Saturday 27 July 2013

On the Road to Summer Slam By Shaun Nichols

The biggest show of the Summer is well on its way and it seems a good time to preview the show and the matches that have already been announced,

CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar
From a fan interest point of view and also from a coherent storyline basis, this is the main event of SummerSlam. Although of course the feud is essentially between former best friends, CM Punk and Paul Heyman. With Punk vowing that he will destroy his former manager, Heyman for his part is sending his 'hired beast' to stop him.

The great thing about the feud is that Punk and especially Heyman are so great in their respective roles and can justify in their promos why they feel and act as they do. Brock is essentially the third wheel in this programme but I don't see that as any kind of negative, he makes rare appearances so until he and Heyman splits it's difficult for him to play the central role. It works great that Brock plays the role of Heyman's monster that Paul is sending to hurt CM Punk.

Although Punk should win in the end, as the heroic babyface overcoming overwhelming odds to win it doesn't make sense for him to win right at the start. You also have to consider that Brock is still a PPV mover and any losses he has should be used judicially. I expect a very good match with Brock winning which allows the Punk vs. Heyman feud to continue throughout the rest of 2013.

John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan
We are getting a pretty rare 'face vs. face' main event, and they are going to be using the Total Divas show to 'add interest'. They are both dating a Bella, with the storyline being that Bryan is considering marriage while Cena has no interest in doing so.

Outside of that, the WWE booking has finally woken upto the fact that a large part of their fan base wants to support Daniel Bryan. They have dropped all talk of being the 'weak link' which made him sound like a complaining heel and have instead have switched attention to having Bryan proving he belongs which worked great at the recent Raw when he wrestled Swagger, Cesaro and finally Ryback in a gauntlet series.

The hardcore fans will obviously be behind Bryan, so expect a lot of boos for Mr Cena. I think that we may get a Daniel Bryan win, which will be quickly followed by Randy Orton cashing in his MITB briefcase and turning heel and leaving as WWE Champion.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
Let me just say that I like Del Rio as wrestler, he works well and has good matches but nobody cares about him. It hasn't helped that he's been without Ricardo (due to a Wellness violation) but you have to face facts that very few people react to his entrance or his interviews. The good news is that Ricardo should be back for SummerSlam but honestly he can't make that much difference.
Christian is pretty similar, he is a really good wrestler and has lots of good matches but the fans don't really care that much. He's hindered by the fact he's never been booked very strongly as a singles and when he did win a big match such as winning the World Title against Randy Orton in 2011 it wasn't because he pinned him but that Randy got himself DQ'd in a match where the title changed hands on a DQ finish.

Christian also hasn't had much interview time, so him challenging for the title seems a little bit out of nowhere. JBL on commentary has mentioned that Christian wants 'one more match' for the title but that's pretty weak as a storyline. I think they will have a very good match that people will get into eventually that sees Del Rio win, Christian will then quickly disappear from the title picture.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Big E Langston
This at least as a storyline to follow, Ziggler badly needs a win after losing at Payback and the Money In The Bank events. He also needs to drop the gimmick that he athletically avoids being attacked by incompetent heels, however clever the WWE thinks this is. The fans only see this as a guy they want to cheer running away from his opponents.

Langston doesn't need to win, he just needs to look competitive and his offence to be effective. This shouldn't be an issue as Ziggler will bump like crazy for him. But as it stands the money is with Ziggler and I can't see him leaving LA without picking up the win.

Damien Sandow vs. Cody Rhodes
The former partners battling over Smackdown's MITB briefcase. From a wrestling standpoint, Cody is clearly the better wrestler but is somewhat lacking in personality in front of most live crowds.

Sandow has the stronger personality and is able to connect better with the fans in attendance but isn't much of a worker.

So their match will depend on what the WWE booking team wants from the MITB case holder, it's frankly difficult to see either challenging or actually becoming World Heavyweight Champion in the near future. But I can see there being some entertainment in the 'Intellectual Saviour' cashing in the case and somehow failing. His character actively encourages the fans to laugh at his failures, Cody overall doesn't encourage much of a reaction at all. On that basis, expect Sandow to reclaim his MITB briefcase.

Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
The WWE have done a pretty good job of introducing the Wyatt Family and having their fans treat them as a serious act. Kane at this point is someone who's position on the card that doesn't depend on if he wins or loses.

