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Kojima and Smith Go to War in Japan

MLW Underground Review -September 12th

Ok then, I believe my expectations have become measured at this point. Ten episodes into Underground and my mindset is somewhat similar to what it was before the first episode. Like ten weeks ago, I have no idea what to expect from this show. That being said, I won’t allow myself to feel the crippling disappointment that I felt in the previous few weeks. I REALLY thought we were going to see the big show in Orlando popping up in our YouTube subscriptions, but I suppose distribution rights are still a thing even twenty years after a show takes place. As I have attempted to shift my mindset toward pragmatism, I have accepted the shortcomings and will attempt to watch this episode with a fresh set of eyes…and then I saw the main event…

It was simply more about the title than it was the wrestlers involved, but I have been clamouring for Satoshi Kojima to make a return to this show and, finally, we have that in our main event! A main event with Johnny Smith… not to disparage Smith, but I laughed out loud when I saw this because my entire issue with this show lately is its lack of fire, and the name “Johnny Smith” is an alphabetic representation of “boring”… like, is there a more basic name on the planet? I just found it ironic and hilarious. All jokes aside, I did some basic research on Smith and found that he was the kayfabe brother of Davey Boy in Stampede (side note: in reading about that angle, I really need to go watch some Stampede Wrestling). Johnny had runs in Stampede, the U.S. independents, New Japan and All Japan. I imagine it is his All Japan connection that has him facing Kojima on this episode because Kojima was defending that MLW title all over the world.

One thing I do know is that Stampede was famous for its work-rate, as is Kojima, so if nothing else, we should have a stiff, strong-style main event that lifts my spirits. Once again, I don’t want to cheat myself by having an overabundance of gargantuan expectations, so what I am about to do is sit down, relax, and watch a nice little half-hour of a twenty-year-old wrestling program… let the wind carry me as it may.

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Joey Styles does such a fantastic job with the necessary exposition during the show. The way he ties all of the storylines and promos together into an actual narrative is nothing short of masterful. The way in which he explains the loss of Vampiro and how Raven was forced to transition into a feud with CM Punk could have been extraordinarily messy if Styles wasn’t perfect at his job. He is sorely missed in the world of wrestling. We are ten minutes into the show and the entirety of the episode has been Styles’ exposition. It isn’t a simple recap, we get promos from Los Maximos, an update on PJ Friedman, an explanation as to why certain feuds are continuing… the only reason you are able to describe this show as “episodic” is Styles. We didn’t even get to see the match between Paul London and Jerry Lynn, which was seemingly a fairly important introduction, but Styles makes me feel as though I haven’t missed a thing in his description of consequences from that match. I could go on.

I want to talk about the show Styles is promoting “this Friday” in Ft. Lauderdale, but I am just not sure there is a point in doing so. We are SUPPOSED to see a barbed wire match between Steve Corino and Terry Funk, La Parka versus Sabu III, Mike Awesome in a championship match against Kojima, but I am not convinced we will actually see a single second of it considering it is a special show entitled Hybrid Hell. That show SOUNDS absolutely spectacular, so I HOPE we get to see it.

Speaking of matches, we are nearly twenty minutes in without any wrestling. It seems as though Kojima and Smith is going to be the sole contest for this episode of Underground.

Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Johnny Smith – MLW World Heavyweight Championship

YAY! Time for wrestling! (Am I being a jerk about this?… tell me if I am). I am actually pretty excited about this, even if there is only about a ten-minute match to look forward to. Having never seen Smith and already being very familiar with Kojima, I am hoping for a classic Japanese strong-style match. OH MY GOD! A very young TAICHI is in Kojima’s corner! I don’t know exactly why I find that so adorable, but I do.

This match actually happened in an All Japan ring, so even though we don’t get very much of Kojima on episodes of Underground, it is really cool to see that he was basically a global ambassador for this company. It is so rare that you see traveling world champions in the modern era, aside from Nick Aldis, and having Kojima fill that role for MLW was an incredible decision for the company to make. I also appreciate Joey Styles illustrating the difference between American and Japanese wrestling fans. If one was unfamiliar with the general disposition of Japanese fans, they might feel as though the match is “dead” when in reality fans in Japan just have different methods of showing respect.

Ok, so about ten seconds after the first lock-up, we go to commercial. We spent more time on the introductions than we did on the match before that initial break. That in itself is not necessarily a problem, but when we come back from a break, Kojima is on his knees and Smith is completely laid out on his back. If this was an episode of WWE television, I wouldn’t care about seeing what I missed during the break because I already know it was a two-minute chin lock. That isn’t generally how All Japan matches in 2003 would have built. I love the ART of professional wrestling, watching two performers work together to suspend my disbelief. Could we not have skipped the three minutes of introduction instead of skipping seemingly important bits of the match?! I digress.

The strikes that Kojima throws make me cringe in the best way, the same goes for Smith. As far as the parts of the match we DO see, it is the barrel-chested All Japan action I was hoping for. Disgusting suplexes, brilliant false finishes with elbows, forearms and chops that would make most men crumple like a piece of paper. I am interested in knowing just how much of this match we didn’t see because the last ten minutes made me feel as though this match went closer to twenty. Japanese matches are known for building drama and I’m not sure we saw as much of that as we should have.

I am certainly interested in seeing what Johnny Smith would have done regularly in the late 1980s. He worked well with Kojima so I would very much like to see how he performs among the likes of Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith and Chris Benoit. While short, this was definitely an enjoyable nine minutes or so.

Final Thoughts

Joey Styles gives his thoughts in front of the MLW banner

I feel as though you are probably already aware of how I would summarize this episode. It didn’t make me angry as it has in previous weeks, but it didn’t leave me wanting either. Actually, that isn’t exactly accurate…I very much want to see Hybrid Hell, which Joey Styles has expertly built throughout the previous weeks, but I’m not exactly confident that I will see a single second of it. I don’t know if MLW is shortening these episodes for YouTube or if they are airing Underground in its original form, but if the latter is true, I don’t know how they could have retained many viewers week-to-week. I don’t mind an eight-minute Kojima match, but to not have more than one match on an episode is a problem. They have been building interesting stories, we just don’t get to see the payoff. Hopefully, we’ll get some closure sooner rather than later.

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Written by Andrew Stewart

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