Cheap Pops - Wrestling News & Views: March 4, 2015

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Cheap Pops - March 4, 2015

by Chris Delloiacono, Mike Maillaro and Jeff Ritter

This week!

  • ESPN 30 for 30: The Von Erichs

  • The Intercontinental Title

  • New Japan Cup

  • Lucha Underground

Chris: Mike, The Jersey Slugger, is on assignment this week.  Never fear, Cheap Pops is brought to you by every man's nightmare and every girl's dream, Cool Chris & Jiffy Jeff, the Wrestling Express!

ESPN 30 for 30: The Von Erichs (2/27/15)

Chris: Growing up in the '80s as a wrestling fan you almost had to love the Von Erichs.  They were the centerpiece of World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas. WCCW was really just a territory, centered in the Dallas area, but they had national television. That's how this boy, and so many others like me, came to be a Von Erich supporter.

I could write a piece about the tragic circumstances that would see 4 of the 5 wrestling brothers die as young men, but there's no point in rehashing tragedy yet again.  I highly recommend the latest ESPN 30 for 30 piece if you want to learn more of the sorrow. It's beautifully produced and centers on the surviving brother, Kevin.  A man who lost his siblings but doesn't seem bitter in the least.  Sad and changed but not bitter.

I want to talk just a bit about the good old days.  Fondly, I can recall spending countless hours watching new episodes and reruns of the WCCW broadcasts.  I watched many first run, but I was fortunate ESPN aired reruns weekdays at 4 pm in the later part of the '80s.  I relived some shows, but it allowed me to see many that I had missed for the first time. The tragedy was already unfurling, yet it didn't alter my affection for the show.  

The storylines were so powerfully built back then.  There were the classic feuds with the brothers against the Freebirds and, let's not forget, the Dynamic Duo of Gino Hernandez & Chris Adams.  These were lengthy runs with some of the hottest matches you've ever seen.  Then there were the singles matches with, first David, and later Kerry, against Ric Flair.  These epic battles culminated with Kerry's short NWA title reign.  There was also the acrobatics and cat like grace of Kevin.  Mike and Chris didn't have the highlights like their older brothers but they were Von Erichs, and I loved to see them in and around the ring.

You know what the first thing I watched when the WWE Network went live?  That's right, classic WCCW!  Unfortunately, the WWE stopped adding new episodes within a month or so of launch.  I so desperately want to watch more.  Come on guys, you own the library, now share it.  I enjoyed this show so much, I'd love to watch it all one more time.

I want to tell you two personal moments that go beyond watching on television.  I missed out on the Von Erichs Over America Tour in 1987 but I did see Kerry live a couple of times in his WWF run as the Texas Tornado.  This was a broken down Kerry with many physical issues, yet it was pretty amazing as a teen.  I even was in Philadelphia for his defeat of Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Championship.  Being a bigger Curt Henning fan, I was pretty bummed at the time, but I consider myself lucky to have seen those two legends tangle.  How awful that neither man reached old age.


I'm trying to keep this upbeat, so let's move on before we get bogged down in the horror.  I had a chance to visit Dallas in the summer of 2007.  It's the only time I've been to Texas, and I only had one day in the Big D.  Besides visiting Dealey Plaza and all the Kennedy Assassination locations, the only other places we went were the Sportatorium and Reunion Arena.  

Now, to be fair, the Sportatorium had recently been torn down, but I saw the vacant lot.  This was the spot that WCCW ran weekly shows taped for TV, so it was pretty wild just to see the neighborhood.  Reunion Arena was the arena venue that supported larger WCCW cards.  I was stunned that the buildings were essentially around the corner from one another.  Not what I expected at all. It was a treat to put a little of the picture together in my mind of the Von Erich stomping grounds.

Over the years, I became pretty angry with the Von Erichs and all the darkness that followed them.  I even made some nasty jokes as a younger man.  It's certainly next to impossible to forget the heartache and loss, but as I grow older, I think more about the happiness the brothers brought me.  They ended up failing as role models, but they taught me so much about life and the hardships you can face.  As I've matured I just want to be wistful for a simpler time when the Von Erichs ruled the ring!  

Seek out the special.  It certainly centers on the darkness, but it also embraces a hopeful future.  

