365 Wrestling, Day 39: Undertaker vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (WWF Shotgun Saturday Night, 2/8/97)

365 Wrestling, Day 39: Undertaker vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (WWF Shotgun Saturday Night, 2/8/97)

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

What makes a good match? And, when evaluating a match, how much does what happen before and after the bell influence things? How about the surrounding environment?

These questions prove relevant in this entry of 365 Wrestling: The Undertaker taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley in this episode of Shotgun Saturday Night from February 8, 1997.

Lest we offend the copyright gods, I’ll just tell you you can find this match online through a little bit of shrewd searching.

The Match

Shotgun Saturday Night started at the beginning of 1997. and the initial run of episodes aimed to present an edgier product and wrestling matches from unlikely venues — such as Penn Station, the site of this match.

If you’re going to judge this match solely by what happens from bell to bell, you’re going to be disappointed. There are two commercial breaks — one right as Undertaker hits the ring. Much of the action unfolds in the punchy-kicky style that was more common than it should have been during the Attitude Era. Helmsley’s Intercontinental Title is on the line but he retains when Undertaker drills Helmsley in the head with the belt, right in front of the referee.

The setting — smackdab in the middle of Penn Station — adds so much to the presentation. Helmsley’s snob gimmick perfectly fits the environment. He arrives in a stretch limo that pulls up outside, says a few quick words about how he wouldn’t get caught dead riding one of the trains at the station, and then descends a staircase into the concourse. Undertaker’s entrance is even more surreal in the context of Penn Station, coming through the crowd.

Standard WWF/WWE programming carries a sameness from show to show and week to week… and has since the promotion truly “went national” in the late 1980s. Here, we get wide panning shots to take in the crowd and the limited space, unlike the glut of camera cuts that characterizes WWE shows today. The ring looks considerably smaller than the 20-by-20-foot squared circle WWE typically uses. It catches the eye and draws your interest.

The post-match is the best part of the entire endeavor. After taking a chokeslam, Helmsley tries to retreat and a chase ensues up the stairs, where the Deadman grabs Hunter and delivers a tombstone at the top of the escalator. Taker stands tall, soaking in the cheers of the crowd as Helmsley’s unconscious carcass heads down the escalator.

Final Rating: 6.1

The atmosphere, the entrances, and the post-match make this highly entertaining even if the in-ring action is nothing special. Given the status that both Undertaker and Triple H have achieved in WWE lore since then, it’s surprising to me that this match has flown under the radar. That tombstone on the escalator should have been fodder for so many video packages.

Up Next

Some good ole-fashioned geopolitical tag action.

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365 Wrestling, Day 38: Ben Carter vs. B-Boy (ACTION Wrestling, 2/7/20)

365 Wrestling, Day 38: Ben Carter vs. B-Boy (ACTION Wrestling, 2/7/20)

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

Pro wrestling is just another storytelling medium. Like any established art form, you see the same themes play out, in different variations. One of my favorites is the young rising star facing the wily veteran, and we’ve got a fine example of that here: Ben Carter against B-Boy from ACTION Wrestling’s February 7, 2020 event.

You can check out the entire catalog of ACTION events, over at IWTV. However, you can watch this match for free on Youtube:

The Match

You may know Carter as Nathan Frazer, the name he adopted after joining WWE and NXT UK.

Before any of that happened, this import from the United Kingdom was turning heads on the independent circuit in the United States, including this quasi-galaxy of Southeastern promotions — which includes ACTION, Southern Underground Pro, TWE and the Scenic City Invitational — that shares the same booking continuity.

Carter set up this match with a brief challenge:

B-Boy, meanwhile, has been a fixture for the highly influential Pro Wrestling Guerrilla promotion in southern California since PWG began. He made a few prior appearances in the ACTION sphere previously, but you also might recognize him from Seasons 1 and 2 of Lucha Underground as Bael.

The Match

What begins with a handshake of respect quickly devolves into violence, in a good way. An early taunt by Carter, though it responds to one of B-Boy’s own, upsets the veteran and triggers a nasty forearm that Carter sells like a knockout blow. That’s just the start of what’s to come.

B-Boy chains a La Magistral into an ankle submission, then starts flinging his foe around the ring. The most stirring is either a death valley driver into the corner or a flat faceplant by Carter when he’s chucked to the floor. B-Boy’s vaunted strikes also do damage, and Carter sells the punches — which are delivered sparingly — like possible knockout blows. B-Boy’s more the grizzled veteran than the outright villain but he heels it up in one of my favorite moments: positioning Carter in a chair out on the floor, doing a full lap around the ring to gain momentum and … poking Carter in the eye.

