The Battle of Los Angeles, or BOLA as I shall refer to it henceforth, is one of wrestling’s more enduring tournaments. This year it celebrates a decade of existence. The first tournament taking place in Los Angeles (duh) way back in 2005. The first show featured an array of top Indie talent battling over two nights. This included AJ Styles, American Dragon (Daniel Bryan), Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens), James Gibson (Jamie Noble) and Rocky Romero. The tournament was won by PWG mainstay Chris Bosh, after a tournament long angle concerning an AJ Styles injury. Bosh won the final match in less than six minutes before embarking on an “Austin 3:16” knock-off speech. The speech itself was a fantastic idea that the crowd loved BUT unfortunately Bosh failed to tell AJ his plan and Styles, a devout Christian, went into a Jesus-based rage and cut Bosh’s speech off in mid-flow. How can AJ Styles not have seen the Austin 3:16 promo? I guess he was a WCW fan, being from the south.
The following year the tournament got slightly more ambitious and PWG began a long tradition of bringing new talent in to North America. The 2006 event saw the inclusion of wrestlers from Dragon Gate including CIMA, Dragon Kid and Genki Horiguchi. Also involved were El Generico (Sami Zayn), Chris Sabin, Roderick Strong and Davey Richards. The latter beating CIMA to win. Unlike other big Indie tournaments, like the Ted Petty Invitational, PWG has leaned towards talent that can continue to be a success for them when selecting a winner instead of picking a flavour of the month to win.
2007 was the first time the final was a three-way elimination match. It was scheduled to be in 2006 but a Super Dragon injury prevented his inclusion. The 2007 edition again featured a rich array of talent including Alex Shelley, Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne), Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), Necro Butcher, PAC (Adrian Neville) and Nigel McGuinness. CIMA returned, beating his Dragon Gate buddy Shingo along the way, to capture the victory.
2008 was a slightly more low key tournament, won appropriately by Low Ki. PWG like to have shocks in the BOLA and 2008 saw Kenny Omega, Roderick Strong, Austin Aries and former winner Davey Richards ousted in the first round. It showed the talent available that they could even consider doing that. Most Indie shows couldn’t. Other participants included McGuinness, Masato Yoshino, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) and Chris Hero. It was the latter who was beaten by Low Ki in the final. The tournament reverting to a one on one final.
In 2009 even more was at stake with the PWG title vacant and being awarded to the winner. The title had become vacant when Bryan Danielson beat Chris Hero for the belt, ending Hero’s epic 425 day reign as champion, only to be unable to defend the title as he’d signed for WWE. Writing this in 2015, the wrestling landscape has changed in regard to WWE’s attitude towards Indie groups. 2009 featured some risky tournament booking as PWG picked home talent Joey Ryan to make it to the semi’s and Brandon Gatson to get a big run, going over Alex Shelley in the second round. The final match delivered regardless with Kenny Omega defeating Roderick Strong to win BOLA and the PWG title.
2010 is one of the more disappointing BOLA’s. Brandon Gatson returned and again made it to the semi’s. Joey Ryan ended up winning his first BOLA by defeating Chris Hero. The main highlight of the tournament was the success of Akira Tozawa, who was beaten by Hero in the quarter-final in a heroic career-making performance. Tozawa’s BOLA turned from joke to superstar in his home country.
2011 is the only BOLA to take place in one day. The streamlined tournament saw El Generico capture BOLA after having a thrilling first round match with Claudio Castagnoli. A match that would be repeated on NXT Arrival in 2014. The final contest saw Generico best long-time friend and tag team partner Kevin Steen. Presumably the WWE were watching PWG in 2011 as most of their Sami Zayn NXT booking stems from this show. Other notable participants included Dave Finlay. Perhaps he was WWE’s mole as he went back to WWE as a producer/agent the following year.
2012 saw the Indies needing to rebuild as so many Indie talents had either signed for WWE or were busy in TNA. Nature abhors a vacuum and that’s true in wrestling as much as anything else. When there are no stars available new ones will be created. There were great showings in this tournament for Sami Callihan (Solomon Crowe), Adam Cole, Michael Elgin and Ricochet. Cole eventually besting Elgin in the final match. Both men would see their ROH careers take off after this.
2013 saw another highly rated BOLA featuring new, exciting talent like Johnny Gargano, ACH and Kyle O’Reilly. ACH vs. O’Reilly was a particularly special match. O’Reilly would go on to claim victory in the final against Michael Elgin. Poor Big Mike, always the bridesmaid.
2014 was the first three night BOLA and saw the breakout for UK wrestler Zack Sabre Jr. Sabre highlighted the first round with a win over Adam Cole, before an outstanding match with Kyle O’Reilly in the second round where his tournament ended. The tournament saw a number of top talents get a chance to shine with Ricochet, Gargano and Strong making the three-way final. Another star-making performance was that of Candice LeRae, who made it past Rich Swann before losing to Gargano. Finally Trevor Lee had a breakout tournament, making it to the semi finals before also losing to Gargano.
This brings us up to 2015 and a tournament that features a wonderful array of talent from all over the place. As a UK based fan it was particularly interesting to see Will Ospreay, Mark Andrews, Drew Galloway, Marty Scurll, Tommy End and Zack Sabre Jr. involved. Being a relative stranger to the modern US Indie scene it was an opportunity for me to scope out talent from there and also from Mexico, thanks to the inclusion of Aero Star, Fenix, Drago and Pentagon Jr.
28th August 2015.
Part of the joy of BOLA is the atmosphere created by a few hundred die-hard Indie wrestling fans being packed into the sweatbox that is the American Legion Post #308 in Reseda. It may not compare to MSG, the Arena Mexico, Sumo Hall or even York Hall in terms of venues but it’s a special one. A modern day Viking Hall in terms of atmosphere. Hosts are the always entertaining Excalibur and Chuck Taylor.
Brian Cage vs. Aero Star
Both guys are from AAA and also Lucha Underground. Cage is a big American powerhouse. Aero Star is in this match to get the crowd going with pleasing flippity lucha stuff. Speaking of the crowd, they are molten from the first bell getting into count-along spots like the stalling suplex, banging on the ring apron. Aero Star makes the first fuck up of the tournament and even repeats the spot. But that does not effect his confidence and he throws himself into spots with the kind of reckless abandon that makes me appreciate wrestlers so much more. Aero Star botches again, attempting a springboard super rana then they fuck up a Code Red. They’re trying, bless them, but it’s a disaster out there. Cage decides to save things with a STEINER SCREWDRIVER!!! Naturally Aero Star is dead. Match was really botchy but I can’t hate on it because the finish was insane.
Final Rating: *3/4
Biff Busick vs. Andrew Everett
Busick has since been hired by the WWE and has reported to NXT. Everett is a flier whereas Busick is more of an all-rounder. Busick’s strikes alone differentiate him to the guys in the first match whereas Everett is keen to flip around. Busick has the strike/suplex kind of offence that is beloved by Indie fans and any fans for that matter. Everett needs to do crazy stuff to just get a look in and does so; CRAZY OUTTA CONTROL SSP TO THE FLOOR! Of the two I much prefer Busick, due to his experience and style but Everett is a lot of fun. Biff shows flashes of Val Venis and Lance Storm but switches into his own stuff to make it all so much more brutal. Russian legsweep into an Octopus, Maple Leaf into an STF. Everett can’t match any of this. His body is somewhat out of shape and Busick is a machine. Almost all of Everett’s offence is desperation stuff. Until he flips out of a German suplex and hits a hands-free reverse rana. It’s sick! Obviously the selling is somewhat lacking as all these guys are desperate to get their shit in and show the crowd everything they have in the locker. It’s definitely a showcase. This is never more evident when Everett goes up for a Phoenix Splash and can’t quite land it. Everett’s stuff looks a bit too pre-planned, whereas Busick is snug and clean. Everett attempts a springboard SSP but gets planted with the mid-air European uppercut, one of several Cesaro-inspired spots in the Busick locker, and Biff advances. Clearly the right choice, in spite of Everett’s occasionally jaw-dropping offence.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Mark Andrews vs. Will Ospreay
Nice to see Ospreay’s chant has made it over to the States (“Ole, Ole, Ole” with Ospreay replacing Ole). He looks so damn happy about it too. Ospreay’s skill set is incredible, especially considering he’s only 22. Andrews is no joke either and they nail some lucha spots making the first four guys look positively amateurish by comparison. Ospreay shows another aspect of his game with a few innovative stretches that freak the crowd out. Ospreay makes Andrews look insanely good to the point where the crowd are cheering for him. The collaboration spots are on point. There’s a lot of flipping and insane near falls that get the entire crowd on their feet. For a ten minute match it’s quite incredible. I’ve omitted most of the PBP for this one because I was sat enjoying it. They attempted a lot of difficult spots in this and nailed all of them.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Inner City Machine Guns (Ricochet & Rich Swann) vs. Los Gueros del Cielo (Angelico & Jack Evans)
This would be the first non-tournament match, used to involved tournament participants on most nights. Angelico is a handsome South African wrestler, who’s 6’ 3”. He has a regular team with Evans in AAA. The team-name translates to the “Warriors of Heaven”. Catholic countries are so dramatic. The crowd sing “All Night Long” to try and get Evans to dance but ICMG’s dance instead. DANCE OFF! Rich Swann lifts a hilarious tribute to the YouTube clip of “you can’t do this on concrete” and head-spikes into the mat. That level of self-abuse is ripe for a match in DDT against YOSHIHIKO (DDT’s legendary sex doll wrestler). The dance off and the slower pace shows what this match exists for; it’s a buffer match to calm everyone down. ICMG’s work a very deliberate style, resorting to comedy and spots like the People’s Moonsault.
The great thing about Angelico is that, despite his height, he wrestles a very clean lucha style. I don’t know if it would ever translate to a major American promotion and he seems to have found his niche. You don’t see many South African luchadores cracking the USA. Angelico started out in Spain and then made the logical transition to Mexico. When the match does pick up a bit it only exists as a series of spots. It’s quite disappointing, compared to the matches that surround it. But then BOLA is mostly about the tournament. If anything it’s Angelico, the man I was least looking forward to seeing, that steals the match. His knee strikes on Ricochet are ridiculous. Ricochet actually takes a hell of a beating, which might factor into his BOLA title defence, which commences tomorrow. As the match progresses everyone gets tired in the heat of the building (referenced throughout the night as being over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the spots start to get a bit sloppy. Still Angelico has a moment of excellence with a suicide dive over the turnbuckle. He impresses me a great deal with his high spots. Evans finishes with the 630 Splash. This was a bit slow to get going, then a bit sloppy when it did get going. Not to the levels of Aero Star in the opener but noticeable. It ended up being decent filler but not anything more.
Final Rating: ***
Trent? vs. Trevor Lee
Trent? is also known as Trent Baretta, one half of Roppongi Vice in NJPW and it’s the same name (Barreta) that he used in the WWE. This is an odd rarity as Trent didn’t take the name into WWE with him but started using it when he was in developmental. I’m really not sure how he’s allowed to use it. Normally the WWE get very possessive about their creative. Trevor Lee, if you’ve never seen him, is a bit like Daniel Bryan only much younger and with a hick mentality. He has the same look and does kicks. The difference is that Lee is an angry young man. There’s a definite feeling that the heat in the building is starting to effect the crowd and it’s not popping spots like it was at the top of the show. Perhaps aware that once this bout is done, we’re into the marquee main event matches. From my point of view it doesn’t help that I find Baretta to be more effective as a comedy guy and he doesn’t do a lot of comedy in this. They have some big spots that work (like a massive German suplex on the apron from Lee) but a lot of the transitions and such don’t connect. Both men look completely exhausted after ten minutes and do a fine job of making the big spots mean something. There is actual, honest to God, selling. That helps to differentiate this from the spot-heavy matches that dominated the card up to this point. Lee eventually takes it with the Small Package Driver, beautifully executed. The match struggled to get going but delivered once it got there. The big spots really felt like they meant something.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Drago vs. Pentagon Jr.
