The most obsessively devoted professional wrestling aficionados following the Sport of Kings today tend to consume and dissect every facet of as many past and present promotions, styles and performers as humanly possible to an almost quantum degree of refined appreciation. To borrow from legendary manager Paul Ellering, you don’t need to split atoms in order to see why these rabid students of the squared circle’s lineage regard the WWE Network’s seemingly incalculable hours of archival video alongside the wheel, mastery of fire, antibiotics and the AKI engine powering the Nintendo 64’s “WWF No Mercy” alongside humankind’s most enduringly appreciable achievements.
Everyone else, on the other hand? Let’s all be reasonable. What virginally naive new initiate to our world of colossal, cartoonish, sweat-soaked gladiators with loins girded in spandex possesses the time or wherewithal to blindly scroll through such a mountain of media in search of something to validate a love affair with this absurd carny extravaganza?
That’s where I come in. I’m Sean Comer. You’re not. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my personal compendium of short-and-sweet curated playlists conceived as organized signposts denoting must-see landmarks across an intercontinental library of unforgettable moments in dramatized grappling. Welcome to 8-Match Tag.
Why only eight, you ask? Brevity is the soul of wit. The way I see it, a tidy octagonal centerpiece of matches or segments nails a bullseye in which a playlist should reasonably be able to say all it needs about a given subject before descending into monotony or unnecessary diversions from the heart of its message. After all, why do you think the 8-track tape was once the benchmark for any traveling audio experience? At their best, those musical plastic bricks delivered only the cream of an artist’s crop in a perfectly portioned dose that ran its course before the sonic flavor could wear out its welcome.
So it is with these easily digestible meals culled entirely from the WWE Network collection. I have nothing whatsoever against WWE’s own thoughtful anthologies, but some of those retrospectives include 20 or more clips. Even I typically can ill afford that kind of undivided time investment, and I work from home. Whether you crave your own nostalgic foray into one certain zone of interest or need a conservative beginner’s primer for a viewer fresh off the boat, each considerately sized sampler is piping-hot killer and no filler.
For my first such offering of recommendations, let’s salute an enduringly thrilling annual WWE tradition returning Sunday night to Philadelphia as the jumping-off point for the road to WrestleMania 34. The WWE Royal Rumble’s titular signature match is equal parts grueling, unpredictable gauntlet and every-man-for-himself marathon battle royal, a wild contest with varying pivotal WWE Championship implications dating back to the 1989 edition. Incredibly, the climactic clash’s propensity for shaping the course of the next Showcase of the Immortals has occasionally been overshadowed by at least one unexpectedly unforgettable showdown on the undercard. If you need a sampler platter of in-ring storytelling prior to this weekend’s endurance trial of an event, fill out your watchlist with these eight Royal Rumble show-stealers instead of listening to Booker T make “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s tenure as a color commentator seem like a “Best of Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan” highlight reel. I promise you won’t regret it, because each and every one stands memorably alongside top attraction itself.
One caveat, kiddies: I did my best to commend each performer only once for the sake of variety. However, I also added the matches tempting me to throw that rule out the highest window possible to a second volume ready and waiting for next year’s Royal Rumble. For the sake of argument, I categorized headlining championship matches as existing amid the “undercard,” simply because the Royal Rumble match is and always will be the undeniable focal point of the card.
Let’s rock. In no particular order…
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1991
THE ROCKERS vs. THE ORIENT EXPRESS
You didn’t need a nuanced, meandering story to manufacture a restaurant-quality match involving these two firecracker duos. Just place all four men in the same ring.