Carter plays the young upstart who takes a beating but keeps coming back time and time again. If you’re a longtime wrestling fan like me you’ve seen this story told countless times, but here it works well because Carter does an excellent job fighting from underneath regardless of what B-Boy does to him. At one point, the New Age Punisher screams for Carter to stay down. Carter does not, and that brief snapshot encapsulates this entire story.

Early on, Dylan Hales mentions Carter’s pace advantage and Carter makes use of pace in his comeback. Carter hits that next gear very quickly, unleashing bursts of explosive offense in an attempt to narrow the gap and overwhelm B-Boy.

The action builds to a compelling and believable series of false finishes. We see powerslams. Tiger Drivers. A Canadian Destroyer. A midair cutter. A DDT on the floor. A brainbuster. After all that, Carter’s pin comes out of nowhere but after all that’s happened, it satisfies. The action is something that would be standard business in a PWG ring, but in this environment — a rec center in a small Georgia town on the periphery of Atlanta — it stands out, and it’s outstanding.

This match intended to propel Carter into a major push but this was ACTION’s last event before the pandemic. By the time shows resumed, Carter had signed with WWE.

Final Rating: 7.8

This is an excellent match and, according to ACTION CEO Matt Griffin, one of the best matches in ACTION history — although I think the IWTV Title Match from Southeast First surpasses it. It’s definitely worth seeking out and watching. Even if you’re seeing both wrestlers for the first time, the story is easy to grasp, well-told, and executed with barely a hitch.

Up Next

A snob turned wrestling champion and a zombie funeral director walk into Penn Station. Hijinks ensue.

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365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

365 Wrestling, Day 37: The Cobra vs. Shiro Koshinaka (NJPW, 2/6/86)

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

New Japan Pro Wrestling has produced, over the course of its history, some of the best wrestling on the planet. And the Best of Super Juniors is probably my favorite of their annual tournaments: first because I enjoy that style of wrestling, and second because it gives the junior heavyweights — who usually are second banana in the promotion — a chance to shine.

The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title is the top prize for the New Japan juniors. At the time of this writing, there have been 41 wrestlers to hold the title for 91 combined reigns. Past champions include Jushin Liger, Finn Balor, Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega, Owen Hart and more … but it all started with today’s match selection, a bout between The Cobra and Shiro Koshinaka on February 6, 1986, to crown the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.

You can watch this match on New Japan World.

The Match

Koshinaka got started in All Japan, NJPW’s top competitor, and jumped over in 1985. The Cobra is George Takano, who is working here under a mask and billed from Uganda. The match is the culmination of a round-robin league tournament to crown the first IWGP champion. Other participants in the round-robin included the original Black Tiger, Mark Rocco, and Keiichi Yamada (a young, unmasked Liger).

After a month of round-robin league wrestling to get to this point, and a loss to Koshinaka during the block, the Cobra isn’t wasting any time. He takes the fight right to Koshinaka and, mere seconds in, hits a fantastic standing dropkick. I’ve watched, well, more wrestling that I probably would care to think about and this is one of the best dropkicks I’ve seen. It also elicits one of the great “OHHHH!” reactions known to Japanese crowds.

There are a few lulls, mostly to sell holds, but otherwise this match keeps the pedal pressed into the proverbial floor. The finishing stretch would hold up against any modern Japanese juniors match, with both men trading some very close near falls to the delight of the Sumo Hall crowd.

As is often the case, the small moments stand out and really tie together this match. The Cobra is aggressive in going for pins. After weathering the initial storm by Cobra, Koshinaka shows some grit with a running cross body, but note now he jams a forearm into the face of the Cobra on the impact and the landing. Later, Koshinaka lies prone with a twitching leg after taking a tombstone. That and a running legdrop still aren’t enough to put away Koshinaka, and the crowd starts chanting for him as he counters a top-rope splash and hoists the Cobra in a bridging German for the historic victory.

Final Rating: 6.3

This is a good match with a couple of off moments, such as The Cobra coming up short on a cartwheel into a dive to the floor. There’s probably nothing here you haven’t seen before, but it’s a well-worked match and a historic one to boot.

Up Next

A very good example of the youth vs. experience story, told inside the squared circle.

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365 Wrestling, Day 36: Leakee vs. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (FCW, 2/5/12)

365 Wrestling, Day 36: Leakee vs. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (FCW, 2/5/12)

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

It’s a fair criticism that WWE struggles to make new stars but when The Shield formed, it was the launching pad for three future headliners.

