It feels like Underground has essentially settled into what it truly was. I have no doubt that the video specials were fantastic overall, and in the early 2000s video sales would have been far meatier than we may feel they would be in 2020. The episodic television show seems to act as an advertisement for live events and video sales more so than a wrestling show. I am well aware that wrestling television has always served to advertise in such a way, but the key word is “wrestling”; something that has been markedly absent from the previous month of Underground television.
However, I don’t really care if we only get one match on this episode because that one match would be Mike Awesome versus Satoshi Kojima for the MLW Championship. To be fair, the promotion ran a couple of the “video specials” back to back, so I can understand (in hindsight) that MLW didn’t possess a back catalogue that would have been capable of yielding enough content for a three or four match television show they would have given away for free. Business is business, after all. It has definitely been a bit messy in the first three months of production, but it was the first three months of production… as a brand new company… in the mid-2000s…they had quite a bit working against them. I really want to feel what I felt in those initial weeks of the program, because… dude…that was such a cool show. The diversity of performers was absolutely stellar with secret bangers I never would have known existed.
As I type, what I wish to see appears on the screen. Jerry Lynn is coming to the ring with his partner, Christopher Daniels. Lynn is in full gear… we have got a match ladies and gentlemen. A Jerry Lynn match, and we have not seen one of these on Underground in a LONG time.
Lynn and Daniels come down to the ring and start berating the crowd. While Daniels is obviously well versed in the heel promo at this point, it is really interesting to hear Lynn try to do the same. He actually does an ok job, relying on a worked-shoot style. He talks about Paul London and how Paul should be embarrassed for missing this show because his father is in the hospital (what a wuss, right?) Meanwhile, Lynn has missed the birth of his children because he was wrestling. You may call it dedication—I call it a mismanagement of priorities. Jerry then proposes an open challenge to anyone in the back and Kid Romeo answers.
Jerry Lynn vs. Kid Romeo
All I know of Kid Romeo is that he was a cruiserweight in the latter days of WCW. He looks like an incredible athlete, so I have to imagine he and Lynn will be working at an elevated pace. It is really amazing to know that Lynn finally has the legendary status that he has always deserved, and I’m sure that has to do with the fact that the current generation of active wrestlers could be referred to as the “fan generation”. Wrestlers in their 20s and 30s grew up idolizing the work-rate of Lynn in ECW and across the indies after the death of the Philadelphia promotion. While he wasn’t the greatest promo and didn’t have the most interesting character, what he did in the ring has had a lasting impact on the current product. His style is so visible in some of the matches you will see on AEW Dynamite. He is the perfect producer for that show and AEW seem genuinely happy to have him there.
I REALLY want to know just how much MLW cut from some of these television matches. Every time Underground comes back from commercial we see wrestlers laid out or in rest holds…literally every episode. It is almost as if they cut the wrong two minutes from every show. After the rest holds, we get about three minutes of really fun wrestling, but nothing spectacular. While this three minute match may have been outlandish in 2003 because you don’t normally see guys working at that speed, it doesn’t really hold up to expectations in 2020. I would have loved to see about ten more minutes of these two because they seemed to have an interesting chemistry.
Surprisingly, we get a short backstage segment between the Extreme Horsemen and Mike Awesome where Steve Corino propositions Awesome for a title shot if big Mike is able to take out Kojima. Annoyed by their parasitic presence, Awesome agrees simply to get them off his back. Why is this surprising? Simple: the only exposition we ever see on this show is either Joey Styles doing his best to tie everything together or a wrestler cutting a promo straight into the camera. While backstage interaction is something you constantly see on wrestling television, we haven’t seen it throughout any of the previous eleven episodes.
Another surprise: Raven and CM Punk have their own abbreviated interaction. Perhaps my assumption about the thin backlog is accurate. We have NEVER seen more than one wrestler in a particular location at any given time (aside from the Samoan Island Tribe beating down Los Maximos after their initial match). At this point, MLW may have been able to catch up. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Corino presents the same proposition to Kojima that he gave to Awesome. This is literally the first piece of character building we have seen outside of the ring in MLW up to this point. I now know that Corino is willing to lie, cheat and steal in order to get his grubby little hands on that MLW title. This television episode actually feels like an episode of television, and I don’t know if I have ever been able to say that about Underground.
Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Mike Awesome—MLW World Heavyweight Championship
Oh my god….There are twenty-five minutes left in this episode and Mike Awesome is making his way down to the ring. I was really worried that this match was going to be a re-hash of the Johnny Smith match against Kojima that only went about eight minutes on television. This is a real main event, people. I don’t care if we only see three legitimate minutes of an extended squash match as our only other match if we are getting a legitimate half-hour main event. I am really high on this at the moment.
What I am about to say is contextually complimentary: Mike Awesome was a freak of nature. He would have been a killer in any decade, an absolutely timeless performer. I truly wish he were around today to see just how much people appreciated him as an entertainer. From timeless to ageless, one astounding thing about watching Kojima from this period of time is seeing how little his work has actually changed over the years. While a step slower in 2020, his work in the empty arena era for New Japan was a lot of fun to watch. I especially enjoyed watching him work with Young Lions such as Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura…you should be watching New Japan if you aren’t already.
This started as a legitimate beef slapper and it looked like it was going to be a STIFF war between heavyweights. When they introduce a chair into the ring, it gets a bit weird. Neither of them are hitting each other with even half of their potential power. Keep in mind, this crowd is made up of people thirsty, aching even, for what ECW can no longer give them. You don’t want to hear chuckles and boos during a beef slapper because the beefy boys aren’t slapping the beef hard enough.
After a wonky couple of minutes, they start getting it together. No-selling clotheslines, Awesome splashing from the top rope, Kojima kicking out of the Awesome Bomb; while this match isn’t quite as physically intense as I assumed it would be, it is still a solid competition between two old-school heavyweights.
The crowd obviously wants blood because they are essentially dead, even after Kojima gets the visible pin on Awesome post lariato that can’t be counted after the referee gets knocked out. Awesome is able to recover and put Kojima through a table in order to get the pin. Only when Awesome wins the belt does the crowd really come alive. I complimented this match for its solid work only a few minutes ago, but I assumed we were only about one-third of the way through the main event. In reality, what looked like a slow burn was a crescendo. The match was only ten minutes long and all in all, pretty disappointing. I have seen both of these men look ten times better than they did here. Perhaps they didn’t have the chemistry, or maybe Kojima wasn’t fond of the hardcore elements, but this was not a very good title match. Especially considering the amount of time MLW spent on making Kojima look like the ace of the company. Either way, the crowd seems to be going home happy. I was worried about getting another Johnny Smith match… I can say with relative ease, the Smith match was significantly better. My big question: what happens for the next ten minutes?!
My question is immediately answered when Steve Corino makes his way down to the ring in his gear. Is he going to attempt to cash in his challenge, or is this simply going to be an Extreme Horsemen beat-down? (post-match edit: both) Corino’s promo actually illustrates my biggest problem with MLW up to this point; he goes down the list of legends he has beat in an MLW ring: Vampiro, Sandman, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk… and we have seen almost none of it. Once again, I understand the concept of video sales, but this was twenty years ago, Court. Put it on YouTube.
Somehow, Corino has the stroke to make his title challenge official at any time, because Steve punches Mike in the face and the bell rings.
Steve Corino vs. Mike Awesome—MLW World Heavywieght Championship
Corino immediately starts bumping his ass off when Awesome throws him into the crowd and promptly begins bashing Corino’s brains in with a steel chair. This match has been happening for a total of ninety seconds and I am already FAR more entertained than I was during the previous championship match. I don’t know if MLW has ever officially established that matches are allowed to run under hardcore rules at any time, as they were in ECW, but that is exactly what is happening here. Corino literally gets thrown through a table and when it seems impossible that he would be able to win, Corino’s fellow Horsemen come down to make the save. After the tag team champions distract Awesome, Corino hits Awesome with a superkick and gets the pin.
I actually adore how angry the crowd is in response to the domination of the Extreme Horsemen in MLW. Corino is the MLW Champion and the duo of Simon Diamond and CW Anderson are tag team champions. The Extreme Horsemen (more so Corino) have subtly been the most entertaining thing on this show. While Diamond and Anderson aren’t phenomenal promos, Corino is a master on the stick. I have to imagine that this will be the beginning of a necessary shift toward a more episodic nature when it comes to Underground.
This was easily the best TELEVISION episode of Underground to date. While the majority of the action in-ring was sub-par at best, this was the first time we had storytelling executed through interactions backstage. With Corino and the Horsemen now running MLW, I feel as though we may begin to see a greater deal of consistency in the way the shows are actually put together. The Horsemen have legitimate heat, and I hope the company is able to utilize that to its full potential. Actually… based on my viewing of MLW: Anthology, I know for a fact that the promotion attempted to utilize it… stay tuned.