Wyatt on the other hand will need to win in his first major singles PPV match. A loss here would badly hurt the Wyatt Family and could seriously send them straight to becoming an opening card attraction. Expect a Wyatt victory through outside interference.

The Shield vs. Mark Henry & Big Show
This hasn't been announced yet but seems likely. This could be interesting as there is a suggestion that Seth Rollins has heat over an handshake with the Big Show (was he not aware of the issue between the Young Bucks and Booker T?).

The Shield have been somewhat downgraded in recent weeks since they won the US Title and Tag Titles at Payback but have still won most of their matches. A defeat against resident monsters Henry and Show arguably wouldn't be a disaster, but looking at things rationally they are the future of the WWE and they also have a 3 on 2 advantage.

Big Show and Mark Henry are in similar position to Kane, they have history and longevity on their side. If they win it's difficult to see where the win would actually take them, if they lose then it was in an handicap match so it doesn't hurt them at all. If The Shield don't win then I would start to worry about how the WWE see their future.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Dragon Gate Kobe World 2013 Preview By Shaun Nichols

The Kobe show is classed as Dragon Gate's biggest show of the year and the promotion itself is having a really strong year. Thanks to USTREAM now airing DG iPPV's it now makes much easier to keep up to date and even watch the big shows live.

The main event sees CIMA defending the Open the Dream Gate title against Shingo, CIMA is attempting to make his 16th successful defence of the title since dethroning Maasaki Mochizuki at Final Gate 2011. Despite being champion for over 18 months his title run doesn't appear to being showing much sign of fatigue and he's still very popular.

Shingo is the leader of the akatsuki stable which haven't been altogether that successful. Although he did manage to win the Twin Gate titles with YAMATO which only led to YAMATO turning on him saying he was sick and tired of carrying Shingo. Since then Shingo has been on a major role and won the latest CIMA Royale to win this opportunity. This is also Shingo's first singles title shot at CIMA, as his only previous attempt was in a 3 Way Elimination alongside BxB Hulk at Final Gate 2012.

This could go either way and should be a great match, I've got a feeling that we might see a title switch setting up the former akatsuki partners battling for the title in the second half of 2013.

Twin Gate champions Akira Tozawa and BxB Hulk defend against Naruki Doi and Ricochet, the Tag Titles have been bouncing around quite a lot this year. The Mad Blankey duo are the fourth team to carry the belts this year. They won the belts last month following YAMATO's turn on Shingo and this will be their first defence.

Doi & Ricochet are two of the big stars in the World-1 International group and Ricochet especially has had a very good 2013 which included winning the King of Gate tournament. They have both got experience of being successful in the tag team scene (Doi with Masato Yoshino, Ricochet with CIMA) but I can't see the two big stars of Mad Blankey losing in their first defence.

The second big singles match is YAMATO facing off in a No DQ match against Maasaki Mochizuki, this as the potential to be a really great match. Since his turn, YAMATO has joined up with Mad Blankey so don't rule out lots of outside interference especially considering the stipulations.

YAMATO is also now doing a gimmick where he says he's the coolest and sexiest wrestler in DG and it's nice to see him back being put in a prominent position again. Of course this attitude hasn't sat particularly well with the no-nonsense Veteran Army leader Mochizuki. Both these wrestlers are excellent and I expect to see a very enjoyable affair leading to a YAMATO win probably through some kind of shenanigans.

Masato Yoshino is defending the Open the Brave Gate title against K-Ness. K-Ness seems to be around for a little while and then disappears for months at a time. But he looks to be back and in pretty good shape and got great reviews for his title challenge against CIMA earlier on in the year.

Yoshino has had a pretty average year until he dethroned Dragon Kid to win the title in an absolute show stealer at the Dead or Alive iPPV. Yoshino will be the favourite to retain but Dragon Gate have done a good job in making K-Ness into a strong and viable contender. He's even brought back the Sol Noches El move which basically is a counter to Yoshino's Soi Naciente submission move, which he used when they met in a recent tag team match to earn a victory for his team. Saying that though I'd still favour Yoshino to leave Kobe with his belt intact.
Open the Triangle Gate match sees current champions The Jimmys, represented by Ryo Saito, Genki Horiguchi and Jimmy Kanda defend against the Veteran Army of Don Fujii, Dragon Kid and Gamma and also Mad Blankey team of Kzy, Mondai Ryu and Uhaa Nation.

