In what turned out to be a very close vote last week, our all Japanese All Star Top 5, finally cleared up when the dust settled. The Top 3 matches had people split most of the week, but Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada @ New Beginning: Osaka, came out the same way I listed it last week, on top.
That being said, this was one of those in between weeks. No major events, but surprisingly the quality of the matches are comparable to PPV level. Let’s take a look at what made the cut.
5. NXT: UK Championship Match: Pete Dunne (c) vs Roderick Strong
Now some may be surprised this is only fifth, but it didn’t flow as well as the other matches on this list, the crowd seemed unconscious and the lack of real storyline heat, took away from this match a little.
That being said, neither of these guys put on a “bad” match, so this was nearly a given to make the cut. We saw both men get in most of their stuff. Pete Dunne took a page out of Marty Scurll’s book and worked Strong’s hand to make it harder for him to do many of his moves. So thanks to the injury and Dunne’s brawler style, Strong couldn’t keep up and Dunne retained.
A couple sequences seemed a little stalled, but all in all this match was solid. Odd that it kicked off the NXT episode, but it’s also apt that it kicks off this list.
Rating: *** 1/2 (Gold III)
4. Raw: Roman Reigns vs Sheamus
This one I had to rewatch since I got distracted mid match(phone calls suck), but at the behest of our beloved Commissioner PC Tunney, I gave it the good ole college try.
A solid hard hitting brawl between two guys with some history from years back, and the tag match the previous week. Cesaro’s interference was minimal, and it was a good showing for Sheamus. Given the fact he’s been in the tag division for the past year, it’s always interesting to see how they’ll present the pieces in singles combat.
Lots of big moves, a superman punch to counter a Brogue Kick (which looked nice) and commentary saying Sheamus tried a Frankensteiner just as a way for Roman to do his sit out powerbomb. Great match that ends with Roman going over, but again he puts on a damn solid match. Those pitch forks are gonna have to aim at someone else soon, cause Roman is progressing much faster than Cena did.
Rating: *** 1/2 (Gold III)
3. Smackdown Live: Dolph Ziggler vs Sami Zayn
Well alright, the premise for setting this match up was convoluted…but we got a damn good match out of it.
We all know Zayn and Ziggler can go in the ring, but this was an odd combination of two men who are often overlooked and “buried”, who put on a clinic. Even though the outcome of both impromptu matches was so obvious Helen Keller could see it, this one was fun. Ziggler hit most of his signature moves, and the finish with him countering the Helluva Kick with a Super Kick, was nicely timed and the crowd seemed to appreciate it all.
I doubt this will play into any kind of long push for Ziggler, but I’m just glad we got a match worth watching on Smackdown.
Rating: *** 3/4 (Gold I)
Impact: X Division Championship Match: Taiji Ishimori (c) vs El Hijo de Fantasma
Rating: *** (Gold V)
NWA: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Nick Aldis (c) vs James Ellsworth
Rating: ** (Silver V)
2. 205 Live: Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese
Well…damn, just damn.
This was the first match this week that surprised me a lot. Tony Nese hasn’t really been lighting it up and Drew Gulak is just the Power Point creating, perfect speller of the ‘Zo Train. So sufficed to say, I forgot these two could wrestle.
Nese held his own and performed some impressive moves, but Gulak was the star. He tapped into some dark technical monster side of his character. He was grinning while getting hit, I really thought Minoru Suzuki possessed him at some point. Also, the fact that he grabbed and posed with the vacant title was such a beautiful heel move.
Evil Gulak may have just became my favorite wrestler on the 205 roster.
Rating: **** (Platinum V)
1. Impact: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Austin Aries (c) vs Eli Drake
Now even though this is week 3 of the new Cyrus regime, it’s been hard to see much of a difference. Yes I know they need to tie up the existing stories, but the in-ring product has still been mediocre at best, until now.
During a previous installment I think I mentioned how Eli Drake’s moveset has been ever expanding, and this match held true to that. Eli is more of a brawler, and Aries is a high flying technical specimen. However, Eli kept up wonderfully and this match was back and forth for the most part.
Eli would counter and catch Aries mid move, and Aries would get frustrated at Eli’s resiliency. Chris Adonis proved mostly useless, except to take a Suicide Dive, so that’s probably the path to why he leaves Impact (when things are officially on Twitter it’s basically general knowledge). The match did a great job at protecting the Gravy Train since Eli never hit it, and Aries was visibly frustrated at many points.
So even though Aries retained, Drake should’ve cemented himself as a main event player to management. He pulled off a top rope moonsault and jumped to the top turnbuckle and suplexed Aries down, in one fell swoop. These aren’t part of a usual Eli Drake match, so it should be fun to see what other tricks he has up his sleeve.
Rating: **** 1/4 (Platinum IV)
This vote is actually hard for me. Now I’m a big fan of Eli Drake, and he worked his ass off, but Drew Gulak really showed a new side and captured my attention. Argh…okay, since I have to pick, I will vote for, Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese. Not easy for me, but Evil Gulak could be something special.
So vote, scream, cry, dance, ridicule me, whatever you want to do. Interact on Facebook and Twitter, or yell at me personally at, email@example.com. Until next week.
Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.
It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!
5. Samoa Joe
A gentle reminder that Samoa Joe is one of the greatest talkers in the game pic.twitter.com/p4TZeZIAV7
— Kenny Majid – A Kenny For Your Thoughts Podcast (@akfytwrestling) April 15, 2021
I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.
In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!
4. Kris Statlander
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) April 15, 2021
AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.
Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.
Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.
Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.
3. Tay Conti
Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.
Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.
This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.
2. Bianca Belair
We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.
You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.
Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.
Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.
1. Darby Allin
Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.
The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.
What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.
NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…
It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong?
It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong?
6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”
5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.
4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.
3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.
2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical.
1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old.
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