This is the start of a one-year project, where each month I will discuss the best matches the wrestling world had to offer. Naturally, there are a ton of great wrestling companies out there, and the reality is I cannot get paid to watch 16 hours of wrestling a day, so it will be limited to my tastes and regions. The main focus will be the biggest two companies in the world (WWE & New Japan), two of the best companies in the UK (Revolution Pro & Progress), and two companies that I watch locally (Tidal & Rise), with a smattering of other stuff I’m fortunate to catch outside of normal life. I’ve just got access to High Spots, and there is talk of subscribing to FloSlam, so there may be more to be added down the line. For each event I’ve seen, I will make a few general comments and then focus on one specific match. At the end of each month I will publish a list of the best matches, so if you are even more limited with time that I am, you can cram all the best stuff into a days worth of viewing.
The New Year was seen in with the return of WORLD OF SPORT on mainstream UK TV. This is a huge deal in the UK scene, and it was met with enthusiasm with many that watched it. The first thing they did wrong though, was give out more tickets than they could fit in the building to guarantee a sell out, and this will have left a sour taste in the mouths of those that came and were turned away. Queuing is always a bane of being a wrestling fan, and to be turned away on top it must have been a sucker punch below the belt. The production was top class, and it had a professional mainstream TV feel, a bit like TNA. The over choreographed crowd participation was somewhat OTT and made me feel like I was watching an episode of Gladiators. There was a hilarious promo on GMTV the day before the show, which involved an altercation, and I think it must be hard to try and sell a show without being able to break kayfabe and directly connect with a general audience. I actually really enjoyed the show mainly because there were awesome wrestlers from the UK independent scene wrestling on mainstream TV, and the matches were fun. However, there was no stand out match that deserved to make the list, maybe EL LIGERO vs ZACK GIBSON at a push. The footage and discussions from the old world of sport days was great for a historical insight, and it was nice to see the British Bulldog version 2.0 make an appearance, despite his contractual obligations elsewhere. Overall, I was very happy with it, and I thought they did a decent job trying to sell the product, which must be hard when you only have a pilot episode to work with. However, later in the month I listened to Lance Storm tear apart the booking on his podcast ‘Killing the Town’ and it made me critically evaluate the whole thing. Time will tell, whether their figures were enough to convince the executives to make a run of it, or whether the WWE UK Championship will be enough to detract them.
Then came the second biggest event of the year, WRESTLEKINGDOM 11. In 2016 I made a conscious decision to get back into independent wrestling, and watch more non WWE stuff, and subscribing to New Japan World was all part of that. I must say that the best thing about the show was seeing the culmination of some traditional long term booking, much of which is not seen on the WWE anymore. Of course, we can talk about how great the last 4 matches were, and the importance of the Rumble winner getting the title shot. Two notable mentions have to go to the UK’s WILL OSPREAY (complete with Chaos style gold hair) getting a few minutes of moves in during his participation in the Trios Openweight title elimination match, and the brutal strong style that was present between GOTO and SHIBATA (carrying the Revolution Pro title). Yet the night undoubtedly belonged to KENNY OMEGA, and man who I have invested time in the last year, and seen evolve from middleweight to heavyweight, capturing the G1 Climax on the way. The main event of WrestleKingdom was epic, and without doubt in the top ten matches of all time I have ever seen, well worthy of a 6 star rating. Despite this, I feel they missed a trick from the result of this, in their quest for making the brand more global. Overall it was a class event, and it was nice to see the end of some ling built up storylines, and to watch a WrestleKingdom from start to finish for the first time. Now that WILL OSPREAY has challenged SHIBATA, I will be keeping my subscription for the foreseeable future, maybe another whole year.
Back home in Leeds, UK we saw the return of RISE to the Brudenell Social Club. We were unsure if there would be as many people as last time, as MARTY JONES made some unsavoury comments which were probably acceptable to get heat when he was younger, yet completely unacceptable in this day and age; particularly so, dealing with a crowd of mainly drunk liberal students. However, the success of the first visit stuck, and we saw a sell out crowd witnessing another ‘coming of age’ match for Keighley’s LIAM SLATER against MUSCLECAT in the main event (even Musclecat broke Kayfabe in amazement at how over the
Vengaboys Liam Slater was). RISE is always for its madness and innovative extras (Mad World & George Michael’s faith were welcome skits). The highlight for me though was the opening 12 man Rumble, which went a good 45 minutes. The highlight was BORIS KOSLOV using his Russian Flag, and a local Asian lad using his prayer mat, to stop them selves being eliminated, and hopping around the venue scrapping on anything off the ground. Wrestling meets Tig Off Ground. The other highlight was seeing local(ish) lads ALEX HENRY and DAVID GRAVES working well as a team (this could be a future pairing when their current partners go separate ways). The question on everyone’s mind was, where was LUKE MENZIES? The man hyped by MARTY JONES as better than the British Bulldog at their last outing, and supposedly gunning for the title. Overall, the madness of the storylines / booking still remained, and the quality and amount of wrestling improved. I am massively looking forward to the next RISE show in Leeds.
