WrestleMania 35 Week in Review: Bloodsport, Impact, NXT, ROH, NJPW and WWE

wrestlemania 35 arena
(Photo by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.)

Reviewing some of the shows that took place during the biggest week of the year for pro wrestling.

Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport

White Eagle Hall, Jersey City, New Jersey

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Favorite match: Josh Barnett vs. Minoru Suzuki

Bloodsport was a really fun show to watch. The promotion is basically worked MMA fights mixed with pro wrestling. It was just straight matches without any rounds or breaks. There were no ring ropes. The match could only be won by submission, knockout or disqualification. They ran a nice venue that was more of an intimate setting, with the fans right up near the ring. The production quality was solid, with good lighting and sound. Josh Barnett also gets bonus points for having excellent taste in music, as evident by him wearing a King Diamond shirt while signing his new contract with Bellator. Bloodsport is under the Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) banner, who were running several other independent shows during WrestleMania weekend.

Phil Baroni faced Dominic Garrini in the opening match. Barono is a former MMA fighter who has done pro wrestling for a few years. Garrini comes from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has also wrestled for a couple years. Baroni needs to challenge Joey Ryan for the penis gimmick. During his entrance he kept dancing around like Shawn Michaels and taunting the fans. He’s really charismatic and comes off like a big heel. Baroni originally knocked out Garrini with a straight punch but the referee reversed the decision after Baroni attacked him. This was an entertaining opener.

J.R. Kratos faced Simon Gotch, who was working under the name Simon Grimm. Kratos is a pro wrestler who works several independent promotions in California. He also looks like he just got out of prison and was much bigger than Grimm. They did a lot of grappling. Kratos had a busted nose. At one point Grimm tried to go for his Gotch piledriver but didn’t get it. The referee stopped the match at around nine minutes after Kratkos gave Grimm a flying elbow as he laid on the mat. It was a nasty shot. This was another really good match.

Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Killer Kross from Impact Wrestling was great. Both guys went back and forth with submissions. They seemed pretty evenly matched. They were hitting each other stiff with open slaps and strikes. A few times they had their submissions broken up because they were too close to the edge of the ring. It looked like each guy was close to tapping before the seperations. Smith tapped out Kross with a crossface after delivering a backdrop suplex. They went a little over 12 minutes.

Most of the show had a lot of striking, ground game and grappling. They started introducing time limits like halfway though the show. The referees seemed to be a lot stricter on enforcing the rules, like if guys were too close to the edge of the ring they would break up the submissions or push them back.

Jonathan Gresham faced Masashi Takeda, who does a lot of deathmatch stuff in Japan. Gresham is really talented and has a lot of potential in the pro wrestling world. Takeda’s body was all scarred up. He won the match by referee stoppage at close to seven minutes after rocking Gresham with a right punch and knee to the face. Takeda was busted up and bleeding above his left eye. Gresham got a lot of offense in and looked good. At one point they went outside the ring and were slapping each other heavily. This was a solid match.

Andy Williams faced Chris Dickinson next. Both guys are pro wrestlers, while Williams is also the guitarist for Every Time I Die. Williams has a tremendous mustache. This one only went a few minutes but was exciting throughout. It started off hot with both guys striking each other then moved to the ground. Dickinson ended up tapping out Williams with a rear naked choke.

Frank Mir faced Dan Severn (who is now 60-years-old) in a fast match that ended with Severn quickly tapping to a heel hook. It felt more like an exhibition instead of a full on match. This was actually Mir’s debut into the pro wrestling world. Afterwards Mir cut a promo and called out Brock Lesnar for what seemed like a pro wrestling match.

Timothy Thatcher vs. Hideki Suzuki was excellent. There was a lot of grappling, slaps, kicks and tosses. Both guys were connecting with stiff shots. Thatcher got hit with a couple suplexes in a row and looked completely out of it, so the ref called the match.