This is your typical DG faction warfare in the setting of the six man tag, this will be a whole kind of fun and The Jimmys (which means Simple in Japanese, so it's meant as an insult) are incredibly popular especially Horiguchi doing the H-A-Gee-Mee (bald) rallying gimmick when he's in trouble.

This really could go in any direction and probably depends more on how the rest of the show will be booked, I'd go for either The Jimmys or the Veteran Army being victorious.

As for the undercard we have legendary job guy Stalker Ichikawa getting his routine beating from an outsider to the group. This year he's facing ageing Yoshiaki Fujiwara (yes, him of the armbar) in a submission match. It will have its moments and be very funny and then Stalker will tap out.

Opening the show is Super Shisa, Rich Swann & Shachihoko BOY (World-1 International) facing akatsuki team of Super Shenlong III, Chihiro Tominaga and Kotoka. This is really just getting a spot on the card and have fun opener with lots of nice dives and other highspots to get the crowd into the show. Don't think it really matters who wins here.

Finally rounding off the card is Jimmy Susumu, Jimmy Kagetora & Mr Quu Quu Tanizaki Naoki Toyonaka Dolphin (formerly Naoki Tanizaki) battling the random team of HUB (look out for the tail), Cyber Kong and NOSAWA Rongai. This again will probably be an entertaining match but lacking a clear story or reason to care all that much.

The top five matches all have either titles on the line or in the case of YAMATO vs. Mochizuki a clear story to tell so they all have reasons for fans to take a keen interest in the results. More importantly though is that I can't see these matches not delivering in the ring.

This show should be well up in contention when it comes to Card of the Year thoughts, I would encourage any fan to consider buying the show. The event takes place on Sunday 21st July and is available to buy for $25 (approx. £18 so not much different to WWE PPV cost) and will start at 7am UK time although it will be available on video on demand.

Also if you haven't checked out Dragon Gate's last major iPPV event 'Dead or Alive 2013' then I urge you all to do so. It was a brilliant show with four matches at least **** or better. Simply a great wrestling show.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Wrestling Classic: AJW Wrestling Marinepiad 1992 - Show of the Year By Shaun Nichols

This was the first Japanese wrestling card to win the Wrestling Observer Card of the Year award although Japanese cards actually went on a fantastic roll winning every year from 1992 to 1996. With Dreamslam I following in 1993, the Super J Cup events winning in 1994 and 1996, and the never to be seen again multi promotion Weekly Pro Wrestling event snatching the honours in 1995.

What is pretty surprising is that any Japanese show would actually win Card of the Year, it's not that both WWF and WCW were consistently producing dreadful shows in 1992. We had Ric Flair winning arguably the greatest Rumble in history, WCW's Superbrawl II had a great undercard including Brian Pillman defeating Jushin Liger but ended with an underwhelming title change when Sting beat a clearly disinterested Lex Luger.

Both Wrestle War and Beach Blast had excellent moments, with the War Games between Sting's Squadron beating the Dangerous Alliance especially enjoyable and was picked as the USA's best match but shockingly only 7th overall. Beach Blast featured a very well booked 30 minute Ironman match between Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat, and a wild title match between Sting and Cactus Jack.

Not forgetting that 1992 was also the year that SummerSlam came to town with the decidedly average card which for reasons beyond me saw Ric Flair not actually wrestle, Shawn Michaels take on Rick Martel in a match where they promised not punch one another in the face. Oh yes and also Bret Hart and Davey put on a classic in the main event to somewhat salvage the show.

So what earned the gloriously titled Wrestling Marinepiad top billing? It featured a mere six matches and to be honest the first two hardly set the world on fire.

Opening proceeding were Yumiko Hotta, Suzuka Minami & Mima Shimoda defeating youngsters Kauro Ito, Tomoko Watanabe & Miori Kamiya. As you would expect from the opener this was a fun and very fast paced affair, it was probably too fast because they were getting occasionally getting out of position. It was also clear that the younger team were not just experienced enough to keep their end of the deal and therefore it wasn't a surprise when they finally lost. Yumiko and Suzuka were the stars of the match. Interestingly a few years later, Shimoda along with Etsuko Mita had a fantastic feud against Ito & Watanabe which included a number of **** matches and arguably the greatest women's cage match ever. Opener was probably about **1/2

A change of pace next as the terrifying Bat Yoshinga faced Akemi Torisu in a six round shootboxing contest, there was plenty of effort being given it's just that there wasn't a lot of technique been shown. Lot's of big wild punches being thrown and often missing. Torisu was pretty much one dimensional in her offence and stuck to punching, Bat had the better of it but didn't bother learning to defend. In the end Bat won by decision, by the nature of the match it's pretty difficult to rate.

