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Styles vs Okada

Review » Styles vs Okada at NJPW Dominion

Hey wrestling heads. I’ve been away a bit, focusing on getting more stuff on my fiction blog in order. Now I’ve got those ducks in a row, I hope to be posting here much more often. Let’s get it going.

Early in the American morning on that most American of days, an American was in Japan doing what Americans are most known for: being obnoxious and lording their greatness over everyone else. The man in question? AJ Styles, the reigning and defending IWGP Heavyweight Champion. As the holder of one of the (if not the definite) most prestigious championships in the world, Styles has a lot to brag about. This is his second run with the belt which proves to everyone who didn’t know that he’s not just a TV-boosted fluke, he is real as far as New Japan’s concerned and he’s looking ready to continue his dominance. He’s skilled in all manners of the game from mat wrestling to high flying, and he has one of the best counter weapons in the game, namely his Pele Kick. He has never expressed doubt about his ability to beat his opponent going into Dominion, a man he first got to know when the tables were turned as far as native and foreigner.

That man, the challenger, is none other than “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada. He cut his teeth in New Japan but then spent a long period in TNA, the American league which AJ Styles arguably built from the ground up. Unlike Styles, Okada went to TNA as an unknown and he left much the same, but on his return he was picked up by Gedo and refashioned, pushed into becoming the wrestling marvel he is today. Okada has had a long road back to this point after losing the title to Styles two years ago but he stands ready to reclaim what he feels is his. Where Styles is a king of all trades Okada is just a jack, but what puts Okada over the edge is his precision and fluidity, his absolute professional quality. His dropkick is perhaps the most feared in the sport for stopping power and versatility, and he’s used the tombstone piledriver to great effect as well. The question to be answered, of course, is will all that be enough to defeat “The Phenomenal One”?

NJPW Dominion • 5 July 2015
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
AJ Styles© vs Kazuchika Okada

From the word go we can see that not only are these two very confident competitors, they also know each other extremely well, a thread that runs throughout the match. They struggle for grappling advantage at the beginning before AJ, with the help of his Bullet Club buddies at ringside, manages to pull ahead. Okada stays competitive but it’s clear that AJ’s in full control of things. Things start to turn around when the referee Red Shoes (Hiroyoki Unno) finally gets fed up with the shenanigans and tells Bullet Club to “SUCK IT!”, which is Japanese for “You have to leave.” The change isn’t immediate as Styles immediately gets vicious in his frustration. However, a few choice dropkick counters — catching Styles coming off the top, then crotching him on the ropes and sending him to the floor — brought Okada right back into competitiveness. Both guys started to bring out their big guns, Styles landing a springboard 450 splash and Okada finally securing the tombstone piledriver, but both got near falls. Throughout the match Okada had been successful in defending against the dreaded Styles Clash, but now Styles went for it with gusto. A blistering sequence ensued as both men tried to score their finish while avoiding the other’s. Only after it seemed like every angle had been exhausted did Okada score a modified Rainmaker, and then another, earning his three count and the heavyweight title.

It is really difficult to overstate how good AJ Styles is. Throughout his career he’s managed to shine in whatever role given to him and in New Japan he seems to be relishing the chance to do what he perhaps wasn’t able to back stateside. Here in this match he was able to play the role of Bullet Club patriarch to its full, not only in how he reacted to the Biz Cliz but also in his handling of Okada. Of course, that relationship of veteran/youngster has been well established but, especially in matches of this magnitude with a star of Okada’s caliber, these aspects of the story can often get lost. Here it seemed very clear to me that AJ was the one working on wits and Okada was working on desperation and guts. Okada played his part perfectly, confident of course but always a half-step behind, always needing to invent a new trick in order to have one not in Styles’s bag.

The story arc was strong but, as per my usual drumbeat, I would have liked to see more of a sense of exploiting and working on weaknesses. Neither guy really made an effort to focus on an area that they’d hurt before or really seemed set on building up to a certain finish. The Styles Clash was definitely put over as the thing-you-avoid-at-all-costs (for good reason) but I never felt like Styles was doing anything really to try and get Okada weakened for it. Perhaps there’s some of this that would be sort of patched over if I could understand the commentary. I feel like if we’d had Styles gradually work on Okada’s leg, for example, it could have heightened the tension further; even if Okada is fairly good for most of the match, at the very end that weakness can flare up, making every little bit that Okada has to fight for that much more dangerous. However, as attrition matches go, this is certainly the way to execute it. Good work from everybody involved here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep running Styles/Okada on top.