Josh Barnett vs. Minoru Suzuki was the main event with a 20 minute time limit. Suzuki got a big reaction when he came out. The whole crowd sang his “Kaze ni Nare” theme song. The building broke into loud “Bloodsport” chants before the match started. Barnett and Suzuki went to a 20 minute draw. They did a lot of grappling, ground work and submissions. The last minute had both guys striking the crap out of each other nonstop. Afterwards the referee gave them an extra five minutes and it went to a draw again. This was a great main event that the fans were also into.

The show lasted a little over two hours. It was an entertaining card with a good mix of fighting and pro wrestling aspects. There was a strong lineup of guys on the show too. At $14.99, it’s definitely worth watching and the concept works well.

Impact Wrestling: United We Stand

Rahway Recreation Center, Rahway, New Jersey

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Favorite match: Rich Swann vs. Flamita

I haven’t seen Impact’s television show in many months, probably since they were still on the POP TV network. I don’t have cable and they upload the show to their on demand Global Wrestling Network a few weeks on delay. While they also stream the show live on Twitch every Friday night, they don’t upload it afterwards to YouTube or on Twitch replay so they make it difficult to consistently follow the program. Moving the company to the relatively unknown Pursuit Channel makes it even harder watch. There’s just so much wrestling content out there these days (and high-quality on top of that) that Impact gets overshadowed.

There were eight matches on the card. The theme of the show were wrestlers from different companies like AAA, Lucha Underground and Major League Wrestling facing off against the Impact roster.

Unfortunately United We Stand had horrible production quality. The building they ran was too dark and it was pretty evident they were in some gymnasium. The lighting on the ring wasn’t good and looked off. The video quality of the show looked like it was filmed on an older camera. The show’s sound quality was bad. You couldn’t hear the ring announcer introducing anyone. Some of the theme songs were loud while others sounded lighter. The ring wasn’t mic’d well, so you couldn’t hear the effects of the moves properly, either missing them completely (like strikes) or them sounding far away (big spots). The crowd’s reactions didn’t sound great either. During the first match the entire audio cut out completely for like a minute at different points a few times, so there was just dead silence. When they were doing backstage promos you could barely hear what anyone was saying. The camera shooting was subpar. They missed several spots throughout the show and transitions between moves were bad. The camera was often shaky and not stabilized well. The entire show just came across as too indie. For a company that has been around for almost 17 years this wasn’t a good look.

The show’s announcing was mostly a miss. Josh Mathews is basically a worse version of that WWE-styled commentating. He does the same bad, cliche lines and doesn’t add much to the matches. He ended the show by saying this will be a night we will remember for years to come. That’s clearly not going to be the case. It’s just a total exaggeration that actually made me laugh out loud when I heard it.  Don Callis was pretty good though. He had some great lines throughout the show and was fun to listen to.

The opening match was Ultimate X featuring Johnny Impact, Ace Austin, Pat Buck, Jake Christ and Dante Fox. It seemed weird to have the Johnny Impact who is the heavyweight champion in the opening match challenging for the X-Division title opportunity. There were a lot of good moments though. Everyone worked hard and did a lot of cool high-risk moves. Dante Fox (who also wrestles under AR Fox) looked impressive. Ace Austin had a sick spot where he dove off the top of the Ultimate X metal structure onto the rest of the guys outside the ring. Jake Christ hit a cutter as Austin was climbing the Ultimate X ropes, which looked awesome. Johnny Impact ended up winning the match, so I wonder what they will end up doing with him. Ultimate X was a good opening match hurt by poor production quality.

In the next match Team Impact of Brian Cage, Moose and Eddie Edwards faced Team Lucha Underground of Drago, Aerostar, Daga and Marty the Moth. It was explained on the show that Johnny Impact was actually supposed to be in this match on Team Impact. Tommy Dreamer ended up being the surprise fourth member. Cage hit a big suplex on Drago onto everyone outside the ring that looked great. There was a weird spot where Dreamer drank some water while he was standing on the ring apron, then spit it into Edwards’ mouth who was standing outside the ring, that then proceeded to spit on the other guys. Gross. Moose ended up turning on Team Impact by spearing Cage. A few minutes later Marty the Moth gave Dreamer a DDT for the win. The match was easy to watch. Cage is great and is definitely somebody that Impact can continue to build around.

