Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: February Pay-Per-View Matches

The month of February is here and in honor of that, I'm going to look at the best Pay-Per-View matches that I've ever seen take place in the month. The list will include WWE, WCW and NJPW. I have seen some ROH and TNA February Pay-Per-Views, but they didn't quite crack the top ten.

10. WWF Championship Hell in a Cell: Triple H (c) vs. Cactus Jack – WWF No Way Out 2000

This is my third top ten list to feature a match between Cactus Jack and Triple H. Their match a month before this made my “Non-Rumble Royal Rumble Matches” and “Matches I’ve Seen Live” lists. The chemistry between these two was always something to behold. It just clicked. Despite being a barbaric war, this one is sometimes forgotten due to the nature of their first battle. This was one of the earlier Cell matches and like Undertaker/Mankind or Undertaker/Michaels, it remains one of the best. Like the Royal Rumble match, these two really showcase the hatred for one another. You watch it and you feel like Cactus really wants to kill Hunter. They were smart to add the retirement stipulation, upping the ante from their prior matches. They played off their past, bringing in the barbed wire 2x4, but adding fire to the mix. Outside of the bumps in the King of the Ring 1998 Cell, this had the biggest that I can remember as Cactus took a back body drop through the roof of the cell and through the ring itself. Following that, Triple H hit a Pedigree to retain the title and send Foley into retirement.

9. Barry Windham, Larry Zbyszko, Ric Flair and Sid Vicious vs. Brian Pillman, the Steiner Brothers and Sting – WCW WrestleWar 1991

The lone WCW outing to make this list is a good old fashioned War Games match. For those unaware, the War Games matches work like a big series of hot tags. Things start with two men and the rest join in, one at a time, with the advantage swinging each time. This is one of the better worked War Games matches, but not on the level of the one that would take place in 1992. Still, this was a blast. Everyone seemed to be on their game. It played out like a really violent match. Pillman started with Windham and Windham was busted open before the next guy could even enter the match. That’s what I like to see. That would not be anywhere near the end of the bloodshed either. There were more than a few cool spots throughout this. At one point, multiple figure fours were locked in and they panned to a shot of the fans pretty much losing their minds. The infamous finish came when Sid nearly killed Pillman on a powerbomb before hitting a second powerbomb. El Gigante lumbered out to check on his friend and the match was called. This was certainly one of the better War Games matches in history.

8. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Fastlane 2015

The most recent entry on this list main evented the inaugural Fastlane Pay-Per-View. Brock Lesnar was the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but was working his part-time schedule. Due to that, a lot of main events around this time didn’t involve the title. Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble, but Daniel Bryan never lost his title, relinquishing it due to injury the year before. They met in Memphis on this night, with the winner facing Brock at WrestleMania. Wisely, they went with a smart and easy story to tell. Bryan was the better wrestler, but Reigns was clearly the better brawler. It’s simple, but effective. Reigns’ Rumble win was met with sever backlash as he was VERY unproven in the ring. This was the kind of star making performance that he needed. They played into the power vs. technical stuff so very well. Reigns didn’t dominate and neither did Bryan. The viewers knew that neither guy had a serious upper hand so they made sure that the match was even throughout. Unlike a lot of WWE matches, they didn’t overdo the false finishes. They were even wise enough to bring Reigns’ hernia injury into play. Reigns won with the Spear, getting the rub from Bryan, who shook his hand afterwards. At the time of this writing, it remains the best Reigns match.

7. WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Eddie Guerrero – WWE No Way Out 2004

Part of what I said about the Reigns/Bryan match can be applied here. This was one powerful man and one smaller, highly skill guy. The WWE, and wrestling in general, have done plenty of David vs. Goliath stories but I haven’t seen many done better than this. Brock Lesnar was on a roll as the WWE Champion and it was possible that he would head into WrestleMania with the strap. Eddie Guerrero was red hot but it was hard to see him beating Brock. Eddie was a guy that was looked at as someone who would never make it to the top. Not many people had beaten Brock to that point. Off the top of my head, I can remember Kurt Angle and the Big Show doing so. Eddie took a beating in the match, but was so resilient. He was such a likable babyface that the fans were behind his every rally. Despite his best efforts, Brock was still too much. Until Goldberg showed up. Goldberg and Brock were in the midst of a cross-brand rivalry. Goldberg’s involvement led to Eddie hitting the Frog Splash and picking up one of the more emotional title wins in WWE history. It was the crowning moment for one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots.

