August 11, 2014

ECW '94 part 1

Woah Bruddahs, watch out!  And thanks for tuning in to the latest edition of my 20-years-too-late coverage of Eastern Championship Wrestling.  This edition covers 19 television programs and one bigger event (which was released on tape) from the first five-and-a-half months of 1994, right up until the event called 'When Worlds Collide' which we can maybe watch tomorrow.

Between the stretches of boring filler, there are a lot of great moments to found in this period.  Not a whole lot of great, or even good matches, but there's a lot of great promos and some cool character work going on.  Paul E and Public Enemy can always be counted on to deliver entertaining tv when they've got a mic.  Sabu and Mike Awesome elevate any matches they're involved in.  Terry Funk is awesome at everything.  However, the real breakout star of the promotion is Shane Douglas.  His promos are on fire, his matches are solid, and his character is huge yet believable.  He won the ECW Championship from Terry Funk in March, and every promo from that feud was pure gold.  A face-to-face backstage segment in the fallout of one of their big matches pops into my head a lot for some reason, and has to stand out as the best moment from this slice of ECW history.

Another interesting shift from that March was the reinvention of The Sandman.  You guys probably know the story-- Sandman was working a corny surfer gimmick that was going nowhere, he was getting fat and lazy in the ring, when Paul E saw him in the back, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, and decided to put him on screen like that.  But did you guys know that to initially turn him, he started to verbally and physically abuse his wife?  The blow-off for that will be on the When Worlds Collide card, so I can break it down for you in person rather than type it all out.  I will say though, the only real highlight for me has been an aside that Joey Styles made which inferred that Sandman was trying to pimp his wife to the other wrestlers for $20.  Another interesting note is that from the moment he turns heel, all of Sandman's promos are in black-and-white, a possible precursor to NWO's aesthetic.

Some of the other characters:

Mr. Hughes-- This guy did some time in the bigger promotions, so maybe you're familiar with him.  The funny thing with him is that he can barely cut a promo without mentioning his feud with The Undertaker, to the point where sometimes it seems like he's still feuding with The Undertaker.  I like to think that he was initially so bad on the mic, that he was trained to cut one specific promo by guys at WWF, and after his time with them was up he just kept doing the same promo, like a robot.  You goin' down, Undertaker!

911-- Introduced in '93 as "Sabu's handler", this guy gets his own thing going as 911, with the gimmick of being a big biker-looking dude who repeatedly chokeslams jobbers but never has a real wrestling match.  When he's in the ring, fans will more likely chant for his manager Paul E than for him.  This is totally understandable though, as Paul E will be running circles around the guy and saying funny shit the whole time.

Mikey Whipwreck-- Debuting in January, Whipwreck immediately becomes a regular ragdoll for the much larger competitors named above.  There are other jobbers around, but Whipwreck takes the cake.  A cake made out of getting your ass kicked every week.

Public Enemy-- I talked about these guys in the earlier posts, but they continue to impress.  Really fun promos, and Rocco Rock is especially fun to watch in the ring.  It could be said that these guys set the unique tone of ECW more than anyone else, both in the ring and out.

Jason-- About as compelling of a manager as his working name implies.  If you're ever going to watch these early episodes, I hope you like the catchphrase "How do you like my suit?"

Pat Tanaka-- In some of the best matches from this stretch of time.  Introduced to ECW in '93 as half of Badd Company (with Paul Diamond), Tanaka (no relation to Masato) enjoyed a brief singles run, with matches against Sabu and Shane Douglas that stand out way beyond most of the stuff that was going on in the ring.  His tenure at ECW was pretty short though, as he and Diamond only wrestled there in between stints with WWF and WCW.

