Gordi’s Corporate, Indy, and Puro MOTY Picks
Happy Wednesday, everybody! I hope that not too many of you wasted your money on Sunday’s abysmal excuse for a PPV. I wasn’t going to order it, but a change of plans left me with nothing important to do on Sunday night after the Packers vs. Vikings game.
Before we get to the meat of his week’s column, here’s my list of everything that I enjoyed about New Years Revolution:
I liked Eugene’s Hulk Hogan-esque ring gear.
I enjoyed joking about it on AIM with Rob Blatt and Raven West.
The spot where Batista Spinebustered Jericho onto Benoit was pretty cool.
The crowd was awesome. They were a fired up old school crowd, popping for face spots and booing like crazy when the bad guys cheated.
I always look forward to reading what Scott Keith and J.D. Dunn have to say after a show like that.
Otherwise, holy crap was that a terrible show! I don’t think it was enough to put me off the Royal Rumble, though.
So why do I keep watching?
Well, in part it’s because of matches like these:
My 2004 North American Corporate MOTY: Chris Benoit vs. HBK vs. HHH, for the Big Ole’ Gold Belt, from WrestleMania XX
My 2004 Independent MOTY: Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk, for the ROH World Heavyweight Title, from Punk vs. Joe II
My 2004 Puroresu MOTY: Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, for the NOAH GHC Heavyweight Title, from Encountering Navigation 2004.
Here’s Why I Might Be Wrong:
I have not seen every WWE match from 2004, I’ve only seen a very small percentage of the 2004 TNA, Indy, and Puro product, and I haven’t seen any recent Lucha Libre.
Obviously, I might have missed some matches that are even better than the ones I’ve listed here.
But I doubt it.
Here’s Why You Might Not Agree
None of my choices are particularly unusual, and all of them have already received serious MOTY pimping from other analysts, but it’s still pretty much inevitable that some of the people reading this will disagree.
You might not have picked the WM XX Main Event as your North American Corporate MOTY if:
You are a huge TNA fan, in which case I’d guess that you’d go for the AMW vs. XXX Six Sides of Steel match
You are sick of everyone always praising Chris Benoit, in which case you are probably triple sick of reading about how great his title win was.
You are a huge fan of Eddie Guerrero, in which case his title victory might have been more important and exciting for you.
You are a total Puroresu snob, to the point where you cannot admit that any North American match could possibly be great; or you are a dedicated collector of obscure matches who is incapable of enjoying anything so overwhelmingly popular. In either case I have probably not seen most of your MOTYC. Feel free to write and tell me what they are. I’m always looking for more hidden treasures.
Otherwise, quite frankly, I can’t understand how anyone would not rank this at the top of their list this year. It is just a great match, and it gets better with repeated viewing.
10 Reasons that you might not have picked the ROH 60 minute draw as your Indy MOTY:
You haven’t seen it.
You do not have a sixty-minute attention span.
You absolutely demand a clean finish.
You share Johnny Ace’s opinion that juiced up bodybuilders make the best professional wrestlers.
You are the kind of workrate prick that would really be bothered by two sloppy spots in an hour-long match.
You are a dedicated follower of IWA:MS, CZW, PWG, or one of the other great indy feds that seem to be popping up all over the place, in which case please let me know which of their tapes I need to buy.
You are a huge fan of Chris Hero, American Dragon, B-Boy, Super Dragon, Homicide, Austin Aries or any other amazing Indy worker, in which case let me know which of their matches you consider must-sees.
You are lost without announcers to explain what is going on. (Some people I know were sincerely unhappy that the announcers decided to go into the stands at about the 43-minute mark, and just enjoy watching the match. I thought that was an awesome touch).
Takayama vs. Kobashi didn’t actually win any Puroresu MOTY awards that I’m aware of because:
A lot of people don’t like Kenta Kobashi as much as they used to. There seems to be a real tendency to judge his matches rather harshly, and especially to scrutinize them for any sign of no-selling.
Kobashi fought a much more high-profile Dome Show bout against Jun Akiyama, so the pro-Kobashi vote was probably split.
A lot of people associate Japanese wrestling with high-flying cruiserweight action, which this match most decidedly is not. To be honest, with Kobashi’s bad knees and Takayama’s bulging gut, it is amazing that they manage to raise the pace above “lumbering” for significant portions of the match.
Here Are Two Important Reasons Why I Love These Matches:
1) All three matches revolve around the world title.
Kobashi shows us what it’s all about
World Wrestling Entertainment often books their title belts in such a way that their perceived importance is diminished. Their philosophy often seems to be that the belts should be put on lesser workers to get the workers over, or that they should be contested in matches that might not be as interesting without a “prop” like the belt to create interest. On the road to WrestleMania XX, the story seemed to be more about the ongoing rivalry between HBK and HHH than about Chris Benoit’s eighteen-year title chase. When Benoit won the belt, however, and when he fell to his knees clutching the belt in a show of genuine emotion, the belt assumed centre stage once again and its symbolic importance was made very clear indeed.