Drago’s blue demon mask is pretty awesome. He brings the flying and Pentagon Jr. brings the dickish heel counters to those flying moves. The dropkick bang in the middle of a handspring is both evil and brilliant. I’m generally not keen on lucha but it often improves when the luchadores come into America and change their style just a little to eradicate some of the lucha silliness and make the matches just crazy. They have an especially good sequence where they tease dives a few times before Drago hits a tornillo. The match isn’t completely devoid of lucha stupidity but keeping it one on one helps. One of my biggest complaints about lucha is the multiple person idiocy. One of the most ridiculous spots in this is a Canadian Destroyer being used as a near fall. That is a goddamn finish every day of the week. Nobody should be kicking out of it. The familiarity stuff is nice where big moves are countered in mid-move. Pentagon Jr. is a bit sloppy in that respect but the ideas work. Package Piledriver murders Drago out of the tournament.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Fenix vs. Matt Sydal
Sydal has been getting hotter and hotter since coming back from injuries and his WWE run (2008-2013). This is the first clash of styles as it’s AAA vs. US and a lucha style vs. Sydal’s slightly lucha Dragon Gate flying. Although Sydal has more to his game than that and can work a fine mat game. Knowing that Fenix flies a lot Sydal takes his leg and wipes it out. It rapidly becomes a war with stiff kicks and vicious corner spots. Fenix does a fine job of selling the knee in between spots, allowing Sydal’s tactic to remain relevant. He still bounces around on it so it’s not super-effective but at least there’s a tip of the hat in there. Fenix surprises with his mat skill, tying Sydal in knots. It’s cleaner than anything Drago and Pentagon Jr. did. Fenix is winning the lucha show-off competition. Sydal plays all nice but dominant only for Fenix is be all FUCK YOUUUUU in response. This drives Sydal to counter-violence like a gorgeous spin kick to kill Fenix coming off the top. The strike counters are sublime throughout. Some of the counters from one move to another in mid-air remind me of the Sydal-Ospreay series in terms of ridiculousness. The Spanish Fly from Fenix is nuts as it’s from a standing position off the top but Sydal survives and takes it with the SSP. This was a seriously great match. When I talk about a general dislike of lucha it doesn’t extend to luchadores who are crisp and insane. Like Rey, like Psicosis, like Juvi, like Super Calo, like Flamita. Fenix is on that level. I already dig him a lot.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Eurotrash (Zack Sabre Jr., Marty Scurll & Tommy End) vs. Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Roderick Strong & The Young Bucks)
Zack and Strong have an existing feud thanks to a cracking match at Don’t Sweat the Technique. Strong is a complete dick to ring announcer Melissa Santos (who is an exceptionally attractive Hispanic lady who announces for Lucha Underground), which sets up the champs as the heels. Roddy is PWG champion and the Bucks the tag champs. Nice to see the “Tommy fucking End” chant made it over to the US as well. Scurll isn’t on Sabre Jr.’s level (they used to team as LDRS) as a mat wrestler but he’s pretty good and he’s good enough to take Nick Jackson to school. Bucks get so upset with it that they fall over each other in some of the evening’s best comedy. Meanwhile Sabre brings the most outstanding technical wrestling of the entire night.
The action hots up as they start doing crazy dives and End hits a goddamn moonsault to the floor. Even the tough striker is doing crazy dives. The insanity doesn’t stop there as Roddy goes for his apron backbreaker on Scurll and they MISS THE FUCKING APRON. Marty taking the bump straight to the floor. Marty has another great spot seeing as he’s wrestling the Bucks and his usual “superkick, just kidding” business works perfectly. From there they mock the Undertaker-Lesnar zombie situp laughing spot from SummerSlam, a spot that deserved to be mocked. There’s something hugely endearing about Nick Jackson being the Indytaker. It’s a fun atmosphere and a seriously entertaining match. Zack is especially wonderful, dismantling the Bucks’ limbs in vicious fashion.
Everyone in this is brilliant. It’s a colossally entertaining venture. Everything from End throwing knees to the Bucks superkicks to Sabre’s technical excellence to the multiple teaming spots to the insane counters to the comedy. Everything lands. And the match is nearly 30 minutes of constant action. It’s brilliant. The near finishes are nuts to the point where it’s totally overdone but it’s so much fun that I don’t care. Eventually the weight of numbers is just too much and Sabre gets pinned by Roddy, reigniting their feud. Of course now Zack has to win BOLA to stand any chance of getting another shot at Strong but stranger things have happened.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Summary: This is only Night One! There are two more nights of this madness to go. Naturally this is an easy thumbs up as there are three matches over **** and the rest of the card is really solid. If Aero Star hadn’t blown half his spots in the opener we might actually have had an entire card over ***. Could this be the best opening night of BOLA, ever? Gotta love wrestling.
15th November 2015.
ICW is the UK’s most successful promotion. You may not even have heard of it but they have the loyalist following and draw the largest, most energetic crowds in the UK. Considering it’s an exciting regional promotion that draws buzz from elsewhere and successfully tours the UK, it’s sort of comparable to ECW. It’s the little company that grew into something bigger. They don’t take themselves very seriously and name shows after Wayne’s World, Simpsons episodes and an assortment of other pop culture stuff. Here’s a few show names for your amusement: Smells Like Teen Spirit, What’s Your Boggle?, Up and Atom, The Goggles They Do Nothing, Dazed and Confused, Hadouken!, Tramspotting, Get To Da Choppa and Stop! He’s Already Dead!
Fear and Loathing, appealing to all the Hunter S. Thompson/wrestling fans out there (of which I am one), their 2006 debut show was the first Fear and Loathing. The attendance? 73. That’s not a typo. 73. It was headlined by Drew Galloway winning the ICW Championship. This was a fresh faced Drew Galloway, prior to his WWE run. Another Fear and Loathing show didn’t come around until 2009. The line-up on that card shows where the promotion went and it was populated almost entirely of local Scottish talent like Darkside (James Scott), Chris Renfrew, Kid Fite, William Grange and Liam Thomson.
By 2010 ICW was running more regularly and including the odd UK Indie talent like Noam Dar. The attendance on these shows was still in the early 100’s and the 2011 version of Fear and Loathing drew a crowd of 250. As the promotion ran more frequently they attracted more attention and were able to improve their ongoing storylines. Fear and Loathing 5, in 2012, took place in The Classic Grand. A slightly bigger venue than Apollo 23, which hosted F&L4.
It was during 2013 that the group started to attract some real attention for what they were doing and Fear and Loathing VI “Welcome to Bat Country” featured the Sumerian Death Squad and also Jack Jester winning the ICW title from Mikey Whiplash. It showed how well they’d built up the local talent that Rhino, former ECW champion, found himself in a midcard triple threat match with Jimmy Havoc and James Scott. He didn’t even win. Fear and Loathing VII, just over a year before this show saw ICW sell 1,600 tickets to see Drew Galloway reclaim his ICW title by defeating incumbent champion Jack Jester. The promotion’s home grown, local talent included Grado, Joe Coffey, Jackie Polo, BT Gunn and Kenny Williams. Kay Lee Ray, who was on that card, has since made her NXT debut. This is a promotion that’s still expanding and finding an audience. They’ve been grinding away for nine years at Glasgow but they’ve now got a product that a huge amount of Scottish wrestling fans want to see.
Just how big are ICW now? Well, before this show they ran a tour of the UK, like a Japanese promotion tours, taking in Dundee, Newcastle, Southampton, London, Liverpool, Norwich, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham. That’s a bigger tour than the WWE do.
We’re in Glasgow, Scotland at the SECC. Attendance for this is around 4,000. That’s four thousand people for a UK Indie show sold on two Scotsmen wrestling each other in the main event. It’s frankly astonishing but this is how you build a wrestling business. You work hard, you start small and build up to this. Let’s see how they do. As a venue comparison the twice-the-size Hydro, across the road, hosted 50 Cent recently and drew 4,500. ICW is in a pretty big ball park. Another comparison is TNA, usually seen as a global number two (or three, after New Japan), who drew 1,500 their last time out in Glasgow. That’s not even a bad crowd, it’s just another number to reinforce how strong this ICW one is. Hosts are Billy “Fucking” Kirkwood and William “Friggin” Grange. Nice to see young William can smarten himself up a bit. Good lad.
The venue is packed and it’s a sea of Scots. It’s amazing. To kick the show off out comes Mark Dallas, ICW owner and “Kingpin”. It’s fair to say he’s a babyface messiah, not unlike Paul Heyman in front of his ECW throng. “We’ve even got a Titantron. We call it the Big Telly”. Dallas has a big reveal for Fear and Loathing IX in 2016: it’ll be at the Hydro! That’s a building that holds some 11,000 people. GM Red Lightning comes out to protest his suspension (which he’s under for abuse of power, namely siding with Black Label buddy and champion Drew Galloway), which in turn brings out temporary ICW Commissioner, and greatest WWE Commissioner of all time, Mick Foley. He’s been appointed figurehead due to Red’s suspension. How did ICW get Mick Foley involved? It’s due to Billy Kirkwood, who’s Mick’s opening act on the UK tours and show runner for his stand-up gigs. Red runs off to leave Foley to talk. “What the fuck is going on out here?” says Mick. That’s just about perfect. He does a great job of putting over how insane the attendance is and how it sold out a month beforehand.
ICW Zero-G Championship
Stevie Boy (c) vs. Davey Boy
These chaps used to be tag partners and indeed tag champs until Stevie Boy turned heel to go after solo gold. Davey’s sidekick/cousin the Wee Man introduces Davey as Mr SECC because, wait for it, he’s a “sexually enormous conquering cunt”. The crowd is electric. There’s always a worry when you start to expand that you lose the atmosphere a wee bit. That’s just not the case here. It helps that both guys go hell for leather from the opening moments and manage to break the guardrail off the ramp. My first thoughts on the commentary are that it’s fun, different and Billy Kirkwood absolutely nails his role. William Grange brings the former wrestler analysis. It’s a solid pairing. The match is more about the storyline than anything with Davey out for revenge and both guys knowing what the other will do before they do it. The work is a bit loose but they cover for it ok by working hard. You’d think two guys this familiar with each other would have a great match worked out but often tag partners colliding doesn’t work out like that. They have ridiculous near falls with Davey kicking out of the Canadian Destroyer, named the Devil’s Halo by the champ. I’ve said this before, but that’s a finish. You can’t go around kicking out of that unless you’ve got something far more insane as the finish. As it turns out Davey wins with the Canadian Destroyer. This was rough around the edges, carried by storyline and atmosphere. There was a nasty spot in the match, excommunicated from the On Demand stream, where Stevie took a nasty bump and hurled. That might explain some of the roughness around the edges during this one.
Final Rating: **
Joe Hendry, Kenny Williams & Noam Dar vs. Doug Williams, Liam Thomson & Lionheart
Kenny Williams’ Back to the Future entrance is wonderful and he comes out dressed like Marty McFly in Back to the Future III. “You know how hard it is to get a train up to 88 miles per hour?” quizzes Grange, suggesting Williams just came back home from 1885. Hendry, local hero, makes his entrance in a “Hendry Ball”. Combined with his ridiculous entrance music, personalised for the evening, it makes two killer back-to-back entrances. Doug and company play heels to the flamboyance across the ring. They’re the no-nonsense grapplers. The faces have fun and do dives and complicated submissions to keep themselves amused. Like most multi-man matches it breaks down and they get a bunch of spots in there. With everyone wiped out Jimmy Havoc turns up, reveals an ICW shirt and clears out the heels. It’s some odd booking as the faces weren’t in any real trouble when Havoc ‘saved’ them. Kenny pins Lionheart in the midst of all this craziness and that’s the match. This was fun but it was a mess. The heels try to take over the ring but Liam Thomson’s former fiancé Carmel Jacob takes him out with a chair shot. The Scot Squad, a British version of Reno 911, drag Lionheart out of here to good measure. Top sportz entertainment. Carmel challenges Thomson to a singles match. “You would have made a shyte husband anyway”.
