Sunday, April 29, 2018

Looking back at April

Hello readers of the Wrestling Insomniac

Some of you may have noticed that I, Michael Labbe, have not posted anything this month on the blog and there's a good reason for it.  I had a minor surgery that developed a major infection that was followed by a second surgery and essentially took me out of action from almost everything in life for a month.

I want to thank Brandon for keeping the page running with some fantastic articles where he have his thoughts on Ring of Honor Supercard of Honor XII and Impact's Redemption PPV.  He also reviewed a couple books by Shawn Michaels and Bill Apter, gave us his thoughts on the excellent Magnum TA documentary, he took us back in time looking at wrestler and actor Luca Brasi, and shared his WrestleMania 27 Weekend experience.

The only thing I really could do was lay down so I got plenty of television and reading in and I'd like to share some of that with you:

I've been reading Bob Backlund's book and I'm loving it.  Growing up I didn't know very much about Mr. Backlund's first run as the WWF Champion.  The only footage I remember seeing is him winning and losing the championship.  The rest of his almost six year run was a mystery to me.  This book answers those questions and  I'll do a proper write up when I'm done.

Sadly we lost three wrestling in greats in April, "Mr. Number 1" Paul Jones, "Luscious" Johnny Valiant and the legendary Bruno Sammartino.  Ever since Bruno and the WWE settled their differences I have been waiting for a DVD release looking at Bruno's life and career and it never happened.

After his death the WWE released a special on the Network about Bruno and it is fantastic.  It's a shame it took him dying for it to happened, but nonetheless everyone who is a fan of wrestling should take the time to sit and watch this.  Coupled with the Bruno Sammartino collection on the network you can also take in some of his greatest matches.

The Andre the Giant documentary debuted on HBO and I can't say enough positive about it.  Sincerely go out of your way to watch this.  Interviews with wrestling legends, his family, and cast from The Princess Bride you won't regret it.  I was blown away by the footage they had of a teenage Andre who was quite thin where it appeared he was going through some wrestling drills.

WrestleMania weekend is in April and even in my uncomfortable condition I took in the showcase of the immortals.  The Hall of Fame was just okay for me.

NXT Takeover was excellent!  The show was bookended by two phenomenal matches in the North American Championship ladder match and the grudge match between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano.

Ciampa coming to the ring with no music allowed you to really be able to appreciate the amount of heat he had with the crowd, just fantastic.  This must see match saw these two go to war and tell an amazing story along the way earning the 5 star recognition that The Wrestling Observer gave it.

WrestleMania 34 was the best in Mania in years from beginning to end.  Fourteen matches total and a run time of seven hours with the pre-show it was a long day.  The pre-show matches were okay at best, however the main card itself was excellent.

I think what I liked the most was how it wasn't predictable.  Asuka lost her first match in the WWE system, Nakamura lost and turned heel, and Brock Lesnar retained his championship.  Also how The Undertaker squashing John Cena was exactly what needed to happen to make Taker look strong.  Finally I really dug Cena sitting in the crowd and his interactions with the fans.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about the Shinsuke Nakamura heel turn, but it has been amazing!  From his "clearly disingenuous" comments about AJ Styles to his "no speak English" and all his in ring antics have been spectacular.

On April 27th the WWE presented the Greatest Royal Rumble from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and love or hate the WWE you can't discount how unbelievable a feet it was to put on that show.  It was a hot crowd who was clearly up to date on the current storylines and wrestlers.  The opening match of John Cena vs. Triple H was basic but really really good.

Once again I was surprised when Brock Lesnar walked away with the championship after his cage match with Roman Reigns.  Daniel Bryans performance was unprecedented in the rumble match.  However what stands out as the moment of the night was Titus O'Neil falling on his way to the ring and sliding under the ring.  It was amazing!

New Japan Pro Wrestling opened the month with Sakura Genesis 2018 on April 1st in Tokyo headlined by IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada successfully defending his championship against New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr.

However the match of the night rated 5 stars by Dave Melzter was Will Osprey retaining his IWGP Jr. Junior Heavyweight Championship against Marty Scrull in a phenomenal match!

They closed the month on April 29th when they presented Wrestling Hi No Kuni in Kumamoto.  In the main event Tetsuya Naito defeated Minoru Suzuki to regain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship for his second reign.

It was another good month of wrestling, and I'm glad to be back to sharing my enjoyment with all of you. 

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment, read my other posts, and like my blogs Facebook page and while you're at it check out my weekly podcast Podcast of 1,000 Holds on the Nerdy Legion Podcast Network. 

Later Readers!

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wrestlemania 27 Weekend (2011) Recap

 In February 2011, The Rock returned to the WWE for the first time in seven years. He immediately began verbally assaulting John Cena, which made for some riveting TV. I’ll admit it, I marked out and I’m not even a fan of The Rock. The WWE did a great build up and kept the whole reveal very secret. I don’t think anyone was expecting The Rock to show up so when he did, it was explosive.

It was really nice to see someone from the Attitude Era come back in such a grand fashion, especially to square off against John Cena, the man we all love to hate. But more than anything, I became excited because my friend Kevin was a huge fan of The Rock. That was his guy, and I knew he was going to lose his mind when he saw the exchange.

