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#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – A Beginner’s Guide to OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment)

Twitter’s penchant for sharing GIFs recently caused an explosion of interest in Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, after two of their roster made debuts on a Dragon Gate show held at KBS Hall in Kyoto the first weekend of May 2018. This debut was followed shortly by news that rocked the Puroresu landscape. This news was that Dragon Gate was splitting into two companies, one to operate domestically and one to operate internationally. The international branch of the promotion would be led by CIMA, taking a small handful of Dragon Gate talent with him, and be based in Shanghai, China. Their goal? To elevate and establish OWE as a Chinese pro wrestling titan. While visa difficulties with the United States of America and Australia have kept most of their announced international exhibitions from occurring as planned, their drive to give their fledgling talent greater exposure, and experience, as quickly as possible has been clear.  Presently OWE has partnerships with two other companies, the aforementioned international arm of Dragon Gate, and Future Stars of Wrestling out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

These partnerships have led to two distinct benefits for the company. The first is that the amount of international interest in their product is steadily increasing, as now viewers outside of mainland China can see OWE’s talent appearing on both Dragon Gate’s streaming service, and on FSW’s twitch channel. FSW’s offering presents those unwilling to venture onto Chinese streaming services the opportunity to tune in weekly on Fridays at 6:00 PM PST (9:00 PM EST) to catch the latest video content from the Chinese wunderkind of pro wrestling. The second is that their roster is now made up of three separate components: Dragon Gate international’s talent, a likely rotating cast from FSW, and OWE’s homegrown talent. This article will set out to name, identify, and explain as many of the nuances of the roster as possible to newcomers to the product. Since the Dragon Gate and FSW roster members working in OWE have readily available information out in the wilds of the internet I will only briefly discuss them, and the meat of the article will go towards OWE’s developing roster.

A special note before I begin: The first event OWE held on 2/2/18 also featured a number of other Dragon Gate wrestlers, and the American team of Zachary Wentz and Dezmond Xavier, but with the separation of Dragon Gate into two branches there is no indication that they will be making any returns.

Dragon Gate International

CIMA

Undeniably a legend in the world of lucharesu and puroresu, CIMA has grown to be known for his good eye for talent and his passion to train and elevate that talent into something truly phenomenal. The list of men whose careers he has helped shape is very long and includes names like Matt Sydal, Tony Nese, and Ricochet. He’s the head coach of OWE and has been on every show they have run as a performer, including accompanying talent abroad to their international dates. He has a criminally underappreciated sense of humour.

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CIMA makes the mistake of smelling Remy Marcel’s shoe at FSW’s May 12th 2018 9th Anniversary event.

T-Hawk

A solid tag-team and trios worker in Dragon Gate who many thought capable of being the next big thing for the company, until the Dragon Gate fandom decided they had no interest in him. It seems likely that OWE will be an opportunity for him to reboot, away from the history of negative impressions and downward trajectory he was facing in his home promotion. It is worth noting that within weeks of leaving the main Dragon Gate branch, T-Hawk has picked up international gold during his outings in Australia with the struggling AWF.

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T-Hawk sporting some shiny new gold.

El Lindaman

An incredible judoka who can look very impressive throwing people around, but his small stature may have been holding him back from getting attention as a singles competitor. This matter of stature, however, may become a moot point in the landscape of OWE’s locker room, where the average competitor is rather slight in stature themselves.

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CIMA and El Lindaman on a tour of Australia.

Takehiro Yamamura

Unfortunately, while full of brilliance and potential in his early career, Yamamura suffered an incredible back injury that has sidelined him for so long that fans are questioning whether or not he can make a comeback at all. His close ties with CIMA have led to CIMA overseeing, and seemingly paying for, his expensive rehab and medical treatments. CIMA seems to believe he will make a comeback, but what he will be like if/when he steps in a ring again are wholly unknown,

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Takehiro Yamamura wearing an OWE jersey to throw the opening pitch at a baseball game.

Future Stars of Wrestling

Jack Manley and Remy Marcel

The Whirlwind Gentlemen, or simply “WG” as they are known in OWE, look to be a major connecting link between FSW and OWE. Their primary function is to help teach the OWE roster what American-style pro wrestling is like, which they have plenty of experience doing as the coaches for FSW’s school.  On the shows they play foreign heels who don’t speak Chinese and get themselves into trouble with their aggression and lack of understanding of the Chinese context. They both do great character work and have a penchant for interesting moves, even if some people online have questioned their execution in-ring. Their commitment to OWE’s development can be seen in Remy changing his twitter handle to reflect his new position.

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Remy and Jack make their entrance at OWE’s May 7th Shaolin Temple show!

Damian Drake and Spyder Warrior

Tagging together as the Midnight Marvels, this duo have humorously seen themselves renamed as simply “Brad” and “Thomas” in Shuaijiao’s coverage of OWE. This, unfortunately, undercuts the amazing work they’ve done to fill their gimmicks with carefully crafted comic book references. Drake seems to be a particularly good fit for OWE, with his background in parkour granting him athletic bonuses that OWE seems the utmost place to maximize them within. They are both there for the immediate future, looking to participate in OWE’s upcoming big summer plans, and Drake has expressed to me directly that he has interests in working in China as much as he can.

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The Midnight Marvels lay down the law!

Clutch Kucera and Sugar Brown

Known as the Bonus Boyz in the US, this team have been rebranded in OWE as the “RMB Brothers,” or “Real Money Brothers” in English, but their gimmick remains the same: They’re there to fight, and win, to earn their win bonuses. They have a hard hitting, heavy-handed style that offers the lads in OWE something different to work with. Their presence, for however long they stay, will add much needed diversity in physical appearance to the matches OWE puts on, along with a cruel Western style heel edge.

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These guys look like people I’d like to party with.

Jake Cafe

Self identified as “The Thinking Man’s High Flier,” and called “Jackie Coffee” in Chinese press coverage of OWE’s 5/7/2018 Shaolin Temple show, Jakob Austin Young looks to fit well in the mix. In his first outing for the company he participated in a main event tag-team triple threat match that has produced some phenomenal GIFs. He brings an element of roguish American heel tactics to the table, providing some diversity to the style of work being performed on these events.

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“Seattle’s Best” gets a handful of Liu Xinxi’s hair to turn the situation in his favor!

Minor Gregory Jade

Billed as “Hyperstreak” in FSW, with an entrance package in OWE calling him Minor Gregory Jade, ring announcer Michael Nee proclaiming in English that he is “The Rocket, G Sharp,” and appearing as “Greco” (which may be a misspelling of his real name, Greg) in the press coverage I have seen so far,no matter what you call him he brings energy to the table. He seems to have been paired up, at least for now, with Jake Cafe. He adds a unique masked look to the roster, alongside the Midnight Marvels.

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Check out the energy levels on this guy!

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

OWE’s homegrown roster are divided, presently, into three teams (with the possibility of a fourth on its way.) Each team is made up of seven men, some of whom we haven’t seen wrestle yet. These teams make up a total of 21 wrestlers, but OWE have indicated that they have upwards of 50 people presently training in their facility (which has several rings, full gyms, and provides three square meals a day.) Properly identifying these teams has proven a bit challenging as, while each teams roster remains the same, the on-screen graphics during the first show introduced the red team as both Team W and Team E (each team has been named for one initial of OWE.) To further complicate this, A-Ben is clearly indicated as a member of the Red team in graphics, with every other member working the show in red gear, but made his first appearance in black gear. As such i have done my best to use logic and information to deduce a proper structure here.

Team O (Colour: Black)

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Team O as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Mr. COOL” Tang Huaqi

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Check out those moves!

Tang Huaqi is a member of the fledgling cross-team faction identified by Shuaijiao as the Mongolian Wolf Clan(蒙古苍狼帮.) While his debut match may have seen him sporting the simple uniform of his team, when he’s decked out in his personalized gear he rocks a very modern Chinese urban dance aesthetic, sporting remarkably flashy colours that dazzle and astound. He carries himself with a certain charismatic cockiness befitting his urban dance culture styling, and his positioning as an early standout amongst OWE’s roster.

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I know this looks like it’s on fast forward, but it’s not.

Picking up a victory in his debut match, and taking a tremendous beating in his second match before going down to Gao Jingjia, arguably one of the company’s slotted-in for stardom performers, Tang Huaqi has looked remarkable in each outing. While he may not have the inhuman physical prowess that his contemporaries like Gao Jingjia and Zhao Yilong have, he brings plenty of cool to the table. He is a competent high flier, executing 450 splashes and the like with ease. The impressiveness of this pales in comparison, however, to his remarkably smooth and exciting striking style. He brings unique angles of attack to the table with his strikes, and uses them to set up aesthetically pleasing sequences that transition into traditional pro wrestling moves flawlessly. Looking like he belongs on the set of a modern Kung-Fu film, he promises to be an exciting player on the roster, and is likely to be an early favorite of many new fans. As of the second OWE show it seems his moniker may officially be evolving into “Mr. T Cool” Tang Huaqi.

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With or without a T, he’ll always be “Cool.”

“Tiger Tooth” Wang Jin

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These body motions should be familiar to Kung Fu film fans if they’ve seen a movie about the Monkey King.

While some online have made accurate aesthetic connections between the headdress worn by Chinese legendary hero Lu Bu and Wang Jin, I knew the moment I saw him come out for the post-intermission costume parade that his gimmick was an homage to Sun Wukong, the Monkey King of myth and legend. Also called “Tiger Teeth Goku,” in English by ring announcer Michael Nee, Wang Jin brings all the requisite mischievous charm needed to play the role perfectly. His brand of light-hearted, good guy tomfoolery and trickery is a popular character trope in Chinese entertainment presently, with him doing things like tricking Jack Manley and Remy Marcel into chanting “We are garbage, garbage, garbage!” in Chinese.

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Wang Jin’s tricky movements fall right in line with his character archetype.

He looks confident on the microphone, and the audience reacted as intended to his making light of the foreigners, but his personality is far from where his qualifications end. He is remarkably speedy, and agile, able to move in ways that are eye-catching and frenetic when need be. His facial expressions all the while keeping up his character. His strength, thus far, seems to be in playing a competent, entertaining backup man in tag team matches. He’s done this with both Tang Huaqi and Zhao Yilong, putting in solid, entertaining work in matches where they come out looking tremendous. The company views him favorably as well, placing him on much of their promotional materials.

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Wang Jin hurls himself at Jack Manley!

“Flowing King” Gao Jingjia

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Recently he’s been called “Floater Jingjia” and, frankly, I hope it doesn’t stick. He’s a “Flowing King” to me.

