September 1, 2018
Joey Janela . . . along with Adam Page, winds up bastardizing the phrase “Chicago Street Fight.”
Marty Scurll . . . gets added to the long list of people who’ve had great matches with Kazuchika Okada.
Bandido . . . makes the most out of his huge opportunity to team with a legend and headline a show against international stars.
MATT CROSS vs. MAXWELL JACOB FRIEDMAN
MJF apparently hates everybody, which automatically endears him to me, and he spends the match trying to make sure that the crowd hates him right back. It’s fun to watch him shark on Cross’s arm, and he had a few innovative spots like the package shoulderbreaker and the hammerlock doctor bomb. But, there isn’t much to see beyond that, the opening sequence is worked at a noticeably slow pace, and, there are a couple of instances where they telegraph things, like Cross dropping down for MJF to leap over him, but doing it way too early. It’s nice to see that Cross still has the spring in his step to pull off a Sasuke Special, but the spot comes far too early in the match to matter. Cross mostly does a nice job at putting over his arm and shoulder getting worked over, but he slips a couple of times, like the cartwheel counter. He completely blows it off for the finish, even though MJF had him trapped in an armbar not long before. Cross just springs to life to hit his cutter and then does his SSP to win. Cross completely ignoring the arm work wasn’t good, but, it also didn’t help that MJF never did anything to make it seem as though he was using the arm to try to actually win the match. The arrogant jerk getting his comeuppance is fine, but they should have found a better way to do it.
CHRISTOPHER DANIELS vs. STEPHEN AMELL
Respect to Amell for being able to pull off a coast to coast dropkick, and for taking that table bump, but the less said about this, the better. Amell’s work looks as good as you’d expect of someone who has only had three matches over the course of three years. Daniels’ work isn’t much better, honestly. It’s obvious that he’s pulling his strikes, and none of his three moonsaults connect very cleanly. Daniels taking the bump on the apron, selling for second, and then rolling onto the table is beyond embarrassing. Granted, this was never going to be anything amazing, but, they had the chance to at least make it passable, and they didn’t even get that far.
TESSA BLANCHARD vs. BRIT BAKER vs. CHELSEA GREEN vs. MADISON RAYNE
Chelsea’s ‘Hot Mess’ character is fun to watch, but, there’s just no reason to care about this at all. There’s nothing as far as telling a story or developing any sort of theme. None of them stand out as either being a weak leak, or having an edge that requires the others to form some sort of alliance. The last seven or so minutes are just truckloads of spots with no real rhyme or reason. There’s one nice moment where Brit surprises Tessa with a superkick, but opts to try pinning Chelsea, since Tessa had just given her the Magnum. There aren’t any exchanges between Tessa and Chelsea to make the finish work on any other level than Tessa hitting her DDT, and Brit and Madison being too late to break up the pin.
NICK ALDIS © vs. CODY RHODES (NWA World Heavyweight Title)
This isn’t so much a match as it is a collection of emotional moments, with some wrestling in between, along with a dog and pony show. The moments themselves work well. Aldis hitting Brandi with the flying elbow gave him more heat than MJF could garner. Cody’s gusher made for some nice visuals, especially when Aldis had him in the Texas Cloverleaf, and, the callback to the finish of the Hart/Bulldog is nice for those who are old enough to remember it. But, there isn’t a whole lot of substance in between those moments. It certainly didn’t help that there was quite a while between Cody taking the forearm shot from Aldis, and him being shown to be opened up by it. And during the delay was the tease of the ref stopping the match, and the business with DDP and Shawn Daivari. The elbow drop to Brandi also didn’t have a good follow up. Aldis could have played up the heat by acting proud of himself, or doing something really nasty like kicking her out of the ring. Cody could have gotten fired up and started taking the fight to Aldis like he wanted to kill him. But, instead the ref gets Brandi out of the ring, Aldis gets his near fall, and the match just continues.
