Best Matches Seen June 2017
CMLL 3/14/17, Mexican National Welterweight Title Match: Rey Cometa vs. Cavernario 20:51 [4:03, 1:44, 15:04]. Anytime these two get together, it's going to be good as individually they are two of the elite luchadors, but they also elevate each others level. They went all out of give this a big match feel, showing the kind of desperation & desire that would normally be reserved for a big main event mask match. The 1st 2 falls were something of a let down, but kind of by design as they set the stage for a great 3rd fall that worked to some extent because the 1st two falls were "disappointing". To an extent, the match would have seemed better constructed if it were simply a 1 fall match, as the 1st fall consisted of very reasonable technical wrestling, solid opening stuff for any junior style match, and the 2nd fall began to speed things up. Just tossing finishes in didn't really work for those falls as individual entities, but they made it work by playing the 3rd fall off the 1st two. The 1st fall was surprisingly slow, with Cavernario running into the Spanish fly just when it seemed ready to get going. The action really started with the 2nd, as Cavernario's aggression kicked in and things got good quickly, but the fall itself was ridiculously short. The advantage of starting with two brief falls that literally just ended out of nowhere was they were able to garner a lot more drama out of their nearfalls early in the 3rd, having already drawn you into a scenerio where 1 big move was enough. They really did a good job of putting over the idea that both were ready to go at any time & this was going to be another short fall, which would have been massively disappointing, but it felt believable because they just did it twice. This was never really fast paced, they sold as though they were about dead from the beginning of the 3rd fall, but proceeded to do only highspots for the entire 15 minutes including 4 dives. There weren't really great sequences here, and it didn't feel so much like a lucha match as a puroresu heavyweight match, but if you bought into the selling the match felt more substantial as every move seemingly could have ended the match but they just found ways to keep going. I can see where some people will think this is a tremendous match because they did great moves & actually got a lot out of them, although one problem was they really went hard on getting mileage out of the moves yet the crowd wasn't cooperating until the end, so it never had a match of the year aura about it despite the wrestling being on that level. The fans finally came alive when Cavernario had Cometa in la tapatia, having already won the 2nd fall with his cavernaria (which has the same basic setup), but this was in the final minutes. Keeping with the dramatic bent of the match, Cometa had to pull out a Canadian destroyer to beat Cavernario, who surely would have kicked out again if he wasn't completely incapacitated, and he proceeded to do a stretcher job. I don't think this is the best match they could have by any means, but I loved the effort they put into making it important. Their 5/16/17 match is more exciting and better from a hold for hold, sequence for sequence perspective, but they're just going there & especially without a finish it doesn't feel as consequential. If they could take the drama from this match & combine it with the skill from that match, that would be a real classic. ***3/4
CMLL 5/16/17, Rey Cometa vs. Cavernario 16:53 [1:14, 1:56, 14:03]. This was structured similarly to their 3/14/17 match, but they went purely for action. They wrestled this at lightning match pace even though it was twice as long as a lightning match & only 3 minutes shorter than their "slower" 3/14 match. Aside from Cavernario playing to the crowd once in a while, the match was pretty much perpetual motion. Cavernario blitzed Cometa from the opening bell, & they exchanged stupidly short falls with the wrestler who dominated & hit a dive then getting pinned with a single move more or less upon returning to the ring. The good news is this saved all the time for the 3rd fall, which was exceptional. I liked the timing spot where Cometa slid to the floor to avoid presumably another running lariat from Cavernario, so Cavernario instead got him with a springboard plancha. Cavernario's all out aggression never waivered, both in terms of pushing the pace but also using big power moves & generally taking risks. Sometimes all these aspects became intertwined, such as Cometa catching Cavernario midair & turning his 2nd rope hurricanrana into a nasty Ligerbomb. Because Lucha falls make no sense, Cavernario survived a top rope Spanish fly in the 3rd after getting pinned with a single standing Spanish fly in the 1st, but they again went for big drama in the 3rd with several near falls, just spending less down time playing up their injuries. I like the intensity Cavernario brings to his singles matches. I know heels whining when the face kicks out is nothing special, but Cavernario has a different kind of frustration, it's not comical, but rather urgent, like the result actually matters. Unfortunately, this irritation soon boiled over, and led to the cheeseball foul that kept this from being a 4 star match. I'd rather watch this match again than their 3/14 match, it's just better action & a higher level of craftsmanship, and generally more awe-inspiring, but 3/14 does feel more complete & satisfying because Cometa takes Cavernario out. ***3/4
CMLL 5/5/17: Esfinge & Guerrero Maya Jr. & Soberano Jr. vs. Bobby Villa & Dragon Rojo Jr. & Polvora 15:51 [5:49 & 6:04 & 3:58]. Really high paced aerial action with the technicos totally in go mode. Rojo was the only rudo that added much, but the technicos just kept doing one flying move after another & only needed Villa & Polvora to catch them & concede to be played as fools anyway. The rudos were pretty much cartoon foils in how they were constantly outdone & outsmarted by their more agile counterparts. Soberano hit a nice torneo off the giant screen & they did two triple dives in a row in the 2nd fall. They got greedy trying to follow it up with more dives, but Polvora pulled Maya off the apron & Villa turned Esfinge's hurricanrana off the apron into a powerbomb, allowing Rojo to get the ultra contrived pin on Soberano with essentially the 1st two moves he'd taken all match, a spinebuster & diving footstomp. The brief 3rd fall was the rudos finally getting their offense. They showed some good teamwork, but this was nowhere near the excitement of the 1st two falls until the final minute where Maya hit an Orihara moonsault & Soberano did a nice sequence with Rojo highlighted by Rojo turning his diving hurricanrana into a nasty powerbomb. Soberano was really the star here, but to an extent it was Rojo who stood out most because he was so far above his partners & allowed the match to occasionally rise above flyers vs. Keystone Cops. Good match.
