Easily the Best Part of Tonight’s WrestleMania 33!

After weeks and weeks of legal issues, and claims of medical tests delaying a return, it looks like many were caught off guard with tonight’s most talked about moment –  The Return of Team Extreme / The Hardy Boyz to the WWE. If you missed it, there was a six man tag match scheduled at WrestleMania where the defending champions The Club were set to face Enzo and Big Cass and Sheamus and Cesaro. WrestleMania hosts, The New Day, seemed to be injecting themselves into the match when this happened:

Still no word on whether they’ll be able to use the popular “broken” gimmick, but this is a good first step!


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Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling (2013, BWC Films)

Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) has been dead for well over a decade. People involved such as Paul Heyman, the cultish former owner, have moved on and seemingly distanced themselves from their one time passion, thus leaving multitudes of fans clamoring for something to whet their appetites. In a post-Benoit world, professional wrestling has sort of lost its way, alienating a lot of its former fans that kept it going in the late nineties. People have tried to replicate the magic of the extreme wrestling movement, but a lot of others have tried to merely capitalize on it. Since 2001, there have been many promotional imitations, direct to DVD lamentations, and even historical revisionism released to the masses. It seems that ECW is the “dead horse” that everyone has their clubs ready to beat the hell out of. When I saw that there was yet another ECW documentary in the works via Kickstarter, I was skeptical. I thought “what else can be said?” Boy was I wrong, Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling is exactly the sort of DVD that any wrestling fan should have on their shelf.

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I think my main problem with a lot of posthumously made ECW media, is that people have a tendency to use the whole thing as some sort of political device. WWE’s Rise and Fall of ECW, once thought of as the ultimate tribute of the company, reeks of a Vince McMahon victory lap over the failed venture. Another documentary, Forever Hardcore, was seen as a “counterpoint to WWE’s slightly revisionist offering, but was plagued by bitterness by those interviewed and suffered from a lack of actual ECW video footage. Possibly the most egregious misuse of ECW comes from a company that I am very fond of. TNA, the current number two wrestling federation in the United States, even did a “reunion show” called Hardcore Justice. While it had a solid card, they really had no business doing it as they were founded well after ECW’s demise and had no pony in the proverbial race. The whole thing seemed like a cashgrab.

The reason Barbed Wire City is different is that it comes from a different viewpoint; we’ve had the victorious billionaire, we’ve had the wounded former employees, and we’ve even had the copy-cats, now let’s hear from a fan. John Philapavage, the man behind the documentary, was like so many other rabid ECW fans: he lined up in long lines in the snow, huddled in crowded bingo halls, and got to meet some of his heroes. The thing that really set him apart from other fans is that he had the sense to record interviews of himself talking to the people involved. These interviews are combined with wrestling footage, and the odd Ken Burns-esque still photograph with a nifty 3D effect added in.

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I have to tip my hat to Mr. Philapavage on the quality of his interviews. Mostly taken around the time that ECW was on its last legs, these interviews are both entertaining and heartbreaking. Considering the decade worth of interviews here, there are some insights that many documentaries simply cannot hope to achieve. Sometimes you would see an interview from 2001 followed by a snippet of one made more recently to compare someone’s attitude change. Take, for example, Angel Medina in 2001: as he watched the company crumbling around himself with guys jumping ship left and right, he stayed positive. More recently he talks about why he stayed in there, and the mistakes he made by doing so. Balls Mahoney was another notable interview that really got to me. He goes from very optimistic in 2001, saying that there was no way the company could go under, to a very different man a decade later. He talks about some really dark times such as a bout with depression, an episode that nearly cost him his life.

It isn’t all sadness in modern times, as the film is bookended by clips of an upstart federation out of Philadelphia called Extreme Rising ran by ECW alumni Shane Douglas. From meager beginnings, the story of Extreme Rising seems to both mirror and be haunted by its connections to ECW right from the get go. By the end of the film we are left wondering if Douglas can really recapture the magic from a decade past. I liked seeing this stuff in here because it acts as the anchor to our modern world, and really shows how much the wrestling world has changed. While one is left with a little glimmer of hope that we really could see this style of professional wrestling come back, there is a lot of shadows there as well. What was once cutting edge and trendy almost seems depressing today.

