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Category: Sports

AEW Hard Eight

I was chatting the other day about how I’d book an AEW round-robin tournament and I thought I’d expand on the subject somewhat here.

Background: most US pro wrestling tournaments are single elimination. There’s a bracket, and if you lose you’re out. In contrast, the big Japanese promotions tend to run round robin tournaments, where you earn points for wins, and the wrestlers with the most points face off in the finals.

Round robin tournaments chew up way more time. Typically, while something like NJPW’s G1 is going on, the majority of each show is dedicated to tournament matches. This would be hard for an American promotion.

The G1 has 20 wrestlers in two blocks. In each block, each wrestler fights every other wrestler in the block, so everyone has nine matches. That means you’re running 18 shows with four tournament matches apiece on them, and there’s no way AEW could devote over two months of TV time to something like that.

But the value of a round robin tournament is that you can book a lot of matches that might be awkward otherwise — faction members against each other, and so on. You can also do a few stunning upsets because nobody can be expected to win all their matches. So how would you make it work in the US?

I think you cut it down to eight wrestlers in two blocks of four. Now each wrestler only has three matches. Each week, you put two tournament matches on Dynamite and one on Rampage. One match is always the main event each night to maintain significance. Each block gets Dynamite one week and Rampage the second week, so over the course of the two week cycle each block completes one set of matches.

That means the whole tournament except the finals takes six weeks to run and only occupies a third of the available TV time. That’s not bad at all, even after you double it to fit in the women’s tournament.

Okay, how do you book it?

You run this at the end of the year. AEW resets win-loss records at the end of the year for the purpose of rankings. The first consequence of the tournament is that the wrestlers are seeded in the new year’s rankings based on their records. Come in third, and you’re third in the top five. Second, and more important, you give the winner the traditional shot at any title they want. Include tag team titles in that.

Finally, you determine the entrants by a mixture of skill and luck. First off, the top four wrestlers in the rankings as of the start of the tournament get in. That ensures you have stars. Second, you “randomly” pick four other wrestlers to fill out the field. That means you can give a newcomer a boost, you can set up inter-faction matches, all that good stuff.

And to maintain the gambling theme, you call it Hard Eight. You also get a bonus gambling note by using a roulette wheel or something to do the random selection.

DEFY Wrestling: Mad Kingdom

I hit DEFY Wrestling: Mad Kingdom last night. Right before the pandemic, I had tickets for a DEFY show starring The Great Sasuke, plus they co-promoted the Super J-Cup show that S. and I went to in 2019. I thus had warm feelings, plus I’ve heard good things about them, plus Eddie Kingston was main eventing and like so many other fans I’ve been really impressed by his AEW run. So I decided to take a calculated risk and go out to an event.

It was pretty fun! Overall it wasn’t an exceptional show, but three of the matches were good to excellent and every match had something to like. I liked it enough to subscribe to their Patreon and I’m thinking I’ll make this a monthly excursion.

The G1 That Is

My whole week has been pretty much New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax tournament for the last couple of weeks. 19 shows in a month, it’s kind of a crazy pace. This is their big heavyweight tournament of the year every year and for a while it looked like it might not happen but they managed to get a few critical wrestlers back into the country and here we are!

New Japan has a streaming service now, ten bucks a month and you get English commentary too. Usually real time although with the pandemic that’s been delayed a couple of days. All good, the Japanese commentary is enthusiastic.

This is my second G1. I watched last summer’s cause I read a couple of previews that made it sound excellent. I’ve been pretty damned haphazard about wrestling since the Benoit murder/suicide, but much to my pleasure New Japan has reawakened my enthusiasm. I’m a bit unhappy about how they’re booking Will Ospreay, but so far I’ve been OK ignoring his matches. I’ll see how it goes; if they’re really going to put a belt on him I may wind up more unhappy.

Anyhow. One major cool thing about the G1: New Japan doesn’t do a lot of singles matches outside title challenges and tournaments. So you’ve been watching all these great wrestlers compete in multi-man tag matches and it’s cool but MAN wouldn’t it be nice to see Tomohiro Ishii face off against Jeff Cobb one on one without all the tagging in and out?

