365 Wrestling, Day 7: Ric Flair vs. Bobby Eaton (WCW Main Event, 1/7/90)

365 Wrestling, Day 7: Ric Flair vs. Bobby Eaton (WCW Main Event, 1/7/90)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

You may have heard or read a story about “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton being one of the nicest people in wrestling?

Whatever you’ve seen or heard, it’s probably true.

In the 2000s, Bobby lived in my hometown for a little while. I got to meet him through a mutual friend. He had a wrestling school downtown for a little while, and a friend and I helped move the ring and apparatus into the upstairs location. He even came to the house a few times for cookouts and pay-per-view nights. Years later, after Eaton had moved on and I was working as a commentator for an independent promotion in the area, Eaton had been booked as a manager. Not only did he remember me, but when I said something about being tired (I was loading trucks at FedEx in the wee hours of the morning at the time, as my writing work had slowed down), he offered me a coffee.

His coffee.

For all who knew him, I assure you, he is missed.

Though Eaton is known moreso for his tag work, especially in the Midnight Express, in today’s installment of 365 Wrestling, we’re taking a look at a slice of his singles action, as he challenges Ric Flair for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title from a 1990 Episode of WCW Main Event.

You can find this match on YouTube.

The Match

This is the second title shot for Eaton in about a month. In the first, Flair won by DQ after Eaton’s ever-present manager Jim Cornette interfered to keep Beautiful Bobby from getting ensnared in the figure-four leglock. Flair was in the midst of a rare run as babyface champion, roughl;y two months removed from settling the score in a feud with Terry Funk that remains one of my favorites of all time. (Note: if you haven’t seen it, go and watch his matches with Funk from the 1989 Great American Bash [arguably one of the best pay-per-views of all time] and Clash of the Champions IX, both available on Peacock.)

Flair spent so much of his career, especially during his runs as champion, making his opponents look strong and gives plenty to Eaton, but Beautiful Bobby also embraces the role of making his foe look like a million bucks. Eaton makes Flair’s chops look devastating, most notably one where he’s standing on the apron and drops facefirst to the floor.

Momentum shifts on a, pardon the pun, beautiful swinging neckbreaker from Eaton and Lance Russell brings up Funk’s piledriving Flair through the table the previous May and ponders its cumulative effects. By the way, Russell puts in some stellar work on commentary. He’s calling the match by himself (which I can tell you, from experience, is a challenge) and simultaneously builds the story of the match, reacts organically to major events as they happen, and gives a straight call of the action without delving too far down any one path. Definitely worth studying for any current or aspiring commentators who read this.

Eaton focuses his attack on the neck of Flair, sprinkling in several of his perpetually excellent-looking punches and using a version of Flair’s signature figure-four against him, but securing the hold around the neck of the champ. Cornette plays his role to the hilt, interfering at a couple of opportune moments to whip the crowd into a frenzy and add extra sizzle to the match like a good manager should. After Flair makes an impressive and creative counter to a top rope kneedrop by Eaton, Cornette’s tactics bring down his man, as Flair grabs the loaded tennis racquet and wallops both manager and challenger before scoring the decisive pin.

Final Rating: 7.2

This is a very good TV main event with significant stakes and sees two of the best from their era facing off in a rare one-on-one encounter. My only real criticism is that Eaton doesn’t seem a legitimate chance to win, given the midcard status of the Midnight Express at the time of this match.

What’s Next

Two of Japan’s all-time greats square off in their only singles battle.

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

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365 Wrestling, Day 6: Awesome Kong vs. Gail Kim, No DQ (TNA Final Resolution 2008, 1/6/08)

365 Wrestling, Day 6: Awesome Kong vs. Gail Kim, No DQ (TNA Final Resolution 2008, 1/6/08)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

American women’s wrestling has come a long way from meaningless filler bouts and bra-and-panty matches. The Knockouts division in TNA Wrestling helped create that change. The Knockouts are still going strong in what is now known as IMPACT but really turned a corner with the Gail KimAwesome Kong rivalry. Let’s take a look at a chapter of that feud, a No DQ Match from Final Resolution 2008.

You can watch this match on YouTube, and I also have embedded it below:

The Match

Kim became the first Knockouts Champion in the fall of 2007, and her major foe during that reign was Kong, who made a name for herself in Japan and on the U.S. independent circuit before coming to TNA. You also might recognize Kong from her role on the GLOW Netflix show.

