Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mania Weekend: Axxess, Progress, Evolve, and ROH

The biggest weekend in professional wrestling is done for another year. I watched WrestleMania 33 from the comfort of my couch, despite the fact that biggest spectacle in pro wrestling was happening a mere hour down the road in Orlando. It simply doesn’t get any bigger than WrestleMania, and admittedly, a part of me regrets missing it live...especially in retrospect, lamenting the Undertaker’s last ride. However, the craziness Wrestlemania brings with it is just as exciting. For one week, central Florida was the wrestling capital of the world as wrestlers and organizations from all over converged on Orlando. There were more events going on than time or money would allow no matter how hard you tried… and many wrestling fans made of sterner stuff than I certainly tried at the risk of their sanity and their wallet. Many people I know attended shows for four solid days from morning until the wee hours of the night, they could do a write-up truly worth reading. While I lacked their dedication, I certainly wasn’t going to sit out the biggest weekend of the year. The weekend began at Axxess and ended with The Young Bucks superkicking Matt and Jeff Hardy off ladders. In between were some of the best indie wrestlers from here and abroad. In lieu of the traditional write-up, here is my weekend in pictures.





Sunday, December 18, 2016

NXT Tampa 12-17-16

NXT finished its weekend loop by returning to its home away from home, the UACDC Gymnasium in Tampa. Outside of Orlando, this gym probably pulls in the largest amount of ardent NXT fans. This Saturday night would be no different as fans piled in the last Florida NXT show of 2016. By nature, these house shows at Christmas are delightfully weird, with odd booking and seemingly thrown together matches. With much of the roster touring or heading home for Christmas, it is often an all hands on deck skeleton crew.

Steve Cutler vs Adrian Jaoude
The night opened up with former marine Steve Cutler taking on with the Brazilian Adrian Jaoude. This opener started with Cutler dictating the pace by avoiding the Jaoude, eliciting a chicken chant from the crowd. The action begins with lots of arm drags and arm bars in the favor of the Brazilian Jaoude. Eventually, Cutler takes control after a cheap shot. He punishes Jaoude with a slow-paced offense culminating in a mean lariat and a painful looking double stomp. Adrian Jaoude would soon make a comeback showing off his aikido background with an impressive flurry of strikes before tossing Cutler with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Adrian Jaoude then defeated Steve Cutler with a fisherman’s suplex. This was a good opener. I like Cutler as a heel, I say give him a house show push and see what happens. Adrian Jaoude’s amateur background is obvious, and impressive… all the man needs is a connection with the crowd.

Nikki Cross vs Macey
Macey started with a surprisingly strong offense. Cross rethought her strategy and attacked only for Macey to thwart her again. Some of Macey’s offense is still worrisome to me, but she did do a nice 619 spot around the ring post. Much to my chagrin, it was an unusually one-side match. Finally, thanks to a distraction from Eric Young, Nikki took control and defeated Macey with a beautiful and brutal looking fisherman’s neckbreaker. Like I reiterate every blog post and to everyone that will listen, Nikki Cross is a gem of the women’s division, her body of work speaks for its self. Macey has a lot of potential but is getting pushed way too fast.

Kona Reeves vs Gran Metallik
This match had much of the high flying and impressive ringwork you have come to expect from Metallik. However, there were several blown spots too due to Kona having a hard time keeping pace with the speedy luchador. When the pace slowed, Reeves did fine grounding Metallik. After a back and forth battle Gran Metallik countered a fireman’s carry into a DDT for the win. I really enjoy Gran Metallik, he is easily going to be a major player in the cruiserweight division. Kona Reeves has the tools to go far, just a matter of honing them and finding a gimmick that works with the crowd.

Next, Kayla came out to interview Dan Matha. He’s in a bad mood and says all everyone is talking about is Roderick Strong. He makes fun of Strong’s size and the fact it took him so many years to make it to NXT. He claims that when he walked in they took one look at him and exclaimed “Your hired!” It didn’t take long for Roderick Strong to come out where they exchanged words before calling out a ref to make it official.

