Thursday 21 August 2014

AWBA: Power Rankings (Shows)

Disclaimer: Following on my recent trend for slightly different articles, I decided to discuss the variety of promotions around the world that's currently tickling my fancy.  There's a term on predominately American sports websites called Power Rankings that rates each company in order from best to worst, updated every week. Well, I can't promise to do this every week, and I'm certainly not going to talk about every single wrestling show out there, but here is a wee bit about the wrestling shows that have captivated me lately.

#1 - New Japan Pro Wrestling
I just can't get enough of New Japan Pro Wrestling right now. Maybe it's the mystery and intrigue. NJPW isn't readily available in the UK and I have to give huge props to my Canadian buddy Brad, whose love of Japanese wrestling has kept me semi-interested for years.

Outside of reading about the comings and goings of various champions, tag teams and of course Prince Devitt, I hadn't really watched a lot of New Japan until this year, where I made a concentrated effort to "catch up". I am currently at the beginning of July which means I have the G1 Climax ahead of me. So excited.

I just can't get enough of the NEVER Openweight championship. Former champions Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii are two wrestlers whose matches I cannot miss. Their battles together were amazing. Ishii in particular really impresses me with his strong-style blows and ability to absorb punishment. It can be a bit off-putting to begin with, as his matches seemingly begin with bouts of "no-selling", but it builds to tell an amazing story by match end. Other than their battles with each other, a relatively recent fight between Naito and Bad Luck Fale showed off Naito's style against a big beast of a man. Tomohiro Ishii vs Kota Ibushi is another match worth checking out, probably my most favourite match watched this month.

Besides the hard hitting matches, there is a lot of aerial work in New Japan. Ricochet is a great one to check out for that. The aforementioned Bad Luck Fale really works the "big guy" stuff so well, I'm surprised WWE aren't sniffing around.

So, there is a great mix of styles. From a pure wrestling point of view, I really can't get away from New Japan. I don't even need to know what the storylines are, however it is always good to do a little checking up. A lot of personal battles and history spanning back years goes into many of the matches, but really the beauty is in the physical story-telling. I'm very excited to catch up on the last 6 weeks worth of matches, and it is that excitement which propels NJPW to the top of my inaugural rankings.

#2 - Fierce Females
So, I've talked about Fierce Females a fair bit here already. Even did a wee interview with FF wrestler Bete Noire. But what is it about this company that so excites me?

As has been described previously, 2014 was a rebirth for the Fierce Females company. From their first show of the year in the Source Wrestling School, without the Fierce Females champion Kay Lee Ray to headline it no less, all the way to the incredibly well-received return to Glasgow city centre wherein three of the top talents in the world were involved in a main event worthy of any PPV, Fierce Females has been represented by talent and fans that are dedicated.

I saw the same hunger to put on a great night of entertainment from the wrestlers in front of the few dozens who turned up to that first show of the year as I did at Walkabout. Every wrestler on the roster gives their all and drags you into the action and stories. Likewise, I see passion in the eyes of my fellow fans that goes beyond the usual well-meaning but ultimately patronising refrains of "it might be female wrestling, but it's good" or "it's not like the Divas on WWE". The passion I see is simply that this is a great show, every show.

There are three shows coming up - two unexpected returns to Walkabout on Sunday 31st August and a charity night on October 26th, then the scheduled event on November 23rd. There are a ton of stories that could and should be told by the end of the year. Bete Noire's losing streak. Courtney's ascendancy from dancer to wrestler. Fiona Fraser's burgeoning brutality. The Owens Twins unbreakable will. Viper's quest for fairness. Nikki Storm's chase of the championship. The unholy unity of Sara, Carmel and Fierce Females Champion Kay Lee Ray.

That is a strong enough showing for any roster, but Fierce Females excels in bringing in the best of the best talent. Pre-2014 there were the likes of Portia Perez, Rhia O'Reilly, Awesome Kong and Crazy Mary Dobson. In this new age there is Penelope, Saraya, Lana Austin, Layla Rose and Sammi Baynz.

The fact that I have missed out so many names speaks volumes. A mix of new faces, growing storylines, excellent wrestling, passion and sheer brutality has me counting down the days to each event.

#3 - Insane Championship Wrestling
My head all week, since I first thought of this article, has been saying "ICW for #1, ICW for #1", but I've got to be honest. Maybe it's because I've missed so many shows this year (six so far) but it's truly number 3 right now. That will maybe all change as I have tickets for every show (bar two of the England ones) for the rest of the year.

Anyway, there is still plenty to be excited about. In fact, it is sometimes surreal to think about how much greatness ICW has produced already this year. Let's start with the ICW Heavyweight Champion, Jack Jester. He has provided us with insane levels of entertainment and brutality with seemingly no end in sight. Sabu is still gunning for his blood. Drew Galloway has recently returned home and is gunning for his blood. Chris Renfrew's shenanigans since winning the Square Go briefcase have provided endless sources of entertainment and he has still got that title shot to come. His NAK stablemate Darkside also has a title shot due, and after providing so many great matches with Joe Coffey you can expect it to be a corker. Speaking of Joe Coffey, although both he and James Scott (Darkside) had a three-way dance already, many are pegging him as the true heir to Jester's title. I feel like I'm forgetting someone... oh yeah, only England's greatest export in Jimmy Havoc. There are so many challengers constantly baying for Jester's title, there is no arguing that this is the most sought after prize in British wrestling.