Drone & Guerrero Maya Jr. & Stuka Jr. vs. Sagrado & Dragon Rojo Jr. & Polvora 15:52 [4:02 & 2:44 & 9:06]. Started decently with two quick falls, but built up well to an excellent third fall that had some real drama because there were spots where the match would normally end, but they actually keep going. Rojo was good, & Sagrado had a nice segment with Drone, but Polvora was the featured rudo, and made a lot of contributions rather than just being made to look a fool. They built around the triple dive spot, teasing it in the first with the rudos seeing it coming & running back in to stop them on the run & get the 1st fall with whatever they slapped on then having it work then partially be stopped when they tried to go right back to it, isolating Stuka & Polvora. Polvora survived Stuka's hurricanrana & got his legs up for the moonsault though. A little later, Drone & Maya both hit dives again isolating Stuka & Polvora, with Polvora again surviving, which would have been great except he then inexplicably fouled & unmasked Stuka for the DQ. Good match.
Lightning Match: Cavernario vs. Titan 9:17. Both men were very impressive here, playing their roles really well. Cavernario did a nice job of carrying this, pushing the pace & keeping things moving with a nice mix of flying & power throws. Titan is both very spectacular & creative when he wants to be, & today was one of those nights. These two have so much familiarity & work so well together they were able to try things that required very precise timing. The standout spot was Cavernario sliding under the bottom rope to the floor to avoid the swandive move Titan was setting up into the ring only to have Titan instead change it into a swandive moonsault to the floor. If Cavernario was a little slow on his slide or transition back to standing, Titan would just have been landing on his feet out there because he really didn't give him any excess time to position himself, but that was also what made the spot so impressive. I also loved the early spot where Cavernario did a leap frog & set up for a monkey flip, but Titan dove over him & walked on his hands then spung back to his feet into a backflip for a flying headscissors. Titan had these kind of highlights, but a lot of that was Cavernario doing a great job of setting him up to shine. Cavernario's cavernaria finish pretty much came out of nowhere, but they pushed the time limit almost to the max, so I can't complain too much. Good match.
AAA 5/16/17: Concord & Hijo Del Vikingo vs. Bronco Gonzalez Jr. & Guerrero de Plata 9:11. Incredibly athletic match, very spectacular, and particularly graceful, but more imporantly, I loved the way Vikingo used his athleticism to create a back & forth counter driven match. Everyone had their moments, but this was totally the Vikingo show, as he did all his flashy perfectly balanced gymnastics - handsprings, carwheels, landing on the top rope or even the opponents shoulders (into a rana) - in a manner that would be the catalyst for the sequences, with Bronco often countering rather than simply standing there watching Vikingo hit whatever jumping move was next on the itinery. Normally, I'm not that fond of spots such as the swandive guillotine leg drop because the opponent just lays draped over the ropes forever waiting to get hit, but there was a great one where Bronco tried to make Concord pay for playing to the crowd with his back turned to him, but Concord saw the dropkick coming & Vikingo swandived in from his own corner to catch Bronco as soon as he saw Bronco was stuck in the ropes. Vikingo hit a space flying Tiger drop before finishing with a reverse 450 splash. He really looked tremendous, and elevated the level of everyone else, particularly the rudos who seemed to be more willing athletic bumpers that went along with Vikingo than the actual facilitors you'd expect them to be. Very good match.
UFC Fight Night 111 6/17/17
Alex Caceres vs. Rolando Dy 2R. I really enjoy the flow & fluidity of Caceres striking style. He's just so loose out there, and Dy, who is also a striker but with a traditional muay thai style, just didn't know what to do to slow him down. Caceres was much too fast for Dy, and his shoulder fakes were freezing Dy all night, holding his offense & allowing Caceres to see Dy's block & then strike around it or through the gap. Dy's left eye was damaged by a Caceres left hand, which made it even harder for him to defend. Caceres dropped him with a left straight while Dy was trying to throw a right kick, and came close to getting a rear naked choke. Dy was seeing double, but couldn't hit either afro, Caceres was just leaning & swaying out of the way of everything, so Dy tried to switch to wrestling but didn't have much success beyond actually knowing where Caceres was. Caceres had a much bigger 1st round than 2nd, but Dy was just out there with one eye closed whiffing & Caceres was really running away with it, making him look silly, like he was stuck in quicksand. They stopped the fight before the start of the 3rd round because although Dy could technically see out of his right eye, because it was damaged he just kept closing it & wasn't actually using it. Good match.
