Too Much Wrestling: Sami Zayn, a New Beginning, and the Young Lions Cup

The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!

Red, White, & Blue Thunderbomb

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Monday Night Raw (WWE)
February 6, 2017, Moda Center, Portland, OR
USA/Hulu

February in WWE is the middle movie of the trilogy: after Royal Rumble, we’re setting up for the big finale at Wrestlemania and need to get some exposition out of the way first. Sometimes, something really great comes out of that exposition. For example: The Wyatt Family vs The Shield at Elimination Chamber 2014, one of my favorite matches ever.

Right now, February is giving us the triumphs of Sami Zayn.

In fact, I’ll let his own Tweet sum it up:

This past week on Raw featured Zayn taking on Jericho in a United States Championship match. It was a good match with a lot extremely smart work from both men. A lot of spots showed clear scouting of each other’s moves and ability to read what was coming next. The outcome also never quite felt like a “done deal,” titles changing hands on Raw has become much more common and considering Jericho had earlier in the night gotten his Best Friend Kevin Owens into a FastLane match against Goldberg there was a question of whether we’d see cracks in the relationship.

We didn’t—Owens aided Jericho with a superkick to Zayn’s face while the ref was distracted. But given that Jericho didn’t win clean and that Zayn is known for persistence, there’s reason to believe we’ll see another US Title match between the two at FastLane.

Sami Zayn winning the US Title heading into Wrestlemania would be one of the biggest opportunities out there for the WWE. And it seems they may have realized that.

For those unaware: Sami Zayn is a Syrian-Canadian Muslim. Though it feels hard to be unaware of that: Zayn’s gear showcases his name written in Arabic, his ring name means “Sublime Excellence” in Arabic, has appeared in WWE videos wishing the Muslim fans “Ramadan Kareem,” was featured heavily during WWE’s tours in the Middle East, and has posted many times about his faith on his Twitter account.

Also, on his Twitter, he recently posted regarding his outrage for the Executive Order affecting travelers from seven Muslim nations, a move that has been outright called a “Muslim Ban.” Zayn also posted in solidarity and sympathy for those affected by the attack on a mosque in Quebec, Canada, an attack that injured 19 and killed six.

Right now, one of the most incredible statements that could be made is making Sami Zayn, the purest of faces, the utterly loveable and the passionate man of the people, a champion in WWE. Even better: if this outspoken Muslim is the United States Champion as a face, it says volumes.

For WWE it might not be so much what it says but what it gets others saying: this is the kind of mainstream press they salivate for. But in doing this, it is draping a Stars and Stripes-bearing championship belt on the shoulder of a man who some would fight to keep from so much as entering our country right now.

So right now? Sami Zayn is my United States Champion.

Other Show Highlights: I honestly didn’t hate Samoa Joe facing Roman Reigns, but I really do wish they’d have drawn attention to the fact that Rollins and Reigns have been like brothers in the past and THAT was why Roman was after Joe, not this “you’re in my yard” stuff. When it comes to “reasons I want to see people fight,” brotherhood and forgiveness in spite of betrayal >>>>>>>> imaginary property rights.

Prepare for all caps: AKIRA TOZAWA WAS ON RAW. Akira Tozawa faced DREW GULAK on Raw. That really happened.

– Ashly Nagrant

Not with a Whisper, but a [CHIMP SCREECH]

npwd17

National Pro Wrestling Day 2017 (Chikara Pro Wrestling)
February 4th, Philadelphia, PA
Chikaratopia/YouTube

Before this weekend, I’d been aware of Chikara Pro Wrestling only by reputation. Friends had described it to me as the “pure superhero comics” version of wrestling, with all the good and bad that entails—bright, colorful characters, a kid-friendly tone, a contrived and laboriously maintained continuity, and a complete disregard for realism. (You don’t expect to hear the words “time travel” very much in the wrestling world.) I searched online for some kind of “story so far” guide and came up empty, so I dove into the Chikara Season 18 premiere—National Pro Wrestling Day 2017—blind, expecting to be overwhelmed.

My concerns turned out to be largely unfounded, because I found NPWD17 to be a very approachable and delightful event, clearly designed as a free and easy jumping on point for new viewers. The core story of NPWD17 is incredibly simple—an elimination tournament for the thirteenth Young Lions Cup whittles sixteen memorable competitors down to two: the lovable acrobatic technico Space Monkey and my instant favorite, the serpentine, methodical rudo The Whisper. The tournament structure offers ample time for each character to demonstrate what makes them tick, and by the time the tournament final arrived, I was psyched to see these two go at it.