I called him at work practically yelling to let him know The Rock was back, and I stayed on the phone with him the entire time describing the action and the comments The Rock was making. Before the end of the confrontation it was apparent that The Rock was going to be at Wrestlemania, so Kevin and I made a pact to head down to Wrestlemania two months later. I was able to snag us two decent tickets for a reasonable price and it was official…. I was going to Wrestlemania!

Of course, in typical fashion, it was almost derailed by an illness. It seems whenever a big wrestling event comes up that I want to attend I get sick. I had to bail out one year on the NWA Legends Fest thanks to a twenty-four hour bug. I’ve always regretted that, so I had no intention on missing Wrestlemania over a little sore throat. But then my sore throat turned to strep, then the strep spread throughout my mouth, and things just got worse and worse. I was out of work for almost two weeks and it took four trips to the doctor before they finally got something together to get me better.

I seriously thought I was going to die one day. That’s how terrible it was. I lost almost twenty pounds and this was still going on three days before we were supposed to leave for Atlanta. In one of the hardest texts I’ve ever had to send, I sent Kevin a message and told him I might not be able to go. He was nice about it, but I knew he would be bummed. Lucky for both us, I got better enough that next day and we were Wrestlemania bound.

But before we attended the big show on Sunday, we had a stop in Burlington, North Carolina Friday night where Dragongate USA was holding a show called Opening the Southern Gate. I’d never been to a Dragongate show before and really wanted to see what they had to offer. I also wanted to sit ringside for a wrestling event for the first time in my life, so I ponied up the fifty bucks and we got a front row view of all that awesome indy action.

It wasn’t all smooth though. I had to practically fight an organizer there to get us chairs since they were so incredibly disorganized. It took me ten minutes to get someone to actually help us to which they brought out two chairs and smashed all the other people in the front row together while sticking us out on the end. We were right next to the entrance ramp, so I wasn’t complaining but it definitely was a sour note on what ended up becoming a great night.

Future WWE wrestlers Dean Ambrose, Adrian Neville, Johnny Gargano, Luke Harper, Rich Swan, Ricochet, and Akira Tozawa along with Sami Callihan. It was hard hitting, high flying, and amazing to see all up close. Luke Harper was even knocked into Kevin and I, and he actually hurt Kevin’s knee some he came sliding in so hard. Adrian Neville (then known as PAC) got busted open and he ended up slinging blood all over me in the form of tiny droplets. You can see some of the drops on the floor in this pic.

Those type of droplets covered my jeans and jacket.

Up until a couple years ago, that show was the best overall live wrestling show I’ve ever been to. I think being on the front row helped, but the talent really made everything work. There was a comedic match, a high flying match, a hard hitting match, and then some pure wrestling brilliance. It was overall an amazing card to see live and a night I will never forget.

We had drove from Raleigh to Burlington (about an hour away) and then back home that evening after Dragongate. The next morning we got up super early and began the seven hour trip down to Atlanta.

Like all great road trips, the ride was full of fun stories and interesting conversations, and the occasional stop at some random small town for a Subway sandwich. It was a good time, but a long ride and we were anxious to be in Atlanta. We arrived at our hotel next to Turner Field (not exactly in the nice part of town) a little after 1 PM and found the lobby to be full of wrestling fans. I was wearing my Hulkamania t-shirt which I caught a lot of flack for by my wrestling brethren.

Wrestling fans can be an interesting bunch. Some of them are total jerks and some are super nice. You also have a group of fans who love to share and showoff, and apparently that is who we were running into that morning at the hotel. Even after insulting my t-shirt, I had wrestling fans begging me to come over and look at a piece of the ring rope they bought from somewhere, or a some autographed belt they had. They are all ready to tell you stories about how they tracked down wrestlers or saw certain shows. It’s a weird sort of brotherhood that doesn’t exist in other fandoms, at least not that I know of; people who love to hate on you but still want to be your friend.

After a quick rest, Kevin and I decided to hit the town. Neither of us had ever been to Atlanta before, so we thought it would be cool to drive around and just see what we saw. We quickly learned that driving in Atlanta is not all that easy with that crazy traffic congestion they have, but we managed to cut through side streets and just take in the scenery. We ended up driving a little outside of the city when we saw a huge sign on top of a strange building advertising DragonGate USA’s Mercury Rising for that evening. We knew they were performing in Atlanta that night, but we didn’t know where nor did we have plans to attend. But after the previous night’s show, it was impossible for us to say no to more wrestling.

We drove up to the building, bought some general admission tickets, and settled in for the show. Again, we got to see all the stars from the night before but this time Austin Aries was also in attendance wrestling his “retirement” match. During the show, shortly after Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) called Trina Michaels a cum-dumpster, they announced that he had been signed by the WWE. I honestly didn’t believe it at the time, but it was true.

The card wasn’t nearly as good as the night before, but then again, maybe it’s because we didn’t have as good of seats. We still had a good time, but it was a forgettable night (with the exception of Dean Ambrose’s comment) and by the end of it we were pretty zapped. We made it back to the hotel to crash for a few hours before hopping back up to explore the town some more.

