Last Wednesday on Dynamite, an incredibly AEW match was announced. With the IWGP United States Title on the line, AEW’s own Jon Moxley would return, taking on IMPACT Wrestling’s Karl Anderson. Naturally, the response to this was rather one-sided, as AEW’s lead protagonist officially back. Armed with ‘Wild Thing’ as live crowds returned, Moxley’s own return had been discussed and debated, now simply being announced in the midst of Dynamite chaos. Personally though, I experienced a slightly different thrill.
Watching on delay, I was off social media, avoiding spoilers and unaware of the triumphant return awaiting me. Naturally, my social media was filled with one very real message and indeed, it wasn’t a celebration of Moxley’s re-emergence. Far from it in fact, which speaks volumes about my brand considering how thoroughly I’ve enjoyed Moxley in AEW. That wasn’t the focus here though as instead, my collection of lunatic followers united, proudly reiterating a simple, solitary thing: ‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson.
You know, people really think that is some kind of bit. It’s understandable I suppose, I’m surrounded by performance artists in this game, can’t really question the cynicism. I can confirm though that this is no bit, I just love ‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson. Over the last decade, the industry’s in-ring style has certainly evolved or at the very least, changed. Much of that development was hosted by New Japan Pro Wrestling, with Karl Anderson present in exactly that promotion until 2016.
Now, I’m all for that evolution. I can enjoy the modern trendsetters, I can appreciate those pushing bell-to-bell boundaries. With that being said, there’s something to be said for tradition, those timeless offerings that could belong in any era. At his best, Karl Anderson was an often underrated example of that, bringing a no-nonsense, meat and potatoes style built on simple, solid fundamentals. Granted, Anderson wasn’t one-dimensional, pairing those features with electric finishing stretches too, the kind that NJPW has become increasingly famous for.
Slick as Anderson was in those moments though, it was seldom the appeal for me. Instead, it was his now unique style adapting to a setting that due to the era, had become home. Karl Anderson didn’t have a WCW and without WWE credentials or outrageous acrobatics, he barely had a TNA back then either. Instead, Karl Anderson was a throwback, traditional worker existing in a pro wrestling world that was appreciating those less than ever. Anderson was certainly dynamic, just not in the fashion that his generation expected or at times, even required.
At a time of almost ground-breaking independent excellence, Anderson was a sound, polished television performer without the television to host him. In 2008, that led Anderson to NJPW instead, a rare chance at the relative big time. Though it soon became the norm, that fit was always interesting to me. Naturally, there was a very pronounced element of Anderson tradition to Karl’s work. Arn Anderson in particular, even beyond the famed spinebuster itself. Rough and tough, Karl was a burly brute that with conviction, talked for himself.
In fact, Karl was very much the Bullet Club’s Arn, enough of a leader to not require the spotlight of leadership itself. World Championship Wrestling’s long-standing relationship with NJPW meant that Arn appeared in the Japanese promotion semi-regularly during the 90s, but it never felt quite right. Arn was a classical US workhorse and that just never matched with the audience experiencing his usual antics. That’s not necessarily a criticism either, not every place is optimal for every performer, that’s what makes this stuff interesting.
By contrast though, Karl Anderson managed to become a constant, the promotion’s most reliable gaijin in years. Versatility helped, as Anderson unlocked those aforementioned finishing sequences, rich with flash and fluidity. He also benefitted from an emerging era though, as the company’s house style began to expand. With Hiroshi Tanahashi as the unmatched ace, NJPW’s in-ring offerings were more Americanized than ever, proudly wearing the influence of Steamboat and Michaels in his many classics. Though polarizing, that shift would eventually prove pivotal in my view.
It allowed NJPW to become that true major league alternative that western eyes had been waiting for. These grand, sport-centric main events always had immense appeal but now, they were far more palatable for the uninitiated, uneducated eye. These were the modern extensions of those NWA Title masterpieces, allowing attention to detail and emotional investment to make magic even within the simplest structures. Karl Anderson is one half of a personal favourite in that genre, as he challenged Tanahashi for his IWGP Heavyweight Title at New Beginning 2012.
Anderson and Tanahashi combine for what effectively, is an NWA Title thriller that’s not only taking place in Osaka, Japan but more than that, it’s thriving there too. This was Karl’s take on the matches that he grew up on, a title tilt rich with competition and intensity. The stakes were palpable, looming over proceedings with each and every momentum shift. Anderson wasn’t a mere foreign villain being fit into Tanahashi’s formula either, he was the match’s heart and soul, as the audience rooted him on with not only admiration but at times, a raw desperation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know, I know. How awful cliché to cite this match but it’s a classic in the best way, as it encapsulates all of Anderson’s most brilliant, intriguing strengths. In truth though, the beauty of Anderson is his ability to use those assets in tighter, more restricted roles. It was his ability to make a 12 minute G1 match stick night after night, hooking people by the finish even if he wasn’t necessarily the focus. He’s just immensely watchable, an engaging, enduring in-ring presence.
I was happy to see Anderson on the WWE stage and remain thankful that it happened. In terms of legacy, that stuff is worthwhile in my view, even if it obviously received an extension too many. When Anderson re-signed in 2019, I was admittedly frustrated because simply put, that just felt like the end in some ways. Selfishly, I wanted another chapter of this ilk, a return to the form that made Anderson so revered. That wasn’t happening on RAW and SmackDown but now two years later and clearly, the wrestling world has changed.
That leads Anderson to next week’s Dynamite, representing IMPACT Wrestling in a match for New Japan gold. This clash with Moxley was pencilled in for eighteen months ago, January 4th, Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome. We can never recreate that possibly, it’s a lost moment that in terms of Anderson’s homecoming, we’re still waiting for. For now though, this is a decent alternative, as Anderson and Moxley get their match on global television, the industry’s hottest show in fact.
It’s been a year folks but now more than ever, ‘The Machine Gun’ feels truly back and after all that’s happened, this chapter is still only just getting started.
2 thoughts on “‘The Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson”
First time commenting, new to the Patreon, not so new to The Distraction and yourself.
Alluding to Karl Anderson being BC’s Arn was just *chef’s kiss*
Great read, looking forward to more, and looking forward to The Machine Gun vs The Death Rider!
Much love Joe.
– Alfred aka Almatic
All hail pal, thank you!