Final Rating: **1/4
ICW Women’s Championship
Nikki Storm vs. Kay Lee Ray vs. Viper
This is a brand new belt so the championship is vacant. Grange has become more comfortable by this point and his personality comes across in spades. First proclaiming that Nikki Storm’s music makes him want to dance before pointing out Storm’s second Sammi Jayne handed in her dissertation in “Nikkinomics”. This was originally booked as Storm vs. Ray but Mick Foley turns up to turn it into a three-way. The reasoning being that Kay Lee Ray’s win over her was unfair. Boo hoo. Viper is a bit like Vader if Leon White was a girl. Despite the presence of Foley and a surprise third entrant the crowd is actually very quiet for the first time tonight. Given how the bar has been raised by the ladies over in NXT, of which Kay Lee Ray is one now, it’s not easy to live up to women’s wrestling hype. They opt to stick with some tried and tested three-way spots, utilising Viper’s power. Of the three, Ray stands out as the better worker. Her stuff is smoother and her timing is superior. Storm isn’t far behind. I’m not sure I agree with Foley’s insertion of Viper in the match as Ray vs. Storm feels better as a singles match. Most of Viper’s best spots involve Kay Lee Ray sacrificing herself. She controls the flow of the match and Viper picks up the win courtesy of Ray virtually throwing herself off the top rope. Good performances from Ray and Storm. Decent enough from Viper, although she tried too hard and didn’t stick to her strengths. The rumour has it that Nikki Storm is heading to NXT, as she’s already had a try-out, and Kay Lee Ray might be going full time so ICW had to put the belt on someone who’s definitely staying put. Makes sense. Shame though. Storm vs. Ray could have torn the house (or is it hoose?) down.
Final Rating: **1/2
Rhino vs. Joe Coffey
Joe Coffey is a Conscience trainee, who started out in SWA. He still wrestles for both but works more for ICW nowadays. The fans love him too, getting into his Iron Man gimmick. Rhino is here to play spoiler and act like a veteran dick, like Doug Williams and company in the earlier six-man tag. This is Rhino’s fourth ICW match and he’s been used as enhancement, to get over the locals, every time. That’s part of the beauty of ICW though. They get their own guys over and give them an opportunity to shine. There’s nothing worse than watching four Indie promotions who all book the same guys. So you get Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Jimmy Havoc etc, on every show you watch. I know the British talent pool is quite shallow but ICW are brave and different. The match sees a lot of clubbering and again the crowd goes a little quiet after the entrances. It’s almost like an Attitude crowd at times. They do get into the action when it starts to hot up. The sight of Joe Coffey throwing an effortless German suplex get the juices flowing. Feeding off the ECW vibe the match, and indeed show, has had to this point they pull out a table and Rhino hits a GORE! through it. Rhino’s mouth agape reaction to Coffey kicking out is sensational. He does a solid job of putting over Coffey’s power and resilience. Coffey finishes with a pair of discus lariats. This was a solid old slobberknocker. The crowd singing along to Black Sabbath’s “Ironman” creates a great atmosphere.
Final Rating: ***
ICW Tag Team Championship
Polo Promotions (Jackie Polo & Mark Coffey) (c) vs. The 55 (Kid Fite & Sha Samuels)
The challengers are part of a larger stable, managed by James R. Kennedy. They also have Timm Wylie out here for numbers but the champions are no dummies and bring DCT and Coach Trip with them only for them to be ejected almost immediately for interfering. Mark is Joe’s brother, in case you were wondering about the name similarities. Polo is an interesting study for his name alone. He looks a bit like Scott Levy, the man best known as Raven, so it could be a tribute to his Johnny Polo gimmick. But the name is also far too similar to Jackie Pallo to be a coincidence. Pallo being one of the more famous British grapplers in the history of the business. As far as tag matches go, this one is strictly by the numbers. The crowd catch on to just about everything though from Polo’s “Scoop Slam City” obsession with scoop slams to Sha’s resemblance to a rotund Eric Cantona. The challengers threaten some shenanigans and try a few tricky cheating bits but fall to the assisted German suplex. This was more about the characters than the action but Mark Coffey looked good.
Final Rating: **1/4
Six Man Steel Cage Match
Legion (Michael Dante, Tommy End & Mikey Whiplash) vs. The New Age Kliq (Wolfgang, Chris Renfrew & BT Gunn)
This feud has been going on for a year going back to NAK vs. Sumerian Death Squad and Whiplash from last year’s Fear and Loathing. You can only win via escape and if you do escape, you can’t come back in. Every man from one team has to escape to get the duke. Legion manage an entrance almost as creepy as the Undertaker does, flanked by masked men. The smartest thing they do here is abandoning any pretence of a tag team match and tagging, which makes no sense in cage matches. Instead they focus on brawling and double team spots. It reminds me of WCW’s War Games matches. They clearly aim to steal the show with insane high spots, like Wolfgang (the big man on his team) attempting a senton off the top of the cage. This leads to the Legion throwing him out of the door. Wolfgang has ‘escaped’ and is out of the match. What that does is leave NAK at a man disadvantage. Wolfgang drags Dante out to level it up as a regular tag team match. When Tommy End escapes it leaves Wolfgang battling the Sumerian Death Squad on the floor to give his ‘brothers’ the chance to compete in the ring. The New Age Kliq should win as Whiplash is left incapacitated and they both climb out but BT Gunn mysteriously climbs back in. Renfrew escapes so it’s Gunn vs. Whiplash. The end of the match sees the action slow up as they prepare for an enormous final spot, with SDS stacking tables for a spot off the top of the cage. Billy Kirkwood abandoning the announce spot is almost on a par with Jim Ross’ “he’s busted in half” call. “Get the fuck back!” They spend a while teasing before they simultaneously fall through a nest of tables. Whiplash lands cleanly but BT Gunn takes a horrible bump. The no finish is underwhelming so Whiplash orders BT Gunn to come back to the ring to finish it properly. “Kill me!” yells Whiplash and BT elbows Chris Renfrew out of his way.
It’s fucking on, again! Sudden death pinfall rules apply. Gunn lays Whiplash out with the Bloodline superkick and gets the pin. That’s the definitive conclusion. The New Age Kliq get the win and end the madness. The big spots paid off well and the brawling worked. Not sure the planning of the big spots was correct, with the tables being set up really late with both guys already on top of the cage, but in terms of guts it was suitably manly.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Big Damo vs. Jack Jester
The whole build for Fear and Loathing VIII has seen a lot of feuds heading towards conclusion on this show. Which is right but it does create one intense match after another and it’s hard to get invested when the last match was an angry blood feud and then this is another angry blood feud, only with slightly less anger attached. Jester is representing the Black Label, who’ve been messing with Damo for months and prevented him capturing the ICW title. Jester, facing off against an angry Irish beast, has to take a few shortcuts and starts by hurling a chair at Damo. Jester soon discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew and whatever violent ideas are formulating in his Scottish noggin are soon crushed by Damo’s size and power advantage. The one thing that does pay off is Jester hitting an impression Tombstone when Damo heads up top trying for the coast to coast. He also takes to using a chair instead of his hands as Damo completely no sells any strikes. Jester gets to show a bit of fight before being crushed by the Emerald Isle Skateboard (Damo’s standing on opponent senton, normally called the Belfast Bomb/Drop, only with an added chair). This was solid enough action and I liked Jester’s assorted attempts to overcome Damo. It showed he came in with a few tactics only for Damo to overcome everything and turn the chair gimmick against Jack.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control heads backstage for Chris Renfrew to rant about how the New Age Kliq built this house. He’s another potential contender, along with Damo, for whoever wins the main event tonight. From there we get a video hyping Grado and the atmosphere is electric. “I might be chubby, I might be slow as fuck but I’ve got heart”.
Drew Galloway (c) vs. Grado
Some wonderful storytelling coming into this. You’ve got Galloway as the ultimate champion. The former WWE superstar and unbeatable monster wrestler. Not only that but he was the first ICW champion, going back nine years. Grado is the ultimate babyface. One of the fans own. The boy who done good in spite of his natural disadvantages. He said himself, he’s all heart. It’s a pity Madonna won’t give him a chance to use “Like a Prayer” as his entrance music, which he does anyway but it’s muted On Demand, as it sets the mood so perfectly for a Grado match. In order to properly watch this I had “Like a Prayer” playing but you lose the chanting and excitement of the live audience. Galloway gets his own entrance music sung live, which is pretty cool. In a supremely nice touch Galloway is wearing his old gear, from 2006, the same gear he had when he won the ICW title the first time. Billy Kirkwood has been winning me over all night but when the senior referee is introduced and Kirkwood yells “wanker” that’s the point where Billy is heading in to my year end awards as best announcer. Grado weighs in at “who gives a fuck?” This is extremely endearing.
I love that Galloway dominates the early going, as he’s a far superior physical specimen. It intensifies Grado’s comebacks and the challenger brings his A Game with flying rana’s and dives off the apron. For a chubby comedy guy he’s bringing everything. R-GRA-DO! “Out of nowhere” chants the crowd. I knew the crowd would be good and I knew the atmosphere would work but I didn’t expect the sheer levels of effort from Grado and Galloway. They know they’re the main event and they have to deliver to the biggest UK crowd since the 80s. Grado is prepared to give everything, taking a massive shellacking from the monstrous Galloway. You can see Galloway’s power slowly eroding Grado’s ambition. To the point where Grado’s moves come out of desperation and self-preservation. Galloway shows tremendous timing throughout. Eager to give Grado enough so the crowd stay in it and yet remain a dominant force. He’s grown as a worker since 2006 and indeed since his WWE run. Grado meanwhile channels Tomoaki Honma and almost all his spots are timed like Honma’s. You could claim they have a lot in common. Spiritual brothers.
Galloway ends up becoming frustrated and hitting all manner of spots in an attempt to finish Grado off. When nothing works he knocks out the ref, Red Lightning tries to interfere and Mick Foley runs down to earn his pay. Mr Socko for Jack Jester! Mick looks increasingly like Santa, seeing as his beard has started to turn grey. Drew tries to finish it with a chair shot but Grado gives him the Wee Boot and Mark Dallas runs in to count the pin, reminiscent of Paul Heyman counting John Cena down at the ECW show One Night Only WWE ran in 2005. The end sees Grado celebrating while Madonna blasts out across the SECC. Sadly the audio is missing from On Demand but luckily a friend of mine recorded the sound that goes with it and it gives me chills. Losing the audio hurts the reaction but it is a stunning ending to a solid wrestling show.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Summary: The main event brought so much atmosphere and emotion, it was worth checking this out alone. The celebration was a magnificent piece of work. The undercard was ok, I could possibly have used a strong match somewhere on the undercard to the levels of the main but I appreciate what ICW have done with their promotion. There’s so much home grown talent that it genuinely feels like a different show to anything else in the UK, or the world for that matter. The commentary, the ring announcing, the way the promotion is run and the talent they use. Everything is special and unique. You can largely ignore the star ratings for the undercard because even when the wrestling wasn’t that great, the entertainment value was there. ICW is certainly a promotion worth seeing.
30th August 2015. Here’s the bracket:
Brian Cage vs. Jack Evans
Biff Busick vs. Chris Hero
Trevor Lee vs. Marty Scurll
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Pentagon Jr.
Mike Bailey vs. Tommy End
Will Ospreay vs. Matt Sydal
Based on form and star-power that would result in Hero vs. Sabre Jr. vs. Sydal in the final.
Brian Cage vs. Jack Evans
Cage had the worst first round match, against the botch-happy Aero Star, whereas Jack Evans had the strangest performance in his first round match, hammering off a bizarre post match shoot. Here Evans goes off on a rant about PWG’s poor production values before rounding on the muscular Cage as a “beauty pageant contestant”. This naturally gets Jack completely destroyed with insane power moves. The massive cross-ring biel is impressive. Cage’s massacre includes several freakish deadweight German suplexes, drawing a “suplex city” chant. Cage is a freakish specimen. Jack ends up fluking a roll up for the win, causing major Roid Rage! STEINER FUCKING SCREWDRIVER! If Vince catches wind of Brian Cage he’ll probably re-brand him as Brian Lesnar, Brock’s simple-minded, suplex loving cousin. I guarantee you, Paul Heyman could turn him into a main event because he has that same presence, just minus the pedigree. The match was a pure massacre but it was fun watching Jack Evans get ragdolled around the ring.
Final Rating: **1/4
Biff Busick vs. Chris Hero
Hero is in no mood to let Busick get going and cuts him off at every opportunity. Both guys want a quick win, like Evans just got, and go balls out with the strikes from the opening second. If Hero could get his Kassius Ohno body back he’d be a monster. I really don’t understand how he can be so driven and determined at the wrestling but can’t maintain the physique to go with it. Not that I have a good body or anything but I don’t have the determination to do much of anything to fix it. The strikes in this are lots of fun, especially Hero who feels the need to make his punches look incredible. Shame he keeps switching them out for kicks, which don’t look as good as the punches or the rolling elbows. Poor Biff gets smashed with an assortment of potential KO blows, the best of which is a knee to the face while he’s coming off the top rope. It should easily finish and Hero looks a bit stupid for pulling Busick back up. Biff attempts a fight back by fish-hooking the mouth and biting but that just pisses Hero off. Biff is murdered out of the Indies with a piledriver off the top rope. Hero was devastating here. He’s on a run. Busick should fit nicely into NXT and he may surprise a few people.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Marty Scurll vs. Trevor Lee
Scurll heels it up as he’s the villain. Lee is the favourite thanks to a strong run in last year’s BOLA where he made the semi’s before being bested by Johnny Gargano. Scurll seems to have won over Reseda with a combination of his heel mannerisms, BritWres mat style and entrance music. Plus his personality comes through in spades. “I don’t suck, it was one time so it doesn’t count” says Scurll. “He was curious” chants Reseda. It’s a solid outing from Scurll and Lee barely has an opportunity to get his shit in. Lee comes in with a bad arm, from the Guerrilla Warfare match last night, so Marty works it all match long. Lee seems legitimately put off by the arm injury and his form suffers for it. Scurll seems one step ahead, with Lee falling for all Marty’s antics and paying for it by taking an evil Wildbomb. Marty’s antics connect all the time courtesy of Lee’s lack of familiarity with it all and his arm work is so consistent. Lee takes a couple of horrible looking bumps at the finish as Marty gives him no protection when knocking him off the top rope before putting him away with the Chickenwing. Which is good psychology in my book, seeing as he spent the entire match working the injured arm to set up the finish. It all paid off. Solid work from Scurll, Lee wasn’t quite so convincing but we can put that down to the bad arm and the series of sickening bumps he took the night before.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Pentagon Jr. vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
It’s the battle of the Jr.’s and the crowd think it’s awesome before we even get underway because it’s a clash of two worlds that don’t normally exist in one place. A luchadore heel from Mexico vs. a British technician who plies his trade in NOAH. This match can’t take place in too many promotions. I love Pentagon flipping the bird and Sabre responding with the two-fingered salute. Pentagon has no hope on the mat, he’s completely outclassed, although he shouldn’t feel bad about it as most people are. Pentagon’s exciting response is to show Zack how they mat wrestle in Mexico. It looks like he’s making it up as he’s going along. I love how they both let go of submission holds, as if they want to see what else the other guy has. It’s amazingly innovative and exciting stuff on the mat. I’ve been watching wrestling for a long, long time and I saw new holds in this match. Genuinely dropped my jaw at times with the difference of it. I have a suspicion I want to see a load of luchadores tour England and work that different style. It doesn’t click too well with puro but based on this, we have a clash of styles that delights. When Pentagon starts getting into the strikes, with his gloveless ‘silencio’ chops, it serves to piss Zack off. From there we see another side to both wrestlers as they wail on each other. It’s never quite at the intensity level of really good strikers but it’s fun. Pentagon goes after the Package Piledriver but it’s countered into a deep kimura and Pentagon taps immediately. The match petered out a little bit as they died under the California heat but the mat stuff in the first third of the match was worth four flakes alone.
Final Rating: ****
Mike Bailey vs. Tommy End
Bailey did an excellent job of playing the underdog against Galloway. He’ll have to do it again against End, who has him for size easily. This match is all about the strikes and they’re both into kicks. They could form an entertaining tag team based on a mutual love of kicking the shit out of people. In lieu of said tag team, they kick the shit out of each other instead. That’s the entire match; kicks. It’s great. It has to be the first time I’ve ever seen Tommy End get kicked so hard and repeatedly that he drops. Tommy’s knees might be the most amazing part of the entire strikefest though. Almost every one that he lands looks like a KO. Clearly not happy about being out-struck Bailey manages to hit his moonsault double knees on the apron, of all places. End’s brainbuster/double stomp combo should really finish because the impact is so high and Bailey is just this little child by comparison. But the storyline here is another giant-killing from Speedball. The finish is really lame by comparison as Bailey takes his time and hits one of his tamest kicks of the night; a Buzzsaw kick to get the pin. Finish aside, this was wonderful. A beautifully violent strike-fest.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Will Ospreay vs. Matt Sydal
This is the final second round match and it should be a cracker as Ospreay vs. Sydal has gone down in Rev Pro in England a few times, culminating in a genuinely awesome ****3/4 MOTYC from Summer Sizzler 2015. Their familiarity helps them before they’re even underway and those unfamiliar with Rev Pro will find themselves surprised by how smooth and clinical this is. “I’m the better flier” says Ospreay and Sydal wipes him out. “Don’t talk shit” preaches Reseda. Ospreay spends a while after that counting his teeth. It’s as if they want to have a realistic high-flying match, which is insanely ambitious. Sydal takes Ospreay off the top and Will drops south onto the ropes in a gnarly spot. Ospreay does solid work, both selling the possible missing tooth and a bad wheel to the point where that knee can’t be 100%. The injuries stop playing a part in the flippity concluding part of the match but that does allow Ospreay to do the flip where he lands on his feet off a super reverse rana. The silly spots continue and Ospreay takes it with the Imploding 450 Splash. This was a definite step down from the Rev Pro matches but it had the same sort of feel, despite the various aborted injury angles.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Roderick Strong, Super Dragon & The Young Bucks) vs. Angelico, Fenix & The Inner City Machine Guns (Ricochet & Rich Swann)
The entire of 2.0 decide to call out anyone with the chutzpah to take them on, which ends up being this collection of talent. Like the other 2.0 matches this weekend it’s a fun contest with lots of big dive spots and flippity madness, broken up by Strong and Super Dragon hitting massive strikes. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a flippy young guy getting murdered with a lariat. Fenix doesn’t quite click with the Bucks, which is unfortunate and the match doesn’t quite live up to the matches that 2.0 have had thus far at BOLA. Not that it’s bad and 2.0 rock the triple teams when required. There’s a great sequence where Swann goes crazy on Dragon in the corner, only to be turned around and introduced to the concept of a Violence Party. Oh, Violence Party, I missed you dearly. Super Dragon continues the awesome by pretending to be the guy waiting a tag in Rich Swann’s corner only to murder him after taking the ‘hot tag’. It’s ingenious heel work.
Of the faces the top performer is Angelico, hitting superb flying knees, insane dives and taking ridiculous head drop bumps. Fenix tries to out-do that with more ridiculous spots but despite his efforts, not everything he does is clean. Everyone gets their chance to shine and Roddy’s one man wrecking crew spot, where he destroys everyone on the face team with intense strikes gives the champ a nice rub. It’s something WWE could learn from. Keep your heel champion strong so it means something when he loses. The match has a few awkward moments where the pre-planned spot goes array. In particular Fenix having communication issues and breaking up blatantly organised sequences too early. It’s a pity as when the match does go right it’s beautiful carnage. The finish sees Roddy isolate Swann and pin him with End of Heartache. It’s a bit underwhelming after the madness that preceded it but the match was solid entertainment throughout.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Battle of Los Angeles 2015 Semi-Final
Jack Evans vs. Chris Hero
Evans has totally overdone the injury angle and has ribs, shoulder and head taped up. He’s halfway to a Mummy costume. “When you boo me, you are booing the Rock’s favourite wrestler” says Jack before going on to claim that Highspots owe him royalties and what a “pathetic mess” Hero has become. Hero does wonderful work while Jack is running his mouth, by doing stretches and keeping warm. It’s solid character work from the veteran. When the match gets underway it’s Jack’s flipping versus Hero’s surly veteran striking. Evans has a gimmick where he won’t stay down for a two count, as part of the pre-match promo, and constantly burns through energy kicking out hard at one. It’s solid commitment to his own promo. The match is a massacre with Hero pasting Jack with an assortment of vicious strikes and Jack, hilariously, refusing to stay down past the one count. It’s some sort of crazy ploy to the point where Hero gets frustrated that he can’t get a two count, almost forgetting the aim is to get three. It’s such an amazing gimmick that I’m stunned nobody thought of doing it before, Goldberg aside. That makes the two counts feel genuinely like near falls when Hero starting really destroying Evans towards the conclusion of the match. Eventually Evans takes one elbow to the grill too many and stays down. Hero advances to the BOLA final. Loved the gimmick during this match.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Battle of Los Angeles 2015 Semi-Final
Will Ospreay vs. “Speedball” Mike Bailey
Ospreay eliminated the bracket favourite in Matt Sydal but now comes up against a different style. Bailey’s kick-heavy offence is enhanced by flippy moves. The problem these guys face is they’re both relatively inexperienced, especially in major Indie promotions and can’t quite get the feeling of a major match. Ospreay deliberately plays the fatigue card, which is probably the right thing to do but it just reminds the crowd how exhausted they are after three nights of wrestling. His favouring of the knee is some of the best selling of the entire weekend but the crowd is very much eager for that PWG-esque high spot style. Ospreay is kind to Bailey by not forcing the pace and allowing Speedball to look like the star. It’s a professional performance. Every time Will attempts a big spot there’s Bailey to find a counter for it. The whole thing is designed to turn Speedball into a main event tonight. Bailey seems completely oblivious to the fact the winner of this will need to wrestle again tonight and throws himself into every dive, every spot like it’s his last moment on the planet. The whole match is rest holds and insane dives, depending on who’s in charge. Ospreay manages the most convincing series of finishing strikes but it’s Bailey who comes out on top courtesy of his Buzzsaw Kick. I’m not keen on that finish. Ospreay did well during his three tournament matches but the one against Mark Andrews stands out. The heat and the schedule appeared to wreck Ospreay’s chances.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Battle of Los Angeles 2015 Semi-Final
Marty Scurll vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
These guys used to be a pretty important tag team, as the LDRS of the New School and have teamed as recently as January in IPW:UK. Or the first night of BOLA if you want to be entirely accurate, under the moniker of Eurotrash. The experience and history are the building blocks of the definitive semi-final. Two guys who know each other extremely well and could wrestle a technical masterpiece without much effort. Reseda get a chant of “English wrestling” going as they go back and forth on the mat. Scurll brings the personality through his heelish antics and occasional disbelief that Zack can escape his holds. Also, the odd gay joke. It’s technically wonderful, clever and humorous throughout. Scurll totally wins at every turn in the comedy, including a spot where he’s stuck in a stretch and yells “I forgot to do my DDP yoga”. The action is so fantastic that the crowd pop a standing ovation bang in the middle of the warm up countering because it’s so good. There are a few old tricks in there, which are familiar to the BritWres enthusiast but it’s all so well done that it doesn’t matter. A near falls sequence that never hits a one count gets another standing ovation and a “World of Sport” chant. They’re owning it out there.
