First and foremost, MLW has tweeted out a photo of a revamped Fusion set in which to film shows. Let us rejoice. That being said, we better see all of the matches Joey Styles has been freaking out about in the upcoming episodes of Underground! If I have to hear “TABOO IN ORLANDO” one more time without a payoff… I riot… not really, but I will definitely be annoyed. I was admittedly not all that excited about last week’s episode of Underground considering the main event was a match I had seen previously and there was quite a lot of good wrestling happening elsewhere in the actual present. With the return of GCW and NJPW, the looming return of MLW, and the ability to attend Reality of Wrestling in a drive-in format (my hometown promotion), I am in a far better mood this weekend.
Focusing on Underground specifically, even though I wasn’t very hot on the show, the program itself was able to pull me back in. Intriguing storylines involving Sabu, La Parka, Vampiro, Raven, Jerry Lynn and Satoshi Kojima have led to me to hop right back on the bandwagon. What I find perplexing is the lack of general knowledge surrounding MLW from this time. Perhaps the companies such as ROH and TNA garner more respect in hindsight due to the fact that they never ceased to exist for a period of time. However, MLW was filling a massive hole in the industry the other two were not. ROH was the work-rate company, TNA was more WCW with its use of veterans; I have said it before and I will say it again: early 2000s MLW was a fantastic surrogate for ECW. Between the three companies previously mentioned, they were all hitting on a market going untapped by WWE. ROH and TNA seem to get credit for doing so and MLW unfairly do not. If nothing else, MLW is garnering the reputation they sorely deserve with the content it has produced in the last two years, but the first two years are potentially far more interesting than the vast majority of the wrestling fan-base had believed up to this point.
Super Crazy vs. Fuego Guerrero
We start this episode with two pure luchadores. Two things are illustrated right off the bat: Super Crazy is a former ECW Television Champion (I imagine it is fairly obvious why I am pointing that out) and true to MLW’s mission statement, we are getting a pure style, Lucha Libre, which we have yet to see on an episode of Underground. We HAVE seen Fuego Guerrero cutting a few promos throughout the previous three episodes with a flashier mask than we see here, as well as his beloved (I’m guessing) Ribera Steakhouse jacket. Wearing that jacket is a major flex. If you aren’t sure why, you should do a little research — it’s a fun piece of useless trivia. Little nuggets of wrestling information such as that are what pulled me so deep into the pit of obsession. Wrestling is a strange little world that exists exclusive to anything else, and I love it for that.
Being that it is the debut of Fuego, the crowd is all the way behind Super Crazy because of their familiarity with him. What Fuego lacks in size, he makes up for in agility. After a few lucha arm drags and head scissors getting the best of Super Crazy, the crowd begins re-thinking whom they should align with. Styles says this is the first time these two have ever met in the ring, which is either a lie or these gentlemen simply had immediate chemistry with one another. Halfway through the match and this is already everything I want out of an opener involving luchadores. The best adjective to describe this match is that it has “snap”. Both men look absolutely awesome and it’s pretty hilarious to see just how much the crowd freaks out after Guerrero’s corkscrew plancha to the outside. The reason I find it hilarious is because that is a move you’re almost certain to see at a random indie show in 2020! Well… maybe not certain, but the probability is high.
Nonetheless, this is a high octane opener which establishes the legitimacy of both competitors, and we get two MORE fantastic wrestlers entered into the canon of Underground.
After the match, Joey Styles hypes MLW’s upcoming matches, with Masato Tanaka going up against Mike Awesome, as well as the bout between Raven and Vampiro. I would like to point out what an exquisite job Joey Styles did with narrating the entire program. Yes, there have been some promos from wrestlers, Raven most notably, but Styles is doing almost all of the work by himself. These first few episodes have basically been a random assortment of matches that would have no continuity if the audience were left to interpret it themselves. Styles is essential in holding the programs together in order to make them feel like actual episodic television shows. That guy is an unbelievable talent.
Steve Corino is another standout from these shows. He is one of the few performers that have consistently had promos aired on television. Basically, he spends all of his time thrashing Terry Funk, but he does so in a legitimately engaging fashion. Corino has rebranded the original Four Horsemen shtick into something slightly more modern, moving beyond the cars and women and focusing on actual social class.