Before reuniting as the second iteration of the Orient Express when Paul Diamond replaced Akio Sato by the side of Pat Tanaka in the World Wrestling Federation, the pair previously known as Badd Company captured their only American Wrestling Alliance World Tag Team Championship from Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty in 1988 shortly before the Midnight Rockers would drop the first half of their name and jump ship to the WWF. Tanaka would meet Michaels and Jannetty again at WrestleMania VI alongside Sato in 1990 to produce a forgettable little encounter, but this match is a 20-minute slice of nimble maneuvers, a smoothly paced story formula and effortless rhythm. The 1991 Royal Rumble match was nothing to overlook in itself, but this is the reason I can always come back to my first Royal Rumble as a reminder of the wrestling styles that captivated me from the beginning.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2014
DANIEL BRYAN vs. BRAY WYATT
Most fans will remember this Royal Rumble as the first of two consecutive editions in which fans tore WWE a new one for failing to punch Daniel Bryan’s ticket to headline WrestleMania. In 2014, the now-retired (for now) submission artist had spent his finest hours of the previous year waging war on Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and the rest of the Authority in pursuit of the WWE Championship stolen from him by Randy Orton at SummerSlam. At one point, his despair seemingly compelled him to accept the overtures of Bray Wyatt to end vicious weekly attacks by joining his creepy swamp cult, the Wyatt Family. Before long, Bryan would pull a fast one on Wyatt by laying in his own beatdown inside a steel cage after shucking the Wyatt Family’s signature coveralls and leading the live audience in a thunderous “Yes!” chant.
Hence, it was decided that Wyatt and Bryan would collide at the Royal Rumble in an opening match every man, woman and child in the audience was convinced was but a prelude to Bryan entering and winning the Royal Rumble match later that night.
It wasn’t. Bryan didn’t win. He never even entered the match. Instead, he and Wyatt tore the house down and relieved themselves on the ashes in a brutal brawl that would have felt right at home on a vintage card booked by such realism-worshipping minds as “Cowboy” Bill Watts, Jim Crockett Sr. or Jim Cornette anywhere from 20 to 30 years prior. Not only did this match once more declare that there wasn’t much Bryan couldn’t accomplish between the ropes, but it merits consideration as proof that Wyatt may one day go down as a can’t-miss performer handcuffed at every turn by horrendous booking and some simply abysmal luck.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2007
LAST MAN STANDING WWE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
JOHN CENA © vs. UMAGA w/ ARMANDO ALEJANDRO ESTRADA
You will never convince me this match had any right being as outstanding as it was.
Triple H has previously claimed that he told privately John Cena during the buildup to their WrestleMania 22 main event the previous year that the anointed new face of WWE “sucked” and had a lot to learn as headlining champion. Watch this all-in donnybrook, and tell me Cena didn’t take that criticism to heart.
The late Eddie Fatu broke out as a singles competitor in WWE immediately after the aforementioned WrestleMania with an initially laughable, stereotypical “island savage” gimmick. With patience, a capable mouthpiece in stylish loudmouth Armando Alejandro Estrada and stubbornly protective booking, he grew into his role as a monstrous hard-hitting heel to the point of earning a feud with Cena for the WWE Championship. Even more impressively, their interactions convincingly painted the Samoan Bulldozer as a physical force capable of demolishing the unbreakable former Doctor of Thuganomics.
To punctuate their months-long war, the two met in a combustible Last Man Standing match which yanked Cena from months of formulaic main-event performances and allowed them to cut loose in a plunder-filled riot of a match. Pay no resentment to Cena’s inevitable win. Umaga lost absolutely no credibility in defeat. Rather, he took a full measure of the champion and forced him into deep waters and newly desperate measures to retain his title. Cena might have won, but he knew he had survived a fight like no other presented to him up until that point.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1992
WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
THE MOUNTIE © w/ JIMMY HART vs. “ROWDY” RODDY PIPER
The late, one-of-a-kind “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was well past his last days as a full-time WWE performer. As this short-but-sweet gem demonstrated, it would be a drastic mistake to declare he was necessarily also past his prime.
