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!
Unstoppable Force Meets a Tranquilo Object
NJPW’s New Beginning events are, as you may expect, where the year’s big storylines get set up. While much of the heel stable focus in New Japan so far this year has been on the sudden invasion of Suzuki-Gun starting at New Year’s Dash, the hottest stable of 2016, Los Ingobernables de Japón, got their chance to shine at New Beginning in Osaka. The three LIJ members who didn’t have singles matches on the card—EVIL, SANADA and BUSHI—defended their NEVER Six Man Tag belts against the face CHAOS faction, and relative LIJ newcomer Hiromu Takahashi bested long-time rival Dragon Lee in a breathtaking match that belongs up there with some of their CMLL classics. Outside of the LIJ world, Katsuyori Shibata beat Will Ospreay in an incredibly fun match—so you should definitely watch the back half of this show, if you don’t want to go in for the whole thing.
But the main event truly earned its place here, pitting crowd-favorite Canadian Michael Elgin against heel-godking Tetsuya Naito. I’d say these guys hate each other, but it would be more accurate to say Elgin hates Naito and Naito thinks Elgin’s a contemptible tryhard. This feud has a rich history, including an eye orbital injury Elgin suffered at LIJ’s hands in October of last year, cutting short a considerable head of steam for what was set to be a Big Year for Elgin. Meanwhile, Naito is coming off wrestling the best match of Wrestle Kingdom against erstwhile ace and Elgin stablemate Tanahashi (come at me, Omega/Okada).
One of the things that elevated Naito-Tanahashi was Naito’s trademark casual viciousness, and how it affected Tanahashi. By the end of the match, Tana was taunting Naito and letting frustration cloud his usual Golden Boy persona, while Naito maintained his usual smirk, even when Tana pulled off impressive spots. That feud worked so well because Naito attacked Tanahashi at his core: his self-image as the ace, as evidenced by his new-at-Wrestle-Kingdom theme “Go, Ace!” The fact is, Tanahashi isn’t the ace. Okada is. And Naito’s here to say, to borrow a phrase from Michael Shannon, “Time for the urn.”
That same approach from Naito brings a lot of great storytelling opportunities to this match. Elgin has no such delusions of grandeur, but he’s a living boulder with a level of grace and athleticism that frankly looks impossible every time he shows it off. So Naito chooses to chip away at Elgin’s very foundation, literally and metaphorically, working to take the big man’s knees out and working the injured eye that forced Elgin out of the spotlight as 2016 came to a close. Naito and Elgin lean hard into their dichotomy: clever malice vs. physical impressiveness.
While Naito takes the usual cheap shots, faking a punch to instead kick Elgin’s weakened knee, spitting in Elgin’s face, and putting him in a painful hold on the ropes (after which Naito rolls away, smirks and mouths catchphrase “tranquilo” at the camera), Elgin’s inhuman strength and agility are on excellent display throughout. There are several spots where Naito attempts to land a move, only for Elgin to simply refuse to budge, or pluck Naito out of the air like a gnat, or casually flip the head heel head-over-heels for an inverted falcon arrow. At times, it feels like not a single move can be landed without a counter attempt – but it doesn’t drag!
The tone is set early, when Naito, after pulling his usual shtick of removing his breakaway suit painfully slowly, spits at the announce table where Tanahashi is sitting. After that, the crowd’s boos quickly transform to a stadium-rocking “ELGIN” chant when the colossal Canadian brings Naito’s stalling tactics to an end with a brutal shoulder tackle. That Elgin chant doesn’t lose steam much throughout the match, and Naito intermittently glares at and mocks it.
The finish is fantastic, with a series of signature moves and finishers countering one another, culminating in Naito resisting Elgin’s Burning Hammer, turning it into a Destino, hitting another Destino for good measure, and securing the Intercontinental Title that has been the prize in some of New Japan’s finest matches in the past couple of years.
Extra High Spots: You really gotta see the spots in Hiromu Takahashi/Dragon Lee. Unbelievable.
– Cameron DeOrdio
*shh* The Champ…He’s Here
Elimination Chamber 2017 (WWE)
February 12th, 2017, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
WWE Network (for the low, low price of $9.99…and the first month’s FREE, Maggle!)
You never quite know what expect from a Pay Per View named for one specific gimmick match. For example: in the past we’ve seen multiple Elimination Chamber matches in one night, so I was actually a bit surprised that the Tag Team Titles weren’t once again defended inside the Chamber as they were in 2015, which seemed to make more sense than the Tag Team Turmoil set-up. I had secretly been hoping that with an expanded women’s roster and after seeing several women’s stipulation matches in recent months that we might see the Smackdown Women’s Title defended in the chamber, instead of the Naomi vs Alexa Bliss singles match.
