Welcome, friends and fans, to another round of Versus Pro Wrestling. On a week where I spent the majority of my time moving, I still found a way to get my share of wrestling in so let’s hit some high spots.
This past Saturday, I managed to get into the sold out NXT show in Atlanta. Wrestling history was the theme of the night as they packed nearly a thousand people into Center Stage Theater. This is the same venue where WCW not only used to tape WCW Saturday Night for a period in the mid-90’s, but more significantly where the 20th anniversary of Clash of the Champions was held. It’s appropriate that we got to see Samoa Joe defend the NXT title against Finn Balor, which will likely prove to be a historic rivalry for NXT, in the same room where Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat won the TV title from “Stunning” Steve Austin before he was “Stone Cold”.
It was also my first time seeing Shinsuke Nakamura in person, and it was amazing as expected. There are so many little things that he does with his face and subtle mannerisms that make it nearly impossible to take your eyes off of him while performing. Hearing his strikes echo through the room should leave no question why he brought the “King of Strong Style” moniker with him from New Japan.
Nakamura’s match against Austin Aries at NXT Takeover:The End this past Wednesday was, not surprisingly, my favorite of the night. Both performers pulled out a few tricks we’ve yet to see from either, which added to the big feel of these Takeover specials.You can see Dusty Rhodes’ influence on the NXT brand in how reminiscent Takeovers are to Clash of the Champions. It’s part of why NXT’s been such a welcome addition to the pro wrestling landscape.
Having a week between the NXT Takeover specials and WWE pay-per-views makes it a lot easier to take in both, too. Including them as a part of the bigger event weekends like Wrestlemania and SummerSlam works fine, but it robs some of the afterglow being too close to shows like Money in the Bank next week. It’s good to have a little breathing room between them. Especially so considering Money in the Bank is one of my favorite shows of the year.
As WWE builds to be what’s shaping up to be a very strong card for MitB, it’s a good opportunity to acknowledge the 5 year anniversary of one of my favorite wrestling shows of all time; Money in the Bank 2011. This is the stage where CM Punk ascended from “indie darling” to legitimate pro wrestling legend.
Essentially, the build was a retooling of the Ring of Honor storyline in 2005 that saw CM Punk winning the heavyweight title for the first time and (seemingly) leaving the company with it. It was truly an innovative story, and one many of us didn’t believe WWE would risk going through with. The major variant in the WWE’s version of the story, dramatic audience size difference notwithstanding, came in the form of Punk’s infamous promo in Las Vegas building up to his WWE title match with John Cena. This would prove to be a flashpoint that forever changed the professional wrestling business by crashing through every wall of fiction left standing after the Attitude era. The story’s resonance can be heard echoing through the current feud between Cena and AJ Styles, who will face each other for the first time at this year’s MitB event.
Often forgotten in the bright lights of the Punk story is the fact that the 2011 show also opened with Daniel Bryan winning the MitB briefcase. He would cash it in later that year at the end of a brutal monster battle between then World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry and The Big Show. This cash-in gave us the birth of the “Yes!” chant that helped push Bryan up to his own legendary height. It adds another layer to the event that makes it one worth revisiting.
King of the Week: Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXIII tournament champion
We certainly can’t talk about stories of stars ascending to new heights without showing love to this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. This will mark the year we saw Will Ospreay become one of the biggest names in professional wrestling, winning a tournament that serves as a clinic in quality storytelling.
Ospreay actually struggled at the beginning of the tournament, losing three of his first four matches.The one win in that span was his now mythical match against Ricochet that lit the internet on fire last week and earned coverage on mainstream news outlets such as ESPN and Fox Sports. This proved to be a pivotal match for Ospreay, who went on a subsequent hot streak into the final against Ryuske Taguchi.
Taguchi had a brilliant run in the tournament in his own right, putting on a rare display of his quality wrestling ability more so than his comedy chops. Fans may know Taguchi as the long time NJPW tag partner of Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), who’s turn on Taguchi is the event that birthed The Bullet Club. Taguchi’s match with Ospreay in the final was another instance of how to tell a wrestling story, as “The Funky Weapon” helped young Ospreay’s battle with an injured knee throughout the match look like gold.
Ospreay now goes on to face IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Kushida, at Dominion later this month. Kushida’s star also seems to be substantially on the rise. His matches with Kyle O’Reilly and Matt Sydal were two of the most noteworthy of the tournament. This rematch with Ospreay for the title has the makings of a classic, and will certainly be one to watch. Thank Foley we now have NJPWWorld.com to more conveniently enjoy it on this side of the Pacific Ocean.
Geek Versus Pro Wrestling is an esoteric weekly editorial column reviewing the vast world of professional wrestling. That’s right. The word “esoteric” was just used to describe a series of internet articles about wrestling. Hang that from your turnbuckle and chop it.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geeky thing liker. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Fort Walton Beach, Florida by way of Atlanta, Georgia, he’s recently begun archiving his work at Station146.com. Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.