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Watch This Wrestling 23 (6/11–17)

A salad-days week for WWE was only emphasized by a banner show from NJPW. Nothing more needed to be said, really. Apologies for the lateness here, this was delayed by my attending the Johnny Kidd Invitational (more on that later) and the insanity that was Money In The Bank 2017.

As always, if I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched

  • NJPW: Dominion, 6/11
  • Monday Night Raw, 6/12
  • ROH Wrestling, 6/12
  • SmackDown LIVE, 6/13
  • 205 Live, 6/13
  • Talking Smack Live, 6/13
  • NXT, 6/14
  • Lucha Underground, 6/14

Upcoming Watch List

  • Chikara: Johnny Kidd Invitational, 6/18
  • Money In The Bank, 6/18
  • Monday Night Raw, 6/19
  • ROH Wrestling, 6/19
  • SmackDown LIVE, 6/20
  • 205 Live, 6/20
  • Talking Smack Live, 6/20
  • NXT, 6/21
  • Lucha Underground, 6/21

Non-WWE Match of The Week:

KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi AND Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada

NJPW: Dominion, 6/11

Here’s a first, we’ve got a draw. Yep, I can’t choose between IWGP Jr. Heavyweight and Heavyweight championship title matches, one of which … well …

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SPOILER ALERT!
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Yes, Omega/Okada 2 ending in a time-limit draw gave me the confidence to let this end in a draw. Both of these matches did one thing unquestionably better than the other, and that’s why I can’t pick. And I feel like I’ve earned a draw, having waited 23 weeks to do so.

Omega vs Okada 2 has the dramatic storytelling that made me scream. That included Omega finally hitting the One Winged Angel too near the rope, Cody being high-key in it for himself, Okada needing the terrible table and most importantly, Omega fainting as Okada tried to hit the Rainmaker lariat.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the animus and the brevity of KUSHIDA vs Takahashi. That match felt like NJPW’s answer to the Owens vs Zayn feud, with brutal punches from the first bell. While I love Takahashi’s delirious, almost-drugged expressions, I still can’t care about KUSHIDA, because I can’t see much of his emotion.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Roppongi Vice vs Young Bucks, NJPW: Dominion, 6/11
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Naito, NJPW: Dominion, 6/11
  • Roppongi Vice and ? vs The Young Bucks and Adam Page, ROH, 6/12
  • The Mack vs Mala Suerte, Lucha Underground, 6/14
  • Pentagon Dark vs Argenis, Lucha Underground, 6/14

Non-WWE Segment of The Week

Cody Interrupts Okada

NJPW: Dominion, 6/11

I have not been a fan of Indie Cody, but here we got a solid character out of him. Not some asshat waffling between heel and face, but a cocky dick’ead.

By crashing the post-match press conference, insulting the face champ Okada, and stealing dude’s beer, this is a firm persona. Further, he even insulted his own stablemate Kenny Omega, when he said Okada’s afraid of facing a true superstar.

WWE Match of The Week:

Nikki Cross vs Ruby Riot vs Asuka

NXT, 6/14

I’ve been doing some back-reads on this blog and I’ve been disappointed with how it doesn’t get to give kudos to women’s wrestling matches. And while Raw and SmackDown Live don’t seem to be scratching that itch at the moment, NXT sure as hell did.

This title match match main-evented NXT, and even though some feel slighted by the quirks of its finish, I’m good with it. Yes, it didn’t make sense for the match to get thrown out when it’s a triple threat, before you realize it’s an elimination match, and by that point it was down to two. The non-finish to this match is good, as it leads to a one-on-one bout that will further showcase Nikki Cross.

WWE Segment of the Week:

Samoa Joe Interview

Monday Night Raw, 6/12

Yes, another week, another round of applause from yours truly for Joseph of Samoa. This guy is fire on the mic, and this promo is nearly-equal in importance to the pull-apart brawl that had him looking strong earlier in the show.

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Watch This Wrestling 14 (4/6–12)

But first, about that elephant in the arena…

I want to reaffirm some of the reason behind this weekly roundup. Every week, WWE provide more than enough hours of pro wrestling for most, but there’s more. From those wacky Brits in Progress to the insane bastards of New Japan, wrestling isn’t just WWE.

This past week, there was as much reason to reiterate the above as ever before. No, not because of the phenomenal match between Kazuchika Okada and Katsuyori Shibata at Sakura Genesis. But because of the big outside-the-ring story of bullying in the WWE making the rounds in major publications such as Sports Illustrated and the New York Post.