Bottom Line: A great “new heavyweight” title match between two of the best going. Short on strategy but long on drama and extended on action.

Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks

Review » Banks vs Lynch at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

It is unusual to see a thriving women’s division under a WWE banner but on their triple-A league NXT you’ll find some of the best women wrestling today. Since the beginning the division has been hot, first of all ruled by Charlotte Flair and then, after a strong ascendancy, by “The Boss” Sasha Banks. More than any other title in NXT, the NXT Women’s Championship comes close to equalling the prestige of its main show cousin. At NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, that quality of competition was proven again when Banks met the challenge of Becky Lynch.

As I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to as long as it’s true), I haven’t really watched the show in a while and that includes NXT. I know they’ve been lighting it up, and I know Sasha Banks, but Lynch got going after I stopped following closely. I know she worked SHIMMER and comes from Ireland but that’s about it. Seeing her come out, appearance-wise she seems like a modern-age “punk rock chick,” thrown in elements of sci-fi dorkiness on top of the usual aggressive distortion-pedal vibe. Not sure of how she works from that but she looks confident, not rattled by how much the crowd loves the champion.

Sasha Banks I have seen before and I always thought she was good. This was maybe a year back. The word on the street these days is that she got great. Definitely she’s oozing overconfidence, to a level that’s almost overcompensating, though you’d never know it by the crowd reaction. She’s got an incredibly nasty presence, like you’d want to ask for an autograph but you’d be afraid she’d get her entourage to beat you up… or, given it’s Banks, just do it herself. How the NXT crowd doesn’t hate her is a bit crazy to me. On the other hand, what people pay to see is good wrestling. If you’re the person who delivers that week in and week out then maybe the crowd doesn’t care what you’re like.

parva on sashaprobably the best ever summary of sasha banks, courtesy of parv

NXT Women’s Championship Match
Sasha Banks© vs Becky Lynch

We start things off with a fierce lockup. Banks sends Lynch into the corner, but after an exchange Lynch hooks Banks into a pin. Banks showed plenty of ring intuition in the opening portion but Lynch seemed to have enough tricks to keep Banks guessing. Banks gets Lynch into the corner and takes a cheap shot. They fight their way to the apron and Banks finally turns things 180 degrees by snapping Lynch down into the apron onto her shoulder. Before this, Becky Lynch had done some arm work to help set up her seated armbar finish, but it was Sasha Banks who upped the ante on limbwork. An extended series of ground holds pretty nearly ruined Lynch’s arm. Against all odds, Lynch fought to her feet despite an armlock and lifted Banks overhead into a suplex. Lynch rallied, putting pressure onto Banks’s arm and even managing to lock the seated armbar in, only for Banks to get the ropes. Banks played a ref screen to distract Lynch and sent her out to the floor. Her dive only half-worked as Lynch caught her and sent her into the steps. Lynch gets Banks back in the ring, then tries for a top rope dive to finish it but it’s countered into the Bank Statement hold. Lynch can’t hold on and she taps out.

To me one of the hallmarks of NXT is really solid execution and this was right in that echelon. Both Banks and Lynch displayed good knowledge of escapes and counters, to the point that they were basically even on that score. Banks played up her evil side a hell of a lot and to great effect persona-wise. I liked that it played into her attack; the cheap shot which seems to just be out of spite is actually what sets up her comeback. Plus, she wasn’t fazed by the crowd loving her: she didn’t reject them but didn’t become a fan favorite, either. Strategically it was very basic — both tried to set up their finishing maneuvers, which were arm holds — but they worked the formula very well.

