After my first viewing of Underground, and upon also learning that Malice in episode one is also The Wall from WCW, I have found myself looking forward to every weekly installment. Let’s be honest, work-rate is important when discovering a brand-new show, but the storytelling is what keeps us coming back on a regular basis. Whatever your thoughts are on AEW, one can’t deny that their full card storytelling is absolutely spectacular. Even in failure, the attempt is noble. NXT has drastically changed the way they create episodic television in the last six months for that very reason. With Underground, the entire first episode was littered with character introduction and they did a fantastic job helping us to understand who the most important players were. They did this by putting Jerry Lynn in a prominent position, the re-invention of Vampiro, The Extreme Horsemen, and the natural draw for us to MLW Champion Satoshi Kojima. This week, we find out if Underground can build on the foundation they laid down last week.
This week’s episode opens with scenes depicting the formation of the Extreme Horsemen, led by Steve Corino. In the Extreme Horsemen episode of Anthology, we saw a match between Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk and Steve Corino in which this formation took place. Side note: the original entrance and promo music is still intact from the original episodes, which is really surprising to me. I don’t know if MLW asked Metallica’s permission to use Sad but True, but it is awesome, so I don’t really care.
Steve Williams & PJ Friedman vs. ???
Well, with all my talk of coherence in the rearview mirror, this episode starts off with a bit of confusion. We immediately go to the ring with a match already in progress. Joey Styles lets us know that Dr. Death and his protégé, Friedman, are in action, but I have no clue who the other individuals are. I suppose I will have to listen very carefully. One of the unknown fellows is apparently named Afterburn? There is a significant amount of time cut from this match, seemingly for good reason. The sixty seconds you actually see are quite messy other than some sweet Japanese neck stuff.
This match did happen to serve a purpose, however. The MLW Global Tag-Team Crown Tournament (say that five times fast) is set once Williams and Friedman get the win. The teams involved are Mike Sanders and Jimmy Yang, Williams and Friedman, The Extreme Horsemen, and Los Maximos, with The Samoan Island Tribe feeling slighted with the exclusion.
Joey Styles introduces some of the matches that will be airing from Taboo in Orlando, Florida on May 9th. The first, Paul London and Jerry Lynn, should be fantastic. Second, the ECW flame burns bright in MLW because Masato Tanaka will be taking on Mike Awesome. If you have never seen Tanaka vs Awesome in ECW, or at One Night Stand, watch their matches immediately. For many, it is their favorite series of matches in existence. Unfortunately, we get a Bill Alfonso promo as well. It ends quickly because La Parka destroys him. Thanks, La Parka. La Parka officially challenges Sabu to a Mexican Massacre Challenge next week… whatever that is.
Terry Funk vs. Chris Candido
If this match had happened ten years earlier, I imagine it could have cultivated a pretty significant amount of buzz – as long as a horse wasn’t involved, anyway. Candido is wildly underrated as a performer, and unfortunately, I believe a portion of that perception swirls around the woman Candido brought to ringside. I’m not going to lie, I spent about twenty minutes researching the history of Candido and Sunny because it is one of the stranger wrestling relationships in the history of the business. Am I a better person for it? No, I am not. I suppose they loved each other and accepted each other’s flaws. Moving on.
This contest begins with each man attempting to get the upper-hand through basic mat wrestling. Candido thinks he will easily get one over on Funk, but Terry has more in his arsenal than Candido may have assumed. Everything begins to dissolve into brutal violence after a few minutes on the outside of the ring. Funk is busted open after he gets his head slammed into a table. The way Funk sold offense in his later years is one of my overall favorite things; he is almost like a cartoon character, but reminds you how brutal he can be in an instant. Case in point, Funk attempts to pick up a ladder Candido throws in the ring. Funk kind of fumbles with the ladder and instead of having an awkward moment in the middle of the ring, he SELLS hitting himself with the ladder. Candido goes for a pin. I absolutely adore it.
I’m trying to find the words to describe the final stretches of this match. Candido misses a wild flying head-butt from the top of a ladder, Funk tosses Chris to the outside… and then… Sunny gets involved. She hits Funk with a low blow. Funk grabs her and hits her with a DDT. Her dress comes up over her underwear… Funk gets up close and personal. This was just plain gross. Anyway, after a combination of pin reversals, Funk gets the win. I was going to say this match was pretty good, but I’m left with a singular image at the end, and it isn’t a good one.
Joey Styles comes back with more information regarding the big show on May 9th. CM Punk will be making his debut in Orlando and Steve Corino puts forth a challenge to Terry Funk for the same date. Corino’s promos thus far have been excellent. He goes on about being trained by a man that held the NWA title longer than Terry; his brother, Dory Funk Jr. I legitimately can’t wait for the May 9th show MLW was building masterfully at this point.
Jerry Lynn vs. Satoshi Kojima – MLW World Championship
The wrestling nerd in me is absolutely salivating at this one. I have known of the prowess of Jerry Lynn for some time, but Kojima is a more recent discovery. The most enjoyable aspect of not being a wrestling fan for a period of time, only to eventually become an OBSESSIVE (wink wink), is discovering the literal decades of dream matches I have come across in research. I am honestly a little disappointed to see there are only twelve minutes remaining in this episode of Underground because I am sure thirty minutes would have been spectacular.
This match is for the MLW Championship and the crowd seems to be legitimately excited. The opening moments are your classic give and take on the mat, but performed to perfection. Kojima has the upper hand while grappling, but Lynn and his speed almost surprise Kojima with an arm-bar. Kojima is your classic barrel-chested Japanese heavyweight and this is very much a contest of speed versus power. What makes it so interesting is that the man with speed also has power, and vice versa. I was under the impression this match was a title defense for Kojima, considering MLW informed us of Kojima’s title victory in the previous episode. However, Joey Styles explicitly says “new” MLW Champion. Why this match wasn’t on the very first episode, I do not know; it ultimately didn’t affect my enjoyment of the match in any case.
One of the more surprising aspects of this match was the crowd being behind Kojima more than Jerry Lynn in the final stretches. Each man was attempting their most powerful moves with no such luck. While it isn’t the technical masterpiece you may have seen from Lynn and RVD, there is legitimate emotion within the arena. After the match, we learn Taiyo Kea defeated Sabu in order to become the number one contender. Why didn’t we see that match? I don’t know. Nevertheless, Kojima addresses and thanks the crowd for their support (even though we can’t hear anything coming from the arena) and leaves the ring with the crown.
The episode ends with some exposition by Raven. He mentions the group he had with Vampiro and the Insane Clown Posse, which he decided to disband. Since disbanding, Vampiro has apparently said some unkind words about Raven. Obviously, this is leading to a pretty gnarly match; Fight Club Vampiro versus Raven is certainly something I am excited to see.
Disregarding some basic production issues, I am pleasantly surprised with much of what Underground has to offer. The card at Taboo in Orlando that Joey Styles continuously mentions seems to be some of the best wrestlers not signed by WWE in 2003. Yes, some things are slightly disjointed and certain matches had to be significantly cut due to some of the wrestlers being green, but this is a brand-new company attempting to hit a market that is completely untapped. The “buffet” aspect of MLW is alive and well in 2020 and you can absolutely see the company was attempting a similar style in its inception. The actual matches within this episode aren’t exactly the focus. MLW is building its universe in a very straightforward and measured way. It is not the greatest hour of wrestling I have ever seen, but it definitely has me coming back for more.