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    Saturday, July 29, 2017

    PWR Live: Bakbakan sa Bayanihan—The Official Smark Henry Review

    Can we all start breathing again?

    It's been a week since "Beautiful" Billy Suede captured the PWR Championship for the first time in an epic match-up against the courageous Chris Panzer at PWR Live: Bakbakan sa Bayanihan, but we still get all dreamy-eyed each time we look back and remember the match highlights.

    So what's our final verdict for the show? We'll reveal that at the end of this review, but here's a spoiler alert: For all its high points, Bakbakan didn't have as many true "moments" the way Wrevolution X did—although it did have one key moment that was bigger than any other that happened this year.

    (That doesn't mean it wasn't a damn fine show, however. There's a reason the Philippine Wrestling Revolution is widely acknowledged as the premier local pro wrestling promotion today.)

    As always, we've ranked each of the segments by tiers depending on how much we liked them. This time around, we're assigning tiers based on our own internal hierarchy of boybands. Why? Because we just freaking like boybands, deal with it.

    Here we go, Revo-Nation!

    Tier 1: Backstreet Boys

    Sorry, NSYNC apologists, this isn't even up for debate. You might argue that JT and crew had bigger hits and the biggest breakout solo star. But when it comes to overall consistency, songwriting, classic earworms, pioneering power, and longevity, nobody can top BSB. Especially when everyone knows Brian was the best. Even Rolling Stone has "I Want It That Way" as the greatest modern boyband song, edging out the best NSYNC has to offer.

    Case in point: Ain't nobody want to hang out with Joey Fatone, that jabroni. Conversely, you could make an argument that four out of the five BSB members could legitimately have fronted their own group (Howie D. is the exception, and you can fight us on that). 

    Beautiful Days Have Come For Billy Suede

    A few months back, pretty much everybody thought Billy Suede's classic match against Jake De Leon would be a shoo-in for match of the year. It had nearly flawless in-ring work, a red-hot crowd, spots that pretty much broke the Reddit frontpage, and one of the best finishes you'll see in any match globally. But the Beautiful One  showed why he's arguably the finest wrestler in all of Southeast Asia today after his shocking victory against Chris Panzer.

    Sure, De Leon/Suede was a better "pure" wrestling match, but the bottom line is that it didn't truly have anything at stake, and nearly nothing in terms of build—sorry JDL, but saving a curtain-jerker like McKata from a beatdown doesn't really count for much. It was a one-off in a world that rewards history and continuity.

    In contrast, Suede/Panzer was a more complete entertainment product, assembling WWE-style storytelling with heartstopping near-falls, finisher kickouts galore, masterful pacing, the will-he-or-won't-he suspense seeded by Suede's controversial three-count over Panzer a month ago at #UnFathersDay that was ultimately reversed by PWR General Manager Mr. Sy, and the highest stakes of them all: the PWR Championship.

    And don't forget: the mid-match "Kiss Me" spot that had the crowd howling in approval is going down as one of the most iconic moments in PWR's annals. Massive kudos to PWR's writing team for the foresight and creativity in coming up with this ultimate troll move for the inevitable "Kiss! Kiss!" chants that would arise from the crowd.

    But going back to the wrestling itself, did this match deliver or what? From Suede's perfect top-rope superplex that had us all wondering if Panzer had been broken in half, to the Panzerschreck barrage that had us wondering if Suede was due for a concussion, to the first kickout of the Eagle Splash we can remember, to the 2.9-count from Suede's soaring shiranui, this match was impeccably structured and even more impeccably performed. The last two minutes had literally the entire Bayanihan Center on its feet; with people literally watching with their jaws dropped and hands unconsciously yanking their hair.

    No shame for Panzer in dropping the belt; his six-month stretch to start 2017 is a lock for one of the best runs in company history, and this match—even in a loss!—cements him as JDL's first true rival as The Man in PWR. Where he goes from here is anyone's bet, but we'd love for him to finally start his World's Pinakapoging Tag Team with his doppelganger Brad Cruz.

