Well I felt like I was dying most of this week, so I missed a bunch of stuff, since I was trying to sleep off the death. So this week is a more straight forward Top 5, from easily found products. But before the new list, we need to reveal the winning match from last week. In yet another 1 vote win, Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay @ NJPW 46th Anniversary, scraped by.
So there we have it, another close vote, and now we’ve got a new week. Let’s get to that already, shall we?
5. NOAH Great Voyage 2018 in Yokohama GHC Heavyweight Championship: Kenoh (c) vs Takashi Sugiura
There was a lot of threads that went into this story. Sugiura is less than a year removed from open heart surgery, he was tag team partners with Kenoh up until a month ago, and if he wins, he becomes the only man to hold the belt more than 3 times.
This match had every bit the feel of a grudge match. The strikes were stiff, the submission trades looked like they had emphasis and each man seemed to take a few extra chances. A big double footstomp to the outside from Kenoh, as well as, Sugiura pulling up the padding and hitting an draping neckscrew from the apron.
Sugiura’s amateur wrestling and MMA background ended up being the difference in this match. His striking and submission ability trumped Kenoh’s kicks. Takashi wins his record 4th title reign, via guillotine choke.
So they are supposed to be partners in the upcoming Global Tag League…so that should be interesting how it plays out.
Rating: *** 1/2
4. 205 Live: Roderick Strong vs Cedric Alexander
205 Live has done very well for itself in recreating the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic.
We see two fan favorites, come out on fire, and it doesn’t slow down too much. So much went on in this match, it’s not fair to highlight only a few things, but I will say it was nice to seem them both kick out of the first finisher. Granted the pin was super close to the ropes for both men, so it was an obvious spot, but the match was still entertaining, hard hitting and the winner definitely earned it.
Speaking of winner, Cedric pulled off the win, after his second Lumbar Check. After this match, I personally feel like only Gulak can match up with Alexander. Since we’ve already seen Alexander beat Ali in his recent rise to number one contender and now basically being the “anointed heir” for the belt. But, we haven’t seen Alexander face Gulak in his old, malicious, mat technician mentality, during these last few months.
Rating: *** 3/4
3. NJPW New Japan Cup Semi-Finals Day 2: Zack Sabre Jr vs SANADA
Sabre has been on a tear in this tournament. He’s had easily the hardest schedule ( Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and now SANADA), and he’s looked fantastic in all of them.
This was an odd match for SANADA, since not only was he working from underneath a lot, Sabre had counters for SANADA’s technical moves. The beginning of the match was both men matching the other one, or finding different escapes, but slowly Sabre started working over some limbs, and SANADA’s desperation crept back up.
SANADA went for a moonsault when he really shouldn’t have, and that’s when the match slowly started slipping away. Unable to really regain momentum, or get Sabre to submit, in his one chance at the Skull End, Sabre twisted him up and made it impossible for him to move to the ropes. So SANADA verbally submits, and Sabre moves to the finals.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2018 (3/18) is now available on NJPW World! @seiyasanada takes on @zacksabrejr to see who moves on to the finals! Who will tap out, and who earn #NJCUP glory! Watch now▶︎https://t.co/Tj7UBINesh#NJCUP #NJPWWorld pic.twitter.com/1oSgx2HjgH
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) March 19, 2018
As I mentioned in my last blurb about a ZSJ match, TAKA has become his Gedo. TAKA playing hype man before and after matches is beautiful. I feel like Sabre should win the Cup just so TAKA and Gedo can have a “hype man off”.
Raw: Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins
Rating: *** 1/4
2. NOAH Great Voyage 2018 in Yokohama GHC Jr Heavyweight Championship: Daisuke Harada (c) vs HAYATA
Two stablemates, going at each other like they hated each other. The familiarity between the two was evident, and made for a great match.
Starting off before the bell, HAYATA hits a big cannonball as Harada is walking down the ramp, and proceeds to beat on him before rolling him into the ring. At this point the referee calls for the bell and only seems concerned with taking the belt off the prone champion. It really reminded me of looting a dead body, because once the ref took the belt off, he was like ‘okay, continue killing him’.
As soon as Harada got a little momentum back, this match was very typical back and forth Junior match. However, the last 5 or so minutes really sold this match. The pace quickened to lightning speed and we saw numerous move combinations, counters, roll ups, attempts and wow, it didn’t stop until the pinfall.
What makes this special is how each man sold the move they were attempting, before the mid air counter. There were numerous times HAYATA would change what looks like a basic high flying move and kick Harada in the face. So even though Harada picked up the win after back to back German Suplex Holds, HAYATA looked amazingly impressive. HAYATA’s biggest highlight being a missed moonsault, into a standing shooting star press, into a middle turnbuckle corkscrew senton.
