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!
G1 Climax, Night 16 (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
August 8th, 2017, Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, Kanagawa, Japan
Last week, I said that NJPW’s big four (Okada, Omega, Naito and Tanahashi) weren’t the real standout performers in this year’s G1, because so many up and comers were having multi-night coming-out parties and stealing the shows. I stand by that assertion, but after the B Block bout between IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and literal video game boss Minoru Suzuki, I have to amend that take somewhat. The booking and the block line-ups have conspired so that a wider variety of NJPW talent have fair shots to get noticed this year, but with three shows left, including the final, if we’re looking for an MVP for the G1, look no further than Okada.
He’s already been having a killer 2017, with classic title defense after classic title defense, but he’s also not had a single bad match in the tournament. Coming so close after his February defense against Suzuki, and one show away from Okada/Omega III, I went into this match with pretty low expectations, assuming it would be a vicious match but one Okada would walk away from victorious. Instead of the usual narrative Okada and Suzuki’s contentious match ups typically provide, wherein the young passionate Ace overcomes the unrelenting punishment of the veteran shooter, we were treated to something even more harrowing. Whenever Suzuki has challenged for the title, Okada’s relationship to the belt and the weight of the company on his shoulders have seemed to give him the edge. Even the last time they faced off non-title, in the G1 three years ago to the day, Okada was able to take everything Suzuki dished out and put him away with a Rainmaker. But not here.
In this match, two key things were different. First, the exhaustion of carrying this promotion on his back is starting to wear away on Okada. He’s selling the idea of the tired, overworked champion very well, and this late in the tournament, the damage is palpable. Secondly, Suzuki seemed less interested in beating Okada so much as destroying him. Going in at a points disadvantage, rather than simply play spoiler, he seemed dedicated to hurting Okada, injuring him, wiping off that cocky smile. To his credit, Okada seems to court the pain excitedly, like a man who knows he’s under a microscope and has to take whatever the competition dishes out, lest he seem ill fitted to his role as the face of the company.
It’s a painful, brutal, exhausting exhibition, one that brings out the best in both performers. Ending in a draw is a great move from a booking perspective, putting Okada exactly one point ahead of Omega and forcing Omega to finally beat Okada if he wants to see the finals. But this isn’t like the Okada/Omega draw from Dominion, or even like Okada and Tanahashi’s G1 draw from last year’s final day of A Block competition. This isn’t two equally matched men crumbling to detente. It’s one man running on empty, repeatedly proven capable enough to best his opponent, but too spent and wounded to do so.
As much as we all want to see Omega finally best Okada in a few days, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Okada win his third G1 Climax as champion. It’d be a great topper on the classic run cake he’s been having this year. But whether or not he’s victorious against his explosive, weeaboo rival, no one can take away the body of work he’s put together over the last few weeks.
Extra High Spots: While Suzuki’s performances in this year’s tournament have been a little samey, it’s super hard to argue against the pure joy of watching this evil old man slap the shit out of his younger opponents with such reckless abandon.
– Dominic Griffin
Rush to the Top
Once In A Lifetime (Combat Zone Wrestling)
Flyers Skate Zone, Vorhees Township, New Jersey
August 5th, 2017
— Italo Santana (@BulletClubItal) August 6, 2017
Last weekend was a bit of a controversial one on the indie circuit, for no less than three reasons. One was Joey Ryan YouPornplexing Mick Foley, because anything Joey Ryan does pisses off the old guard. Reasons two and three happened at CZW Once In A Lifetime—Lio Rush vs. Joey Janela, and Tremont vs. Onita. I was at Once In A Lifetime, and as Deadshirt’s OG Combat Zone Wrestling mark, I’d like to offer my two cents as to the proceedings of that night.
First, I’d like to address the undercard. The opening match was an Aerial Assault match, which is a big mess of a match with just under a dozen entrants. There are platforms on two of the ring corners so the wrestlers can stand high and do all sorts of flippy nonsense. It featured some big names, including Ace Romero and Smiley, but the most important entrant was Pandita—a man dressed as a panda with nunchucks who throws candy into the crowd and enters to “Kung Fu Fighting.” It was a big fun spotfest, a solid opener. MJF’s Wired title defense against Johnny Silver was a fun little match, solidifying MJF as the old-fashioned heel that you pay money to see get beaten up. (Think The Miz, pre-Sandow.) The tag match was amusing enough, and the FMW wrestlers added more of a sense of danger. Strickland vs. Masada took a bit too long to get going and was a bit of a clash of styles, but was more than serviceable. The return of Larry Legend was great and Joe Gacy cut the promo of his career, telling the truth while insulting a fan favorite, a classic heel promo.