Li Jingliang vs. Frank Camacho 3R. Camacho is a fun fighter. He keeps coming forward & bombing away, and while he doesn't have the best defense or most well rounded game, he has a lot of heart & toughness, so he makes things entertaining, win or lose, which is much more interesting than fighters who win consistently, but in a boring manner. Camacho took the fight on 2 weeks notice, having just defeated Gun Hwan Park on 5/26/17. He hit like a hammer, landing 3 huge bombs in the 1st round that could easily have dropped Li, but Li was somehow always more or less recovered by the time his head stopped bobbling, and actually took over late in the 1st with a takedown into a rear naked choke attempt that might have finished if he had another 5 seconds. Though Camacho is a small welterweight, it's tough having to make weight & fight again so soon, and his full on power style also takes a lot of energy, so he began wearing down when he couldn't finish quickly. Much credit to this has to go to Li though, as his style is very wearing. As his nickname suggests, he's on you like a Leech, so even if Li isn't getting the takedown he's wearing you out making you defend his shots & clinches. Li isn't a boring grinder by any means though, he was slowing Camacho down more with his low kicks, that left the majority of Camacho's upper left thigh purple after the fight, and an impressive jab that he could follow well with the overhand right. Camacho increasingly wasn't solid off the lead leg, which was taking the sting off his big right hand, and was distracted by a failed effort to catch Li's low kicks. Camacho kept coming forward with his hands low & his chin forward, & just let out a roar when he took a clean shot from Li, but ultimately he was taking a lot of clean shots because that's not a defense & he also wasn't countering Li's shots, so Li gained more confidence to just keep firing unanswered. Li won the 3rd round fairly convincingly en route to a 29-27, 28-27, 29-27 unanimous decision. Good match.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match: Pegasus Kid vs. Jushin Thunder Liger 12:32. Liger vs. Pegasus shifts toward Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid in this exceptional, explosive sprint that put the Sano era to rest and ushered in the new era where you marked the upcoming Liger vs. Pegasus match on your calendar. Probably the best offensive match the junior division produced all year, delivering an exceptional mix of great brutal power with big suplexes off the ropes and spectacular flying, capped by Liger’s breathtaking shooting star press. The fans had really taken to Liger by this point, going nuts anytime his opponent was on the floor because they knew some amazing dive was on its way. Though the briefest IWGP Junior title change until the rightfully short Koji Kanemoto over Norio Honaga 2/19/95, they tested their now razor sharp reactions with one highly developed counter sequence after another. They got me all stoked when Pegasus came right out establishing the kamikaze mode that helped make the Sano matches come off as a life and death struggle, but after the guerrilla press over the top followed by the suicidal missile kick to the floor, they followed with the brief mat portion then began attempting all their big spots. It was some of the greatest work of the year to be certain, but they didn’t really develop any story or address the rivalry in any way, so as impressive as it was it seemed a bit empty compared to the Liger/Sano finale. That being said, while both would become much better storytellers in the next few years, and thus those matches probably have aged better, the beauty of their in ring speed, grace, & athleticism was at it's pinnacle here. I’d rate this slightly higher than their 8/19/90 match because their added familiarity allows them to further develop the sequences from a hold/counterhold perspective, but it's too short & one-dimensional to bump up to 4 3/4*. ****1/2
IWGP Tag Team Title Match: Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono vs. Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki 16:56. This has been one of those Holy Grail matches to me. I saw the Liger/Pegasus match on the 1st Liger compilation I got when I started watching puroresu in 1992 after being blown away by Liger/Pillman SuperBrawl II 2/29/92 match like nothing I'd ever seen before. Though not the best match on the comp (Liger/Sano 1/31/90), it was clearly a better match than Liger/Pillman, the way they were able to work together, the sequences they developed & crispness of the work were simply superior & although a spotfest, it was extremely well organized & choreographed. I got the original TV show in a trade in the mid 90's, but the quality was so bad I never bothered watching it then finally theroetically got a proper copy of the complete classics version cerca 2008, except my friend accidentally took the sharpie to the data side of the disk instead! So here I am 25 years later, finally sitting down to watch what's often been named as one of the best, if not the best NJ tag of the 1990's, and my reaction is quite simply WTF??? This is a great TV show, one of NJ's best of the decade, which makes the love for this match all the more perplexing as from a technical perspective, it doesn't even hang with the Liger/Pegasus match, & from a story perspective, well, it really doesn't tell one, so it's blown away by Choshu/Hashimoto. It's a fun half of a match that I'm sure would seem like an excellent sprint with the right edit, but it just meanders for the 1st half then picks up some, but never develops any substantial drama because there's no real organization or logic going on. The crowd is great, and definitely makes the match seem a hell of a lot better than it is, but ultimately, there's just a bunch of random unconnected sequences where they do a running move or two, grab a body part & rest, get up & do a move, tag, wash/rinse/repeat. There's maybe 8 minutes of pretty good action when they're not grabbing a rest hold, 2 minutes of good action when Sasaki then Hase picks it up with Chono, then 6 minutes of very good to excellent action, still without any real phychology or substance but with a crowd that's going wild for anything flashy they do so it somewhat doesn't matter . Generally Sasaki was by far the worst of these 4 in the '90's but by far the best in the '00's, but he was rather green & inconsistent in his days with Hase to the point that Hase normally took 2/3 to 3/4 of the match, and was almost a one man show. However, today Sasaki was actually the best of the 4, and the only one who really seemed to be trying to amp things up & move things in some kind of direction. Hase's performance was actually well below his average of the tag title matches in this run. He's still the 2nd best just on his talent alone, but there's way too much submission work going nowhere, and just no consistency to advance a match that simply never comes together. I don't want to bag the match, it was really enjoyable in a vacuum, but rather than being the NJ heavyweights actually make good as I was always led to believe (this doesn't hold a candle to the high end AJ tag of the season Jumbo Tsuruta & Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Toshiaki Kawada 9/30/90), it reminded me a lot more of AJ's Asia Tag Matches of the period, which since AJ didn't push the junior division tended to feature guys who worked in the heavyweight division but had more of a junior flair & orientation to them. If we compare this match to an Asia Tag Title Match that AJ put on in the same arena just 2 months earlier, Tommy Rogers & Bobby Fulton vs. Joe Malenko & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi 9/1/90, I don't think there's even one technical aspect where Muto & Chono/Hase & Sasaki is comparably close. All that being said, this was a memorable show for NJ because the new generation were all realizing their potential. Outside of Choshu, everyone in the 3 title matches was in their mid 20's, and this was a night when you saw that they should go on to fulfill their promise. Hase & Sasaki were ranked considerably lower than Muto & Chono, Hase having graduated from the jr. division & Sasaki debuting 2 years after Muto & Chono. The crowd was into the idea of the upset, but this was never worked to develop any kind of new generation rivalry. The closest they came was Muto coming in taking free kicks when Chono was in the scorpion. He broke Hase's scorpion this way, but Sasaki just absorbed kick after kick until he had enough & released the hold so he could slap Muto into his place! These were the kind of spots I wanted to see more of, but there was actually almost an odd dynamic where Sasaki would try to take things up a notch, but Muto & Chono wouldn't necessarily respond, for instance, Chono taking a bunch of hard slaps to the face from Sasaki, and just selling them as he'd sell any other move that didn't offend him, and moving on. Chono did start off promisingly with Sasaki, but after the opening sequence, mostly didn't seem to want to take the bait, & Muto was basically just doing what Muto likes to do, as usual. Muto had a good work ethic in these days, & mixed his very ahead of his time athletic heavyweight offense in with his meaningless matwork & straight up rest holds. If this was truly a go go joshi style match, he & it would have been considerably more interesting, especially considering they weren't actually developing a match anyway, but this was more doing enough to keep the match going in stops & starts until they finally kicked into high gear, knowing that NJ always edited the matches for TV so they'd find the that point where the action picked up to give the audience the illusion of it being amazing. The finish was good in the sense that it looked like the expected result, Muto wins with the moonsault but was actually the upset result. I actually didn't mind that it was kind of out of nowhere, as Sasaki lariating Muto when he was complaining to the ref about a slow count when Hase kicked out of his moonsault was the kind of good thing Sasaki brought to this match, and if it were legit a lariat you didn't see coming would be devastating, so Hase then pinning Muto in his Northern Lights suplex finisher worked for me. ***1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Riki Choshu vs. Shinya Hashimoto 16:14. The exceptional aspect of Choshu & to a far greater extent Hashimoto's heavyweight title reigns was not so much what they did, but the feeling that you were seeing an important, heated, desperate battle that really mattered. Even in it's time, this wasn't an amazing match from a technical or offensive standpoint, that's not their thing, and thankfully they didn't try to follow the exciting spectacle of Liger/Pegasus & Hase & Sasaki/Muto/Chono in the same fashion. Instead, they did their very basic efficient & effective match that built slowly, ultimately adding up to an intense and meaningful fight. Hashimoto was 25 at the time, and looking to become the first wrestler of his generation to unseat the old guard of Inoki/Fujinami/Choshu for the heavyweight title. He injured Choshu's left knee with a low kick early, and the match kept going back to that. It wasn't simply knee work, but a larger story of Hashimoto being younger, bigger, stronger, fiercer, etc. and at full faculties. He won their previous meeting & was dominating today's match both in standup & on the ground, so there was no reason he couldn't finally surpass Choshu, especially this wounded, hampered version who kept getting up slowly because his body was consistently betraying him. Consequently, this isn't one of Choshu's faster, more energetic matches, which normally would not be a good thing as Choshu's energy was his best attribute in his heyday, but made total sense given the injury storyline. They instead do a lot of slow, UWF leaning quasi shoot style work that's more credible than the usual pro wrestling, but would obviously look very half-assed once the UFC came around a few years later (though that still hasn't got many wrestlers to leave their vacuum & actually work more credibly). I couldn't fault anyone for finding the match boring, but at the same time, wrestling is an illusion, and a match like this is specifically successful because it so successfully gives the appearance of being a big desperate generational struggle for what they'd have us believe is the most prestigious strap in the sport. The illusion is that Hashimoto is just brutalizing the champion with his kicks, and although Choshu can use his guile from time to time, it's more his willpower & determination that keeps him in there for what ultimately seems to be a further beating. The highlight of the match comes after Choshu rope escapes Hashimoto's rear naked choke but Hashimoto keeps preventing him from getting back up by standing over him & blasting him with kicks. Finally Choshu catches a kick & kicks Hashimoto in the hamstring a few times then bounces off the rope & straight up decks him with a wicked closed fist to the jaw. Hashimoto tumbles to the canvas like he's KO'd, but Choshu also does a great job of putting it over, immediately grabbing his hand & flexing his wrist. Choshu doesn't care that he might break his hand if he already hasn't, he drops Hashimoto with a second punch as soon as he gets up then starts putting the boots to him. This was one of the absolute great comebacks I've ever seen because Choshu had to do something he normally wouldn't, and was breachng etiquette in the process, stooping if you will, but the title was more important than the rules, and nothing else was working. Normally I'm not a fan of the old challenger dominates then falls to 2 moves script, but this was actually the only finish that made sense given the story they were telling. This was an absolute war, it was violent, fierce, & heartless. The important thing is ending the war by any and/or all means possible, and Choshu did that. Hash gave Choshu his best shots for 15 minutes but more or less played fair, so Choshu reverted to a couple closed fist cheap shots, BAM, KO! Then you give people the idea that maybe Hashimoto should have stooped instead/first, or maybe Choshu can't beat Hashimoto in a fair fight, it's all a matter of perspective, but that kind of thing makes heroes & villians, and more importantly gives good reason for rematches. Certainly, nothing Choshu was going to do was going to top those 2 vicious shots, and they were perfectly within the theme of the fight. Having Choshu go through his regular offensive routine with Tiger Hattori fondling his butt so he didn't fall off the top rope doing his superplex was very apart from the rest of the match and certainly didn't add anything, & it's really tedious that NJ champs from Hogan to Choshu to Sasaki to Okada have to win with some version of simple lariat, but wrestling has yet to get that it's the ability to knock the opponent out rather than the repitition of a particular pattern that's interesting. In any case, Choshu, again, proved his storyline worth with another amazing comeback on the back of his trusty lariat, once again thwarting Hashimoto by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Though Hashimoto gave an excellent performance & looked more than ready here, he wouldn't actually win this title for another 3 years, and it was Muta that succeeded in leading his generation over Choshu in Choshu's subsequent title run. ***3/4
AJ Giant Baba Retirement 5/2/99
Toshiaki Kawada vs. Hiroshi Hase 20:55. Kawada was returning from breaking his arm winning the Triple Crown against Misawa on 1/22/99, wrestling in a soft cast he constantly fooled with, & Hase hadn't wrestled in almost as long due to political commitments, so this wasn't the ideal time for the 1st meeting between two of the all-time great heavyweights. Nonetheless, while they didn't tear the house down like they could have under more ideal circumstances (in a main event title match, with Hase having actually beaten at least 1 wrestler of note in AJ), this was a smart, simple but effective match that's certainly fun for Kawada fans. They started with a typical Kawada fierce striking exchange, full on intensity from the opening bell, but after a few strikes Kawada "couldn't" fire back because of the right arm. Though this was a great story point from a master storyteller, it's also true that Kawada did rush back for the Tokyo Dome, and only managed to wrestle 11 more matches in 1999, though a subsequent eye injury also played a big part in that. They quickly established that Hase was able to play more or less even in standup because, although Kawada is the much better striker, his striking game was somewhat compromised, but Hase had a huge advantage on the ground because he's the master technician. I loved how Hase shifted his more puro style technical game into something more shoot oriented for Kawada, but despite it being somewhat understandable given AJ never lets anyone win with a submission, it was epically frustrating that the crowd was dead while Hase was working the bad arm with the V1 armlock & Kimura, as that should have at least gotten some sort of heel heat or reaction to him being "opportunistic". The crowd really sucked for this match in general, reacting to things that could have been excluded such as Hase kicking out at 1, but not the actual story of the match, and I think that's the main reason it's been underrated. This was a serious match, and they did the match you'd expect given Kawada's return. It should have went over much better, but Kawada wasn't getting underdog or gutsy face reactions & Hase wasn't getting any reaction to his tactics. The crowd just reacted to the known, the giant swing, the powerbomb, the signature spots, and I suppose that's understandable given Tokyo Dome shows are mostly casual/passing/sort of fans, but that's not what this match was about at all, it was about the unknown, which is whether Kawada's arm would hold up, and if he was healthy enough to beat Hase despite being compromised. You aren't supposed to win your return match, so this was the perfect time for AJ to pull the trigger on giving Hase a big win to set up actually being able to do something meaningful for him, or hell even just having Kawada get the win back once or twice when he was actually recovered so they'd have a chance at a proper series, but instead they had Hase dominate until he semi knocked himself out when Kawada half countered his uranage, leading to Kawada quickly finishing him off. ***1/2