HAYATA is so fluid I want to call him Shape of Water. It is to be noted, that all of the Ratel stable posed together after the match. So there seems to be no bad blood.
Rating: **** 1/4
1. NJPW New Japan Cup Semi-Finals Day 1: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Juice Robinson
Tanahashi finding success in the New Japan Cup for the first time in a few years, and Juice reaching the semi-finals, in only his second appearance in the tournament, are the obvious notes to this match. Juice and Tanahashi have a lot of history as well, from being on the same teams and Tanahashi mentoring Juice when he was younger. So the way both men approached this match was different, and helped the story exponentially.
We saw a more aggressive Tanahashi, which has been the way his character is trending last couple years. Unwilling to shake hands, and more willing to hold submissions beyond the referee’s count, Tanahashi was playing more of the heel role.
The story and actual wrestling was fantastic throughout the match. Each man got in all of their stuff, and even took a page out of the other one’s book at a few different points. A spot in the match that proves the “Former Ace’s” desperation to win, is while in the corner and getting admonished by Red Shoes, Tanahashi stops, slowly walk Red Shoes away from the corner and shushes him; only to return to laying the boots to Juice in the corner.
Little things like that, all through the match made this very special. Juice had plenty of times where he had a believable pin attempt, and at the end of the match, Tana and Juice showed respect. Juice even went as far as to get Tanahashi’s air guitar for him, but had a Young Lion throw it in, since he was too injured after the match.
Tanahashi vs Zack Sabre Jr will be a fantastic finals, and if last year proves anything, both finalists position themselves towards chances for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. So win or lose, we should see Okada vs Tanahashi 1 more time, very soon.
Rating: **** 1/2
Well now I know I said I didn’t go out of my way, but that’s also because NOAH has been my second favorite promotion in Japan for years, so if it’s available to find, I don’t see it as an issue. That being said, neither of the NOAH matches get my vote, even though I was happy with the quality of the entire show.
My vote for match of the week is, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Juice Robinson, there was just too much too like about this match. Well wrestled, good story, happy ending for the crowd, overall exactly what a wrestling match should be.
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Will Samoa Joe Finally Headline WWE WrestleMania?
David Levin takes a look at the Samoa Joe roadmap to WWE success, asking if he can finally get his WWE WrestleMania spotlight.
It wasn’t a typical Samoa Joe night Tuesday night. But it was a night many of us expect from the WWE superstar on the way to WrestleMania 35. The former NXT Champion brutalized Mustafa Ali in a match that best described how the man on a mission wants to finally reach the pinnacle of his career and win the Royal Rumble.
This is how Joe, who has been a contender for the Universal Title and the WWE Title in the past year should be thought of – as the biggest threat to 29 other WWE performers with one goal in mind – to win the Royal Rumble match and head to the biggest stage with a chip on his shoulder and a possible dream realized.
Phoenix could be the start of something big for one of the company’s best performers in and out of the ring.
Joe’s resume looks like a roadmap of how to become a successful professional wrestler.
Joe established himself in Ring Of Honor from the promotion’s beginning in 2002, holding the ROH World Championship for a record 21 months from March 2003 to December 2004. Upon joining TNA in June 2005, he embarked on a 19-month-long undefeated streak, and went on to hold the TNA World Heavyweight Championship once, the TNA X Division Championship five times, the TNA World Tag Team Championship twice, and the TNA Television Championship once; completing the TNA Triple Crown and the TNA Grand Slam.
Add to that a stint in WWE NXT where he was the brand’s first ever two-time champion and later, an enforcer on WWE’s main roster. His size, speed, agility and ability to deliver a kick-ass promo makes him one of the best the promotion has to offer. The only thing eluding him is a belt and a moniker as the best of the best at what he does. Underutilized? For sure. Underrated? It’s not even a discussion.
After feuds with Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, A.J. Styles and Brock Lesnar what is holding him back? Injuries for one. Maybe a lack of direction and third, the changes WWE has implemented in the past month has set a course for new talent and bigger matches. Joe should be leading this charge.
Joe does not want to get into a situation where he is known as the “greatest to never win the WWE Title”. It’s a road Hall of Fame stars have traveled. Rick Rude, Roddy Piper, and Rick Steamboat. There are others on the company roster who can make a case for the same moniker. Joe is first in line.
There are eight days until the Royal Rumble as I write this blog. It’s already electric. Expect Joe to be one of the last four standing next Sunday night. I expect him to walk out of Phoenix with a ticket to WrestleMania 35. I know fellow blogger Sarah Hirsch will be fangirling when this happens because a Joe-Finn Balor main event is quite possible.