Tawmy Dreamah-- First man ever to survive Superfly Splash.  Need I say more?
There is a basic format for these episodes which goes something like this:

Opening promo (backstage, someone screaming, often Paul E)
Music video (hard rock or hip-hop) using ECW clips
Joey Styles sells an angle
Arena match involving one of the people in said angle crushing a jobber
Promo from the other person in the angle
Matty In The House sells card for next live event, including blow-off for the angle
Music video (hard rock or hip-hop) using ECW clip
Joey Styles sells an angle
Backstage confrontation
Some big guy crushing a jobber
Closing promo (hard sell for the next live event, often Paul E)

There usually aren't good matches, there's usually a lot of filler, like the "music videos".  There's always either a lot of time spent of talking about how great the last big live event was, or trying to sell the next one.  But there are almost always fun promos, the titles feel coveted like they really matter, and it's cool to follow the characters as they progress in their storylines.  There are a lot of awesome moments I'd like to share, and I'd like to add a highlight reel to this post, but I won't get to it tonight.  I need to get up before noon so that I can arrive in Portland at a decent enough time for us to watch a fuck-ton of wrasslin before we go get our balls bored off by Hulk-a-birthday.  Holy shit, I'm so glad I'm going with you guys.  Even if it's the worst Raw ever it will be super-fun.  And it probably won't be that bad anyway.

A foaming-at-the-mouth Taz, locked in mortal combat with a lunging Pitbull, is momentarily distracted by the presence of the video camera backstage.

August 03, 2014

G1 Climax 24: The Halftime Show

Hey-o Goodbrothers, what's the haps?

Now that New Japan Pro Wrestling's 24th annual G1 Climax Tournament is halfway done, I thought I ought to pay homage to it's radicalosity with a big dumb blog post, like so many other schmucks.  Not sure who my audience is on this one, since Poncho already knows this stuff and Rusty probably doesn't care, but who knows, maybe I'll pat myself on the back when I re-read this in a few years.  It's happened before.

The basics:
G1 Climax 24 is a twenty-two man tournament.  They're split into two groups of eleven.  Each guy in each of the groups will wrestle every other guy in their group, which means that each guy will have 10 matches to qualify for the finals.  There are 12 Pay-Per-View events scheduled over a period of about 3 weeks.  The winner of the finals will face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion (NJPW's top title, currently held by AJ Styles) at next year's Wrestle Kingdom, which is like Wrestlemania, if there were WWE vs ROH vs TNA matches at Wrestlemania.  (It's multi-promotional.)

The cool things:
Every match is important.  So far, everybody has wins and losses (with the exception of one guy, who I'll write about later) which means that no matter where a guy usually is on the card, there's still the possibility of an upset.  By the way, there are plenty of upsets.
Every character has their own story.  From the bottom to the top, and all through the middle, every guy has a story to tell in every match.  The booking has been immaculate.  Finishes that were working for guys to rack up wins earlier are now getting kick-outs.  Alliances are being tested.  Everyone has something to prove, and has the chances to prove themselves.  Momentum gains and slacks.
The wrestling is superior.  Classicly hard-hitting Japanese wrestling, with that unmistakably epic feel, boiled down to 8-15 minute matches (another 5-10 for the main event) makes for a series of easily digestible cards.  The events never feel bogged down or over-booked.
The production goes on forever.  One of my top 3 favorite things about NJPW is the way it's shot.  Lots of full-figure camera work, with close-ups only when appropriate.  You really can see what's going on without the production trying to out-think or manipulate you too much.  It comes together really clean, plus there are never more than two backstage interviews, and the rest of the show is wrestling.  Someone pinch me.
Shades of grey.  There aren't always the traditional molds of good guy/bad guy in Japanese wrestling, and maybe especially within the current regime of NJPW.  The characters are more three-dimensional, sometimes even switching between cad and crowd-pleaser from match to match.  Take Hiroshi Tanahashi, for instance.  One of NJPW's biggest stars, he's been at the top of the card for years, but can draw cheers or boos depending on the context of his matches.  He always makes his entrance as a babyface, but if he is facing a younger opponent, he will be disrespectful to them in the match, thus drawing the audiences disapproval and becoming a heel.  Sometimes he gets downright nasty, a real bad guy, but then again sometimes he stays a good guy, and crowd favorite, throughout.  It's all dependent on his opponent, and the context of their contest.  Kind of like real people.

