Wednesday, April 25, 2018

IMPACT Redemption 2018 Recap

This past Sunday evening, IMPACT Wrestling presented its first pay per view of the year: Redemption. The name was fitting, as this show is what many considered IMPACT’s one shot at redemption under the new regime of Scott D’Amore and Don Callis. Was it possible that the beleaguered organization could finally get its booking, financial, and roster woes under control long enough to put on a night of entertaining in-ring action that lays the foundation for what is to come in the future for IMPACT? I believe that it did and I am excited to see what IMPACT has planned for us over the next few months.

Let’s look at the bad and the good leading up to this pay per view.

The Bad:

The Price - There is no reason whatsoever that this event should have been forty dollars. IMPACT hasn’t put on a great pay per view worthy of forty dollars in years, let alone an event that is supposed to mark a new beginning for the organization. I don’t believe streaming it for free on Twitch would be wise either, because I think that would devalue the product. I think the sweet spot would have been $15-$25 and a great way to say, “Fans, we want you to give us another chance.” At the very least they should have shown it free on Global Wrestling Network.

The Good:

It’s About Wrestling – Anytime IMPACT has put on a big event the last few years, all the conversation has been more about the behind the scenes drama than what’s going on in-ring. The buildup and storylines would take a seat to the backstage politics, financial issues, and ownership drama instead of focusing on what’s going on in the ring and the direction that takes the company. For once, the drama has calmed down, and outside of people wondering if the new regime is going to do anything different and Alberto El Patron’s departure (which everyone has moved on from), there is no drama to interfere with the in-ring product.

A Great Mix of Wrestlers – The IMPACT roster has been overhauled quite a bit over the past few months and this is something I’m happy about. I’m glad guys like EC3 and Lashley are gone and I’m excited that IMPACT is looking at the indies and internationally for new and unique talent. I love how diverse the card is for Redemption and my only complaint is the lack of Rosemary on the card.

Alberto Del Rio - Okay, so maybe this isn’t 100% IMPACTs fault, but by signing El Patron and backing him with all his BS over the past year I think they helped encourage a monster. Del Rio is overrated and his drawing power is severely overestimated. Releasing him after his no-showing the Lucha Underground show was the best thing IMPACT has done in years, especially when the rumor is he was slating to win the title at Redemption. Del Rio torpedoing his own career in IMPACT may have inadvertently put the company on the path for success. It’s like they cut the cancer out to let the body heal.

The Event:

The show begins with one of those great dramatic introductions with lots of cool lighting and slow motion scenes. It features the IMPACT roster defining redemption and I loved it. I've always been a sucker for these type of intros and this was a damn good way to start the night.

Once the intro is over, we find out that Don Callis joining Josh Matthews on commentary. I’m part of the majority who find Josh Matthews’s commentary groan inducing and I can honestly say he’s a big part of the reason why I don’t watch IMPACT. Don Callis, on the other hand, is a great color guy. I’m hoping that he can take his commentating experience and his position as boss and guide Matthews through a decent performance tonight.

IMPACT is wasting no time with camera cuts to the commentators and instead goes straight into the introductions of our first match.

Aerostar defeated Drago

This was an exhibition match. There was no buildup, no storyline, just two fast and capable workers putting a show to warm up the crowd. It wasn’t a sensational match, but it was an enjoyable one that the crowd was really into. There were a couple of blotches that occurred on the ropes in the top left corner of the ring and this plagued the entire card throughout the show. The commentators even discussed it some later on and I'm sure this will be addressed.

Josh Matthews took some time to promote Lucha Underground during this match and hype season four. He does this throughout the show and its obviously a biproduct of their new relationship with AAA and LU. If getting talent like Aerostar and Drago costs a few plugs throughout the night, then so be it.

I absolutely love the idea of putting cruiserweights/luchadores at the beginning of a show, because it gets the crowd in attendance excited (which is something IMPACT needs, since their crowds are historically dead). You don’t need a storyline, just put two amazing workers on the card and let them show off their stuff. WCW used this tactic for years, and when going back and watching old Nitros, many times it’s the best part of the show. I’d love to see IMPACT utilize their relationship with AAA and bring in luchadores to open every pay per view and/or live event. Just turn them loose for ten minutes and let them show their stuff.  

