Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
Dragon/Excalibur/Disco Machine vs. Mr. Excitement/Rising Son/TARO, 3/22/02
Oooh, this is the much-ballyhooed main event from the March 22nd RevPro comeback show, which I missed for the opportunity to have dinner at this ridiculously expensive restaurant in Orange County. Something is seriously awry when the night will either be high-class dining or watching indy wrestling in Pomona. The Lamb was excellent, and so is the wrestling, over five months after the fact.
The reviews of this match tended to focus on the fantastic job turned in by Mr. Excitement, who came in as quite possibly the least praised of these six. Given the benefit of almost six months of later developments, this match plays out like almost thirty-seven minutes of establishing Excitement, and laying the tracks for a feud between him and Super Dragon that's been furthered in tiny little spurts ever since. He's easily the standout of his side, and he certainly hangs with Dragon in their segments; it's harder to say that he surpassed him, though, since the bulk of the layout of the match seems to be in the hands of the future Team Chismo. Still, Excitement is just so locked in here; it's not so much that he's showing potential as he is maximizing it, to a greater extent than anyone in the ring.
Which brings us to the setup of the match. Looking in terms of building up Excitement into the class of the others, it's brilliant. He works the opening moments of the match against Disco Machine, generally considered the weakest link of Team Chismo, and is generally disregarded during the "Let's Beat the Shit out of TARO" and "Let's beat the shit out of Rising Son's leg" segments, almost as afterthought. The point would have been made with everyone in attendance even if his roll stopped after pinning Excalibur, leaving him vs. Dragon for the finish. But it doesn't, as Excitement ends up taking the pin, not off a fluke roll-up, but emphatically, with three Backdrop Drivers in a row. Call it overkill, call it making absolutely sure (because, after all, this is Indy Wrestling, where anything is possible and anyone can kick out of anything possible), but it serves well as a "This thing is over, thanks for coming out, tell your friends" kind of moment.
Running with the layout theme, all the praise I heard from this match said such and such about this being a World-Class Spotfest or a half-hour of nonstop action. I didn't get that vibe. There's tons and tons of stuff going on, and it's closer to MPro jamboree than old-school slow-build affair, but consider that the Psycho Driver is almost entirely absent from the match, showing only in a lucha-modeled sequence where all the faces simultaneously reverse finisher attempts from all the heels. (This spot also plays into the Getting Excitement over aspect, as the last escape is him striking his way out of a Disco nodawa attempt, with the other four men having tumbled outside, leaving him to be the last man standing tall in the ring. Oooh, foreshadowing.) There's a lot of signature moves, and a whole lot of kickouts that strain credibility, to be sure, but this avoids turning into "Well, the primary finisher didn't work, so let's do it Off the Top Rope/Through a Table/More on the Head", except perhaps for the very end. Instead, there's a conscious attempt at focused work throughout, particularly the Chismo assault on Rising Son's leg. The heels hold up their end, but Son's selling is erratic at best on offense. He does one nice spot where he goes for a move and instead collapses in knee pain, but it gets erased soon after, most notably when he chooses to break a pinfall attempt by jumping from the apron to the inside. It's easier and a thousand times more effective at selling the damage not to jump, but there you go. Still, props for stopping a Super Dragon dive via the 714. (Like the 619, except, you know, it started in Orange County and all.)
This is a great match, albeit one with flaws. The pacing is remarkable, especially given the fact that such an epic match is usually built to via weeks of buildup, both in terms of the angle and in terms of the conditioning of the wrestlers. Still, there's some odd spots, notably a Nitro Crusierweight Dive-a-Thon fifteen minutes in that diminishes the leg work done minutes before. But talking about work is boring, so enough of that. This match is less concerned with being technically spotless than trying to tell its story while keeping the crowd into it. It succeeds on both accounts; for all the subtext of Wrestler A feuding with Wrestler B and what it means that B pins A or whatever, appeasing the two dozen Rev Pro loyalists, those who turned months of devoted following into rarely-updated webpage review content, it also works on an immediate level, for the horde of underage in the crowd. Excitement just turns it all the way on and has the type of match that makes stars, and the fans in Pomona get behind it. It helps that Dragon works with remarkable confidence, playing the cocky heel all the way. It's very much a "This is My Yard" kinda show, except without plodding and motorcycles, and he actually ends up cleanly putting over the opposition. When he works in a comfortable surrounding, with familiar wrestlers, Super Dragon is just a monster. There's no worries about whether the crowd will like a certain bit, or if the match needs to be changed on the fly to adapt to a problem with one worker. You can't pull off a bit like the sequence where Dragon fakes a knee injury, only to set up in a position to give Excalibur a springboard to hit a Shining Wizard on Excitement, and reveal the injury was faked all along, unless you're in an environment that instantly responds to Dragon clutching his knee with total seriousness. The benefits of a loyal fanbase and a chronic knee problem, I guess. Anyhow, Dragon shines here, seemingly able to focus on nothing else but staying in the moment.
It's not in the league of the Tag Match from the second EPIC show, but it's better than any other RevPro match I've seen this year by far. It comes in with a goal, works in a smart and usually tightly focused manner, given the context within a cavalcade of high-impact moves, and comes up aces. Go find a copy and see it. (36:42)
Briscoe (w/Mark Briscoe) v. Spanky
This is from the 3.30.02 Ring of Honor show. It's also the first time that I've seen Spanky, outside of a few TWA matches that are tough to judge since he's just breaking into the business. But I hear good things about him, so I'm looking forward to this. As for the Briscoes? Eh. They're both hit or miss in my book, though Jay is certainly the better of the two. I do believe that our own Chris Lening has a review of this show, so let's see if our opinions differ, why don't we?
ROH is all about respect, apparently, so we open with a handshake. Lockup and Jay shoves Spanky into the corner. He doesn't break quickly enough, so Spanky shoves him. So much for respect. They circle and this time it's Spanky who backs Briscoe into the corner. They trade shoves and Spanky grabs a side headlock. Jay tries to shoot him into the ropes, but Spanky hangs on. For some reason, the crowd pops for this. Philly fans sure are odd at times. Anyway, Briscoe counters into a rear waistlock. Spanky reverses, but Jay transitions into an armbar. Spanky repeatedly tries to roll through, but Jay stays in control, cranking on the arm. They trade forearms and Spanky finally manages a reversal. Jay quickly rolls through and counters with an overly elaborate Regal-esque reversal. It works when Regal does it, because you know that he's carny through and through. Jay Briscoe? Umm…no. He rolls Spanky up and gets two.
Knucklelock leads to a go behind by Jay. Spanky grabs his arm and scores with an armdrag. Jay quickly rolls on top and locks him in a Dragon sleeper. Spanky manages to get to his feet, escaping with a snapmare. Jay comes right back, slapping Spanky in a hammerlock. Whip by Spanky. They dosey do and Jay takes him over with a suplex. He follows up with a second and gets two. Three times proves not to be a charm, as Spanky slips away. He drops down for a monkey flip, but Jay stops short and pulls him up. He whips him into the ropes, but Spanky holds on to stop his momentum. Briscoe charges and Spanky tries to backdrop him over the top. But oops, the blow the spot and Jay lands *on* the top rope. He drives a shoulder into Spanky's gut and slingshots into the ring, rolling him up with an Oklahoma roll for two.
Spanky tries to escape into the corner, but Jay charges, running into a boot. Spanky goes up top, but gets tripped up. Jay goes for a superplex, but Spanky drops him into a flapjack, sending him crashing face first into the mat. That looked pretty nasty. Spanky follows up with a springboard knee to the back of the neck and gets a nearfall. He whips Briscoe into the ropes and catches him with a flying back elbow, Tracey Smothers style. Jay comes back, fighting out of a front facelock and nailing Spanky with a few chops. He sets up for a suplex, but Spanky shoves him to the mat hard. Seated dropkick to the face gets two. Corino is doing a great job on commentary, getting over how arrogant Spanky is, but how, at the same time, he can be serious when he has to. Spanky scores with a floatover suplex for another two count. Nice. More people should use that move. No one will do it like Barry Windham in his prime, though.
