SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Friday night I watched IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada’s title defense from back in October against EVIL at King of Pro Wrestling on AXS-TV. It’s always interesting to check in with Jim Ross and his adjustment after all those years to calling a more straight forward product. Josh Barnett is uniquely qualified to call this stuff, and he’s always a good listen.
It’s not exactly real insight to note that there are a tremendous number of great wrestlers in he ring these days, and I’m another one who thinks Okada is the very best of the lot. In this era, great wrestlers, particularly New Japan main eventers, work primarily with other great wrestlers, hence the recent explosion in the highest quality of main events. The excitement these days comes in watching these great wrestlers push each other to the limits of their athletic storytelling ability. Great wrestlers should also be able to carry wrestlers with other positives beside in-ring work to exciting matches.
There are aspects to being a great wrestler other than holding up your end of a five star (or more) match with another great wrestler. Okada’s match with EVIL – an act in the process of coming into his own – was a chance to see a great wrestler work with someone who was not a perfect opponent for a perfect match.
And yeah, Okay vs EVIL was pretty good. It won’t be a Match of the Year candidate because there were too many matches that were clearly better in 2017, but it does give more insight into maybe the best wrestler of his era.
It also made me reflect on a singular in-ring accomplishment of the last two years, one where a forgettable flip-flopper in a forgettable TV promotion built his own resume for modern greatness on his own home-court, designing and implementing a series of championship matches that demonstrated a reach and range unmatched anywhere in wrestling by Okada, Kenny Omega, Matt Riddle, A.J. Styles, Roman Reigns, or anyone else.
In a small wrestling studio in Gibsonville, N.C., CWF Mid-Atlantic Champion Trevor Lee put together a two-year series of matches, each different from the other, against a much wider variety of styles and abilities than any other great wrestler of our day.
I know, it seems ridiculous on its face but consider (and you can judge for yourself on the CWF Mid-Atlantic YouTube Channel):
Lee had the model Five Star 30 minute match against an opponent who could match everything he had, Kick Jagger Chip Day, someone he had never wrestled before that night.
Lee worked another model Five Star match with Alex Daniels in such way that a lot of us (and some impressed first-time attendees) watching thought Daniels was the better wrestler by the end of the night.
Lee told a dramatic old gun-fighter story with a 50 year old beat-up overweight deserved local legend, solving the problems inherent in such a match-up that he got a better match and more respect for “The Boogie Woogie Man” Rob McBride in making him submit than Roman Reigns got out of making The Undertaker retire at WrestleMania.
Lee took a young Richie Rich gimmick guy, albeit a good one, in Ethan Sharpe who is just beginning to grow into a well-rounded worker, and pushed him for 30 minutes in such a way that fans were convinced that Sharpe was a hair-width away from winning Lee’s championship, probably because he was.
Lee got the best match I’d ever seen a Dupp have when he faced veteran Otto Swanz, even getting him to sell during several pions in the bout.
Lee had a great match with usual tag-team wrestler, the 400 plus pound Mecha Mercenary, who took this chance as a personal challenge, holding up his end and then some.
Lee had the single best stipulation grudge match I saw anywhere with a calculating, jealously vicious Brad Attitude, a match that paid off months of booking in a much different but every bit as calculated way as Okada-Omega II. It too was four more than One Star, and Brad Attitude cut better promos about the feud than any wrestler I saw on a Red or Blue Brand.
Lee went hard with the other CWF standard-bearer Arik Royal – in my estimation, the other major league prospect here – helping Royal, whose conditioning wasn’t peak here, through 30 minutes of championship wrestling.
Lee got the hell beat out of him by New Japan standard-bearer Michael Elgin in a match so good I forgot that work ethic and execution in the ring doesn’t necessarily translate to content of character.
Lee had a tremendous match for the title with the great Cedric Alexander. Do I need to even make any 205 comparisons?
Lee ended the best Rumble/Royal style match I’d ever seen by pushing his protege Cain Justice to his absolute physical and mental limits. Justice capped a Rookie of the Year quality 12 months in hanging in here and the two had the crowd up and screaming (me too) the last five minutes.
But on Saturday night, December 30, at the CWF Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium in Gibsonville, N.C. at Battlecade, their biggest show of the year, Trevor Lee defends against his best opponent, a man he worked both an amazing 47 minute No Ropes match and a 105 minute eye-opener more thrilling than I ever would have thought possible, Roy Wilkins III.
The match is that old Starrcade Dusty Rhodes-Tully Blanchard stipulation cheat, a First Blood match. (You think you’re going to see galloons of blood, and then you get Dusty Rhodes losing a title without doing anything more than scratching himself again on the forehead.)
I don’t know how these two complete wrestlers are going to solve this brawling puzzle, or whether this is the night the best single championship run of the modern era finally comes to an end. (One of the things that made this series so compelling was that any of these matches really could have been the end, because everyone understands that Lee could go to the big leagues at any time.) I do know that if you’re anywhere within shouting distance, this is an experience a wrestling fan ought to have live and in person.
You won’t get soaked on ticket prices either.
(Bruce Mitchell, @mitchellpwtorch on Twitter, has been a PWTorch columnist since 1990. His columns appear exclusively in the pages of Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter and on the PWTorch VIP website. The weekly two-hour Bruce Mitchell Audio Show with host Wade Keller has been a VIP audio staple for years. He has been an on-camera wrestling expert on multiple pro wrestling documentaries and is widely regarded as one of the top independent voices analyzing the pro wrestling industry over the last three decades.) ###
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