Welcome readers to my debut review column here for The Indy Corner. I was flattered to be approached to contribute to the website and look forward to becoming a regular columnist.
As an introduction, for those that do not know me, my name is Travis McNeill, better known in some circles as T-Mack. While I haven’t been as active in the IWC in the past several years as I once was, I still make every possible effort to watch as much wrestling as I can. The time in which I have to do so has drastically been reduced in the past year as I am a father to an adorable 14-month-old and also have a 14-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew in my care, full-time. This is what has inspired me to write this column.
For years, I have kept a running list of my favourite matches and moments in professional wrestling for a given year. It’s been helpful in knowing what is worth going back and watching again or which matches I can recommend to friends and fellow fans alike. I have decided to make that list public for the year 2016 and write some short reviews alongside the matches to briefly explain why they need to be seen. Basically, I am making a list so that men and women that, like me, have a lack of time can “skip to the good stuff” rather than having to dig through the often three-to-four hour shows, common on the independents, to find them.
Please remember, this is all incredibly subject. What I like, you may not, and vice-versa. This also isn’t just a list of four-star matches. You’re likely to see a two-star match on the list, just as much as you would a five-star match. Matches can be great for different reasons and that is what I’m here to showcase. I have included star ratings, while I am not crazy about them myself, just as a quick reference guide to what is “You can’t live without seeing this match” compared to “a fun way to spend five minutes.” Please be aware that these columns will contain spoilers.
Each week in this column you’ll see a few matches, in no particular order, that I enjoyed. Eventually all of the matches in my list will be reviewed but, until then, the full list can be found at http://tmackwrestling.blogspot.ca/. Please feel free to leave me comments and feedback on Twitter @hashtagtravisty as well as any match recommendations for bouts I haven’t seen or that I need to give another look to.
Without further ado, here is 2016: The Year In Professional Wrestling – #1.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title: KUSHIDA © vs. ACH (03/12 – ROH) (****)
ROH The Conquest Tour 2016: Philadelphia – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
These aren’t going to be your typical play-by-play match reviews. In fact, some of these might spend less time discussing the actual match itself as it does the circumstances around the match and how that makes it worthwhile. This might be one of those matches. It’s ACH and KUSHIDA, two world class junior heavyweight wrestlers getting 20 minutes on a big show with a hot crowd for a title. You know what you’re getting here: A great match. The thing that makes this worth watching is that this match is a shining example of just how misused poor ACH is in his, contractually-obligated, home, Ring Of Honor. This match was originally supposed to be Dalton Castle vs. Kenny Omega, if you can imagine that, but circumstances with Omega not being able to appear brought us to this. Enter KUSHIDA as a replacement and ROH suddenly had a marquee IWGP Jr. Title defence. Had that not of happened, ACH probably would have been fighting J. Diesel. Sad times. Anyways, these two had a slick match with some nice near falls and transitions and for twenty-minutes made ACH a relevant singles wrestler again, the likes of one we saw take Mike Elgin, Jay Lethal and Jay Briscoe to their limits just two years prior. The result was never in doubt but I hope beyond hope that ACH’s performance lands him in the BOSJ or Super J Cup tournaments and eventually gets him a touring NJPW job. He deserves more.
The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) vs. The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) vs. The Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley) (03/12 – ROH) (****)
ROH The Conquest Tour 2016: Philadelphia – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
This was a blast in the way a lot of 2005-2006 TNA PPV X-Division tag or multi-man openers would be. They got enough time and worked at a frenzied pace to get the crowd riled up and went home before things got too ridiculous. Really, the TNA comparison should be no surprise when you look at the participants. The big thing about this match was the return of the Motor City Machine Guns as a tag team after several years apart. After 13+ years of competing at a high level and numerous injuries, this is, most definitely, the best spot for both Shelley and Sabin. They looked right at home in this match, even though they weren’t highlighted as much as their opponents. The Bucks are the MVPs of ROH right now, just having great matches with any tag team and remaining over as a big act, despite taking loss after loss. This was no different. Normally a victory by the, not always stellar, Addiction would make me shake my head but this is a circumstance where it worked as they debuted a nutty version of the Meltzer Driver, which was all over Twitter in .gif form the next day. This won’t be the last time we see these teams interact, since there’s not much more for them, and in that regard, this match was successful in what it set out to accomplish.