Up next was the first REVOLUTION PRO show of the year, LIVE AT THE COCKPIT 12. The production and sound quality had marked improvements from last year’s shows, and it made it far more enjoyable to watch from the sofa. This is one of three promotions in the UK that I would grade A*, and it’s matches didn’t disappoint for its new monthly show format. TYLER BATE gave an impressive german suplex to DAVE MASTIFF, and ZACK SABRE JNR gave a masterclass domination of technical wrestling to humiliate the returning RJ SINGH. However, the highlight was the surprise 3 on 3 main event, which saw tons of spots, and it moved from high-flying into technical into strong style. Then there was the insanely ridiculous, pertinent, and innovative spot where PETE DUNE and MARTY SCURRL sold shirts off the ropes whilst their opponents were down – even taking a selfie with someone who bought one of the shirts. This was a great match, and up there as one of the best this month. At £7.50p a month for the on demand service, which includes a monthly Cockpit show, and 4 big PPVS, Revolution Pro is well worth an investment for the 2017 season.
The bonus of the month was the unexpected, yet unsurprising given the talent at the moment, WWE UK CHAMPIONSHIP, which many critical analysts see as a response to the World of Sport programme, and part of the WWE’s quest for global dominance in local markets. The first night saw a perfect setup to introduce the participants and get over a few top names. There were notable name missing from the tournament (due to contractual, and non-contractual obligations), and this showed as some of the participants were a grade below the top cut on the card. The storylines were set up nicely, going forward to the second half of the tournament, and the crowd were lively and representing with the football chanting, UK style. Our local favourite MUSCLECAT didn’t do himself any favours by saying in his promo “I read books, which makes me unique to some of the other talent here”, which I am sure was probably supposed to come out better than that. The final night was thoroughly enjoyable, the production was top notch as you’d expect, a lot of UK talent got over, NIGEL MCGUINESS was great on commentary, and a few stars were made. Expect to start seeing some of these on WWE programming in the future. I have mixed feelings about a WWE UK show filmed here – I want the wrestlers to make more money, yet I’d much prefer for them to be contracted making appearances in the USA, and making appearances / defending the title in UK independent promotions (except WCPW, which I hope goes bust, as a result of becoming successful by being negative about others). Overall, I thought it was a great show, hopefully it will be an annual thing, and hopefully lead to more UK wresters being a success abroad.
The highlight of the month was making out first trip to the legendary York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, to watch REVOLUTION PRO’S HIGH STAKES event. Not only was it a class day out, we got to see another amazing strong style match involving SHIBATA, this time against the ‘Bro’, MATT RIDDLE. PETE DUNNE also got a standing ovation for his role in the WWE UK Championship. The highlight though, was a 45-minute classic between ZACK SABRE JNR and MARTY SCURLL (two of the best UK wrestlers at the moment). They fought this match in a range of styles, off the back of a great storyline involving two former friends, and a result of them knowing each other inside out, made a great back and forth encounter. In 25 years of watching wrestling I can honestly say that this was the BEST BRITISH WRESTLING MATCH OF ALL TIME. As for a big fight night, there is no better promotion in the UK right now, than the big 4 events that REVOLUTION PRO run at the York Hall.
I found out the day after that KENNY OMEGA had wrestled in Swindon that same night, which was bizarre given that there was a lot of NJPW talent at HIGH STAKES. The company 4FW put his match against TIGER ALI on Youtube for free, and I finally caught up and watched it. It wasn’t amazing, but Kenny put in a strong performance, the crowd were hot, and the production values of the company were top notch. There was even a cool spot were Kenny teased using the Iranian flag for heat but then shouted to the crowd something long the lines of “You’re a good person wherever you are, it doesn’t matter what country you come from”. Nice touch Kenny O.