Gao Jingjia’s gimmick might just be that he is insanely  good at flips and moving about the ring in dynamic, flowing ways. His attire has been compared to that of Marvel superhero Black Bolt, a fellow king of sorts. He certainly looks like a superhero as he performs move after move heretofore unthought of. Maybe that’s enough for him, too, a cool nickname, a cool costume, and a revolutionary repertoire of moves.

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Gao Jingjia’s Ladder 450 Splash is a remarkably flashy move.

His 630 Senton, Outside-to-In Double Stomp, and Ladder 450 Splash have earned the attention of pro wrestling fans and stars alike, with even Ricochet retweeting some of the content. Not only does he do things that look impossible, he does it all and keeps picking up wins. He has had three matches so far, all of them tag team matches of some form, where he has picked up the winning pinfall. One of his wins came in front of Dragon Gate audience, shortly before the announced split of the company. It seems evident that OWE’s management trust him to perform well, and see big things in the future of their “Flowing King.”

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On the May 7th Shaolin Temple show, Gao Jingjia introduces this fun Cutter variation.

“Big Head” Wulijimuren

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Wulijimuren’s entrance is amazing, and I’ll hear no haters!

It comes as no surprise, based on his attire, that Wulijimuren is a member of the Mongolian Wolf Clan. His costuming has been compared by some to Mongolian shamans, and he certainly feels like he could be at home on the steppes in his gear. Regrettably, I cannot seem to find any logic, thus far, behind his nickname “Big Head.”

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I’ve never seen a Hip Attack used in this way before. OWE are just innovating all over the place.

In his debut match he played the victim to much of his opponents combined offense, but still remained an element in the match right up to the end. His use of the hip attack makes him stand out, immediately, from his peers as none of them perform the move as well. He’s also, amusingly, the kind of guy who’ll slap his opponent in the face and then run away. He has put good energy on display for the audience in his matches and looks to be integrating more personality into his performance at a quick rate.

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His head looks pretty proportional to me. Does it look big to you?

“Storm Boy” Lu Ye

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“Storm Boy” Lu Ye certainly knows how to make an entrance! Confusingly, the next time he would appear he would be called “Masl Man,” while never wearing a mask.

 

Lu Ye is another member of OWE’s roster who rocks the modern Chinese urban dance fashion, even carrying around a baseball bat to enhance the look. I’ve seen advertising on QQ’s video site for Chinese urban dance competitions where competitors carry baseball bats as part of their attire, so this all ties in nicely together.

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His small size does have the advantage of letting him perform this move with Yang Hao as his assist.

In the ring he moves well, but is a very slight competitor. His size allows him to perform some fun combo moves with his, thus far, frequent tag partner Yang Hao. The pair have fared well in their two outings. They pickied up a victory against the Mongolian Wolf Clan at the Shaolin Temple, and performed in a strong outing against Dragon Gate talent on their debut show.

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In his second match, Lu Ye showed he’s got a mean DDT.

“Happy Ghost” Yang Hao

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There’s certainly a lot of happiness going on here! During his second outing Michael Nee called him “Mr. Off-Key,” but I’ve yet to put that together with the rest of his gimmick.

Yang Hao’s gimmick takes two separate elements and fuses them together. His nickname, “Happy Ghost,” I am told is very popular in China. It is given to someone who makes others happy. This would be why he is decked out in bright colours and is always smiling. Layered on top of that is how he hops down to the ring, carrying a red lantern. Lanterns have often been associated with celebrations in China, so the happiness connects to that as well… however the hopping has a more sinister twist to it. The Jiangshi are legendary undead, commonly called “hopping vampires” in media featuring them. In essence one can infer that, while he aims to bring happiness, there is a dangerous side to him as well. This is doubled down on by his attire, which while bright also resembles the traditional clothing the Jiangshi are usually depicted in.

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Sometimes there’s no water in the pool.

As a competitor Yang Hao is quite fast and smooth, working surprisingly well in his debut bouts with larger  opposition. He has a penchant for throwing himself about, both inside and outside the ring. As they have teamed together in all their appearances, thus far, it is safe to predict that he and Lu Ye will be an early and steady team within the promotion’s fledgling years.

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Yang Hao isn’t yet as refined or developed in his flying as teammate Gao Jingjia is. I expect he’ll be another serious acrobat for the company.

“Little White Dragon” Cui Xiangmeng

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I honestly cannot wait till I get to see “Little White Dragon” actually wrestle!

Very little information is available regarding this member of Team O so far. He hasn’t worked a single match yet, but he did cut a striking figure during his 2/2/2018 costume parade introduction. His look feels very much like he is a future Ace style character, throwing rapid punches and kicks as he walked to the ring decked out in brilliant white attire befitting a veteran performer.

Team W (Colour: Blue)

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Team W as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Warm-Hearted Oba” Duan Dihang

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He certainly is a “cutie,” isn’t he?

Duan Dihang, dubbed “the cutie” in English by Michael Nee during the Shaolin Temple show, has a fairly simple gimmick to understand: he is desirable to young women. The term Oba, as pointed out by the Panda Power Plex blog, is “a Chinese word transliterated from the Korean word “oppa.” It literally means “older brother,” but Korean girls use it to refer to their boyfriends…or perhaps pop stars they wish were their boyfriends.” Interestingly he is, thus far, the only member of the roster who has only appeared in his team’s blue uniform. This could either be because management are having a hard time compressing his gimmick into a specific look, or alternatively they have decided that he will have an “everyman” look, to set him apart from the rest. I can see both being equally likely.

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I really hope people start calling this “Air Oba.”

In the ring, so far, he has shown a lot of fire but also keeps getting beaten down. During the debut show he took a nasty four-on-one spot, and he has taken some beatings in his 2nd match as well. That being said he is also the only OWE roster member to have won a match via submission, which sets an interesting tonal difference between he and his cohort.

 

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Believe it or not, he won the match for his team after getting hit with this.

“Dashing Swordsman” Duan Yingnan

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This is an undeniably sexy entrance.

Duan Yingnan’s gimmick is a bit of a visual pun, playing off of the swordsman aesthetic to highlight his attractiveness. Herein the dashing  in his name is synonymous with the name Michael Nee calls him in English, “Pretty Boy.” However, dashing can also refer to quick movements, and like the rest of the roster he certainly has that going for him.

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Duan Yingnan and Ren Yuhang exchange some sweet arm drags.

Like many on the roster, it’s difficult to say much about his in-ring work for the lack of ring time he has had, mainly hanging around in multi-man tags and given little opportunity to shine brilliantly. He is physically capable but looks a bit more gunshy in some of his movements than his contemporaries. He’s got a mean arm drag, and I’ve a feeling he’s one to keep your eyes on.

 

“Martial Artist” Mao Chenxiang

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This homage is tremendous.

Mao Chenxiang has, without a doubt, the distinction of having the easiest to identify and understand gimmick on the entire roster. They don’t even try to keep it subtle, with Michael Nee calling him both “Bruce Lee,” and the ever endearing “Bruce Lee 2000,” in English, during his two nights out. Before you ask, I’ve asked for you: Yes, Bruce Lee is still that  popular in China. He’s been updated with a transparent plastic shirt, but he brings the classic Nunchaku to the table all the same.

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The nose wipe and bouncy stepping at the end of this sequence is solid mimicry.

In the ring he tries hard to replicate Bruce Lee’s classic bouncy step, and hand gestures, managing to stay in character well, but hasn’t let loose with any of the vocalizations so associated with his gimmick. He hasn’t had much opportunity to show off his skills yet, being booked only in multi-man tags.

 

“Little Guan Yu” Zhao Junjie

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More wrestlers should carry a Guan Dao with them to the ring.

Zhao Junjie’s gimmick takes us on a deep dive into Chinese  cultural history, referencing a real hero of the Three Kingdoms period, Guan Yu. A beloved and oft fictionalized historical figure. This places him easily in the position of a heroic baby face. His attire reinforces that, with elements that feel both traditional and modern, yet always militant. He also has great face paint.

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“Little Guan Yu” is not one to be disrespected.

He has a good fire in him, given his limited exposure and no wins on his record. He’s got a penchant for being straightforward, from what I have seen of his work. That being said, his striking style is not what I anticipated it would be, and is rather unique whilst remaining straightforward. Even though he has been on the losing side in all of his outings, he has never been involved directly in the finish. This early in the game it could be accidental, or they could be trying to keep him looking strong in their back pocket. He certainly looks like he’s got what it takes to be worthy of that thinking, and will only grow more valuable as he gains more experience.

 

“Little Vajra” Zhao Yilong

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Zhao Yilong does this move probably better than anyone else I’ve ever seen do it.

Without a doubt my favorite member of OWE’s roster, Zhao Yilong is likely to be an early top star for the company. He delivered a superb standout performance during the second half OWE’s debut show. Said  performance saw him put on a display of comedy, character work, athleticism, and charm. His gimmick served, herein, as the linchpin for him to anchor these components together.

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Zhao Yilong’s best spots revolve around his gimmick.

While OWE’s performers are all Shaolin Temple Kung Fu students, “Little Vajra” is the only one who portrays a wrestling Shaolin Monk in the ring. His look is instantly recognizable around the world, with Shaolin Monks occupying an irrevocable position in the international concept of Kung-Fu, and to another extent, China itself. Shaolin, primarily through the spread of Kung-Fu films in the 70s, has influenced numerous creators internationally and cannot be said to exist only in the Chinese zeitgeist at this point. But it was theirs first, and they’ll be damned if they’re outdone at it.  His nickname, “Little Vajra,” references an implement important to the spiritual practices of Buddhism. The Vajra is both a tool of religious worship and a lightning bolt-like weapon of heroic gods. The characters used to write his name, “小金刚 literally means “Little Vajra”, but 金刚 can also mean metal” and also, sometimes, diamond. The durability, and irresistible force, of his namesake is reinforced by the painting of his head a yellowish-golden colour. This is a reference to the 18 Bronzemen (or Brassmen), legendary guardians of the southern Shaolin Temple, whose bodies were as hard as metal. They served to protect the temple, and to test its students to see if they had become masters.

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This flipping headbutt is a key signature move of “Little Vajra.”