The major issue I have with the match is really in its solid-ness, though that sounds contradictory. Both women have their quirks — Banks tends to use more of a ground and speed moveset, while Lynch likes to hit and throw — but largely they work a very similar style: active, mobile, technical, with a good bit of artillery. Both of them simply want to wear down their opponent enough to win the match. No one’s trying for a massive offensive onslaught, no one’s trying to slow the match so far down that their opponent can’t build momentum. They were both looking for the same finish, it’s true, but why? Banks didn’t really try and disrupt what she had to know was Lynch’s target. It’s true she did get more offense on the arm, but really she was just the winning ram in a headbutting contest. Plus, if Banks had really worked the arm that badly, how could Lynch have hit that series of suplexes? As they always say, wrestling is a game of chess. You can have an exciting game between two masters but that doesn’t make them grandmasters. Skill does.

Bottom Line: A very fun limb-work match, great attitude from Banks and a great gutsy performance from Lynch. Not top level but these two can certainly get to a higher rung.

Alexander vs Okada

Review » Okada vs Alexander at ROH Global Wars

One year ago at the 2014 NJPW/ROH Global Wars shows, Cedric Alexander was booked to face Kazuchika Okada in what could have been his long-awaited breakout match. Instead, he was taken out by The Decade and had to sit out those shows. His biggest shot since he got into Ring of Honor, gone just like that. Just a couple weeks ago, New Japan returned to pit its best against Ring of Honor once again. This time, Alexander was healthy, Alexander was ready, and Alexander would get his chance to prove his mettle against the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, “The Rainmaker” Okada. That years’ delay definitely built up anticipation for this bout and, especially now, Cedric was craving a big win to break his rut.

Okato is the name I knew Okada under first, having watched him in TNA. Not extensively, of course; seeing how good he’s been and how dominant he’s been since returning to Japan, you might not guess that he was never higher than the bottom of the card on Impact. Style-wise, I respect Okada but he’s not my favorite. He reminds me a lot of Randy Orton: when you need a great match he will give you a great match, but his style is characterized more by perfection and fluidity than nuance or edge. Okada can do it all and do it well, versatile enough to face any opponent and skilled enough to conquer. Also he’s the first top guy I can remember who is still being touted for their great dropkick; usually the Maven curse keeps the great dropkickers down. Whatever Okada’s gonna do, he’s gonna make sure it’s optimum quality.

I’ve been a fan of Cedric Alexander since he got to Ring of Honor, but not without reservations. What he’s good at are your general indy rising star staples: speed, acrobatic dives, power strikes, hard drops. You can put him in a match with anyone and he’ll show you he belongs. The one thing he’s been missing is that big win, but obviously that seems to point to some deeper flaw in his game. The need for aggression sticks out, but that can’t be all of it. Matt Sydal is not really an aggressive soul but he still manages to get it done. Against a wrestler as effortlessly solid as Kazuchika Okada, the fact that Alexander wants the win isn’t going to be quite enough. He’ll have to bring a new level of game.

Challenge Match
Kazuchika Okada vs Cedric Alexander

The match kicks off with an armlock exchange that Alexander gets the better of, but Okada gets him to the ropes and a clean break. Next there’s an armdrag exchange that Okada wins but he backs off rather than exploit it. They go into a few more exchanges, jockeying for advantage. Alexander lays into Okada with the same striking style he’s been using all match – measured and powerful – but Okada weathers them all, then unleashes a blitz which gets him a two count. The next skirmish ends with Okada on the outside and Alexander hitting a dive. Okada starts to pull ahead with a rush that ends with a sliding European, then a top rope elbow drop. Cedric ducks the Rainmaker and scores a tornado DDT, then later blocks the tombstone to hit his Kick to Kill Part 2. Okada tries to even things up with a dropkick but Alexander ducks it, only to fall prey to it following another exchange. Okada spikes him with the tombstone piledriver, then hits the Rainmaker lariat and scores the three.

Wasn’t so much an arc in this match as a line, but an angled line at least. Cedric basically threw all his offense at Okada who absorbed it and knocked him back with more. He starts off hot but, as Okada takes the fight to him, he loses steam. Rather than the arc dipping and Cedric then getting a second wind to bring it up, he fights his hardest at the beginning and his later flurries have the air of desperation rather than re-energization. It made sense on that score but that’s not really an exciting trajectory. Rather than anyone getting extended offense, the match was constructed around a series of fairly even exchanges where one person would eke out the upper hand, then the other would, and back again. No one established any superiority on any metric so there was no tension. So while athletically and technically the match was sound, story-wise it fell short. Unfortunately there is a lot of this that can be hung on Alexander.

