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A.J. Styles Royal Rumble Debut
If you’ve been listening to the 5 year flashbacks on the Torch audio you’ve then been hearing about the speculation and then happenings of A.J. Styles making his debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016. I haven’t watched any of the Untold episodes since the first episode, “Undertaker and Mankind’s Hell in a Cell Match,” as it was a disappointment as it consisted of poorly recorded phone conversations and archive interviews with Mick Foley.
This program starts with a quick biographical look at Styles as he talks about his childhood growing up and how wrestling was his escape. He also tells the story of how when he was in college he felt he was wasting time because he was just wanting to go into wrestling and didn’t want to wait to get involved in it.
Some very early footage of A.J. is playing as he talks about how he got the name Styles, which was from a tag team he had been placed in at the time. Styles talks about his time with NWA Wildside and how that led to him getting a WCW deal. A brief clip is shown where A.J. gets beat up by the NWO Silver but his face is not shown in his first extra appearance.
Highlights are shown of his tag team with Air Paris that was tearing it up right at the tail end of WCW. Matt Camp, host of WWE’s The Bump show has a few soundbites that are like he’s trying to channel Max Kellerman and just come off as grating and fake. Throughout his comments are meant to help to drive the narrative but he always seems so forced and inauthentic, which is something you don’t get from anyone else involved.
A.J.’s WWE tryout is then talked about and shown. I had never seen this promo before and it was just horrendously bad. He talks about how he was more concerned with his dark match with Rick Michaels and how he was too focused on spots as opposed to telling a story. He attributes that as a reason he didn’t get a deal, but said it helped him learn.
A.J.’s enhancement match against Hurricane is talked about and how that got him a spot at a WWE camp that also got him a developmental deal offered to him. A.J. turned down said deal because he and his wife would have had to move to Cincinnati so he could be in developmental at HWA and he didn’t want to have his wife give up her dream of being a teacher as she had sacrificed so much for his wrestling.
Samoa Joe is interviewed next and talked about how they first met in the King of the Indies tournament in Northern California in 2001. A lot of photographs are shown with Christopher Daniels and current AEW star, Frankie Kazarian.
TNA is then talked about and lots of footage is shown which was interesting. I know this has happened before but it is always interesting to see what other wrestling WWE will acknowledge. A.J.’s 11 year tenure in TNA is talked about for 2 minutes. Despite talking to Joe, they don’t talk about any of their famous matches which is some of the most sought after TNA material.
Styles talks about leaving TNA while having three sons and that he was betting on himself to succeed. Stills of A.J. in New Japan and with the IWGP Title are shown but New Japan is never mentioned explicitly. A.J. beating Okada is pictured. Styles talks that going to Japan helped prove that his bet was working. Finn Balor talks about how his last night in Japan was A..J’s first and that A.J. had respect instantly from the fans.
A.J. talks about how he finally started talking to WWE and how he had reservations, but that a talk with Triple H helped alleviate some of that. I would be curious to hear from Triple H about some interactions like these and in this case why it took so long for A.J. to get a look. Seeing Daniel Bryan succeed gave A.J. the feeling he had a chance that before wasn’t there when there was a reputation that only big guys succeed.
Samoa Joe talks about how he picked A.J. up for his debut and drove him in secret to help the surprise. Some great candid footage of A.J. from before his debut. While he talks confidently, you can tell there is still a bit of nervousness in regards to the reaction he was going to get. A.J. said he was blown away by the reaction he got. I remember watching this and thinking they and more importantly A.J. just nailed it that night.
Everyone talks about how much of a success that debut was and how his first year was phenomenal, pun fully intended. During this section, there was a weird exporting glitch where one shot of John Cena was very stuttered. It is interesting to me that by and large, WWE’s production does a very good job but on the last few things I’ve reviewed, I’ve seen some stuff that would have been noticed if someone just watched it before they uploaded it to the Network.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Overall, I thought this was a nice 30-minute documentary that looked at one of the strongest debuts that WWE has done in recent history, with a wrestler that they haven’t defined down to such a degree that he’s incapable of being taken seriously.