He is remarkably agile in the ring, performing remarkable flips and feats of derring-do. While these things are undeniably impressive, they serve only to highlight the aerial prowess of their performer. Zhao Yilong’s best in ring moments work to tell you who he is as a character, both to comedic effect and to athletic awe. He exhibits remarkable neck strength and flexibility, which he uses offensively throughout his matches. He routinely uses his head as a weapon, to send opponents flying with a wallop to the chest, and uses it to block punches while meditating. Even without understanding the cultural elements of what is going on here, he perfectly visually communicates through aesthetic and action that his cranium is to be feared. For a native Chinese audience this would be instantly recognizable as a reference. He even gives the audience quotes from his master when he gets on the microphone, and they’re all as upright and just and sincere as one would expect of the noble Shaolin.

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The praying rope walk is both in tune with his gimmick and a wonderful homage to Jinsei Shinzaki.

Layered on top of his tremendously constructed Shaolin character is a stream running through his repertoire of moves I’ve dubbed “Bald Men Manoeuvres.” This sees him perform both the Stone Cold Stunner and a Jinsei Shinzaki-esque praying rope walk. I sincerely hope that this is intentional, but I’ll take serendipitous as well.

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Bah Gawd! Stunner!

Not only is Zhao Yilong packed with enough talent to impress even the most jaded of fans, his gimmick and performance choices allow him to maximize his screen time and appeal to both an international and domestic audience simultaneously. While a western fan may not know about the 18 Bronzemen, and a new Chinese fan may not get the visual pun of the Stone Cold Stunner, the elements that bind the gimmick together will grab attention across the whole scope of OWE’s targeted audiences.

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There are so many puns to make, but I’ll stick with “Now that’s using your head!”

“Lightning Leopard” Chen Xiangke

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Chen Xiangke gets creative to take Remy Marcel off his feet.

Chen Xiangke likely earned this nickname through his innate speed, which is evident immediately. His attire makes me think of Hwoarang from Tekken, but that’s likely of little impact on his character. His visual moment of frustration in the match, when he cast aside his little hooded vest in frustration, gave him a good moment of personality. He’s also the mischievous voice in Zhao Yilong’s ear when he convinces the monk to bang th WHirlwind Gentlemen’s heads together.

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Each time I look at this GIF loop I’m amazed that this man has had as little experiencing in pro wrestling as he’s had.

His ring work is, as his name implies, rather fast paced and there was nothing he did that made me question his capabilities. Unfortunately his one appearance thus far saw him tagging with teammate Zhao Yilong, who unfortunately outshone him in pretty much every aspect. In his match he also took one hell of a beating, serving as an emotional driver for the plot of the match. This limited his opportunities to shine outside of selling. Regrettably this roster is not yet the strongest at the psychology of pro wrestling. Without a second match on the books, it’s hard to say anything further than that he has potential and his placement on the card made sense.

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Jack Manley tries to murder Chen Xiangke

 

Special Note: The roster listing image at the top of this section also shows a “Chen Sheng,” who has not competed yet. I’ve suspicions about which of the three unidentified rosters members (more on that later) he is, but I am not certain so it will not be included here.

Team E (Colour: Red)

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Team E as displayed during the 2/2/18 debut show.

“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei

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“Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei has a disservice done to how cool he is when he gets called “The Wolf” Fan Logan.

The man that Shuaijiao indicates is the leader of the cross-team faction Mongolian Wolf Clan, Fan Hewei is also, quite possibly, the brother of teammate Fan Qiuyang. Unfortunately, as his vicious attire and sharp claws would indicate, he isn’t the friendliest of older brothers. As a character so far he has shown himself to be remarkably aggressive, willing to attack his underlings when they fail him in matches.

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Fan Hewei will tolerate no failures from his Mongolian Wolf Clan subordinates, Fan Qiuyan and Wulijimuren.

In the ring his movements aggressiveness are dialed up to eleven. While I haven’t seen a tremendous amount out of him yet, he performs a mean Dragon Screw Leg Whip in both of his matches. He was amongst the first batch of talent announced for international expeditions, but unfortunately visa issues kept him, and several others, from making international appearances over the course of May 2018. He gdoes, however, get a fair deal of screen time and good moments on the Shaolin Temple show, which I hope lead to some long term traits of his character being developed.

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Fan Hewei’s wild Dragon Screw Leg Whip is a thing of beauty.

 

“Teardrop Magic Star” Fan Qiuyang

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He’s also been called “Bluffer” Fan Qiuyang.

Fan Qiuyang’s crazy visual kei inspired clown outfit has drawn comparisons to costumes seen at the Met Gala. While in his costume he moved differently, almost like something wasn’t quite right with him, completely living in the persona. Unfortunately this was only in costume, as none of his gimmicks traits seemed to carry over to his team outfit performance on the debut night. He is the fourth member of the Mongolian Wolf Clan, and is possibly Fan Hewei’s brother. In ring he has yet to do anything I’ve deemed exciting enough to GIF, but he’s only two matches into his career.

 

“Scorpion” Liu Xinxi

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Liu Xinxi seems to have some sort of dark mystical elements to his gimmick, based on the entrance music he was given at the Shaolin Temple show.

Called “Scorpio XX” and “Scorpio 2X” in his second and third matches, Liu Xinxi is a performer who didn’t seem to have all that much to offer other than a silly scorpion tail leg-in-the-air pose during his first outing on February 2nd. On top of others in the match seemingly mocking his signature pose, he offered up little during that show besides a lacklustre costume parade entrance.

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“Scorpio 2X” shows off his offensive capabilities.

However, after his excursion to Dragon Gate, where he wound up eating the pin, his stock in the company seems to have risen, as he main-evented the Shaolin Temple show while teaming with obvious roster standout Gao Jingjia. Given more room to perform, he has shown, and will likely continue to show, that he is a competent high flyer with all the tools needed to get over on his in ring work.

 

“Savage” Ren Yuhang

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That gear actually looks really comfortable.

Ren Yuhang’s gimmick seems to be that of a wealthy man driven savage by some tragedy. Or, at the very least, that is how it reads on camera. His movements can seem like heartbroken madness and a pent up rage burning inside him, but this is offset by the elegance of his attire. Certainly this points to his strength in physical melodrama, but it doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out idea yet.

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Ren Yuhang has spent a lot of time, so far, getting knocked down in multi-man tags.

In his debut match he tapped out in a multi-man tag, and his second outing sees him on the losing side of another multi-man tag. This early in the game that could either mean something, or be a coincidence. It’s too early to tell.

 

“Tank” Sun Chaoqun

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I’m so happy he wrestles in this petite silver belly shirt.

Clad in brilliant silver from head to toe, Sun Chaoqun’s individual attire makes him feel like a fever dream cyberpunk martial artist has travelled back in time to kick some ass. His nickname, and his in ring personality, are fairly simple to understand. He’s a powerhouse who few others on the roster can go toe-to-toe with.

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“Tank” drops “The Cutie” hard with a sit-out powerbomb.

In each of his matches so far he has had the opportunity to show off his power, utilizing moves such as chokeslams and powerbombs that the rest of the roster doesn’t make use of in their repertoire. He’s found himself, like many others, mostly operating in tag matches and has a mixed 1-1 win-loss record so far. I hadn’t placed him highly in my rankings off of his first match, but after the costume parade and his second match, wherein OWE seem to be developing a budding rivalry between “Tank” and other Team E hoss Xiong Zhiyu, his stock in my eyes has risen significantly.

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The intensity with which Sun Chaoqun delivers his offense is really a strong point in his performances.

“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu

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“Red Bull” Xiong Zhiyu makes a great entrance at the SHaolin Temple.

Xiong Zhiyu, much like his teammate Sun Chaoqun, was nicknamed for his size. While “Tank” comes to the ring looking like he’s from the future, the “Red Bull” of OWE stalks out of the past. His horned armour and face paint calls to mind ancient Chinese armour given a fantasy spin. While I initially suspected there might be some deeper historical references being made by his entrance attire, my investigations in that direction have turned up nothing. There is, however, something interesting to note in his attire. His fringed trunks are very similar in design to OWE’s head trainer CIMA’s ring attire. Like much with OWE in these early days, this could be of no real significance, but it certainly stood out to me.

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The name of this move when translated from Chinese to English is “Head-Lift Bomb Drop.” I like it.

His in-ring style is much what you would expect of someone who is the most physically dominant member of his roster. He tosses people around very well, even utilizing a rather unique head-lift powerbomb variation I’ve honestly not seen elsewhere before. However, beyond being just a big man in performances, he is also the comedy king of the team. When a match, a dance, or a QQ video calls for someone to inject a moment of levity, he answers the call brilliantly. As one of the sole standouts physically from the rest of the OWE roster, and this penchant for comedy in his pocket, it’s likely that he can develop into a strong part of OWE’s future.

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In a few years I can see these two men going to war with each other. The audio on these chops is LOUD.

“The Captain” A Ben (Big Ben)

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Look at that damn coat! It’s majestic!

A-Ben, or as he seems to be adopting lately “Captain Akilles Ben,” has the unique distinction of being one of only three OWE roster members who’ve been able to get their visas approved and compete abroad, which saw this apple-crushing future Ace work in Australia recently. His entire presentation, thus far, has seen him built up to be the face of the company. He’s had, arguably, the most screen time of anyone so far. His attire stood immediately apart from everyone else on the roster with his big furry coat. Most importantly, out of two shows so far, he is the only member of OWE’s homegrown roster to have worked a singles match. Backstage, I have been told by Damian Drake, he is even looked to as a locker room leader. He is, without a doubt in my mind, “The Captain” for a reason.

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He may be “The Captain,” but he has feelings too!

It is strange, then, that he has lost all of his OWE matches (with reports on his Australian outing not available yet.) Each of these losses has come at the hands of foreigners, and after each bout he is left despondent in the ring. This seems to be the groundwork for a larger narrative being laid down here. The Ace of the OWE roster encounters, and struggles to deal with, his lack of experience in competition against foes who show no respect for the tradition of Shaolin, and 5000 years of Chinese history, that he holds dear. During the first event he stood up to Masaaki Mochizuki for saying that pro wrestling belongs to the Japanese, and that Shaolin Kung-Fu wouldn’t beat him, and he lost. During the second event he worked a tag match, teaming with Zhao Junjie, to face the RMB Brothers, who only care about their win bonus and are willing to resort to nasty tactics to get any advantage possible. While still too early to make any guarantees, this looks like his redemption arc may lead to the OWE championship.

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A-Ben’s got real fire behind that strike flurry.

Thankfully for “The Captain,” he has all the tools necessary to carry himself as the eventual Ace of OWE. He is remarkably athletic, gifted with tremendous muscles on his wiry frame, and has a striking face with glass-cutting cheekbones. His style is far more direct than most of OWE’s roster, foregoing flips but still willing to fly. He’s shown strong fire in his matches, taking everything and not giving up. Mochizuki laid hard into him with kicks in his first match and he roared, his fighting spirit never waning. Considering the Chinese wrestling fandom’s love for the WWE, which i elaborated upon in a previous article it seems impossible to me that A-Ben’s use of the Rock Bottom in his most recent match is an accident. It is a superstar’s move being used to foreshadow the creation of a superstar.

