Thursday, August 17, 2017

Monkey Flip: NOVA 2016

It's 2016, a year away from destiny, and Alex Helton begins it by telling himself the same nonsense he's been telling himself all along, and he keeps getting the same results.  He drops the tornado championship at Idolwild, giving Cairo Brown the rub, and then in February working yet another program with best friend and long-time enabler Scott Peavy.

Things get interesting in March.  The Russian Koba, the monster of a machine who is only just beginning to steamroll the sport of professional wrestling, lobbies hard to work with Alex.  Colt Carson, the perennial prig who succeeds with the cult promotion NOVA despite himself but will never admit it, is dead-set against it.  He won't budge.  It's actually the first crack in his grip on Koba, but he doesn't know it.  Koba knows what he wants, and he's already important enough in the company despite having arrived only last September where Carson is forced to take his demands seriously.  But not without a price.  This is a fight Koba has been waging on Alex's behalf for months.  While Scott had headlined a couple cards over NOVA's three-year existence, Alex never has, despite being one of its most dependable performers.  But in Alex's case, it's made him easy to take for granted. 

Koba, though, knows what he sees, and he threatens to walk away if Carson doesn't give him what he wants.  Carson's retaliation is swift and brutal: Koba's forced to drop the NOVA title to Oz Hedges at Idolwild.  The backlash from fans effectively tanks Oz's popular career, even though he'll go on to certain success in WPW, just nowhere near where he might have if he hadn't been branded a stooge backstage.  Koba will walk away after July, and end up with the same impactful career he'd left behind, taking his eternal fight with Bronson into NWW and perhaps one day even beyond, once Bronson's made his transition to WPW.  Time will tell.  Bronson is a guy who realizes Koba has been given a raw deal, and talks his way into NOVA merely to help point it out, but he has bite behind his bark, and he becomes more successful than even Koba, and in a shorter length of time, and leaves even sooner, just as fed up with Carson's bullshit.

They're the first chinks in the company's armor, but because guys like Alex stay, it survives.  Actually, it's because guys like Alex stay that it survives, because they stick around precisely to prove it's endurable.  But even Alex leaves as soon as he hits it big, a year later...

The match with Koba, at the Pink Mist card in March, becomes Alex's signature, the match that makes his career, solidifies it, makes everyone really sit up and pay attention.  He breaks all his rules.  For one night he embodies everything he'd previously feared.  Koba knows as well as he does that his reigns with the kendo championship didn't mean what his reputation became because of them, but that he'll have to use brutality in order to sell his ability to keep up in this clash.  He in fact uses a kendo stick at various points, never with the signature monkey flip, never again, but every other thrilling variation he can imagine.  It's enough to give Koba his longest match to that point in the company.  Alex loses the match, and the next month is given a complete throwaway match with the eternally overwhelmed Gabe Parkman.  Koba keeps the title a few more months before dropping it permanently, to "Stunner" Steve Williams, who makes it seem credible while Koba works his greatest, and career-defining, NOVA match with Bronson in July's Warrior card, just a few months before Bronson repeats history, claiming the NOVA title and quickly walking out on the company...

Alex is nowhere to be seen the next two months, after the pointless Parkman match.  He resurfaces on the same Warrior card, once again battling Scott.  His pal is well on his way to solidifying the slow burn "Beast" character he'll one day elevate to WPW in the Helton/Peavy feud to end them all, their names changed but their chemistry once and forever intact.  This is all Koba needs to tell Bronson he needs to work with Alex, too, and the lobbying to make that happen...But it does.  At Three Rules in August, Alex and Bronson compete in a stretcher match.  The company had actually ditched the gimmick championships by this point, hoping to legitimize its business to mainstream fans, but this is the card where they will always live on, year after year.  By being placed in one of the eponymous "rules" matches (including a NOVA title match) on the card, Alex is being given the begrudging nod he's earned, and against the company's would-be replacement prospect.  Bronson wins the title at the fifth Unleashed card the next month, and then...yeah.  Where is Alex on that card?  In a losing effort to Damian Goch, an indy star well on his way to accepting that NOVA would be someone else's spotlight..

Carson's become desperate, though.  Now, he's always telling Alex that.  He's confiding in Alex as never before.  In the biggest irony of the whole company, the man Carson has tried so hard to bury over the years by keeping him always just on the cusp of a breakthrough is suddenly desperately needed to keep everything together.  Alex is booked in October to help launch another would-be hot prospect, Tupra, who will dance as Alex has danced over the years, perhaps forever, perhaps never to realize his full potential.  Alex realizes too late that Carson has actually used him, that he used Alex to bury another potential Koba, another potential Bronson, because looking back, he sees that Tupra had exactly that potential, but in being clipped off at the knees...

Still, he doesn't have too much time to feel bad, as he helps launch Anton Jericho into the next level in November.  Jericho is part of the emerging next generation of NOVA stars, and he's just found himself, one of the first stars NOVA has genuinely created.  The experience of working with him at this point in Anton's career is enough for Alex and Scott to remember him later, when they've been granted permission by WPW to write their own checks, so to speak. 

It's important to remember, too, that this is the period where NOVA undergoes a drastic format change that sweeps the rest of the wrestling landscape before long.  Having been exposed years ago as scripted, wrestling had struggled to find a way to reclaim a semblance of credibility.  NOVA's solution is to give real value to wins and losses.  The idea is that a win will advance you further up the card, until you've earned a shot in the main event.  Everyone has a fair chance now, and fresh matchups are guaranteed every month, the spirit of NOVA's competition-based mentality.  Those who rack up a lot of wins will deserve competing for and winning championships, and holding on to them for long stretches at a time (even if NOVA itself will never quite figure out how to keep someone champion for very long). 

In theory, it's the greatest thing to ever happen to professional wrestling.  In's frustrating.  The gods truly must smile on you.  When they do everything's great, and you instantly look like a million bucks.  But if they don't...And Alex fears that once and for all Carson has actually devised the perfect system to justify keeping him down, where hotter fresher names will find Alex low on the card, even if they have less real talent...Case in point, a loss to Oliver Pine, another guy who will never live up to his potential, in December...

But again, all this changes in 2017...!

Elsewhere, Steve Williams begins his campaign for greatness in RoG, which has suddenly lit up hotter than NOVA, thanks to realizing just how far behind it'd fallen in recent years.  Names like Williams, Nero, Bobby Brisco, Gorilla Graham, and Freddie Hammond emerge as the futures of WPW and NWW.  In NWW, meanwhile, Andy Lethal begins to emerge as a breakout star, years before he and Iron Henry join NOVA.  And who's that in October?  Bronson!  But much, much more on in in 2017.  And 2018.  And 2019...And...In WPW, Paul Tugend continues to prove that he's the face of the company for the foreseeable future.  And least, until Alex arrives...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monkey Flip: NOVA 2015

It's 2015, and Alex is still two years away from destiny, two years away from feeling like he's actually accomplished something, two years away from feeling like he's got any real worth...

For January's annual Idolwild card, the one NOVA always uses to introduce its latest acquisitions, Alex learns that he's working against Mistico, a wrestler who's adopted a famous moniker but who will never, like Sin Cara in another reality, amount to much as a commodity in the United States.  Still, Colt Carson loves Mistico, and so he's booked to have a strong initial push, and that means a win over Alex, which means Alex has to work overtime to get him over, whatever he has to do, which because Mistico has virtually no experience outside of Mexico, basically everything.  This one match puts so much psychological strain on Alex, he questions all over again whether he really wants to continue pushing this dream forward.  What fans typically refer to as botches, happen practically once a minute.  He's a mess once he reaches backstage, a sparsely catered ghost corridor, and throws up.

He begs Carson to let him work with Scott again.  This will always be Alex's go-to solution.  He's scheduled to work against Damian Goch, in yet another grueling kendo championship program, but Carson is tiring of Alex and gives in without much fuss, so the spot and the title go to Idan Judd, an upstart former Olympian who will never live up to his potential, who Alex will wrestle in April for the title, Idan's last match with the promotion, an unmitigated disaster of a match that further erodes Alex's self-esteem.  To the paying fans he seems better than fine, but privately he's falling apart.  For March's card, he's booked in a tornado title match where all he needs to do is put over the increasingly popular Cairo Brown, who has definitely been paying his dues, which will show when WPW comes calling for him, just like Alex.

In May, Alex shepherds the green Lloyd Cole, who will never amount to anything, in a basic and unsatisfying kendo match, before transitioning back to Brown in June, in a match Alex finally feels ready to cut loose.  It's the end of his third and final run with the title, but Alex is more than ready to move on.  Even if his preferred use of kendo sticks is graceful, contrary to the familiar brutality of the weapon, fans more often than not prefer Carson into delivering the expected.  Of course there was a reason Alex never went with that style, because it's brutal and destroys the body.  He can name plenty of colleagues who perform in constant pain because of these expectations, and he desperately wants to avoid becoming one of them.  Brown obliges, and they spend half the match performing Alex's signature kendo stick monkey flip.  When the bell finally rings, and he's tapped out to Brown's River Song, Alex does one last flip, of the kendo stick into the crowd, a symbolic ending to this phase of his career.

In July, he teams with Scott in another tornado title match, and they become one of the rare duos to compete on successive cards together in NOVA's variation of tag team matches, winning both times.  As one of four matches at Three Rules in August, it's a testament to Alex's emerging job security with the company.  Even Carson can no longer deny his significance to the company.  Alex and Scott work a third tornado title match at Unleashed IV, the annual card celebrating NOVA's inception, this time on opposing teams.

Because he continues to win these matches, Alex is blindsided when he's left off December's card.  NOVA holds one card a month where the whole roster might be expected to appear; their one hour weekly shows, because in the grand scheme of things they're a small company that makes sporadic house show dates, only have so much space to spotlight the roster.  He spends a lot of time in an unfulfilling real estate career, hoping one day to put it behind him.  The last thing he wants is to be showing houses during the last show of the year. 

He also has to admit to a certain amount of professional jealousy: NOVA has signed one of the hottest prospects wrestling will see for the next half-dozen years, the Russian Koba, who makes his debut at Unleashed IV.  Koba is pushed all the way to the top almost instantly, a fighting machine the lacks of which have rarely been seen, who so thoroughly dominates everyone he meets that he fairly decimates them.  Unlike a lot of monsters who are monsters simply because they're limited workers, Koba understands the business so well it's virtually impossible to keep up with him.  Alex realizes for the first time that perhaps his limited growth is a product of his limited skills, that if he wants to be seen as the best he has to be the best.  He watches Koba and he wonders...In a few years time he'll have figured it all out.

Elsewhere in 2015, "Hustle" Paul Tugend emerges as the new face of WPW, the very man Alex is destined to succeed.  In NWW, Iron Henry becomes the third generation in his family to ascend that company's ladder of success.  He'll later compete in NOVA at the same level and help revitalize the company, what some will call an evolution.  In RoG, BM Pro completes his transformation by winning the Super 8 a second time (this time against some true future standouts, including "Stunner" Steve Williams and Tommy Hart), and then winning the company's heavyweight title before abruptly jumping ship to WPW, where he will quickly dominate its ACW brand, foreshadowing his emergence as a superstar who will one day compete against Alex at World Famous under very similar circumstances...