Certain stories just work in wrestling, to the point they’ve been told countless times. This is one of them, with the gutsy undersized fan favorite (Kim) going against the unstoppable juggernaut villain (Kong). Kong is in her element in this match, battering Kim, tossing her around, manhandling referees and menacing Mike Tenay and Don West at the commentary table. Meanwhile, Kim makes Kong look like a monster. Kim takes a spinning backfist while seated on the top turnbuckle, taking a spill that looks even nastier when one leg gets hooked, leaving her dangling above the floor.

They reap plenty of fruit from the No DQ stipulation. A brawl through the crowd whips the Impact Zone fans into a frenzy and sees the first major momentum shift in the champ’s favor, when Kong misses on a charging attack and Kim zeroes in attacking Kong’s lefty arm and shoulder. Kim makes her comeback by annihilating Kong with multiple chairshots, followed by a top rope splash and has a great reaction when it doesn’t get the pin. Kong’s aggression toward the referee(s) proves to be her undoing, and prey for a schoolboy pin by the champion.

After all this, these two wrestled yet again on the subsequent episode of TV, where Kong won the title after interference from her new manager. Why not do that here, especially since Tenay explicitly mentions “an associate” of Kong’s being in attendance for the pay-per-view? Beats me. This type of nonsense booking was common in TNA.

Final Rating: 5.9

This rivalry between Kong and Kim helped establish the new Knockouts division, and this is the best match from their feud that I have seen. It’s a solid, satisfying match to watch.

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

What’s Next

We remember an all-time great wrestler, and person.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 5: 8 Man Tag (Pacific Northwest Wrestling, 1/5/80)

365 Wrestling, Day 5: 8 Man Tag (Pacific Northwest Wrestling, 1/5/80)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Do you enjoy watching good wrestling? Are you a wrestler looking to improve? If you can answer yes to either question, then I have one piece of advice: watch more Buddy Rose.

Today, we’re taking a look at a two out of three falls tag match from Portland in January 5, 1980 featuring Rose — Pacific Northwest Wrestling’s top heel at the time — teaming with the Kiwi Sheepherders, Butch Miller and Luke Williams (you may know them better as the Bushwhackers), and Sam Oliver Bass (better known as Outlaw Ron Bass). Their opponents are the quartet of Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Dutch Savage, and Stan Stasiak. You can find this match on YouTube, or embedded below:

Part 1
Part 2

The Match

Portland weekly TV at the time was structured around long matches, many of them two out of three falls with sponsor plugs and interviews between falls. This match follows that formula. It’s also the latest chapter in a feud between Rose and Piper that began the prior spring. Rose has recruited Bass and the Sheepherders to his “Army.” The shenanigans between Rose and Piper in 1979 included Rose, in an act of sublime dastardly heeldom, setting fire to Piper’s kilt from the Crow’s Nest broadcasters’ position while the Rowdy Scot was part of a tag match. Fun fact, PNW pre-taped its TV show at the time, but fans watching thought it was happening live and called the fire department.

Piper’s team consists of Martel, who is new on the scene in Portland; Savage, a mainstay in PNW and one of the promoters of the territory; and Stasiak, best known for his “heart punch” and being the man who dropped the WWF Title to Bruno Sammartino to begin Bruno’s second reign as champion. By this point, Stasiak is in the twilight of his career.

The booking here accomplishes three goals, which is an impressive juggling act. First, building Martel for an imminent shot at Harley Race and the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title. Second, to advance the feud between Piper and Rose. Third, to establish Rose’s Army as a force.

Most of the action is basic pro wrestling you’ve seen a thousand times, but it’s all done well and the crowd is red-hot for the first fall, which lasts more than 20 minutes. Rose is involved on the three big highlights of the match: a rapidly-paced exchange with Piper in the opening minutes, taking a Martel Irish whip into the opposite corner where he throws himself headlong above the turnbuckles to smash into a long pole extending from the ringpost, and then, in the second fall, feeding into a late hot tag by Martel, who busts out a huracanrana (in 1980!!!) as part of his comeback.