At any rate, Jay starts firing back, but Spanky cuts him off with a Russian Legsweep. Cover gets two. Like Briscoe, he also reaches into his carny bag o' tricks, pulling out a cravat. Jay backs him into the corner with a series of punches. Spanky cuts him off, though, reapplying the cravat and coming off the second rope with a modified Stunner. Nifty! He makes the cover, but Briscoe is out at two. Spanky sets up for Sliced Bread #2 (Or Marufuji's Shiranui, to those only versed in the puro.), but Jay shoves him HARD into the corner. Spanky's head bounces off of the post. Briscoe takes him over with a German suplex, but can only get two. Spanky is busted open.
He lunges out of the corner, looking for a clothesline. Jay ducks it and starts chopping away at him. He backdrops him, but Spanky pops right back up. Jay connects with a back elbow, putting Spanky down once again. He whips him into the ropes and dropkicks him. Sitout gourdbuster gets two. He levels Spanky with a shortarm clothesline and the camera shows a close-up of Spanky, who is just gushing blood. Corino really gets over the psychology of working while being busted open. Of course, who would be able to explain it better than him? Jay picks Spanky up for a powerbomb, but he rolls through and hit's a leg lariat. Jay stumbles into the corner. Spanky charges, connecting with Sayama's running moonsault kick. Jay no-sells it, though, killing Spanky with a Yakuza kick.
He sits Spanky on the top rope, looking for a Fisherman's Buster. Spanky shoves him away, but Jay climbs right back up and goes for a 'rana. Spanky pushes him onto the apron and drives him to the floor with a stiff forearm. He does a double springboard (so much for the blood loss having any affect on Spanky's performance), leaping onto Briscoe with a really sloppy looking crossbody or axehandle sort of thing. He rolls him in and goes up top. He comes off with a splash, but Jay gets his knees up.
He plants Spanky with an unnecessarily nasty powerbomb, only getting two. This is the sort of thing that I'd buy as a finisher. But as "just another move," it's quickly irritating. He argues with the ref as the crowd starts chanting for Spanky. Jay sets up for the J-Driller (Basically a Tiger Driver '91), but Spanky counters into the Sliced Bread #2 setup. Jay lifts him for a backdrop suplex, but Jay rolls through. He drills Jay with Sliced Bread #2 and gets the win!
This was decent, but nothing special really. I'll need to see more of Spanky before I decide if he's worth the wunderkind status that people seem to have bestowed upon him. He looked good. Really good, even. But I'm not totally convinced as of yet. I don't know what else to say about this one. It didn't really capture my attention like I was hoping. I am starting to actively dislike the Briscoes, though. They seem to have the same syndrome that a lot of young workers have. They've seen the AJPW tapes 1000 times. They know all the moves, but they're not paying attention to WHEN and WHY guys like Misawa and Kobashi are using them. I like a nice head drop as much as the next wrestling geek. But seeing it over and over (and over and over) just ruins any impact that it could potentially have.
Hansen/Rob Van Dam vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi 2/22/93
Dedicated to Hoyakillah, the man who pimps this site more than anyone who actually writes here (outside of NATE). BTM: We're Here For The FANS, maaaaaaaaan. I also hear he scored higher than Chris Lening on his SATs, which means he scored WAY higher than me.
Any serious discussion of wrestling eventually turns into a discussion of form. It's just the way it goes - wrestling is an inherently formulaic art, and it's the job of the critic to pretty much just point out where and how it deviates. This isn't a bad thing - it's never a bad thing to have conventions, as I'm sure anyone who's ever seen a movie from 1930s Hollywood can tell you. An effective formula is basically just a cheat sheet for the crowd (to let them know when they should start really zeroing in on the performances et al) and the wrestlers - it's there to HELP.
And as evidence, I present this tag match, an actual dyed-in-the-wool, no-two-ways-around-it good match featuring the shemale-looking-and-wrestling-like-est man in the history of recorded time in 1993's Rob Van Dam. But you know what? It really, really works, because they find a formula to shoehorn him into and they don't let his most retarded tendencies in the ring budge them in the slightest.