Jeff: I didn’t grow up on WCCW. For me it was always Wrestling at the Chase, the venerated St. Louis territory show controlled in those days be Sam Muchnick, who by most accounts dealt with the wrestlers pretty fairly at a time when a lot of territorial promoters didn’t. The show lasted quite a number of years and until Vincent K. McMahon bought out his father and started consolidating the territories into the global entity that is today’s WWE, that was the biggest game in town. I also recall seeing some of Verne Gagne’s AWA shows from Minnesota now and then. The Von Erichs were exclusive to Texas. Kevin and David tagged here with Gene Kiniski . Kerry made it up here too, appearing on the same cards that featured Cowboy Bob Orton, Ric Flair and Harley Race. Of course Kerry’s biggest stage was the WWF highlighted by his Intercontinental Title feud with Mr. Perfect.

I was underwhelmed by the ESPN piece, but then I find ESPN in general to be terribly disappointing--all flash, no substance..This was no different. I’m very happy, Chris, that it invoked your recall of cherished moments watching the Von Erichs wrestle in your youth, so in that respect it’s not a total failure. However, it merely scratched the surface and seemed to end abruptly. Did Kevin talk about how he lives with being the sole survivor of this great family dynasty? Has he ever truly come to terms with arriving too late to stop Kerry from pulling that trigger? If so, how? The piece did very little investigative journalism and put more effort into that tricked out photo montage where the brothers all just faded. It wasn’t disrespectful to the family nor to wrestling itself, but it could have been so much more compelling. Maybe I’m completely missing the point, but don’t call it “30 for 30” and then clock your film in at just a bit over 9 minutes. I get that it was listed as a “short” but I’ve seen longer commercials. I suppose I just take the nickname “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” more seriously than ESPN does these days. I can get pithy comments over short highlights anywhere on the internet--is it too much to ask for a little long-form old school journalism these days? Considering that I can remember the pre-WWF days of wrestling, it probably is. Man, I feel old.

Chris:  I agree that it was too short.  The 30 for 30 aspect just means 30 stories from 30 years of ESPN.  Most of them are longer.  All said, there was quite a bit of meat.  It focused on Kevin and how he's dealt with being the sole survivor.  Trying to get locked up, moving to Hawaii, starting over.  Considering that the show centered so much on the deaths of the brothers, it was surprisingly upbeat.  Scratching the surface for sure, but it's the type of film that hopefully generates interest for people to go out and learn more.

I'd definitely like to talk more about Wrestling at the Chase down the line.  The territories were just losing steam when I got into wrestling.  Most of my exposure to them was on television just as the landscape shifted.  Plus, where I lived was the hotbed for the WWF.  There was local wrestling in town, but the AWA and NWA required some driving to see occasional area shows.  Mostly, WWF was king.

The Long Climb - The Intercontinental Championship Chase

Chris: I'm going to forego doing any episode recaps this week, but instead I want to discuss what I thought was an interesting aspect of recent WWE TV.  What I'm talking about is the coming Wrestlemania Ladder Match for the IC Title.  The title has been featured in numerous segments of late, and an old school fan has to love it, right?  Let us say it's been a double-edged angle thus far.

First, let's talk about the prospective participants.  Unless there's a swerve, it looks like Badnews Barrett will defend against Daniel Bryan, R-Truth, Luke Harper, and Dean Ambrose. And, who doesn't love the way Dolph Ziggler super kicked his way into the IC ladder party?  This is an excellent collection of talent who are all outstanding in the ring and on the mic.  This group should be able to steal the show.  It's been quite some time since 'Mania had a high profile match for the IC belt.

What's not to like, well, how about WWE booking Wade Barrett as an utter loser.  He can't win a match and can't even keep tabs on his title belt.  I admit, BNB has done some amusing stuff reacting to physically losing his belt.  Still, when a guy the public views as a jobber, holds a title, the luster is lost.  Barrett deserves better booking, and so does the IC Title.  Here's hoping each one is treated more respectfully in the coming weeks and months.  This match could be the turning point.

