365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle (WWE SmackDown, 2/6/03)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Underrated and unappreciated.

These are just a few of the words I would choose to describe how Shelton Benjamin has been used — or not used — in WWE.

This project has allowed me the chance to reflect and pontificate on my various favorites in the realm of costumed murder gymnastics: Jushin Liger, William Regal, and Stan Hansen, just to name a few.

Shelton caught my eye in a dark match before watching RAW in Knoxville in the spring of 2001. His legitimate wrestling background combined with some freakish feats of athleticism always made him stand out to me. We all have our personal favorites, and he’s one of mine.

He’s also in action in this, the 37th installment of 365 Wrestling, pairing with Charlie Haas in the still-new-to-WWE Team Angle gimmick against Los Guerreros with the WWE Tag Titles on the line.

Now that the WWE Network has migrated to Peacock, where, at the time of this writing, only the last three years of SmackDown are available, fret not. You still can find this match on Dailymotion, or embedded below:

The Context

Benjamin and Haas spent the bulk of their time in WWE’s developmental system working in tag teams, but not with each other. They started teaming together in the fall of 2002 in dark matches, then made their televised debut on the 12/27/02 episode of SmackDown as backup for Kurt Angle, playing off their legitimate athletic credentials. Both wrestled in college–Haas at Seton Hall and Benjamin at Minnesota, where he was a two-time All-American. New to the main roster, Haas and Benjamin made a quick rise in the tag division, getting this title shot after defeating Edge and Chris Benoit the preceding week thanks to some help from Angle himself.

Eddy Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero, Jr., are the reigning champs, winning the titles in an excellent three-way match at Survivor Series the prior November. They’ve made four televised defenses heading into this match.

The Match

This match serves as a classic example of how to establish a new act as an immediate, credible presence in a promotion. Haas and Benjamin are the rookies (or, presented that way, even though Haas started wrestling professionally back in 1996) but they have instant credibility due to their amateur backgrounds, which Michael Cole and Tazz take great pains to tout on commentary. Cole goes the standard route with resume-reading, while Tazz points out specific things the challengers are doing and techniques they are displaying that make them a threat to the Guerreros.

In a traditional match layout in American wrestling, the fan favorites outwrestle the heels, who have to take shortcuts to seize the advantage. This match flips the script. Despite their experience edge, the champs are unable to outwrestle their pesky young challengers. Instead, it’s Eddy and Chavo using the dirty tricks and pulling out all the stops to take control — after all, “lie, cheat, and steal” was the Guerrero credo at this point.

We watched another tag title match on SmackDown in the January portion of the project, and this match exceeds that one in almost every aspect. The work is superior: with more athleticism and more intensity. The early mat wrestling occurs with a purpose, unlike many instances in the last 20 years where such exchanges come off like a feeling-out process or — my pet peeve — a cooperative affair where one wrestler has a hold but is then waiting, or even assisting, in what becomes a showcase of reversals.

The titles seem like more of a prize here, as well. Both sides go for pin attempts early and often with frequent tags by each team. Overall, a greater sense of urgency is created that adds significantly to the overall presentation.

These four wrestlers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The true heat segment begins after a collision between Shelton and the referee knocks the official into Chavo, launching him into the commentary table at ringside. When Eddy makes the inevitable hot tag, he never leaves his feet during the initial comeback, still cleaning house on the challengers, flinging Shelton out of the ring and even taking a kick at Paul Heyman, who is in Team Angle’s corner.

The match builds to its biggest moves at the end. Superplexes from the top rope. Frog splashes. Dives, or falls, from the top rope to the floor. The drama heightens, with a couple of very credible false finishes along the way, but after all the big moves, some confusion by the champions about who the legal man is leaves Eddy prey to a rolling cradle by Haas that ends the match and Los Guerreros’ title reign.

Random Thoughts

–Team Angle spent most of their time in WWE developmental in tag divisions, but not with one another. In Ohio Valley Wrestling, Benjamin paired with Brock Lesnar, followed by a team with Redd Dogg (better known as Rodney Mack, after Lesnar got called up to the main roster. Meanwhile, in WWE’s other developmental territory, Heartland Wrestling Alliance, Haas was teaming with his brother, Russ Haas, until Russ’ untimely death in 2001.

–Is that a Burberry scarf that Heyman is rocking at ringside? Perhaps this gave early inspiration to MJF, who was 6 years old at the time of this match, by the way.

–Speaking of Heyman, at one point he starts screaming bloody murder as Shelton gets choked with the tag rope in the corner by the Guerreros. It adds to the moment.

Final Rating: 6.7

This is an all-action tag match with real stakes, a creative finish, and it’s historically significant as it marks the start of the first title reign for Benjamin and Haas. Any booker could take a lesson from the way Team Angle gets presented, and built up quickly as contenders, then champions, but without having them shoved down the throats of the audience.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

An exciting take on a longstanding narrative trope: the young up-and-comer looking to make a name against an established veteran.

Send feedback or recommend a match for one of the upcoming dates in 365 Wrestling! Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Tenryu & Tsuruta vs. Choshu & Yatsu (All Japan, 2/5/86)

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Tenryu & Tsuruta vs. Choshu & Yatsu (All Japan, 2/5/86)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

I’ve written before several times about my gaps in wrestling viewing and All Japan is one of the biggest — right up there with joshi and lucha libre.

In this entry, we fire up the Wayback Machine to 1986 for a tag title match with Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu defending the NWA International belts against Riki Choshu and Yoshiaki Yatsu.

You can watch this match along with me on YouTube, or embedded below:

The Context

Tenryu and Jumbo have held the NWA International Tag Titles for more than two years, dating back to February 3, 1984. Each is a double champion at the time of this match; Tenryu is two years deep into a reign as NWA United National champ, while Jumbo Tsuruta is the NWA International champion in a reign that dates back to 1983.

A week before, on January 28, the champs successfully defended them against Choshu and Yatsu. That match earned a five-star rating (if you’re into that sort of thing) and has been talked about on various Internet forums, as one of the best All Japan tag matches of the 80s. Another match that receives similar praise is the 1981 finals of the Real World Tag League that pit Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka against the Funk Brothers, Dory and Terry.

That January 28 match was also the first time in four meetings between these two teams that there was a decisive winner. The other matches ended in a no contest, a draw, and a double countout.

These title matches are happening in the greater context of the “invasion” of All Japan by Choshu’s Ishin Gundan faction. The group initially formed in New Japan in 1983, after Choshu turned on Tatsumi Fujinami in a pivot from the traditional booking philosophy of booking Japanese wrestlers against foreign, or gaijin, antagonists. Choshu and his faction, which included names you probably know like Masa Saito and Killer Khan, left New Japan in the fall of 1984 and started their own promotion, Japan Pro Wrestling. Shortly thereafter, an interpromotional agreement with All Japan was announced, and Ishin Gundan made their way into that company.

The Match

The crowd in Sapporo is buzzing for this one even before the music for the challengers hits. There’s a great atmosphere, as Choshu and Yatsu — technically the invaders from out of town — are escorted to the ring by other members of the Japan Pro Wrestling roster in red tracksuits. Meanwhile, young boys from the All Japan dojo are present in black and yellow attire. Seeing them around the ring, and cheering on their respective team, adds a real-sports element to what transpires.

Choshu and Yatsu might ostensibly be the invaders from an outside promotion, but they’re the crowd favorites here. During introductions, the fans greet Choshu with a bevy of streamers and a reaction that rivals either champion. Later, while Yatsu is getting worked over, the fans chant his name like this match is happening halfway around the world in the Sportatorium and his last name is Von Erich.

The frenzied start shows this won’t be a typical title match with a slow build. Yatsu dekes Jumbo, dropkicks him out of the ring, and then combines with Choshu to deliver a spike piledriver on the floor. Back in the ring, another spike piledriver with Choshu coming off the top. In most promotions in the U.S., this would lead to a prolonged injury angle. Here, it’s just the catalyst to nearly 25 minutes of action.

Choshu and Yatsu work at a faster pace than a typical bigtime match in All Japan during this era, and it elevates the overall quality of the match. Choshu comes out with taped ribs, selling the effects of last week’s title match, and the champions rightly zero in on the injury.

If you were doubting the unique intensity of this match, that goes away when these guys break out the slaps. It starts when Tenryu just starts blasting Yatsu in the face with open-handed strikes, sparking a scrum that brings all four men in the ring to pull apart the two legal combatants. Later, Jumbo and Choshu both spend time in mount trading slaps.

Speaking of Jumbo, he shines brightest in this match. When he’s on the receiving end of the challengers’ offense, he sells everything well. Meanwhile, as the biggest man in the match, he asserts himself physically on multiple occasions as his size and track record of success in AJPW both would suggest. He certainly works harder here than in the tag match with Kabuki against the Freebirds we watched earlier in the project.

The match has a nice ebb and flow to it. Jumbo, Choshu, and Yatsu all spend significant time getting worked over. Tenryu avoids that, but he’s also the one who eats the pin in the end, a creative finish that caps a huge reaction from the crowd as the titles finally change hands.

Random Thoughts

–Tenryu and Jumbo dethroned Choshu and Yatsu exactly one year later to regain the titles, in what also marked Choshu’s last match under the All Japan banner for more than two decades.

–Check out Yatsu busting out a version of the sling blade at one juncture.

–Choshu is credited with inventing the sharpshooter and busts out the hold a couple of times. It livens up the crowd each time it happens; namely because submission finishes were quite rare in All Japan under the guidance of then-promoter Giant Baba.

-Tenryu voluntarily vacated his singles title after being pinned by Yatsu here. This led to a tournament for the vacant title, which was won by… Tenryu. OK?

Final Rating: 8.0

This match checks most of the boxes of what I want in pro wrestling:

  1. It’s a match with tangible, significant stakes.
  2. It’s got a big-fight feel.
  3. There’s some real heat and hatred present.

Meanwhile, everything unfolds at a quick pace — especially by the standards of the era. There’s lots to like here, very few lulls, and quality intensity and physicality from bell to bell. This is a hard-fought, well-worked wrestling match that is recommended viewing for both fans and wrestlers alike

I’ve been thinking about what project to tackle after this one, and right now, a deep dive into the archive of All Japan looks like the winner.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

More tag action, this time from the Ruthless Aggression era of WWE.

Enjoying these write-ups? Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 35: Super Crazy vs. Tajiri (ECW, 2/4/00)

365 Wrestling, Day 35: Super Crazy vs. Tajiri (ECW, 2/4/00)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

You’ve probably heard the old cliche about certain wrestlers being so talented that they could “carry a broomstick to a good match.” Generally speaking, though, a wrestling match is a collective effort. Sometimes, pairing two wrestlers or two teams serves to elevate all parties involved. That’s definitely the case when looking back at the shared history of Super Crazy and Tajiri in ECW.

Whether it be in a singles match, a three way dance, or a tag team match (as opponents and occasionally as partners), Tajiri and Crazy consistently brought out the best in one another. It’s not hyperbole to say that, without their series of matches, neither would have the level of fame or notoriety in the wrestling community they rose to achieve.

As the 365 Wrestling project continues (sluggishly), I take a look at one of their meetings: specifically, a Japanese Death Match from an ECW house show held February 4, 2000, in Jacksonville, FL.

The handheld version of this match, which is what I watched, is available on YouTube. You can also find it on the Highspots Wrestling Network. It later aired on the Feb. 13 episode of ECW Hardcore TV.

The Context

By the time of this match, it’s been a little more than a year since the first ECW meeting between Tajiri and Super Crazy. They had a couple of house show matches before their contest at the 1999 Guilty As Charged pay-per-view that really sparked their rivalry in the promotion. According to Cagematch, this battle in Jacksonville is the 28th singles match between Tajiri and Crazy in ECW, with the two mostly trading wins back and forth since the rivalry began the prior year. It also doesn’t count some excellent three-way matches, with Little Guido and Jerry Lynn as the respective third man.

This particular match happens just a few weeks removed from the 2000 version of the Guilty As Charged pay-per-view, where Tajiri and Crazy teamed together on the whim of Steve Corino to face another haphazard duo in Guido and Lynn, whose team fell apart when Guido turned on Lynn. And yes, it was as confusing to watch as that last sentence was to read.

The Match

A Japanese Death Match might sound like something in Big Japan, but here, it just means there are no disqualifications and any and all weapons are allowed. It drives me crazy sometimes to see a heated grudge match start out with chain wrestling, so after fighting one another for more than a year of battles and given the stipulations, Super Crazy gets right down to business, launching himself at Tajiri with a springboard dropkick. The action stays hot and heavy from there all the way through the match.

This is ECW, and a gimmick match, which means chairs and tables, and a fair amount of “hitting each other with stuff” spots, along with some degree of “setup time.” While there are a couple of pauses that threaten to go on too long, Crazy and Tajiri both do a credible job of keeping the action going without requiring too much suspension of disbelief (aside from the usual level of suspension of disbelief required to watch wrestling in the first place).

The history between these two and the talent of both wrestlers help elevate this beyond a standard grudge match with weapons. In this case, familiarity definitely breeds contempt. Both men end up bloody by the conclusion of this match (with Tajiri getting the superior amount of crimson). Tajiri delivers his baseball slide dropkick with Crazy in the Tree of Woe (a standard element of Tajiri’s offense), but places three chairs in front of his nemesis’ head before delivering the blow, busting open Super Crazy.

Tajiri is more polished in his match with Rey Mysterio from the very first entry in the project, but here, he’s younger and incredibly over with the crowd despite technically being a heel (though a turn is not far away for the Japanese Buzzsaw). All of his kicks are delivered well, with apparent evil intent. At one point, after Super Crazy gets lacerated, Tajiri makes the most of it with the crowd: licking his fingers (ew), wiping his enemy’s bloody head against the shirt sleeve of the referee, and biting at the forehead.

Super Crazy, meanwhile, attacks Tajiri with reckless abandon. After regaining control on a lightning-quick transition through a rapid combination of moves, he launches off the top rope with a legdrop on Tajiri through a table, apparently taking damage himself when the far end of the table flips up and hits him upon impact.

The match culminates with one of the nastier spots I have seen in matches of this type, in terms of excess and violence. It’s so over the top that it should end the match, and does.

Random Thoughts

–If you’ve seen a Tajiri match you’ve likely seen him hit the handspring back elbow but this is one of the better ones you’ll find. The maneuver unfurls at a rapid pace. Tajiri sprints into the ropes, and Super Crazy comes forward a bit into the elbow, avoiding the “standing there waiting to be hit” that is seen often with similar moves of this type.

–Watching the level of violence in this match, and knowing this was par for the course in the rivalry between these two, it’s pretty amazing that Tajiri and Super Crazy are still active more than 20 years later.

–Tajiri puts his hands up on a chairshot from his nemesis. Not something you saw often in this era, but should have happened more regularly all across wrestling.

–Watching fans ringside feed chair after chair to Super Crazy at one point in the match is part of that organic visceral feel that gave ECW its charm.

Final Rating: 6.4

Tajiri and Super Crazy are both extremely talented and produced their best work when going against one another. They were pretty phenomenal as a team as well. They brought out the best in one another. They had better matches than this one, but this overall sample from their body of work is elevated by the finishing spot, which I am determined not to spoil and for you to witness instead.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

Back to 1980s All Japan for one of the best tag matches you might never have seen.

Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Women’s Semifinals (2/3/21)

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Women’s Semifinals (2/3/21)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Originally, when I first started the project, I planned to do one entry for every day, on that day, as we navigate through a full year.

Looking back now, more than a fourth of the way into the year, I only can react thusly to such ambitions:

Anyway, one benefit to being behind the actual calendar, is that 2021 matches are now in play. Thus, I decided to take a look at one of the matches from the first-ever, and recently-completed, women’s edition of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Specifically, taking a look at the semifinal match pitting Kayden Carter and Kacy Catanzaro against Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez.

You can watch this match on (sigh) Peacock or on Hulu.

The Context

WWE started tag tournaments under the Dusty Classic name in 2015. This was the sixth iteration of the tournament but the first time they had separate men’s and women’s divisions, although the women’s field was only half the size of the 16-team men’s bracket.

Kai is the only real veteran in this match. The native New Zealander broke in in 2007 and wrestled around the world by the time she signed with WWE near the end of 2016. Kai showed the ability to be a captivating fan favorite during her time on the independents and aboard, and early in her WWE run, so of course, she was turned heel at the 2019 Survivor Series.

Carter, who was trained at the Dudley Boys’ school, has been wrestling since 2016. Catanzaro, a former Junior Olympian and college gymnast, and earned some level of fame on the American Ninja Warrior show before signing with WWE. Catanzaro and Gonzalez, a former basketball player, are total products of the WWE system, with all their training coming in the Performance Center.

As for the teams, Kai and Gonzalez first allied last March when Gonzalez helped Kai win a cage match over her former partner, Tegan Nox. Carter and Catanzaro didn’t start teaming together regularly on TV until the Dusty Classic.

The Match

One of my favorite dynamics in wrestling is the combination of different sizes. Put a big wrestler in a match with a smaller wrestler, either as opponents or as partners, and you’re likely to have my attention. Here we have a couple of manifestations of the theme, with Kai teaming Gonzalez, a legit 6-footer; and the two of them taking on the scrappy undersized babyface duo of Carter and Catanzaro.

The dynamic plays out two ways, with Gonzalez throwing around her two opponents (the moments where she is in against Catanzaro make for quite the size discrepancy), or with Kai using Gonzalez as a launching pad to add momentum and impact to her own moves, such as a double stomp in the fairly early going.

This match is far from perfect. Catanzaro can pull out some spectacular moments, whether it’s hearkening back to her American Ninja Warrior past with a dive off one of the light pillars in the venue or hitting an impressive twisting splash off the top, but she struggles here with some of the nuts and bolts of wrestling like basic moves and transitions. Kai, meanwhile, is the engine that makes this match go. She’s the most experienced and has the best timing

The finishing stretch is a solid one, with Catanzaro’s dive the catalyst, and Kai and Gonzalez prevail in the expected result of a fine TV match and tournament affair.

Random Thoughts

-Nice to see Carter and Catanzaro wearing matching gear for this match. Little touches like that make a team seem more permanent, and less like a fly-by-night slapped together to fill a spot in the tournament.

-Another nice touch; the heels’ initial control segment occurs without the need to break the rules, speaking to their experience advantage.

Final Rating: 5.8

When assessing a wrestling match, does the whole matter more than the sum of the parts? The match feels like a collection of moments: some excellent, some awkward, most technically good. I have friends who say NXT is the best wrestling on the planet. I would argue these friends need to watch more wrestling from other promotions, and other countries, but, in terms of what happens in the ring, they have a fair argument. However, to me, NXT often feels like someone went into a laboratory and tried to replicate the formula for a “great match” in the super-indy era that began in 2005 or so. They tick all the boxes of what is now regarded by critics and fans as a “good match” but it all happens here in a vacuum with minimal emotion and no real reason for me to care.  

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

One of my favorites faces his best opponent. You had me at hello.

Enjoying these write-ups? Feel free to reach out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.