One thing that came clear to me in watching this is that Cedric Alexander hasn’t got any hurry-up in his offense. He can move fast, there’s no doubt about that. But he doesn’t capitalize, he doesn’t put things together. I’m not talking about the blitzes/rush attacks that we see these days (a specialty of Roderick Strong and Okada). I mean, for instance, how Okada used his dropkick to set up the tombstone and the tombstone to set up the Rainmaker. Whenever Cedric gets his opponent down and it doesn’t put them away he takes a second to be frustrated. If he hits them hard, he sort of watches to see what they’re going to do. He takes his time as if he’s a calculating technical wrestler but that isn’t how he presents in the ring at all. He has the air of a fiery, high-tempo, high-impact wrestler but his matches tend to feel very sluggish. For instance, with his chop series on Okada, he never seemed to get annoyed that his chops weren’t working, never tried to hit harder or faster or change the attack. He just patiently hit Okada again. Okada is not a huge guy. The fact that he didn’t go down should have prompted Cedric to change something up. But that’s the major element missing from his matches: urgency. He’s perfected that “oh fuck what do I do now?” face for sure. He hasn’t perfected expressing that feeling by doing something about it.

Bottom Line: This probably isn’t the match Alexander wanted it to be. It’s fine but nothing you need to go out of your way to see.

Sheamus vs Ziggler

Review » Sheamus vs Ziggler at WWE Payback

Not quite sure where I read it but it was brought up recently that in the wake of Daniel Bryan vacating the WWE Intercontinental Championship, loud in the chatter on who might succeed him are Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus. The Intercontinental belt has got a lot more attention from a lot better competition since the WWE World Heavyweight title unification. What we got to open WWE Payback wasn’t a title match, but don’t be surprised if it is one in the next few months.

When I started following wrestling closely again, I was weaned on Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling NOAH (I’m sure you’re surprised). In those fan scenes there’s a strong notion of paying dues when people come on the scene. If you don’t you sort of don’t deserve respect. Not a totally justified attitude coming from a fan, I get that, but it’s how it was. I’m saying all this to say that when Sheamus came onto the scene I resented him. Hotshotted to the top, I said. Who’d he ever beat? I think it took about a year and then he was one of my favorite guys on the roster. What’s important are the performances, not how long you’ve spent in the spotlight. I’m a huge fan of solid, hard-hitting heavyweight wrestling and that’s what Sheamus will deliver every night. From the get go Sheamus showed that he could battle the best and come out on top.

The complete opposite was Dolph Ziggler. Of course I liked it when guys from the indies made it up (CM Punk, Bryan), but as far as you could get a been-in-the-wars wrestler from the WWE system, Ziggler is it. Stuck it through the laughable Spirit Squad, got saddled with a ridiculous name, worked his ass off to convince people that he was the man and succeeded. On top of that his body is apparently made of rubber so everything he gets hit with looks devastating, and he’s one of the most agile and athletic wrestlers on the roster. Dolph Ziggler’s been in a lot of things I’ve enjoyed but no real classics, and perhaps that’s because he’s never had the stakes behind him. Every big match I can remember him in was mitigated somehow; his first Real World title win was immediately stripped, second came off of Money in the Bank and he never successfully defended it. I think he can get there but perhaps there’s an element that he needs to get onto before he hits that next level. Perhaps he just needs the rocket.

I haven’t watched too much of the show recently so I’m not sure how far back the issue between Sheamus and Ziggler goes, but there’s definite heat walking into this one. The clip they showed of Ziggler ekeing out a win in the Kiss Me Arse match, only to be double-crossed and humiliated by Sheamus, is really all the set-up you’ll need.

