydal with weed jokes (he was kicked out of NJPW for possession). The match ended with tons o’ shenanigans with the House of Gangone beating Sydal down. And to be honest, I can’t stand Sydal as an angry tweener, as he’s too much like my least favorite wrestler: Face!Ziggler.

Tier 1 Wrestling & Lucha Libre Promotion NY Present: Entrar En El Circulo Del Dragon – 2/19

  • Don’t go to a show just for the main event. As cool as it was to see Pentagón 0M and Rey Horus (Lucha Underground’s Pentagon Jr. and Dragon Azteca Jr.) and they were dope their match was too short by at least a third of its length. I had the same issue with Low-Ki vs. Alberto El Patron the night before at House of Glory. Feels like these promotions book those names to sell tickets for the short term, but don’t pay enough to ensure returning audiences.
  • While a plethora of injuries can sink a show, an announcer can make all the difference. I had lowered my expectations going in because Matt Cross and Drago weren’t on the card, but grating, ambivalent and unprepared-sounding announcer just completely tanked my interest. I need to see a different Lucha show soon, so that’s not the sole live experience I have tied to the industry.
  • Also, there was a laptop giveaway that preceded the intermission. I get doing both at the same time, but to spend that much time wasting time just killed me. I doubt I’ll see something else from this promotion again.
  • Well, also, some of the matches were just meh. The soccer-playing Team España bored me to death, and felt like a lazier stereotype than Los Matadores.
  • Sonny Kiss vs Sebastian Cruz was trying to be some edgy shit with Kiss’s drag-esque gimmick and Cruz not tolerating it, but … this isht made me yawn. Not sure why. It was just as botchy as any other match I saw.

Watch This Wrestling 6 (2/10 – 16)

Welcome back, and yes, I’ve changed the name of this gimmick from the imprecise “Don’t Miss This” to “Watch This Wrestling.” So without further preamble, here’s what you need to see from the last week of pro wrestling.

WWE Match of the Week:

John Cena vs AJ Styles vs Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship

WWE SmackDown Live, 2/14

While the 2017 Elimination Chamber is the match that got all of the attention this week, I prefer the WWE Championship rematch that took place two nights later. Why? The Chamber match had a slow, stilted pace, or at least it did until it was just these last three.

So, not only did SmackDown Live’s triple threat match between John Cena, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt rule, it did so while playing on our expectations.

That “A Wild Luke Harper Appears!” moment at the top of the match existed in-part to toy with fans worried that Wyatt’s run would last a mere 47 hours. Further, while we knew to expect great things whenever Cena and Styles face off, this confirmed that Wyatt and Styles is a top-flight pairing that will do well in the future. I look forward to their post-Mania program.

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Tetsuya Naito vs Michael Elgin for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

NJPW, The New Beginning in Osaka, 2/11

Pop some popcorn folks, because this one goes long (more than 35 minutes). And sure, some might not like it for its length (time constrained viewers should check out Shibata/Ospreay or Kamaitachi/Dragon Lee) but I believe the reward is worth the investment. Naito’s detachment and chill make for a perfect pairing with “Big Mike” who plays ever the angry, straight-forward, revenge-driven babyface.

The match shows Naito taking a ton of punishment, and makes Elgin look incredibly powerful. It even has a couple of surprising moves in it that I won’t spoil, just look out for Naito going for a Tope Suicido.

And while this match shows Naito working over Elgin’s injured knee and eye socket, the match isn’t overburdened with the moments where Elgin’s knee isn’t able to support him. Elgin’s expressions are great, too, especially his look of exhaustion and surprise when Naito kicks out later in the match after a sit-down powerbomb. 

Available here with NJPWorld Subscription .

WWE Segment of the Week:

The Festival of Friendship

WWE Monday Night Raw, 2/13 

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but hot damn this was good. 

Haven’t watched it yet? Watch these clips and then read. In that order.

Even the intro, Jericho’s colorfully-lit pre-taped message that welcomed “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, grandmothers and grandfathers,” to “The Wrestlemania of Camaraderie” was confoundingly weird.

I’ll be honest, I got lulled into a sense of security. Just as Graves looks startled by all the fireworks, I got bewildered the second I saw Jericho’s super-huge, extra-doofy smile. He wears that smile to close the video and as he walks out to split apart his feather dancers, and he just had me scratching my head.

Even knowing what we now know, Owens’ look of boredom doesn’t telegraph the ending, it just gives viewers this sense that he’s as confused as they are. From the blatantly homoerotic sculpture by Ralph Guggenheim (a name borrowed from a graphics designer from Toy Story) to The Creation of Kevin (“it’s art, you don’t need pants”) this segment is chock-a-block with laughs.

Also, note the Jericho line “true art grows on people,” because you need to rewatch this segment. Its pacing is perfect, with Jericho’s rapid-fire dialogue and Owens delivering deadpan line after deadpan line (“scarfs are your thing,” “Chris, where did you find Friendship The Magician?”).

You don’t even need to know about Triple H pulling Owens aside erlier and speaking likely-evils into his ear. But that added layer, that puppet master moment, gives the little flakes of humanity in Owens, which you see when he’s shaking his head wearily, hoping Jericho delivers Goldberg, to redeem the utter silly stupidity of this all. And the utter disappointment on Owens’ face when freaking Gillberg shows up. Yes, that’s how much Jericho cares about his best friend, he called up The J.O.B. Squad’s finest: Gillberg.

So as Owens says “I don’t understand!” to Jericho, he’s saying “What do you expect me to do? Triple H was right, you’re making me into a joke!” And then Jericho goes and says it all:

“For the last year, I gotta tell you, listen, I’ve had such a great time working with you, being your partner, it’s made this last year in the WWE one of my favorite years of my entire career.

And a lot of that’s because of you.

I’ve had a lot of friends in this business and a lot of partners but I haven’t had the chemistry with any of them like I have with you. It’s been a joy. You’ve made my job here and my time in the WWE here a better place, and I wanted to thank you for that.”

So when Jericho ends that emotional unfurling by promising Owens a Fast Lane win over Goldberg, we now know Owens cannot retain his title. We know that this friendship is doomed.

We don’t know who made The List of KO. It could be Owens, it could be Triple H. But once Owens decides to ask for it, it’s all over, and he’s relishing in the moment. Kevin Owens may have humanity (I think I see hints of him feeling guilty) but he also derives a terrible joy from destroying those who trust him.

So we heard the words

“How come my name’s on this?”

Then, after the brief beatdown, this gets the signatures of KO and Jericho. First, Owens giving Jericho the ring-apron powerbomb (Sami Zayn is chuckling somewhere) and then putting Jericho through the TV, just like Jericho put Shawn Michaels through the TV, as Michaels put Janetty through the barber shop window.

Oh, and check out the Samoa Joe interview with Michael Cole and Emmalina’s return if you missed those.

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

The Broken Hardys in Tijuana Part 2

Impact Wrestling, 2/16

It’s almost as if everyone else saw the festival of friendship and thought, “well, no bother trying to top that.” Except that both the ROH and Impact this week were pre-taped and NJPW doesn’t really do non-match segments.

So, I can’t really credit Kevin & Chris for this one, but this segment (which I’m not even a huge fan of) is another Broken Matt bit that beats the field.
Here’s part 1 , 2 , 3 , and 4 .

I can’t stand The Wolves Breaking Up stuff, the Mini Moose & Big Moose setup for Jealous Cody’s Return, and especially Braxton Sutter’s Bachelor Party and Laurel Van Ness’s Bachelorette Party. Even Eli Drake & Titus’ segment stank.

Don’t Miss This 5 (2/3 – 9)

WWE Match of the Week:

The 205 Live Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match

205 Live, 2/7

As should be the case more often, the best wrestling in the last week in the WWE happened on 205 Live. The show, designed to be a path to superstardom for performers from the Cruiserweight Classic, was struggling to find its sea legs until around the time that Neville returned from injury with an undercut hairstyle and complete badassery. This match took the five most-over other guys in the division: Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, Noam Dar, Jack Gallagher, and T.J. Perkins, and let them shine.

From submission holds to high-flying moves, this match let each performer show off why they are on the WWE roster. While the surprise victory probably doesn’t mean anything (I doubt he’s beating Neville, this match gives hope for those who worried about the division. Shows all they need is time and stakes. Oh, and the dickishness of Noam Dar. That’s essential.

Non-WWE Match of the Week

Donovan Dijak vs. Chris Sabin vs. Alex Shelley vs. Lio Rush vs. Jay White vs. Jonathan Gresham

ROH Wrestling, 2/5, available on the FITE app for free.

So, it wasn’t a great week for televised (or even streamed) matches outside of WWE this week, but watch this match to enjoy a good spectacle of frenetic wrestling. Not only should you know Lio Rush’s name by now, but check out the big man Donovan Dijak, who is as big and agile enough for Vince to have signed him years ago.

Also, a fun fact about Dijak: he’s left ROH. Expect to see him in Evolve in March and probably in NXT by the year’s end.

WWE Segment of the Week:

Nikki, Natalya, and John Cena

The Natalya vs. Nikki Bella storyline taking place on SmackDown Live (which arguably started at Survivor Series) is one of the better but least buzzed about feuds in the WWE at this moment. It’s been driven by Natalya, who finally found that she can be compelling on the mic, though only as an utter savage.

So it’s great to see this scene, which ties everything together for Survivor Series. From Nikki talking about John letting her fight her own fights to Natalya’s BRU-TAL run-in to Cena almost convincingly act like he didn’t know what happened while he was off camera. It sets up the Elimination Chamber match as well as future stuff between Nikki and Cena.

Honorable mention: NXT, 2/8 Points to Bobby Roode for laughing his ass off after saying “no wait, of course I’m the kind of guy who loves to point out he was right.

Non-WWE Segment of the Week

The Broken Hardys Expedition Of Gold

Impact Wrestling, 2/9

So you’ve probably heard that Broken Matt Hardy has been threatening to take the tag titles from teams in other promotions, such as ROH’s Young Bucks. And while that’s actually booked for Mania weekend this April in Orlando, he’s also made less-likely challenges to WWE’s The Wyatt and New Day.

So while this all seems unlikely, the Hardys managed to surprise again on Impact, using a new and improved Vanguard 1 drone. Jeff got to play the role of the doubter this week, asking Matt to explain his plot to jump over to other promotions, which is based around using Vanguard 1, the sass-mouthed drone that can now teleport the Hardys. I’ll shut up now, so you can watch and find out their first stop.