16 Carat Gold Tournament Semi-Finals: Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Sami Callihan (03/13 – wXw) (*** ¾)
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2016: Day 3 – Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Sami Callihan has been a source of frustration for me in 2016. Before he left for NXT, I thought he was, quite possibly, the best independent wrestler in the world. I felt like he did noting in his long NXT run and what he did do was unimpressive. Since coming back to the independents, I’ve found all of his matches to be very similar and have no substance behind being a bunch of strikes, spitting and letting guys kick out of that reverse Jig ‘N Tonic move he does at the count of one. The 16 Carat Tournament changed that for me as I thought he was the MVP of the whole thing, despite not making it through all for rounds. Funnily enough, I’m reviewing his final match in the tournament first. Such is life with these random reviews. This was a pretty darn good scrap. My favourite thing about this match is that it’s just as good as their EVOLVE match from January (review coming eventually!) but it does so by lasting only half as long. They fight with a great sense of urgency here where the EVOLVE match has some periods of downtime. The EVOLVE match felt a little more fleshed out though where this left me wanting just a tad more. Overall, call it a wash. This is what you’d expect from these two chaps: a lot of stiffness and painful submissions. In the end it feels like Zack juuuuust squeaked out the victory, which works well in a tournament setting. Very fun stuff and hopefully we get more of this Sami going forward.
Will Ospreay & Mike Bailey vs. Marty Scurll & Trevor Lee (03/13 – wXw) (**** ¼)
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2016: Day 3 – Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
I feel like the 16 Carat Tournament has a good history with having a great Night 3 non-tournament tag match and this definitely fit the bill. When you take 4 excellent, dynamic pro wrestlers that have all proven to have good chemistry with their partners and opponents alike, you get a high end match. This match really builds to the eventual Ospreay/Scurll showdown and when they finally get to let loose, it is their usual magic. Everyone in this match performs well but that sequence is the bread and butter. The whole finishing run is a sight to behold and this is a match that would feel right at home in Reseda, CA. What you get here is just a silky-smooth 20-minutes with lots of great sequences, some fun gaga from the heels and a receptive crowd. You can’t ask for more than that.
Lucha Underground Title: Mil Muertes © vs. Fénix (03/16 – LU) (**** ¼)
Lucha Underground 03/16/16 – Los Angeles, California
On a match-by-match basis, this might be the best and most hate-filled feud in all of wrestling. This is the third big-time match between these two on Lucha Underground and it is also the third to completely deliver. The Grave Consequences Casket Match was one of my favourite matches of 2015 and, up until a match you’ll see further down this column, the best match Lucha Underground had produced. Their Death Match follow-up was a worthy successor. This match falls in-between the two of them for quality but has the added bonus of it being the first for the Lucha Underground Title. Big Match Mil is a nickname you’ll hear me reference as these columns are released as when it comes to putting on big-time main events, few on television are better than Mil Muertes. He comes across as a complete terror but it also able to give his opponents enough believable offence to show some vulnerability. He and Fénix go to war here with tons of brawling through the arena, mask-ripping, blood and all of the other madness these two have set as an expectation for their battles. Fénix ripping at Mil’s mask and bloodying him up was some great progression to a feud that has been largely one-sided in that department. The work was there to have this match reach the quality of the Casket Match but a fluke finish prevented it from reaching just quite that height that another couple of minutes of a finishing stretch would have. With that being said, the fluke finish was an unbelievable surprise and also helped make this match one that will be remembered when looking at the series as a whole. Both competitors seemed destined for different things in the realm of Lucha Underground for the rest of season two, but hopefully their paths cross once more for another must-see brawl.