Challenge Match
Dolph Ziggler vs Sheamus

When you put Sheamus and Ziggler in the ring across from each other you know the basic story: the big bad bully’s going to try and squash the sneaky speedster. Dolph starts it off hot, though, trying to overwhelm Sheamus with offense. It doesn’t take long before Sheamus slows the pace right back down and we settle into a war of attrition. Sheamus’s wrenching headlock is a nice move, especially on someone who can be dragged around like Ziggler. Jerry Lawler suggests that Ziggler makes his fatal mistake later, but I think it was when he stops to make Sheamus kiss he arse. It’s not just that Sheamus gets crazy mad, it’s that Ziggler totally loses focus. He doesn’t try and hit Sheamus while he’s freaking out. He doesn’t do anything to capitalize. Dolph assumes at that point he’s got him beat. Sheamus then summons all his powers and hits Ziggler with a human blitzkrieg. Ziggler lands a desperate headbutt (King says the mistake’s here but Ziggler’s way done by this point) and a superkick for two. Sheamus just gets up — he just ∙ gets ∙ up — and levels Ziggler with a Brogue Kick to send him home.

Good athletic performances from both guys here and they definitely pulled out everything in their arsenals to rock their competition. However, like I said above, this was just attrition. When you strip away the differing movesets both guys had the exact same philosophy: keep on hitting him. Sheamus did a little bit of legwork early on but not enough to exploit or even really slow Ziggler down. For his part, Ziggler probably wasn’t going to have the leverage to worry a limb, but he didn’t try anything to keep Sheamus off-balance. There was no distancing, no especial dodges, no sense that he was working hard to Sheamus’s attack (like, if he knows the Brogue Kick is coming, maybe Ziggler still dodges the second one and Sheamus puts him down with something else). While the conflict between power and speed was there, it never really got built upon. Ultimately, from a strategic/tactical sense, Ziggler’s issue was that he tried to face a power guy with a frontal assault, which everything should tell you is a terrible idea. His hubris played a role and undid what might have ended up in a lucky win, but I think even without that Sheamus would have just battered him down. Should be telling that last month Ziggler just barely scratched out a win and even that got turned over.

Contrasting Dolph Ziggler against a guy like Daniel Bryan, a small guy who has achieved a lot, I think the sense of strategy is a key difference. Bryan won’t wrestle the same way against a guy who is three times his size as he would against a guy only twice his size. He’ll use his tools in order to break theirs down. I think that’s where his success as a performer comes from; he may be small but he doesn’t just fling himself wildly at his opponents. Ziggler wrestles Sheamus the exact same way he’d wrestle anyone else. He doesn’t adapt to the challenge as much as take it by the seat of his pants. That’ll give you a lot of great, gutsy performances, but it will never make you a top flight competitor. No one’s denying Ziggler’s athleticism, least of all me. However, to hit that next level I think Ziggler needs to figure out how a warrior like Sheamus can actually be defeated. As for Sheamus, I think he shows a lot of adaptability. If he needs to he can hit a high speed, but most of all, he constantly evolves his weaponry. I can’t lie that it’s a bit easier for a power wrestler who can usually count on having a strength advantage. That doesn’t mean Ziggler ought to slack in his thinking. Ziggler needs to show that he’s not just gutsy, he’s smart enough to overcome whatever he lacks in size.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a roller coaster, this will probably do you. However there’s no glue to hold it together and really make it strong.

Final Thought: Dolph Ziggler should give Mike Mondo a call. This is in no way a dig at Ziggler. Mondo’s legitimately one of the most inventive guys I’ve seen as far as changing his matches up.

Killer Elite Squad

Review » Killer Elite Squad vs War Machine (ROH TV 2-May)

I feel like this sort of match is one that we don’t get often enough these days: two powerhouse tag teams going toe to toe and just slugging it out. A lot of it is because we really don’t have that many power teams, and probably because there’s such a premium on flying. But if people are watching matches like this one I can see a lot more interest for power guys coming up.

War Machine, made up of Raymond Rowe and Hanson, took Ring of Honor by storm in the 2014 Top Prospect Tournament, where they met in the finals for an excellent match. Later on Michael Elgin brought them together as a team and they were well on their way to a strong spot when Rowe got sidelined by a major injury. Now they’re back on on the path one again, but Elgin’s turned on them and brought in the Killer Elite Squad to take them out. In Ring of Honor, War Machine enjoys a huge power advantage over pretty much every other team. The Killer Elite Squad are bigger than them and they’ve been champions a long time. When they walk to the ring they’re bringing two tag titles (NOAH’s GHC straps and the NWA straps) and they have all the pedigree they need to make sure no one messes with them without thinking real hard about it first.