Triple Crown Heavyweight Title Match: Vader vs. Mitsuharu Misawa 18:07. A nice spectacle that played well for a simplistic crowd, but the match would have been a lot more dramatic if the storytelling wasn't so uninspiring. Vader dragged Misawa into a striking brawl, and that's a very bad place for Misawa to be, as Vader simply has too much size to be exchanging with. Though Vader throws in a number of impressive high impact moves highlighted by the powerbomb on the floor, his strikes generally are not that stiff compared to even what he'd do in big matches earlier in the decade against Sting or Cactus Jack, much less Antonio Inoki or Nobuhiko Takada. After getting methodically destroyed like a Saturday morning jobber for the 1st half of the match, Misawa finally ducked a lariat & made a hot comeback with his elbows. Vader hit a Big Van splash off the apron earlier, so Misawa throws in a slingshot body press to the floor to match him. Though Misawa's sequence is much more dynamic than Vader's, and the crowd really starts rocking when he's able to German suplex the big man, the biggest downside of the match is there's very little interplay. Vader has a huge run to start, Misawa has a nice sprint of offense, then Vader comes back with a huge released German & a series of big power moves that could be the finish. By the time Misawa gets his second bit of offense in after Vader misses his moonsault then gets cut off on the top, we're already down to the last couple minutes of the match. I get that Misawa winning with elbows is a more logical place to be given that someone would probably get injured if Misawa was trying to hoist Vader up & drop him on his head, but they never figured out how to transition from the logical Vader outstriking Misawa to Misawa knocking Vader out with the trusty elbow. Misawa was consistently using elbows during his very inconsistent runs of offense, but the first comeback was using the elbows to set up him beating Vader with speed & athleticism, which was the winning strategy. I would have liked to have seen more of that even if he was going to ultimately win with the elbow in a KO after just being too athletic & conditioned for the big guy , rather than basically just getting mauled all night then what didn't work before suddenly works because I don't really know other than it's the Baba "Retirement", so obviously the native top star has to take the title from the foreign monster. In any case, this started Misawa's 5th, what no one expected at the time, final TC run. ***1/2
GLORY 42 6/10/17, Cedric Doumbe vs. Nieky Holzken 5R. A much better fight than their 12/10/16 bout where Doumbe took the title. I don't know what was up with Nieky that night, but he really just didn't show up, seeming flat & uninspired. Tonight you could tell he trained really hard & was determined to regain his title. He put up a good fight, but ultimately, it comes down to activity. I know Holzken has actually been outstruck on average over the course of his GLORY career that dates back to GLORY 1 & had not lost a fight until the previous contest against Doumbe, but there's getting outstruck by 1 or 2 per round & then there's getting outstruck by 15 or 20 per round as he did here. Doumbe just put out too much volume, and had too much accuracy. The big difference was his low kicks. Every round felt close while watching it, as Holzken seemed to be applying a lot of pressure & landing solid shots, but he was getting kicked in the leg a lot. When you look at the statistics, Doumbe landed 104 kicks, while Holzken only landed 82 total strikes. Some judges don't score low kicks that highly, but still, when you land 161 strikes & your opponent only throws 216, the activity level is really difficult to surmount. It wasn't actually so much that the low kicks were doing big damage, but that Doumbe was again outmoving Holzken. Nieky wanted him to stay in the pocket & exchange, but Doumbe not only kept moving, but kept scoring while on the move. Holzken just seemed too technical here for his own good. He was pressuring consistently with his feet, but when you are coming forward & not actually throwing then getting hit as your opponent circles away or generally exits, it really winds up being a lot of waiting & chasing rather than actually dictating the action. Holzken had some of the best moments of the fight though. In the 1st round, he missed a right middle kick, but spun through & followed with a jumping switch kick to the jaw. Holzken also had the moment of the 2nd when Doumbe feinted with a jumping knee & followed with a right hook, but Holzken landed a big left hook counter. Holzken was cut over the right eye in the 3rd, seemingly from a flying knee. Thanks to the brilliance of open scoring, we knew Holzken needed a knockdown in the 5th, and in the final 15 seconds, he put Doumbe through the bottom rope with a spinning back kick, but it was a good call by Paul Nichols recognizing that Doumbe ducked & backed trying to defend it & the blow actually landed on the shoulder, so he went down from balance rather than damage. Doumbe won a split decision. Good match.
GLORY 19 2/6/15, Josh Jauncey vs. Max Baumert R3 0:37. You knew this fight was going to be good when Jauncey literally opened with a spinning back kick. Jauncey kept a high pace & just kept putting great, aggressive combos on Baumert. Baumert had a good low kick game, but it's hard to keep up when Jauncey is extending his combos to 4 or even 5. Baumert kept wanting to fight on the inside, hoping to land knees, which I didn't really understand given the only area where he was winning was the low kicks, and he could have landed them outside of Jauncey's range (especially since he had the reach) without being in the pocket to eat combos. Baumert got a knockdown with a 5 punch combination, though technically the knockdown shouldn't have counted because it came on a punch to the back of the head after the 2nd round bell rang. Baumert was unable to capitalize on the knockdown because Jauncey split his eyebrow so badly with a step knee at the start of the 3rd that the doctor had to stop it. Beyond the obvious, the finish was unfortunate because even though Baumert was getting badly outworked, he was actually up 19-18 due to the knockdown, so Jauncey would have had to put another huge round on Baumert to avoid a loss or draw. Good match.