    We've been fans of Billy Suede since day one, and we know he's been doing his part backstage to elevate the overall quality of the Philippine wrestling scene. More than a reward for his talent, his crowning as PWR Champion represents his contributions as statesman, architect, and co-collaborator to make sure the industry continues to grow and flourish. The nuclear pop when he won showed the respect local fans have for him, and validates his value as the new company centerpiece. Whoever eventually takes him down for the belt is getting a massive rub from him.

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    Plus, let's not forget, he really is pretty damn beautiful. Congratulations, Billy Suede. You are the right king at the right time. Now go kick some third-world ass.

    Spot of the match: Is this really up for debate? "Kiss Me" is going to live on in infamy.

    Winner AND NEW PWR Champion: Billy Suede via pinfall

    Tier 2: NSYNC

    If there's any knock against NSYNC, it's that their bench depth was pretty weak. "Bye Bye Bye" was a great song, but it—and the rest of their discography—was pretty much built around two stars in JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake. Could you imagine Chris Kirkpatrick fronting his own band? He'd just get his ass kicked. 

    Think of NSYNC as the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder—an unstoppable force of nature at its heart, but just filler all around.

    Ralph Imabayashi: King of Filipino Strong Style

    A not-so-controversial take: Ralph Imabayashi in his current "Best Pure Wrestler" heel incarnation is an even better and more fascinating character than the fiery underdog face role he played during his first PWR Championship run. It may be easy to sleep on him due to his small stature and less-than-chiseled physique, but don't be mistaken: the Filipino-Japanese Pocket Rocket is capable of putting on some of the most macho matches in Philippine wrestling without having to dazzle the audience with massive high spots.

    Imabayashi has built up a reputation in the locker room as one of the best ring generals the company has got, and this match was probably the best one in his classic ongoing series with Jake De Leon, who just so happens to be pretty damn good himself.

    We loved the storytelling behind the match. There were tons of pretty spots, including JDL's out-of-nowhere stolen Sonic Crusher that was possibly even better than the one Imabayashi himself dishes. But the gist of it was the battle for alpha dog supremacy between two of PWR's proudest talents. It wasn't so much a battle to outwrestle each other, but drawing a line in the sand to prove who the tougher man was. This was Filipino Strong Style at its finest, with sequences devoted to brute machismo. The kick exchange to open the match, the midstream forearm showdown, and the seated slapfest that triggered the ending sequence were all entertaining as hell to watch, and would always end with JDL's mind games. We'd genuinely LOL whenever he'd use Ralph's dogged devotion towards the purist strong style game to troll him with flash superkicks that left him reeling with shock. So, mission accomplished for JDL, we guess.

    In the end, Imabayashi's masterful targeting of JDL's leg—which he'd injured earlier on a botched floatover—earned him the 'W.' De Leon buckled as he was going for a top-rope Alipin Drop, which set the stage for a Super Sonic Crusher that De Leon nearly beat for the ten-count, only to collapse at the last split second.

    Imabayashi may not have conquered JDL's spirit, but he did enough to break down his body. One of our favorite matches of the year so far, and a sure MOTN on any other card but this one. Even more impressively, he did all this with a dislocated shoulder that he suffered mid-match, which insiders tell us was a re-aggravation of an injury he originally suffered a couple of weeks back in training.

    Watch out, Revo-Nation. This is Filipino Strong Style at its best.

    Spot of the match: Jake De Leon tying Ralph Imabayashi up in knots to start the match.

    Winner: Ralph Imabayashi by 10-count

    Tag Team Chaos From The Flush & Fighters

    To be completely honest, the ending of this was match was absolute overbooked garbage. Three referee bumps, a match-ending brawl—that spilled over to the outside and had the whole locker room flooding out to separate Miguel Rosales & Joey Bax from John Sebastian & Peter Versoza—missed tags, and illegal breaks had us thinking Vince Russo booked this shit.

    But you know what? Garbage can be wildly entertaining in moderation, and this match delivered in spades.

