Roll the Dice #1

I have a lot of wrestling.

If I wanted to, I’m sure I could watch wrestling back to back for a year, and still have many matches that I’ve left untouched. The problem is that it almost becomes a self-defeating process – the more matches I have, the harder it is to find a way to get through them, or to even know when to start. As I rapidly approach thirty, am married and have a full time and time consuming job, I need a way to begin working through my backlog.

I decided to Roll the Dice.

Metaphorically speaking, at least. Using a software programme that randomly selects files on your computer, I will pick six matches at a time to review and check out with a critical eye. I’m not looking to recap them match by match; instead, I’m focusing on what the matches offer for me, the wrestling fan. With matches spanning several decades, and covering the US, UK, Japan and Mexico, it will throw up a range of different prospects. All that matters is that no matter what it chooses, I have to watch it.

With that being said, let me talk you through my first six matches as I decided to Roll the Dice.

Christian © vs Ezekiel Jackson (ECW Title Match, Royal Rumble 2010)

When ECW was recreated under the WWE umbrella, hardcore ECW enthusiasts couldn’t have imagined that the title would eventually be competed between wrestlers the likes of Christian and Ezekiel Jackson. It feels somewhat incongruous to the spirit of the promotion, but due to Christian’s ability in the ring, the match itself is pretty enjoyable. Considering Ezekiel’s size, he should really be able to connect with the crowd better than he does, yet he is a more than competent offensive foil to Christian’s bumping throughout.

To be fair to Christian, he is over with the fans, and they do pop for his offense. Zeke initially doesn’t offer much offensively, though a throw head first back into the stairs is an impressive way to gain control. William Regal, Zeke’s manager, is thrown out early on, and does allow the focus to be on the action in the ring. As the match progresses, Zeke does bust out some decent offense – a chokeslam picking Christian off the floor, a double choke throw and a stalling suplex at least giving Christian something to respond to. Christian’s pace is what allows him to keep in the ring, and he hits a couple of top rope moves, as well as several slaps to annoy the much bigger man.

After Matt Striker (eww) chooses to call a ‘LARIATO’ to irriate me further than he already has, Christian is able to slip out of the back of repeated slams into the turnbuckle to hit the Killswitch and retain his title. A solid match, with Christian making the most of his limited opponent. I’m no fan of the Canadian, but he showed enough wrestling nous to engage throughout.

Jushin Liger vs Owen Hart (NJPW 28.04.1991)

A match that I have seen before, and a match that gets a lot of buzz due to it being an opportunity to see Owen Hart outside of the WWF and showcase the ability he had at a young age. I am an unashamed Liger fan, and know that anything involving the masked superstar is often worth a watch. I wasn’t disappointed, but couldn’t help being left feeling that the match got more attention due to the unique nature of it, rather than the action in the ring.

What we do get to see, as well as Hart’s impressive athleticism, are his heelish tendencies. Early on, he sends Liger into the barricades, a spot that Liger will cleverly repeat shortly afterwards, as well as targeting the arm and elbow with stomps. Generally, Hart’s work on the arm is sound, though Liger offers much more in terms of unique submission offense – a pendulum and a nelson using the feet two particular highlights. As the pace quickens, a couple of spots are ragged; Liger whiffs on a dropkick off of a Hart crossbody, whilst Hart struggles to reverse a tombstone attempt into one of his own. The tombstone itself, followed by a diving headbutt for good measure, gets a two, a result that always feels odd considering how big a move it is in the US and Mexico.

The quickened pace makes up for a slow, sometimes dull middle, and it takes a top rope electic chair-style drop by Liger, followed with a really stiff top rope DDT to pick up the victory. Solid action, interesting for the nature of its combatants, but nothing to really write home about. It did remind me of the athletic ability of Owen, however, as it wasn’t always an aspect of his offense during his peak TV runs.

Jamie Noble © vs Billy Kidman (WWE Cruiserweight Title Match, Vengeance 2003)

Jamie Noble is accompanied to the ring by Nidia, and their ‘white trash’ relationship is a fun little way of giving some colour to a division that didn’t always get much in the way of interest when promoted in the WWE. It is Nidia’s involvement that initially allows Noble to take control, the champion using her as a shield to slow down Kidman’s early offense, but after that, the match and the finish are surprisingly clean.

The big problem for these two is that the crowd really doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything they are doing in the ring. Noble’s work on Kidman’s arm is effective, as he uses the ringpost twice to wear his opponent down, before both men use interesting offense in an effort to raise the crowd’s interest; Noble landing a fireman’s carry onto his knee, Kidman landing a top rope sitout spinebuster. Noble is stupid enough to realise you never powerbomb Kidman, but he is able to avoid the shooting star press. A tiger bomb gets the three count in, as aforementioned, a surprisingly clean finish. The arm work is primarily shrugged off by Kidman in the finishing stretch, which is a shame, but the match was fun for what it was.