One final comment on the intermission: the soundtrack for this episode is bringing me back to high school in a significant way… Powerman 5000, Rage Against The Machine, Deftones, 50 Cent… good times.
We have more luchadores! While we are getting two lucha matches in a row, you won’t see me complaining. Of course, La Parka is a legend, but I am unfamiliar with Shocker. His bleach blonde hair, along with his silver and blue tights, certainly fits the name. After a bit of research I found that he is a decorated veteran of CMLL, AAA, NJPW and Impact. While only in Impact and AAA for a short period of time, he has been a CMLL Tag Team and Light Heavyweight Champion as well as an NWA Light Heavyweight Champion. Did I also watch the clip of The Shockmaster’s debut since I was reminded by the name? Yes… yes I did. Is that still one of the greatest things to ever happen in professional wrestling? Yes… yes it is.
The crowd is once again forming an immediate allegiance with the more familiar wrestler. La Parka cuts those ties almost immediately by pretending to hold out his hand in respect to Shocker, only to slap him in the face. After a lightning fast opening exchange the crowd starts a chant of “lucha libre”. I’m going to go ahead and agree with them. It has been sixty seconds and I am all the way on board. A few minutes in, La Parka finds himself on the outside with his trusty chair nearby. While La Parka is essentially playing dead, Shocker attempts a suicide dive… and this is not a Seth Rollins suicide dive at half speed, he really goes for it. As Shocker is perfectly perpendicular to La Parka, that trusty ol’ chair gets swung like a baseball bat straight to the top of Shocker’s head. I literally gasped… and then I had to rewind it a few times. At least La Parka gives him a minute to rest.
Shocker gets his legs up in response to a La Parka top rope attempt, which allows the match to be brought back to an even playing field. Until, that is, La Parka hits a fantastic dropkick as Shocker attempts to come off the top rope. Both men continue to drop absolute bombs on one another. I appreciate how they have built the severity of the offense throughout the match. They aren’t performing big moves for the sake of looking impressive; these two men are evenly matched and have to find a way to take each other out.
As well built as the match was, the final minute came off slightly disjointed. The offence both men were using in the final minutes did not actually match the intensity of the offence earlier in the match. Nevertheless, as I’m sure you could guess, La Parka comes out on top and looks strong going into the feud with Sabu.
We then get a promo from the tag team of The Extreme Horsemen, CW Anderson and Simon Diamond, building up their Global Tag Team Championship Tournament Final against PJ Friedman and Steve Williams. It’s rather strange because the outcome of that match seems all but solidified. In an earlier promo from Williams, Friedman’s mentor, he spends the entirety of the promo beating up his protégé! That doesn’t exactly make your team look very strong going into the final, especially because Steve Williams is so obviously past his prime at this point. I understand what they were attempting to do, but the optics are something to be questioned.
We also get a rebuttal from Terry Funk to Steve Corino. Talk about a man past his physical prime, I don’t understand how Funk was even walking at this point. I believe this was already five years after his last “retirement”, but what does it really matter? Two things Funk understood in his later years: Red = Green, brother; and how to talk people into the building. You knew Funk would do something wild, and he could remind you why you loved him whenever he opened his mouth.
Taiyo Kea vs. Sabu
This match begins with a bit of exposition from Joey Styles. The Uncle of Sabu, the original Sheik, and the uncle of Kea, Curtis Iaukea, apparently have significant history in the ring together. This hasn’t necessarily informed the story of the matchup to this point, but it’s a fun piece of history that I’m glad Styles shared. I always appreciate a new nugget of wrestling knowledge. Remember how I was reminiscing on the music from this show? Well, Kea comes out to “Blind” by the band Korn… If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the song that starts off with “ARE YOU REAAAAADDYYYYYY?!” that would get me and my middle school football teammates absolutely jacked before a game. We thought we were so cool…yeah. Speaking of “cool”, Kea looks like a Mortal Kombat character that is stuck in The Matrix. In a previous episode, Kea looked COMPLETELY different. He went from being an extraordinarily bland babyface to a new millennium ass-kicker. Sabu, of course, always looks cool.