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“Little Guan Yu” yells at the RMB Brothers to startle and stun them, setting up “The Captain” to sail over the top rope onto them!

Miscellaneous

Yan Chao

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Yan Chao puts on a broadsword display at FSW’s 9th anniversary show.

Yan Chao is both a martial artist and an acrobat, with a resume including working for the globally renowned Cirque du Soleil. He is one of OWE’s first trainers, and I would assume he is one of the reasons the roster can twist and fly with such ease. However he seems to not have much familiarity with the act of pro wrestling, having some of the same in-ring foibles as the rest of the roster when he made his appearance with FSW. I think it is questionable that we will see him make many in-ring appearances outside of when visa issues prevent others from making international commitments.

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I can certainly see his influence as a trainer in how the OWE lads move, because Yan Chao is very slick.

Michael Nee

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Michael Nee separates A-Ben and Masaaki Mochizuki.

Michael Nee is both a VP of OWE and their ring announcer and lead commentator. He has a charm and charisma to him that carries over to a western audience, as seen by the positive reactions he got to his guest ring announcer spot at FSW’s 9th anniversary show.

 

Huayang Fu

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Huayang Fu, center, stands with four future stars.

The owner and founder of OWE, he attends, thus far, every show and sits in amongst the audience. He straddles the line between proud father-figure and General Manager when it comes time for his inevitable involvement in the evening’s proceedings. He’s given authorization to change match-ups at the last minute and been there to encourage his roster after their many defeats at the hands of disparaging foreigners. I’m curious to see whether or not he takes a step back from this on-screen role as the promotion develops and expands.

 

Unidentified

White + Black Emissaries

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I really want to see these guys work, their entrance is fantastic.

While I’ve successfully managed to get their nicknames translated, these enigmatic emissaries real names have eluded me. They’ve only appeared, thus far, during OWE’s debut costume parade. Nevertheless, with their gimmick, representing characters associated with yin and yang and its connections to the Chinese afterlife, as it has been explained to me, I would consider it a safe bet that they will work together as a regular tag team once they start competing.

 

Contortionist

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I suspect that this fantastic fellow may be the elusive Chen Sheng.

Regrettably I have been unable to identify this mysterious fellows name or nickname. There are two things that are clear about him, however. The first is that he has not wrestled yet, to my knowledge, appearing only in the costume parade. The second is that he is remarkably flexible and seems to have an element of contortionism to his gimmick. As I’ve never seen that blended with pro wrestling before, I’m curious to see where he goes from here.

Closing Notes

While I may have a head start on the average western viewer of OWE, and I may have friends willing to help me with translation and understanding cultural contexts, I cannot say that my job here has been perfect. OWE haven’t published any official documentation in English yet, so these names may not be what they end up using if/when they make their full expansion outside of mainland China. Furthermore, this is an evolving product in its infancy. Their shows number in the single digits and they’ve not been around for a full year yet, including if you start counting from mid-2017 when the company was founded.

Each show I have watched so far has had refinements and modifications in the naming, styling, and in-ring work of each roster member. This guide utilizes, as its primary source of naming information, the on screen lower thirds from the debut event. The performers, when introduced on this show, each had a given name and a nickname on screen. On top of this layer you often have Michael Nee switching between English and Mandarin. Since the first show he’s been adding extra names on top of the on screen names by saying them in English, like Bruce Lee, which appeared alongside the Chinese characters saying “Martial Artist” Mao Chenxiang. This extraneous English name is then followed immediately by the performers name being spoken in Mandarin. I’m not certain how this will work out, and some of it sounds a bit strange to my ear (and, i’d wager, many native English speakers would agree.)

This guide is not intended to be infallible, but should set everyone on the right track to better understanding, engaging with, and enjoying OWE’s product.

Finally:

Special Thanks go out to Mike Spears of Open the Voice Gate, Joe DeFalco of FSW, and “Selfie King” Hong Wan for their time and willingness to answer questions without which I would not have been able to put this article together in anywhere near as meaningful or comprehensive a fashion.

 

9

#DiscoveringWrestling Presents – State of the Middle Kingdom: An exploration of the burgeoning Chinese Pro Wrestling Scene

People say starting is always the hardest part of writing. Particularly when you have something the scope of this subject to cover. But I’ve found this subject has made it harder for me to stop writing.  I first started writing about the nascent Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene in August of 2016, when I took some time out to watch a company I had stumbled across on one of my delves into finding wrestling from places I’d never seen wrestling from before. It makes sense, in retrospect, that Middle Kingdom Wrestling would be my first stop in mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling. MKW had the distinct benefit of being owned and operated by an American expat, Adrian Gomez, who made intentional decisions to make the brand visible to those outside of the country.

While Middle Kingdom Wrestling was my first window into this scene, they were not the first to break ground for Pro-Wrestling in China, and nor would they be the last. In this very special article, I will aim to paint a broad and informative picture of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, from its shockingly recent first steps, to its latest, boldest accomplishments. I’ll introduce you to the key players, the men responsible for igniting this fire, and those who will carry it into the future.

“But why,” I hear you asking, “should I care about Chinese Pro-Wrestling?”

I have two answers to that question:

The first answer is that, in many ways, China is the future. The international entertainment industry in general has set its sights on China as their changing economic position in the world has led them to become a huge untapped market. While their television, film, and video games have established and entrenched industries, Pro-Wrestling has no such pre-existing footing in the nation. Vince McMahon’s WWE has expressed interest in expanding into the region and set to work on trying to develop Chinese talent in a bid for a piece of the pie. Antonio Inoki’s IGF has taken similar measures. The WWN have toured there and Billy Corgan’s NWA have scheduled a show to break in to the market, neither booked any Chinese talent. This heightened level of international interest in the region, however, has not led to the existing local talent being given much attention at all. The media buzz has been almost sinophobic, only focusing on the names brought in by the WWE for a brief flash and then setting them aside. Herein you will find the real pioneers of Chinese Pro-Wrestling identified and the history of the scene expounded upon.

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The Chinese Entertainment Events organization the NWA partnered with to promote their upcoming show outside of Shanghai put performers on their poster multiple times.

The second answer is that it is a fresh, new, unpredictable scene with an interesting history built upon one man’s passionate shoulders, and a vast depth of possibility lies below the surface. Pro-Wrestling as an art has always found itself transformed, by time and culture, into unique expressions of itself. Core concepts are universal, but presentation and audience expectations, vary wildly from one region to the next. North America, Europe, and Japan have had many multiples of decades to cultivate a wide selection of their versions of Pro-Wrestling. There exists a rich tapestry of influences and exchanges, creating numerous genres and subgenres of Pro-Wrestling within each region. Chinese Pro-Wrestling, however, is very much a teenager, just entering its most formative and developed moments now. This presents us, Pro-Wrestling fans and historians, with a unique opportunity for real-time observation as a new culture engages with, adopts, and modifies Pro-Wrestling into what only China can turn it into. In fact, as it stands, I don’t understand how nobody else is actively excited and talking about Chinese Pro-Wrestling!

Special Notes

First and foremost, I would like to thank “Selfie King” Hong Wan and “Big Sam” Burgess for their invaluable aid in putting together this article. Without Hong Wan’s relentless helpfulness I never would have been able to write this article. He routinely provided me with the latest news in the scene, showed me early OWE information, got me on to WeChat, answered every question I asked him, translated Chinese text for me, and connected me with many other people. Similarly, Sam provided me with honest, nuanced insight into the cultural context of the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, helping me to better understand the events and attitudes in play. Without his help this article would not have been as balanced and informative as I have strived to make it. There are many more people who contributed to my understanding of the scene, and I extend my utmost thanks to everyone who spoke with me as I put this together.

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Big Sam hits a Big Boot on “Selfie King” Hong Wan. He would go on to be the 3rd MKW Champion.

Secondly, unlike the WWE, IGF (Inoki Genome Federation) has feet on the ground in China. They operate a dojo in Shanghai, which presently trains approximately eight Chinese talent in Pro-Wrestling. This dojo, I have been told, puts on exhibition shows around the area. Since they operate in China, and with Chinese performers, it is important to mention IGF here as a part of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling landscape. However, as they are simply a satellite of a foreign company, they do not quite belong in the main body of this article. That being said, the criticism I have encountered of their product is useful to help inform our understanding of the tastes of the mainland Chinese pro-wrestling audience. From what I have heard, the exhibitions that the IGF students put on are very Inoki-ism in feel, essentially worked MMA/Shoot fights, which doesn’t seem to go over well with the local audiences. The word I most often saw in regards to this style was “boring.” Also, anecdotally, Wang Bin worked for and was trained by IGF before he was recruited by the WWE.

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“Selfie King” Hong Wan tosses his MKW Championship challenger Big Sam with a release German suplex.

Finally I would like to mention that this article is peppered with links to a tremendous amount of resources, both primary and secondary sources, which I used to build the foundations of this article. If you would like to watch these videos, or follow these performers, or just go down the rabbit hole and learn more about Chinese Pro-Wrestling, I encourage you to open all the tabs you can! I have also made what I would consider to be an army of GIFs which I will be sharing on my twitter account, and possibly elsewhere, to help in promoting Chinese Pro-Wrestling. Now buckle up and trust me, we’ll have more than enough to look at here as it is. To that end, there is no other place to start than with…

The Slam and CWE

When asked about the importance of this man, Hong Wan, second ever MKW champion, told me that “he’s the first ever pro-wrestler in China, every Chinese wrestling fan knows him” and capped it off with “many people are willing to pay to watch him.” The Slam left China to begin his quest to bring Pro-Wrestling home in his late-teens. He was trained in South Korea’s WWA promotion, then returned to mainland China to set up the first ever Chinese Pro-Wrestling promotion in Dongguan in 2004. As the first ever Pro-Wrestler and Promoter in China he would also begin training the talent needed to put on shows. Without an established talent pool and market demand, the early days of the CWE (China Wrestling Entertainment) were akin, in presentation, to backyard wrestling. While their facilities might have been ramshackle, and their gear was without budget, the talent could shine through. These earliest years of CWE were grimy and unpolished and filled with passion, as The Slam strove to establish a foothold for the art and business of Pro-Wrestling in the country.

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The Slam takes the fight to his student, King of Man, in a CWE event in a mall.