Vince’s love of fucking with people is no secret, but this has popped up because of speculation that SmackDown Live color commentary announcer, noted veteran, and all-around-cancerous-motherfucker JBL is the reason for the absence of SDL play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo. You know, JBL, the guy who thought it’d be OK to goose-step like a Nazi during a show in Germany.

While we haven’t heard any stories about what JBL did to Mauro, who has been public about his bipolar diagnosis, and is off-air for what has been reported as stress, nothing would surprise anyone at this stage. It’s currently expected that Mauro and WWE will settle in private, and that WWE will address this in some way, as the story has been made too-public to ignore.

If it were up to me, and Mauro were not available to the WWE anymore, the SDL announce team would be Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and Renee Young. Of related note this week was the shamelessly transparent “we’re trading the black commentators!” moment where Raw traded Saxton for the useless lump of humanity called David Otunga.

Thankfully, we get a six-week window before Raw Is 3 Hours of Otunga goes into effect, thanks to his commitment to filming a movie where he’s playing a lawyer. In that time, Booker T will be filling in, because (again), “LOL BLACK COMMENTATORS, GOTTA HAVE ONE, AND NO MORE THAN ONE!” Assuming Book does well, I’d like to see a Raw team some day that’s him, Graves, and Tom Phillips.

As always, a list of what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.

What I Watched:

Upcoming Watch List:

  • PROGRESS Wrestling Presents: Freedom’s Road S01E07, 4/13
  • OTT: Scrappermania III, 4/15
  • Monday Night Raw, 4/17
  • ROH Wrestling, 4/17
  • SmackDown Live, 4/18
  • 205 Live, 4/18
  • Talking Smack Live, 4/18
  • NXT, 4/19

Non-WWE Match of the Week:

Kazuchika Okada © vs Katsuyori Shibata for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

NJPW: Genesis, 4/9

Most matches don’t get 38 minutes between bells, but that’s because few have the conditioning and technical prowess of Okada and Shibata. The former is the crown jewel of New Japan and the latter, well, he would have been on the rise after one hell of a match. More on that in a moment.

The story here is that Shibata enters the match guns ablazin and in a far more passionate state than Okada. The crowd is on board with this, vocally entirely behind Shibata. Okada is entering that mixed-reactions phase of his career most people associate with John Cena and Roman Reigns, and this match cemented it. Felt a bit like Punk/Cena MITB in that way. Except Okada starts taking shortcuts, playing to the boos.

Without spoiling any spots, I’ll leave discussion of the good parts of the match at that.

Part of me doesn’t want to give the win to the most-talked-about match of the week, but it was the best match outside of the week, despite its serious flaw. And that flaw is so bad that I won’t go back and rewatch this match, despite loving (the majority of) it.

While I always suggest people go watch these matches, this one comes with a brutal asterisk. Near the end of this match, which was already going to win MOTW, Shibata leveled Okada with what is now believed to be a shoot-headbutt. As in the skull-to-skill headbutt that split Shibata open was legitimate, despite early reports of it being a work.

As reported by many, including Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, reports are coming out that Shibata is currently hospitalized, dealing with lingering right-side paralysis. Meltzer noted that Shibata has “some memories of the match” as if to infer that memory loss is involved. After all of this, it is expected that Shibata will never be cleared to wrestle again, ending his young career. Thankfully, it appears he will recover, but we shouldn’t have needed to hope for that.

It brings up a question of what kind of stiff work is actively encouraged or at least tacitly endorsed by the New Japan management. Much like WWE with its bullying problem, NJPW needs to take this moment to consider how it does business.

Sakura Genesis is available on NJPW World.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) © vs The Hunter Brothers (Jim Hunter & Lee Hunter) for the PROGRESS Tag Team Titles, Progress Ch. 46: I Like To Chill Out Here And Shoot Some Dinosaurs, 4/7
  • Pete Dunne vs Mark Andrews for the PROGRESS World Title, Progress Ch. 46: I Like To Chill Out Here And Shoot Some Dinosaurs, 4/7
  • Hirooki Goto vs Zack Sabre Jr., for the NEVER Openweight championship, NJPW: Genesis, 4/9
  • Curt Stallion vs John Skyler in a 2017 Top Prospects Tournament semi-final match, ROH Wrestling, 4/10

Non-WWE Segment of the Week:

EVOVLE Mini-Doc: Zack Sabre Jr. Can’t Make a Mistake

EVOLVE, WWN Live, 4/12

Evolve’s mini-docs, which get attributed to Kenny Johnson, are typically great previews or recaps. This one, though, goes further. It tells twin stories of frustration, from the current EVOLVE champ Zack Sabre Jr. and recent signee ACH.

As the title suggests, the focus of the feature is ZSJ hanging onto his title by a hair. What that means for Zack is that he’s getting closer to the “do whatever it takes” mentality that heels use, to cheat to keep his championship.