WCW’s Festival de Lucha
Oddities like this are why I love scouring the Hidden Gems section, which has sadly stopped being updated and added to. So, a bit of backstory here. This footage is from a taping for a proposed WCW Lucha show. The taping occurred on January 27, 1999, in Waco, Texas with about 6,000 people in attendance.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is just the raw footage. There is no commentary and this was probably intended to be three different episodes. There is a ring announcer that introduces everyone in Spanish and hosts the few in-ring segments that occur.
It has a unique entrance in the style of some traditional Mexican buildings along with a Mariachi band and dancers that kick off the show with a performance in which Silver King participates before heading down to the ring.
All but the last match on this show is either a 6 or 8-man tag team affair. There are eight of these multi-man matches in the two-hour run-time and by and large, they are fast and energetic. Some sloppy stuff in some of the earlier matches including some La Parka Singapore Cane shenanigans that were awful. If you cringe watching modern wrestling when you see a crowd of wrestlers waiting for a dive, well, don’t watch this as it is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen in that regard. What is apparent as this show goes on is that with all the garbage finishes that start the show, when you get a few clean ones later the crowd just doesn’t care because they are burnt out.
The non-Spanish speaking Jimmy Hart had a stable for this show called ECA, whose most interesting member was in a gimp-like suit dragging a blow-up doll with a noose. And while Jimmy starts the interview in Spanish, once it gets to the members of the stable the interview turns to Spanish.
In addition to the Mariachi dancers and band, Festival De Luchas also has their version of the Nitro girls. They also have a few hunky male wrestlers to dance with the girls.
The crowd tended to react better to those that were more active in WCW at the time such as Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Konnan, and La Parka. Konnan is treated like a legit star. During a big 6-man with Konnan, Rey Mysterio Jr., and Hector Garza, a contingent of WCW wrestlers with Lucha experience attack including Jericho, Finlay, Norman Smiley, and Johnny Swinger. This also includes what I believe includes a heel turn by Chavo Guerrero as he attacks Rey which falls very flat as it is well into the attack. Jericho does get some mic time before a multi-man match later on.
Almost every finish on this show includes a run-in or some sort of shenanigans. I don’t understand the end of the second multi-man as the bell rang after La Parka started hitting people with Singapore canes. From there, we see a few minutes of the most contrived spots I’ve seen until La Parka gets a pinfall. Lots of wrestlers on this show work two or even three matches. In a few cases, you can tell those that are hurting in their later matches. In particular, Hector Garza looked like he was moving around a bit rough in his third match of the evening.
The most noteworthy match on this show is an 8-man tag with Chris Jericho, Johnny Swinger, Lenny Lane, and Norman Smiley against Konnan, Rey Mysterio Jr, Hector Garza, and Silver King. I used to think Lane was always just wanting to be Jericho and with them standing next to each other it was even more apparent. Here, the main reason you can tell the difference is if Jericho does something, the crowd reacts. The match goes for about 10 minutes and is fine, but nothing fantastic.
It’s been a while since I watched WCW of this era so I may be wrong on this but Psychosis was a total heel on this show and I feel like he did a great job in the role. I always felt Psychosis was very underrated in WCW as he could do so much good work and his character was great too.
The sole singles match of the evening is Konnan vs Disco Inferno. Disco came out to attack Rey Mysterio Jr. after the previous 6-man match. Disco Inferno gave a Chartbuster to Rey in a super wide-angle that the camera crew almost missed. It was in a sweeping shot of the crowd and they only got the move in on the edge and you could not tell who was delivering it. Now and then when I go back to WCW I always think that Disco was underrated and he was pretty solid here. The audience attempts a “K-Dogg” chant, with someone prompting on a mic, but the crowd is exhausted at this point in the taping and just doesn’t care. The crowd does liven up for the finish with Konnan putting Disco in a fantastic looking Tequila Sunrise for the finish. Rey and Konnan end the night dancing with the dancers in the entryway.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I would have been very curious to have seen what this show would have been as a completed project as it feels unfinished in this state. It does have the feeling of what Lucha I’ve seen, which I fully admit is limited.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS WWE NETWORK REVIEWS: WWE NETWORK REVIEW: WWE The Day Of and WWE Formerly Known As featuring Seth Rollins and Luke Harper