It’s part of the continued evolution of Samoa Joe. And the next step takes place in Phoenix at the Royal Rumble.
Could Finn Balor Actually Beat Brock Lesnar at the WWE Royal Rumble?
Finn Balor is on his way to the main event of The Royal Rumble on January 27. The Irish born Superstar has the chance of a lifetime against Brock Lesnar and that chance may deliver the Universal Championship. Finn has worked hard for this moment as he’s finally getting another run at the top.
That is the narrative that’s currently being written by WWE. Finn Balor’s career resurgence is a feel-good story and understandably so. It’s been nearly three years since he’s truly been in serious world title contention. He is one of the most popular Superstars on the roster and fans want to see him do well. All of this is true. But is he really going to win it all on January 27?
Balor’s rise to the top back in 2016 seemed like a perfect move. He was riding a wave of momentum from his run in NXT and he was gaining popularity with each passing week. The fans saw him as a top babyface and that’s how WWE booked him.
His debut on the main roster was met with overwhelming approval, as fans couldn’t wait to see him mix it up with Raw’s biggest names. One of those names was of course Roman Reigns, who Bálor defeated en route to beating Seth Rollins and becoming the first-ever Universal champion.
Both wins were a statement by WWE. It wasn’t often that the company moved anyone ahead of Reigns, but that’s exactly what happened with Finn. Roman wasn’t going anywhere of course and Bálor was probably not taking his place.
But WWE was giving the fans something new, something different. Balor was a breath of fresh air on a program that often grows very stale at times. However with Finn at the helm, there was little chance of that happening again.
So now that he’s finally regained momentum after three years, what are the chances that Finn Balor will once again be slowed to a dead stop? His injury the night he won the Universal title was through no fault of his own. These things happen and it could very well happen to any WWE Superstar at any time.
But there is definitely someone to blame for Finn’s booking since relinquishing the championship. WWE surely could not be expected to immediately reinsert Finn into a top spot the moment he came back from injury. But to wait this long to elevate him to the world title picture?
WWE had to change plans after Finn went down. Fans surely realize that. The company really cannot afford to sit still for anyone, especially someone that had just arrived on the main roster. But Balor’s lack of main event success in the time following his return is indeed a curiosity.
Brock Lesnar was the top titleholder for the majority of the time after Finn returned to Raw. WWE’s plans didn’t include Balor versus Lesnar. So why not move Finn to SmackDown Live and give him a run against then-WWE champion AJ Styles?
A feud between the two could have led to a WrestleMania 35 showdown for the WWE Championship. The founder of The Bullet Club versus the man who took his place. Two veteran stars that made their names outside of WWE now waging war on the WrestleMania stage. It’s a story that really could have written itself.
But even as fans contemplate what could have been, there’s no denying that Finn is once again in a great place in his WWE career. Maybe it did take too long for him to return to this elite level. But he’s back nonetheless and now he indeed has a chance of achieving greatness. All he has to do is get past Brock Lesnar.
Facing Lesnar right now is a somewhat odd prospect for Finn Balor. On one hand, Finn has to look good and he most likely will. The contrast between the two men is apparent and that contrast should make for an intriguing matchup.
Balor will stick and move, he will weather the storm and he will continue to come out swinging despite how long the match lasts. But what happens when crowd fatigue sets in, as is often the case, during Lesnar’s matches?
The fact is that may bode well for Finn, because once he starts his comeback, the crowd will go along for the ride. The real drama in Brock Lesnar’s matches typically does not come until the end. That’s when the real test begins, as fans hold their collective breath to see if Brock’s opponent will actually pull out the win. The problem is, that win rarely ever happens.
But this is actually in Finn’s favor as well. Even if Finn loses to Brock, it probably won’t affect Balor that much at all. No one expects Lesnar to really ever lose and when it does happen, it’s a complete shock to the system. So, Balor would be just another star that tried and failed. How could anyone hold that against him?
However will the notion that Finn is destined to be nothing more than a top mid-card star once again become the prevailing opinion? Fans have always debated Balor’s worth and WWE’s apparent refusal to use him as a main event star. Will a loss at The Royal Rumble once again put Balor right back in the middle of that situation?
The truth is that for fans desperately wanting to see the Universal Championship back on Raw full-time again, nothing would be sweeter than a Lesnar loss. Roman is still out action and it’s clear that Braun Strowman is not the answer to Brock. So now may be the perfect opportunity to take a different path and reinsert Finn Bálor as the new top titleholder on Monday Night Raw. WWE did it before. Whether or not it will happen again is anyone’s guess.