The first PROGRESS show of the year (42) was another awesome affair (as it usually is), and felt a bit of a step up from the unboxing live (41), which ran at a tricky time between Xmas and New Year. There is nothing better for TV style / Storyline regular events in the UK than Progress right now. They were gifted some surprise talent to make up for those lost to the WWE that weekend, which was a nice touch. The best thing about Progress recently is the Women’s natural progression series tournament, which for me, is a level of women’s wrestling which is up there with the Four Horsewomen stuff that the WWE has been doing recently. ALEX WINDSOR is looking like a force to be reckoned with in the tournament. What was also impressive was how well PAUL ROBINSON is continuing to play the heel role, not bad for a high flyer. He and WILL OSPREAY may form a formidable stable further down the storylines. The highlight though was Leeds’ own RAMPAGE BROWN, bowing out of his Atlas title run, in a brutal match against MATT RIDDLE. RIDDLE will be a great ambassador for Progress and hopefully by taking the belt on the road, will do wonders for spreading UK wrestling on a global level. This was another good show from Progress (always consistent) and I look forward to watching regularly again in 2017, especially as the German’s in RINGKAMPF look like they’ll be sticking around.
NJPW also hosted their annual crossover event with Mexico’s CMLL and FANTASTICAMANIA was the final night showcase, which saw WILL OSPREAY repping the UK again in a trios comedy match, against the top CMLL heavyweight. I don’t watch Lucha Libre enough, so I always enjoy my fix when this event comes round (maybe there will be more when LUCHA FOREVER comes up north, and LUCHA UNDERGROUND gets an online service). The co-main events were awesome, and a perfect demonstration to non-Lucha purists, of what their craft is all about. A really fun show that gained momentum throughout. Lookout for the mask swapping match!
The four NXT TAKEOVER’s are up there with some of the best stuff that the WWE is putting out these days, and the latest in SAN ANTONIO didn’t disappoint again. Although my expectations for the show were low, I though overall it was solidly and consistently good in terms of the quality of the matches. TYE DILLINGER still came over, despite loosing a well-worked match to ERIC YOUNG. DIY managed to lift the AUTHORS OF PAIN to a good match level, and BOBBY ROODE got the deserved NXT Title victory in a well-worked match with SHINSUKE NAKAMURA. With the amount of quality indie and UK stars the WWE has signed recently, I think it’s time they moved up the veteran performers and make some fresh room for all the new blood, and reinvigorate this product before it risks going stale.
Sneaking in prior to the end of the month is PROGRESS 43, yet this wasn’t on their demand service by the end of the month so I’ll cover it next time.
And finally the month rounded off with the build for Wrestlemania, with the WWE Royal Rumble. John Cena vs AJ Styles was a very good match. AJ has had an amazing debut year and Cena is the best he’s ever been, so it made for a great pairing for a big time title match. With all the talk of what might happen, and the unpredictability, it ended up refreshing to see a Rumble match with no major swerves that had a good consistency throughout. I was even marking out for Roman Reigns by the end of it. I think I love him even more because of the fact that the WWE universe hate him. He’s legit in their top echelon of talent and he was in many great matches in 2016.
One thing were all wondering here in the UK though, is how much of an effect is the WWE UK project going to have on the UK independent scene, positive and negative? Tune in next month for more world Wrestling reviews.
Oh and do DDP Yoga. It has transformed my body, mind and soul.
Best matches of January 2017 (Top 10 in bold):
Hiromu Takahashi vs Kushida (WK11)
Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata (WK11)
Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (WK11)
Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega (WK11)
12 man Battle Royal (Rise)
Liam Slater vs Saxon Huxley (Rise)
Josh Bodom vs Eddie Dennis (Cockpit 12)
Tyler Bate vs Dave Mastiff (Cockpit 12)
Rj Singh vs Zack Sabre Jnr (Cockpit 12)
Ospreay/Smile/Strickland vs Scurll/Dunne/Banks (Cockpit 12)
Wolfgang vs T Bone (WWE UK Championship)
Dunne vs Andrews (WWE UK Championship)
Dunne vs Bate (WWE UK Championship)
Scurll vs Sabre Jnr (High Stakes)
Shibata vs Riddle (High Stakes)
Trevor Lee vs Trent Seven (High Stakes)
Finn Balor Musical Chairs (Progress 42)
Alex Windsor vs Livvi Grace (Progress 42)
Spud vs Paul Robinson (Progress 42)
Riddle vs Rampage (Progress 42)
Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young (Takeover San Antonio)
DIY vs Authors of Pain (NXT Takeover San Antonio)
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Bobby Roode (NXT Takeover San Antonio)
Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask & Stuka Jr. vs Hechicero, Okumura & Raziel (Fantasticamania)
Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay & Ephesto vs Maximo Sexy, Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi (Fantasticamania )
Mistico vs Euforia (Fantasticamania)
Volador Jr. vs Ultimo Guerrero (Fantasticamania)
Kenny Omega vs Tiger Ali (New Years Wrestlution)
John Cena vs AJ Styles (Royal Rumble)
Royal Rumble (Royal Rumble)
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