Jeff: I don’t really understand the point of sub-championships these days. In the old days--here I go again--the secondary title used to be used as either the Number One Contender placecard or as a holding spot to counterbalance the morality of the main championship. By that I mean when Ric Flair was the NWA Champion, Magnum TA--a face wrestler--held the US Title. When Hulk Hogan had the WWF World Title, the Intercontinental champions were most often Randy Savage, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig or the Honky Tonk Man--all heels. This gave the fans someone to cheer for no matter what--yay for the heroic champ, or kill that no good bum holding the title! It didn’t hurt that the line between a hero and a villain was pretty clearly drawn in those days.

Today there is simply no  reason to care. Most male fans in the 20-40 years of age demographic--arguably the WWE’s main target--are sick to death of Cena, so they might have some interest in a title he hasn’t worn in years just because they want to see him lose to Rusev. That plays completely against type--fans shouldn’t be rooting for a Vladimir Putin sympathizing character while a war is going on in the Ukraine. That’s how much people hate Cena, and how out-of-touch Vince really is these days wth the pulse of his so-called WWE Universe..

Bad News Barrett is stuck in an even worse scenario. The WWE website itself calls the Intercontinental Ladder Match “a multi-Superstar showcase.” Let me translate that for you: “We care about Wade Barrett and the IC strap so little that we’re not even going to bother plotting a story for defending it.” The 2nd Annual Andre the Giant Invitational is a multi-Superstar showcase. The ladder match is fairly random booking. They could have drawn the names of the participants and the stipulation of the match out of Papa Shango’s old top hat for all I know.

They would be much better off doing a complete restructuring of the secondary titles. Start by bringing back the cruiserweight division. Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Seth Rollins, John Cena, Rusev, Barrett--they can all crowd the heavyweight title scene. Reinstating the belt for the smaller wrestlers gives a whole bunch of workers more relevance. The WWE could bring in a number of international and independent talents to flesh it out. Put Dean Malenko and Billy Kidman in charge of it backstage and pretty soon you could have those show-stealing matches we used to get from Rey Mysterio, Juvy Guerrera, Eddie & Chavo Guerrero, Jushin Thunder Liger, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.

Chris: A cruiser weight division would rock.  NXT is loaded with guys that could be in the mix.  Yes, I have higher aspirations for Adrian Neville, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Tyler Breeze, still what a way to showcase those gents.  Imagine, the meaningful matches that could be had with guys currently on the main like Heath Slater, Sin Cara, Kalisto, Xavier Woods, etc.  There's a boatload of stars in NJPW, AAA, or CMLL that would integrate so well.  On second thought, I want WWE to leave those companies stars alone.  We all know this is a pipe dream Vince would lose interest in within a month.

New Japan Pro Wrestling - New Japan Cup

Chris: The New Japan Cup tournament begins this week with the first round in Tokyo.  The tournament continues throughout March with the winner having the option to challenge any of the three major singles champs at Invasion Attacks on April 5th.  The first show should be filled with great action, and give us an idea where this is all heading.  I'd loved to have seen Shinsuke Nakamura win two years in a row and go after AJ Styles' IWGP Title.  That's an amazing match we haven't gotten yet.  Alas, with Nakamura holding the IC Title, he's not in the tournament.  Hopefully, we see AJ v. Shinsuke later in the year.

Bracket 1
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano

Prediction: Tanahashi

Kota Ibushi vs. Doc Gallows
Prediction: Ibushi

Tetsuya Naito vs. “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson
Prediction: Anderson

Kazuchika Okada vs. Bad Luck Fale
Prediction: Okada

Bracket 2
Togi Makabe vs. Tomoaki Honma
Prediction: Makabe

Yoshi-Hashi vs. Yujiro Takahashi
Prediction: Takahashi

Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto
Prediction: Nagata

Satoshi Kojima vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Prediction: Shibata

Chris: I'm a bit flummoxed on these.  On first review, unless there's an upset, the eventual winner seems certain to come from bracket one.  It's interesting booking since Tanahashi, Okada, and Ibushi are top 5 in the company, yet all are crammed in the first bracket.  I can't see Tanahashi or Ibushi losing the first round.  That sets up a fantastic match between them later in the week.  The other matches in the bracket are more fluid.  There's a chance Okada doesn't advance.  He's been losing a bit of late, especially at the hands of Fale.  If that happens I think Naito goes over Anderson.  