Roderick Strong vs Dan Matha
This match was your standard David and Goliath battle, with Strong much of the match unsuccessfully trying to control the much bigger Matha. Early on Strong did find an opening with a flurry of offense, but Matha caught him on an outside dive and drove him into the ringpost setting the pace for the rest of the match. Matha kept Roderick grounded for the most part, shutting down Strong’s comebacks with some hard punches or a big boot. Finally, Roddy makes a last attempt at a comeback, rocking Matha with a high knee in the corner, and ultimately finishing him with a single leg dropkick for the win. Roderick Strong is such an asset to NXT, in a few short weeks he has put on some of the most memorable house show matches of the year. This wasn’t one of them, but then again not every match can be a dream match. One of the reasons NXT works is because of established starts working with rookie talents. At 6’7” and 290lbs Dan Matha is eye catching and moves well for a big man. He’s also strong and confident on the mic. With all that said, I believe he is still very much a work in progress though.

The Authors Of Pain vs Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford
Dawkins and Ford are really melding well as a team, and it showed tonight. They came out and immediately took the fight to the Authors with a flurry of offense that included a beautiful running shooting star press from Ford. This match wasn’t as one sided as one would guess, and had a lot of back and forth. However, in the finishing melee Ford was tossed high over the top rope to the outside leaving Dawkins alone to suffer the Authors double team finish. I’m just going to say it, I’m not a fan of the Authors Of Pain… like it says in the bio, I am no critic… that’s just my personal opinion. Dawkins and Ford on the other hand are great together. Angelo Dawkins has been in developmental for a while, but Ford is bringing out something in him. It reminds me of when Jason Jordan was in the system forever, missing that something, until he was matched up with Chad Gable. Dawkins and Ford are going to get over, guaranteed.

Mandy Rose vs Daria Berenato
I’ve seen these two compete… a lot. However, the two have a lot of chemistry and it shows. Daria started off strong with some nice MMA striking, but Mandy would come back and dominate with some nice limb work. Rose worked the leg consistently through the match with several moves and holds including a nice looking dragonscrew leg whip. Daria also sold the legwork like a champ. However, Daria would make a comeback and finish Rose with a huge spinebuster for the win. I’m becoming more of a Daria Berenato fan with every match.

Sanity (Wolfe & Damo) vs Heavy Machinery
I like both of these teams a great deal, but again, I feel like this is something I have seen quite a few times. Nonetheless, this was a fun battle between four really big dudes. Unfortunately, Nikki Cross got ejected from ringside early on (watching her shenanigans at ringside great), but this still left Eric Young at ringside. Young was excellent at ringside throughout the match, verbally tearing apart the crowd while interjecting himself in the match. The highlight of the match may have been the stalemate between two hosses, Big Damo and Otis. The two ran the ropes and collided several times before Otis miraculously toppled Damo. This was a fun back and forth match with several false finishes until Sanity finally got a double team finish on Tucker Knight for the win. I’m a fan of all parties involved here. As the Sanity act continues, they continue to meld together greatly. Alexander Wolfe has went from showing glimmers of potential to being absolutely fantastic just on demeanor alone. Big Damo impresses the hell out of me… big, fast, intimidating man… an absolute beast.

Well, that’s a wrap on the NXT Florida Loop 2016. Whether I’m rooting for you or booing you, thanks to all the talent that make all of my weekends so memorable. I can’t wait to see where the new year takes all these guys.