6. World Heavyweight Championship: Kurt Angle (c) vs. The Undertaker – WWE No Way Out 2006

Think about the best matches that the Undertaker has had in his career. You’ll remember stuff with Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Edge and other guys that are smaller than him. He and Kurt Angle were the same way for the most part. This match at No Way Out was their best outing for sure. After Angle retained his World Title at the Royal Rumble, Undertaker showed up and basically issued a challenge. That led them to this match, which was a great battle of Undertaker’s size going against Angle’s technical ability. Even though Undertaker had the size advantage, he stepped out of his comfort zone and busted out some technical stuff. Undertaker sold the leg work very well, which is something he started doing very well in this era of his career. Kurt Angle was allowed to come off looking like a total badass throughout the entire match. My only issue with this match was the finish. The company wanted to protect both guys so they did a controversial finish that saw Angle retain. Even so, this was a great match and I really think it should have happened at WrestleMania that year instead of Undertaker/Henry.

5. NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW The New Beginning in Sendai 2015

Shortly after I had to cancel my New Japan World account early in the year, this show was held. I heard nothing but incredible things about the NEVER Openweight Title match between Tomoaki Honma and Tomohiro Ishii. I was finally able to check it out and didn’t really enjoy it the first time around, though I blame that on me being preoccupied when I saw it. I’ve see it twice more now and think it’s great, but I’ve never gotten the full five star vibe from it that a lot of people had. So, Togi Makabe was the NEVER Champion but was out injured and these two wrestled for the vacant belt. It was a brutal affair, with both guys just going to war with each other. The crowd absolutely loves Honma, meaning they are not only completely into everything he does, but they bite on every near fall, despite his terrible win/loss record. That red hot crowd reaction added to this. The match goes 24:46 which is not the usual case for my favorite matches these guys have. They both, especially Honma, excel in the G1 style shorter matches, but this was pretty great. Ishii won back the title with a Brainbuster after they beat the hell out of each other for the whole match.

4. WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin vs. Undertaker vs. Vader – WWF In Your House: Final Four 1997

This was a pretty interesting concept. It wasn’t your typical Fatal Four Way match, since those weren’t even used by the WWF at this time. At the Royal Rumble, Steve Austin illegally got back into the ring and Bret Hart, Undertaker and Vader were all eliminated. None of those eliminations should have counted, so they made up this match. It was elimination rules and you could get dumped by going over the top rope. Shawn Michaels had to vacate the WWF Title when he lost his smile, leading to this being for the vacant belt. These four guys beat the hell out of each other in one of my favorite matches ever. Vader was the MVP by far, just doing some great things and bleeding a ton. Austin was the first one thrown over the top after injuring his knee. I’ve heard that the original plan was for Austin to win here. I’m glad it didn’t happen because his title win at WrestleMania XIV was something special. Anyway, Vader was out next, leaving it to come down to Undertaker and Bret. They went at it, Austin came back out to get involved, but it still resulted in Bret sending Undertaker over the top to win his fourth WWF Title.

3. NEVER Openweight Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2014

There would probably be more New Japan stuff on this list if I was able to see more of their shows. I have been going back and watching more, but I’ve only seen the 2014 and 2015 stuff. Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii have both become two of my favorite performers in NJPW. The Osaka crowd was not feeling Naito at all, following his failed push after winning the G1 Climax in 2013. Ishii had quickly risen to become one of the bigger cult favorites in Japan. With the crowd completely behind Ishii, the face Naito wised up and made sure to show off his heel tendencies. It was a precursor to the excellent heel run that Naito would have a year later. Ishii had his shoulder worked on, while Naito had his leg targeted. Naito had issues selling the leg during the G1 Climax a year prior but did a really good in doing so here. It was a great way that featured two guys doing everything in their willpower to break each other. Some of the near falls down the stretch were absolutely insane. I knew the result the first time I watched this and still was on the edge of my seat. Ishii won, finally getting himself a big moment in front of a hot crowd.

2. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family – WWE Elimination Chamber 2014

Just a few weeks after the number three match on this list, this one took place. Throughout the entire 2013 year, the Shield was far and away the best thing about the WWE, as well as the clear cut MVPs. In the back half of 2013 though, a new threat emerged on the scene, known as the Wyatt Family. These two factions were both dominant and you could kind of sense that they would collide at some point. They even teased it on a late 2013 episode of Raw. After the Wyatts cost the Shield a spot in the WWE World Heavyweight Title Elimination Chamber match, the two units were set for war. Something about this match felt really special and I really wish that it was saved for WrestleMania. However, it took place in February and this was spectacular. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. There was unbelievable hype and they more than lived up to it. The crowd was chanting “this is awesome” before they even locked up. This came off as a war. They went on to have a few more matches, but none ever reached this nearly perfect match. The Wyatts won, with Bray pinning Roman Reigns. Of course, this led to Bray Wyatt losing to John Cena at Mania, but on this night, Bray looked like a start.