(Yes, it would, they’re both very strong bowling balls on legs. It was a great match.)

That also means the G1 usually has a couple of matches where the wrestlers are facing off for the very first time in singles competition. That’s also cool.

The G1 is made up of two blocks, A block and B block. Everyone in a block wrestles everyone else in the block, 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw. Winner of A block wrestles winner of B block for the right to challenge for the heavyweight championship at the big New Year’s event, Wrestle Kingdom. The blocks run on alternate nights so that the wrestlers can get a bit of rest. So you get five matches from block A, then the next show there are five matches from block B.

In previous years, they’ve filled out the show with multi-man tag matches using wrestlers from the other block. (Not that much of a break.) This year, because of COVID-19, there’s one match between Young Lions — trainees — and then right into the five block matches. This makes the shows a tidy 2.5 hours long instead of sprawling 3-4 hour things. That’s been really nice.

Plus there are only three Young Lions in Japan who are ready for ring work, so the three of them are just alternating singles matches and getting way more experience than you’d normally see. This is also very cool and I bet it’ll benefit these guys a ton in the future.

But with an average of over 4 shows a week it’s still a lot of wrestling. And I’m off to watch last night’s final.

Super J-Cup 2019: Night One

Professional wrestling is both a commodity and an art form, and that’s why I can sit in an audience of less than a thousand people in a small ballroom in Tacoma and watch one of the best wrestlers in the world do his job.

Will Ospreay is a British wrestler. He’s 26 years old. In 2007, he was a 14 year old watching this Latino kid called Amazing Red, who in turn was wrestling up and down the East Coast in a string of independent promotions and, for a while, in TNA. Whether or not TNA was the big leagues depends on who you ask. Either way, Red had the room to stretch the boundaries of his craft and Will was soaking it all in. He dressed like Red. He recorded YouTube videos of himself replicating Red’s moves.

I know this because Will Ospreay told us so the other night, after 27 minutes of passionate wrestling against his idol, his voice cracking with emotion. Red felt it too, but he didn’t want to put what he was feeling into words. He just wanted to hug Will Ospreay and speak directly to him, whispers in his ear.

The aftermath

“Look at the names on this belt,” said Ospreay, as he held aloft his IGPW Jr. Heavyweight Championship belt. “Look at them. It’s a crime that your name isn’t among them.”

From time to time someone asks me why I like professional wrestling. It’s a good question, especially since sometimes I don’t like it very much at all. This is the answer. There are so many stories being told at once in a classic wrestling match. Some of them are fictional.

The other night, Will Ospreay and the Amazing Red told a story about a smaller, semi-retired guy battling one of the best wrestlers in the world. Will Ospreay wrestles as a junior heavyweight, but this summer he also competed in the G1 Climax tournament. That’s for heavyweights. Will won 4 out of his 9 matches against some of the best in the world. He’s over six feet tall. Amazing Red is 5′ 4″.

Unsurprisingly, Red wrestled as the underdog and came spitting distance from winning. That’s a pretty great story. Also great: watching these two master craftsmen sell that story. It’s not even remotely believable, except that they both knew how to make each other look good. At one point, Red hit his big match-winning move, his finisher. Ospreay didn’t kick out of it, because that would have established him as clearly superior. He just barely managed to get his foot onto the ropes, which breaks the pin without diminishing Red. Subtle stuff.

Ospreay, near-exhaustion

They also told a true story about a younger man and the veteran he idolized. Ospreay spent months begging Red to come out of retirement for this match, and obviously succeeded. That emotion was all over the match, and that post-match promo. It was also entwined in the fiction. Would Ospreay forget that he idolized Red and fight as hard as he could? Would he realize that he needed to stop idolizing Red in order to beat him?

They also told a story about two athletes and artists working their hearts out to entertain us. Under a thousand people in the room, and S. and I were in the front row. At one point Red wound up in the lap of the guy next to me. He reached up, grabbed my hand, got ready to pull himself up.

“Should I help?” asked the guy whose lap he was in.

“Nope, let it play out,” murmured Red. He was smiling so hard.

Why do I love professional wrestling? Well.

Amazing Red, pre-match

The NFL Is Not About To End

No, wrong, no.