Happy Holidays to all my readers, and be sure to check back on the 29th for a recap of Pro Wrestling 2.0 which has already confirmed Shane Strickland, Martin Stone, "Deathproof" Aaron Epic, and The Tokyo Monster Kahagas.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

NXT Citrus Springs 12-16-16

One of the best parts of the three years I’ve been frequenting NXT shows, besides the wrestling, has been having an excuse to drive all over the state. From metropolitan areas to rural nowhere towns, I’ve seen many places I never would have seen via the highways and backroads of Florida. One of those rural spots is Citrus Springs, a sleepy town somewhere in between Crystal River and Ocala. Driving the wooded back roads past “Bear Crossing” signs, you’d swear you were more likely to find a sasquatch out here rather than world-class international wrestlers. As the sun begins to set and your cell phone signal wanes you begin to feel hopelessly lost, but suddenly you see a gorgeous community center smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

The brand has cooled considerably on the Florida loop in recent months, call-ups and near constant touring for the marquee stars have caused a huge drop off in the casual fan base, and NXT looks a lot more like it did when I first started going. However, Friday night had a great turn out thanks to a last minute surge in ticket sales. I’m glad to see it because the arrival of the cruiserweights and several other fresh faces have reinvigorated the brand; I haven’t seen anything I’d categorize as a “B” show in a very long time. This show would be no different.

Jack Gallagher vs Noam Dar
I can’t think of many better ways to start a show than with than these two charismatic cruiserweights. When most people think of cruiserweights they think of flying and flips, but these two show that they can put on a ground game and be every bit as entertaining. Noam and Jackie boy put on a grappling clinic that went back and forth. Gallagher paid homage to Johnny Saint with the spot where he rolls into a ball, much to the chagrin of Dar. Both men came out of this match looking really good and it could have went either way, but Jack Gallagher got the win with a backslide pin.

Lince Dorado vs Brennan Williams
The opening of this match saw the underdog Dorado trying to find a way to compete with a much larger opponent. Dorado attempts a few dropkicks only to be swatted away like a fly. An attempted springboard didn’t do any better, as Williams just caught him with ease. Thus went most of the match, with Williams punishing the luchador. I’ve only seen Williams a handful of times, but I see a lot of potential. He’s a big, intimidating dude that showed some really impressive striking. He controlled much of the match, but after a few superkicks and a spinning heel kick Dorado would drop the big man. Then Lince Dorado would defeat Brennan Williams with a shooting star press for the win.

Next, ring announcer Kayla Braxton came out to interview the tag team of Angelo Dawkins and Kenneth Crawford. Crawford is now going by the name Montez Ford. They gave a short interview that really didn’t go anywhere, and culminated with them dancing around in the ring until Sanity came out to crash the party, setting up our main event of the night.

Mandy Rose vs Macey
This one was a textbook back and forth battle, and I’ll be honest, it was a lot better than I thought it would be considering there was no ring general here. Macey misses her strikes by a mile and her bodyslams are worrisome, but for no more matches than she’s had, she’s doing okay. And while Mandy has a lot of room to grow, she is at least as good as a Carmella or Nikki Bella. Mandy Rose defeated Macey with a facebuster.

Roderick Strong vs TJ Perkins
This was easily match of the night. Strong and Perkins started it slow, feeling each other out before the match would build into a frenetic crescendo. This was another one with a lot of grappling and submission spots from both competitors. Eventually, the pace quickened and we saw some signature strikes and a high knee from Roddy. TJP would later drop Strong with a dropkick to the knee and then a roll-up into a knee bar for the win. I can’t do this one justice, but if you are reading you probably know enough about both guys to know it was great. I’ve been a fan of Roderick Strong for a while and he has delivered some of the best house show matches I’ve seen this year in a few short weeks. TJ Perkins, I give him a lot of crap for his dabbing (and well, to annoy my teenage daughter) but honestly, he is impressive as hell, and is constantly raising the bar.

The Authors Of Pain vs Heavy Machinery
If you are a fan of a big old hoss battle, you would have enjoyed the hell out of this match… but I feel like I’ve seen this one too many times. I dig Heavy Machinery, I’ve been behind Tucker Knight through several gimmick changes, and Otis has “it”. I’ll say this about the Authors Of Pain, they really do come off as dangerous and destructive. When they hit the ring you really feel as if someone is going to legitimately get hurt, probably because we’ve actually seen it happen. After a hard fought, hard-hitting battle, the Authors Of Pain defeated Heavy Machinery after a double team to Otis.