Marty’s obsession with the Chickenwing is so endearing. It’s like Benny from the Lego Movie. “SPACESHIP!” “CHICKENWING!” When these guys get serious and start to pelt each other with strikes it’s an entirely different match and that makes two outstanding matches all wrapped up in one package. The comedy stuff has critics but the lightening of the mood is all part of the match. It’s Marty trying to disarm Zack and make him take the match too easy, remembering their team and how much fun they had, before bringing the eventual aggression. But Sabre is prepared for this and has big spots lined up to beat Scurll. Marty’s attempts at finishing with the Chickenwing are hampered by Sabre working his arm and finding different ways to escape. Eventually one of these finds Scurll trapped in an armbar and he taps. Great effort from these two in a borderline epic contest. Quite how Sabre can work a near thirty minute match ahead of the BOLA final is anyone’s guess but he did and it was phenomenally entertaining.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Team Ciampa (Tommaso Ciampa, Timothy Thatcher, Andrew Everett, Drago & Mark Andrews) vs. Team Taylor (Chuck Taylor, Trent, Drew Galloway, Drew Gulak & Aero Star)
This is the buffer match to give Zack Sabre Jr. a twenty minute break before the main event gets underway. Chuck Taylor’s team didn’t originally have him in it, as he’s winding his career down (this is a work, by the way, as Taylor has signed with Global Force Wrestling). He dubs his team the “Five Man Band”, cracking up Galloway on the apron. The match has a lot of comedy in it, like Taylor’s boys teasing something insane only to hit a lame move instead and even Aero Star gets in on that doing two flips to set up a stomp. Or Taylor getting body slammed by all of the other team. He pops back up. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and super fuck you”. Not that the match is without action and high spots and at one point everyone hits dives, including Drew Galloway. The comedy continues with absolutely everyone getting hit in the crotch…which leads into the SLOW MOTION SECTION OF THE MATCH. The crowd go slo-mo, Excalibur goes slo-mo. It’s amazing. It might be the most joyous wrestling segment of all time. The top rope moves won’t work in slo-mo so they have to stop, miss and Chuck wins with Awful Waffle on Mark Andrews. “5MB” chants the crowd, having enjoyed themselves. I have absolutely no idea how to rate this on the snowflake scale but it was one of the most fun matches I’ve seen. A lot of people aren’t keen on the slow motion gimmick but these people have no sense of joy in their lives. It wouldn’t work in WWE but I’ve seen entertaining slow motion gimmicks before with Kikutaro or DDT or Chikara or PWG itself. It’s a comedy art form.
Final Rating: ****
Battle of Los Angeles Final
“Speedball” Mike Bailey vs. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
I love that all the guys kneel on the canvas before being introduced. It conveys the fatigue and respect of the situation before we even begin. The tournament has been exhausting for the fans and the wrestlers so they start easy. Almost at a leisurely pace. The three-way mat grappling actually comes across like a shoot, which is weird and I’ve never seen it done that way before. How would a shoot fight between three guys play out? It creates some extraordinary, never-seen-before mat work. There isn’t the level of seriousness that you get elsewhere and Hero rolls up referee Rick Knox for a near fall. This is why people love PWG. It’s different and sometimes being different is all you need. Being good helps. Speedball should be out of his depth in this match but takes it in his stride, the sign of a potential superstar. One of the hardest things to do in a three-way is to keep one guy busy while the other two work and they work around that by having all three guys involved in almost every spot. The fatigue of the evening helps to fill any blanks in. When someone is not involved it’s entirely believable that they’re just knackered and cannot get up to fight.
The only one who seems to have an energy reserve is the ridiculous Mike Bailey, although he has had the shortest, easiest evening to this point. His two matches combined were ten minutes shorter than Sabre Jr.’s semi-final. Sabre has already wrestled 41 minutes prior to this match tonight. Hero a mere 24 minutes while Bailey had 21 minutes. This freshness is certainly reflected in his performance and also in Sabre’s as the Brit spends a big chunk of the match resting. Bailey’s rapid-fire offence turns him from an underdog to the favourite and at one point he has both guys down with Cossack style Kick Flurries. Where is he finding this energy? While working Hero down the stretch he keeps Zack from entering the ring by hitting three dives at different times, in between wrestling Hero. It’s the Mike Bailey Show. Hero puts Bailey out with Rolling Piledrivers. The poor kid put in a terrific showing though and is beloved by the fans. If he hits the gym to work on his toning he’ll be back. This came a little early for him.
With Bailey eliminated it becomes a simple exercise in giant-killing with Zack looking to outwrestle Hero. Sabre having the benefit of a rest period where he was outside the ring and Hero was expending energy putting Bailey out of the match. They tease Hero putting Zack down as Sabre looks exhausted going into the final stages, saving bursts of energy to protect himself from match ending spots. Zack has enough left to take Hero out on the mat and he hits a series of stomps to Hero’s head. It’s brutal considering how much effort they’ve already expended. They perhaps wrestle for too long as the energy levels down the stretch are extremely low. The selling is at the level of Triple H matches, although due to genuine exhaustion. Mainly from the heat. Sabre eventually gets the better of Hero on the mat and gets the submission after an exhausting thirty-five minute contest.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: Roderick Strong comes out here to promise to “beat the shit out you” to the BOLA champion. Sabre, bringing the personality, calls him “Captain Shitty Boots” and suggests he’ll be moving to California. This brings out the European contingent to celebrate with Sabre. It’s pretty amazing to see BritWres standing tall at the conclusion of BOLA. Many of the British talents stole the show, which was not easy. I’m very proud to see this group of wrestlers having succeeded at BOLA. Pre-tournament I spent a while bigging them all up on a podcast. To see them come through justifies the British scene.
Summary: For sheer consistency, this was an astonishing three night tournament, filled with just about every kind of wrestling you can think of. The final night perhaps didn’t quite measure up to the other two, due to sheer length and how tired everyone was. This exhausting final night did feature a slew of great matches though and Sabre-Scurll is essential viewing.
29th August 2015.
The success of BOLA’s opening night put some severe pressure onto night two but the most intriguing thing about night two’s line up was the sheer unpredictability of it. Night one had quality wrestling but just about everyone who was expected to go over did. Sydal, Pentagon Jr., Busick, Ospreay etc. Night two features an array of matches where the outcome is far from being so clear cut. In particular the big Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre Jr. contest. Zack is one of the tournament favourites and Ricochet the defending champion. One of them must go!
Marty Scurll vs. Rich Swann
The Villain wastes no time in displaying his villainy as he jumps Swann to prevent him from dancing, hits a tope and a powerbomb. The crowd are into Marty, thanks to a solid performance on night one and his aggression is enjoyed. On the BritWres podcast we’ve said many times that Scurll is only as good as his opponent but Swann is great and even the worst workers in the tournament should be a good match for anybody. Although some of the lucha guys might have a disaster in them. Scurll’s tactic is refreshingly simple; he taking Swann’s arm to set up the Chickenwing. Even when I slightly disliked Scurll I still marked out for the Chickenwing. The fans get into him, doing the “WOO, WOO” that features in his music and there’s even a “Party Marty” chant. Swann has some pleasing flippity action and his lucha bits are smooth. His strikes are quite nice too but Marty just pokes him in the eyes. Living the gimmick. They do a bit of no-selling, which is fine because they’re both a bit lightweight, and it’s a solid contest. Swann decides to flip Marty off so he breaks his finger. That finger-breaking spot from Scurll is amazing. “You fish and chip eatin’ motherfucker” – Swann. The personalities at play in this are wonderful. Swann gets baited in and the CHICKENWING finishes. Solid stuff with the character work living up to the action.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Angelico vs. Jack Evans
These guys are tag partners in Mexico for AAA as Los Gueros del Cielo. Evans decides to establish an issue before they start by saying he “carries the team” and that Angelico can’t beat a Hart Dungeon trainee. It’s a smart ploy otherwise the choreographed moves they do would come across as too pre-planned. Jack spends more time cutting a promo during the match than wrestling it. “You will not embarrass me in my home promotion” – Jack. Excalibur points out he’s not wrestled here in “about six years”. His last match was actually in 2008 for PWG. Jack chugs a beer and goes all Drunken Master on Angelico, which pops the hell out of Reseda. If Jack could channel all the madness into a coherent match it would be goddamn beautiful. He’s clearly keen on doing something completely different and new. I appreciate that but the match is seventeen minutes and they’ve only got maybe ten minutes of good material. Everything else is Jack going mental and Angelico looking confused. Not that there isn’t great wrestling in the match but moments of insanity, in between moments of differing insanity. Evans at one point hits a 450 Splash to the floor and fucks his knee up but Angelico doesn’t work the knee. It’s just something that went wrong so they don’t use it and just go back to the pre-planned match. Angelico doesn’t seem to have any idea what to do with Evans. I wish the weirdness and Angelico’s awkwardness didn’t drag the match down as much as it does because Evans being a jerk is one of the best things since Brian Pillman. He’s out of control. Towards the end he can’t stand, references Reseda being the home of the Karate Kid and uses the FUCKING CRANE KICK to win. Fifty million stars! I need more Jack Evans in my life. His post match rant against PWG’s booking mentality is virtual career suicide, in PWG anyway, and is absolutely wonderful. This wasn’t the cleanest or most sensible match you’ll ever see but Jack Evans has to be seen to be believed when he’s all Loose Cannon like this.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Chris Hero vs. Timothy Thatcher
Hero has been great since leaving the WWE, which makes me wonder how he washed out there in the first place. It absolutely bewildering. Why didn’t they just do Kings of Wrestling? They had both guys and weren’t doing anything with them. Thatcher is a ten year pro and that’s enough time to build a considerable in-ring repertoire. His body puts Hero to shame too. He’s lean and mean. The one aspect where Hero can out-do Thatcher is in the personality stakes. Thatcher is a fucking Terminator. Hero has a wider range of emotions and is better at winding the fans up. I can see Thatcher becoming one of those guys that has a die-hard hardcore fan base that just appreciate his grappling skill. Hero’s variety of tactics and styles are taken away from him one hold at a time by Thatcher. There’s a little bit of selling but the match is more about which guy can take the most abuse and they just pound each other in between the chaining. Thatcher no selling Hero repeatedly kicking him in the face before instigating a WAR on the floor is sensational.
This match is square up my alley. It’s all manliness, submissions and beatings. It feels like a genuine contest at times, an actual fight. In some ways it’s a throwback to the kayfabe days as it never appears to be cooperative in any way. I LOVE IT. Hefty strikes and deadweight suplexes ahoy! It’s a battle. Honestly, if I could change wrestling and make it more realistic this is what I’d have in mind. It reminds me of UWF (Japan not Bill Watts). The strikes! Thatcher breaks out the kind of counters that are usually done by Ishii. Who thinks of blocking a rolling elbow with a headbutt? Thatcher takes at least two piledrivers that look like they break his neck. This is all set up for the Hero’s Welcome, which finishes. I. FUCKING. LOVE. THIS. FUCKING. MATCH. It was brutal and beautiful. Possibly the best match of the entire tournament.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Pentagon Jr. & Drago vs. Fenix & Aero Star
This might bring me crashing back down to Earth as I’m not overly keen on lucha at the best of times. However Fenix owned it against Sydal and Pentagon Jr. will bring the personality. Aero Star certainly looks a lot more comfortable in this match than against Cage. Fenix just entering the ring looks incredible. The match has a lot of flippity business and makes me interested in checking out Lucha Underground. If any show can get me into lucha it’d be one more catered to an American audience. Pentagon Jr. makes a big deal out of taking his glove off so he can hit one chop but DAMN it’s awesome. That’s the personality. He’s not the cleanest of wrestlers. Especially compared to Fenix, who does some crazy stuff with Drago.
The problem with all this is there are moments where someone is standing around waiting to be hit with a dive or some other flippity spot. And on the back of Hero-Thatcher, that’s just not acceptable. The timing is off a couple of times and it’s irritating. Luckily they compensate with a lot of really fun spots and sometimes, when the timing is on, it clicks perfectly. Like in Dragon Gate, when it’s all perfect, it’s unbeatable entertainment. But they need to get on the same page and don’t all the time. Two spots for you; Pentagon Jr. hitting a package piledriver and Gorybomb at the SAME TIME. Then Aero Star outdoes him by hitting a Superfly Splash…off Fenix’s shoulders…while he’s standing on the top rope. Before they even attempt a pin Fenix turns around, springboards off the top rope and hits a ridiculous multiple rotation dive to the floor like it’s a goddamn afterthought. The whole match has silly spots in like multiple attempts to hit handsprings and someone dropkicking the unfortunate attacker in the face while they’re upside down. After all the craziness the finish is rather underwhelming with Drago deciding to break up his own submission to help Pentagon Jr. only to get caught and hit with a Thunderfire Driver. Match was a horrible mess at times and utterly breathtaking at others. Therefore it doesn’t quite live up to the Michinoku Pro match at the first ECW PPV Barely Legal or the Dragon Gate guys guesting for ROH at Supercard of Honor but it was definitely fun.