I have a high opinion of War Machine’s work in ROH so far but I feel like this is their first real test. Hanson singly has had a lot of standout matches while Rowe was out, even rising to an ROH World title shot. Since they’ve been back they’ve mostly rolled over weak competition, working out ring rust. Plus, the fact that their opponents here have such a developed power game is going to make this much different than any test they’re likely to face from the regular roster. Killer Elite Squad are a team I’m sort of iffy on. I don’t really know why. Davey Boy Smith Jr I’ve liked since WWE but my opinion of him has definitely increased since he’s been working New Japan. Lance Archer, I definitely think Steve Corino’s telling the truth when he says Archer’s one of the most slept on talents out there. I’ve seen Archer in a lot of things I liked. I just can’t get into him. Don’t know why, it’s never really clicked for me. That said, he’s definitely good and his viciousness definitely puts the Killer in the KES name.

Tag Team Challenge Match
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer) vs War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe)

The best thing about this match was that War Machine was absolutely destroyed. Every single other time we’ve seen Hanson & Rowe they’re rolling right over their opponents. Now that War Machine is up against a team with at least as much power and a lot more experience, they are actually having trouble. Hanson, not Rowe, has been on a total tear through ROH in 2014. Yet here it’s Hanson, not Rowe, who is getting double-teamed, bodyslammed, tied up, and crushed by the Killer Elite Squad. Yet in all that War Machine never lose their steamroller attitude. They don’t become mewling wretches and they’re not gasping and pleading with the fans to help them. You see the KES pinning Hanson in the corner, hitting a series of attacks, and the vibe you’re getting is still “Once I can step out of this corner I’m gonna kick these motherfuckers’ heads in.”

Thought we had a very nice arc here with KES not taking War Machine seriously until War Machine had done some damage, then immediately turning the pressure on. The Killer Elites were brought in to take War Machine out and it seemed very much like that’s what they were intent on doing. Despite being a power team they are exceptionally crafty and did a lot of very effective rule bending. Hanson is actually really good at taking the heat despite being such a big hoss-type guy; was impressed by his tag selling at one point because he gets up looking at the far rope and then sells around rather than doing the regular dead fish crawling sell. I think when Rowe came back in and hit Archer he was supposed to take Archer down. The way Rowe fell back just makes me feel like it was unexpected. However, whatever way it was meant it helped sell the story better, and it didn’t slow Rowe down any. The finish made sense to me but I would have liked it better without having Elgin do the pull the ref spot. We’ve seen that spot a million times and it makes so little sense. In a title match I can see leeway but at some point shouldn’t Nigel be like “okay zero tolerance on this shit now stop fucking touching the ref.” Throwing the match out because it totally breaks down is legit, I would have bought that on its own.

I’m hoping that, given the no contest ending, we are going to get this match again on a pay-per-view. That’s something I’m all for. One criticism I have of War Machine is that they’re trying a bit too hard to be like the current teams ROH likes: Young Bucks, reDRagon, Forever Hooligans, etc. They want to get some cute poses together and do a lot of tag team moves and shit. For me, they should get on the model of teams like Bad Intentions and Killer Elite Squad. Get to be a fluid unit but don’t necessarily try and synchronize everything. Another match, or even a series, against KES could do a lot to help War Machine develop as a team.

Bottom Line: This is a totally savage heavyweight tag team match which is absolutely my style. I’d like to see this one again for sure.


Drew Galloway vs Low Ki

Match Review – Drew Galloway vs Low Ki, Impact (1 May)

Last night, Impact Wrestling aired it’s Hardcore Justice episode. The element of danger was present throughout the night. One match with the potential to be absolutely brutal pitted Drew Galloway against Low Ki, with a steel pipe suspended on a pole above the ring. Up until this point, Galloway’s The Rising and Low Ki’s Beat Down Clan have been trading shots and things have been getting extremely ugly. When Galloway made his debut for TNA, he used a steel pipe to clear the Beat Down Clan away from a beat down victim and in the process split Ki open. Now was Ki’s opportunity at revenge and, even better, a chance to put Galloway in his place.