The only real story to the match comes in Aldis working over Cody’s back. But, he’s not terribly consistent with it. He does some nice things, like bumping Cody into the post, the fall away slam off the second rope, and the powerslam on the floor. But, other than the ugly Texas Cloverleaf, he doesn’t do anything to try to win the match with it. Cody adds a couple nice touches to the match by showing how it’s affecting him, such as his inability to pull off the Alabama Slam and later on the Kudo Driver. Although he really didn’t need to follow up the attempted Alabama Slam, by trying again and not only doing it, but also spinning Aldis around before he did it.
If nothing else, the show goes above and beyond to make the NWA Title seem meaningful. Little things like both of them coming out with a full entourage help give the match a big fight feel. In the five years that the title was associated with TNA, I’d be surprised if the title was ever treated so importantly. If Cody’s goal was to win the title in a memorable fashion, then he absolutely succeeded in that. But, this certainly isn’t a classic, or even a good match, it’s watchable and not much more.
ADAM PAGE vs. JOEY JANELA (Chicago Street Fight)
Any match that contains comedy spots, which involve both valets and rolling barrels, isn’t a real Chicago Street Fight. Page and Janela both take some big bumps, but that’s the only thing that they do. There’s zero as far as story goes, and there’s not even any real intensity to it. It doesn’t give the impression that they want to tear each other apart. Even the prop assisted spots don’t really have an impact on the match. Aside from the finish, none of the other table spots were treated as match breakers, and the spot on the bridged ladder that wound up with both of them taking a bump, had no meaning.
There’s one nice moment, when Page eats a forearm shot on the floor, he oversells it and throws himself into the crowd. It looks goofy, but it pays off when Joey takes the bait and walks right into the Buckshot Lariat. But, that’s about thirty seconds of a twenty-minute match. Page ramping up the Rite of Passage with a table and ladder would have made a good finish, if it was established that he needed to go that far. But, when he tries the regular move, Janela’s valet breaks up the pin so that she and Page can work their comedy sequence. The phone cord spot, even having context within the storyline, just looks silly. After the match, Joey Ryan makes his big return to pay off a previous angle. The fans seem to enjoy it, but it doesn’t do a thing for me.
JAY LETHAL © vs. FLIP GORDON (ROH World Heavyweight Title)
For a little while, this looked like the best match of the night up to this point. Flip may be a spot machine, but, the way he flies around looks effortless. I’d like to see more of his work to see if he brings anything else to the table other than that. But, even if he doesn’t, it’s certainly easy to marvel at how graceful he is, and let his opponent put the pieces together. After Lethal gets his Randy Savage caricature out of the way, this turns into a nice match. It’s not terribly deep, but Lethal and Flip do a nice job with it. Flip tries to use his speed and agility to say out of trouble, but, the champion has been around the block a few times, and knows how to shut him down. There’s one really cool moment, when Flip and Lethal take turns trying to backdrop each other, with the other doing the usual escape, and Flip smartly changing it up first and blocking the suplex and getting a near fall from a cradle. The only thing that was really missing, which would have been nice to see, is Flip showing fatigue from his being in the pre-show Battle Royal. But, watching this, you wouldn’t get the idea that Flip is worn out or tired.
They seem to be headed for a nice finish, with Lethal countering Flip and doing a Torture Rack into a Finlay Roll. Lethal calls for the Injection, but The Genius stops him, and Lethal decides to Hail the King, with three elbows. But, then Flip decides to match Lethal’s Savage caricature with a Hogan one, and any chance of this being taken seriously is out the window. If nothing else, the finish they wind up using is decent, with Lethal once again coming up with a counter for Flip’s flying, this time blocking a rana and giving Flip a cutter, which gives him the opening to do the Lethal Injection. I’d really like to see a rematch, without the goofy Hogan and Savage stuff, to see what else they could do together, which is a whole lot more than I can say about ever seeing another Page/Janela match.