KO-D Openweight Title: Isami Kodaka © vs. HARASHIMA (03/21 – DDT) (**** ½)
DDT Judgement 2016: DDT Raising An Army 19th Anniversary Show – Sumida, Tokyo, Japan
JBL talks about Big Match John (Cena), ROH fans have joked about Big Match Jay (Briscoe), I will write loads about Big Match Mil (Muertes) when I get to talking about Lucha Underground but we would be foolish to overlook Big Match HARASHIMA or, specifically, KO-D Title Match HARASHIMA. Nobody puts on an A Game like HARASHIMA and, for that, I think he is one of the more underrated wrestlers of the decade. Spending your career in DDT while having high level matches but not expanding like the Ibushi’s and Omega’s will get you that label pretty easily. He’s also someone that always seems to either be the champion of challenger. He can’t escape the title picture and that’s not, necessarily, a bad thing when we get matches like this quite frequently. Here he gives Isami Kodaka the best one-on-one match of the champion’s career. Kodaka is an interesting career-wrestler in that he was pretty much “just a death match guy” in Big Japan for most of his career but expanding out as the “King Of The Indies” so it seems has shown that he can be a high-level singles wrestler without the light tubes and ladders. He is also has the ability to be an incredible underdog. The March 2009 match he had with Masashi Takeda against Yuko Miyamoto and Takashi Sasaki in Big Japan is one of the best underdog matches of all-time. This doesn’t go the complete underdog route like I would have expected but HARASHIMA does out-class Kodaka for the most part. Both wrestlers have specific strategies with HARASHIMA doing his usual targeting of the mid-section and Kodaka trying to take apart HARASHIMA’s knees to counter-act his offense and, specifically, the Somato. While we don’t get a perfect match as HARASHIMA could have sold the leg more and all of the other usual criticisms that come from most main event puroresu title matches, this one succeeds where most struggle in that it doesn’t overstay its welcome clocking in at a jam-packed under 20-minutes. We get a phenomenal closing stretch with big moves and nearfalls until HARASHIMA is finally able to put Kodaka away with the Somato, questionable booking to say the least. As said in the introductory for this match, HARASHIMA is always there in the title picture and certainly didn’t need this win while Kodaka’s title reign still had a lot of steam left in it. DDT has a history of transitional title reigns so maybe this is just a short-term reign until Kodaka regains the championship or a new king ascends to his throne. At the very least, we can expect some excellent title matches going forward and this one certainly fit that bill.
Lucha Underground Title, 20-Person Aztec Warfare Match (03/23 – LU) (*****)
Lucha Underground 03/23/16 – Los Angeles, California
For as long as I continue to write this column, I feel that this may be my most polarizing match rating. I went back-and-forth on whether or not to give this match a five-star rating and, in the end, I went with my gut instinct. This match is an unbelievable piece of television. This match is an incredible piece of professional wrestling. No one really knew what to expect with the first season of Lucha Underground. The series showed some promise but it wasn’t until the first Aztec Warfare, to crown the promotion’s first champion, that it really showed it`s potential. Lucha Underground`s biggest strength, from my viewing perspective, is not in it`s unbelievable spot-heavy car crash spectacle matches but in its storytelling, which, while over-the-top, and, at times, ridiculous, I find captivating. So much so that I have completely avoided spoilers for the ongoing second season of the show. The first Aztec Warfare was the first example we were given of all of the storylines being interwoven and either paid-off or continued in the context of a Royal Rumble-type match. It was a tremendous success. The return of the match this year (and hopefully a yearly occurrence from here-out) gave the company another platform to show their chops and it went well above-and-beyond the original match, my lofty expectations for this match, and everything the company has done up until this point. Not everything about this match is perfect. I can write about the afterthought eliminations of big players this season like King Cuerno and Taya, or the lack of reasoning behind why a savage monster that has killed-off several characters can execute a perfect bridging German Suplex. To do that would be a disservice to all that was so wonderful about this presentation though: The atmosphere in the arena, the way that bit-players or wrestlers that frankly just don`t excite me were utilized, the nods to the ongoing storylines of the company, the past storylines of the company and wrestling history outside of the company, the most commitment ever shown to pushing a character strongly I have ever seen in my 25+ years or watching pro wrestling. I won`t go into intense details as there`s too much to cover but this match begins and ends with the Lucha Underground debut and career resurrection of Rey Mysterio and the debut and complete domination of The Monster Matanza Cuerto. This is must-see television and one of the finest pieces of pro wrestling I have ever seen. I hope everyone watches and loves this match and we`ll remember it for years to come as we do the finest Royal Rumbles. I can`t wait to see where the rest of season 2 of Lucha Underground takes us.
That concludes my first stab at a column here on The Indy Corner. Hopefully it was an enjoyable read! Again, please direct any feedback, comments, recommendations or criticisms to my Twitter, @hashtagtravisty. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back in a week-or-so’s time with more scattered reviews.