In contrast to the WWE booking style, Ring of Honor have used a dominant championship reign from Samoa Joe as a way to elevate the prestige and value of their World Heavyweight Title. By all accounts, Samoa Joe has repeatedly proven that he is willing to do whatever it takes to retain his title. He is willing and able to both dish out and absorb frightening amounts of punishment. The ROH World Heavyweight title is regularly defended in hard-hitting and dramatic encounters that underline the value of the title. By going to a sixty-minute draw, Joe once again proved that he’s a deserving champion, Punk showed that he deserved another chance to fight for the title, and the belt itself was elevated since both men pulled out all the stops in demonstrating their desire to be the champion.
Like Samoa Joe, Kenta Kobashi has had a very lengthy title reign by modern standards. His many hard-fought title defences have added great prestige to the Global Honoured Crown. Takayama is a feared outsider, with no ties to any single fighting organization. This sets up a classic pro wrestling storyline, with the heroic champion forced to defend the honour of his organization against a dangerous interloper. This kind of match is meaningful and compelling because it invests the championship title belt with great significance, and the defending of the belt therefore becomes a matter of dramatic importance.
All three matches told a story, and told it well.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Sean Michaels have a rivalry that stretches back to their days in D-Generation X. Going into WrestleMania XX, each was determined to prove to the other, once and for all, that they were the better man. Thrown into the mix was Chris Benoit, who is widely considered one of the very best technical wrestlers in the world, but who for storyline purposes was clearly seen as being a notch below HHH and HBK. Playing the underdog role to perfection, Benoit won over many fans with a surprising win in the Royal Rumble, but he was clearly not favoured to emerge the victor in the Triple Threat Match. A key moment in the story came when the action moved out of the ring. HHH and Michaels put aside their differences momentarily and worked together to suplex Benoit through the SmackDown announcers’ table. It seemed as if the bit player was knocked out of the equation and it was time for the two stars to finally have the stage all to themselves. When Benoit flew back into the ring to break up a post-Pedigree pin attempt, it was as if he was announcing to the world that he deserved to be considered on the same level as the other combatants. It was at that moment that I started to believe that Benoit actually had a chance to win the match. I rose to me feet, as did many of the people watching with me, and we didn’t sit down until long after the story had finished being told.
Joe vs. Punk II told a similar story of a very good wrestler fighting for championship-level respect. With Punk being so much smaller than Joe, and with the match being contested near Punk’s hometown, it made sense for Samoa Joe to use some subtle heel tactics, like not breaking cleanly. This worked very well, as the crowd seemed pretty split on who to cheer for at the beginning of the match but moved more and more onto Punk’s side as it progressed. There was another very interesting story being told at the same time, involving both men having learned lessons about the other’s strengths and weaknesses in their previous encounter (also a sixty-minute draw). For example, in their first match Joe had countered a Shining Wizard into a Legbreaker. In this match it looks like he’s going to do the same thing, but Punk turns that into a sunset flip near-fall, then finally hits the Wizard for an even hotter two count. Many big moves are teased early in the match, but they all get escaped or countered. Later in the match, when the moves connect, the crowd goes ballistic for them. That kind of story telling amply rewards fans that pay attention to details, and that is exactly the kind of hard core following that Ring of Honor enjoys.
The psychology of the Kobashi vs. Takayama match is pretty basic but extremely effective. For the first several minutes of the match, Kobashi uses his strong right arm to chop his way out of trouble, and so Takayama is unable to set up any of his big power moves. Kobashi, however, is able to hit some big moves, including a DDT on the concrete. The momentum changes when Takayama is able to catch Kobashi’s arm with a huge knee smash. Then, when the ref is checking on Kobashi, Takayama slaps on an arm bar. The crowd doesn’t like that. Neither does Kobashi, who tries to retaliate with a big lariat only to collapse in pain, holding his damaged right arm. Takayama continues to work on the arm, and Kobashi tries, ineffectually, to chop his way out using his left arm. Frustrated, Kobashi goes back to using his right arm, but he can’t take the pain. With Kobashi weakened, Takayama is able to hit some of his big moves. Eventually, Kobashi makes a very dramatic demonstration that he’s just going to nut it up and hope that he does more damage to Takayama than he does to his arm. I would guess that at this point the Kobashi haters might want to complain that Kobashi is now no-selling his injury, but I don’t see it that way at all. To me, it’s clear that he understands that he needs to suffer to defend the honour of the GHC, and that he’s willing to do so. Kobashi hits some big moves, including a sick Vertical Brainbuster, but his arm is too damaged to put Takayama away. Takayama mounts a comeback by kicking Kobashi repeatedly in the head, but Kobashi nails him with a brutal lariat for two. The champion then he stares out at the crowd with a crazed expression that shows that he has figured out what he needs to do to put Takayama away. He then pulls out a move that he hasn’t used in a very long time, and that probably gave his doctor a heart attack, and gets the three.
Today’s issue of Puroresu Pulse covers this kind of psychology in greater detail. It’s a column well worth reading for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of how a wrestling match is structured.
Next week, I’m going to take an even more detailed look at these matches, from the Various Aspects perspective.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Chris from IVP Videos, who sent me a copy of the NOAH match on DVD in pristine quality in time for me to give it consideration for this column. I have no hesitation in pimping his site as a great place to go for your Puro fix.