I’ll only briefly touch on the Tremont vs. Onita match—it got off to a fantastic start, the exact kind of dream match promised, before abruptly transitioning to the multi-man match. Notice that I didn’t call it a “tag match.” Even though they were ostensibly a tag team, there wasn’t one tag. It was more “three men brutalize each other in different parts of the ring at once” than tag team action. The wind undeniably went out of their sails once that stipulation was announced, and the match ended prematurely. When Team FMW scored the pinfall, a female voice from the crowd cried out “THAT’S IT?” and there’s was palpable dissatisfaction with the length. Rumos had been flying for weeks that it was always going to be a multiman match, but I somehow missed those rumors entirely and CZW continued to promote it one-on-one. The match did end with the now-parodied bit where Onita called CZW’s version of hardcore (and possibly the promotion’s pursestrings) “CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP,” but he still ended up cutting a hellaciously amazing promo where he ultimately put over the fans and offered Tremont his chance to fight in Japan. (Further proof that you should never trust a wrestling promotion that advertises a match as Once In A Lifetime, VINCE.) Granted, I was next to the only fans in the ENTIRE ARENA who were still yakking when Onita was cutting his promo, but I still caught it and he’s exactly as charismatic as promised. We’re seemingly getting more info on this every day—including Zandig getting angry, admitting he helped make the explosives, various accusations about which party was being cheap to which other party, and how many explosions were even allowed—so I’m going to back off on this for now and let Onita defend himself.
One more precursor before I get to the meat of this: I agree that the indie scene can get too intense and dangerous for its own good, and I agree that constant one-upsmanship can be a problem. I also thinking people claiming that something—anything, really—is “killing the business” is ridiculous and we need to stop it. The business has survived steroid scandals, murders, and being outed as phony a dozen times over before Vince McMahon said it under oath to Christie Whitman. It’s quite possible wrestling will outlive every other business on the planet. One guy doing a spot you don’t like in and of itself won’t kill anything.
Now let’s talk about the big matches.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ve already seen the above gif of Lio Rush no-selling the table spot. I’ll admit that if that’s all you saw of the match, it would be shocking. But that negates the context not of the match but of the whole Janela/Rush rivalry. If this were one spot in their first match, I’d probably also call it ridiculous. But this was a spot in their fifth and likely final match, and it makes perfect sense given the escalation. There was one spot that upset me more, and I’ll get to that in a bit.
Describing the rivalry would take – and maybe even will take – a full article, but here’s the cliffnotes version (sans Dojo Wars):
- November 2015 at Night of Infamy: Rush and Janela face off one-on-one for Janela’s Wired Championship, which Janela retains in the build up to Cage Of Death.
- December 2015 at Cage of Death XVII: Lio Rush defeats Joey Janela for the Wired belt.
- February 2016 at Seventeen: Janela and Rush face off in a two out of three falls match for Rush’s Wired Title. Rush gets the first pin mere seconds into the match, Joey fights back for the second, and both get pinned simultaneously after they go through a table. Maven Bently comes out and demands one more fall, which Joey takes in a to win back the title.
- March 2016 at Proving Grounds: Lio Rush wins the Wired belt back in a four-way that also features Janela. Lio proceeds to call out all “leg slapping” indie darlings.
- April 2016 at Best Of The Best 15: Janela, Rush, and Jonathan Gresham are set to face off in the first round of BOTB, but before he can even come out, Lio Rush beats up Janela backstage. Rush comes out covered in blood, and Janela crawls out in no condition to fight, profusely bleeding. Rush stares off into the distance and lets Greshman pin the broken Janela.
- June 2016: Janela does That Spot with John Zandig, breaks his arm, is out of action until September.
- September 2016 at Down With The Sickness: Janela and Rush blow off their feud in a ladder match for the Wired title. It is an absolutely brutal, beautiful, fully formed ladder match that includes Lio botching a landing between two tables that saw him slip in between the tables rather than through them. More famously, it features Janela hanging from the rafters (in a moment where, I say as someone who was there, TIME STOOD STILL) and dropping onto Lio. Things got scary as the locker room came out to help the two men back, but Joey managed to get up, continue the fight, and eventually climb the ladder to get his title back in one of the most triumphant moments in wrestling I have ever seen in person.
Janela vs Rush: The Final Chapter, as it was billed, was Rush’s final match before moving to Orlando to join the WWE Performance Center. The two were likely picked because of their history and chemistry, so even though the feud was over, it was the right person to send him off. The match showcased bits from all their previous matches and one-upped them, less in a greatest hits way and more like the final level of a video game where you need to use all the skills you learned up to that point to beat the game. The brutality of the match escalated as time went on (it didn’t start as a TLC match) before hitting the now infamous spot. If this were the first match between Janel and Rush someone saw, I can see how they would be shocked. For the CZW faithful, the spot made perfect sense: Janela and Rush have spent the past few years throwing everything they had at each other, and it was Rush’s way of saying “I’ve taken everything you’ve given at me, and you’re never going to slow me down.”
The only spot I had an issue with was the bit where they came out with a stretcher for both men—as mentioned earlier, that spot had already been done at DWTS, and it had much more of an impact then.
Janela and Rush made headlines for one spot, but their entire match was a fitting cap to their long rivalry and a solid sendoff for Lio. The two men embraced after the match and Lio cut a solid promo, telling his story and thanking all the fans. Good luck at Full Sail, Lio. Let’s pray you’re not cast as Titus O’Neil’s son.
Extra High Spot: Matt Tremont’s entrance was the loudest I have ever heard a CZW crowd. The room was genuinely shaking. I was at Nick Gage’s first match back in 2015 at the ECW Arena, which gave me tinnitus, and the noise this crowd made dwarfed it. “BULL-DO-ZER” is officially, 100%, unequivocally the face of CZW now. He deserves every ounce of it. Hard worker, great guy.
Also, I ran into Kyle there. It was crowded by we crossed paths on the way to the bathroom. He seems to be doing well. I’ll let him know you asked.
– David Lebovitz
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