KENNY OMEGA vs. PENTA EL ZERO
Even though they go a bit crazy toward the end, there’s always at least a trace of logic to the match. Penta gets the first shot of the match with a kick to the gut follows up with a back cracker. Kenny tries to take over, but his attempts backfire because he’s trying for too much and Penta is able to prevent it. The first attempt comes when Kenny catches Penta with a rana that sends him to the floor, and he charges for his big dive, but Penta quickly rolls into the ring and drops him with a Sling Blade. A bit later, Kenny and Penta have a chop exchange, which Kenny wins, and Kenny tries a moonsault, but Penta gets the knees up on him.
Although this is definitely a step up from everything before it, there are some things that hold it back. There are a quite a few times when their cooperation gets exposed. It’s easy to see Penta feed Kenny his leg for the fisherman’s buster. The first Dragon suplex is another moment like that, Penta more or less rolls through to go along with the suplex. It’s somewhat ironic that, with the idea of the match being Penta’s ability to stay away from Omega’s big shots, he’s isn’t all that mindful about keeping his own moves protected. One of the bigger spots is Penta doing the Fear Factor on the apron. Penta hits the move, takes a few seconds to catch his breath, and then rolls Kenny into the ring. Instead of going for the pin, and using the delay to explain the kick out or even Kenny getting a rope break, Penta opts to also do the Lanza and then cover for a near fall when Omega kicks out. Rather than being a big spot for a believable near fall, the Fear Factor and Lanza both come out looking bad. Penta only makes it worse later. He escaped the One Winged Angel and takes Omega down and grabs Omega’s arm for the Sacrifice. While Kenny is putting over his arm, Penta spikes him with another Fear Factor and quickly covers for another near fall, which is supposed to be explained by not hooking the leg.
The story progression with the V-Trigger is a really good thing to see here. It’s Kenny’s main strike, so he’s obviously going to try for it, but Penta seems to have it well scouted, and he’s able to fend it off quite a few times throughout the match. It’s only when Penta isn’t expecting it, that Kenny hits it, which first comes after he counters the Fear Factor. But, Penta doesn’t just fold like an accordion from it. It clearly rocks him, but he stays upright and tells Kenny that he’s got cero miedo and dares him to do it again. The finish is a fun bit of turnabout being fair play for Omega. One of Penta’s methods of avoiding the V-Trigger was to give Kenny a superkick before he could connect. But, Penta, unwittingly makes the same mistake. He thinks that Kenny is still dazed from the last Fear Factor and goes for a superkick, but Kenny blocks it and stuns him with a V-Trigger. Kenny quickly follows up with the reverse rana and the One Winged Angel to put him away. While this obviously isn’t up to the level that Kenny is able to reach with Okada, it’s still a solid effort from him, and it blows away everything that came before it. ***
KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. MARTY SCURLL
As far as Okada goes, this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking match, or performance, from him. It’s the same story as most of his matches. Okada works the neck over, with his usual spots, and it all pays off when he wins with the Rainmaker. There are some nice openings from Marty to get him there, like countering the attempted powerbomb into his ARC, but it’s still just Okada doing his usual stuff. But, this isn’t Okada’s match to make, it’s Marty’s, and he’s able to pull it off. It’s easy to look at the fact that Okada wins and say that Marty failed in his quest to be taken seriously as a heavyweight. But, despite losing the match, Marty gets several little victories over Okada throughout the match, and, that alone allows him to accomplish his goal. If anything, it’s a testament that Marty is even in the match. You’d think that a junior wanting to move up, would take things slower and wrestle someone like Yano or Trevor Lee or Kenny King, not go right to the top of the food chain. It also helps that Okada does a great job at selling, and doing what he can to put Marty over. When Marty gave Okada the Rainmaker, Okada could have easily just stood there and no sold it, rather than take the bump and give him the near fall.
