There is nothing more difficult in wrestling than actually finding your audience. Of course, WWE is the only company that remains from the territory era of old. Fan bases were once solely based on geography; where you lived dictated what you would watch. There was a distinct lack of choice until the advent of cable television brought WWF and Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW to the forefront of the industry. We are currently knee-deep in the internet age – the juxtaposition of the territory era could not be any starker. Wrestling has a market surplus the likes of which have never been seen. It is remarkably difficult to be seen and heard.
The only reason I am bringing this up is because of a statement made by Court Bauer, CEO of MLW, on Twitter as he was advertising the newest episode of Underground. As a smaller promotion, you have to set yourself apart from the major players. In the days of the original MLW, it was only WWE that they had to set themselves apart from. In 2019, AEW procured a major national television deal, making them the second-largest wrestling promotion in the country. In these episodes of Underground, you hear constant references to “sports entertainment”, which is obviously a dig at the style with which WWE would produce television. AEW certainly has its own style as well, focusing on nuanced storytelling and meta-comedy that is self-aware. Many fans that were drawn to the “real sport” feel of the NWA did not appreciate the cartoonish aspects of the WWF in the 1980s. I am sure there are quite a few fans that don’t appreciate AEW illuminating the fact that wrestling is wrestling and that we all know the pre-determined nature of matches. For some, it damages their suspension of disbelief when such things are brought to light. Bauer mentioned “no wink, wink you’re in on the joke stuff”, which is a direct criticism of AEW and potentially some other indies. Yes, if you want pure sporting action, I would say you should make your way to the King of Sports: New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, NJPW is not known for its diversity in style and angles.
This is where MLW comes in; finding the sweet spot in which to find their audience. A sporting feel that represents a multitude of different styles. For almost twenty years, this has been the mission statement of Major League Wrestling. They stand to cut the fat, but cut the fat off of fifteen different types of meat in the course of doing so. Fusion is successful in this endeavour and, up to this point, Underground has done the same. MLW is finding and catering to THEIR audience, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they find themselves inching toward the second tier of American promotions alongside Impact and Ring of Honor.
Enough of my musings! This episode’s spotlight matches are Mike Awesome versus Jerry Lynn, and Vampiro Challenging Satoshi Kojima for the title… is there any other introduction needed? I have been anticipating this episode of Underground more so than any before it (outside of “May 9th at Taboo in Orlando”). How many times do you think we will hear “Taboo in Orlando”? My guess is four… closest without going over wins… well… nothing. Pride should be sufficient.
The show kicks off with Raven (in the same gear and same location as always) giving another menacing promo regarding Vampiro. Raven has quietly been one of the highlights of Underground. Yes, I was making fun of the fact that he recorded all of these promos at once, but he has done a phenomenal job building the match. Raven has always been great on the mic, but he plays off of his real-life relationship with Vampiro and it makes me want to get invested.
We also get a short face-off backstage between The Fallen Angel, Christopher Daniels, and Jerry Lynn. Daniels was simply trying to recruit Lynn because Daniels believes Lynn should be in a better position in wrestling overall? I think that’s what it was about, anyway. Daniels was being spooky and saying things in Latin… that’s really all that matters.
Super Crazy vs. Fuego Guerrero vs. Christopher Daniels
Well, this is the triple threat I never knew I needed! Not only is Fuego wearing his much more eccentric gear, but he and Super Crazy also had an excellent opening match on the previous episode of Underground. I don’t foresee a timeline in which adding Christopher Daniels to the mix makes the match worse, so this episode is already good at the 5:38 time mark. Not to mention, after the previous Fuego match, I decided to do some research. That guy was far too talented to have not taken off in any other promotion. Well, Fuego Guerrero is Amazing Red. The founder of House of Glory wrestling is also a three-time TNA X Division Champion, NWA World Tag Team Champion and accrued countless other accolades all over the world as a junior heavyweight. Point being, the guy took off. I wouldn’t have needed to look up the persona if I had seen this episode beforehand because Joey Styles states that Fuego is “also known as Amazing Red” almost immediately. Oh well.
The initial moments of the match illustrate the elevated capability of each wrestler, and the crowd is extremely hot for it. We even get a blatant “ECW” chant for Super Crazy. Each of the more tenured competitors makes the mistake of not taking Fuego as seriously as they should, his speed getting the best of both of them. It isn’t until the veterans work together that they are able to take down Guerrero on the outside. It degrades into a free-for-all fairly quickly once they find themselves back in the ring.
If I had seen Fuego Guerrero in 2003, I would have become a fan immediately. Not only is his offence wickedly athletic, but he was hitting moves you wouldn’t have seen anywhere else. A Code Red would have had me out of my seat in 2003. The fans go from chanting “ECW” to chanting “MLW” on the back of Guerrero’s offence. Beyond that, his selling is also fantastic, specifically how he would sell for Super Crazy. That is partially due to the fact that Super Crazy was hitting him as hard as he could with the stiffest power bombs I have seen in a while.
This match was just as good as I expected it to be. Ten minutes of fast, innovative action that you would have rarely seen in any other major company. When Fuego gets the surprise pin, Super Crazy attempts to pull off that sweet new mask before Los Maximos come out to make the save. While Daniels seems to be moving toward a program with Jerry Lynn, the story between Super Crazy and Fuego Guerrero is just getting started.