Low Ki is a guy I have a bit of familiarity with but not near as much as your typical indy diehard. Mostly I think this is because I came onto the scene when Low Ki was in the wilderness, as it were, on bad terms with ROH and not working TNA, on and off in Japan for his most visibility. That said I’ve seen his stuff and always thought he was good, a vicious take-no-prisoners martial arts style. What I like about him is he takes the martial arts thing seriously, not simply as a bit of flash to add to his act. Drew Galloway is a guy that I feel like I’m waiting to be impressed by but it never happens. There are others, like Alberto Del Rio, who I think are great but haven’t put that into a classic that I’ve seen. Galloway, on the other hand, I feel is always just about to hit his next tier. Some guys have really reinvented after hitting the indies but I haven’t seen much of that from Galloway. That said, he’s always able to channel a lot of fire when needed and that’s always useful in a weapons match like this.

Steel Pipe on a Pole

Given their history it isn’t surprising that Low Ki started things off quickly. He found he’d bitten off more than he could chew when Galloway responded with strikes of his own and sent him over the top with a lariat. One of the main conflicts in this match revolveda round the size difference between Galloway and Low Ki but, perhaps because of time, it doesn’t get played with much more than the sort of attacks they use. Really, the match goes fairly back and forth, each guy escalating their assault, using a chair if the other guy just used one, and so on. The battle takes them from the floor back into the ring and they struggle over the pipe. Galloway gets it but Low Ki intercepts him and steals the pipe. Low Ki then tries to use it like a club (would have been nice to see something different with it given Ki’s style) but Galloway ducks, boots him, and hits the Futureshock DDT to get the pinfall.

An obvious problem here, from a slavering thrall of bloodlust’s point of view, is that they never actually use the steel pipe. In general I’m not bothered by not having weapon use, but in a match where the pipe is in the billing, I feel as though it should be decisive. Instead, it meant nothing. It didn’t even make Low Ki wary, which would be understandable given his history on the wrong end of it. But the bigger issue is really that they didn’t try to do much of anything. Drew Galloway came into the match with injured ribs but they never stopped Galloway short or gave Low Ki a real opportunity to get an advantage. The one time he does specifically attack the ribs as a counter doesn’t buy him any more time than if Galloway had been fine. There’s no sense that Low Ki is having trouble with Galloway’s strength or that Galloway can’t handle Low Ki’s speed or striking. It feels very much like a game of rock em sock em robots: you keep hitting until someone falls down finally.

Performance-wise, both guys were fine. I’ve seen better stuff from Low Ki so, not seeing him recently, I’d say this was more an off night from him. I think he could have given a little more to Drew in terms of selling but I don’t really feel that the match was built in such a way that it hurt things. Drew Galloway I feel needs to do a lot of studying. He wrestles basically the same as he did in WWE and the problem is that he did not have an eyecatching style there. TNA will stay behind him because he’s alright in the ring and he’s a former WWE Intercontinental Champion. However, just like TNA hasn’t really defined Ken Anderson or Jeff Hardy or Kurt Angle, it won’t do anything to increase Galloway’s stock. If Galloway’s intent on not being defined by his WWE career he’s going to need to start getting his game together.

An argument can be made that you can’t do a lot in seven minutes, which is about how long they ran (it’s possible that it was cut down for TV but I didn’t notice anything). However, I’d rather see a less cluttered match with more arc to take up that seven minutes than guys trying to cram 15-20 minutes worth of violence into half that time.

Bottom Line: This is a TV match. To some extent you lower your expectations for it. However, it was also the semi-main on a name episode of Impact. I mean, at least use the steel pipe.

Show vs. Reigns

Match Review – Reigns vs Show at Extreme Rules

Last night was WWE’s Extreme Rules, the catch-up show from WrestleMania. It was also probably the beginning of rebuilding Roman Reigns. I was last a semi-active watcher during The Shield‘s initial dominance of WWE and I’d always seen Reigns as the surefire breakout. Not to say he was my favorite — Dean Ambrose takes that title in a walk out of the three, and even though I’ve never been the biggest Tyler Black/Seth Rollins fan I knew him better than I knew Reigns — but I felt that he was the guy WWE was going to want to push. And I was right, as were a lot of people. It wasn’t hard to see. As they started to dismantle The Shield they were pushing Ambrose out of the main speaker role and giving it to Reigns, giving him the singles matches, trying to have him him end up with the lion’s share of the group’s popularity.