Following the match we get some discussion between Callis and Matthews and I've already noticed that Matthews was not nearly as annoying as I normally find him. He played a straight up, respectable play-by-play guy, who didn't try to do weird things with his voice or try to sound different. He sounded natural and Callis gave him some great stuff to work off of.

If being pleased with Matthews performance wasn't enough, they did a quick backstage vignette where they ended his heater gimmick for Sydal which was something that was sorely needed. I gotta say, this show has been on fifteen minutes and they are already moving in the right direction.

Scott Steiner and Eli Draker defeated LAX (C) to win the Tag Team Championship

Okay, so at fifty-five years old, Scott Steiner did a frankensteiner off the top rope. It was friggin impressive as hell, even if it seemed like it hurt Steiner more than anyone else in the ring.

I have mixed feelings about this match. The match itself wasn’t terrible, but Steiner looked old in the ring with the rest of those guys. I always like seeing the older guys in the ring, and Steiner is still in excellent shape, but I’m just not sure if putting the tag team title back around his waist was a wise decision. I mean, part of me is thrilled to see a WCW wrestler holding gold in 2018, but the other part of me questioning whether this is a good decision for a company trying to move forward.

The commentary was excellent during this match with little nuances being mentioned such as Konnan’s absence may have cost LAX the titles since they made a mistake (Santana deciding to dive onto Steiner outside the ring) that wouldn’t have happened had Konnan been around. I love when commentators get into the psychology and philosophy of what’s going on in the ring and this is something that isn’t done nearly enough in 2018. Again, the commentary impressed me and we are only two matches into this show.

Brian Cage defeated Trevor Lee, Dezmond Xavier, DJZ,
El Hijo del Fantasma, and Taiji Ishimori

The folks at IMPACT see Brian Cage as their future, and rightfully so. The guy is a heavyweight who moves like a cruiserweight. The match was clearly designed to make him look good and powerful, but it wasn’t a one man show out there. All six men got a chance to shine and Cage may have walked out the winner, but everyone looked good while he did. This was a fun match with tons of high spots that I loved. I couldn't even begin to describe the action in the ring, but this was a blast from the moment it began till the three count and I highly recommend you check it out.

Taya Valkerie defeated Kiera Hogan

This was another match that was added just a few days prior to the event. Both Taya and Kiera are great workers, but this match wasn’t really about putting either one over, but more about introducing the arrival of Tessa Blanchard to IMPACT audiences (as you can tell by the picture above). Tessa has been one of the brightest female wrestlers on the indie scene the last several years, and her in-ring ability has improved quite dramatically. She’s finally found a niche working as a heel and she’s in incredible shape. It seems like every month a rumor would start that either IMPACT or WWE was interested in her, and it seems like she finally found a spot on IMPACT’s roster. However, I wish they would have found a better way to debut her.

Tessa may have good in-ring ability, but her mic skills need work, and introducing her as she joined the commentary team was probably not the best way to showcase her. She sounded nervous and forced, but I gotta give kudos to Josh Matthews for intentionally slowing down the conversation giving her time to gather her thoughts and calm her nerves, and then continue on with putting herself over.

The match itself was nothing special, but it achieved a lot. It gave Tessa a platform to debut on, it gave Taya a PPV victory, and introduced Kiera to a larger audience. This may seem like a throwaway match, but it actually did a lot in a very short amount of time. Kudos to the booking on this one.

Matt Sydal (C) defeated Petey Williams to retain the X Division Championship

A long, long time ago, the X-Division was the main reason to watch IMPACT wrestling. Guys like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Christopher Daniels battled every week and anytime you heard that an X Division match was coming up you knew you were in for a treat. Nowadays, the X-Divison belt is handled more like the US Title. Petey Williams and Matt Sydal are both great high flyers, but they are about ten years past what the X-Division needs right now to become great again. I would have love to see what IMPACT could have done had managed to put the X-Division around Ricochet’s waist and seen where he could take it, but since that didn’t happen I hope IMPACT managed to snag Neville (PAC) whenever he’s fully released.

Now that the commentary is out of the way, let’s talk about the match.This was a mediocre match that was built around the story that Petey Williams hasn't held the X-Division title in over ten years, and he wants to use the one weapon he can win with: the Canadian Destroyer. He spends most of the match trying to set up the move, but ultimately, his aggressiveness costs him and Sydal gets the win. Again, I gotta credit the commentary for setting up the whole Canadian Destroyer storyline/psychology and guiding the viewer throughout the match.

The match was okay, but the real X-Division match was the six man match earlier in the night. But thanks to some great commentary, this match told a story too, and that kept it from being a throwaway match.

oVe defeated Eddie Edwards, Moose, and Tommy Dreamer

Prior to this match starting, Tommy Dreamer cut a horrible, confusing promo that really left me worried about what we were going to see. Luckily, the match was much better than the promo.

Some view hardcore matches as trash wrestling matches, and I guess in a way that’s true. But hardcore matches can serve a purpose on a well booked card, because no matter how bad the wrestling is, everyone loves watching someone else get the crap beat out of them with a trash can or a kendo stick. This match included a lot of talented individuals beating the hell out of each other with all sorts of foreign objects, and this was a great way to get the crowd hyped up. It wasn’t a technical wrestling showcase by any means, but it was exactly what this card needed. You don’t want to exhaust the crowd with too much quality wrestling prior to the main event, but you also don’t want to bore them either. I gotta give even more props to the booking committee for excellent match placement and to the wrestlers for putting on a very entertaining match.

What was most impressive about this hardcore match is that it felt like a real street fight. It wasn’t a trash hit here or there and lots of selling, but oVe came across as insane individuals wanting to do as much damage as possible. Sami Callihan managed to secure the win for oVe but it was what happened post match that really made this memorable.

I think everyone on the internet has seen Sami Callihan bust open Eddie Edwards with the bat. Since that night, Sami has taunted Eddie Edwards slowly driving the man insane with vengeance. Once Sami got the pin on Dreamer, Edwards lost it and went after Callihan. He took the barbwire bat and rubbed it on Sami’s forehead, busting him open. Then he taped his arms to the ropes and kicked Callihan in the groin and then beat him with a kendo stick.

A referee tried to stop him but Edwards attacked him. Dreamer tried to stop him, and he got shoved aside. Then Edward’s wife Alisha ran to the ring, trying to stop her husband from turning into an absolute psychopath, but when she placed her hand on his back, he turned with the kendo stick and knocked her out. 

Eddie Edwards went from white bread boring to extremely interesting in the span on a single match.

Allie (C) defeated Su Yung to retain the Knockouts Championship

I read somewhere that Allie is what Bayley should have been once she hit the main roster, and I cannot agree more. She’s cute, sweet, funny, and a heck of a worker. Su Yung has a fantastic look and is an equally good in-ring worker, but they weren’t given a ton of time to shine on this event and quite honestly, they don’t click all that well. Allie got a much needed win on PPV, but this feud is over and its time for both competitors to move on. Personally, I’d like to see Su Yung face off against Rosemary going forward.

Following the match, Su Yung was pissed and Braxton Sutter did the only thing he knew how to do and proposed to her. She red misted him and then applied the mandible claw.

Pentagon Jr. defeated Austin Aries and Fenix

The original main event was Austin Aries vs. Alberto El Patron (Del Rio) which was a match I had absolutely no interest in seeing and an absolute terrible main event for a pay per view in 2018. Luckily, Alberto got fired and he was replaced by Pentagon Jr and Fenix, the two men Austin Aries and Alberto Del Rio were supposed to face at the Lucha Underground show earlier this month. When Alberto no showed, the match was changed to a triple threat with Aries vs. Fenix vs. Pentagon, and this is the same match that was booked for the main event.

In the video package that aired right before the match, neither IMPACT nor Austin Aries pulled any punches discussing Alberto's no-showing. It was nice to see the brutal honesty from the company, and they even featured the press conference that ended up being Alberto's final appear for IMPACT. This match may not have any true build up, but the idea of seeing three talented individuals wrestle for a world championship, with no BS story lines or screw jobs on the horizon excites the hell out of me.

I’m just gonna say it, these three guys, put on a fantastic show. Despite having zero buildup, these three men managed to infuse quite a bit of drama in this match. Austin Aries did some of his best work in years, and all three treated this main event with the importance that it deserved. It was pretty clear once the match was booked that Aries would be walking out the retaining champion, because putting the belt on a man who has never showed up on an IMPACT show outside of a special Wrestlemania weekend crossover show just seemed too unlikely. But leave it up to the new regime to make that ballsy call and let Pentagon Jr take the win. I absolutely love this call. Pentagon has a growing US fan base thanks to his time in Lucha Underground, and he’s the type of talent that IMPACT needs to be showcasing, not a WWF sendoff that wore out their welcome years ago. Never in a million years did I expect Pentagon to win the belt, but him holding that belt has instantly given it credibility and makes it feel like it’s a fresh new start for IMPACT, which is what Redemption was all about.

I'll be honest, I wasn't planning on watching this pay per view, but once I heard Pentagon won the title, I made it a priority to see it as soon as possible, and I'm so glad I did. IMPACT managed to pull off a very good show. It wasn't perfect, and I wouldn't even say great, but it was a damn good show and an excellent step in the right direction.

So, after watching IMPACT, I have a few observations and comments about IMPACT that I'd like to make.

-Josh Matthews did a great job and Don Callis was a fantastic person to pair him up with. I'm not sure if Don is just going to do the PPVs or if this was a one time thing, but for the first time in years, I didn't mute IMPACT. I honestly didn't know Matthews had it in him, but whatever coaching and advice he's taken has worked. He could be the voice of this company as long as he works within the parameters that he did during Redemption.

-I'm still concerned about the booking, not because of what happened on the card, but because of the rumor that Alberto was originally going to win the title. Hell, the fact that the main event was Aries vs. Alberto concerned me, but him winning the title flat out disturbs me. Maybe the rumor is false, but if its not, then I feel like the booking team at  IMPACT are still out of touch with what the audience actually wants. Maybe it was just dumb luck that they had to fire Del Rio and decided to go with Pentagon, but at least in my eyes, this was the biggest win IMPACT has had in years.

-The ropes have to be fixed. I'm not sure if its the material around them or what, but they were too slick, and when you have such amazing high flyers on the card, you can afford for your ropes to be a hindrance. It's dangerous and takes away from the suspension of disbelief.

-They have got to find a solution to running in Orlando, Florida. The crowd for Redemption was active and not nearly as dead as many IMPACT crowds, but the Orlando crowds still suck big time. My wife walked by while I was watching Redemption and commented on how bad the crowd was and how distracting it was to see people who looked so bored in the front row. One lady, spent almost the entire night holding up her head bored out of her mind, and then in the main event, where two of the most exciting wrestlers in the industry put on a great show with Austin Aries, she spent 90% of the match with her head down playing on her phone.

I'm not sure if it was intentionally, but judging the angle that Aries set up Pentagon to go over the guard rail, they did it right in her spot. Was she excited? No, she was just worried about her bags, and then she spent the rest of the match talking to the guy behind her.

This looks horrible for IMPACT. They need real wrestling fans in the front row, not tourists. I'd much rather see them run a 500 seat auditorium with wrestling fans excited for the product, then this crap. At the very least, do not light the crowd. Light the ring and keep the crowd in the dark, because they are distracting and hurt the product.

Overall, Redemption was a great show and one I think everyone should check out. If you want a peek at what is to come for IMPACT Wrestling, I believe this show is it. I guess deep down, I can't get too excited, knowing the companies history, but I hope I'm writing another review in July for Slammiversary and am still singing the praises of IMPACT.

Matches to Watch:
1. Pentagon vs. Fenix vs. Aries
2. Brian Cage vs. Trevor Lee vs. Dezmond Xavier vs. DJZ vs. El Hijo del Fantasma vs. Taiji Ishimori

Matches to Skip:
1. Taya Valkerie vs. Kiera Hogan
2. Allie vs. Su Young

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wrestling for My Life (Book Review)

Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar is Shawn Michael’s second foray into writing an autobiography. His first book Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story was released in 2005 and focused on his career the way most WWE books do. I’m not knocking the WWE books, but like their own documentaries, they always feel overly polished and often feature revised history that paints the WWE as the heroic victor. I plan on re-reading this book in the future, but I remember not being overly impressed with it. So, reading another Shawn Michaels book wasn’t exactly high on my list of things to do in life.

While attending Wrestlecade V a couple years back, my buddy Jimmy recommended Wrestling for My Life to me. He’s a much bigger Shawn Michaels fan than I am, but the man has taste and has never steered me wrong before. It just so happened a couple weeks after the convention, Amazon had a one day sale where HBK's latest book was just $1.99 and I couldn’t pass that up. I mean, it’s a wrestling book for just two dollars! You never turn down a wrestling book for two bucks.

After I finished Bill Apter’s book  I decided to launch straight into Wrestling For My Life. The first thing I noticed is that this is not a traditional wrestling book. In fact, HBK pretty much says straight off the bat that he didn’t want to rehash what was written back in 2005, and that this book was much more personal. So instead of recapping his career in the 80's and 90's, Shawn spends time discussing his salvation into Christianity and how that played a role in his return to wrestling in 2002 until his retirement in 2010. He discusses his home life and how his priorities have changed over the years, and in a way, attempts to makes amends with his past and the loathsome Shawn Michaels of the 1990’s.

It’s important to know that his book is written about his walk with God and how that influences everything from the inside out. Wrestling is secondary in this book, which I thought would bum me out but it really didn’t. We all like rooting for the underdog, and as weird as that is, Shawn Michaels was the underdog. He was a man who had many demons that he could not shake. One day that all changes after his son noticed how he was acting and that led him to church. You can’t help but admire the man for making the changes he’s made and putting his family and God first. His faith humbled a man who seemed to have no humility prior to finding God. That makes for a compelling read, even if its not about wrestling.

Shawn Michaels does give some insight on what led to his WWE return and how he was able to bring his new found faith into his on-screen persona and it just goes to show how much respect Vince McMahon has for him. I don't think many superstars could get away with bringing such a divisive topic on screen.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. It’s well written, thoughtful, and full of inspiration. However, it’s hard to call this a wrestling book and if you aren’t of the Christian faith you probably find the book rather preachy. I will say Shawn Michaels avoids being one of those over-the-top Christians, but the book is full of religious quotes, phrases, and imagery. Again, I didn’t mind that and I enjoyed the book for what it was.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Luca Brasi Was a Wrestler

In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather, based on the novel by Mario Puzo. The film quickly became the highest grossing film of all-time (for a while) and was nominated for ten Oscars for which it won three. It was an instant classic and is beloved and appreciated all these years later. But until earlier this week, I had no idea there was a wrestling connection to The Godfather.

At the beginning of the film we are introduced to Luca Brasi, a feared hitman who is nervously rehearsing his lines before approaching Don Corleone with a bridal purse for his daughter. It is a memorable scene and Luca Brasi is remember in pop culture in part because of the line, “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” 

Earlier this week, I was reading up on the actor who portrayed Luca Brasi, Lenny Montana. It turns out Mr. Montana wasn’t really an actor. He was a real enforcer for the Colombo crime family who was sent to the set of The Godfather after producer Al Ruddy made a deal with Joe Columbo to cut the word Mafia from the script. Lou Martini Sr, who was cast to play Luca Brasi died of a stroke, after falling ill his first day on the set. Shortly there after, Francis Ford Coppola and Al Ruddy were introduced to the 6’6”, 320 pound Lenny Montana they quickly cast him in the role of the fictional enforcer.

Apparently Mr. Montana was extremely nervous about working across from Marlon Brando, and he kept nervously repeating his lines over and over again. Francis Ford Coppola decided to write this real life nervous behavior into the script, and instantly this classic character was born.

Lenny Montana joined the Colombo crime family in the late 1960’s as both an arsonist and enforcer. Associate producer Gar Frederickson was quoted in Vanity Fair that Lenny Montana told him that, “He’d tie tampons on the tail of a mouse, dip it in kerosene, light it, and let the mouse run through a building. Or he’d put a candle in front of a cuckoo clock, and when the cuckoo would pop out, the candle would fall over and start a fire.” This guy was a serious gangster.

So what does all of this have to do with wrestling? Well, prior to being involved in the movie business and the mafia business, Lenny Montana was involved in the wrestling business. 

Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Lenny Montana began wrestling in New Jersey in 1953 as the Zebra Kid. He found success quickly, and won the New Jersey Tag Team titles with Golden Terror after defeating Guy Brunetti and Joe Tangaro on April 4th, 1953.

Later that year, Lenny won the NWA Heart of America (Central States) Heavyweight title after defeating Dave Sims on October 1st, 1953 in Kansas City. He’d lose the belt two short months later to Sonny Myers, a three time NWA Heart of America Heavyweight title holder.

In 1956, Montana was wrestling under the name Len Crosby, and along with Gene Kiniski he defeated Herb Freeman and Ray Gunkel on September 18th in Dallas, Texas to win the NWA Texas Tag Team Championship. 

In 1960, while working as a carnival circuit wrestler, Lenny Montana met an unknown Eddie Sharkey, who he became friends with. Montana even smartened Sharkey up on the business. Sharkey has gone to train some wrestlers like Austin Aries, Bob Backlund, Nikita Koloff, Jesse Ventura, Madus, Jerry Lynn, Rick Rude, X-Pac, and The Road Warriors.

In June 1960, Montana (again as Len Crosby) won the NWA Texas Tag Team Titles this time teaming with Joe Christie. A few months later in October, he won the AWA World Tag Team Championship with Hard Boiled Haggerty defeated Stan Kowalski and Tiny Mills. While AWA success seemed to be in the future for Montana, all that came to an abrupt end when he broke his leg in a match with Verne Gagne. 

Montana reappeared a year later in Florida, wrestling once again as The Zebra Kid. He engaged in a very successful feud with Eddie Graham which sold out the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory several Tuesday nights in 1961. The feud continued in 1962 when The Zebra Kid defeated Eddie Graham for the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Georgia version) on May 1st. But that wasn’t the only gold Montana would see in 1962, he won the NWA (Georgia) Southern Tag Team titles on November 23rd, tagging with Gypsy Joe and defeating Grizzly Jake Smith and Chief Little Eagle. 

Montana’s tag team success continued in 1963 when he won the NWA International Tag Team Titles with Tarzan Tyler defeating Ted Evans and Chief Little Eagle and then winning them again in June 1963, this time defeating Chief Little Eagle and Dick Steinborn. His final time holding gold was in October of 1963, when tagging with Tarzan Tyler, they defeated Karl and Kurt Von Brauner for the NWA World Tag Team Championship. 

He was scheduled to work as Gorilla Monsoon’s tag team partner in 1964, but Gorilla ended up with The African Savage. However, Montana did have a two out of three falls NWA World Heavyweight Title match against Lou Thesz. which he lost.

Montana had begun trying to break into Hollywood by the late 60's and started wrestling less and less. However, it was reported that he continued to wrestle off and on all the way until his appearance in The Godfather in 1972 although I've been unable to confirm any matches past 1964. In 1984, it seems as if Montana came out of retirement for one final match against his old tag team partner, Gene Kiniski's son, Kelly Kiniski in World Class.

Lenny Montana died in 1992.