Rose sells for everybody in this one, whether it be an exaggerated bump on the apron after Savage punches him, or reacting to Stasiak’s “reverse pumphandle armbar”, as Frank Bonnenma calls it, like he’s being interrogated in a medieval torture device. This match loses quite a bit of steam heading into the second fall and the intensity continues to diminish — the opposite of what you want — with the minute-by-minute calls of ring announcer Don Owen (the promoter of the territory), making a time-limit draw finish as obvious as a flashing neon sign.

Final Rating: 6.0

This one is definitely worth seeking out to watch. You get a good look at a highly-energized Piper, the Sheepherders with a distinctly different look, and Bass in his prime. The star, though, is Rose. Rose shines in the style of the Portland territory, thanks to his combination of tremendous promos, meticulous mannerisms in the ring, and bumping heedlessly to make his opponents look like a million bucks. I assure you, this won’t be the only time you see Rose on this list.

What’s Next

Two of the top female wrestlers of the 2000s battle in a No DQ brouhaha.

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

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365 Wrestling, Day 4: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, 1/4/15)

365 Wrestling, Day 4: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, 1/4/15)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

When I think of January 4, I think of wrestling at the Tokyo Dome. After all, New Japan Pro Wrestling has held an event every January 4 since 1992–a tradition dating back 30 years and counting. I’ve followed NJPW regularly since Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016, so to find a noteworthy Wrestle Kingdom match I hadn’t seen I went back to 2015 for this contest between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi fromWrestle Kingdom 9.

New Japan World offers this match with original and English-language commentary; Kevin Kelly provides the latter in a recorded version after the fact. I opted to watch the original version, because the version with Kelly slightly dampened the volume of the live crowd. You might be able to find alternate broadcasts online as well.

The Match

Nakamura is in his fourth reign with the Intercontinental Title, which he’s credited with elevating from a midcard title to a more prominent, coveted championship. This also eventually sets the stage for New Japan unifying the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Titles.

Wrestle Kingdom has had some wild entrances through the years and here, Nakamura heads out in an amazing oversized gold crown and red cloak befitting his “King of Strong Style” moniker.

If you like wrestling matches where the intensity builds throughout, this is the one for you. From his entrance through the post-match you witness the massive charisma of Nakamura. He’s oozing overconfidence as the match begins, trying for his finishing knee strike (called the Kinshasa in WWE but known as Bomaye in New Japan) mere moments into the match.

If you’ve only seen Nakamura’s WWE work, including his matches in NXT, don’t miss this match. Nakamura’s presence is captivating here, whether he is on offense delivering some brutal-looking knees and strikes (more on those later), selling or playing to the crowd. At one point about eight minutes in, Ibushi tries to make a comeback but Nakamura arrogantly and literally brushes off his forearm strikes.

We’re several years removed here from the Ibushi who won consecutive G1 Climaxes and captured both the major IWGP titles at Wrestle Kingdom in 2020. You see the potential, though. Ibushi is the brash young upstart here; after all, he made his challenge for this match by attacking Nakamura from behind with a German suplex. In this match, he starts mocking Nakamura’s mannerisms, including his quivering “Good Vibrations” foot choke in the corner. He does some of the flying you come to expect from Ibushi at this stage, including a spectacular moonsault where he leaps from the mat to the top rope in a single bound, then vaults onto Nakamura at ringside.

Once these two shift to throwing strikes, that intensity I mentioned reaches a new level. A head kick by Ibushi drops Nakamura in a heap. After Ibushi misses a Phoenix Splash, Nakamura hits a Bomaye on the third attempt — this time to the back of the head — and then starts stomping the life out of Ibushi as he crawls for the apron. Ibushi responds with some straight punches (a real rarity in modern NJPW) and soon these two are teeing off on one another with strikes that blur the line between a predetermined pro wrestling match and a legitimate fight in all the best ways. Wrestlers watching and reading this should take note of how Nakamura makes the most of a single punch, delivered out of “Red Shoes” Umino’s viewpoint after he shoves the referee into Ibushi.

In the midst of the back-and-forth slugfest, Ibushi continues his mockery, mimicking Nakamura’s mannerisms and delivering his own Bomaye, which Nakamura kicks out of at one! This sparks a spectacular finishing stretch that is so compelling I won’t even chronicle it so you can watch it, and savor it, on your own.