But for 2017 show was built around a single Chamber match, the main event WWE Championship match featuring Baron Corbin, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose and defending WWE Champion John Cena. And it absolutely should have been. This was a year where only one Chamber match was necessary and it was done perfectly.
First of all: the chamber has been revamped and redesigned since we last saw it, so holding off until the end to see the whole thing was an impressive tease to build up the implied “danger” of the match. Actually, the new layout doesn’t seem more dangerous, from a purely logistical position it allowed for far more movement and for better camera work during the match. The chamber is also one of the most aesthetically impressive matches in the WWE, allowing for a lot of visual storytelling in ways other matches don’t. Before Bray Wyatt entered his pod, he paused and lifted his lantern to confront the other three trapped men to various reactions. After that, we saw impatient pacing from Ambrose and Corbin, frightened reactions from Miz and Wyatt’s patient smile as he took in the chaos. Eventually, Miz found his pod door open but refused to exit to face Baron Corbin…distracting Corbin long enough for Ambrose to take advantage.
There was not a single elimination until all of the signals had gone off to allow competitors into the ring. There was no down time, no waiting, and all of the participants looked to be legitimate competitors. Even Corbin looked impressive, and he gave us an amazing “Big Banter” moment when he grabbed Bray Wyatt and deadpanned “I don’t believe in you.” If the events of the chamber are, in fact, building to Corbin facing Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania, then it’s worth looking forward to, especially if WWE lets Ambrose have the type of street fight/hardcore match he could and SHOULD have had last year with Lesnar.
But let’s be honest: the big story here is Wyatt. For years he’s been one of the most incredible yet underutilized characters in WWE, and his in-ring work has been one of the major examples of a bigger man who doesn’t move the way you’d assume he moves. Wyatt is shockingly light on his feet and flexible enough to do that creepy crabwalk thing.
Hopefully, though, WWE finally recognizes what they have in him. Because Bray Wyatt is the WWE Champion.
It’s a long time in coming and it sets things up so beautifully. Because not only did he win his first title, the end of the show reminded everyone that Wyatt’s next stop would be facing his newest follower Randy Orton at WrestleMania. Questions now arise about loyalty, intentions, and if Luke Harper is going to get another chance to show people what he’s really capable of.
The buzzards have come home, and look at all they’ve brought with them.
Extra High Spots: This was the first time in WWE history that three women’s singles matches have happened on the main card of a PPV. Impressively, all three were competitive and given plenty of time to showcase the women involved. Along with this: MASSIVE congratulations to Naomi for winning her first WWE Women’s Championship. This has also been a long time coming, and I honestly can’t wait to see if that belt glows under the lights for her entrance!
– Ashly Nagrant
The Brawl’t in Our Starrs
Eighteen/The Tenth Anniversary (CZW/WSU)
February 11th, 2017, Voorhees, NJ
February marks the anniversaries of Combat Zone Wrestling and Women Superstars Uncensored, and to celebrate, both promotions stacked their cards with a ton of high profile matches. If you’re unfamiliar with them, both promotions are based out of Jersey, with CZW specializing in hardcore, often violent matches, and WSU leading the Northeast in women’s wrestling. I was lucky enough to attend both events and eat a lot of Smashburger in the process. Both of which I did for you, dear reader.
First up was the WSU show, which included the Hall of Fame induction of wrestling legend Mercedes Martinez, who later won the WSU World Championship for the third time in her career as well as a triple threat match for the WSU Spirit title. Both of the title matches were very good, though the latter felt disappointingly short and ended abruptly due to interference. That said, neither of these matches held a candle to my highlight of the night, LuFisto vs. Jade.
While it wasn’t for a title, this match moved at a breakneck pace from the bell thanks to the ferocity of LuFisto, who is consistently one of the best in the game. Few hit harder and carry the presence that she does every time she steps into a ring. She honestly should be covered in titles at all times, Ultimo Dragon style. As for Jade, I was really surprised at how impressive she was in this match. I can’t pretend to watch much TNA and I had never seen her in the ring up to this point, but she really delivered. My only real complaint about this match was that the finish felt too sudden and was delivered through a rollup (my least favorite non-DQ finish). What made that finish worse—it was a rollup on LuFisto as she was preparing to hit Jade with her Burning Hammer, one of my all time favorite moves. Regardless, I would love to see these two tear it up in the upcoming women’s tournament that WWE is putting together.