Quite the opposite. Hot Rod and the Mountie told an astoundingly entertaining back-and-forth tale in just under 10 minutes and delivered the legendary Piper’s first and only singles championship victory in the company where he became an icon and impactfully shaped an entire formative era in the 1980s with Jimmy Snuka, Hulk Hogan, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Paul Orndorff and even Mr. T.
Former tag team division mainstay Jacques Rougeau had returned fairly recently to the WWF as the Mountie in 1991, a cartoonishly conniving Canadian lawman who had transitioned from an amusing feud with the Big Boss Man to chasing the Intercontinental Championship won at SummerSlam that year by Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Days before this tilt, the Mountie had shockingly won the belt from Hart at an untelevised live event after Hart apparently entered the match with a reported 140-degree fever – a twist Rougeau would later bitterly dismiss as Hart’s concocted way of refusing to cleanly drop the title to him. President Jack Tunney would then insist the Mountie defend his shiny new strap against Piper at the Royal Rumble.
For some of the questionable opinions painting him as an obnoxious pain in the ass backstage, Rougeau merits consideration alongside Mark Calaway (the Undertaker), Matt Borne (the evil take on Doink the Clown) and Mike Rotunda (wrestling accountant) among astute wrestlers who could also spin an initially moronic gimmick into solid gold. Throw in “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart prattling away at ringside for added heat. Finally, let Piper display a timeless gift for keeping the crowd in the palm of his hand with infectious energy and always-entertaining charm. The resulting match never really lets up and swings just enough times between the two before going home. Need a few minutes between half-hour masterpieces? Look no further.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1995
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BRET “THE HITMAN” HART © vs. DIESEL
Timing rarely treated Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s individual championship reigns entirely kindly. His first Intercontinental Championship run unceremoniously concluded with an asterisk-bearing loss to the Mountie during negotiations for a new contract. After regaining the title, the epic Wembley Stadium duel with brother-in-law “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith was complicated when the coke-addled Bulldog completely forgot the structure of their match minutes into it and had to be guided through it by Hart, one spot at a time. His initial WWF Championship abruptly terminated with a surprisingly decent WrestleMania IX main event in which he dropped the belt to Yokozuna, Hulk Hogan immediately coming out and squashing Yoko in under a minute and the Immortal Orange Goblin then allegedly reneging on a promise to lose the title to Hart.
Huh. I feel like I’m missing an ugly ending to a championship push somewhere. Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll come to me.
When the Royal Rumble rolled around in 199, Hart was a three-time WWF Champion after winning the title from Diesel in a fantastic match at Survivor Series months earlier. Sadly, Hart’s workhorse run of title defenses was constantly overshadowed by the WWF’s full-throttle babyface push elevating the inimitable Heartbreak Kid toward an inspiring eventual WrestleMania XIV collision with him. With that in mind, you could be forgiven for allowing this tense, down-to-earth stiff struggle to be overshadowed by Michaels winning his second Royal Rumble. Nevertheless, these two never shared a poor match, and this particular highlight stands up appreciably next to their earlier encounter. Say what you will about Kevin Nash being comically injury-prone far from a dazzling mastermind of creativity. When sufficiently motivated, his intimidating presence, sharp psychology that never receives its due appreciation and varying shades of charisma could more than make up for a conspicuous lack of triple-jump moonsaults or unorthodox submission holds.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2016
LAST MAN STANDING WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
DEAN AMBROSE © vs. KEVIN OWENS
Whatever your opinion of Dean Ambrose’s more cartoonish shenanigans as a watered-down blend of Terry Funk and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin circa 1996, his wild ride as Intercontinental Champion defending his title against a still-sadistic Kevin Owens doesn’t need great exposition behind it. This is professional wrestling storytelling at its simplest and best:
CHALLENGER: “I want a belt.”
CHAMPION: “I have a belt.”
CHALLENGER: “I want your belt. Give it to me.”
CHAMPION: “You can’t have my belt. It is mine.”
CHALLENGER: “Give me your belt.”
CHAMPION: “Fight me for it.”
