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.