Nikki Cross vs Daria Berenato
Nikki Cross is amazing, and she has embraced the Sanity gimmick with fervor. Meanwhile, Daria is at this point the standout alumni of Tough Enough. Together they put together another standout match of the evening. Daria started out strong with her speed and quick strikes, but thanks to a distraction from Alexander Wolfe, Cross was able to take control of the match and punish Daria for the remainder. Berenato made a strong comeback, but thanks to yet another distraction, Cross took advantage and defeated Daria with a swinging fishermans neckbreaker. I enjoyed this match a lot, Daria is improving at an exponential pace, and Nikki Cross… well, I can’t wait to see her with a belt around her waist.

Sanity (Eric Young & Big Damo) vs Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford
This was a fun, albeit odd main event. Most of the match was very much a back and forth battle… until Big Damo tagged in, The Beast from Belfast is a mountain of a man that moves way too fast for someone his size (imagining Damo vs Strowman) and he dominated the match when he was in the ring. All the while, Wolfe and Nikki were great outside the ring being crazy and yelling at the crowd. Nikki Cross being antagonized by three little boys in the front row before yelling at them that Santa wasn’t bringing them presents may have been the highlight of the night. Kenneth Crawford, aka Montez Ford is a standout with a sweet running shooting star. Ford came in on the hot tag and cleared house until yet another distraction allowed Cross to pepper spray him in the face. Eric Young took advantage with a dirty pin for the win. Afterwards, Sanity began a post-match beat down, but Dawkins and Ford turned it around and sent Sanity packing to send the crowd home happy.

NXT is on a roll, and it finally seems as if they have achieved a nice balance between their touring shows and Florida loop. So whether you catch them in Australia or Citrus Springs, you are going to get a fun night of professional wrestling!

Friday, December 9, 2016

NXT St Petersburg 12-8-16

Dedicated to the memory of
Todd Garzon. NXT Head Of Security
Rest In Peace

Before NXT became a huge international machine that it is, you used to hear the term “NXT Family” thrown around quite a bit. It was an appropriate term to describe the rag tag group of regulars who came to know each other at these small intimate shows, and the relationships we formed with staff and the wrestlers too. As head of security, Todd was at the center of all of it and central to so many peoples NXT memories. He loved his job. He took his position very seriously, exercising authority when necessary. However, he loved the fans too and treated everyone like a friend. His favorite part of the job was watching kids’ faces light up when they watched the magic of wrestling unfold. My heart goes out to his family.

Thursday night the NXT Florida loop made an inaugural stop at the National Guard Armory in St Pete. With the touring roster still making towns across the globe, the cruiserweights and several new names stepped up to carry the NXT banner. In fact, I almost hesitate to call shows “A” shows or “B” shows anymore. The caliber of the roster is too great for that… in fact, these “B” shows are actually refreshing, new, and in some ways better.

Jack Gallagher vs Steve Cutler
With a unique blend of technical prowess and comedic elements, Gallagher is a great way to kick off a show. Jackie Boy showed off his grappling skills, and made sure to hit his signature spots including the headstand on the turnbuckle and tying a frustrated Cutler into a pretzel, much to the amusement of the crowd. Gallagher has charisma in spades. Steve Cutler has been in the system down here for a while, and I say give him a push (at house shows, anyway) and see what happens. Steve seems to have found some confidence since playing heel, he does well trash talking and bantering with the crowd. However, it wouldn’t help him here; Jack Gallagher defeated Steve Cutler by pinfall after a huge running corner dropkick

Lana vs Sarah Bridges
The ravishing Russian returned to the Florida loop for the weekend in… well, an interesting way. Lana danced her way into the ring like a party girl to horrendous dance music, dressed ala the Ziggler storyline. Lana comes off as enthusiastic and likeable, but the skill level just isn’t there. Even the very competent Bridges seemed to have trouble gauging Lana’s stop/start timing and dictate the flow of the match. The last time Lana came down here she was protected in tag matches and she came out looking much better, that’s the formula they need to stick to for now if they insist on moving forward with Lana as an in-ring performer. In the end though, Lana defeated Sarah Bridges with a sit-out slam