Later that night, CZW held Eighteen in celebration of, well, their 18th anniversary. This show was a ton of fun and featured defenses of every title in the company and even two from outside. Coincidentally, both of those non-CZW titles were defended in a single match which was easily the best match of either event, and possibly one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen in person. If you haven’t heard about it yet, check out the excellent promo embedded above. This groundbreaking match was title-for-title and featured indie staple David Starr defending his WXW Shotgun Championship against the much talked about up and comer Matt Riddle and his Progress Atlas Championship.
Prior to this match, I had only seen both of these guys in action once before, but the entire match had me on the edge of my seat. Starr showed off an amazing array of techniques and ring presence during this match, really owning up to the nickname “your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler.” I can only imagine that there are even greater things in store for him in 2017. Riddle, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to pro wrestling, debuting in 2015 after a career in MMA. While he’s only two years into his pro wrestling career, Riddle is excelling at the sport quicker than nearly anyone I can think of. He hits like a truck (which coaxed an equally stiff offense out of Starr), and he’s built like an action figure. Seriously, the guy looks like a superhero molded out of plastic.
I won’t spoil the ending to this match for you because it really needs to be experienced firsthand. To sum it up, this is the kind of match that being a wrestling fan is all about. I was on my feet and shouting for probably the final third and I nearly teared up over the outcome. It was damn near perfect, even if it had a bittersweet epilogue. If you only have time for one match from the show, make it this one. Moments like it are few and far between.
Extra High Spots: Check out the WSU World Championship match, CZW Wired Championship match, Shane Strickland vs Jake Crist, and the touching tribute to wrestling superfan Kevin “Whack Packer” Hogan.
– Kyle Herr
Here Come the Young Guns
February 16th, 2017, Orlando, FL
NXT this year is set to go through a number of changes, now that the roster upon which it built its rock is now tearing it up in the big leagues on RAW and SmackDown Live. This is actually a good thing, since we’re getting fully acclimated to future superstars like Niki Cross, Roderick Strong, and The Authors of Pain going up against already acquired household names such as Asuka, Bobby Roode, and The Revival. The Authors of Pain, a.k.a. Akam and Rezar, are absolutely the next big tag team to watch out for. The newly minted NXT Tag Team Champions have an undeniable chemistry and are monstrous in the ring. It also certainly helps to have WWE Hall of Famer Paul Ellering holding their proverbial leash, menacingly staring down anyone who happens to cross their path.
The women’s division, too, is starting to build up some credible threats to the undefeated Asuka. One of the most exciting new stables in NXT right now is Sanity, whose best member is clearly Nikki Cross, a psychotic Scottish woman who’s like Dean Ambrose times one million. Cross is absolutely a joy to watch in the ring, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes the number one contender to take Asuka’s silver belt. Ember Moon and Liv Morgan are also falling into their roles as the two main babyfaces. Ember’s in-ring wrestling skill is amazing to watch (her finisher being one of the best things ever), and Liv is starting to fill the cheery can-do attitude spot left by Bayley and Sasha Banks.
The Authors of Pain and women’s division shine in this week’s episode, but that’s not the most notable thing to happen. The main event happens to be from a different project altogether. Back in January, WWE held a UK championship tournament that aired on the Network. Critically, I believe it was a huge success for shining a light on the sportsmanship and character of some of the UK’s best and often little-known wrestlers. The winner of that tournament was 19-year-old wrestling wunderkind Tyler Bate, who in this episode has a UK title match against his UK tournament colleague, Trent Seven, the man who hails from Moustache Mountain. Trent’s gimmick, by the way, is pretty great. His thing is to basically be extremely proud of his beard and mustache, frequently twirling it during the match even when he is opponents. Bate, too, clearly gets the importance of engaging the audience by walking out to the ring waving politely to a theme song that sounds uncannily like Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”
This match is really solid and harkens back to the pure fun of the tournament back in January. It begins as a comedic spot fest with the two trying to one-up each other with poses and stolen moves. After that, it turns into a great cruiserweight match that would even make the guys over at 205 Live blush. Trent Seven has an interesting body type in the ring as, while he doesn’t look like it, he’s incredibly fast and incredibly strong. Tyler, too, is a tiny man who is great at submissions and throwing people over his head. The match picks up in intensity around the halfway mark, and Tyler eventually clinches it with the Tyler Driver 97 (named after the year in which he was born) and retains the title. I’d love to see the UK belt become perhaps a frequent event on NXT, and for sure want to see more rematches from other UK tournament participants, most especially Pete Dunne. Hopefully this match will excite fans enough to support and seek out more wrestlers worldwide.
Extra High Spots: I continue to be here for Billie Kaye and Peyton Royce’s incredibly unsubtle romantic relationship. They are absolutely LayCool for a new generation. Also, their ringwork has continued to improve and is a valid reason to eventually introduce a Women’s Tag Team title at some point in the far future.
– Andrew Niemann