    Some might say that Sebastian is taking a backseat in the company since losing the PWR Championship to Chris Panzer, but we're going to be contrarian and say that his current title-less run is him at its best. Without having to live up to his booking as the "Ace" of the Royal Flush or the self-professed "Wrestling Lord & Savior" schtick during his run as champ, he's been more relaxed and loose in the ring, allowing his natural charisma and sense of humor to shine through, with his running commentary throughout the match as he laid the hurt on Joey Bax being particularly amusing. This may be the first "authentic" glimpse we've had at John Sebastian since he debuted, and it's a joy to see.

    Bax was great as face-in-peril—remember the "Holy shit!" chant he got after taking Sebastian's devastating, deadly, life-threatening Purple Nurple?—and Rosales was expectedly awesome as the proverbial house-on-fire, nearly stealing the win with a beautiful Bastusan Jackhammer onto Peter Versoza, only to fall to a running Killshot from Sebastian amidst all the chaos. No-contests can be deflating for a live crowd, but the ending sequence that had fans chanting "Let them fight!" demonstrated how this kind of booking works in the right setting.

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    We're pretty sure the war isn't over for these four men, and we can't wait to see where it goes. Sebastian's post-match promo declaring all the fans as "tuta ni Stan [Sy, PWR General Manager]" was particularly intriguing, and hints at a possible epic culmination to this long-running beef between the Ayala Alabang Asshole and the boss he once got fired from the company.

    PWR Survivor Series, anyone?

    Spot of the match: Miguel Rosales' top-rope dive to the outside.

    Winner: No-contest, but a bloody good one

    Tier Three: Take That

    Ain't nothing wrong with Take That. They're recognizable, inoffensive, and most everyone probably has the chorus of "Back For Good" memorized completely, chuwariwap voicings included.

    The only knock is that they debatably didn't fan global imagination the way BSB and NSYNC did. At their best, they were good but not great. And that's where we're sticking matches and moments that just fell short of breaking through to top-shelf level.

    The YOLO Domination Tour Continues

    We're huge fans of the YOLO Twins, and firmly believe they were the right tag team to rule as PWR's first division champions. But this needs to be said: things are getting boring.

    Now, that's not an indictment of Yohann and Logan Ollores per se. It's just that, frankly, where do they go from here? They've completely dominated all the remaining tag teams—including this third straight victory against The Network's James "Idol" Martinez and Alexander Belmonte III, if we count the #UnFathersDay house show and the six-man Resbak tag.

    And it pains us to say this, but the match was pretty much just a remix of tried-and-tested sequences from the previous matches—Idol trying (but failing) to bodyslam one of the Ollores twins, The Network getting a moral victory by landing the double-team Pay-In but getting screwed out of the three-count via "twin magic" shenanigans or Ken Warren interference, and some deviousness leading to a YOLO superkick party and Two Night Stand for the win. Sure, it was nice seeing Idol finally securing a bodyslam all on his own after shooing off AB3's initial attempt to help him as with previous matches, but that was about it.

    AB3 continues to improve enormously—we even declared him a runner-up for 2017's Most Improved of the Midyear—while Idol is smart enough to work within his strengths. Yohann and Logan are both gold-standard talents both in terms of in-ring work and crowd engagement. But we're just glad that this feud is over.

    Also, this needs to be called out: Yohann Ollores' incredibly cheap ways to get heel heat were inexcusable, from taking a dig at Chester Bennington's suicide to spitting on a child at ringside and riling up his father. For a talent as great as he is, this was entirely unnecessary, and made the rest of the match uncomfortable to watch. Stay in your lane, millennial. [/ends tito sermon]

    Spot of the match: We're always suckers for the Two Night Stand. Martinez, in particular, sold this one exceedingly well.

    A post shared by PWR (@pwrofficial) on

    Winners: The YOLO Twins via pinfall

    Apocalypse Now

    With all due respect, we've grown sick and tired of The Apocalypse's unimaginative, one-dimensional gimmick and booking. Generally speaking, he's either been cast as the default "fearsome monster challenger" for whoever is PWR Champion at the time only to fall short, or will randomly attack people, stalk them for a while, injure them in some form, but ultimately win the feud in an All Out War match. Lather, rinse, repeat. His Death Bell finisher is becoming increasingly unconvincing, and that God's Mercy curb stomp variant he does is weak af.