UFC 212 6/3/17
Luan Chagas vs. Jim Wallhead R2 4:48. Chagas was really impressive here with his footwork & improvisation. He just kept Wallhead off-balance & guessing all night. Chagas was eating Wallhead alive at range. He had a 2" reach advantage, but it was more that he switches stances so fluidly he kept hitting Wallhead while Wallhead was adjusting his defensive position. Chagas sometimes even switched stances in the middle of his combination, and just kept pressing forward landing shots. With Wallhead at the very end of his punching range, Chagas was easily backing away from his punches if not also landing his own counter. Wallhead tried a few lame long distance takedown attempts, but for the most part he just kept pressing forward trying to connect with his punches because sitting back & letting Chagas attack was the worst of two evils. Wallhead did better in the 2nd because he was following his jab, so it was harder for Chagas to time his counters. Chagas was landing pretty much every inside leg kick & high kick he threw though. Wallhead was slowed by an eye poke, and Chagas did a lot of damage to his leg as Wallhead was less aggressive waiting for the blur to clear. Wallhead seemed more or less back to normal, & worked his way in with a punch combo, but when he faked a right, Chagas caught him flatfooted with a super out of the ordinary short upper backfist, clipped him on the nose with a left hook then followed on the ground with a couple punches to set up the rear naked choke win. Though the fight was more than a bit one-sided, Wallhead kept believing in himself & trying to make something happen no matter how much punishment he might have to take to do so. Good match.
Yancy Medeiros vs. Erick Silva 2 2:01. Medeiros did a good job of only being in the pocket on his own terms against the more explosive Silva. Thus, they mostly exchanged at distance, and although Silva is famous for his speed, Medeiros was actually doing a better job landing at this range. Both had good moments, and to some extent it came down to who was moving forward more, which was usually Medeiros because when Silva would try to start an attack, Medeiros would often fake the left hand, stopping Silva in his tracks as he was pushing off the left foot to initiate his offense. Silva would thus get into the bad habit of lunging & leaning on his strikes because his feet had been halted by the feint. Medeiros was able to land a few nice 2 strike combos where he kicked with the same leg he just punched with. Silva closed the 1st round strong, landing some damaging low kicks then getting inside after a good right hand & landing a knee that knocked Medeiros onto his hands. Silva seemed to find a good space early in the 2nd, getting his counter punching going before Medeiros could get out of range & landing more punishing low kicks. Medeiros got Silva to bite on the low jab though then came over the top with the right hand & dropped Silva with a left hook. Silva's head bounced off the canvas when he was propelled to the ground, and that may have woken him back up, it was hard to tell really how hurt he was, but it was a knocked out type of crash landing. Silva immediately leaned up & tried to grab for Medeiros' waist, but this wasn't slowing Medeiros down in any way, and Eduardo Herdy stopped the fight as Medeiros was throwing his 7th uninterrupted punch. Good match.
Paulo Borrachinha vs. Oluwale Bamgbose R2 1:06. Wild, all action fight where both guys went more or less as hard as they could from start to finish. You could see from the outset that it was going to be one of those exciting fights where they just bombed until someone collapsed. Bamgbose refused to make the mistake of standing in front of Borrachinha, but that made his style all the more tiring as he'd hop laterally then explode in an awkward super fast manner that disguised whether he was going to strike or take Borrachinha down. Bamgbose wasn't sticking to either, instead doing a good job of just coming forward & alternating between punches & takedown attempts in a constant attack sequence. The problem, obviously, is Bamgbose could only keep this up for about half the round then he still picked his spots, but was way more prone to Borrachinha's attacks & mostly got beat up. Borrachinha came back with two brutal right middle kicks that took the wind out of an already depleted opponent, and began to flurry body punches against the cage with a few knees thrown in for good measure. Bamgbose recovered somewhat to start the 2nd, and was doing some crazy attacks, the spinning back kick being the normal one as he unleashed both a single & double axehandle chopping downward fist similar to the kind of thing you'd see from Sakuraba but actually thrown with serious malicious intent rather than for entertainment value. Bamgbose slipped after landing a left middle kick & Borrachinha just stood over him & dropped right hands on his head until the stoppage. Not the greatest technical match you'll ever see, but certainly a lot of fun & violence. Good match.