Final Rating: 9.6

This is an incredible match. It tops all of the Wrestle Kingdom main events I’ve seen from Ibushi in recent years, and it’s immediately my favorite Nakamura match ever. One criticism I have about New Japan is match length. It’s expected now that an NJPW main event is going to go about 30 minutes or more, whether it’s a major event or a “Road To” show. This match has all of the athleticism and drama you see in current New Japan epics, but with none of the filler to pad the length. A beautiful example of pro wrestling as sport blended with art that you should not miss.

What’s Next

We hop in the Wayback Machine to the Pacific Northwest in 1980 for some eight-man tag action.

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365 Wrestling, Day 3: Juventud Guerrera vs. Mortis (WCWSN, 1/3/98)

365 Wrestling, Day 3: Juventud Guerrera vs. Mortis (WCWSN, 1/3/98)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Back when the Monday Night Wars were in full swing, WCW became extremely aggressive signing wrestlers. This created a glut of talent — more than could be used at any one time — to the point that wrestlers were under contract for years and rarely booked or not used at all. Anyway, this also led to some bizarre and highly entertaining matchups on WCW’s three C-level shows: WCW Saturday Night, Pro, and WorldWide. We reach into that wacky grab bag for today’s match: Juventud Guerrera vs. Mortis from the Jan. 3, 1998, episode of Saturday Night.

You can find this match online with a shrewd bit of searching.

The Match

A quick plug of the WCW Hotline by Mean Gene Okerlund has us fully ensconced in WCW nostalgia mode. Tony Schiavone spends a little time on commentary building a story that Mortis is out to become the best masked wrestler in WCW. This is one of those C-show plots that basically occurred in a vacuum. Case in point: Juventud wins the Cruiserweight Title for the first time less than a week later on Thunder, while by February of 1998, Mortis has abandoned the character altogether, unmasking and allying with Raven.

More people are aware of the ability of Mortis (aka Chris Kanyon), and his influence on future wrestlers, after his Dark Side of the Ring episode. We see some of that innovation here. Following a very well-timed bit of interference by James Vandenberg (better known as the Sinister Minister these days), Mortis takes control and busts out this:

After consulting with WCW super-enthusiast and technical wrestling specialist Jeff Connelly, we’re going to call this a deadlift pumphandle fallaway slam. It’s not so much the trip as the landing — Juvi gets dropped throatfirst across the top rope then crashes back to the canvas.

Mortis has a big size advantage and it plays into a teased comeback by Juventud, who converts an apparent tilt-a-whirl headscissors into a sleeper (Dusty Rhodes delightfully calls this as a “whirlybird”). Later, Juvi uses Mortis’ larger size against him, countering an original Flatliner (from a fireman’s carry off the second rope) with a sunset flip powerbomb. However, it’s not long before Mortis finishes with a move Schiavone calls “the D.O.A.” but is now the move we wrestling aficionados know as the Flatliner.

Final Rating: 5

There’s nothing wrong with the action here, but not a lot worth seeking it out, either. However, current and aspiring managers should watch the interference by Vandenberg for the artful timing on opening the ropes quickly and at the exact ideal moment.

What’s Next

It’s January 4, so there’s only one destination… The Tokyo Dome.

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

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365 Wrestling, Day 2: New Year Death Match, Abdullah Kobayashi vs. Shuji Ishikawa (Big Japan, 1/2/13)

365 Wrestling, Day 2: New Year Death Match, Abdullah Kobayashi vs. Shuji Ishikawa (Big Japan, 1/2/13)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Thanks to the advent of streaming services in recent years, American wrestling fans have more access to Japanese wrestling than ever. One company that still flies a bit under the radar is Big Japan Pro Wrestling, which features both a strong style division and a death match division. Big Japan holds an event almost every January 2, and in this installment, we’re firing up the main event from Big Japan’s January 2 event in 2013, with Abdullah Kobayashi defending the promotion’s Death Match Title against Shuji Ishikawa in a New Year Death Match. You can watch this match on IWTV.

The Wrestlers

I’m not familiar with either of these guys so I thought some brief context would be helpful. Abdullah the Butcher helped train Kobayashi and Kobayashi looks like the Japanese version of that icon. Ishikawa’s got a significant size advantage, but Kobayashi has held the title for more than a year and successfully defended against Ishikawa in May of 2012. At the contract signing, Ishikawa jumps Kobayashi, stuffs him into a port-a-potty, pants him and sprays window cleaner on and up his ass (Yes, really).

The Match

The stage is set with the usual plunder in a match of this type but some other elements that fit the theme of the Japanese new year:

–Kobayashi comes to the ring with an orange tied to the top of his head, which represents the continuation of family.

–There’s a glass version of Kadomatsu, a plant decoration that Japanese tradition believes to be the temporary dwelling place of gods, propped ominously in one corner. Japanese families keep it outside their home until January 7, then burn it on the 15th, but this version gets destroyed when Kobayasahi obliterates Ishikawa with it.

–Ishikawa busts out a Kagami Mochi, which is a New Year’s decoration made of two round rice cakes. The version here contains, well, something sharp that lacerates Ishikawa quickly and profusely once Kobayashi shoves it into his head.

Both men waste little time making for the plunder, building to a spectacular moment where Ishikawa lays a pane of glass against three propped chairs and scales the ropes, only to get superplexed through the glass himself. After exhausting the supply of weaponry, champion and challenger resort to trading strikes — including several shoot-style headbutts — in an exchange that makes Kobayashi look more formidable than anything else in the match to this point. Ishikawa gets the better of the champ, though, and finishes it with a splash off of the top rope.

Final Rating: 5.8

Death match wrestling is more prominent than ever in the U.S. I’ve certainly seen some great death matches through the years, and some that were just awful. This battle fell in the “good” range for me. Having an invested crowd certainly helped. Ultimately, if you like death match wrestling, you’ll like this. If you don’t like death matches, just skip it.

What’s Next

We make our first (but definitely not our last) foray into the grab bag of bizarre matchups that embodied WCW C-shows in the late 1990s.

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

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 Wrestling, Day 1: Rey Mysterio, Jr., vs. Tajiri (SmackDown, 1/1/04)

365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

The first installment in the project and we’re kicking things off by spotlighting two of my all-time favorites.

Rey Mysterio, Jr. has slowed down some, naturally, after the pile-up of years and injuries but his appeal, his style and many of his signature moves remain, in many ways, timeless. Tajiri, meanwhile, is a fine example that a wrestler doesn’t have to take a turn as a headliner to be memorable. Tajiri spent his entire time in American wrestling in the midcard, but his look, style and charisma paved a path to success for the Japanese Buzzsaw in WWE and ECW. Like Mysterio, Tajiri is still active. Though he’s slowed down more than Rey, Tajiri became MLW Openweight Champion near the end of 2021.

You can check out this match on Peacock. You can also watch a clip from the match in the video above.

The Match

Rey gets one more crack at Tajiri, who dethroned Mysterio for the Cruiserweight Title the previous September. Tajiri’s reign included him bringing on two lackeys to watch his back and interfere on his behalf, Akio (better known as Jimmy Yang) and Sakoda.

This culminates a four-month rivalry between Rey and Tajiri, and their familiarity shines through in this one. Rather than go right at one another, and flying around the ring, at the opening bell, they opt for a more patient, mat-based battle in the opening minutes. Each man anticipates key offense of the other: Rey blocks signature Tajiri maneuvers like the springboard back elbow and the Tarantula, while, late in the bout, Tajiri avoids a springboard senton by Rey with a sweet counter to a half crab on the left leg, which is the main target of Tajiri’s offense for most of the match.

After relying on a distraction from Akio and interference by Sakoda to get control of the match, Tajiri really works over that leg. The highlight of that attack is a pinpoint standing dropkick to the knee while Rey is hanging upside down in the Tree of Woe.

The finishing stretch is strong with each man scoring a very believable false finish. Ultimately, Rey foils interference by Akio and Sakoda, hooking Tajiri with a huracanrana into the pin to become two-time Cruiserweight Champ.

Final Rating: 7.6

This is a very good match that showcases both Rey and Tajiri in their primes. Everything flowed well and looked good. At under 12 minutes (counting entrances, and minus an early segment of the match we don’t see due to the commercial break), this is a brisk, action-packed match with real stakes, a strong narrative centered around Rey’s left leg, and a satisfying, definitive conclusion. Seek out this match if you haven’t seen it.

What’s Next

We head to Japan and ring in 2013 with a death match.

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

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