I wasn’t really watching for much of the post-breakup stuff. I followed results and news, though, and saw that real quickly Roman Reigns was not exactly turning out as the super-popular golden boy. Crowds were coming out against him and WWE was quickly playing the “fans can do whatever they want” card. He got locked into the main event at WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar, the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Walking into that title match against The Beast, he was not popular. This should have been the peak of WWE’s nurturing their new superstar, a main event title match at WrestleMania. But to me, WrestleMania did anything but crown Reigns, literally or metaphorically.

So what’s happening now? Reigns needs to get some wins back. He’s got to start looking like the powerhouse that he first got popular as. At Extreme Rules, he came up against The Big Show in an effort to get that back under way. As a talent I think Big Show is slept on a lot. He’s an extremely versatile wrestler and great opponent, especially to prove your toughness against. If Reigns could have good performance here it could do a lot to help him get his credibility back.

That does rely heavily on your idea of what good is. As a tough guy, it certainly hits all the beats. Still, I felt the match was rather artless. I’m not sure that the blame can be placed entirely on Show and Reigns, except that they were in the ring. WWE likes to construct their matches around a series of big spots, which makes them feel very mechanical. As a last man standing match, what we got was a lot of set-up and hanging around, two WWE favorites.

Last Man Standing

I think what we’d expect to see here is the big man/little man interplay between Show and Reigns. They do use it a bit, mostly in that it’s very difficult for Reigns to take Show off his feet. At the same time, Reigns takes Show over the top with a clothesline about a minute in. He gets Show up for Samoan drop, hits a couple other slams, and basically shows he’s strong enough to deal with the giant. There’s a lot of Show proving that he’s the World’s Largest Athlete but not a whole lot of outright dominance from him. At best, he is standing groggy while Reigns is down, but it’s basically the same effect. Every time Show gets a hit in, Reigns will have an answer for him shortly. It’s a see-saw effect which makes it look very even but also means that no tension gets built. Since we’re pretty sure Reigns is going to come back with something soon, why would we be worried that he might be at the end of his rope?

The fact that Reigns is shown to be pretty near on Show’s level power-wise doesn’t leave a lot of other avenues for the match to go in its storyarc. Usually there would be a lot given into just how the size difference is being made up but there’s none of that here. That means that even the little bit of strategy that you’d usually see in a Big Show match — the little guy doing his damndest to get out of Show’s way — is thrown out the window. What’s left is a pretty flat match as far as its trajectory. We get a build-up of spots — from table teases to chairshots to table busting — but it never really feels like anybody is winning because nobody secures anything but a temporary advantage.

A last man standing match seems to bring up the image of a wild brawl, but the art of wrestling is to keep a strong sense of flow through the chaos. Strategies and tactics you can see do a lot to help that flow become realized. If Roman Reigns, say, is trying to take out The Big Show’s knees, we all have a focus: can Reigns do it, how will Show defend against it, will it be successful? If The Big Show feels that Reigns’s spear is his biggest weapon, why not try always to be behind Reigns, or to be so close that he can’t get the spear done? The most we got toward any sort of strategy in this match was Reigns attempting to use tables and chairs. This doesn’t really amount to a strategy, especially as it never seemed clear to me what he was bringing the tables out to do except to use them on Show. I mean, that might seem reductive, but “hurt your opponent” is so broad that I don’t think it really counts as a strategy in pro wrestling. If Reigns really could never lift Show and was trying to rely on the tables for extra impact, continually setting them up in the corners, that would make sense. That’s not how they played it.

Both guys did pretty well acting the thing out. Roman had some good facials, thinking particularly of when Show rolled out to the floor. They hit their spots and everything looked pretty good. I think Show is too big to do the spear if I’m honest — I feel like it looks best when it’s a big missile flying at you, like Goldberg or Rhyno; Show is like a truck rolling over you — but I’m guessing that was more as a way to fuck with Reigns. I just wasn’t feeling the flow of the match. After 30 seconds of guys hitting each other I get the idea, I then want to see them invest their time into trying to win a wrestling match. But, as is usual with WWE, the match’s action masks how little meat there is to keep you drawn in.

Bottom Line: If you like people being put through tables and smashing a bunch of stuff up, this’ll be your jam. There’s nothing deeper than that going on here.