What is goddamn difficult to understand about why that works?
Combine two notoriously violent individuals. Let hatred rise to a rolling boil over medium-high heat until a one-fall-to-a-finish match hasn’t a hope in Hell of settling anything conclusively. Realize that no traditional ring will contain their loathing for each other. Accept that the surest means of stemming the tide of violence involves allowing them to simply beat the piss out of themselves until one man cannot reach his feet before a count of 10. There isn’t an era in professional wrestling history when Ambrose and Owens wouldn’t be two walking, talking sacks of money. At their best, both can make a match feel as “real” as any street-corner or barroom throwdown. Zod Almighty, can you imagine these two working under Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler in Memphis? The Von Erichs in Texas? “Cowboy” Bill Watts?
This particular bout absolutely levels one perpetual bullshit claim among wrestling fans who view the Attitude Era as an apex of creativity: with the right commitment, anybody can elevate even a barn-burning melee with no holds barred without blood or outlandishly graphic content. Anyone who cannot manage that should never set foot inside a wrestling ring. Is the match a car-wreck? Yes, in the best possible way. Could you show it to a 12-year-old without a moment’s hesitation after the obligatory “do not ever try this at home” warning? Certainly. Will it prove just as entertaining to a 35-year-old fan who began watching wrestling just after WrestleMania VII, witnessed the entirety of the Monday Night Wars and still contributes to three fan sites today?
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2003
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
KURT ANGLE © vs. CHRIS BENOIT
Stop. Right now, stop what you’re typing. I realize future editions will force me to repeat this disclaimer, but I’m getting this out of the way right now in hopes you will all prove me wrong.
Nothing anybody has said or ever will say could begin to condone or explain the late Chris Benoit’s actions. He murdered his wife and child. He then hanged himself. Only three people will ever know exactly what happened in those final hours or days, and they are all dead. I refuse to discuss that tragedy here or in any other space dedicated to this column any further than this: few performers in more than a century have exhibited Benoit’s uncanny talent, conditioning or obsession with being the finest professional wrestler on Earth. That is a matter entirely apart from his collapse into such unthinkable acts as the ones that concluded his life. My appreciation for his body of work remains untainted and reserved in a context with which I am unquestioningly comfortable. That is how I always have and will continue to filter my perceptions. If that is enough of a deal-breaker that you won’t resist centering your remarks on your bones of contention with my views, then while I respect your entitlement to your opinion, I strongly recommend you do us both a favor and partake in another commentary.
That being said…
In the nearly two years after his return from career-altering neck surgery, Benoit scraped and rip and tore his way toward WWE Championship contention. When he renewed his fierce rivalry with WWE Champion Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2003, he was a man with plenty to prove. An untainted world championship had eluded the 18-year length and breadth of his career, from his beginnings in Calgary Stampede Wrestling through his storied tenures in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling and finally his 1999 arrival in the World Wrestling Federation. Meanwhile, Kurt Angle remained the WWE’s closest equivalent to Benoit’s technical brilliance every step of the way, including a three-way classic including Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 2000 and a one-on-one masterpiece at WrestleMania X7.
I would not waste a moment of regret showing this masterclass in straightforward psychology to anyone curious as to what keeps me coming back to a form of entertainment. For these two men, victory meant something else on an equal plain with a championship. This was a proving ground for two men who lived to pour every iota of blood, sweat and tears their bodies could produce onto a canvas for only one reason: to be nothing less than the undisputed best wrestler on the planet. Leading into the match, Benoit held two victories in as many months over Angle. Before that, Angle had gotten the better of Benoit more than once. This match steadily ratchets up the urgency and culminates in five minutes of deft mat wrestling every student of the game today should strive to one day equal. Even Michael Cole and Tazz were in undeniably rare form on commentary. Assuming you share my filter for reflecting on Benoit as a person and performer, you may find yourself sharing in the stunned Boston crowd’s unforgettable standing ovation.
