MLW continues to release intriguing material throughout our current global situation. The promotion has been around much longer than most people would assume and they intend to highlight that with their original iteration of weekly television, ‘Underground’. We briefly dipped our toes in the water with the Extreme Horsemen episode of MLW: Anthology. In that review, I made several observations regarding the connections to ECW. Our primary bridges between the two promotions in this first episode of Underground will be Joey Styles on commentary, obviously, and Jerry Lynn inside the ring. Being that this will be the very first episode of Underground I have seen, I have no expectations coming in. While I hope Fusion is able to get back on track sooner than later, I would certainly enjoy having the opportunity to see more of what early 2000s MLW actually had to offer.
Directly out of the gate, the primary ethos of MLW is present in the show opening. MLW prides itself in its diversity of performance. I am not sure if this is the original opening to the show, but I already have warm fuzzy feelings inside because it is so reminiscent of the thing I love. Joey Styles opens the show by immediately stating they are in the “former ECW Arena” and “this is not sports-entertainment”… This all seems so familiar. I must say, and while some might degrade MLW for “copying” ECW, I find it to be absolutely brilliant. The hardcore fan was not being serviced in 2003 unless they had some level of tape-trading knowledge. However, none of this is relevant if MLW can’t deliver on in-ring content:
La Parka vs. Jerry Lynn
So, we start with a man I would refer to as an MLW legend, La Parka, who comes to the ring with his trademark chair that happens to still have an LWO sticker slapped on the bottom. He is, however, half of the man in 2003 that he is now. When it comes to the decade of the 1990s, there are three names that coincide with the phrase “work-rate”: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Jerry Lynn. An unabashed legend in the circles of hardcore fandom, Jerry Lynn was always the response to the potential “blood and guts” complaints surrounding ECW. It fills me with joy that both of these men are still heavily involved in the wrestling business. La Parka still competes in MLW and Jerry Lynn is a coach in All Elite Wrestling.
It seems as though everyone is elated to be inside this particular building watching these particular wrestlers. WCW and ECW had been dead for two years at this point and you can tell the people of Philadelphia were salivating over the potential of this matchup.
What a perfect opener this is. A brilliant example of what people would have seen at the beginning of a WCW pay per view in 1996. It is a fast paced, cruiserweight style match that is meant to get the crowd pumped up for the rest of the show. It is less than ten minutes long, but Jerry Lynn looked like an absolute beast. If you have never seen a Jerry Lynn match and don’t understand why his name is so important, watch this match… and then immediately go watch everything he did with RVD in ECW, because it will definitely drive you to do so.
There is a short package regarding Satoshi Kojima, the MLW World Champion. Kojima, currently a member of the Dad Squad in NJPW along with Nagata and Tenzan, is a Japanese legend. While he was in MLW for a short time, I think it was an inventive decision to put him at the top of the promotion. With lengthy runs in All Japan and New Japan, he is definitely a perfect champion for the hardcore fans MLW was looking to gain. We see a portion of his post-match speech when he won the championship and you can certainly surmise he won the crowd on the night. Chants of “KO-JI-MA” filled the hallowed halls.
There is also a short package illustrating the formation of the Extreme Horsemen after the Corino/Funk/Rhodes match we saw on their episode of Anthology. It is only fifteen minutes into the program and we can already tell who the major players in MLW are. On first viewing, MLW did an excellent job introducing the mantra of the promotion. It is meant to be innovative with Kojima, diverse in its style, and nostalgic without sacrificing new talent. As far as new talent, there are a few short promos from younger performers that actually made me laugh out loud. They were definitely trying their best.
Taiyo Kea vs. Terry “Malice” Tuite
“The Hawaiian Hellraiser” is the next to enter the ring. Being that the other man is already in the ring and didn’t receive any kind of entrance, I am sure we can all assume what the outcome will be. Kea was also one of the younger talents allowed some introductory promo time. According to Styles, Kea is a competitor in All Japan, which is where Kojima was signed at this time as well. I am assuming there was some kind of talent exchange agreement between the two promotions.
While I was expecting a squash match, it was actually a sloppy beef-slapper. Kea had some moments of flash, but I was legitimately worried for his safety. Tuite attempts a basic back drop and didn’t give Kea enough momentum; Kea landed directly on his face. Kea had a nice dragon screw leg whip and won with a pretty northern lights suplex. It wasn’t a squash, but it probably should have been.
Christopher Daniels vs. Vampiro
Now this is a matchup I was definitely looking forward to. Daniels is just as adored in 2003 as he is now. Although, it is a little odd to see spooky Daniels as opposed to SCU Daniels. I know Daniels has spent more years as the Fallen Angel than he has on Being The Elite describing his colonoscopies, but I have become quite accustomed to his jovial nature. Speaking of “spooky”, we get a new stripped down version of Vampiro. He no longer has his trademark face paint and dreadlocks, and he looks like an absolute badass. I find this version of Vampiro significantly more imposing than The Misfits knockoff version of Vampiro. Joey Styles even makes the observation that Vampiro is “no longer sports entertainment, he no longer plays backup guitar for the Insane Clown Posse.” This one might be stiff.
Vampiro immediately uses his size advantage to overpower Daniels; the opening is all mat technique. What I really enjoy about the first few minutes is that it feels like a legitimate fight. I am sure that you would hear chants of “boring” in 2020, but I was able to properly suspend my disbelief. It looks as though Vampiro watched Fight Club for the first time and decided that his new character would be a beefier version of Tyler; he moves slowly and deliberately, stalking Daniels and waiting for him to make a mistake that can be countered.
When Daniels begins striking, the match becomes slightly more competitive. Remember how I said this one might be stiff? Vampiro’s hook kick around 40:17… that is all I need to say. I am guessing MLW had similarly “relaxed” rules as ECW did. Vampiro takes it to the outside and immediately begins beating the life out of the Fallen Angel, including a blatant chair shot to the back. Daniels uses his speed and athleticism to catch Vampiro off guard, allowing the contest to make it back in the ring.
The false finishes here are fantastic: Daniels hits the ‘Best Moonsault Ever’, Vampiro answers with a top rope overhead belly to belly. I legitimately thought Daniels was going to clear the ring, and I am not being hyperbolic. The actual finish is disappointing in the context of the false finishes; Vampiro hits a “Sambow Suplex” which is just a Rock Bottom. Maybe you should have ended it after throwing a man the entire length of the ring, Vampiro. Just a thought.
Beyond the finish, I really enjoyed this match as a television main event. It felt like legitimate combat and made me think I need to go back and watch some Vampiro matches. I was always WWF over WCW, so I am open to suggestions! I was completely out of wrestling in between 2003 and 2016, so it is always enjoyable to see legends whom I respect in matches I had no idea existed.
I absolutely love what MLW was attempting to do at this period in time. As an introductory episode of television, they did everything they needed to do; introduce the characters; storylines; and the overall vibe of the promotion. It was something brand new yet they figured out a way to make it seem familiar. In a time where WWE was suffocating the rest of the business, we saw the rise of the independent scene. Ring of Honor and NWA:TNA were not far behind at this point, and all of these promotions gave wrestlers the chance to prove themselves when WWE may have said it wasn’t their time. I cannot wait to see what other hidden gems Underground has lurking in the shadows.