We then had the first title match of the evening for the AJ Tag Titles as Debbie Malenko & Sakie Hasegawa defended against Takako Inoue and Mariko Yoshida. What it's sometimes difficult to remember is just how inexperienced they all were, especially Takako who most people remember forming a tag team with Kyoko Inoue a couple of years later and how great that team was in 1995 and 1996 in particular. Anyway the challengers were attempting to get the titles back after losing to Malenko & Hasegawa at the start of the year. This was a really entertaining affair and all four of them worked incredibly hard but Yoshida & Malenko were probably the stars. Takako and Mariko regained the titles in a match probably rated about ***1/2.

To steal the show we have the IWA World Women's Title match between Kyoko Inoue and Manami Toyota. Incredibly considering that 1992 saw the legendary feud between Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada which led to Yamada losing her hair. It was this match that rated highest in Match of the Year balloting finishing an excellent third place. This was just packed with big moves, superb highspots and wrestled at literally 100 miles per hour. Normally this could be a negative but they just work so well together that it's actually a positive. You could argue that Manami's selling let's her down and while it's on the level of Akira Hokuto it's not bad. Both her and Kyoko were on the rise at this point and were still seen to be on a level below Hokuto, Nakano and Aja Kong. The last five or so minutes are insane as Manami does a tope, a plancha and a super quebrada in consecutive moves which puts Akira Tozawa's consecutive running dives somewhat in the shade. Toyota also gets the win and the title with the Japanese Ocean Cyclone suplex. Great match ****1/2

Next was the All Pacific Title, defended here by Bison Kimura against Toshiyo Yamada. This was put in a pretty bad spot as it had to follow the great Inoue-Toyota match but before the Nakano-Kong main event. Bison wrestles a pretty stiff style and isn't as flexible in her style as Yamada is. So we got a very stiff style with lots of really hard kicks and chops that just make you pleased that your not the one taking them. The crowd wasn't as loud as you would think even for the finish but I think that's mainly down to the fact they couldn't follow the Manami Toyota match. Still very enjoyable though ***1/2

Main event time for the WWWA World Title, and it's a battle of the monsters as Bull Nakano defends against Aja Kong. This match had been built up for a quite a while and most fans expected that they would see a title change. Lots of stiff strike and kicks as you'd expect but with the occasional big highspot thrown in. Aja did a plancha while Bull did the always impressive rolling guillotine legdrop and a couple of moonsaults. They also did double juice which is pretty rare in All Japan Women, as blood was something rarely employed although everyone remembers Akira Hokuto being covered in blood against Shinobu Kandori at Dreamslam I. This was a very good example of setting up the match and using very good psychology to build up to the conclusion. To a somewhat surprise it was Bull that was the winner after hitting Aja with a moonsault. Although Aja would get her revenge later in the year at Dream Rush. Excellent main event ****1/2

As a big Joshi fan in the 1990's I would say that this was a very strong event but there were a lot of excellent AJW and JWP events throughout the early and mid 1990's. Should it have been the 1992 Card of the Year? I would say it is definitely worthy of consideration but not a lock to win.

If you are interested in watching other quality Joshi shows, I would recommend the following shows all from 1992, it really was a great year to be a AJW fan.

AJW Korakuen Super Charge 4/1/1992: Manami Toyota vs. Toshiyo Yamada (40 minutes), Kyoko Inoue vs. Akira Hokuto

AJW Grand Prix Part 1 21/6/1992: Manami Toyota vs. Toshiyo Yamada (close to *****), Bison Kimura vs. Aja Kong

AJW Midsummer Typhoon 15/8/1992: Manami Toyota vs. Toshiyo Yamada (The famous haircut match), Bull Nakano & Aja Kong vs. Akira Hokuto & Toshiyo Yamada

AJW Dream Rush 26/11/1992: Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada vs. Mayumi Ozaki & Dynamite Kansai (2/3 falls and the first of the legendary trilogy), Bull Nakano vs. Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue vs. Akira Hokuto