While the company has faced its own shares of ups and downs, opening and closing its operations a number of times, their progression has been notable. Not only has the presentation of their product improved over the years, but The Slam has trained almost all of the Chinese talent presently working in the scene. From early forerunners through to current standouts like Gao Yuan, though the two would have a falling out, and Hong Wan, The Slam has trained them all. As a testament to his influence and importance, The Slam isn’t only the father of the mainland scene, but is the grandfather of the Hong Kong scene, having trained its founder Ho Ho Lun as well. While much of The Slam’s students were trained without official facilities, starting in 2013 The Slam would have a series of partnerships with gyms and associations which allowed for more regular training and shows to occur.

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The Slam drops Angelnaut with a TKO at the co-promoted CWE/CNWWE Crazy Fight Wrestling League, Night One.

While the CWE would never rise beyond what one would expect of a struggling indie promotion, time has been on The Slam’s side. Newer events have increasingly higher quality production values and the talent performing on them grows in quality despite having limited opportunities to work and develop their craft in the fledgling market. Passion is, genuinely speaking, what seems to keep the scene moving forward towards betterment more than any attendance figures, gates, or financial backers ever have. Regrettably, not much information is available in English about the CWE’s fourteen year history. Cagematch records only go back to 2012, and you can thank Big Sam for most of that information, but their Youku channel gives further insight into the past. What is of paramount importance to understand is that, between 2004 and 2013 the CWE, and hence all of mainland Chinese wrestling, would more or less develop in a vacuum.

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The Slam’s students, all former CWE roster members, can be found working all over the Chinese scene. Here we see Hell Shark tearing into Jeff Man in MKW.

Once their position as the sole Pro-Wrestling promotion in the country was no more, the CWE quickly developed a noteworthy track record of co-promoting shows with start-up brands. Both CNWWE and MKW benefitted from The Slam’s passion to promote Pro-Wrestling in China when, in December 2013 and July 2015 respectively, they assisted these new upstarts and cross-promoted two-day events with each of them as their first shows.

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M.A., one of The Slam’s younger students, poses with the CWF Fighting Spirit championship.

Presently, it would seem, that The Slam has, once again, had to close down his company. However, even with his operations shut down, The Slam has seen fit to safeguard the future of Chinese Pro-Wrestling. To this end, he has used his connections to get at least one of his students, M.A., a position training with IGF’s Shanghai dojo. Jason Wang, another student of The Slam, is also at the Shanghai dojo and I would suspect he followed much the same path as M.A.. Furthermore, on top of ensuring students receive further training, The Slam himself continues to perform and looks to further his reputation of working with new promotions in 2018. Based on the rumours I have been privy to amongst the Chinese Pro-Wrestling fan community on WeChat, and the reputation the CWE has of opening and closing only to open again, it is possible that we could see The Slam open up shop once again in 2018.

The rise and fall of CNWWE

The humorously named CNWWE (China Nation Wide Wrestling Entertainment) has been described by Adrian Gomez as “an on and off Chongqing based promotion run by a Chinese business man named Paul,” who dreamed of becoming ” the Chinese Vince Mc[Mahon.]” In operation from 2013 to 2015, they produced a total of sixteen confirmed events. Their biggest shows, the two-night Crazy Fight Wrestling League,  were produced in collaboration with The Slam’s CWE, and booked an interesting selection of talent. Along with locals like Gao Yuan and regular visitors from Hong Kong like Bitman, they would book RJM, who went on to be known as Sam Gradwell, and Ho Ho Lun. Both of whom would go on to have connections with the WWE in years to come.

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Gradwell, as RJM, takes to the air against Voodoo and Bad Boy after Bitman sets them up.

After the Crazy Fight Wrestling League the CNWWE would go silent twice, each time for almost a full year before they began to run another series of shows in Chongqing. Again they would book international talent whose popularity and impact on the Pro-Wrestling world would come in to bloom in the years that followed, such as John Skyler, Zack Gibson, and Pete Dunne. They pitted them against the local talent and hit the nail on the head when giving a fresh Gao Yuan the opportunities to work with these men. Many of these matches made film, however the copies that are easily available are all rather low resolution. In spite of the dip in visuals, these matches are actually quite competent. Strangely, while many nights were booked in these runs, each show was at most two matches in length. After their third attempt ended in July of 2015, it seems that the CNWWE are permanently a part of the past.

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Gao Yuan takes the fight to Pete Dunne in one of the later CNWWE runs.

CNWWE’s downfall seems to be directly at the hands of their owner, Paul Wang. “The Drunken Boss,” as he was called by the foreign talent, and the self-proclaimed Vince McMahon of China, may have had money to throw around, but his passion for Pro-Wrestling seemed to dwindle as he failed to make it work. Big Sam explains, “I mentioned wrestling and his response was muted at best; it seemed as if he didn’t care much for wrestling and was more interested in the work I was doing in Shenzhen, working in a supply chain management company.” These sentiments have been echoed by others who have been involved in the scene. Unfortunately, the CNWWE will never have a chance to rebuild for another time, as Paul Wang has passed away.

Adrian Gomez and MKW

Out of all the companies to operate in mainland China, I am the most familiar with Middle Kingdom Wrestling. I’ve covered MKW in my #DiscoveringWrestling blogs and have had the opportunity to interview and correspond with many of those involved in the promotion.. This is neither a surprise, nor an accident, when you consider that Adrian Gomez, the American expat who founded Middle Kingdom Wrestling, made the intentional decision to produce a wealth of content in English. In the summer of 2015, MKW held their first ever shows. Every single match from that two day spread made its way on to YouTube with full English and Chinese commentary. This has been replicated with almost every single match to make tape since. Hosting video content on YouTube makes it inherently more available, and easier to stumble upon. Unfortunately, this feat is not always easy for Chinese operations to achieve. Their product, of course, is available on native Chinese services as well. In this way they have taken extra effort to ensure both Chinese and foreign audiences can engage with their product

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Big Sam is fond of throwing people onto the ring apron.

Not only did they strive to make their product easy to find all over, but they strove to make it the best Chinese Pro-Wrestling show on the internet. They took the tools and aesthetic available to them as a small, upstart company in a country with no established market for the product, played around with it, and put out a product that maximized what they had available to them. They do some unconventional things with their editing and announcing, such as slow-mo replays which they work “right into the match!” and, in the end, their experimentation creates a unique feeling product. Indeed, up until very recently their shows carried some of the overall highest standards, and evolution, of production values in the scene.

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Hong Wan wrecks Tsunami with a Triple German Suplex at the MKW Training Centre.

Without being scientific it seems, as well, that MKW have the highest overall number of non-Chinese, and non- Hong Kongese and Taiwanese, talent to come through their doors. Two out of three MKW champions, including the very first, are of Caucasian heritage, and people like Ash Silva and Big Sam have been regulars with the promotion since its inception. While CNWWE may have booked future bigger names, and may have run more individual matches with each name they brought in, the sheer diversity of talent that MKW bring in is worth taking note of. Often this outside talent, where possible, can be found pulling double-duty on cards, wrestling under a hood and as themselves on the same card. ” Chinese like wrestlers who look like WWE guys,” Sam explains in this interview, “guys from Europe and the USA are well received, especially if they got a bit of mass to their build and an obvious gimmick.” Adrian Gomez, when asked about the difficulty of bringing foreign talent into China told me it’s “pretty difficult to coordinate but most wrestlers want to wrestle in every major country in the world.” Towards that end they are the only mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling company to have held shows in other countries, and strive to continue building partnerships.

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Ever the cocky heel, Big Sam drops Jason Wang and goes for the pose!

All of this ties directly into Adrian’s mission statement, which he summed up nicely for me in an interview I conducted with him in September 2016, “We just want to give Chinese pro wrestlers and Pro Wrestlers all over the world a platform to be able to wrestle regularly in China and Chinese Pro Wrestling fans a product that they can proudly support as Chinese Pro Wrestling.” To this end, Adrian has strived to set MKW apart from their contemporaries. As this article explains, ” Gomez doesn’t worry about competition… but stresses his character-driven approach differentiates MKW from the rest, ‘[CWF] really prefer the Japanese style… It looks more like a traditional sport. [We] care more about telling stories.'” In line with what I have heard about the IGF exhibitions in China, Adrian would elaborate for meChinese audience[s] don’t react much to chain wrestling. I learned that very quickly, so we changed our focus to offer more entertainment.  We love to make people smile. That’s what we want to focus on.”

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Ash Silva hits a Slingblade on “Party Boy” Gabriel Martini.

In June of 2017, MKW opened their own training school. The trainers have been a mixture of the more advanced local talents, and men Adrian has brought in from abroad, such as Gabriel Martini and Triple T. Were it not for unfortunate non-wrestling events they would have been joined by Toronto independent wrestler Buck Gunderson as well, and he has said he would very much still like to go when circumstances allow. On March 17th 2018 this school will see the graduation of its first student onto a live wrestling show when former MKW referee “The Masterclass” Michael Su makes his debut. From what I hear, Su isn’t the only student ready to move up to an actual show. March 17th’s Wrestle rescue Year of the Dog also promises to have the debut of another American wrestler signed on for a run with MKW, Zombie Dragon.

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“The Statement” Andruew Tang, of Singapore’s SPW, won’t let Ash Silva get away from the headlock, by any means necessary!

Just over a year ago, in an interview I conducted with him, Dalton Bragg told me that “the Chinese wrestling scene starts and ends with MKW.” At the time, there was a semblance of truth to his statement. An argument could be made, then, that MKW was the brand with the best quality and sustainability in the scene. However, while I had once mused that “in the future, MKW could be standing at the forefront of a national style, like NJPW in Japan,” I never saw MKW as a terminating point for the scene. Nevertheless, I never could have foreseen just how much growth the scene would see in the time since that interview was published.

Brad Guo and the CWF

The CWF (Chinese Wrestling Federation) started with a show in a factory in late 2015 to attract investors. It was “founded by Fei Wu Xing, the boss of China’s largest wrestling website ShuaiJiao.com” according to this article, and owned by Brad Guo according to those whom I have spoken to. It is not impossible that they are the same person. Not long after, in May of 2016, they were putting on a rather extravagant card in Shanghai. For this event they brought together many of the best talent available throughout the greater Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene and aimed to blow the roof off of the scene. Unfortunately, even from this very early point, they drew some heavy criticism. In his own words, Big Sam complained that “CWF’s scheduling was very rushed and the organisers arranged the show in an unorthodox style.”  While the show would, in the end, be one of my favourite events I have seen from the mainland Chinese scene, the backstage troubles point towards trouble.