The story for this match - as it is with so many other matches, especially from around this era when the Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi trinity was still solidifying their roles as Important Wrestlers - is your average totem-pole story; both Kawada and Kobashi are obviously more accomplished in wrestling than RVD, but since Hansen's even moreso than either of them, it mostly evens out. What's interesting about this formula is that it segments the match, a DANGEROUS DANGEROUS DANGEROUS thing, as anyone who's ever watched a Kawada/Taue tag match prior to Taue becoming an unlikely God of Work will tell you. Here, though, that trap is avoided - the RVD who showed up here certainly isn't a good wrestler, but he's nowhere near boring either. Watching him in the ring with two of the greatest wrestlers of the last decade makes for a match that compensates for its technical flaws by being simply perverse.
It's SO perverse, in fact, that I can't think of a single other match to compare it to. All that's left...is JOURNEY.
I will totally admit to being a complete tard for Journey. They suck, but they suck endearingly, and if you're willing to admit that they suck and pay attention, it dawns on you that they don't really suck at all. There is no other concentrated unit of entertainment in the world that provides such a level of unholy entertainment (short perhaps of The Mask of Dimitrios, the only movie ever to STAR Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, let alone have Peter Lorre as the HERO) that can really compare to what I get out of this match. And although you could make a case for a dozen of their songs, I tend to go back to "Don't Stop Believing" when I need an example of what makes them great - it's just arena-rock, but it's done so well and so bald-facedly that if you don't crack a smile when you're making a big show about how stupid the song is to your Philistene friends, you're missing the forest for the trees, and you're more anhedonic than ME.
With all that said, let's go to the TALE OF THE TAPE.
Given that both are essentially textbook examples of how to take something inherently stupid (this she-man in All Japan, this embarassingly earnest Tale of Alienation and Perseverence in the Big City in Journey) and make it Work, you'd think I have a hard time picking. You'd be wrong. The tag match is more adventurous; as far as innovation goes, the most interesting thing in "Don't Stop Believing" is the use of the piano. Outside of that, it's just your standard play-slightly-off-the-beat arena-rock ballad. The tag match, on the other hand, was endemic of the still-fresh Extended AJPW Finishing Sequence style; hence we get a lot of credible nearfalls and a LOT of stretching of Mr. Monday Night At The Man-Hole. Besides, the fundamental differences between the formulae give a clear advantage to the tag match: providing that it's not worked retardedly, the shift in the tone of the match whenever RVD and Hansen tag in and out makes it a lot more dynamic than the rising-tide structure of the Journey song (and while lord knows I love progression in music, c'mon, it's FUCKING ARENA ROCK, not King Unique). It's literally almost a blowout.
THE AESTHETIC VALUE
Same result, different rankings; I mean I love the tag match and everything but MAN is there some ugly in there. Most of it, of course, comes from Mr. Van Dam - it's certainly understandable, given that he really, really, really couldn't have been in the business for long at ALL at this point, but to just explain it away isn't fair either. He's mostly just a whole lot of hesitant, and that really really REALLY stands out when you're facing off with two guys who wrestle matches so naturally that you half-expect them to nonchalantly call and check and see how their portfolios are doing. Oddly enough, he seems to be most hesitant about doing the acrobatic stuff; the aforementioned Rolling Thunder looks preposterously contrived (as compared to just pretty goddamn contrived), and he seems REALLY afraid of taking big strikes, leading to Kenta taking a few DEEPLY sick chops and lariats to, in the immortal words of Chris Lening, say "Seriously, it's OK. Don't be a puss." (This tendency leads to something outrageously immortal later on in the match, but that's for later.)
In contrast, Journey sounds as sweet as Cheerwine. It would be too easy to break out the He Hate Super Dragon spot and say "B'dur, of course they click; they work together all the time", but that's a stupid fucking argument in the first place: good is good, no matter how many times you work with someone. And "Don't Stop Believing" is demonstrably more pleasing to the ear than, say, "Ask the Lonely"; the melody they use is good, catchy, and lends itself REALLY well to the progression of the song. I mean fuck, even the obligatory soft-lighting and earnest-grimace guitar solo doesn't sound too embarassing. Again, not even close; Journey in a walk.