1. Three Stages of Hell: Steve Austin vs. Triple H – WWF No Way Out 2001

The Three Stages of Hell stipulation hadn’t ever been done coming into this match. Steve Austin was out of action for almost ten months after being hit a car. It was revealed that Rikishi drove the vehicle, but Triple H was the mastermind behind it. They had a match at Survivor Series 2000 which ended with Austin nearly murdering Triple H. This would be the ending of their rivalry and it ended with a bang. This was a Two Out of Three Falls match where the first fall was a regular match, the second fall was a street fight and the third fall, if needed, would be a Steel Cage match. I’ve mentioned how the last matches on this list were wars, but this was on a whole different level. Surprisingly it was Austin who won the standard match and Triple H who took the Street Fight. Then, the cage lowered with weapons still inside the ring, allowing them to continue to keep the hardcore theme while trapped in the cage. After a marathon of brutality, Austin and HHH hit each other at the same time with a 2x4 and sledgehammer. Triple H fell on Austin and scored the win, which was a surprising result since Austin had a WWF Title shot at WrestleMania. This went on for nearly forty minutes and was one of the best matches in the storied careers of either guy.

Lucha Underground Season Two Premiere Review

Following a spectacular first season, Lucha Underground returns. However, things are quire different. Dario Cueto is no longer around so there's a new sheriff in town. Catrina, the manager of Lucha Underground Champion Mil Muertes and Trios Champions the Disciples of Death, is taking over for Dario. She literally holds ALL of the power. 

Now, the best thing about Lucha Underground is the way that it blends great wrestling with the cinematography and general all around feel that makes films great. That was evident from the start with a video package showing Vampiro getting out of an insane asylum. He snaps and attacks the doctors, even biting one like a vampire. It was only a vision though and Vampiro gets out, meeting up with Matt Striker in the desert. They head out but Striker warns him the Temple is a darker place now. Vampiro gives a sly smile, which I absolutely loved.

Fenix, the current Gift of the God's Champion, shows up in Catrina's office. She doesn't allow him to cash in for a Lucha Underground title shot, instead saying he has to defend it tonight.

Gift of the God's Championship: King Cuerno def. Fenix (c) in 7:47
Last season, Lucha Underground started with Blue Demon Jr. vs. Chavo Guerrero. Needless to say, this was a far better way to kick things off. Commentary put over the fact that this was the first ever meeting between the two but you would not have believed that. They worked at an incredibly fast pace, moving seamlessly from one move to another. They did some things that I had never seen before. Fenix found ways to innovate the diving double stomp, hitting one to the back of Cuerno's head while he was seated atop the turnbuckle, and a springboard 450 splash. He survived Cuerno's signature Thrill but lost the title when Cuerno hit a packaged Tombstone. Excellent match, perfect choice for the opener and the title change was a great surprise. ****

The former Trios Champions, Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc arrive. They instantly see Catrina and want their belts back. Catrina declines saying that Mil Muertes wants them to face each other. They initially scoff, but when they find out that a Lucha Underground title shot is on the line, they agree. That's such a great way to mess with the champions and keep them away from Mil.

Backstage, Catrina meets up with King Cuerno. They seem to have struck some sort of deal. I guess Cuerno won't be cashing in his shot.

Number One Contender's Match: Ivelisse def. Angelico and Son of Havoc in 6:07
I would like to add that throughout the night, Mil Muertes has been seated on a throne up where the band used to play in the Temple. It looks so fucking cool. I haven't seen Ivelisse fully healthy in a long time. This was one of those matches that was good but made better by the story involved. The three teammates played off of their strengths and chemistry together. It all worked very well. Havoc seemed like he would win but Ivelisse stopped him and rolled up Angelico to pick up the win. Well done stuff and the emotional reaction to realizing that Ivelisse now had to face a monster like Muertes hit me hard. Only Lucha Underground does that to me this often. ***

Some random dudes are 375 miles away from the Temple and they're looking for it. They find Black Lotus who will take them where they need to be.