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The main event of the CWF’s Shanghai show pitted Ho Ho Lun and Gao Yuan against The Slam and Jason Lee.

As one of the Chinese companies with the least amount of event info transcribed to Cagematch, I held the false assumption that they had ceased to exist. I was pleased to discover I was wrong when I dug in to their Youku channel, where a variety of matches can be found. It seems that, most often, they would produce filmed matches without the presence of much in terms of an audience. These appear to be for a web series, of some kind, as they are packaged with an intro. Despite this unusual presentation, some of these matches are quite good. The CWF would also serve as another stopping point in the evolution of Gao Yuan, whose importance will be crystallized shortly for you, and at both the Shanghai show and some videos afterwards, his quality would shine forth.

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Gao Yuan and Jason Lee have remarkable chemistry in this near audienceless match from CWF.

Lately the CWF have been low-key, promoting some mini-events, such as mall openings, after their other attempts have seemingly failed to net them meaningful results. Nevertheless, they are still participating in the scene. Hell Shark, a former student of The Slam, is presently heading their training program, but little else is known about their school at the moment. Furthermore, the CWF have helped keep the scene progressing by recently having lent MKW their ring, and some talent, for their tapings. It will be interesting to see what role they play in the future of the scene, as their in-ring product may be the most exciting we have covered thus far for a western indie fan.

Notes on the Role of Hong Kongese and Taiwanese Pro-Wrestlers in Mainland China

It is an undeniable fact that the histories of the mainland Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Taiwanese Pro-Wrestling scenes are interconnected. Hong Kong owes its Pro-Wrestling scene’s lineage, in fact its existence, to The Slam training Ho Ho Lun. Wrestlers from both Hong Kong and Taiwan have worked for pretty much every single mainland Chinese promotion that has opened its doors and, in a strictly literal sense, this doesn’t look to change any time soon. What has changed is the frequency with which these performers are booked in the region, and the reasons why may help to provide some insight into the history, and development of the mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, as well as the tastes of the mainland audience.

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Hong Kongese wrestler Bitman hits a double stomp on Voodoo, a british expat who lives in mainland China.

It isn’t unusual to see cards loaded with Hong Kongese and Taiwanese talents booked by companies from the first half of the mainland scene’s brief history. It would seem that, between approximately 2009 and 2015, the art of Pro-Wrestling had taken root and developed a larger selection of talent in these regions than it did in the mainland. As such, due to their proximity and experience, they served to flesh out the anemic talent pool for several years. In fact, a 2015 article says that “Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all boast leagues with some degree of popularity and pedigree,” and goes on to indicate that, in the mainland, “Most estimates suggest there are currently only about 20 wrestlers in the entire country, and a shortage of training facilities or world-class coaches means little new talent is emerging.” However, since then, the number of performers booked on mainland shows from these regions would dwindle.

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King Michael, from Hong Kong, gives Super Daichi, from Taiwan, the stinkface.

The primary, and most impactful for the scope of this article, factor that led to this change was the increase in the number of experienced wrestlers based in the mainland. While the overall numbers of wrestlers in mainland China, particularly natives, has not skyrocketed, the talent has improved. With the maturation of the local crop, and more training programs being opened up by groups like MKW and the CWF, the need to have a majority of the show be imported to run a good show declined. With the need to book less Hong Kong and Taiwan based talent came an increased number of matches being competed in by the mainland talent, which would lead again to them improving further. This has created a positive feedback loop. It also doesn’t hurt that China’s domestic travel, namely by superfast trains, makes travelling from one city to another a far easier feat than one might expect based on North American perceptions.

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Taiwanese wrestler Lenbai outsmarts Tony Trivaldo at an MKW event.

A common sentiment I’ve seen expressed by the local fans is that these performers are presently primarily viewed as bodies used to fill spaces. This calls into question the lasting impact of these Hong Kongese and Taiwanese workers in the mainland. For many fans they were there when they were needed, but few of them are viewed as having any lasting popularity. While several  of them still receive bookings, as the talent pool hasn’t grown so large as to not need any injection of talent from outside the mainland, only Ho Ho Lun is really seen as any kind of a commodity. This certainly stems partially from his long term involvement in the scene, but the far more potent influence at present is his tenure with the WWE.

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Ho Ho Lun, the father of Hong Kong wrestling, goes toe-to-toe with The Slam, father of mainland Chinese wrestling and his trainer.

In the mainland, the WWE is king. The perception of what wrestling is, and should be, has been predominantly influenced by the global titan of the industry. Meanwhile, wrestlers from Hong Kong and Taiwan look up to, emulate, learn from, and compete with Japanese talent. In fact, Ho Ho Lun’s HKWF (Hong Kong Pro Wrestling Federation) has formed alliance with Pro Wrestling ZERO1 that led to their name becoming Kong, and Taiwan’s dominant promotion, NTW (New Taiwan Entertainment Wrestling), has strong ties with DDT (Dramatic Dream Team.) In a conversation I had with Big Sam he expressed to me he feels any performer, no matter the style, should be welcomed into the mainland scene if they have something positive to offer. In a market this fresh, with so few local options available, room can be carved out and fans made if the performers work to get themselves over. It is too early to say that a Japanese-influenced style cannot find its footing there.

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Jeffrey Man, of Hong Kong tag team “The Man Bros,” throws down with Ho Ho Lun in the early days of Chinese pro-wrestling.

But there may be another problem that keeps the Hong Kongese and Taiwanese talent from being viewed as exciting additions to the local scene: they’re still Chinese. Recently Sam explained to me “Hong Kong wrestlers like to differentiate themselves from the rest of China, but the vast majority of Mainland Chinese fans still identify the Hong Kong wrestlers simply as Chinese.” Similar sentiments are certainly transferable to Taiwanese talent as well. This, in essence, creates a disparity in the presentation and perception of these talent which one can certainly see causing some trouble in an industry as known for its egotism as Pro-Wrestling is, no matter how unintentional it may be.

Gao Yuan and WLW

A few months after I had conducted my interview with Dalton Bragg, Gao Yuan, who has undoubtedly risen to become one of the scene’s brightest performers, founded WLW (We Love Wrestling.) They’ve held at least eight shows, as per their Cagematch profile, thus far. Based upon their bilibili page video count I would suspect there are others which have not been documented in English. This is an assumption, however, and one should be mindful as many of the videos on the page are not WLW matches. A selection of the video content the account posts is a collection of Gao Yuan’s matches with other promotions, creating a kind of video resume of his career. Watching these matches you’ll see many familiar faces from shows run by all companies prior. There is, however, one major difference between the way WLW and all other Pro-Wrestling companies in China promote their events. Hong Wan informed me that, unlike their contemporaries, WLW primarily perform as a corporately booked act, at events such as the opening of a mall or a festival, and are most often booked to perform shows for two to three days in a row at the same venue.

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Gao Yuan faces off against Sam Gradwell in a Hong Kong event associated with WLW in early 2018.

From what I have seen it is what you would expect of the scene thus far, with the nice addition of semi-regular Bitman appearances. Their history has been short, and they do not appear to have their own championship as of yet. The only title belt I have seen film of at their events is the CWF’s Fighting Spirit belt. At the end of 2017 WLW were the baby of the Chinese wrestling scene, so it isn’t much of a surprise that there is little meat on their bones to dig into yet. Gao Yuan, however, does need to be talked about. Many of the matches I have enjoyed the most in researching this article have featured him. The level of skill he puts on display in early work with CNWWE tipped me off that I would be in for something special as I watched his career grow in the deep video catalogues of several companies. My feeling here is that, with him creatively at the helm, WLW are likely to turn out matches as they grow that will entertain seasoned wrestling fans.

Huayang Fu, Dragon Gate, and OWE

Aesthetically, and athletically, it is nigh impossible to argue that OWE (Oriental Wrestling Entertainment) isn’t the pinnacle, thus far, in the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene. The company was founded in 2017 by Huayang Fu, a wealthy businessman who had made his money in film and advertising. While some of the companies on this list have boasted large injections of currency into their ventures, OWE’s budget easily far outclasses the other outfits to have staked a claim to a piece of the fresh Chinese Pro-Wrestling pie. This company came to my attention in January 2018, several months away from its founding and less than a month from it February 2nd 2018 debut live event. I was immediately struck by a pair  of seemingly unbelievable things. The first was that the men whom he had recruited to be his premiere cadre of Pro-Wrestlers were Shaolin Temple kung-fu students, men with an already established understanding of intense athleticism and live performance, some seem to have even performed martial arts stunt work for Chinese film. The second was that OWE had hired CIMA, trained by Ultimo Dragon and veteran performer with arguably Japan’s Number Two promotion Dragon Gate, to be their head coach. They rolled out page after page of hype articles, and gave us a peek into how seriously they were taking this project with training videos as they built towards the date of the show.

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Training footage and an interview with CIMA can be found in one of OWE’s promotional articles.

My head was filled with wild visions of a new hybrid Kung Fu-Pro Wrestling style that would emerge from this pairing of elements. I waited very impatiently for the show to happen, and then for Hong Wan to get links into my greedy hands, so I could see what this new promotion had to offer. I was immediately struck by how much of a production value chasm there is between OWE and all of its Chinese Wrestling contemporaries. Where other companies hold shows in beat-up rings with little to no window dressing, OWE looked shiny, new, well assembled and expensively equipped. OWE boasted a full stage and walkway for entrances, security barricades, multiple TV cameras, a titantron, and all the other accoutrements one is familiar with from promotions with established TV presences.

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The OWE’s video packages before the event were unreal. This wrestle-dancing is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

 

The spike in production values carried on far beyond just the environment and into the presentation of talent performing as well. Before the event started three high quality short intro packages were played. One was a sepia-toned mini Kung Fu Pro-Wrestling film, one was a choreographed Kung Fu Pro-Wrestling group dance routine, and one was a more traditionally Pro-Wrestling themed action vignette in a ring. In this way they inexorably, and immediately, link the notions of Kung Fu, calling to mind the depths of Chinese culture and martial tradition, with Pro-Wrestling. Already, before their men had performed in a wrestling bout, OWE had established themselves as something wholly different than any wrestling product the Chinese scene had seen before. Then they doubled down on being unique and on throwing money around.

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“Mr. COOL” Tang Huachi escapes the headlock and makes a comeback against “Wild Wolf” Fan Hewei.