This, if you’re following Sabre Jr. outside of this promotion, is intriguing. In Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) and New Japan, to name a couple of the other place he pops up, things are different.

Everywhere but EVOLVE, he’s called “Zacky Three Belts” because he’s crossed over to the dark side, turning heel. So whether he’s joining Minoru Suzuki’s nefarious Suzuki-Gun faction or tag-teaming with The Villain Marty Scurll as The Leaders of The New School, he’s always drawing ire. It’s the role that many who see his lanky frame and know-it-all submission style believe he was born to play.

And then we have ACH – who has worked as a friend of Zack’s in EVOLVE – who came here to win gold. ACH who should have been a world champion by now, but was passed over. ACH who couldn’t get the job done in Orlando, against Sabre Jr. at EVOVLE 80.

ACH who says he doesn’t know what comes next. ACH who’s been a face all this time and maybe that’s not enough.

Of course, this video doesn’t hammer home either potential turn all that hard. Gotta keep that surprise going. I love how the focus and zoom fall out of the scene where Michael Elgin cold-cocks Zack Sabre Jr. after basically demanding their match be for the title. And then the brief moments they bring from Elgin/ZSJ definitely paint Sabre Jr. as valorous and Elgin and the prick.

And then the other challengers. Lio Rush, who challenges Sabre Jr. for the title at the next EVOLVE events, and has “no more time to waste.” Ethan Page, tired of getting looked over by the booking committee, and more than happy to remind you of his two wins against Zack.

And finally, back to Sabre Jr., who speaks of the weight of the belt on his shoulder. If that doesn’t get you buying tickets or a FloSlam subscription, then I’m confused.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE Match of the Week:

AJ Styles vs Sami Zayn vs Baron Corbin in a #1 Contender’s match for the United States Championship

SmackDown Live, 4/11

The Superstar Shakeup gave SmackDown Live the kind of roster that everyone wished it had on day 1. Sure, we thought Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were amazing workers, but that just wasn’t happening.

So this past week saw them add a flurry of talent, with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens coming over as two marquee acquisitions. Oh, and they’re also adding Big E, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston (give me New Day singles runs) and Rusev to a show that already had AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Baron Corbin, Tye Dillinger and Luke Harper? So hot, hot damn.

And as if they felt the need to prove themselves, Zayn, Styles and Corbin put together a match worthy of their names. So while Styles is still working through being a good guy, Sami’s trying to prove himself against a bully he can hurt (Corbin is no Strowman), and Corbin is showing that he’s a fast learner.

This was the closest call for WWE MOTW in a while. While this had to be the winner, I appreciated the work in the other two matches, also worth checking out. This one just had more time and better pacing. Find the full version on Hulu if you have to.

Honorable Mentions:

Note: Both Galloway and Gallagher hit headbutts, no reports have emerged of resultant injuries.

WWE Segment of the Week:

Braun Strowman Savagely Attacks Roman Reigns

Monday Night Raw, 4/10

I’m really confused about what WWE meant to do with this segment, but I loved it so much nonetheless. This isn’t the best WWE segment of the year (remember the Festival of Friendship?), but damn it’s a close second.

Sure, he didn’t lift the ambulance (hello, it’s pro wrestling), but everything else about it was just so damn cool. Braun just rag-dolling Reigns around the backstage area elevates him to the most awesome thing on the Raw roster.

I watched this Raw at a bar with other fans, and this segment became the most amazing moment when consumed with a dozen or so fans screaming their heads off. So I just can’t emphasize enough how huge this moment is. 

WWE needs to handle this properly on Monday, and keep Roman off TV and let Braun continue to be the next wonder of the world, but not overdo it.

Some notes:

  • Roman takes a moment to remove his clipped-on microphone, because he’s a good employee who treats company property with care.
  • The segment wins by demonstrating impossible awesomeness by way of camera tricks.
  • Someone (possibly the WWE) started a god damn online petition to fire Strowman. That, if done outside of the company, is today’s version of that time people thought the NWO actually invaded WCW and called the police.
  • How does this happen the same week as The United Incident?

And about my confusion:

So, this made Strowman cooler than ever for many. Was it supposed to make Roman pitiable? Likable? Is this just to get Roman cool as a vengeful motherfucker?

After Roman Reigns had all the heat last week, are they trying to cool him down? What the hell?

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Don’t Miss This 2 (1/13 – 1/19)

WWE Match of the Week:

Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament, 1/15 

What’s more amazing, that WWE’s match of the week featured two talents that never graced the E’s network until a week before it aired, or that these two are at this level at this young an age? I like to joke with my Ring Post co-host Myke Hurley that the rest of us hate him for his youth, but Tyler Bate’s goofy nineteen-year-old ass is another hamper of crazy-pants all-together.