Mike Awesome vs. Jerry Lynn
Mike Awesome is a very tragic case in the wrestling world; unfortunately, one of many. Awesome was a superstar in ECW and looked to remain at that level while also being allowed to make a significant amount of money when he signed in WCW. “That 70s Guy” and “The Fat Chick Thriller” are always on the lists of “Worst Gimmicks Ever”. Awesome’s WCW run was an absolute bust. Once he made it to WWE, things didn’t get much better. He was a part of the infamous “Invasion” angle of 2001 and was mostly involved in the Hardcore division. He was released in 2002 and went to compete on the independent circuit until WWE’s One Night Stand pay per view. That show was a tribute to ECW and one of the greatest pay per views WWE has ever produced. Mike Awesome was able to reignite his brutal rivalry with Masato Tanaka and their war ended up arguably being the match of the night. In 2006, Mike Awesome retired from wrestling and in 2007 he took his own life. An absolute legend, I am really happy that I am currently seeing him in an MLW ring facing off with another legend in Jerry Lynn.
This match is for the number one contender’s spot in an MLW title match, so the stakes are certainly there to build a story. One may think that Awesome would be just another lumbering big man who would have been popular in the 1980s, but this could not be further from the truth. Yes, Awesome is a power-house; he is also ridiculously agile in the ring. He isn’t quite as quick as Jerry Lynn, but not very many are. That’s the only way Lynn is able to get in any significant offence, high risk and high impact manoeuvres. What’s frightening is when Mike Awesome hits the SAMW high impact manoeuvres that Jerry Lynn is capable of. The slingshot shoulder tackle he hits on Lynn would literally break about seven of my ribs.
Styles is playing off of Awesome’s history, illustrating that he was wildly underutilized in the past. Awesome is now looking to make amends through a show of monstrous brutality. While Awesome has excellent offence, Jerry Lynn makes everything look absolutely incredible. Side note: Christopher Daniels is watching at ringside.
Lynn kicks out of a sitting Awesome Bomb and a massive splash, but he can’t kick out of the running Awesome Bomb. Mike Awesome is officially the number one contender for Satoshi Kojima’s title. Daniels comes into the ring with a microphone and berates Jerry Lynn, telling Lynn that he is disappointed in him. Jerry Lynn actually hasn’t won a match in MLW up to this point and Daniels is bringing that to the forefront. Daniels asks Lynn to join him outright in the usual spooky heel sort of way and Lynn actually agrees! Lynn was one of the moreover babyfaces in MLW, so this is a legitimately interesting development. Future title contenders after the Global Tag Team Championship Tournament perhaps?
Satoshi Kojima vs. Vampiro
If you haven’t seen Vampiro in MLW up to this point, your expectations for this match would be wildly different from mine. Vampiro was definitely going for an underground (no pun intended) fight club aesthetic and style. He is miles away from his previous “Misfits” gimmick in WCW. In his first MLW match, Vampiro looked like an absolute tank, but not in the vein of a professional wrestler. He was far more concerned with looking like a legitimate fighter and I absolutely loved it. Of course, Kojima is Kojima, and Kojima is a strong style legend. I don’t have much more to add to that. This should be a “slobber knocker”.
This match is immediately characterized by a certain level of intensity. While Vampiro seems to have a slight advantage in technique, Kojima is put over as the slightly more powerful competitor. It’s an even match up even when considering the difference in technique. On a personal note, it’s really cool to see the fans so rabid for a match involving both of these guys. Neither main eventers nor household names, they both exude a degree of legitimacy.
To be honest, this match isn’t quite as stiff as I was expecting it to be. Not to lay all the blame on Vampiro, but if your gimmick is meant to be a personification of the underground fighter, you should probably lay it in. The chemistry seems to fall apart a bit when Vampiro goes for a lariat off of a scaffold. It simply didn’t look very good. After that, Vampiro’s selling wasn’t nearly as solid as it was in his first MLW match. The match is short and slightly disjointed. The crowd was ultimately just as disappointed as I was. Kojima gets the pin after his signature Lariato and Vampiro doesn’t look very strong in defeat, unfortunately.
That being said, we regain some heat once Mike Awesome, the new number one contender, comes out to confront Kojima. They immediately get into a chop fight and Awesome lays out Kojima with an Awesome Bomb. In those sixty seconds, Awesome immediately looked like a stronger contender than Vampiro, which I would not have said after Vampiro’s MLW debut. Beyond that, Awesome brings a table into the ring and puts Kojima through it with ANOTHER Awesome Bomb. While I was let down by the match previous to all of this, I am now pumped right back up.
Once again, MLW continues down an interesting path. It is more of the same, but that is in no way a detriment to the product. The show is beginning to develop a style and flavor that is independent of anything else. The Extreme Horsemen, Kojima and Awesome, Lynn and Daniels, Vampiro and Raven, Sabu and La Parka; they obviously had a vision as to where they wanted to go. Every match is a step leading you in a specific direction, which I appreciate because you rarely get such things in WWE or NXT in 2020. Other than the main event, the work is still being presented at a high level. For a company that was advertising itself as a “wrestling” show and not “sports entertainment”, they were making all of the right moves. You know what? Joey Styles didn’t say “May 9th at Taboo in Orlando” once! I’m a little sad about it…