After a lengthy speech, and another choreographed group dance routine that allowed several members of the roster to show off their personalities, a Chinese Idol Group, SNH48, performed. Normally a musical act wouldn’t be worth a mention when talking about a wrestling show. Herein, however, it actually ties in to the branding of the entire promotion. When it so happened that the first we saw of the performers as wrestlers was in three separate colour-coded matching variations on one uniform, my Idol Culture radar went off. As I would later learn, it was for good reason. Mr. Jie, one of the men high in the ranks of OWE’s management, is the mind running the agency that manages the Shanghai-based SNH48, who are modeled directly after Japan’s massively successful AKB48 idol group. In all honesty, by this point I had decided that there was nothing in Pro-Wrestling I had seen quite like this before, anywhere before. There were still several hours left.

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The Red, Blue, and Black subgroup leaders step up to Masaaki Mochizuki’s defamation of China!

The first half saw members of these teams compete against differently coloured teams, solidifying the subgroups idol feel forever. The matches were fast-paced, flashy, and entertaining, but lacked variety in moves, ring psychology, and enough time for everyone to truly show off their personality. After the intermission there was a costume parade where those on the roster who would not be competing in the second half had a chance to show off their individual character costumes, and put on a show of their personality. This, again, draws upon some Idol Group roots and is also something I have never before seen connected with Pro-Wrestling. The matches in the second half faired a bit better in terms of pacing and psychology than the first half, as the fresh Chinese talent were against foreign heels, most of whom are DragonGate roster members, and some touring Americans. Furthermore, the second half saw the OWE roster wrestling in their elaborate character costumes, instead of in their subgroup gear as the first half did. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by how good these performers were for their first times out as Pro-Wrestlers. Their Shaolin pedigree predisposes them to be good at everything a Pro-Wrestler needs to be good at. Herein, too, the OWE outclasses many of the promotions to have come before it. This is, most certainly, the impact of the kind of money available to them to hire, and train, their roster.

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“The Captain” A Ben (Big Ben) leaps out of the ring and crashes into Masaaki Mochizuki and his nefarious DragonGate brethren.

Downsides are, unfortunately intimately identifiable. There are two versions of the show that you can watch online, the one I linked to earlier, and a shorter edited down version. This edited version suffers from, in my opinion, overly aggressive pruning and incoherent camera cuts. Many of my complaints to do with watching Chinese Pro-Wrestling, in general, have come down to how they are filmed and edited. OWE have, by far, the highest quality video to work from but do an absolute butcher’s job on the product. Gone are are the majority of performers’ entrances, the entire costume parade, match continuity. You name it, they cut it. Even some of the coolest moves of the show. Unfortunately, to get a full experience of the show you have to watch both version, to a degree, as the main event is missing from the original version. The brand has made it clear, both by the ending of their first show teasing their gorgeous championship belt, and on services like WeChat, that they will absolutely be doing more events, including tours. Based on their WeChat information they are also looking to expand their roster further, as they are holding open tryouts.

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For some reason a clear shot of this amazing moment between “Little Vajra” Zhao Yiling and Jack Manley was cut from the edited version.

It is clear, to myself and those I have spoken to, fan and performer alike, that OWE is a very Chinese presentation of wrestling. Their advertising efforts, costuming, presentation, and props all draw inspiration from various elements of Chinese culture. Their title belt is patterned after the Taotie. The individualized costumes they wear reference everything from mythology, to historic martial arts heroes, to modern Chinese street fashion. Even the Idol-ification of the talent owes its existence to the pervasive success of Idol-culture in China. They even had their talent perform a martial arts dance routine on the biggest Chinese variety show during the Lantern Festival.

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At the end of the show, in a moment full of potent meaning, the gorgeous title belt is  lowered from the ceiling.

While these elements and strategies mirror those that have found success with mainstream Chinese entertainment audiences, they have raised the ire of some of China’s Pro-Wrestling fans. One individual even scoffed at the idea that OWE was even wrestling, as he saw it as just a pretty boy Idol group. Furthermore, while talking with some expats living in China about my excitement over how much OWE draws upon Chinese culture and tradition it came to light that the Chinese audience don’t necessarily want things that are presented in a very Chinese way. The Chinese who have money to spend want foreign brands, they are not interested in buying Chinese products unless you call into question their strong sense of nationalism. In my interview with Dalton Bragg he had mentioned that ” Chinese fans demand a certain amount of perfection in their entertainment… and other products won’t be able to compare to the WWE’s production value. Chinese fans won’t tolerate an inferior product and won’t give other promotions a chance to develop.” Contextually there were no Pro-Wrestling groups at the time who could come close to what OWE has achieved in production values, let alone the WWE. Now, however, a new question has to be asked: If a local brand, steeped in Chinese culture, can compete with these production values, can they also overcome the Chinese market’s desire for foreign looking stars, and the Sports Entertainment style of working?

KOPW and The Future

Ryan Chen’s KOPW (King of Pro Wrestling) run their first show in Guangzhou on March 17th 2018. Based upon their promotional materials, they ate looking to make a splash in the scene. Their graphic design game is on point, producing a strong, dynamic logo that brands all of their numerous announcements concerning the impending show. There is an obvious budget behind the promotion, and an interesting, strong array of talent lined up for their first event. They also have a really pretty championship belt and have commissioned the construction of their very own ring, stating in one announcement that “in order to create a good platform, we have found the most professional fight equipment manufacturer in Guangzhou” (quoted with the help of Google Translate.) In these ways they remind me of OWE. However the talent they have scheduled for the event are not newly recruited and trained Pro-Wrestling neophytes, but are instead a competent array of familiar faces and strong foreign bookings. Their lineup features a veritable who’s who of the Chinese Pro-Wrestling scene, having announced booking people such as Gao Yuan, Ho Ho Lun, and King of Man. Not to be outdone by their predecessors, KOPW have booked a handful of international talents, including the PROGRESS tag champions, BUFFA, and Sam Gradwell, who will be returning to mainland China for the first time since he worked with CNWWE in 2015.  Furthermore, at least some of this material will be easily available to everyone, as PROGRESS have announced that the Tag-Team Championship match will be available on their streaming service.

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Tournament bracket for the new KOPW Championship as it stood after Shooting Star had to recuse himself due to injury.

Earlier this year Hong Wan told me that he is both excited and nervous about the future of Chinese Pro-Wrestling.  With an explosion in popularity could come additional government scrutiny. As it stands, Pr-Wrestling in the mainland already faces problems. Adrian Gomez explained to me that they are the “unknown and underdeveloped market, city regulations and access to talent.” Should those who participate in the art of Pro-Wrestling earn themselves a negative reputation it could see further regulations levied specifically against it.  There’s also always the worry about funding. In his interview on KB’s Big Sam says that he’s “seen promotions come and go within China as usually they fail as they try to invest too much and lose all their money after several months.”

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The KOPW Championship belt is one of the sexiest title belts I have ever seen.

With KOPW mirroring the non-Shaolin high-quality elements of presentation and promotion that had me excited in advance of OWE’s debut, I am hopeful that their March 17th debut event can keep the ball rolling on the strong start to 2018 that OWE launched for Chinese Pro-Wrestling. With two new, high-quality players on the field, and the first graduate of the MKW training system making his debut, the early months of 2018 have been filled with a depth of excitement and possibility I haven’t seen in the scene before. Realistically, 2018 looks to be the year to keep your eyes glued on mainland Chinese Pro-Wrestling.

 

 

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#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s Any Given Sunday 6

Well, folks, this one was a humdinger! On January 21st 2018 Smash Wrestling held their first show of the new year, and it was filled with brilliant action and big moments. This time I found myself back at The Phoenix, and greeted by a sea of chairs unlike any setup I had seen Smash run thus far. This card was seemingly designed to set up the major storylines of 2018, and in their push to build narratives, I found some things to nitpick, but the good far outweighed the bad. So let’s get to it!

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Match 1 – Scotty O’Shea vs. Joe Hendry

The legitimate best part of this match was Hendry’s brilliant mocking of Scotty during his comedy entrance package, taking the piss right out of the poor lad. Unfortunately, I found neither man really brought much of anything special to the bout. They’re both competent athletes who are solid hands in the ring, but there just wasn’t anything to really get excited about. The closest I got to excited was during the two times that Hendry navigated his way into the Ankle Lock from unusual starting positions. It was fluid, interesting, technical wrestling inserted almost  without context into this otherwise standard and dry opening contest. In the end O’Shea picks up the win off of a low blow and corner cannonball spot.

Grade: C+
Match 2 – The Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) vs. Halal Beefcake (Idris Abraham and Joe Coleman)

The match starts with a long stretch of solid but not particularly engaging action that has the SSB reveling in their new extra-heelish mannerisms. They isolate and work on Coleman for what felt like a very long time. After about a million years Coleman gets the tag to Idris Abraham after a double back suplex on both of the SSB. This pops the crowd and sets Idris up for positive treatment from the fans. Abraham doesn’t disappoint either. He runs the ropes like a flash of lighting as Halal Beefcake build up their offensive comeback. Unfortunately for the adorable goofs, the SSB aren’t put out of the fight as they set up their win off of a great leaping knee strike counter from Stu Grayson. With the speed game of Halal Beefcake shut down, Uno and Grayson lay hard into their opponents and let the Smasholes in attendance know that they are full villains by breaking their own pins to lay more punishment into the beleaguered faces, only to come out on top anyways! Dastardly doings right there.

In the end this match could have been more engaging for longer, but it finished very strong and carried on the villainous tone that the evening would run with through till the end.

Grade: B
Match 3 – Tarik vs. Sebastian Suave

Tarik made his way to the ring, in what looked to be some nice new gear, to a rowdy and appreciative audience reaction. He paused to revel in it near me, laying out some good meta pro-wrestling commentary and loving every minute of the wild affair. This reaction was irrefutable proof that Smash’s project to turn Tarik face had been working, and this match would go on to cement that turn.

The match exploded into an aggressive back-and-forth from the first ding of the bell. Tarik’s turns in control were frenetic and passionate flurries, while Suave’s were slowed down, methodical and impactful. The two worked well together and kept the pace at an engaging level throughout. Tarik came off as more charismatic than usual as he fought a fight that his opponent, and the loud-mouthed manager Kingdom James, had made personal.

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Tarik and Suave battle on the apron as I take notes in the front row. Take note of my proximity to the ring for later.

As the match built to its climax the audience was treated to bigger and flashier moves as the men traded near falls off of some of their go-to fight ending manoeuvres. Notably Tarik kicks out of a top rope driver and Suave out of a diving knee and a benadriller. At this point Suave lays in to Tarik with murderous elbows and their fight spills outside the confines of the ring, and the match, as Suave, unable to put Tarik down, turns his boots to Tarik’s family in attendance and the two are pulled apart by security and we have a non-ending to what was a tremendous match.