I'm exhausted already, and I haven't even mentioned the Zero-G title (which is in the hands of another man who can claim to be owed an ICW Heavyweight Title shot, the "true" ICW Champion Mark Coffey) or the Tag Team titles (which have been sought after by the likes of Holland's Sumerian Death Squad and America's Colt Cabana). Both of these divisions regularly provide the most exciting matches in the history of wrestling.

Upcoming, ICW have a plethora of shows. A final showing in Edinburgh for the Fringe will take place on Sunday, followed by a return to Glasgow and the in-ring return of Drew Galloway. A show in September will showcase some of the best up-and-coming ICW stars which is more than strong enough to be a show on it's own. October will see a tour of four English cities, great for the company but not so much for my bank balance. But on a serious note, I have been lauding ICW for years to my friends and I am glad I am getting to share this with my Liverpool and Leeds pals. (My Birmingham pals have been told to go on my behalf!). Finally, November will see ICW take on the gargantuan Barrowlands venue. Considering that last year they were worried about tackling the ABC, which holds around half the capacity of Barrowlands, speaks volumes.

Who could forget the success of the BBC documentary "Insane Fight Club" also? A sequel is currently being filmed.

I'm excited. #3 is no mark against the company, the gaps between NJPW, FF and ICW are miniscule right now. Which is more than I can say for going further down the list.

#4 - NXT
I don't talk a lot about wrestling outwith Britain, but I do watch WWE and other American companies, of course. Of them all, NXT has consistently been the best, from the reign of Big E Langston all the way to the NXT Arrival event. But then something happened. The show began to lose its luster.

Emma, Paige and Bo Dallas went up to the WWE "big leagues" to mixed results. Yes, others were "promoted", but those three felt like the biggest losses to the NXT show.

Adrian Neville is without doubt one of the greatest athletes in WWE, but as a Champion, I haven't been feeling him. Intuitively, Sami Zayn feels like he should be king - he has the athleticism of Neville, but also connects more with the crowd and has more versatility in the ring.

Tyler Breeze had a shocking victory at NXT Takeover, but it felt right. His cockiness and vanity felt like a refreshing throwback to Adonis characters of old, but with more of the charm of Shawn Michaels than the brawn of Lex Luger. Yet he has disappeared a bit lately.

It isn't all doom and gloom though (of course, this is number four!). Tyson Kidd and Natalya have been a revelation with their heel/face partnership. The Vaudevillains are genuinely the first tag team I have given the slightest care about in NXT. The three wrestlers I previously mentioned can rebound at any time given slight tweaks to their characters. The female division is still the strongest on American TV - Bayley, Charlotte and Sasha Banks are infinitely watchable, although not quite on the tier of Paige, Emma and Natalya's battles. Who can forget the newcomers flocking in the door - Kenta, Kevin Steen and Fergal Devitt.

The future is very bright. Although the actual show itself has been more miss than hit with me lately, the talent on show excites me more than the other American TV shows. I just hope some more storylines and character begins to shine through to back up the talent.

#5 - TNA Impact
Now, I said I wasn't going to list every company and show in these Rankings, and I'm sorry for the many shows I am looking forward to, but I am cutting this off at 5.

Why TNA? Well, first a brief history lesson. TNA got me back into wrestling. I lost interest in the sport around the time that WCW folded. I was, upon reflection, more of a WCW and ECW fan than WWF fan, back in the day. When the end was coming, I didn't like where it was going. It wasn't the "dream". It wasn't all Stone Cold v Goldberg, Tommy Dreamer v Mankind. It was disappointing, so I bailed. I found other interests.

Fast forward almost a decade. I had been keeping an eye on bits and bobs. I knew of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Edge's rise to single star prominence, etc. But I didn't care. Then I found myself without money and relying on free TV for entertainment. Challenge is on free TV. TNA is on free TV. I didn't have a lot to do with my Sunday nights. So I'd throw on a pizza, chill a drink and watch TNA. It was actually quite good fun. Soap opera storylines, good wrestling, a mixture of high-flying, tag team, female and main event styles. I don't care about the stigmas, I enjoyed it fully and unabashedly.

But then I started watching WWE again. CM Punk enthralled me. Daniel Bryan entertained me. I found ICW. There was other wrestling out there. TNA was relying on Jeff Hardy staying sober, Hulk Hogan staying coherent, rehashing the same storyline over and over. It was slowly losing its luster, but I hung in there. Bobby Roode and Austin Aires had phenomenal title runs. But the stupidity and constant change got the better of me.

Claire Lynch.

I quit. I kept trying to come back, but it was to things such as the X Division suddenly being triple threat only. It was to Zema Ion being reduced to the Bro Mans DJ. It was to Magnus being dropped like a hot potato because Eric Young had a beard.

But lately it's been better. It's finding it's groove again. It isn't perfect, and I still skip a lot, but I find myself watching more of it by % than RAW (like 33%) and Smackdown (like 0%). I find myself watching more of TNA than I do WWE PPVs. Something is working, the crowd in the last few shows in New York has been electric at points, and Bully Ray putting Dixie Carter through a table is the type of moment that TNA can do so well, like when Bully was revealed as the leader of Aces & Eights.

It needs the changes it has always needed, but step by tiny step, I am beginning to enjoy Impact again.

There is a lot of stuff I've missed here, but these are my Power Rankings for right now. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments and maybe provide your own Power Rankings? As always, you can email me at or @AWBAblog on Twitter if you want a chat.

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