The second bracket doesn't have quite the star power.  I'm hoping Honma pulls the upset but he never wins, so it's unlikely, but would the crowd ever pop!  I think Takahashi advances because I don't see Bullet Club dropping 3 of 4 matches.  Nagata has been featured more of late and Shibata is my pick to win this bracket. Even if the star power isn't in the bracket, the matches all look good.

Looking ahead, it would appear Tanahashi or Okada are winning the whole thing and going after AJ, but we've seen those matches before.  Plus, it's too obvious.  In the end, I'm guessing the winner is going to be either Ibushi or Shibata to further elevate them on the card.  As a quirky guess, although the match wouldn't be all that great, the spectacle of seeing Bullet Club colleagues Styles and Fale battle would be neat.  That makes five guys out of 16 that I give at least a realistic chance of winning.  

All told, I love that I don't know so far in advance what's coming in NJPW.  We all pretty much knew that Roman Reigns was headlining Wrestlemania 31 as far back as the 2014 Royal Rumble.  The opponent being Brock Lesnar seemed clear by Summer Slam.  Long term booking is all well and good, but that's just telegraphing without any chance for surprise.  I don't know if Japanese fans are as unsure as me.  I hope so, because it's a nice feeling to be surprised by wrestling.

Jeff: I’ve only just started watching Puroresu again after some years away, so without any real current knowledge I’d say your picks makes sense, Chris. I’m not going to try to elaborate or predict future rounds--I’m just extremely excited to have avenues to see the Japanese Strong Style on a regular basis with relative ease. It does an old VHS tape trader’s heart good! I’m not quite done with it yet, but I’ve been watching the NJPW/CMLL Fantasticamania show featuring some very good performers from Mexico and Japan. Volador Jr. in particular was a lot of fun to watch. Once I get familiar with more of the current NJPW roster--my brain is still thinking it should be The Great Muta, Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto and Hiroyuki Tenzan ruling this league, not AJ Styles and Luke Gallows--I’ll have more to say about it.  

Lucha Underground (2/25/15)

Aerostar pinned Drago
Cage defeated Prince Puma when Konnan threw in the towel
Pentagon, Jr. eviscerated Vinny Masaro
King Cuerno and Johnny Mundo battled to a Double Countout

Chris: This show was a huge improvement from last week.  The opener between Aerostar and Drago was a fast paced with a frenzy of high flying spots.  The match built to a strong climax.  The best part, Dario Cueto came out and made this a best of five series.  The winner is promised something very special.  As long as the quality holds up, I'm all for seeing these guys go at it the next several weeks!

Neither of the featured bouts had a clear finish but they were both building blocks in a feud.  Cage look indestructible in manhandling the Lucha Underground champ.  It helps strengthen Cage, but a towel toss finish also keeps Prince Puma strong as well.  Nobody ever holds it against the babyface in situations like that.  Although the towel should make for future drama.  Clearly the Puma/Konnan relationship is about to get very strained.  That should make for some great TV!

Pentagon, Jr. may be my favorite performer on the show, but I'm ready for him to move out of the squash matches.  I'm anxious to see how the maestro (teacher) storyline plays out.  They've spent a lot of time here, so I'm assuming the payoff is going to be worthwhile.  I'm hoping we soon get Prince Puma vs. Pentagon, Jr.  That should be a violent high flying match with cero miedo (no fear)!

Speaking of violence, Mundo and Cuerno took a good match out of the ring and brawled all over Boyle Heights.  The feud is just building up, so we got a non-finish.  I can live with it since the action in the upper reaches of the facility was just as entertaining as the in-ring work.  

Lucha Underground rarely fails to entertain.  And entertaining is the bottom line.

Jeff: That’s a great segue as to why I don’t care at all about Kevin Owens on NXT...but its an even better teaser for next week’s column, so I’ll let folks simmer on it until then. Evil, ain’t I?

Chris: Evil is right!  You didn't just dis Kevin Owens!  Ah yeah.  It's on!  To borrow his old ROH catchphrase Fight Owens (Steen) Fight.

Mike: I come back from Atlantic City to find someone bashing the good name of Kevin Owens?  What has this world come to?