The four way women’s match for the title with Taya Valkyrie, Rosemary, Katie Forbes and Jordynne Grace was mostly your standard set up. They had two opponents in the ring together as the other women were off camera. It wasn’t that interesting. Compared to the four way on the NXT Takeover New York show that had constant action with all four women, this one was definitely missing something. Valkyrie comes off as a big star though. Grace looked great. She moved around fast and did a lot of impressive power moves. Forbes looked real green. The match went about nine minutes. Grace did all the work on Forbes and Valkyrie stole the pinfall.

LAX (Santana and Ortiz) faced Low-Ki and Ricky Martinez, who were representing Major League Wrestling. This one had a real slow start. The first few minutes were each team just taunting each other without doing anything physical. The match didn’t start to pick up until the 9-10 minute mark. LAX won the match at around 12 minutes when Ortiz hit Martinez with a death valley driver.

There was an intergender match between Tessa Blanchard and Joey Ryan. At the start Ryan tried to get Blanchard to grab his crotch to start his penis flip move, but she got in his face and gave him the middle finger instead. Blanchard got a lot of offense in early and towards the end. Ryan took over for most of the match and worked on her arm and shoulder. The announcers played it like the match should be called off. At one point late in the match Ryan took a lollipop out of his trunks, put it in Blanchard’s mouth then hit her with a superkick for a two count. Blanchard came back and won with a codebreaker-type move jumping from the top rope into Ryan. It was a decent match that went around 10 minutes.

Rich Swann defended the X-Division title vs. Flamita who was representing AAA. This went close to eight minutes. It was a really good match. There was a lot of action. Flamita looked great. Swann won with his phoenix splash finisher. I wish it had been a bit longer.

The Monster’s Ball match between Sami Callihan and Jimmy Havoc was creative. They did a lot of hardcore stuff throughout it. Havoc looks legitimately sick, like he needs some vitamin B shots or something. Havoc used a staple gun early on. There was some bad camera work in this match, with them missing some of the action on the outside of the ring. Havoc got busted open quickly. Callihan hit a sick piledriver to Havoc on the ring apron. Callihan took a stapler to Havoc’s head and he was just gushing blood. He started stapling newspapers to Havoc’s arm and face, which Don Callis on commentary really put over. He then bit into a lemon and poured it into Havoc’s gash, which I haven’t seen done before. A little later on Havoc took off Callihan’s boot and gave him a papercut between his toes. He then grabbed a salt container and poured it all over Callihan’s foot. After this he grabbed Callihan’s foot and bit into it. Like the Dreamer/Edwards water spot earlier in the night this was gross. Callihan recovered and poured out some thick Legos into the ring. He hit a big piledriver on top of them but Havoc kicked out at one. The match ended up going about 14-15 minutes. Callihan won after he set up two chairs together in the ring and gave Havoc another piledriver on top of them. Havoc’s body just crumbled like the life got sucked out of him. It was a good looking finish. For two guys just beating the crap out of each other it was a strong match with some unusual methods.

Rob Van Dam officially signed a new deal with Impact earlier this month. He teamed with Sabu to take on Pentagon and Fenix in the main event. This is actually a sort of dream match on paper. Both Van Dam and Sabu were such big innovators in their primes. Unfortunately this match didn’t do much. It felt rushed. It was about eight minutes long. Van Dam’s Impact theme song from the TNA days is hilariously bad. He still looks great physically and in the ring but just a little older and a bit slower. RVD did his usual moves. At around seven minutes Van Dam and Sabu dove through a table onto the Lucha Bros. A minute later Sabu took a packaged piledriver double-team move from the Lucha Bros and lost the match. This should have gone longer. It never quite picked up and was disappointing.

United We Stand was an easy show to watch. Everyone worked hard but there weren’t any must-see matches. It was two and a half hours long. For being $19.99, it was totally skippable. The show didn’t do much in making you want to go out of your way to watch the company in the future. Considering this was WrestleMania weekend and people were more open to buying and watching different wrestling shows, Impact missed the opportunity to make a good impression. The show’s production values are just unacceptable in today’s market with so many other options.

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