    Plus, we're pretty sure nobody actually believes he's the 6-foot-tall, 280-pound specimen he's announced as.

    But we'll respect the man behind the mask. He's pretty skilled in his own right, is fearless in the ring, extremely professional, and tries hard. He just needs a change, and being awarded the inaugural All Out War Championship could just be the reboot that he needs. He finally has real stakes to fight for, and could legitimize a new division to give more texture and variety to the overall PWR product.

    Now let's talk about the match. Despite Trian Dela Torre's recent 2-0 win-loss record against him, did anyone really doubt who was winning this edition of All Out War? The two men showed off some nice creativity, including a new take on the famous Terry Funk duelling ladder spot, the in-canon ring debut of GrabCamus to pull off some interesting double-team sequences, and some innovative foreign objects coming into play, i.e. fidget midget spinners and a pile of Spider-Man figurines.

    But the hits were soft, the action choppy, and the ending predictable. Apologies to both men, but with F4H and the Deadly Sinns setting a new bar for what an All Out War match should be, this fell far short.

    Spot of the match: #CamusBomb #CamusMania #OhTheHumanity

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    Winner AND NEW All Out War Champion: The Apocalypse via pinfall

    Vlad Sinnsyk Is OK, But Is SANDATA?

    Just to remind everyone: The Deadly Sinns tag team of Vlad Sinnsyk and Mike Madrigal is officially dead, and this match was the official relaunch of Sinnsyk's promising singles career. This matchup against the equally-talented but occasionally-frustrating SANDATA may not have had much in the way of buildup, but was a nice little match that was cleanly wrestled, well-orchestrated, and downright acceptable, save for the nearly-botched standing Muscle Buster that may have been a little too ambitious for the two men to pull off, considering the high-octane pace they'd wrestled throughout.

    But that's the thing. Downright acceptable is Take That's career to a T, and this match was less of a coming-out party for Sinnsyk than it was both men just treading water.

    And speaking of which, is anyone getting frustrated about rooting for SANDATA? The man routinely comes out to some of the bigger pops in the company, and has tons of flashy one-of-a-kind offense, including a springboard Tornado DDT and his gorgeous Pagbasag rana, which has evolved in the past two years into a full-fledged standing variant. But no matter how he's booked, he always falls short. The guy is probably PWR's true choke artist at this point, always getting tantalizingly close to PWR gold, but never quite grabbing the proverbial brass ring.

    The pressure is now on PWR Creative to really find a direction for both men. They're both too good to become afterthoughts in the 30-deep talent roster.

    Winner: Vlad Sinnsyk via pinfall

    Dax Xaviera Sizzles His Sisig

    Okay, we're now believers of Dax Xaviera.

    Delirium may have been an uninspiring, generic, high-energy tag team of athletic jobbers with a clear weak link in Dan Ericson. But stripped of that baggage, Dax Xaviera is finally showing what he's got to offer as a potential singles star.

    From showing off a new, more engaging personality that actually danced along with the fan chants, to some much-improved ring awareness and timing, he's finally showing some promise as a future PHX Championship contender. Obviously, much credit is due to Ken Warren as one of PWR's better ring talents who's never had a bad match in his life.

    What's the deal with Warren, though? While we're all-in on his return to PWR after taking time off to deal withhis personal life, he hasn't actually achieved much in his return. He couldn't beat his archrival Chris Panzer at Bagong Yugto, scored a cheap win against Bombay Suarez at Wrevolution X, and has all but faded into the background as second banana in his own stable with the YOLO Twins. This match was solid but unspectacular, and while we understand the overall narrative of Ken Warren's overconfidence and thirst for the PHX Championship being what ultimately led to his downfall, we can't help but feel this was a supreme waste of the Social Media Sinister's exquisite talents. When he's on his game, he's a certified top-five talent in the company. But just for this show, he was filler, which is such a waste.

    P.S. By the way, Dax, we have a message for you.

    Spot of the match: The perfectly-timed Wi-Fi dodge into a roll-up, but that's only because there weren't really a whole lot of highlights otherwise.

    A post shared by PWR (@pwrofficial) on

    Winner: Dax Xaviera via pinfall

    Tier Four: Hasht5


    This exists. This is sad, bimb.