The Japanese spots:
These come up in every match, and I think they're really cool.
The clean break spot.  Early in the match, one guy will grapple the other into the ropes, and the referee will call for a "creen blake".  Will there be a clean break?  Will the aggressor press his advantage?  Will the aggressor back off and gloat?  Will the defender retaliate with gusto?  The Japanese crowd favors good-sportsmanship, so this is a great spot to establish the characters in the context of their match.
The strike-fest.  At some point in every match, the dudes will start to just slap/chop/elbow the shit out of each other.  It's a good spot for one of them to come off as a bad-ass, regardless of who wins at the end.
The brainbuster.  All these guys do brainbusters.  The commentators even call them "blain-bustah".  Rarely an actual finish, it's just a big suplex that will come at a heated moment and get a 2-count.  The commentators have a lot of fun with it.  Doesn't actually happen every match, though.

The players:
Usually in NJPW shows, there are a mix of singles matches, tag team matches, and 6-8 man tag matches.  The singles matches are for feuds and bigger names.  Tag matches are for tag teams (NJPW has two sets of tag belts for different weight classes).  The multi-tags are for anyone else who doesn't have something going on.  Since I've only been following NJPW for the past year, this G1 Climax has given me a great opportunity to get to know more of their roster as they compete in singles matches.
It's tempting to really expound on each competitor, but for now at least I'm gonna keep it brief.  It's 5 in the morning and I need to wrap this up.

Guys I newly like:  I've gained a huge fandom for Togi Makabe and Davey Boy Smith, Jr.  I've gained some appreciation for Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima.  The standout in this category is Tomoaki Honma, the "Vampire Chicken".  The 11th hour replacement for the injured star Kota Ibushi, veteran of hardcore matches, ultimate underdog, unlikely hero.  Honma's head-drops have become regular comedy fodder around the house, as I impersonate the way he cocks his head before pancaking to the floor (except I have to catch myself.)  He's the only guy to not have a win in the tournament so far.  Actually, he's the only guy not to have at least two wins!  If he ever does pull one out, the crowd is going to go apeshit, and I'll be right there with them.

Guys I like more:  Tomohiro Ishii  and Tetsuya Naito are having more character-driven matches now that they aren't involved with the Never Championship.  Toru Yano and Karl Anderson are having the best matches I've seen from either, by far. AJ Styles, who I've seen in many great matches, continues to impress in the far east, which takes him up another notch and a half, and really helps to solidify his legacy.

Guys I like less: The only guy who fits in here is Minoru Suzuki, but I think he might pull himself back up.  I just haven't been a fan of his matches so far.  His most recent, against stablemate Lance Archer was pretty good though, so we'll see.  I had really liked him before, but the matches have just been disappointing.

Guys I like the same:  I'm still a super-fan of Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura, a big fan of Shelton Benjamin, Yuji Nagata and Hiroshi Tanahashi, and a fan of Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto, and Lance Archer.

Guys I dislike the same:  I just can't say I'm a fan of Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, or Yujiro Takahashi.  Takahashi is the only one of the three who I actually think sucks, the big beasts Fale and Gallows maybe just aren't my cup of tea, but I haven't seen either in any good matches (with the exception of Fale-Nakamura from Dominion, which Nakamura carried).  I think the only seriously bad match to come out of G1 this year so far was Fale-Gallows, but Takahashi has had a few near-stinkers, if it hadn't have been for his opponents to clean things up as much as possible.

I'm sure there are other things I've wanted to share, but it's super-late, I need to work tomorrow, and so it's probably time to finish up without even sitting around for a while to try and think of something clever to sign off with.  Too bad.  Sayonara.