UFC Featherweight Title Unification Match: Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway R3 4:13. This was a great performance by Max, but I also didn't like the way Aldo fought. Holloway's strategy was to be competitive early & take over late when Aldo tired out, which many have tried & few have succeeded at, but that was often because in the past Aldo put so many brutal low kicks on the opposition that by the time he was tired in the 4th round, they could barely walk. I understand that Aldo was reticent to use the kicks against Edgar or Mendes - great wrestlers whose only chance was to take him down - but you have to use your best weapon on Holloway until he gives you reason to do otherwise, especially since his movement is one of his biggest strengths. To make Aldo's tactics more puzzling, Holloway was also fighting in close & mostly relying on the orthodox stance rather than switching regularly as he normally does, so you'd think you'd want to blast the leg a few times even if only to get Holloway out of his gameplan. Aldo is a great counter puncher, don't get me wrong, but he won the 1st round based on his feints & leads. He landed a stunning left hook then followed it up with a diverse flurry of strikes, and also had a great lead uppercut to start a combo 4 minutes in. Aldo did a nice job of dropping his head left to dodge Max's jabs & coming over the top with the overhand right, I don't think Aldo's defense gets nearly enough credit because of what he can do offensively, but he was waiting for Holloway to make the 1st move far too often as the fight progressed even though he was having more success when he used his jab to keep Max's offense from getting started & his fakes to open up his attacks. Holloway came out looser in the 2nd, and was now using his own feints & getting off 1st with his jab. Though Aldo avoided many of them, he was now on the defensive, so either the counter was there or it wasn't, but he didn't have time to set up his own offense the way he so successfully did in the first. Once Holloway was getting off 1st, he then, of course, began firing in succession, and much of the reason Aldo wasn't having his usual success countering is Holloway can do so many things & hit so many levels with his tight combos that Aldo was forced to be defensive first. Holloway picked up the pace a lot toward the end of the 2nd & began taunting Aldo to get him emotional & perhaps sloppy, trying to drag Aldo into a firefight one way or the other because the previous pace wasn't really going to lead to a heavily depleted Aldo late, and after the shady Vitor Belfort hometown decision he surely didn't have much hope of winning a decision in a fight he surrendered the 1st round to wait for Aldo to slow down. Holloway found a good rhythm going over the top with the right in the 3rd, whether it be following his own jab or countering Aldo's. These weren't necessarily strictly overhands, sometimes straights or crosses above Aldo's defenses, as we saw with the big combos that dropped Aldo in the 3rd, jab/big right twice in a row. Aldo was hurt, but not nearly finished. The problem is he couldn't get Max off him. He kept moving, but he was alternating between surrendered positions as he could never tie Max up to stop the offensive barrage, so he was just taking punishment. Aldo probably could have lasted the 3rd without strictly getting knocked unconscious, but that's not how MMA fights are officiated. If you are getting hit but keep moving the fight might continue, but once you stop moving as Aldo eventually did & don't then switch positions despite the ref warning you once or twice that's going to be it. Very good match.
GLORY 37 1/20/17, Glory Featherweight Title Match: Robin van Roosmalen vs. Matt Embree R4 2:00. A very interesting stylistic match as Embree tried to avoid standing in front of Robin by angling & staying off the center line, keeping Robin away largely with body shots, but van Roosmalen kept adjusting & cutting off the ring. The smaller ring was a big advantage for Robin, as there was no where for Embree to hide, and he'd keep chipping away with low kicks until he got close enough to land his punch combos. Sitthichai had the most success against Robin of any opponent in recent times because he can consistently land when Robin is just starting to come in, which to some extent holds his low kicks & often his punches because Robin is usually blocking a middle kick with his arm. Embree did a better job of making Robin follow him, but his first strike came a little later, thus letting Robin get too close to simply keep circling without taking damage, which meant he was stuck struggling to knock Robin back, as Robin would seemingly rather die than retreat of his own volition, in order to momentarily regain distance. Embree did a good job of taking what was available, working the body with hooks & middle kicks & landing some straight head punches between Robin's tight guard. He was competitive, but he never really got into his power punching game, and with each round Robin's constant pressure wore on him a little more, taking his cardio & his legs. Embree had landed 1 more strike through 3, but Robin was landing the more powerful shots. Robin really took over at the end of the 3rd getting front kicked while throwing a superman punch but landing a big punch combo on the inside anyway. Embree looked like he was fading on the bench, & Robin ratcheted up the pressure to start the 4th, now doing good damage with uppercuts that followed his hooks. Embree was starting to hobble from Robin's low kicks, & wasn't moving as much anymore, which drastically increased Robin's connect percentage. Robin landed a liver hook & followed with a series of hooks with Embree hunched over until Embree gave up. This actually wasn't a title match for van Roosmalen because he missed weight by .8 pounds, so by winning he maintained his spot as #1 contender & earned a decision match, defeating Petpanomrung at GLORY 41 to regain the strap. Good match.
Fuego & Star Jr. & Stigma vs Misterioso Jr. & Sagrado & Virus 7:02, 3:02, 6:38. They put the effort into laying this match out & building it up, and that really made the difference. They slowly drew you in with consistently solid action & built the match up during the 1st 2 falls, which were not amazing but pretty steady & flowed together in some kind of a credible fashion rather than just being the usual random collection of moves that just abruptly ends, so by the 3rd fall you found yourself actually caring when they did a near fall. They picked up the pace for the 3rd, with a lot of hot moves, but this was also a back & forth fall where the winners were in doubt. Fuego was generally on fire, but Virus thwarted his plancha to Sagrado by pushing him off the top to the floor just as he was set to leap, so Sagrado was able to just stand there with his hands on his hips while Fuego misfired 5 feet short then join his teammates in a triple team to finish Star. Though Fuego vs. Virus was probably the best pairing, Star vs. Misterioso got the match off on the right foot working & putting over the back & forth technical segment, and generally, the effort was collective with everyone was giving a good performance. Good match.
Blue Panther Jr. & Rey Cometa & The Panther vs Puma & Sam Adonis & Tiger 3:59, 3:32, 7:41. There's not a lot to this match, it's just fun, fast paced, high flying action with a bunch of dives & superkicks. Puma & Tiger totally carry the match, looking good individually & showing great teamwork. Their offense is better than most technicos, so they more than made up for the Panthers not contributing that much, and also set things up really well & kept making good things happen. Cometa was on fire, doing almost nothing that wasn't spectacular. The Cometa vs. Puma/Tiger segments totally made the match. Panther did a few good things but hardly seemed involved. Panther Jr & Adonis didn't really distinguish themselves, but were spotted so well they still fit in & maintained the general flow & quality as well as could be expected. Good match.