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2000
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP STREET FIGHT
TRIPLE H © vs. CACTUS JACK
I knew when I began this list that I would end it here.
Yes, Triple H backdropping Cactus Jack through the top of the cage during their blood-drenched Hell in a Cell encounter at No Way Out the next month might find its way into more WWE retrospective packages. However, anybody who tells you this all-out mutual assault isn’t objectively superior may not have even seen it. The two years between 1999 and 2001 should be remembered for all time as the summit of Triple H’s career in terms of match quality. For all the valid criticism levied The Game’s way since the early 1990s, every classic and classically terrible match in wrestling history has involved at least two people. During this stretch, he simply didn’t seem physically capable of delivering a patently “bad” match, whether paired with Tazz, Big Show, Jeff Hardy or The Rock. Meanwhile, Mick Foley was entering the twilight of his own full-time career and looking to…”retire.” First, he wanted one last taste of the WWF Championship and to claim it at the expense of a mortal enemy who had plagued him for years. Both men demonstrated a willingness to brutalize, maim and cripple anyone in their path. However, there was only one WWF Championship.
Mankind would not be depraved enough to inflict the necessary violence. This was no country for Dude Love. Mick Foley himself could not go to the places needed to exact vengeance on the Cerebral Assassin.
On this night, Mrs. Foley’s baby boy chose the nuclear option. He unearthed Cactus Jack.
The psychopath who left blood on multiple continents. He left an ear in Munich. Explosions and barbed wire broke his body in Japan. The parts that came home, the Undertaker nearly obliterated by flinging him first off of and then through a massive roofed cage – after which, he rose to his feet with a smile.
This 30-minute bloodbath is a gore aficionado’s dream come true, but it also happens to be a well-structured narrative of both men’s stakes. Triple H wants Mick Foley out of his life, once and for all. Cactus Jack wants to be the misfit king one last time. Evidently, Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler simply don’t want either man to be carted away on a stretcher. Nothing that year’s 30-man Royal Rumble roster could have done had a fair fight to eclipse this. It isn’t the blood, the props or the violence alone that sets this match apart. It was simply the place where a feud encompassing the most compelling wrestling of the Attitude Era reached its apex. No Royal Rumble marathon is complete without this one.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for coming along on this first journey through the annals of the WWE Network archive. If you have a future list you would like to see, let me know by following me on Twitter @ComerCodex or sound off in the comments below.
I’m Sean. You’re not. Until next time, never dull your colors for someone else’s canvas.
Cook: Don’t Bet Against Greatness
It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.
It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.
It would take at least a thousand columns like this one to explain the biggest mistakes we pundits make. I use the phrase “we” because I’ll never sit here and tell you I’m infallible. I make more mistakes than I care to remember. Today, we’ll talk about one that I’m guilty of pretty often.
Too often, we don’t give greatness the benefit of the doubt.
We jump to quick conclusions when the greats of a genre do things that don’t seem in character, or are different from what we’re used to. We don’t consider the idea that maybe these people, who have already accomplished many things in life, might actually have a better idea what they can do to improve their future than we do.
Hard to believe, I know. This past weekend saw great success for two of the most successful people in the world of sports & entertainment. They serve as perfect examples of my hypothesis.
Example 1: Tom Brady
For years, I have resisted the idea of calling Tom Brady the Greatest Quarterback of All Time. I never like crowning current stars the greatest of anything, as it disrespects the people that came before them. Unless they just accomplish so damn much that it’d be silly to deny them the honor. Sometimes, people get GOAT status that don’t really deserve it. They seem to be on pace to get there, but never make the jump.
Tom Brady made that jump a long time ago. There isn’t really a metric people can use to sell him short at this point. He’s at or near the top of every significant passing category in league history. There’s also the number of Super Bowls won, and number of rings/titles/championships always wins any sports argument, regardless of the sport. It can’t really be denied at this point.
The one thread people had to hang on to? Bill Belichick. The Patriot Way. Brady & Belichick formed a dynasty together. The other players & assistant coaches always changed, but Tom & Bill were always there. Which provided a bit of drama over the past few years whenever we needed something to talk about. Who was responsible for the success? The answer was obviously a little bit of both, but it was always a big debate.
Brady went to Tampa, and some folks thought it might not work. Many talking heads went on about how Tom was just going to Tampa because he wanted out of the cold weather. He just wanted to have fun for the last couple years of his career. They didn’t think that he could do these things and also win championships.
He’s one game away from doing just that. Are you going to bet against him? I’m not!
Example 2: Vince McMahon
How many articles have you read questioning McMahon’s mental acumen? Especially over the past several years as he’s advanced in age? It seems like everybody has dismissed the old man as a fossil that needs to step aside and let the kids run things.
We think we have evidence for this theory from WWE television. I’ll admit it, Raw most weeks is thoroughly unwatchable. You may disagree, but I’m the one typing this thing up. SmackDown is a little bit better, but Raw’s ineptitude overshadows it for the most part. Then there’s NXT, which most people seem to agree goes downhill the more that Vince pays attention to it.
A good percentage of the Internet wishes that Vince would step aside and not be all over everything.
This places us on the opposite side of most investors, who don’t watch the shows religiously, if at all, and don’t get inside knowledge from the dirt sheets & message boards. What they know is that Vince McMahon is the most successful promoter in wrestling history, and that he knows how to make a lot of money. Which, most would argue, is a lot more important than the quality of the shows one produces.
McMahon has shown an ability to make the right business moves at the right time. 1984 was the right time to go national and wipe out the territories, cable television expanding wrestling program reach made it only a matter of time. Vince was the first one to jump.
The late 1990s when the company was at a mainstream acceptance high was the right time to go public. You didn’t see him trying it in the early 1990s when he was fighting off various scandals and the company was at a mainstream acceptance low. Once people forgot about the steroid & sex stuff and saw how popular the Superstars of the time were, it was time to buy in.
Streaming was the wave of the future when WWE Network started becoming a thing. It was the culmination of nearly thirty years of Vince McMahon collecting nearly every bit of wrestling footage he could. He wanted to own wrestling & create his own history, then he wanted to get everybody else’s history too. He got most of it. There’s stuff sitting in the WWE archives that still hasn’t seen the light of day, and maybe it never will. Everybody and their brother has some kind of streaming service now. WWE was there before most, and now they got the chance to cash in from a media company trying to bolster their own streaming service.
Now, McMahon’s business record isn’t perfect. We know about the WBF & the XFL (twice). We remember how WWE wasn’t the original name. The early 90s scandals have been mentioned. And as major UFC and boxing events have shown, Vince was too quick to give up on pay per view. Left some money on the table there.
Every businessman makes mistakes. Its how they recover from those mistakes that matters. McMahon always comes out of his smelling like roses. There’s never really a long-term negative effect afterward. Vince got Dwayne Johnson to buy the XFL. His attempt to compete in bodybuilding led to no hard feelings. We all eventually got used to saying & writing “WWE”.
All those things we get mad at about Vince? They don’t keep most of us from watching his programming. Which is why WWE is so valuable to media companies. WWE has an audience that it can’t scare away, no matter what it does. People will follow them from USA to Fox to Spike TV to the WWE Network, whatever’s got some of that sweet content.
So the next time somebody wants to tell you that Old Man Vince is out of touch and doesn’t get it anymore…ask that person the last time they deposited a billion dollar check. If it was sometime in the last week, then they might have a point.
I might not be in love with most of the wrestling Vince McMahon produces these days. Are you going to bet against him making money off of it? I’m not!
Do not bet against greatness. More often than not, you will lose.