Together, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns made a greater impact as a unit than any WWE faction or group since D-Generation X. Each also went on to stardom individually. Rollins and Reigns remain fixtures at the top of the card for WWE, and Reigns finally has blossomed into the company’s unquestioned top draw. Ambrose, who you also may know as Jon Moxley, has played a prominent role throughout the short and growing history of All Elite Wrestling.

After the Shield dissolved the first time, an eventual match between the three of them seemed inevitable. I thought it would happen at a flagship event like WrestleMania or SummerSlam. Instead, they met in a triple threat at Battleground in 2016 — right after WWE went to a brand split — for the WWE Title.

However… before they became The Shield, these three crossed paths one other time, when they were in the WWE developmental system.

You can find this match on YouTube.

The Match

Before NXT went from a quasi-reality competition to WWE’s developmental-territory-turned-third brand-turned-developmental-territory, WWE used Florida Championship Wrestling to prepare its rising talent. All three members of the Shield were part of the FCW roster, and meet here in a triple threat match to determine the next challenger to Florida Heavyweight Champion Leo Kruger (you may know him better as Adam Rose).

Reigns is going by Leakee (pronounced lay-ah-key) here. It sounds good but it reads like “leaky”, which is why I am guessing the name did not stick. Reigns gets enough guff on social media as is, imagine how bad it would be if his name looked like “leaky.” And people thought Bron Breakker got a bad hand from the WWE name generator.

But I digress…

Rollins and Ambrose were veterans of the independent scene before coming to WWE, while Leakee is about 18 months into his wrestling career. Leakee is much leaner than the Reigns we know now, not to mention greener. He also shows some athleticism that isn’t part of the usual Reigns game. Early in the match, he kips up out of a Rollins headscissors. Later, he busts out a leapfrog. And his finisher is Checkmate — a spinning bulldog where he leaps and then changes direction in midair.

Ambrose is the engine that keeps the match moving. He spends some time jawing at William Regal on commentary and Regal talks about their past history — they wrestled once in FCW about three months before this match aired — and how the two are bound for another violent collision. Regal’s verbiage and delivery here is tremendous and made me want to see more of their feud in FCW — likely as part of this project. Ambrose starts the assault on Leakee, then double-crosses Rollins to queue the finishing stretch. Ambrose also advances the story with Regal, borrowing the Regal Stretch and the knee trembler from the Englishman.

Rollins is doing the same schtick he later does in NXT, with the floor-punching, moshing entrance. He’s the forgotten third man in this match at times but everything he does is smooth and looks good. He delivers a particularly on-point springboard knee during the finishing stretch.

Most of what happens here is standard WWE multi-man match fare that you’ve likely seen a hundred times before, but the finish stands out. Leakee blocks Ambrose’s finisher and hoists both his future stablemates for a double Samoan drop. It’s an impressive show of strength and succeeds in the ultimate goal to elevate him as a title contender.

Final Rating: 5.4

This is a fun way to spend about 10 minutes and an interesting snapshot into the past history of three of the most significant wrestlers of this generation.

Up Next

A historic match from New Japan.

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

If familiarity breeds contempt, it’s no wonder that the rivalry between Super Crazy and Tajiri in ECW is so delightful.

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. Without their matches against one another, neither would have the level of fame or notoriety in the wrestling community they rose to achieve.

In this entry we examine one of their meetings: 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 Match

These two are familiar foes by now. 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. 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.

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. There are some excellent technical exchanges in Crazy-Tajiri matches but this is not one of those matches. Super Crazy sprints to the ring, launching himself at Tajiri with a springboard missile dropkick, and it’s violence, plunder and blood from there.

This is ECW, and a gimmick match, which means chairs, tables, and a fair amount of “hitting each other with stuff” spots, along with some degree of “setup time.” Setting up a table or ladder spot can seem endless and kill a match’s momentum. Here, 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).

Both men end up bloody by the conclusion of this match, which sees both incorporate plunder into some of their signature offense. Tajiri delivers his baseball slide dropkick with Crazy in the Tree of Woe, but places three chairs in front of his nemesis’ head before delivering the blow. Later, Super Crazy soars off the top rope with a legdrop on Tajiri through a table on the floor. Upon impact, the far end of the table flips up and hits Crazy–not planned and likely painful but adding positively to the mayhem.

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). 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 Crazy’s forehead.

The violence builds. At one point, fans ringside feed chair after chair to Super Crazy at one point in the match while chanting “ECW!” in a great example of the organic, visceral feel that gave ECW its charm. The match culminates with one of the nastier spots I have seen in bouts of this type. It’s so over the top that it should end the match, and does.