John Cena © vs Rob Van Dam (WWE Heavyweight Title Match, One Night Stand 2006)

This just shows what is capable with a rabid crowd, a motivated RVD and one of the most impressively worked matches by John Cena. Cena makes this match, as he plays to the crowd’s hatred of him, even silencing them and grudgingly working them around to almost…almost respect him. The tone is set with the early refusal of the crowd to accept Cena’s shirt, and we get some X-rated chants for good measure. Each time Cena is subject to chants from the crowd, he seems to step up his offense; a ‘YOU CAN’T WRESTLE’ chant sees a fisherman suplex, a ‘SAME OLD SHIT’ chant (whilst ironic considering the opponent) leads to Cena jumping off the top rope with a forearm to ringside. Even simple uses of punches are effective, as the crowd boo and yay in stereo with the action in the ring.

It helps that the match feels legitimately heated, as RVD and Cena don’t mess around. We get brawling in the crowd, weapons and RVD using his athleticism to take the fight to the champion. Cena continues to push the envelope of what we expect of him, using the ropes to assist in a pinfall and blocking top rope offense with a one armed powerbomb. Several times, RVD’s bumping almost looks like he is getting killed – a slingshot into a chair lodged between the turnbuckles in particular is an impressive visual.

The finish feels a little overbooked, but arguably plays into the nature of ECW and allows Cena to lose without losing face. Cena attacks the referee after the ref forces him to break the STFU. What follows is another ref bump, an Edge run in, a spear through the table that takes out a camera man, an impressive Five Star Frogsplash that sees RVD change direction in mid air and the three count coming from Paul Heyman of all people. In some ways, it would have been nice to have RVD go over clean in this setting, but as a way of developing future storylines, the ending works.  A match that is touted as worth seeing due to the crowd, though arguably it is worth seeing because of Cena’s work in difficult circumstances.

Ric Flair and Razor Ramon vs Randy Savage and Mr Perfect (Survivor Series 1992)

A match that saw Mr Perfect have to turn heel to fill the void of a departed Ultimate Warrior, the match almost works as an angle as much as anything, as we get the opportunity to show that Perfect is still competitive after a long absence from the ring, as well as toy with his new face leanings throughout. However, the match feels overlong for what it accomplishes, not helped by the lack of interesting offense during the heel heat section.

With the story behind the match, it always made sense for Savage to play face in peril, and he does this admirably, a guy who worked amazingly as a heel but was just as good at garnering sympathy from the crowd in attendance. In a nice touch, Ramon does try to work the leg to work towards Flair’s figure four leglock, but his submissions are lazy at best.  Mid-match, Perfect does threaten to walk out, only to come back and get a huge pop for the hot tag.

The ending is overbooked, primarily because it seems the WWF didn’t want anyone to take the loss. Following the hot tag section, the first ref gets bumped and is replaced by a second referee. A very weak chair shot drops Savage on the outside, leading to two Perfectplexes that see the pins broken up by the heels. As both referees try and regain some order, the heels are DQ’d for their refusal to leave the ring. Flair slaps on the figure four, only for Perfect to escape, leaving him and Savage to run Ramon and Flair away from the ring. There is further teasing of dissension between the two faces, but they eventually give each other the thumbs up before leaving. A pretty average match, saved by telling an interesting story at least.

Crazy Boy, Xtreme Tiger and Rocky Romero vs Decnis and La Hermandad Extrema (AAA 01.02.2010)

The final match on this first Roll the Dice is a 6-man tag team match from AAA. Normally, I can enjoy both Mexican and Japanese wrestling without understanding the commentary, but the nature of this match meant that a lot of what occurred went completely over my head. Decnis is initially attacked by his own partner, Joe Lider, and this leads to Decnis refusing to help Lider out of a submission within the first few minutes. When Decnis finally is able to put the rudos in control by hitting moves on all three tecnicos, he gets attacked by both Nicho El Millionaro and Lider, with a double team throw though three ringside chairs putting him out of action for the majority of the match.

Due to the angle playing out across the match, the structure just feels awkward. The offense on show by all men is interesting, with Crazy Boy hitting Nicho with the Diamond Dust and Romero landing a top rope legdrop to a standing Lider, but nothing seems to work together towards the collective whole of the match. They feel like moves for moves sake, as much as anything else.

It isn’t helped by the ending. After a short heel offense segment, including a pretty neat powerbomb/top rope backcracker combination and the introduction of chairs, Nicho and Lider head to ringside to berate the commentary team. By this time, Decnis has recovered, and he heads into the ring, drops to the mat and allows Romero to pin him for the three count. When they realise, La Extreme Hermandad get into the ring, only for Decnis to get out of the ring and head to the back before they can extract any revenge. Just a nothing match, with an angle that didn’t really make sense to me.

There you have it. Six matches that cover WWF, NJPW and AAA, offering a mixture of wrestling for me to get my teeth into. As always, please comment and share your thoughts on any and all the matches I cover, and I look forward to Rolling the Dice once more and checking out a whole range of wrestling.

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