The following morning, we headed out towards the Georgia Dome and decided to explore the surrounding area. We walked towards the arena and ran across the convention center where WWE Axcess was being held. We had no intention on attending Axcess and the steep ticket price was really a bit ridiculous but since traffic was so bad and we really had nowhere else to go, we decided to bite the bullet and go see what we could see.

Once we made it into the convention center, the huge WWE banners really made an impact. I don’t know why, but I just assumed Axcess would be a lot smaller than it actually was. On the convention floor was WWE heaven. They had things like Vince McMahon’s exploded limo, John Cena’s car collection, a rock climbing wall, break down of what’s under the ring, a ring where Roddy Piper was giving a not so kid friendly interview, tables upon tables of autographs and meet and greets, several neat photo op spots, a belt Hall of Fame, a museum of various wrestling outfits, a whole section dedicated to The Undertaker and his streak, and dozens of other awesome wrestling memorabilia.

We took advantage of all of the photo ops which included a recreation of Vince McMahons office, a broadcasting table, a picture with the WWE title, and a photo op with Gail Kim.

I, of course, blotched the photo op with Gail Kim. The way the line worked was you were escorted onto a stage, told to put your hand on Gail Kim’s shoulder and to smile. On my way up to the stage, I recalled a funny story about a photo that I took with Velvet Sky a few years earlier. My buddy (who will remain nameless) took a picture with her right before me. He firmly placed his hand on her side. I, however, was a gentleman and allowed my hand to hover. When I pointed this out on Facebook, his wife picked on him about it. I decided that I probably shouldn’t put my hands on Gail Kim either, especially after the previous neckbeard mouth breathers had been drooling on her all day long already. So, I got up there, refused to put my hand up and it took Gail by surprised. She told me to put my hand on her shoulder, and while all this chaos was going on someone snapped the picture. So, they had to go back, get me another redemption card, reload my shot, and then reset me and Gail for the picture. She assured me it was okay, and I think she got a big laugh out of my reservation on touching her. You can see they snapped the picture while we were still laughing about the whole awkward exchange.

Most of the major wrestlers had massive lines set up for autographs, and we just weren’t in the mood to spend two hours waiting in line for anyone that was signing. Gerald Brisco’s line was empty (no offense to Gerald, but it was) so we ran up there, got a quick pic and kept on exploring all that Axcess had to offer.

We took a lot of pictures, especially in The Undertaker’s section. In there they had tombstones for all of the matches he had won, some of the casket’s from casket matches, and a cool Undertaker symbol chair. Here is my pathetic attempt at looking spooky in this oversized chair.

I had way more fun at Axcess than I ever thought I would. It was a blast and really made the trip worthwhile. But with Axcess over, we still had the main show to go so we headed out to an entrance of the Georgia Dome where we watched a large crowd chant back and forth at one another: “Let’s go Cena.” “Cena Sucks!”

Once we made it into the Georgia Dome the scale of things really sunk in. The set was amazing, and so was the amount of people crammed into this football stadium. I couldn’t help just looking around and soaking it all in. I thought about how Hogan vs. Goldberg was held in that same arena and only then did I realize the magnitude of that match. They sold out a football arena for one match without all the supplemental wrestling shows, fan Axcess, and huge event planning. It made me appreciate that match and what WCW did tenfold.

The show was… meh. The match I was most looking forward to was Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole. I know Michael Cole isn’t a wrestler, but this match had mega heat. Lawler was surging in 2011, fresh off a WWE Championship match against the Miz just a few months prior. This was his moment in the spotlight and finally Lawler was going to get a real Wrestlemania match. Well… they blew that. What ensued was a clusterfuck of confusion, bad acting, and a segment that ran way too long. No real wrestling occurred and it was a disappointment on all levels. So, that was a downer.

The Rock was exciting, but that was pretty much the only thing that I really enjoyed wrestling wise from the show. The Undertaker/HHH match was less than stellar and a huge let down after his incredible matches with Shawn Michaels. Edge wrestled his final match that night, but we didn’t know that at the time, and the match was pretty forgettable. I guess, after two nights of amazing DragonGate USA wrestling action, the WWE just couldn’t contend. I don’t regret going and I did have a blast, but I really wish it would have been a Wrestlemania worth remembering. Then again, those seemed to stop back around Wrestlemania IX.

That one weekend in April 2011, I attended three different wrestling shows and spent the day at what is basically a mobile hall of fame. It was a fantastic time and one of my favorite memories. The Wrestlemania card wasn’t the best, but that really didn’t matter. The trip, the company, the DragonGate shows, and Axcess made it memorable. Not to mention, it was still Wrestlemania, no matter how bad the card was! Even seven years later, I still have a hard time believing I actually went to Wrestlemania.

I attended the WWE draft three weeks later in Raleigh, and it was probably the best WWE event I’ve ever been to. The crowd was crazy into it and it quickly removed the sour taste that Wrestlemania left in my mouth regarding WWE live events. April 2011 truly was my month of wrestling bliss.

Here are some additional pictures that didn’t really fit anywhere in this post: