I'm not usually a fan of long, drawn-out shots of wrestlers warming up before a match, but watching Archer and Cratos stretch and flex never got old for me, even though I think the warmups are roughly twice the length of what I'm used to in m4m wrestling vids. I've griped about shorter warmups, I know. I can't explain my inconsistencies on this point (or on other points either), but Archer and Cratos limbering up, in separate prologues shown end to end, only whetted my appetite for the match to follow, which I'm sure is the intention of all such warmup sequences. My first thought was that these guys must remind me of guys I used to know, how else to explain the instantaneous affinity? (I'm notoriously slow to warm up to anyone new, one of the perils of extreme introversion. It often takes me days if not weeks to realize I'm attracted to somebody, a real handicap back when I still cruised the bars.) But though there's something vaguely familiar about them both, I can't match their faces or physiques to any memories of my past. I think it's just that they both belong to broadly general "types" in my psychosexual makeup: surfer boy and Greek god, perhaps.
The match starts genially enough. They shake hands and circle each other, teasing me further by making tentative gestures towards physical engagement, an outstretched hand, an aborted lunge, but taking forever and a weekend to finally lock up. It's a good thing that when they finally do get in a tight clench, I can feel the friction and impact in my loins. I expected Cratos, with a noticeable weight advantage, to make short work of Archer, and to wind up the show in a measly two rounds. But Archer is a fighter. He twists, writhes, and thrusts his way loose of Cratos' limbs, and this looks like serious "real" grappling that's happening, strenuous and exciting, and oh so very hot.
For most of the first round, Archer squeezes free from a series of grappling holds that look (to my eyes) inescapable. If Cratos looked like he was bluffing or holding back, I would not be this excited about Archer's tattoo-proclaimed "perseverance" and resilience. But Cratos is unmistakably a powerful man, and there's nothing half-assed about any of his holds. And there's nothing phony about the effort and nerve that Archer exhibits as he strains and squirms against the pressure of Cratos' veiny, steel-belted muscle. If this is fake, then I am fooled (and loving it). But the pale imprints left by Cratos' limbs on Archer's ruddy complexion do not look computer generated.
At a pivotal point, Archer gains the upper hand on Cratos, positioning himself at his back for a rear naked choke hold that does not knock the big man out, but it sure wears him down to a more manageable level of brute strength. Cratos is Archer's bitch for the remainder of the round, which goes, in what I took to be a surprising but rather compelling upset, to Archer, with a not entirely convincing but still dramatic armlock submission.
In all this the chief false notes I detected were jump cuts to closeups of the dominant fighter popping a bicep for the camera, for added drama, and the obvious condensation of time--the too-rapidly setting sun would have given this away if it weren't already well known that the action we see in studio matches (as opposed to live-audience events) is almost never continuous.
Round Two does not go as well for Archer. Refreshed by a brief intermission, Cratos has learned not to underestimate the man, either his strength or his wiliness. His best weapon against him is still his superior mass and strength, and if Archer's rear choke succeeded in draining away some of Cratos' power, then Cratos' bearhugs succeed in slowing Archer down. The scenario of the second round--bigger man crushing the littler man--is expected and by now anticipated. But it is splendidly done, as Cratos makes damn sure that the almost indefatigable Archer does not get an opportunity to turn the tables again. Cratos unleashes a whipping on Archer that puts the brunet in his place, bending him in two in a Boston crab, forcing him to tap, and serves up a second-round win in Cratos' column.
With the score even, the pressure is on for both men to shine in the third round. By this point whatever was "real" in the first part of the match has worn away, and what we're getting now is artifice and pronouncedly kayfabe, but we're no worse off than we are in 90% of other staged matches, and the staging here is rather well done, as is the acting. I won't say anything about this round, except to say that I found it satisfying, validating my impression that both these wrestlers are terrific additions to the Thunder's roster. Archer pops up again in Rough and Ready 26, against Python. Since I saw 26 before I saw 24, for me part of the surprise of 24 is Archer's fluid performance and athleticism, which were not so evident against Python, confirming my suspicion that wrestlers work better against some opponents than against others--that and the fact that, given his shyness in front of the camera and his almost paralyzing brawn, Python does not often give an opponent much to work with, beautiful though he is. Cratos' second outing (in Rough and Ready 28) is more successful, facing down Lance Romance (a bout I reviewed last month). I hope Cratos gets a shot at Big Sexy soon (and vice versa), and he'd be interesting up against Impact or Braden, too. Cratos-vs-Dominic would almost certainly be a hit. I could even see Cratos and Archer teaming up against brothers Impact and TAK, and a match between Archer and Hooper, another newcomer whom I've not seen in action yet, is something else I might like to see one day soon.