Andrew’s Top 5 Matches: Week Ending 1/24/2021
Well even on a quiet-ish week, all of the bigger NA companies get a version of representation and even AJPW found their way into the Top 5! Let’s see what we’re working with!
Well now, we didn’t have much that really stood out on North American television, but we did get a few additions from All Japan Pro Wrestling!
Last week’s voting was pretty cut and dry, NXT UK: NXT UK Championship: Walter (c) vs A-Kid, managed to control the voting narrative. Now we get this week, and it’s definitely a little more interesting.
Which match will get the most support? Let’s find out!
Quick Top 5:
- AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino
Rating: **** 1/4
- AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)
Rating: *** 3/4
- WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles
Rating: *** 3/4
- IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)
Rating: *** 1/2
- NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher
Rating: *** 1/2
- NXT UK: Dave Mastiff vs Rampage Brown
Rating: *** 1/4
- NXT: Imperium vs Lucha House Party
- WWE Raw: Asuka vs Alexa Bliss
- AEW Dynamite: MJericho vs Sammy Hager vs Santana & Ortiz
- NXT: KUSHIDA & Leon Ruff VS The Way
4t. NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher
The ref checks on Thatcher but Thatcher grabs at Ciampa over the ref’s back! Ciampa uses the leverage for WILLOW’S BELL!! But Ciampa can’t win off a cover, he wants to know if that knocked Thatcher out! The ref starts a count, Thatcher is still conscious but he has to get up before 10! The count is 5, then 6! Thatcher uses the cage and drags himself up at 9.9! But Ciampa CLOBBERS him, underhooks, but Thatcher spins out to throw EuroUppers! Ciampa forearms, they’re brawling back and forth with fury! The fans are fired up as Ciampa CHOPS but Thatcher tackles him into steel!
Ciampa throws elbows, has a facelock, and he RAMS Thatcher into steel! FAIRYTALE ENDING!! And then a SLEEPER HOLD!! Ciampa wants Thatcher to pass out, but Thatcher fights up! And scoops Ciampa to RAM him into the steel! Thatcher gets Ciampa in a sleeper hold of his own, but Ciampa uses the corner to go up! Thatcher shoves Ciampa into the corner! Thatcher CLUBS Ciampa over and over and over, then has the leg trapped in the girder! HANGING STRETCH MUFFLER!! Ciampa shouts in pain, he TAPS! THATCHER WINS!!
Winner: Thatcher Hanging Stretch Muffler
4t. IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)
Fast paced as expected, but early on we see Tony Khan and Jerry Lynn walk out to sit at ringside and watch the match. Storm didn’t slow down too much, which is surprising since aside from his brief stint back in Impact at the end of 2020, we saw him tagging with Eli Drake in much slower, less workrate dependent matches.
Private Party were their usual high flying, fun having, break dance inspired flourishes to some offense we’ve seen for years. Beer Guns had a cool tandem move with Sabin Sunset Flipping from outside in, Quen rolled right into the Backstabber from James Storm. Lots of signature spam, a few dives, highlighted by a nice Fosbury Flop from Quen.
Sabin looked to be setting up for the finish, when Jerry Lynn hops the familiar guardrail, grabs Sabin’s foot while Matt Hardy distracted the ref; and Private Party hit Gin & Juice for the heel tactic upset! Interestingly, Private Party still comes off as great babyface kids who are being swindled by scummy adults. So they aren’t playing heel, but everyone around them is doing it for them.
Winner: Private Party via Gin & Juice
2t. WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles
Ricochet is frustrated but Omos is relieved as Styles survives. Ricochet fireman’s carries but Styles fights out. Ricochet mule kicks a leg then back flips into the DEAD LIFT GERMAN! Bridging cover, TWO! Ricochet grows further frustrated but he watches Styles stand. Ricochet runs out from the corner but Styles dodges. Styles runs in, Ricochet elbows back, QUEBRADA into a LARIAT! Styles gets Ricochet up, SNAP BRAIN BUSTER!! Cover, TWO!! Styles fireman’s carries Ricochet for USHIGOROSHI! Cover, TWO! Omos says it’s alright but Styles is still surprised Ricochet survives!