Lucha Underground Championship: Mil Muertes (c) def. Ivelisse in 4:32
Before the match, the Disciples of Death showed up and attacked Son of Havoc and Angelico. Muertes and Catrina held Ivelisse and made her watch as they carried them off to the back, leaving Ivelisse all alone. Due to the obvious mismatch, this wasn't the greatest match ever, but it was expertly booked. They made sure to have Muertes look like an absolute monster, while having Ivelisse take advantage of any and every small opening. She applied some submissions but Mil was able to power out of each. Catrina got involved when Ivelisse had an opening. Ivelisse avoided a Muertes spear and he took out Catrina. Ivelisse then rolled him up for a near fall that I COMPLETELY bought into. Muertes planted her with the Flatliner to retain. Again, Lucha Underground totally pulled me into this and I was more emotionally invested in this than most matches in the past few months. ***

After the bell, Catrina seems to go for the lick of death but decides against it, wanting Mil to inflict more damage. Former Lucha Underground Champion Prince Puma runs in, making his return to the Temple to save Ivelisse. He pulled Ivelisse away and had a stare down with Muertes. Then, unexpectedly, PENTAGON JR shows up and hits the backstabber on Muertes. The look on Vampiro's face was absolutely priceless. Pentagon continues to give CERO FUCKS when he breaks Muertes' arm! Holy shit what an ending.

Closing things out officially, Black Lotus brings those random dudes to Dario Cueto. Lotus beats one of the dudes up for calling her a chick. Dario asks each guy for $20 to enter the "underground fight club." They go in and we hear the sounds of Matanza basically killing them.

Overall: 9.5/10. Wow. I've waited almost five months for Lucha Underground to return and was incredibly hype for the premiere. It lived up to my expectations and then some. They focused on the people I love most in LU (Pentagon, Ivelisse, Mil, Puma, Fenix, Cuerno, etc.) All three matches were good, with Cuerno/Fenix being really great. The Dario angle is interesting and the ending of the show was insane. The cinematics and storytelling are still on point. Lucha Underground is back and it remains the best wrestling show on TV.

If you do want to check out Lucha Underground and don't get El Rey Network (like me), you can sign up for the streaming service Fubo.TV right here:

Top Five 1/18/16-1/24/16

1) AJ Styles: No, he didn't win and no, he didn't even make it to the end. However, the biggest news coming out of the Royal Rumble was the debut of AJ Styles. His arrival at #3 was met with a great reaction, even though some were worried the fans wouldn't know who he was. He went toe to toe with Roman Reigns, while also getting to interact with a lot of guys that I'd love to see him face one on one. Styles lasted 28 minutes before getting eliminated by Kevin Owens. Before midnight, his new WWE t-shirt was already sold out. He got to keep his name, his nickname and his logo, which is great. His arrival was a truly special moment in wrestling.

            2) Triple H: I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually think that HHH as WWE Champion in 2016 is not bad. That's just what happened at the Royal Rumble. Triple H was a "surprise" entrant at #30 and squared off with Roman Reigns. He got to have a pretty cool faceoff with Bray Wyatt before throwing Reigns out, guaranteeing a new champion. Reigns and Dean Ambrose were the final two competitors and HHH gave Ambrose a fair amount of offense before dumping him out to win his 14th WWE Title. Considering the amount of injuries in the company right now, HHH/Reigns makes sense as the Mania main event.

3) Kamaitachi: So far, January has produced some really great matches (Ishii/Shibata, Styles/Nakamura, Scurll/Ospreay and Ambrose/Owens), but the one at FantasticaMania for the CMLL World Lightweight Title is easily top three so far. Kamaitachi and champion Dragon Lee had one of the better rivalries in 2015 from what I heard. I was only able to see one of those matches though. When I heard they would be meeting in Korakuen Hall at FantasticaMania, I knew I had to see it. It was incredible. Two men just went balls to the walls and had a fantastic sprint. You'll be hard pressed to find something else this year that works so well despite being so fast paced. Kamaitachi was able to pick up the win and become the new champion. Go see this match as soon as possible.

            4) Dean Ambrose: I know that a lot of people feel the WWE doesn't have faith in Dean Ambrose but I disagree. They see something in him as they had him make it to the final two in the Royal Rumble. He came within a hair of eliminating Triple H and becoming a double champion. Along with his performance in the Royal Rumble match, earlier in the show, he retained the Intercontinental Championship against Kevin Owens in a great match that was my favorite the WWE has put on so far in 2016. Ambrose is one of the MVPs of the WWE and has been for a while. I expect a strong 2016.

5) Matt Hardy: Recently, I put Ethan Carter III on this list for winning back the TNA World Heavyweight Title. Well, that all quickly changed. During this week, it was Matt Hardy who won the belt back from EC3. Not only was it a major title win for Matt, but he also became the first man to pin EC3 after more than two years. I don't get the plan since it was Matt who gave up the title to create a tournament in the first place. Anyway, Matt won and the company managed to pull off a pretty good double turn. EC3 is now face and Matt is a heel, which has led to some fantastic heel work on Twitter from Matt.