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I commend the documentarians discussing the dark times when ECW was said to be “taking it too far”. They were on the cusp of being so big that the glamorized violence and dangerous stunts were causing problems, but too small to chance upsetting loyal fans by toning it down. Some ECW documentaries have a tendency to not talk about bad things aside from the occasional reference to Paul Heyman’s poor business decisions. By having wrestlers discuss their personal issues, and problems within the company, the documentary seems more “balanced”. Instead of having an agenda, John Philapavage has stayed fairly neutral. He discusses the good things, the bad things, and the downright ugly side of professional wrestling here.

My one real quibble with the film is that there was no footage of the “Mass Transit Incident”. This was a notorious controversy involving an untrained and underage wrestler that got hurt during a match, then tried to sue ECW out of existence. The man in question lied his way into filling a slot in a show and was “cut open like a stuck pig” when he allowed a wrestler named New Jack to cut him. One thing most casual wrestling fans don’t realize is that wrestlers used to have small strips of razor blades hidden either on their person or some other strategic spot to cut themselves open. This was done for dramatic effect, as the “fake” nature of the violence needed to sometimes be “spiced up” to tell a story. “Mass Transit” was not comfortable doing this himself, and asked New Jack to “help him”, which was a bad idea. This controversy was a main talking point towards the end of the film, and there was no footage, or even a stock photo of what happened. I felt that this was a missed opportunity, and could have confused someone that did not already know about it.

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On a technical standpoint, the DVD is a class act; it even has its own composed music. While I would have LOVED to see this in HD on my widescreen TV, the standard definition print is very professional and looks great. There were no stutters or other anomalies, something that can’t be said for other fan productions. There are extended interviews and deleted scenes in the special features tab including a series of clips involving Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Despite many appearances on many wrestling shows, fans don’t seem to realize how much of a wrestling fan Corgan is, to the point that he owns his own federation. This special feature was cool because you really got to see his passion for ECW, and how it got him into the business. One thing I would love to see is an eventual “Director’s Cut” edition of this film with more outtakes, deleted scenes, and maybe some more interviews. I bet the guys at BWC films are sitting on tons of footage for this, why not get it out there!

All in all, I loved this DVD. For years Beyond the Mat was seen as one of the few great wrestling documentaries out there; now we can add Barbed Wire City to the same level of prestige. The RF video footage, the interviews, and the 3D still images all mesh in such a way that I could really see BWC Films going somewhere in the world of independent filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. So if you are even a small fan of ECW, do yourself a favor and watch this DVD, you won’t regret it.


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Southpaw Regional Wrestling is one of the Best Comedy bits WWE Has Done in a While

 

While I consider myself to be a HUGE wrestling fan, I’m not always a fan of comedy in WWE. On good days, you get a hilarious segment like Mankind giving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the This is Your Life treatment, and on other you get crass bathroom humor that only a five year old would find funny. “Classics” of the latter category include a time when Roman Reigns gave his boss a coffee full of Syrup of ipecac, or a time when Natalya Neidhart was given a gimmick where she could not stop farting. Riveting stuff.

Despite this, WWE surprises me every once in a while – take, for instance, this weeks premiere of the four episode web series Southpaw Regional Wrestling. Easily one of the best bits of digital content WWE has ever done, SRW is a parody of hundreds of small local wrestling feds in the old territory system – you have a less than charismatic champion with a comically small belt, a ridiculous feud between two former tag champs, a literal monster heel character, and even the down home southern-fried man of the people. Check out some photo highlights, then the actual videos below.


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A Look at All the Cameos in Tiger Mask W

I’ve recently started watching the winter 2016/7 anime Tiger Mask W, a wrestling anime featuring stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling. New fans might think that all of the colorful characters are from the minds of producers alone, but I’m here to show that a handful of these grapplers are actual people! This has always been something cool when a wrestling anime comes out in Japan, as Jushin Thunder Liger had an anime show, and guys like Terry Funk appeared in Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E. I’ll eventually review Tiger Mask W, but for right now check out some characters you’ll get to see if you start watching this.


 

TIGER MASK

Naoto Azuma is the main protagonist of the anime series, which is actually a sequel to a 1968 manga and 1971 anime series. While Naoto is a fictional character made for this show, many people have actually portrayed the character in real life. There have been a handful of wrestling anime characters that have spilled over into the real world, and Tiger Mask is perhaps the longest running.

  • Tiger Mask I Satoru Sayama
  • Tiger Mask II Mitsuharu Misawa
  • Tiger Mask III Koji Kanemoto
  • Tiger Mask IV Yoshihiro Yamazaki
  • Tiger Mask V Ikuhisa Minowa
  • Tiger Mask W Kota Ibushi

TIGER THE DARK

Takuma Fujii is a new character in the anime called “Tiger the Dark”. He is basically this anime’s version of the Black Tiger who has always been a rival of the Tiger Mask character. A lot of famous foreign wrestlers have portrayed “Black Tiger” through the years, even the legendary Eddie Guerrero once held the title! There is currently a version of the actual character of “Tiger the Dark” currently in NJPW and is feuding with the real life Tiger Mask W.


SPRING TIGER

Haruna Takaoka aka Spring Tiger is the female protagonist of the series. Like the previous two, she is a made up character, but is not wholly based on fiction. A female Tiger Mask iteration, called Tiger Dream, was played by female wrestler Candy Okutsu in the mid-1990s. unfortunately, Okutsu being injury-prone and having to take several sabbaticals from the ring, the character was easily forgotten by the fans and eventually abandoned.


KAZUCHIKA OKADA

Kazuchika Okada is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Okada joins Naoto in his fight against GWM. In real life Okada is a very accomplished wrestler who has held the IWGP Heavyweight title on four occasions as well as a ton of other accomplishments. He did have a breif, and largely forgettable run in america in TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling.


HIROSHI TANAHASHI

Hiroshi Tanahashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. A wrestling ace who helps Naoto in training. In real life, he is a former seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, one-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, two-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and two-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. Tanahashi holds the record for most reigns as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, while his fifth reign holds the record for most successful defenses, with eleven.


YUJI NAGATA

Yuji Nagata is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Aside of wrestling, he’s also involved with the management of NJPW. Most American fans will recognize him for his tenure in World Championship Wrestling in 1997-8 during the height of the Monday Night Wars.


TOGI MAKABE

Togi Makabe is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. In the show, he has a sweet tooth and hosts a famous blog about sweets, being so obsessed with them that he can lack motivation without sweets. One cool tidbit – The character is voiced by the real Togi Makabe.


KIMIHIKO OZAKI

Kimihiko Ozaki is based on a real-life ring announcer in NJPW.


TOMOAKI HONMA

Tomoaki Honma is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. He is currently working for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). He is a former one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and a two-time World Tag League winner with Togi Makabe.


TOMOHIRO ISHII

Tomohiro Ishii is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name.Though pushed for most of his career as an undercarder without any major championship wins, Ishii gathered a cult following, until he was too popular to ignore. Since then he has gained tag championships, singles titles and even the ROH Television title.


YOSHI-HASHI

Yoshi-Hashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. While he was almost an enhancement talent of sorts in real life, he has slowly started to win occasional matches. a feat that earned him a PWI ranking of 314 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2016.


BILLY THE KIDMAN

Billy the Kidman is a fictional character in Tiger Mask W, but it’s funny to not that there is a real-life wrestler from the late 90’s – 2000’s named Billy Kidman.


 

BULLET CLUB

Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale are real life members of the gaijin (foreigner) heel stable “The Bullet Club”. Also represented is Kenny Omega who is the current stable leader. Previous members of the group include WWE’s Anderson and Gallows, Finn Balor and AJ Styles.


QUEEN ELIZABETH AND PAYNE FOX

While not a direct cameo, Queen Elizabeth and Payne Fox are obviously modeled after WWE women’s champions Charlotte Flair (daughter of Ric Flair) and Becky Lynch.


TETSUYA NAITO

Tetsuya Naito is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Naito is currently in his first reign as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, while also being a former IWGP Heavyweight and NEVER Openweight Champion as well as IWGP Tag Team and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with former partner Yujiro Takahashi, with whom he teamed as No Limit. In addition to those, Naito is also a one-time winner of NJPW’s premier singles tournament, the G1 Climax, having won it in 2013, and the New Japan Cup, winning it in 2016. In 2016, Tokyo Sports named Naito the wrestler of the year.


BLACKOUT

Blackout is a robot (sure why not) from the Tiger’s Den, he serves as the gatekeeper of the Hell in the Hole match being the last challenge to face. He bares more than a passing resemblance to WWE’s wrestler The Undertaker.


METAL BROTHERS

Metal Brothers I & II are a couple of masked wrestlers that make an appearance. They bare a resemblance to the WWE’s legends the Road Warriors.


FUKUWARA MASK

Fukuwara Mask isn’t a real character, but his “gimmick” is very similar to a number of clownish wrestlers from Osaka Pro like Ebessan, Kikutaro and Kuishinbo Kamen. He dresses with a Hyottoko mask and common clothes, giving him a ridiculous appearance. Fukuwara Mask’s focus is in providing laughs and serving as a comic-relief by deliberately acting like a fool in his matches, which the audience enjoys.


And More!

There are other references and mentions like Jushin Thunder Liger, Captain New Japan, Toru Yano, and members of Los Ingobernables de Japon such as Evil and Bushi. Here’s hoping they do more of this show, as I would love to see a lot of of the real life wrestlers from NJPW! Stay tuned for a full review of this show soon, I still need to finish it up and I’ll let you know what I thought!


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Broken Hardy Brothers leaving TNA – My Thoughts.

News broke earlier this week that there was a distinct possibility that Matt and Jeff Hardy, legendary tag team and singles wrestlers currently signed to TNA Impact Wrestling, were perhaps going to be leaving for their original stomping grounds – WWE. I gather Dave Meltzer broke the news, but a lot of his speculation gets posted as fact so I paid it no heed initially. Upon waking up, the cat was out of the bag, and it seems like it’s true.

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I have two minds in regards to this situation. On one hand, I would absolutely love seeing the Hardys wrestle at WrestleMania this year, but what version of the Hardy Boys will we be getting?

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Let’s take a trip back in time to a bit less than a year ago, Matt Hardy had just finished up a decent, albeit bland, run as an egotistical heel character and suffered a storyline injury from his brother Jeff. He returned sporting a streak of white hair on his head, a limp (from said fake injury) and a bizarre accent that sounded almost like a South African / Afrikaans accent by way of the deep south. For a few weeks, nobody knew what the hell was happening. Most fans shrugged it off as a terrible storyline, Matt Hardy was obviously being awful and they threatened to never watch TNA again like some annoying fans do 24/7 on the internet. It almost came across, taking into account the previous character, what an egotistical jerk would do to pretend he was now an evil mastermind and was trying to get attention.

Then it happened.

TNA gave the Hardys a camera and said – have at it.

 

What followed was week after week of the most insane nonsensical wrestling programming I have ever seen. It was a MST3K fans dream – a wrestling version of The Room or Manos: The Hands of Fate. This was a storyline involving a robot army, a sentient boat, faithful servants including Matt’s gardener and faithful scribe, seven deities that have imbued Matt with powers and a new way of life, a fight on an active volcano, and recently – time travel. Why does it work? Much like the Sharknado films, the fans are let in on the joke. This isn’t serious, it’s like some weird comicbook story come to life, and each week it gets sillier and sillier while the rest of any given episode of TNA stays normal.

Click here for a run-down of the Broken Saga with videos

For the first time in a while, I was eagerly awaiting each episode of TNA, to see what happened next. Honestly, I was waiting to see if it culminated with the Hardys fighting aliens or something – it was getting that ridiculous. Most importantly, I was getting into it because Matt Hardy – a man who lived in his brothers shadow nearly his entire career was not only relevant, but more “over” than he had ever been. He was no longer “The Jannetty” of this tag team, they were equals once again.

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With a “changing of the guard” at TNA, there seems to be sweeping changes on the horizon as Dutch Mantell and Jeff Jarrett are soon to be booking everything. I would speculate that they are not down with the “Broken Saga”. Is WWE going to be a good fit? My fear is that we are about to see the end of this new character and WWE will force Matt to switch to a more “classical” version of himself, like he took a dip in the fabled lake of Resurrection (part of this storyline). Gone will be Vamguard 1, Matt’s robot sidekick and we’ll never see Senior Benjamin again 😦 I could be wrong, WWE has surprised me before, and I hope they do it again. I want Broken Matt vs the Wyatts, New Day, and much more, not a nostalgia trip for guys being forced to act like they are 20 again.


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