Styles goes to a corner, goes to the apron, and takes aim. Styles springboards, but Ricochet hits the RECOIL!! Both men are down, Ricochet crawls to the cover, TWO!! Styles survives and Ricochet is beside himself! Ricochet goes to the corner, climbs up top, but Styles trips him up! Ricochet lands hard on his stomach and flops to the apron! Omos coaches Styles as Ricochet drags himself up. Styles goes to the corner, brings Styles up, but Ricochet hotshots! Ricochet aims, slingshots, but into Styles’ suplex, that rebounds off the ropes! Into the STYLES CLASH!!! Cover, Styles wins!
Winner: AJ Styles via Styles Clash
2t. AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)
Iwamoto has finally started to blossom as the Ace of the current Junior Division. Fuminori Abe on the other hand, is a freelancer who can do anything and everything. This should be a great test for the Junior Ace, since Abe can hit you from every conceivable angle.
There’s a brief period of feeling out we saw the versatility of Abe. He delved into a little bit of his comedic side with the long set up on a Penalty Kick to the back, but he also snapped off some great Frankensteiners and high spots. He also worked over the upper body well to try and go for his signature Octopus Hold, but Iwamoto was able to get the rope break.
Iwamoto’s saving grace was his Judo background. A few Dropkicks to get distance and just catching Abe with multiple Judo Throws, set up beautifully for the Koko no Geijutsu, because it is also a fast snapping Judo Throw, but he uses the ropes for the added momentum to make it a finish.
Smooth as butter, and only rated under a 4 because of how fast the match was. If it had a longer build or another back and forth, this could’ve been epic. But it was still a damn great match.
After the match Cima challenged via video.
Winner: Koji Iwamoto via Koko no Geijutsu
1. AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino
Suwama’s hand picked opponent because of their similarities. Ashino being the former ace of Wrestle-1, a disciple of Keiji Mutoh and an accomplish amateur style wrestler; this all rings true with Suwama. So we get part two of the Mutoh’s favorite son challenge!
This match did have a few of the same issues as their first one, since a slower mat based style doesn’t resonate well with no crowd or a muted crowd. Suwama did keep up with Ashino for the most part, and the match had many similar elements as the first match. Ashino worked over the Ankle and went for the Ankle Lock; where Suwama showed he could counter most of it and apply his own submissions.
Smartly, Ashino did his best to avoid the Last Ride Powerbomb, which is how he lost his first challenge, and force Suwama to dig deeper. Ashino was explosive with German Suplexes, but he fell into the SANADA trap. Ashino drags Suwama to position him from the corner, even commentary is confused since Ashino is no high flier, but Ashino goes for the Mutoh Moonsault, and hits nothing!
After the miss it felt like Ashino was looking for something he didn’t have to take down Suwama. Suwama did have to pull off numerous Backdrop Drivers and finally the Backdrop Suplex Hold to retain the title. A very solid defense that built off the previous matchup, and would’ve been much better if the mat wrestling didn’t feel like it dragged because of the world situation.
Kohei Sato comes out after to challenge.
Winner: Suwama via Backdrop Suplex Hold
Now I’m really intrigued at how this vote will shake out. A few matches from the lesser view AJPW, a match from Raw, a crossover with AEW & Impact and a gimmick match from NXT.
My vote personally will go to Private Party vs Beer Guns, because this is the first interaction that really does feel interesting for the invasion/war/crossover/takeover whatever story. Great use of former Impact talent, great screwjob and ideally should lead to bigger things. Plus it’s nice to see a younger/undercard team like Private Party getting their star elevated a bit.
Do I think any of these matches touch the first week of the year? No, not at all. But they weren’t stinkers, so let’s make the month interesting before Royal Rumble!
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