Anyone who tells you performance equals aesthetics needs a punch in the mouth. Case in point: the tag match. I don't mean to belittle Steve Perry (who sings the HELL out the song) or more importantly Neil Fucking Schon's guitar work (is there a more overlooked guitarist in contemporary appreciation of arena rock? I doubt it), but when the rubber hits the road, nobody puts in a singular performance that MAKES the formula work - it's just a bunch of guys hitting their strides at roughly an equivalent level. Compare that, then, to Kenta Motherfucking Kobashi and Toshiaki MotherFUCKING Kawada, two guys who bust their asses to make a match with the greenest wrestler in the history of the color green really, really fun. The best part is that they're smart about it - instead of potatoing the fuck out of him, they treat him differently, as evidenced by Kawada stretching (smart work, considering that RVD's biggest asset in the match was his bendiness) and punting the FUCK out of Van Dam while Kobashi mostly uses strikes and fighting-spirit spots to keep his plucky kid role in full effect. And hell, I'm feeling charitable (and honest) - you gotta give RVD his due. I don't mean to imply that he went out there and wrestled One Of Those Matches or took One Of Those Beatings, but he was capable, he didn't try to stroke his Cock of Wrestling more than you'd think, and given that he was wrestling the best male wrestler on the planet and the second-best male wrestler on the planet during the arguable (for Kawada, anyway) best year of their careers, that's all he really needed to do.
You'll notice that I haven't said anything about Stan Hansen, and that's because he really doesn't do too much. He doesn't drag the match down or anything, and he certainly doesn't fuck anything perceptibly up, but he's the epitome of a guy who's there to play his part and pick up his paycheck. He's best compared to the work of drummer Steve Smith - you got your snare rolls, you got your wicked lariats, move on.
The relationship of intangibles to formula is an interesting one, since you can either divide them into being excellent examples of how to pull off a formula or excellent examples of how ridiculous formula can look sometimes. The problem with intangibles is that they tend to be hugely subjective. And by motherfucking GOD there's a ton here, which is why I can't play Journey very very loudly in public places like it motherfucking DESERVES TO BE HEARD. Hence, instead of making a decision, I'll just list the most striking ones from each and leave the question open-ended.
THE TAG MATCH
- RVD's appearance.
My ways of describing him are limited only by my reservoir of shemale
jokes, which as it turned out was much lower than I had anticipated.
"DON'T STOP BELIEVING"
- The opening
piano. I have faith that Jonathan Cain will never go hungry, because if
his greenback stack ever starts to look kinda slack, he can go to the
Silver Dollar in Reno and run "An Evening with Journey's Jonathan
Cain" and jump from a piano-only version of this to various torch
songs. And I will be there.
You make the call.
Speaking in strict terms of mathematics, the tag match takes it 2-1 (with one no-contest), but, to cop out big time, that's not really a valid proof. The truth is this: both the tag match and "Don't Stop Believing" are really freaking great examples of how form can make stuff hugely enjoyable if you're willing to break it down and look at the parts. It's also proof that proper appreciation of formula can lead to better shedding a light on what you like about wrestling, because GOD knows I pay more attention to AJPW tags after seeing this match than before.
But mostly, I like both the match and the song because they're proof to me that I can be as big a ponce about wrestling as I wanna be, and I can still enjoy it on a gut level. I just spent five e-trees worth of e-paper writing about what boils down to a stupid-ass match and a stupid-ass song, but right now I could jump in the car, careen around the empty freeways of Los Angeles bellowing every fucking word to "Don't Stop Believing", come home, run up the stairs, throw the tape with the match in the VCR, have a fucking blast watching every second that made it to TV, and go to sleep with a smile on my face. I've always held fast to the belief that the most interesting form of intellect is that most closely in tune with the gut reaction, and in a time when I'm starting to get miserably bored by wrestling, it's enormously comforting to know that because I'm not blind to formula, I can go around the park a few more times.
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