Joe Babinsack looks at KENTA DVD

Mini-review of KENTA Compilation by ROH and other comments follow.
Go 2 Sleep
Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling NOAH
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Ironies abound in the two disc compilation DVD set.
We’ve got KENTA, who’s claim to fame is a move now used by WWE Heavyweight Champion CM Punk, battling a who’s who list of Ring of Honor talent, that mostly work for other companies, including Bryan Danielson, Samoa Joe, Tyler Black and Austin Aries.
What’s also interesting is that KENTA’s first foray into ROH saw him beating (in singles matches) both of the Tag Team Champions of the time (Austin Aries & Roderick Strong), and also beating (in tag matches) the then current ROH World Champion (Bryan Danielson).
The notion of building up a challenger, and especially one from another promotion, was well in play back in the day.
KENTA’s ROH Compilation is typical of ROH of the time: one awesome match after another, raising the bar of in-ring expectations, establishing the reputation of the promotion that persists to this day, and … once again, showing that who’s who of talent.
While KENTA is a world-class talent, there are some striking differences between this set and others. There are a ton of names and a lot of matches, but it is interesting that the theme of a lot of matches is the similarities of the two opponents, rather than displays of different styles.
In other words, KENTA comes across more of a modern era Ric Flair than a modern era Killer Kowalski.
There may be arguments about that, but with KENTA, there are specific spots and definite expectations in his matches. After a while it gets repetitive. Sure, the matches are intense, of length and of interest, but seeing that “leap over the top rope, land within a foot of the guys head, then kick him in the head, then wave his arms in the air for applause” spot match after match just makes me shake my head.
Of course KENTA throws kicks with the best of them, trades chops in several spots in matches, and brings forth an energy that makes the average worker look like they’re in slow-motion.
And then there’s that finisher.
Ironically, the first match has the Go 2 Sleep setting up the flying knee-strike off of the ropes. After, the Go 2 Sleep is the specific finisher. As practiced by either KENTA or Punk, the Fireman’s Carry into a drop, into a knee to the head is a solid one. The finisher works because it’s not something that can be done easily, and should require a wearing down of the opponent (else they can escape or counter).
Aside from the slew of ROH stars and a bittersweet look back at Mitsuhiro Misawa plying his awesome talent, the one standout match is the first one, against the always intense Low Ki.
The similarities between the two are strong, although Low Ki has an intensity that matches KENTA’s energy. KENTA’s intensity is his energy, while Low Ki’s energy is focused through his intensity.
It’s been said repeatedly, but anyone who watches Low Ki in action should question the inability of a certain mainstream promotion to capitalize on his amazing talent.
Low Ki in action makes me also raise the issue and point of having a lower weight class, and having guys like him, like KENTA, like Davey Richards and a variety of guys battling opponents of their same weight class, and making the product more like MMA and less like an ongoing failure to understand the nature of sports and fair play.
There’s something that amps up with Low Ki and KENTA in the ring.
Both have a mastery of the subtleties and selling. Both are well aware of their surroundings and the story being told. Sure, there’s some spots that are expected and some of those back-and-forth chop fests, trades of kicks and too coincidental to be coincidental exchanges that end with both guys getting knocked down (a staple of the Japanese style).
It’s ironic that KENTA’s claim to “Best in the World” comes more from his interactions and matches in Ring of Honor, as well as being the originator of the finisher of the highest profile claimant to that mythical title. Yet KENTA’s ROH body of work are well deserving of the comparisons, his talent and particular style and ability to work with the upper echelon of ROH’s glory years the foundation of what we can all agree is greatness.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch CMLL on Galavision, and wow, is it ever interesting.
While the style of wrestling in the United States is almost always that same old thing, it’s amazing to watch how the sport is portrayed in another country, and with a company that has been in business longer than anyone else.
CMLL has so many differences that I’m both surprised, and yet not so surprised, that the indies haven’t at least tried to replicate some of them.
Whether it is the ring girls or the advertising, the space available around the ring or the shorter match durations, there’s a lot to learn about wrestling by watching another country’s style – even if you can’t understand the language or can only really recognized a few names and faces after a few shows.
One thing that really strikes me is the finishers. CMLL goes back in time to an era when hitting a finisher was the end of the match, and there’s a lot of positives that could be taken from that approach. I’m not nostalgic for the 1980’s circus atmosphere, but building up names and establishing a more realistic product would happen a lot sooner if the matches were more like MMA and less like indie style booking and that “even-steven’ approach in both finishes and match length that only cement the reality that everyone in the ring is interchangeable.
CMLL is anything but interchangeable, especially with the costume.
Garish, clever, creative and outlandish are adjectives not seen recently in the mainstream.
About the only disappointing thing is that Lucha Libre seems to be less distinct with the Rudos/Technicos division. There was a time when you could tell just by watching the actions in the ring and out of it. Sure, not knowing the characters makes things a bit difficult, but the era of babyfaces and heels was mostly about actions and maintaining roles, not just lining up on one side or the other in terms of allegiances.
But that’s also an aspect of the industry as a whole, where the ‘tweener’ concept has diluted the heel/face dynamics to a place where drastic measures need to be taken to re-orient the fan base.
It will be interesting to see what Hunter does with his new power position.
What amazes me most about the WWE is that they have constrained creativity to Pay Per View themes, have constrained all concepts of pro wrestling as a sport to Vince’s mentality, and have constrained their product to their own rules and formatting.
They’ve only themselves to blame for their dwindling ratings.
Anyone who’s watched with any critical eye over the past decade has been pointing this out for a decade, and yet they are still locked in the same mode.
What’s really amazing is that TNA continues to stay at the same level, and at this pace, in two years, there will be a Cable TV pro wrestling war, but one at the opposite end and reverse dynamics of the last one – two companies fighting to turn off fans instead of attracting new ones.
Despite the negativity and the ongoing thoughts about writing a column about the death of pro wrestling, there remain glimmers of hope. CHIKARA is awesome and I just got the King of Trios finals DVD (I must be moving up in the pecking order!) There are indie promotions of note that still have the passion and the interest and the product that makes watching worthwhile.
But the biggest fear is that the generation of mainstream fans that peaked at the turn of the millennium are long gone, and those fans are not bringing up their children to watch, and that gap may be impossibly hard to fill, and those millions (and millions) of fans just don’t seem to care anymore.
So much for trying to get past the negativity….

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