One more note: Lost in the weapons and chaos is one of the smoother variations of Tajiri’s handspring back elbow. Tajiri sprints into the ropes, and Super Crazy comes forward into the elbow, avoiding the “standing there waiting to be hit” that is seen often with similar moves of this type.

Final Rating: 6.5

Tajiri and Super Crazy brought out the best in one another. They had better matches than this one, but this 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

A triple threat with the members of the Shield before they became the Shield.

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: Low Ki vs. Amazing Red (HOG, 2/3/18)

365 Wrestling, Day 34: Low Ki vs. Amazing Red (HOG, 2/3/18)

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

There’s no denying that Ring Of Honor has been a major influence on the modern wrestling world. Some of the biggest current names today previously wrestled for ROH. And the in-ring style of the promotion, which set it apart from other American companies for several years, now can be found, well, just about anywhere.

Back in the early days of ROH, when the promotion was running monthly events in an oddly-lit rec center in Philadelphia, one of the most famous matches from that first year of existence pit Low Ki against Amazing Red. These two faced off as part of the tournament to crown the first ROH World Champion and combined for a famous, often-imitated opening minute.

Nearly 16 years later, they met again, in this match for House of Glory from February 3, 2018.

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

The Match

Amazing Red is one of those guys who was setting new standards in the ring during the 2000s but, due to injuries, was not able to reach the heights of stardom of some of his peers. Red was a fixture for both ROH and TNA during its early years. In the latter, Red pioneered the X-Division style against opponents like Low Ki, AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn. No matter the match, his aerial antics were a constant source of unabashed delight from commentator Don West:

Here, Red is the top champion for House Of Glory, a promotion in New York City that grew out of a wrestling school Red founded with the same name. Anthony Gagnone, who Red beat for the title, is trying everything he can to bring down the popular champion, including bringing back someone from Red’s past… Low Ki, who had never lost a singles match to Red.

Low Ki is in his Hitman-inspired “Agent 47” attire, which makes sense since he’s the hired mercenary here on Gagnone’s behalf. He starts out as a havoc-wreaking heel, punching a chair into the face of the referee — and said official sells it so strongly he lies motionless for the remainder of the match, to the point Red and Low Ki literally have to work around his prone form.

The match takes a turn when Low Ki and Red fight through the crowd up onto the stage. As much as I loathe people using the term “sequence” to describe pro wrestling, that’s the best way to explain what happens next. The history of these two plays heavily into the booking of the match, and what ensues is dedicated to trying to re-create the special opening to that 2002 ROH meeting. “Trying” is the key word in the previous sentence. The opening minute of the 2002 match is incredibly choreographed like a Hollywood stunt fight, but it stands out because it was so unlike anything else happening at the time — evidenced by the amazing reaction by the Murphy Rec crowd. This is a pale imitation in better video quality, relying on extra bells and whistles like weapons (a chair for Red and a wooden pole Low Ki snaps in two and wields like fighting sticks.)

Next Low Ki takes control in a stretch that felt long and meanders, both psychologically and directionally as these two circumnavigate the ringside area. The commentary doesn’t match the action, either, as they discuss Low Ki’s drive to cripple Red or end his career while his offense consists of chops.

The home stretch is the highlight, cued when Red delivers a beautiful spinning DDT. Low Ki offers a nifty counter when Red attempts a catapult, landing on the middle rope and springing off with a double stomp. Red and Low Ki tease the same finish that ended their 2002 ROH match, but Red counters with Infrared to finish it.

Final Rating: 4.9

Red and Low Ki fail to recapture the magic of their 2002 meeting. The portion of the match on the stage feels forced and comes off overly cutesy. At one point, when Low Ki is stalking and chopping Red on the floor, I found myself checking how much time remained in the match — never a good sign.

You might enjoy this if you’re a huge fan of Amazing Red or Low Ki, or both, but this was not for me.

Up Next

We examine a chapter from one of the classic rivalries from ECW.

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365 Wrestling, January Recap

365 Wrestling, January Recap

It seemed simple enough on paper: watch 365 matches, one from each day of the year.

The first month of entries is in the books, and rather than provide you with a written recap, I’m taking a different approach.

I’m partnering with my friend Tom Batista, host and creator of the Military Industrial Suplex Podcast for a special series of podcast episodes. Each episode will recap one month of entries here at 365 Wrestling.

Our January recap episode includes:

  • A quick introduction of the project, and the reasons behind it
  • A countdown of the top five matches of the month
  • An interview with Thomas Simpson, OMEGA co-promoter, talking about our Day 29 entry, the Hardys vs. Serial Thrillaz tag team match

Listen to the full episode.

The Military Industrial Suplex Podcast is proud to be part of the PWOM Podcast Network. Find PWOM on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform.

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