First of all, I didn’t buy Bates at the start, especially due to his gee-golly ‘charm’ and the fact that his “I’ve got two fists” line ripped off James Ellsworth almost verbatim (though who knows, The Chinless Wonder might have been copying Bates).

But from the moment Pete Dunne popped up on the screen, I hated him and enjoyed it. He’s got the perfect aesthetic as a bully, and his combination of a sneer and his fist-against-jaw give me thoughts of Miz and Kevin Owens at the same time. Plus, he’s all packed into a Sami Callahan-esque frame that makes it all feel fresh.
But how did they get this match to be so awesome? 

Well, by keeping the two on a steady progression of heel and face dynamics and preceding the match with Bate winning Wolfie’s respect and Dunne’s run-in on Bate, trying to break his shoulder. That’s compact storytelling, and William Regal’s outrage (and Michael Cole’s focus on said outrage) tied it all together, man. That all made the match mean a lot. You had someone to cheer, someone to boo, and they both played their parts. 

 Bate and Dunne both look their respective parts as well, Bate looks like the kid who always gets picked on by Dunne’s bully, and they were able to show and not tell over the span of the night.
This match follows those expectations, and Dunne spends most of the match ravaging Bate’s shoulder, including a Kimura lock that looked downright grizzly. 

If you had to take the match by itself, I’d almost prefer Mark Andrews vs Pete Dunne (which I think had a better-paced finish) from the previous round, but this one just shows how much the story-telling can add.
The match made both of these guys huge, and I look forward to seeing what they have coming up. 

Here’s a short clip. Watch the whole thing on the Network.

Best WWE Segment of the Week:

The King’s Court with Jerry The King Lawler and Dolph Ziggler

SmackDown Live, 1/17 

I’ll be the first to say I’m shocked that I’m giving credit to Dolph Ziggler and Jerry Lawler. Both rank high on my “fall off this planet, please” list, and will likely stay there for some time. But since Degree of Difficulty matters for me when trying to compare wrestling moments, I need to give this segment its due.

Wrestling’s performed gimmicks always glimmer more when they’re fused with reality, and so it’s reasonable that a segment where Dolph Ziggler returned to finish the job of killing Jerry Lawler flat-out held me in its hands.
It’s the end of the simmer-segment of Ziggler’s heel turn, which is now at full-boil. 

Lawler’s also part of the Royal Rumble announce team, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those two go at it. And in one segment (which draws from ages ago), they got me to care so much more about that confrontation than the inevitable Rollins & Triple H shmozz. I’ll admit that this probably worked so well for me because going shirtless-with-cape felt like it should shame Lawler a bit.

Best non-WWE Match of the Week:

Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada © IWGP Heavyweight Championship

NJPW on AXS, 1/13 

Yes, this match originally took place on January 4th, and you may know I’m not that hot on it, but the AXS TV version with Jim Ross aired for the first time on 1/13, and that’s how bad the wrestling outside of the WWE was this week. 

Also, I need to explain something. 

You know how Bate vs. Dunn had barely any buildup but strong face vs. heel dynamics and performances? Omega vs. Okada was the pinnacle of Good Moves and fast pacing at the end, but it had tons of build time but zero face vs. heel storytelling in the ring. As dramatic as it is to be the main event at Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome, this match lost so much by not attempting anything aside from moves. 

The one story, if you’ll call it that, was “this is Kenny Omega trying to achieve, but he needs his finishing move and Okada won’t let him do it.” That’s so tiny, it gets lost in the scale of it all.
Amazing moves though, I can’t believe Okada’s neck is still intact after all of that. And good for Kenny Omega for finally getting the attention he’s earned.

Best non-WWE Segment of the Week:

Cody (Rhodes) Will Judge YOU, ROH Fans

Ring of Honor, 1/15 

This Cody right here: the post-Final Battle-heel turn on Jay Lethal, pre-Bullet Club, is the best version of Indie Cody the wrestler we cannot call Rhodes.
It creates solid, consistent loathing from the fans. Cody’s explanation of why he turned heel is that the ROH fans were going to judge him at Final Battle, but nobody judges him. That it’s the other way around, he’s here to judge us. Also, I won’t spoil anymore, except he gets point for use of the word “proboscis." 

Maybe some people don’t like fan heckling like "Where’s Your Sexy-Ass Wife?” yell here and the “STAAAAAR-DUUUUUUUSSSST” fan at that the debut Defy Wrestling show in Seattle, but it works so well overall. Cody trying to call security on the guy who asked where Eden was was hysterical.