Where things go wrong for Marty is that he seems to be too focused on being the heavyweight, and not so much on the actual match. It’s fun to see him return the favor when Okada does the clean break and gives the dismissive slap, and it’s cool to see Okada going up for a powerbomb and brainbuster for him. The superkick to the knee has always bee one of Marty’s staples, but, it’s nice to see some new context added to it. But, the best moments of the match come when Marty drops the heavyweight stuff and acts like The Villain. When Okada is posing before the Rainmaker, Marty grabs his hand by surprise and gets off the finger snap. When the ref goes down and Marty clocks him with the umbrella and does his own Rainmaker, it’s easily the best (and certainly most heated) near fall of the match.
Marty’s undoing can even be traced back to his obsession with being treated like a heavyweight. He’s far too concerned with pulling off big man moves, and going along with chop and forearm exchanges, rather than focusing on doing things that might win him the match. Early on, he managed to expose Okada’s elbow and give it a big stomp. But, he leaves the arm alone afterwards, despite the fact that it can counteract the Rainmaker and also put Marty into better position to win with his chickenwing. Sure enough, when Marty gets the opening and gets Okada in the chickenwing, it’s not enough to beat Okada. Maybe, if Marty has spent more time wearing it down, it wouldn’t have mattered that he couldn’t fully lock in the hold. And, just like Penta before him, he doesn’t learn from his opponent’s mistake. After taking advantage of Okada’s crowd playing before the Rainmaker and doing the chickenwing, Marty does his usual dance before the chickenwing, and winds up on the wrong end of a lariat, and then the Rainmaker.
Working a match like this, and holding his own, is certainly a big step up for Marty. But, this is really just a typical Okada match. In the year 2018 that’s a phrase that still equates with high quality, even if the story and structure aren’t exactly fresh. Whether or not New Japan gives Scurll a heavyweight push remains to be seen. He put over KUSHIDA for the vacant IWGP Jr. Title a month after this. But, even if it doesn’t mean anything long term, this is still a fine match on its own. ***½
KOTA IBUSHI/MATT JACKSON/NICK JACKSON vs. REY MYSTERIO/REY FENIX/BANDIDO
Although this isn’t deep in the least, it’s a fun enough note to send the fans home on. The six of them don’t go out there with the intention of doing anything complex or trying to build something. They all just want to show the world exactly what they’re capable of, whether it’s Bandido still trying to make a name for himself outside of Mexico or Mysterio showing that he can still go after all so many years (and so many knee injuries).
The match is exactly what you’d expect, with the dive sequences, the train wreck spots, and stalemates. Ibushi and the Bucks leave some of their more annoying spots behind, like Ibushi’s missed moonsault off the top, and the Bucks making an opponent Tombstone his partner. In fact, the only weak moment is Matt taking two big head bumps consecutively, a Destroyer from Fenix and a reverse rana from Bandido, followed by a frog splash from Rey, and still kicking out. It’d have been just as easy for Ibushi or Nick to make the save, or even pull out the referee, rather Matt having to devalue the big bumps he’d just taken. The finish isn’t exactly in doubt anyway, and it comes off nice. Bandido barely kicks out the ramped up version of MBFYB, with Ibushi also joining in. Without Rey or Fenix being able to make the save, and not being able to get a surprise counter or reversal, there’s no chance that Bandido can withstand the Meltzer Driver. The Bucks, Ibushi, and Mysterio have all done a lot better, and I’m reasonably certain that Bandido and Fenix have as well. It’s a fun spotfest from six guys who are all more than able to bring the goods to that sort of match, even if they’re all capable of a lot more.
Conclusion: As lackluster as I found the wrestling on the undercard, I can appreciate the fact that they succeeded in their goal of creating a lot of spectacle, like Cody's title win, Lethal's Macho Man tribute, and even the Joey Ryan stuff. Between that, and the good wrestling that there is, this is an event that’s hard to steer clear of.