Tian Bing vs Kona Reeves
Kona Reeves (formerly Noah Kekoa) played the heel in this match, mocking Bing with martial arts chops and a crane kick ala the Karate Kid. The cocky Reeves dominated much of the match before Tian Bing soundly beat him with a flurry of kicks and strikes. Bing finished off Kona with a superkick for the win. I really like the ring style of Tian Bing, the man has it, and he just needs to make that connection with the crowd. Kona Reeves has all the tools, and a look that will probably suit him well down the line.

Cruiserweight champion Rich Swann is out next for an interview with Kayla Braxton. He briefly mentions his rough past, stating that his belt proves that no matter what, you can do anything. The massive Dan Matha comes out to interrupt; he is met with “Mr. Clean” chants. He mocks the champion. Undeterred, Swann tells him that with courage and heart he can get the job done no matter what. Matha tells him that we’ll find out about that later.

Noam Dar vs Gran Metallik
This was a fun match between two cruiserweight standouts. Noam Dar wisely played a ground game, working the arm of Metallik for most of the match. However, the luchador is about impossible to keep down. Gran Metallik mounted a comeback in the end culminating in a superkick and a Metallik Driver for the win. Both of these guys are so much fun. The young and cocky Dar has such a ring presence, while Metallik may finally be the luchador the WWE has been looking for.

Tommy End vs Roderick Strong
The match of the night was also easily the hardest hitting, as neither man is known for kids gloves. Strong’s strikes reverberated throughout the armory, while End exhibited one of the most impressive flurry of kicks I have seen in a long time. This was a brutal, fast paced, back and forth match that seemed it could go either way at times. Towards the finish, End nearly destroys Roddy with a crazy flurry of kicks and strikes. He stops to trash talk and is met with a sickening high knee, followed by a single leg dropkick that gave Roderick Strong the win. I’m a huge fan of both wrestlers. I was very familiar with Roderick Strong before NXT, but had only seen a handful of Tommy End matches… I feel compelled to go and find them all now, and so should you.

Daria Berenato vs Mandy Rose
Despite the fact that they are both rookies, these two women have a great chemistry together. This was a decent textbook wrestling match. Mandy Rose, who seemed to be on the fast track for a while, appears to be struggling to find her place again. One can’t deny she is green, but considering how long she has been wrestling, she’s progressing fine. Daria, on the other hand, has MMA experience and a plethora of strikes/kicks to make her look pretty good in the ring. However, it wouldn’t help her this time, Mandy Rose defeated Daria Berenato with a facebuster.

Dan Matha vs Rich Swann
This very lopsided affair saw Rich Swann getting dismantled for ten minutes, with only brief attempts at offense. In the end, he nailed Matha with a trifecta of kicks for only a two count. Moments later, Matha charges the corner, Swann dodges, and Matha goes shoulder first into the ringpost. Rich Swann rolls him up for the win. It was a painful match to watch, but did well in demonstrating the never say die attitude Swann.

Heavy Machinery & Hoho Lun vs Sanity
Tucker Knight and Otis Bogojevic dominated the early going of this main event, along with a few brief tag-ins from partner Hoho Lun. Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, along with Big Damo struggled to keep up with Heavy Machinery who kept one step ahead. The crowd popped for the inevitable clash of the massive Otis and Damo. But perhaps the crowd was most behind the underdog Lun, who came in with a strong flurry of offense. Thanks to a distraction from Nikki Cross, Sanity took over and began systematically taking apart the much smaller Hoho Lun. He eventually made the hot tag to Tucker who cleared the ring before chaos ensued like it so often does in these matches. In the end, Lun ended back in with another surprising bit of offense before Sanity nearly killed him with a double team for the win. Afterwards Sanity attempted to completely destroy Hoho, but Tucker and Otis made the save. The good guys celebrated, and the crowd went home happy.