Yes, the new NFL rule is going to change the game on the field. But that’s OK. The game on the field is too dangerous. It won’t fix the danger completely. Who cares? Concussions are literally ruining minds. Any steps to limit this are good. It’s ridiculously reckless to complain about safety measures on the basis that the game will change in a way you don’t like.

Freeman quotes a player who worries that application of the rule might “throw out a star player that impacts a game.” Have you not been paying attention to how brutal this game is? Did you not see Gronkowski get knocked out of a critical playoff game by a helmet hit?

Freeman doesn’t read like he’s obtuse otherwise, so I imagine this is clickbait designed to get people like me all worked up. Bleacher Report, man, it’s the sports Web site I suppose we deserve.

The All-In Wrestlers of 1930s London

True fact: tens of thousands of Londoners happily attended professional wrestling shows during the 1930s. This resurgence in the “sport” was thanks to one Sir Edward Atholl Oakeley, whose autobiography I really gotta read. (In his later years, long after his wrestling career ended, he became the 7th Baronet of Shrewsbury. Wild life story.) He dubbed his wrestling style “All-In,” since it allowed for wrestlers from a variety of traditions. Sir Oakeley always maintained he was promoting real sporting matches, but given that US pro wrestling had already become mostly staged by 1930, it seems pretty likely that All-In wrestling matches were also fixed.

This phase of British professional wrestling history lasted under a decade. By 1940, the quality of the wrestling had degenerated as demand rose. It became more a spectacle, less a sport, and unacceptable in the eyes of civil society. By the time promoters were running mixed gender matches, judges were handing down decrees preventing public shows.

Let’s talk about gaming!

Monkeyball

Last night I headed down to the new Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane location, since movie tickets were two bucks during this week’s soft open of the theater. It’s way out of the way for us, particularly coming from work, but seems reasonably convenient for South Austin peeps. Take Mopac south to the first traffic light and turn right, then immediate left. It took twenty minutes flat to come home at 12:30 AM. Kind of late? Well, cheap movies, so I caught a pair of them. Oh look, the title of this post is a bad joke. Look, they were both set in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’d be way amusing to watch a motion captured Andy Serkis in an Oakland A’s uniform.

Moneyball was pretty good even if it was a touch fictionalized. Pitt was great, as was Hoffman in a nice supporting role. The one scene where Jonah Hill is desperately keeping up with Pitt and Hoffman is totally worth the price of admission. I’d love to know what Soderbergh would have made of it but I am totally content with what we got. Also, that was an entirely funny caricature of John Henry.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was kind of conflicted. The first hour or so is a pretty rough drama about the horrors of animal experimentation plus a really good performance by John Lithgow. Then there’s this magical point where my disbelief ceased to hover lightly in the air, and I’ll even spoil it, because it’s awesome. Caesar is in primate jail, and he’s having trouble adjusting. You know what it’s like being the new kid on the cellblock. So he gets kicked around a bit, and when he’s brooding back in his cell, he looks up at the orangutan across the way. Lo! Maurice the orangutan signs, “Hurt bad?”

Caesar is shocked, because whoa, another ape knows sign language! So he signs, “You know signs?” I’m wondering exactly the same thing. Maurice signs back, calmly, “Circus orangutan.” Clears it all up: everyone knows that circus animals are always taught ASL. Me and the shards of my disbelief will be over here snickering wildly. The movie doesn’t get any more believable from there on in. It stays enjoyable, though! It’s just a different movie in the second half.

Parochial

The Boston sports world is a weird place. Intense, fanatical, whiny, hopeful — it’s the kind of place that can support two sports radio stations without any problem whatsoever. Very macho world, of course. Sports. So the cool thing of the morning is this: Steve Buckley, who’s one of the reasonably big names in Boston sports journalism, came out. He writes for the (conservative) Boston Herald, and he has a frequent guest spot on (fairly conservative) WEEI, so that makes his environment just a little bit more unwelcoming than if he wrote for the Globe. Big kudos to him.

The comment section of his article isn’t quite a cesspool, although there’s a lot of hostility. Lot of praise, too. Also a lot of deleted comments. I expected worse, all in all.

One event closer to equality.