Final Rating: ****
Drew Gulak vs. Tommy End
I don’t know Gulak very well because he’s a CZW guy. I’ve seen him wrestle there but I dislike the promotion so much that I tend to avoid it where possible. This has an MMA vibe about it, as Gulak is a mat wrestler against End, the kickboxer. The classic grappler vs. striker contest. In the rich traditions of early MMA it’s pretty dull compared to the last two matches but, to be fair, those are big matches to live up to. My biggest issue with the bout is it doesn’t need to be long. All the fans want to see is them wail on each other. They could literally accomplish everything in five minutes of crazy strikes and dodges that they do in the twelve minutes allotted. Those five minutes are how they finish. Lots of cool strikes and Gulak does wonderful business by just grabbing and throwing End to protect himself. Tommy ends up blasting Gulak with a big right hand to get the win. This dragged and the first half did very little. It was just a warming up process before the actual match kicked in. Last couple of minutes were really good though and tipped my rating over three stars.
Final Rating: ***
Mike Bailey vs. Drew Galloway
Bailey is another discovery of PWG. He’s been doing the Indie rounds but caught on to a few big bouts in PWG earlier this year. Notably a title shot at Roderick Strong in June. He’s also caught on in EVOLVE so maybe 2016 will be his year. He’s a combination of ridiculous high flying and martial arts kicks. Galloway is about a foot taller but as an ex-WWE wrestler he’s not a fan favourite here. Galloway isn’t going to fade away though and he’s determined to show WWE they were wrong to release him. They tell a good size battle and Bailey refuses to let the calm Galloway dictate the pace, wailing on the bigger man in classic giant-killer fashion. The only problem the match really has is that Galloway should never be losing because he’s big, he’s agile and he knows how to dismantle an opponent. So the only thing Speedball has is his guts and intensity and that shouldn’t really be enough. Only in fairy tales. But then Galloway’s whole approach is to make the fans want Bailey to win more, at one point lifting spots from Sheamus.
In all honesty, I get far more into the idea of Galloway just destroying the poor kid as his massive power moves pop me more than Bailey’s flippy moves. Not that either guy is inferior at what they’re doing but Drew’s moves are so much fun. The problem with his WWE run was the amount of other big dudes he wrestled. He’s much more entertaining throwing Indie midgets around. They do a great spot in the corner where Bailey goes for the double stomp with Galloway tied up and Drew just leans back up and hurls Mike off the top rope. From there it’s all about Galloway refusing to stay down for any of Bailey’s big spots, constantly coming back at him regardless and just being the BEAST. The near falls in this are off the hook as the last couple of minutes feel like everything is a finish until Bailey flukes a cradle to advance. I can’t say I’m a massive Mike Bailey fan, like almost everyone in Reseda, but this match reminded me how much I like Drew Galloway and the story they told was near perfect David vs. Goliath stuff and the whole thing was believable.
Final Rating: ****
Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
This sees defending champion Ricochet facing Zack, who’s been contesting with champion Roderick Strong and is seen as a favourite. Whoever wins this will certainly be considered a top contender for the tournament as a whole. The story of the match is that Sabre is too good for Ricochet on the mat and can even counter the flips to put him back there. The crowd love both guys so much they resort to a “both these guys” chant. Due to the sheer amount of different matches, these guys decide to base the contest on mat wrestling, which is an easy win as they’re both great on the mat. Ricochet works a bit of sportz entertainment with the People’s Moonsault, which Zack easily counters into a triangle choke. This leads to a change in attitude from Ricochet, who acts like a complete jerk to help solidify the crowd behind Sabre Jr. Before this they were on the fence and Ricochet wanted to make sure Sabre got over at his expense. It’s a generous performance. Once Zack has been given that green light he bosses the match, countering almost everything Ricochet attempts, even the big strikes. Ricochet is a confident guy so he doesn’t let it bother him and they start to trade on bigger spots, as the match grows but it’s Sabre who owns the match. He’s just too good when it comes to the technical counters. Ricochet has to create new offence just to get one over on Sabre and the match develops a ‘big match’ atmosphere. It is exhausting. The crowd feel as burned out as I am but the wrestlers give it their all. They look tired. The finish has an unfortunate turn as the ref is way slow getting down to count a flash pin, which makes Ricochet look stupid but apart from that the match worked throughout. Sabre ground away at Ricochet but Ricochet was a bit too inventive to get beaten by normal means. Eventually something weird and different would win the day and that’s how it ended.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Super Dragon & The Young Bucks) vs. Biff Busick, Andrew Everett & Trevor Lee
2.0, dicks that they are, are hated by the collective babyfaces in the ring. The storyline saw Super Dragon return to form 2.0 a few months ago after missing some three years with injuries. He is the driving force behind the heel group of himself, Strong and the Bucks. This is his first PWG match, or match anywhere for that matter, since January 2012 where he teamed with Akira Tozawa and Kevin Steen in a losing effort at Kurt Russelreunion 3. He was one half of the tag champs at the time and those belts were vacated due to Super Dragon’s injuries. Most people thought he’d retired. Especially as his 2011/2012 run constituted a couple of matches and before that he’d not wrestled in three years. Super Dragon is one of the principle owners of PWG so he’s been busy behind the scenes. However he used to be quite active until a slew of injuries, due to his intense style, turned him into a backstage dweller for the past eight years.
Three promotions you, probably, didn’t know Super Dragon wrestled for:
Anyway, Super Dragon’s years away have not dimmed his ability to be a complete asshole. Nobody, not even Chris Hero, can stare down a fan like Super Dragon. You just don’t know what he’s going to do. Half the chairs in the venue end up getting used as weapons so everyone ends up standing. The rules of a Guerrilla Warfare match are there’s no DQ’s so anything goes. It’s part WWE hardcore match from the Attitude Era, part Young Bucks amusing themselves and part crazy headdroppery. It’s a cocktail for carnage. But it doesn’t stop with the guys beating each other up as the ref gets superkicked so Rick Knox comes in to try and get revenge and just gets annihilated by a CURB STOMP!
Not content with killing everyone 2.0 go after the commentators, taking it to nWo levels of booking, but Trevor Lee hits a fucking tope OVER EXCALIBUR’S HEAD off the announce position! All the faces get huge spots. Busick’s ring-clearing destruction of 2.0 gets the entire crowd standing, although they’re already up because all the chairs got used in spots. Super Dragon keeps himself out of most of the match, just moving into position when someone is doing something flippity. For a guy who hasn’t wrestled in three years his timing is phenomenal. The match is so much fun that you can see people at ringside who cannot stand still. They’re literally bouncing around from the energy. The Bucks go after the thumbtack training shoes (shoes with thumbtacks stuck in the bottom) only to get cleared out by Rick Knox. He’s back in control of this contest! LARIAT FOR SUPER DRAGON!!!
The carnage of the conclusion is barely believable as everything builds to bigger and bigger spots. Not content with double stomping thumbtacks into Biff Busick’s face Super Dragon finishes him off with the Psycho Driver. This was fantastic. Just absolute madness and sheer unadulterated carnage. But…it’s not over yet. Super Dragon decides to stroll around the crowd looking for a fight because winning a match isn’t enough for him. This brings Excalibur into the ring to proclaim “this is not over by a fucking long shot” and the crowd demand he defend PWG for them but Excalibur deflects the responsibility onto the locker room. “I will not rest until I see them put in the fucking ground”. Before he can wrap up 2.0 come back out here and destroy Excalibur. PSYCHO DRIVER THROUGH A CHAIR! With his co-commentator down attention turns to Chris Hero and IT’S FUCKING ON! Hero tries to take on all three of them but eventually weight of numbers takes it for the heels. The way they’ve set this up will result in a killer pay off. But not tonight. PSYCHO DRIVER!
Final Rating: ****1/2
Summary: Good lord, this show had just about everything you could ever want to see from a wrestling show. It doesn’t matter if you like storyline, action, heat, comedy, flying, technical, striking, Strongstyle, Lucha. It doesn’t matter, this show had a match for you. Into old timey 1980s wrestling? Hero vs. Thatcher was all that and more. Into ridiculous high spots? The Lucha Underground guys had you covered. You’re into the Attitude Era? The main event had a crazy hardcore brawl and the kind of storytelling reminiscent of the nWo at its craziest. You likes kicks? Tommy End. You like a guy who’s lost his mind and does the first thing that comes into it? Jack Evans. You like limb work? Zack Sabre Jr. You like dancing? Rich Swann. You like to see an underdog or a dominant powerhouse heel? Bailey vs. Galloway. This show had everything and almost every single thing hit. There are few shows that have the consistency of this one. It’s a marvel and it is unmissable. There’s nothing that’ll trouble match of the year voting but for consistency there hasn’t been a card like it anywhere in 2015.
PROGRESS Chapter 21: You Know We Don’t Like To Use The Sit Down Gun
I’m new to PROGRESS but I’ve been hearing about their rowdy crowds and adult storylines for some time. It’s an intriguing promotion that easily sells 700 tickets to their shows in London in a matter of minutes and has built a hardcore ECW-esque fanbase in three short years. They’ve gone from running every three months, to every two months, to putting on secondary ENDVR shows to running two-night tournaments to putting on shows at the Download festival. In the previously barren three months leading into this show ran seven shows. They’re still sensibly spaced out though and the promotion is growing steadily.
PROGRESS was the brainchild of three men; Glen Joseph, Jim Smallman and Jon Briley. Their gimmick was simple. They wanted punk rock wrestling. It caught on so fast and so hard that just three years down the road they’re selling out shows without naming any matches on them. They’re selling the brand. It’s been some time since anyone could do that, especially in the UK. I’m not sure it’s ever been done in the UK. Even when I was a die-hard 3CW fan, I pretty much checked out the line-up before deciding to go to a show.
Title reference: Danger 5. Favourite Danger 5 moment; when someone gets shot down a phone.
6th September 2015.
We’re in London, England at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Hosts are Glen Joseph and RJ Singh. Love the geezer stormtroopers!
Promo Time: GZRS
They’re here to answer the open challenge for the tag straps later. Immediate “please don’t die” chant. Sebastian does the Worm. Fun times. Jim Smallman takes over. He points out the show sold out in 18 minutes. “That’s pretty quick”. The one rule of PROGRESS; “don’t be a dick”. PROGRESS has the kind of cult following that is hard to describe. I don’t think there’s ever been a UK promotion quite like it.
The Origin vs. The London Riots
The Origin are El Ligero and Nathan Cruz. Ligero has been a UK Indy darling for years and years. Both men are former PROGRESS champions. The Riots are James Davis and Rob Lynch. They’ve become one of the foremost UK tag teams and have the tag titles from most of the more popular promotions. The Riots are the faces in a big way. The fans are less keen on the Origin chanting “you’re a wankstain” at Cruz. The atmosphere is tremendous and it’s an adults only show. It’s like an 18-30’s holiday! Ligero as a heel is bizarre. I’ve never seen him work heel before and he’s great at it. Imagine Rey Mysterio Jr. if he was a complete shithead.
The heels do a lot of stalling, drawing an astonishingly disgusting “wankstain city” chant. You can’t beat a hot crowd. The match isn’t much to write home about but a lively crowd can improve even a lacklustre contest. The whole “shitty little horns” series of chants was just magnificent. The wrestlers don’t have to do anything! When they head into the bigger spots nothing seems to click. Cruz takes an awkward bump off an Exploder where he flips and lands on his face. Credit to the Riots though, they’re not put off and the slingshot into a spear is great. Someone in the big leagues will steal that. They start to click on the counters and things really pick up down the stretch. Ligero takes a monster District Line Powerbomb into the seats. Zack Gibson swings by the ring to hand a foreign object to Nathan. It’s a fork and Cruz stabs both faces with it for the pin. Rob Lynch, of the Riots, took a nasty bump off a German suplex before the finale and hurt his neck pretty badly. Kudos to him for carrying on to the finish. He looked hurt when it happened.
Final Rating: **1/4
Jack Gallagher vs. Pastor William Eaver
Eaver has a religious gimmick. It has limitless potential, as he looks a bit like Jesus, BUT he needs to study up on the words he can use during a match and especially his promos. Gallagher has an old-timey circus strongman gimmick, which has less mileage. I love the t-shirt from Eaver; it’s the CM Punk one but it’s been altered so it says “Blessed in the World”. Limitless, I tells ya. “He’s working on the Sabbath” chant the crowd, winning me over by themselves. Gallagher is a solid British style technician with good power. Eaver has a few tricks up his sleeve too, busting out lucha stuff. As much as I like Eaver’s gimmick, it’s Gallagher that excels. Plus he looks like David Thewlis on steroids. That’s a look I can get behind. Gallagher catches Eaver in the King Crab, which is the Maple Leaf only with both legs. Eaver has a long way to go but has incredible potential. Gallagher isn’t far off being really good. Watch out for him.
Final Rating: **3/4
Eddie Dennis vs. Zack Gibson
Gibson is a scouser who has a Liverpool football club gimmick so naturally I despise him. Who comes out to “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? What an absolute wanker. Eddie Dennis is a 6’ 6” Welsh monster babyface who happens to do judo on the side and he’s got a fun loving personality. Plus he comes out to “Party Hard” by Andrew WK. He’s got star written all over him. Gibson is slow and overly mechanical. He looks green. His movements are deliberate and he stands out as the worst wrestler on the show so far. Like most guys who struggle with basics, Gibson has a few showy spots otherwise he wouldn’t be on a PROGRESS show. He’s also not a bad technical wrestler and spends most of the match working the arm. Dennis is culpable for some spots, including the safest looking Bucklebomb, ever. It barely qualifies. Gibson brings a bit of pantomime with the fork before kicking Dennis in the balls for the win. This was rough.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Jimmy Havoc
Havoc just lost his title to Will Ospreay so he’s a little salty. PROGRESS don’t have a re-match clause so Havoc wants to face anybody in a number one contender’s match…right now. Smallman promptly books Havoc against bald-headed servant Paul Robinson. “All the best!”
#1 Contender’s Match
Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson
Both these guys are in Regression, which is Havoc’s stable. Robinson initially looks as if he’ll lie down but Smallman tells them if they rig the outcome, they’re both fired. They don’t build up to a big spot, they hit a table piledriver off the apron as the first major move. I’m not keen on throwing a spot that big into the first sequence but it gets us into the near falls from the go, so in a way it’s good. Havoc, who has a history with hardcore, busts out a lot of weaponry. Havoc blades off a frying pan shot and the match starts to get sick. From there Havoc takes a staple gun “straight to the bollocks”. All the abuse seems to come Jimmy’s way as his light tubes spot backfires. Robinson gets tubed in the head for a double gusher. I’m impressed with how Robinson collapses into the ropes, showing his head wound off to the fans. That’s a veteran move. You have to sell blood. SUPER RANA into thumbtacks! I take back what I said about the early table spot, they were building towards something completely over the top. Thumbtack senton! That was brutal. That must have sucked for both men to take. This match is absolute carnage. It’s reminiscent of CZW. Robinson makes an absolute hash out of the finish and has to re-do it. A Curb Stomp through light tubes. This was a little bit sloppy but suitably brutal. They built the storyline well and the conclusion, minor botch aside, worked. There’s a lovely little moment of redemption too as Jim Smallman offers a handshake and Havoc leaves to a round of applause for his hard work.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Marty Scurll vs. Kris Travis
Trav is a huge babyface after missing time with cancer and beating it. He gets a HUGE standing ovation. This is his first PROGRESS match since May 2014. They play up the psychology of Scurll being a villain and yet Travis’ cancer issues being so extreme that not even Marty can bring himself to take a cheap shot into the effected area. Not that Trav has any compunctions about hitting suicide dives. The landing seems to kick-start the match as Scurll feels slightly less guilty about laying a beating on Travis and Kris himself looks more confident. Scurll seems more aggressive, on the whole, showing superior speed and a wider range of skills. Travis is more on hand to capitalise on Scurll’s overconfidence. The match definitely improves when they hit the exchanges, based on pre-arranged sequences. The striking and suplexes are tidy. However there’s a feeling, especially on the near falls, that there’s no actual attempt to win the match. Scurll at one point pushing Travis into his own kickout. Little things like that can just take the edge off a match for me. The finish has a similar set up where they awkwardly move away from the ropes before hitting a suplex counter spot. If Marty was just going to hit a suplex, why move away from the ropes in front of him? Unless he’s about to get countered? Anyway, despite holes in the work this was solid enough. Good effort and nice pre-planned bits and pieces. Sadly Travis would be forced into retirement shortly afterwards so this was it for him. Scurll, in a magnificent display of villainy, takes Travis out with the Chickenwing after the match.
Final Rating: ***
PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
The Sumerian Death Squad (c) vs. Adam Cole & Roderick Strong
This was an open challenge and PROGRESS went and brought this team in to face SDS, which you can do as a surprise if a) you’re hotter than hell and sell out in a matter of seconds and b) you want to stay that way. Bringing in two top Indie talents, and ROH mainstays, in Cole & Strong showed how ambitious PROGRESS are when it comes to keeping the fanbase happy. The Yanks try to play heel, drawing a chant of “you’re gonna get your fucking heads kicked in”, before the crowd round on Roddy Strong’s shitty little boots again. The singing of “Shit Boots” to the tune of “Hey Jude” is nothing short of amazing. The match can’t quite live up to the crowd but the work is tight. End vs. Strong in strikes is a beautiful thing. Michael Dante gets a bit overlooked as a worker because he teams with someone as good as Tommy End but Dante is a solid technician for someone of his size. Some of the counter work with Cole shows that. He might not be in the best physical condition but he can move. Tommy End is the man who wants to take this to another level with flying kicks and double stomps off the ropes. Adam Cole acquits himself well in the situation, taking a beating and dishing out kicks of his own. The crowd appreciate the all-round effort and start to chant “all these guys” in support. A big question; how are Strong and Cole not a team somewhere? They clearly click well together and yet they missed, like ships in the night, with Mount Rushmore and they’re apart in ROH too. Cole eventually falls to the Anti-Hero in a hard-worked contest. Everything clicked nicely in this. Good match.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Mark Haskins
This is Ospreay’s first title defence since becoming the champion at Chapter 20, beating Jimmy Havoc and ending his ridiculous 609 day run. Haskins, on the same show, won the Thunderbastard to get a title shot. Seeing as I live just down the road from Haskins (he’s in Malvern, I’m in Bromsgrove), I feel a certain degree of fandom for him but it’s virtually impossible to root against Ospreay because he’s so goddamn entertaining. Haskins has a terrific range of skills, from aerial to striking to countering to mat technique. He’s perhaps a
little too lightweight to overcome a top guy but he’s got enough about him to wear down Ospreay. Will is a big underdog performer so he fights from the bottom, getting dissected by Haskins. Ospreay’s improvement has been fairly meteoric. If you look at his career on paper he’s hardly wrestled anywhere at all but has such a range of skills, which he excels at, that he’s on top of the British tree at the tender age of 22. His only downfall, for me at least, is that he gets a bit too pleased with himself but even that is somewhat endearing. As if he’s not quite aware that he’s a superb wrestler, working a level above his contemporaries, until he nails a really difficult spot.
Haskins destruction of Ospreay’s arm is joyous. At one point Ospreay tries to flip around him and Haskins just kicks the arm out. Haskins knows the flipping playbook and has a counter for everything. As the match progresses it becomes apparent this will not be a routine defence for Will. It’s an intense fight and Haskins baits Ospreay in with almost every move. At one point provoking Will into slapping him only to turn it into a flying armbar. The match gives Ospreay not only a genuine challenge but makes him look better for overcoming Haskins, when he’s so routinely outwrestled. Haskins gets to show some guts down the stretch as Ospreay unleashes a series of hyper violent spots. MADE IN JAPAN! Haskins hits it to counter Ospreay coming off the top again but Will kicks out. “Nobody has ever kicked out of that” yells announcer RJ Singh. Ospreay fires back with a load more heavy rope assisted moves and takes it with the 630 Splash. This match was insanely good until they started into a few silly kick-out spots, designed to make the match feel more epic than it actually was. A pity as the lead in was sensational. Haskins told a great story.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Summary: This was my first PROGRESS show and it certainly landed. The main event alone is worth the price of checking PROGRESS out on demand. You can ‘demand PROGRESS’ at demandprogress.pivotshare.com. I’d advise that you do as British Wrestling is going through a renaissance at the moment with Rev Pro, ICW, Preston City and the British guys wrestling at BOLA all delivered. PROGRESS is the raw, visceral centrepiece of this British wrestling revolution. It’s not like anything else that’s out there. The Electric Ballroom is a small venue with a great atmosphere. It’s up there with the Hammerstein Ballroom, Viking Hall or Korakuen Hall for having that small venue atmosphere where the crowd are on top of the action. It’s not anywhere near the size of any of those places, which makes it all the more cosy.
7th November 2015.
This is my first full New Japan show since G1, on account of a) how incredibly burnt out you get watching one promotion almost constantly for a month and b) book deadlines kicking in elsewhere in the History of Wrestling offices caused me to miss a few shows. For the past three months my time has been severely limited. But fear not, gentle reader, I’m back in the world of New Japan on…uh, New Japan World for this PPV extravaganza. As per usual with a stand-alone New Japan show it is ridiculously long. We’re looking at four hours. The one saving grace of a WWE PPV is they have to stick to a three hour time window. New Japan don’t, can’t and couldn’t care less about time limits. They’re putting on a show and you will watch!
We’re in Osaka, Japan at the Prefectural Gymnasium.
Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Ryusuke Taguchi & Mascara Dorada vs. Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka, Jay White & David Finlay
All the Young Lions are tagging together tonight, like an army of black trunked soldiers. Rumour has it at least two of them, the Japanese duo, are about to head out on an excursion to the Americas. I’m not sure either one of them needs a learning excursion, as they’re wrestling in one of the best promotions on the planet and are developing extremely well in this environment. But it’s a tried and tested tradition so that’s happening. It’s a pity for Komatsu especially as his ring presence is coming on leaps and bounds. His positioning, his timing and his confidence are all pretty sensational for a guy of his limited experience. The New Japan dojo is one of the best ways to learn the business. The Young Lions as a team look organised and disciplined. The veterans tend to excel more in one on one although they get their ducks in a row down the stretch and Tiger Mask IV picks off Finlay for the win. This crop of Young Lions are going to be great wrestlers. They’re already pretty darn good. Liger grabs the microphone after the victory and tells Tiger Mask IV he wants a piece of his sweet NWA Junior Heavyweight championship strap. I get the feeling they’ve wanted to have a big time match between those two for a while. It’s looking like Wrestle Kingdom for that contest.
Final Rating: **3/4
Bullet Club (Doc Gallows, Tama Tonga & Cody Hall) vs. Togi Makabe, Captain New Japan & Juice Robinson
The very definition of filler. Come on, guys, the show is four hours long! Do you really need to put this on? Given my ‘highlights’ approach to watching shows of late this is my first look at Juice Robinson in a New Japan ring so it’s not a total loss. He should steal one of those coloured boxes from Dragon Gate, bash people over the head with it on the sly and call his finish “the Juice Box”. I would describe his current offence as ‘punch and prance’. It’s Tatanka-esque. As per usual, on matches that seem to serve no purpose, everyone is game to bust their asses to make sure the match isn’t a total bust. Even given the people involved, it’s still a solid contest. They have a few laughs at Captain New Japan’s expense and then a possible win for the good Captain. Naturally, because it’s Captain New Japan, that doesn’t last and Tama beats him clean with the Headshrinker DDT. Fun but still total filler.
Final Rating: **1/4
EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto
EVIL is the former Takaaki Watanabe (who’s been on loan with ROH for two years) and a demonstration of how the Young Lion going on excursion is supposed to work. He went away a young boy and came back as the King of Darkness, having had a few years to grow out his hair and change his appearance, as well as hone his skill. He’s returned as part of Tetsuya Naito’s Los Ingobernables stable but comes to the ring dressed as Death, complete with scythe. It’s good theatre. The very title of this match; Hirooki Goto vs. EVIL sounds like a horror movie. One I would totally watch. Can you imagine Goto as a Ronin, a masterless samurai, travelling throughout feudal Japan, fighting the undead? Fifty million stars! If you’re reading, Gedo, feel free to use that one. New Japan needs a film division. I’m not really as invested in EVIL just yet. He has a strong ring style, a combination of stiff strikes and grating wear-down holds, but it’s not as polished as the majority of the roster and Goto looks weak for putting up with it. The crowd seem unusually distant as well, not quite sure what to make of EVIL and end up just going with ‘fuck him’ and cheering for Goto’s strikes. Normally interference and DQ’s are not something that happens in Japan, especially in New Japan, but Tetsuya Naito doesn’t care about that and just walks in to attack Goto and hit Destino. Tiger Hattori isn’t quite sure what to do. A disqualification? How very American. Shibata makes the save, making it pleasingly clear that he’s not done with Naito. Not by a long shot. Meiyu Tag vs. Ingobernables going forward would be pretty sweet. This wasn’t the best of re-debuts from EVIL though.