The appeal of Space Monkey is obvious—he’s a guy dressed as an astronaut wearing a sheer, form-fitting chimp mask. He’s got a tail; he uses it in matches, and he sells damage to it. He recovers health by eating bananas. His technical wrestling skills aren’t mind-blowing (which, to be honest, seems pretty typical of this roster), but he’s a fun living cartoon who’s over as hell with the very game Chikarmy (that’s Chikara’s nickname for their audience). Whether or not you appreciate Space Monkey seems like a pretty good barometer for whether or not you’re going to enjoy Chikara as a whole.

The Whisper—a rookie performer who makes his debut here—is a whole other story, as he’s a character that feels like he’d fit into the supernatural fringes of WWE. The Whisper crawls around the ring with an otherworldly and deliberate slowness, frequently pausing to hold a slender finger to his lips and hush an audience between—and sometimes during—moves. He commits to his character’s eerie body language all the way through each match, which is something that even veterans like Finn Bálor often fail to do. I’m likely to stick with Chikara for a bit just to keep an eye on this kid.

Other Show Highlights: Hey, remember when I mentioned time travel? The penultimate segment of NPWD17 revealed that the Chikara Grand Championship has changed hands since the Season 16 finale in December, during the “secret” Season 17 that’s available only on their paid streaming service, Chikaratopia. That’s some imaginative promotion.

– Dylan Roth

Put Your Suzuki-Gun to My Head

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The New Beginning in Sapporo (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
February 5th, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
NJPWworld

Four days after the new year, IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada proved to the world that not only did he deserve New Japan’s prestigious top title, but that he is easily one of the defining talents of his generation. Then, just a day after setting the wrestling world on fire with Kenny Omega, Okada and his friends from CHAOS were jumped by the returning Suzuki-Gun stable, led by the villainous Minoru Suzuki. After this beatdown at New Year’s Dash, Suzuki and his allies laid down a challenge to the entire roster, resulting in several title defenses on the first night of The New Beginning event. All of this culminated in a IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match between the young and talented Rainmaker Okada and the veteran that looks like he eats people, Minoru Suzuki.

Going into this match, I wasn’t really expecting a title change or anything too dramatic, especially after the incredibly paced spectacle that was the title match at Wrestle Kingdom 11. If anyone’s going to knock Okada off of his throne it has to be in a hugely anticipated match. Couple this with Suzuki-Gun’s dominant reputation in Pro Wrestling NOAH, but generally lacklustre performances in NJPW. This didn’t change, as the stable spent the entire night losing title match after title match, making this invasion angle feel like a placeholder story.

Stable aside, Suzuki himself far outshines and of his cronies. Suzuki is an ex-MMA fighter with a mixed and extensive record, but as a wrestler, he’s a master of in-ring psychology. I can’t think of many wrestlers that unsettle me as much as Suzuki and his terrifying expressions and tendency to laugh at the pain he inflicts and has inflicted on him. Also his haircut which no sane person would rock. During this match he just brutally works Okada’s right knee for what has to be nearly half of the match. He counters damn near everything Okada can toss at him and usually ends up back on the floor just wrenching his leg while taunting him, even weathering kicks to the face without breaking his grip or his grin.

I think what helps elevate this match is how Okada reacts to these attacks. Like a lot of main eventers, I think he has a habit of just “getting his shit in” during matches that aren’t necessarily the most important. I didn’t think he would bring his A game to this one based on how the rest of the show went, but he really gave it his all. By the end of the match, Okada is hoarse from screaming in agony and really looks like Suzuki ran him through the ringer. If I hadn’t had the ending spoiled in advance, I guarantee that I would have thought he was dropping the title. Okada is the top dog for a reason, though, and despite looking like he was going to lose a leg, he manages to stand on wobbly knee and deliver a series of Rainmakers all while refusing to let go of Suzuki’s arm as the snarling villain pummels him back trying desperately to weather the champ’s finishers. All in all, a solid chapter between another anticipated confrontation with Kenny Omega later this year.

Other Show Highlights: Juice Robinson a.k.a. CJ Parker a.k.a. Wrestling’s Rickety Cricket put on the best match of his career so far with perennial loser Hirooki Goto who also shined and managed to retain his NEVER Openweight Title.

– Kyle Herr

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