Sabu is unfortunately escorted to the ring by Bill Alfonso. I have a burning hatred for Alfonso that equals the intensity of one thousand suns. I would not be able to articulate it properly, but his very presence fills me with anger. I’m sure it all started from that whistle… that damned whistle! If he starts blowing on the whistle during this match, it is probably (definitely) going to ruin the entire experience. While I will try my hardest to maintain objectivity, I can’t make any promises.
To be fair, Bill is being more conservative with his whistle use… but I still hate his face. He’s the type of guy you can almost guarantee has bad breath. He is a heel, so I suppose it works in his favor. Enough about Bill, the match starts off fairly hot with a battle of submissions on the mat. I laughed pretty hard when Sabu dove at Kea’s ankles and Kea moved out of the way. Sabu looked like he was in an episode of Looney Toons, diving for Bugs Bunny as he disappeared back into his hole after doing something incorrigible. After a commercial break, Sabu and Kea find themselves on the outside and Sabu wants to do Sabu things. I feel justified in my hatred of Alfonso because Sabu asks him for a chair in order to do his vault over the ropes, but Sabu is visibly annoyed because Alfonso legitimately wasn’t ready for the spot. Ah, vindication. Once Sabu completes the spot (which he doesn’t always complete, so round of applause there), Alfonso is late AGAIN bringing a table to Sabu. I am enjoying how visibly frustrated Sabu is with this man… and with that, unless it directly relates to the finish, Bill Alfonso will not be mentioned again!
Kea catches Sabu before he can set up the table, which leads both men back to the inside of the ring. Sabu’s offense is really fun to watch the first time you see it — this cannot be overstated — but after twenty years of him performing his greatest hits, they are falling a little flat for me here. I’m more interested in what Kea has to offer and we haven’t really seen much up to this point. Kea has moments of explosiveness, but that’s all we really get: moments.
The crowd was also fairly dead up to this point. These are all obviously the old ECW faithful in New York, so perhaps my feelings on Sabu are shared by the audience. Without an actual storyline going into the match, there aren’t any real immediate reasons to be invested in what’s happening. That is, until Sabu hits Kea with a leg drop through a table on the outside from the top rope. We are all excited once more.
As in the previous match, the television viewer has a good idea of who is going over at the end of this one, considering Sabu’s ongoing storyline with La Parka and the upcoming Mexican Massacre Match (whatever that is). We finally get some real offence out of Kea with his explosive martial arts kicks, specifically a back hook kick which looked absolutely stunning. Kea is a large man: martial arts manoeuvres such as those done by a man Kea’s size look devastating! The crowd appreciates such things as well. However, Kea gets distracted and finds a chair flying directly into his face. After more chair-centric offense from Sabu, Kea is able to come back with a series of excellent looking cutters, the last one starting with Sabu on Kea’s shoulders (which is referred to as the H 5-0). Kea gets the pin! I was legitimately shocked! Just look at the first sentence of this paragraph. I write these reviews in real time, I had no clue this was the finish. Good on MLW for promoting their young talent. Even though Kea was also working in All Japan at this time, MLW was his primary western promotion. It’s nice to see they were putting some faith in unknown performers as opposed to just giving veterans all of the wins. I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering MLW made Satoshi Kojima their inaugural champion. They weren’t afraid of taking risks. Speaking of Kojima, Styles explicitly states that Kea has Kojima in his sights.
Underground continues to be an interesting product four weeks in. They have done an excellent job utilizing the resources at hand to construct coherent long-term stories. As I said, much of this has to do with the wonderful exposition of Joey Styles tying everything together, but you wouldn’t have a wresting show without good wrestling. While MLW of 2003 is very much ECW with a new coat of paint, you can tell the company is trying to make its own way in the wrestling world. MLW wouldn’t have been able to survive on nostalgia alone and they seemed to be aware of that. While many of the younger performers are given the rub by veterans in tag teams or are putting veterans over, you can tell there is a level of investment. That hypothesis was driven home by Taiyo Kea’s victory over Sabu. Considering Super Crazy’s win earlier in the episode, I figured it was as good as guaranteed Sabu would win in the main event. MLW had a lot of confidence in performers such as Kea, and that is illustrated in the booking. We are still marching toward this Orlando show and I am legitimately excited about it. I’m especially excited about Tanaka and Awesome. If you have seen ANY of their matches, they set a precedent that is difficult to match. They were able to deliver at One Night Stand. I hope they can do so on “May 9th”.