Final Rating: **
Bullet Club (The Young Bucks, Chase Owens & Kenny Omega) vs. Time Splitters (KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley) & reDRagon (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish)
Owens was added to the Bullet Club to allow them to enter two teams into the junior tag tournament. They both failed to make the finals though. Kenny singing his own entrance music into a broom is a highlight of this show and also how sleazy Chase Owens looks as a Bullet Club guy. The reDRagon guys are the junior tag champs so logically they couldn’t win the tournament or they’d have to wrestle themselves at Wrestle Kingdom. It’s a rarity in Japan to have a match where there are seven Americans involved. The match features a lot of wrestlers who excel at double teams (Splitters, Bucks, reDRagon) so they keep the pace quick with frequent tags and the Jacksons bring a lot of the PWG-esque fun stuff. Especially the AMAZING Kenny Omega Terminator dive spot. They’re having a good time, doing the grappling. It’s frantic, almost non-stop action. If you dig the junior style and the multi-person cluterfudges, you’ll dig this. Chase doesn’t do much but doesn’t look out of place helping to hold a few spots together. The choreography on setting up dives and transitioning from one crazy sequence to the next is all kinds of great. Eventually Owens gets trapped in the Hoverboard Lock and taps out to KUSHIDA. The match was enormous fun and even when mistakes were made, like Fish dropping someone when he was supposed to be holding them in place, they improvised and kept going. It worked throughout and was tremendously entertaining.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Omega cuts a promo directly into camera saying he wants to be a “heavyweight superstar”, which is an interesting comment. He’ll need to bulk up a bit if he wants to leave the junior division behind but he is one of the larger junior heavyweights. It’s not unthinkable he could graduate to the heavyweight ranks. After all his former partner Kota Ibushi did.
Super Junior Tag Tournament Final
Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent Beretta) vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal
This is an odd choice to follow the last match as both were guaranteed to be junior tag spotfests. Why not split them up a bit? The impact of the early spots in this is lessened considerably by this booking snafu. They can flip all they want but it feels like a lesser match because there are less people involved, less planning and it’s less crazy. The match would probably be more fun viewed in a vacuum away from the previous contest. Not that it’s not good but everything seems underwhelming thanks to the card positioning. Thankfully the crowd don’t feel the same as me and get right into the match from early in, enjoying the junior tag team action. It’s a tidy mixture of trademark spots and innovative counters. Sydal is especially good, showing how far he’s come since returning to the Indies. He’s not only a lot smoother and cleaner than last year but his big spots are getting more inventive. His partner Ricochet is an enormous show-off so he throws in spots like SSP’s to the floor as total throwaways. It’s this mentality that gets the match going into a higher gear. A few things go wrong. Sydal falls off the apron at one point and Beretta blows the bump on a reverse rana. These things happen when you attempt difficult spots. The finish sees Sydal and Ricochet hit stereo SSP’s to win. This got better as it went on but it was difficult to live up to the spot-crazy match it followed.
The winners challenge reDRagon to a match for the junior tag straps, which is going to be pretty damn cool. Roppongi Vice also lay claim to a shot, having beaten reDRagon in Korakuen Hall and the Bucks join us to claim a title shot too. The junior tag division always ends up as a cluster of multiple teams. Four-way at Wrestle Kingdom? Probably. Again. Although the Bucks didn’t beat anyone to actually get in that match. They’re just the Bucks. They turn up whenever the junior belts are on the line.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Bullet Club (AJ Styles & Bad Luck Fale) vs. CHAOS (Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI)
There are still two hours left on this show. Before anything has even happened Yano is in the ropes. BREEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKK! BREEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAKK. Break, break, break, break, break, break, break. He knows the rope break rule, he’s got that one nailed down. The way Yano transitioned from heel to face has been hugely entertaining and arguably Yano is operating at a career high for entertainment now. I figured this match would be a total waste of AJ until YOSHI-HASHI decides he’s going to step up and show AJ a thing or two. One would hope it wasn’t the Loose Explosion he has emblazoned across the buttocks of his ring gear. AJ is a class apart from everyone, including Y-H, and barely needs to hit second gear. Yano keeps himself amused by doing the corner spots and pointing to himself. It makes me chuckle. AJ finds himself alone with YOSHI-HASHI and finishes him with the Pele Kick, Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash. This match was just filler, same as the earlier Bullet Club tag. Yano amusements aside there was nothing to see here.
Final Rating: *3/4
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Tomoaki Honma
This is a re-match from a NEVER title match earlier in the year at New Beginning in Sendai where the belt was vacant. Ishii won that contest, in a ***** MOTYC with the best near falls of the entire year, and they did a re-match during G1 that Honma won. I had that at ****1/2. This is the rubber match with Honma coming after the belt again. I honestly thought they’d save this for Wrestle Kingdom but considering the repeat matches in NJPW, they might be saving the re-match for Wrestle Kingdom. I can tell in the first couple of seconds this match is going to be good because they wail on each other and the crowd responds to everything. The pacing isn’t quite as blistering as it was during the New Beginning match, which makes me think they might be shooting for a longer more epic match (which it isn’t, it’s actually seven minutes shorter). I am pleased to see early Kokeshi attempts result in Ishii rolling out of the way. Honma landed way too many of those during G1.
As per usual the strike-duels are golden. They’re what draw me in to the story they’re telling. Ishii is clearly the superior striker but Honma just cannot accept that and keeps trying to match him. It’s a familiar story and one that saw Honma lose earlier in the year. I admire his commitment, even if it shows he’s not that bright. Where he is successful is in changing tactics and catching Ishii off guard with DDT’s and the like. As if his main tactic of going to war is just a cover for a sneakier secondary tactic. Although he’s batshit crazy still and does the SUPER KOKESHI TO THE FLOOR!!! Just thinking about doing that is completely insane and he’s done this before. He knows what it’ll do and he does it anyway. Unlike during their 2014 match (Dontaku ****1/4), where Honma employed the same tactic, he’s a bigger star now and that moment is a game-changer. It’s not even his most insane Kokeshi in the match as a couple of his torpedo Kokeshi’s are completely mad, to the point where both guys are nuts for even thinking about the spots.
Ishii does a magnificent job of selling the destructive power of Honma’s work so all that insanity doesn’t go to waste. This isn’t the normal ‘grab the shoulder’ Ishii selling, this is google-eyed disorientation. The suggestion being that tonight is Honma’s night. Ishii isn’t lying down and going away though, otherwise all this would mean nothing and at one point his own insanity involves headbutting Honma out of the air. Who thinks of that? That guy is in mid-air, this would be an excellent opportunity for a headbutt? No one thinks that! The whole match is full of headbutts that normal, logical human beings would never consider in their lifetime. God bless these two gentlemen for destroying their skulls for my amusement. I love this match. At one point Honma goes for a flying Kokeshi, Ishii side-steps and whacks the back of Honma’s head with a lariat. Brainbuster!! Ishii beats Honma again and the dream of Honma’s crashes and burns for a third time going after Ishii’s NEVER title. This is the midcard version of Misawa-Kawada (or Tanahashi-Okada for that matter) and I fucking love it.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba
Another clash between Tana and Okada on the road to the Dome but look at the supporting cast! I’ve been raving about Shibata for years, wondering out loud (repeatedly) as to what the heck was NJPW’s plan for him? I realise he wasn’t full time with the promotion and his lack of commitment was perhaps an issue but he’s working more dates now so it’s time to give him something truly meaningful; like battering Nakamura for the IC belt. For example. A feud with Sakuraba, Laughter 7 explode!, would make sense given their positions on the card, history and skill level. Plus Shibata punting Sakuraba into defeat would give him the win to go with the reputation he already has. Despite loving everyone in this match, yes even Tana, it never quite clicks with me. Only Shibata looks at all motivated, because he’s always motivated, and the others look like they’re taking it easy. It’s Shibata who forces the pace, forces Okada into different situations and pushes the match forward. Naturally the issue between Tanahashi and Okada is what drives the match, with fans anxious to see them clash. At the moment it feels like they’re figuring out spots for the Dome. That match should be great but the build up is built more on history than current issues. They have a few nice spots worked out here like the Rainmaker being countered into the Slingblade but it’s all a bit casual. Saku gets mashed at the end with the High Fly Flow and GTS putting him down. Shibata getting the deserved pinfall after having worked his socks off while everyone else took it easy. Sakuraba is in danger of becoming an afterthought in NJPW.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Tanahashi decides to bitch Okada out on the mic and they get into a pull apart brawl. Where was that enthusiasm in the match? Tanahashi seems keener to sell the match than Okada, who’s probably pissed off that he can’t beat Tana. But Okada gets seriously wound up by Tanahashi’s persistence, smacks him with the Money in the Bank briefcase and totally loses his cool. Which is probably what Tanahashi was aiming for, get Okada out of his happy place and get him good and angry and unfocused. This was the kind of thing I was hoping for during the match but the post match brawl is suitably fantastic. Both guys really got into the fight eventually. Doing the whole “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m cool….I’LL KILL YOU BASTARD!” thing. I enjoyed it.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Karl Anderson
This is the usual standard between G1 and WK title defence where the belt is never going to change hands. The sole set up for it was Anderson pinning Nakamura during G1. Not that it’ll be a disappointing contest as they’ve got good chemistry and always seem to pull out a solid match when they wrestle. I don’t get the ringside business here. Karl brings the entire Bullet Club, Nakamura brings…no one. He’s in CHAOS. He’s got backup so where is it? I could understand Okada and Gedo being busy after their run in with Tanahashi but Ishii, Romero, Beretta, YOSHI-HASHI and Yano should be out here, surely. When this match, suddenly, hits a higher gear it’s insanely good and the sequences are off the charts and genuinely pop the Osaka fans like an Indie crowd. They can’t keep that level throughout but the chemistry in the rapid exchanges is beautiful. As per usual Bullet Club’s interference prevents the match from being truly great (like most of the Okada-AJ matches) and I find myself zoning out more than a few times, especially when the crowd is quiet and there’s not much happening. My favourite aspect of the match is that Anderson knows Nakamura’s sillier spots and uses his taunts against him. Otherwise Karl finds himself, by and large, not at the races. Merely attempting counters before being floored. There’s never really a danger of Shinsuke losing, even when Karl catches him with a surprise Gun Stun (off the ropes, no less). When a wrestler is using his finisher as a transition, you know he’s not going over. It doesn’t stop them creating some cool near falls, like Karl flipping into a lariat like a junior. Eventually Nak just kicks Anderson in the face and gets the pin. Predictable outcome but nevertheless a good match. Karl Anderson is great at doing the losing challenger match. He’s solid and loses nothing in defeat.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: AJ Styles strolls in there, gets in Nakamura’s face and lays down the IC title challenge! Nakamura vs. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom? Oh yes. It was a match everyone was crying out for when it might be the IWGP title match on that show. Having it for the IC belt doesn’t matter, I just want that match. Post-Post Match the CHAOS boys celebrate with some beers. Oh, wait, that’s actually Coors Light, my mistake. If I ordered a beer and someone gave me a Coors Light, I’d point out they’d got the order wrong. “We find your American beer a bit like making love in a canoe….it’s fucking close to water”.
Summary: Power Struggle looked a bit thin on paper but the big matches mostly delivered and it did a fine job of hyping the top two matches at Wrestle Kingdom (Tanahashi-Okada and Nakamura-Styles). That’s a line up that has potential to repeat last years astonishing back to back MOTYC main events. The major highlight of Power Struggle was the Ishii-Honma match. Every time they wrestle my expectations are high and they didn’t disappoint. Another showstealer, a low end MOTYC. New Japan tends to go a bit quiet after Power Struggle so get your fix before WK10 is upon us.