    The KakaiBros Get Punk'd

    Disclaimer: in a vacuum, we'll be happy to admit that the KakaiBros are downright amazing. Kh3Ndrick and Mh4rckie own their gimmick completely, are actually pretty decent in the ring, and if it weren't for Trian Dela Torre, they'd probably have nailed our award as Rookies of the Midyear. The Punk Dolls (Martivo and Robynn) are solid wrestlers, and easily held up their end of the bargain in performing a pretty okay match.

    But on principle, no way are we putting anything involving these two horrible representatives of Internet jeje culture anywhere near the rest of the PWR roster.

    No offense to any of the performers involved. This is just us making a stand.

    Spot of the match: The KakaiBros digging deep (and we mean deep) into their sweaty fake Under Armour jockstraps to smear dick juice all over their hands and proceeding to rub them all over the face of an unsuspecting Martivo.

    Winner: Punk Dolls via pinfall

    Quick Hitters

    We gotta talk about pre-show developments as well, which technically don't happen as part of canon, but deserve some discussion as well for the sake of the talents who do put out some hustle to make them happen.

    The Revo-Ranger: Major Misfire or Hidden Gem?

    We're not actually sure where PWR is going with the over-the-top comedic stylings of this seemingly CHIKARA-inspired character in the Revo-Ranger. But we do know that while it was wildly amusing at first, the crowd slowly began to favor his foe, the rampaging T-Rex who threatened to devour fans in attendance and leave the Bayanihan Center in shambles.

    Wrestling is at its best when the audience is in a willing conspiracy with the theater being presented. PWR has to tread carefully and figure out how to work this gimmick into its overall universe.

    Vintendo Rebooted, Bolt Needs Work

    Confession: We're actually pretty optimistic about Vintendo's rebirth as the evil "Raging Gamer." He's clearly been working on both his body and his wrestling skills (not to mention his always-excellent facials), and the evil remix of his theme song is a sleeper candidate for best tune in the company today.

    We can't say the same for his pre-show opponent, Bolt, who's enthusiastic as anything, but just doesn't carry the credibility yet to be a true PWR star. His standing moonsault came scarily close to missing—or breaking his neck—and the dude needs to work on his physique before we can start to take him seriously.

    How Far Can Brad Cruz Go?

    Seeing the ultra-handsome Brad Cruz wrestle is one of our guilty pleasures. He's obviously pleased to be out there, and carries a unique everyman charisma that blends the best of Kanto Terror and Mark D. Manalo into an easy-to-swallow package.

    Can he ever rise above being midcard novelty act? It's obviously too early to say, but we're willing to invest in him for now.

    Final Thoughts

    This show—PWR's formal kickoff to its fourth "season"—should, in theory, have been nothing more than a transitionary bridge between last month's Renaissance and the year-ending Terminus, but gave us one of the biggest moments in PWR's history with Billy Suede's shock title win, as well as an instant classic in the latest clash between best-friends-turned-blood-foes Ralph Imabayashi and Jake De Leon, and a gloriously chaotic extension of the simmering Royal Flush/Fighters 4 Hire feud.

    But besides that, the show never truly seemed to get out of second gear. Nothing was really a huge miss, but they weren't as iconic as what we've seen in past PWR shows.

    We can't rate this show any higher than our usual B/B+, which puts it right at par with Renaissance, but slightly short of the overall brilliance of Wrevolution X. No shame there, and the company still stands heads and shoulders ahead of its competition.

    Post-Show Awards:

    Star of the Night

    "Beautiful" Billy Suede. He's not a senyorito, he's not a god, he's the leader of no army. All he is is PWR Champion, and that's good enough for us.

    Spot of the Night

    We're still LSS-ing over this, tbh.

    Match of the Night

    The PWR Championship battle between Suede and Panzer. Come on, are we really debating this?


    Photos courtesy of the talented and dangerous "Mrs. Ruthless" Jacky Rosales, and the Philippine Wrestling Revolution.
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    Item Reviewed: PWR Live: Bakbakan sa Bayanihan—The Official Smark Henry Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Unknown
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