It's rare I find a video featuring a dozen or so of my favorite wrestlers just as they're reaching their professional peaks. Even better, it's shot with multiple cameras, brightly lit and competently edited, thrusting me into the action. The fans are noisy, rude, totally crazy over every bout, in other words, perfect. If all that were not enough, it's mine for a reasonable fifteen bucks, including shipping and handling, a bargain. The video in question is Unstoppable 2008, a Full Impact Pro show shot in Crystal River, Florida, in December 2008.
The opening match (first picture above) features crowd favorite Gran Akuma, 5'9", 192#, fighting pretty-boy heel Brett Thunder, 5'7", 180#. Brett looks great, like Chachi on steroids, but all you have to do is see Akuma's chrome dome and hear the fans scream for Thunder's head on a platter to know how this is going to end. When Brett scuttles out of the ring as Akuma approaches, his doom is all but guaranteed. The opener establishes a theme that is picked up in the next match, as well: the triumph of down-and-dirty masculinity over flowery metrosexuality. Reverberations of the theme repeat in even later matches (for instance, Jones-versus-Rance: see below). I like the angle, too, so long as it doesn't turn overtly homophobic or misogynistic. I have gone on record more than once about how much I enjoy a cowardly heel. For some reason, I, who am not excessively or obsessively "masculine," have a real interest in the perpetuation of some of the cultural norms of masculinity and do not mind when deviations from them, when combined with a reprehensible disregard for fair play and sportsmanship, get punished in the squared circle.
Next up, North Carolina boy Brad Attitude, 6'3", 232#, takes on Sal Rinauro, 5'9", 191# (second picture above), whose sexuality is brought into question by the color commentators (apparently you can tell something about his sexual orientation by the guy's "fashion sense"). Sal stands on the apron, reluctant to get in the ring with the bigger fighter. The crowd jeers and taunts him, while Brad hammocks himself upon the top corner ropes and waits, amused and contemptuous. The stalling goes on too long, I think. Then it turns into a recurring theme. I get the point. Sal's a cowardly fancy-boy. I want to see Brad kick his ass now. But the fans appear to eat it up: big ole country boy putting the fear of god into a Los Angeleno blowhard. I like it, too; only I had much rather see a fight, which we do, eventually. Sal uses his quarrel with the fans to stall for even more time, but he does at last climb into the ring to face Brad. The last five minutes of the match are good, almost good enough to make up for the long exposition. Sal, unsurprisingly, resorts to dirty tricks to get Brad right where he wants him. But then, also unsurprisingly, Brad's sheer immensity, plus the roar of the crowd's good will, overtakes the machinations of Rinauro, and the lesser man gets his lights abruptly and splendidly knocked out.
Next, Jigsaw, 6'2", 183#, unmasked, goes up against Shawne Osborne, 6'1", 235# (third picture). It's great seeing Jigsaw without his mask. The mask is indeed awesome, but Jigsaw has a terrific face that begs for sympathy, my sympathy anyway, a face typical of my idea of the Bronx (having never lived there), street tough with strong undertones of soulful sensitivity, and it's a shame to have all that emotion always tucked away behind a mask, no matter how cool and iconic it is. Osborne is a thick, burly bull of a wrestler, who, unlike Jigsaw, fails to win the fans' hearts. In this case, they're all for the little guy ... in the fancy pants. So, resigned to his unpopularity, Shawne charges Jigsaw and pounds him into the corner and then down to the mat. Jigsaw's torso is much better defined and his tights much tighter in 2012, but in 2008 he still catches the eye. His wiry muscle in struggle with Osborne's broad shoulders and barrel chest has some of the poignancy of a skinny cowboy roping a 1700-pound bull. It's a good fight with a surprise finish.
Three tag team matches follow, featuring some personal favorites like "Delicious" Damien Wayne, Rhett Titus, and Grizzly Redwood (all three familiar to me through the Carolina regional promotion GOUGE Wrestling). These matches are good, but it's a rare tag-team match that toots my whistle, though I get more involved as individual fighters face off one on one. A championship challenge opens the trio. Bad guys Kenny King and Jason Blade lose the FIP tag team belts to Roderick Strong and Erick Stevens (King and Strong in the fourth picture, above).
The last two matches were my original motivation for buying this disk. First, Chris Jones, 5'8", 166#, battles Chasyn "Not Cocky" Rance, 5'9", 185# (fifth and sixth pictures). Chasyn, looking slick and pampered in a classic 40s-era ring robe, black with turquoise trim, draws nothing but boos and hisses from the crowd. They hate him. But all the hate in the world can take nothing away from the man's beauty. Chris flies out to the ring, arms waving and legs kicking, bumping every outstretched hand along the way. Chris, who had just turned 18 two months previous, is the defending Florida Heritage champion and the embodiment of the red-blooded American roughneck: heavy brows, buzz-cut hair, pug nose, forehead like a battering ram. The two lock up and remain locked tight as they tug, shove, and roll, only breaking when Chris drives Chasyn into the ropes. The teenage champion controls the first third of the match, lots of rope work and (key to my heart) mat grappling. Chasyn turns the tables and gets close to wringing a submission out of Chris, but a shot to the midsection gives Chris a new lease. The fight is neck and neck for the last half, climaxing with a sudden inside-cradle pin that saves the belt for Jones. Given these guys' stocky brawn and sharp contrast in styles (suave oiliness versus blunt instrument), I would have have paid the full $15 for this match alone.
Then Tyler Black, 6'1", 213# (seventh and eighth pictures), challenges FIP world heavyweight champion Go Shiozaki, 6', 240#. This is before Tyler emerged as a singles star at Ring of Honor, well over a year before he beat Austin Aries for the ROH title. In my opinion, this is Tyler at his peak, physically and attitudinally, before the ROH fans turned against him and before WWE and Florida Championship Wrestling snapped him up. He enters with a surge of energy and youthful high spirits. Shiozaki, on the other hand, looks bloated, a tired smirk on his lips as he follows an oversized Japanese flag to the ring. It's a typical faceoff between youthful idealism and jaded cynicism. Let me say this again: this is Tyler Black at his most beautiful, which is saying a lot, since the man's still a knockout. Go has supporters in the crowd, too, but the most vocal fans chant "U-S-A," urging Black to victory and the championship. The champ makes a phony offer of a sportsmanlike handshake, only to slap Tyler's extended hand away. Tyler then lights into the guy, beating him down to the mat, and Go strategically rolls out of the ring. Shiozaki seems to realize Tyler may be too much for him. Too much youthful vigor to be easily contained. Tyler commands a clear lead till Go lets go with a brutal assault that lands Black's groin against the turnbuckle. What follows is a spectacle of misery and emasculation that nobody sells better than Tyler. As some of you might hope, this consumes the larger share of the match. Then spurred by the fans' cries, Tyler turns the tables to give the inscrutable Asian an old-fashioned North American beatdown. While interfering managers and wrestlers provide a frenzied distraction at ringside, Shiozaki regains equilibrium, till both men in the ring are near exhaustion. This leads to another of my favorite narrative bits in pro wrestling: the heaving, sweaty toe-to-toe slug fest, which climaxes in a super-kick, splash, and pinfall. Really good stuff here. And for $15US, you can't beat it for fantasy thrills and entertainment.