Grade: B
Match 4 – Carter Mason vs. Lionel Knight vs. Kevin Blackwood vs. Allie vs. Jeff Cobb

This match had so much potential to be a show stealer. The men and women in the match can all go and their combined talent should have led to something along the lines of the last multi-man bout Cobb was in at Smash’s New Girl in Town. Unfortunately the central conceit of the match failed to provide the same kind of framework for success that the previous one did. I want to make it clear that none of the performers did a bad job performing the roles they were given, and the match as a whole wasn’t boring, or bad, but it was disappointing.

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Jeff Cobb is ready for his match, folks.

The match started out seemingly on even footing between all the competitors, but after a double knee combo from Carter Mason and Kevin Blackwood sent Cobb out to the floor, the power dynamics began to be creep their way in. The heels, Blackwood and Mason, developed most of their heat from the fact that they would hit Allie, their opponent in this competition. The male faces, on the other hand, would have moments where they team up with and seemingly protect Allie, forgoing actively attacking their opponent in a competition. Really, the guys getting the boos in the match were the only ones who treated Allie the same way they would treat anyone else who stood across the ring for them, and this made the whole match feel disingenuous. In fact, it diverted energy away from the pace and offense output of the performance. In the end Cobb picked up the win when he took Blackwood on a Tour of the Islands.

Grade: B-
Match 5 – Kevin Bennett vs. Mark Haskins

Mark Haskins is a tiny, intense, living murder bullet. I had two words jotted down in my notes about the opening moments of this match, “fast” and “aggresive,” before Haskins came flying in my direction. A suicide dive aimed at Bennett’s cronies Muscles and Big Tank, wiped them out and caught me in the crossfire. My beer fell victim to the assault, spilling its frothy blood across my collected possesions and leaving a slippery film across the floor to remind performers of its once crisp, refreshing taste. I hope it looked great on camera. For full disclosure, Smash crew had a new fresh beer in my hands quick-fast.

Stunned I watched as Haskins and Bennett released their limiters and went crazy with each other. I fell behind by a lot in my note taking and my back and neck were stiff from absorbing the impact. Their match was like a whirlwind. It was super fast and hard hitting. Most importantly, I think it was the best match I’ve ever seen Bennett in. The match builds in violence, and Haskins lays his kicks in like he is trying to commit literal murder, but Bennett is up for it and they dial up each other’s offense as the match builds.

Bennett’s cronies interfere one too many times and the referee ejects them, leaving Bennett alone for the first time in as much of Smash as I can remember. Unfortunately they come back after the match has gotten really good and wind up getting Haskins the win by DQ. As part of a longer storey that has been brewing for months, this non-finish is almost excusable, but the problem comes with the fact that it was the second such ending of the night, and the fourth match to end with heelish shenanigans. I think this may be a slight flaw to the way the shows are planned for television tapings, but it just started to feel really “same-y” as the show went on.

Grade: B+
Match 6 – Brent Banks vs. Matt Riddle

This match was super fun and competitive. Banks and Riddle work smoothly with each other from the opening bell. Early on we see Riddle using his MMA-based grappling to confound and fluster Brent Banks to such a degree that he teases stomping on Riddle’s bare feet. Riddle tries to capitalize on Banks hesitancy to pick a direction to approach the fight from and the audience is treated to some very gymnastics heavy reversal sequences as the two men figure each other out. As the match develops, Riddle dials the aggression up to eleven and gets in some nasty shots with his “Bro 2 Sleep” and a deadlift German suplex for a near fall, followed shortly by a pair of gutwrench suplexes that had the crowd chanting “Broplex City.”

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Team SPLX taking the fight to the Toronto locals at AGS6!

Banks, finally fed up with the dominance of his opponent, takes the next opportunity to stomp on Riddle’s unprotected feet and gets a German suplex of his own. At this point the dynamic of the match changes for the better. Riddle aggressively pushes ever onward towards winning, but is met now by a Brent Banks who is frustrated by being outclassed and wants to prove his worth. Banks strives on in the face of the oncoming assault and takes desperate measures, like catching Riddle’s kick and biting his foot, which he follows with a sensational running boot in the corner. The action comes on hard and varied in style and Riddle looks to come out on top when he hits his tombstone piledriver to end a huge back-and-forth sequence. Unfortunately for the Bro, Banks kicks out at two and makes a brief comeback before reversing Riddle offense into a pinning predicament and scoring the surprise victory.

Grade: A
Match 7 – Tyson Dux (c) vs. Frankie The Mobster – Smash Championship Match

Built off of the idea that Frankie and Dux go way back as friends, this match opens with tempers flaring as Dux jumps his once-friend and lays into him with ferocity. It’s a nice change from the average Dux title defense which had little emotional stakes to offer the audience, and with Dux style led to many of them feeling too similar to the last outing.

Unfortunately this emotional component to the match doesn’t stop FTM from slowing… the… pace… to… a… crawl. He talks a lot and looms menacingly over Dux, moving weirdly and laying in some attacks as the match builds. It’s well executed but boring, that is until Dux gets fired up and just hits oh so many suplexes and goes for the pin. Unfortunately, at this precise moment, the SSB try to make their way down to the ring from the stage and the referee gets distracted. This distraction allows Vanessa Kraven to come in and obliterate Dux with a chokebomb. Frankie then hits his finisher and gets the pinfall, dethroning the longest-reigning Smash champion to date and forming a new villainous stable in the process. I’m curious to see how this plays out for two particular reasons: 1) All of these allied villains are from Quebec, which means there is a cultural rivalry with Ontarians they can easily capitalize on and 2) Frankie, while a long-time player in the Ontario and Quebec independent wrestling scene, is not what one would consider a modern indie worker in style, and has had a propensity for injuries over the years.

Grade: B
Match 8 – The Well -Oiled Machine (Braxton Sutter and Psycho Mike) vs. Tabarnak de Team (Mathieu St-Jacques and Thomas Dubois)

This was a fucking fun, hectic, tremendous match. The opening action was solid, with the teams trading dominant position in the ring. The violence was quickly dialed up to new heights for both of these teams. They introduced and murdered ladders early on, each man making certain to slam his opponent on a ladder, or throw one at him, or strike him with one at every given opportunity. While both teams were equally violent, willing to brutalize their opposition for the prize on the line, Tabarnak de Team took the early advantage by managing to set up strong double team moves that took both of the Well-Oiled Machines down at the same time.

Monsieurs St-Jacques and Dubois, in a momentary lull in their torrent of team offense, take the time to keep myself and those around me out of our seats to set up the first of two tables they would use. It was a surreal moment as these sweaty, burly Quebecois woodsmen commanded us to move. It was like I had become the camera of a well produced show and they perfectly filled the frame, bursting with intensity and charismatic aggression. New ladders and chairs are introduced to the match and Braxton Sutter gets put through the table they forced me to move for, which prompts Psycho Mike to return and start wailing on his opponents, yelling like a maniac. Around this time the crowd also pops huge for Psycho Mike fixing the support arms on a ladder previously set up by TdT, because it was upside down and wouldn’t lock into place due to that. A portion of the crowd had been trying to communicate to TdT but it just didn’t get fixed till Mike got his hands on it. Good job Mike!

Heading into the final stretch of the match Sutter brings out the second table and sets it up, again clearing fans away in the jam-packed Phoenix. This show I do believe was genuinely the biggest audience I have seen at a Smash show, with far more chairs set up than ever before, and the main eventers were there to work. There were constantly men and weapons in motion, Dubois weaponized his top-rope Moonsault to the outside with a smaller ladder clutched in his arms as he flipped onto everyone below. It was just this wonderful mess of insane stunts and courageous, violent performers. A terrifying ladder spot sees the Well-Oiled Machines send one member of TdT off the top of a ladder to crash into the other standing on the apron, only to have both of them then crash through the table Sutter had set up on the outside. With this, the Well-Oiled Machines were free to climb the ladders and grab the belts hanging in the air to become the first ever Smash Wrestling Tag Team champions. While some moments were a bit derivative, the participants performance was top notch and the match turned out to be remarkably engaging.

Grade: A+
Conclusion:

While there are certainly elements of the show that I have been critical of thus far, this show was dialed up to eleven to kick off Smash’s 2018. The sheer number of screwjob/non-endings won’t feel anywhere near as troublesome when the show is broken down into two weeks or more worth of television, and I do not begrudge this brand their efforts to make their television product compelling and engaging. To compensate for this fact I can certainly see that all the talent put their best foot forwards in terms of how they presented the action that lead to these endings and it certainly kept me entertained and wanting to see more. If they can keep this energy up in throughout the year, and provide the fans with big payoffs to the stories they are building, then Smash are set to burn down the expectations of the Ontario indie scene and erect new standards in their place.

 

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#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s CANUSA Classic 2017

On December 3rd 2017 Smash Wrestling returned again to the overbearing stuffiness of the Franklin Horner Community Centre for their annual all-female event, pitting teams representing Women’s Wrestling from Canada and the US of A against each other. Seeing as Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez were on the card, it reminded me heavily of the NCW Femme Fatales event I attended back in Montreal, years before I made the move down here to Toronto. The venue, as was to be expected, did the in-ring action little justice. My girlfriend, who attended the event with me, was compelled on several occasions to go outside for a breath of fresh air as the venue’s lack of air circulation was triggering her asthma. Overall I am willing to travel back to this facility for the quality of shows that Smash put on, but I won’t be bringing anyone with me to this venue again. It’s just not good when you compare it to the far superior Phoenix and Opera House. Nevertheless, venue aside, the show did a good job of highlighting some amazing, incredibly talented performers.

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Match 1 – Veda Scott (USA) vs. Danyah (Canada)

Veda made an immediate impact with her entrance, riding to the ring on a child’s bicycle, draped in the American flag, as Kid Rock’s “American Badass” blared over the sound system. This light mockery of the least beloved phase of the Deadman’s career, however, could easily be seen as the high point of this match. Veda performed adequately enough but, and particularly from my angle, the same cannot be said for Danyah. Her inexperience showed throughout the match, as she delivered lacklustre and/or sloppy offense. The uncertainty in her movements really weighed down the pace of the match when the action was in her hands to control. Of particular note were the corner dropkicks, which looked neither impactful nor crisp. In the end, Veda picked up the win off of a series of kicks.

Grade: C+
Match 2 – Kaitlin Diamond (USA) vs. Gisele Shaw (Canada)

I had no serious complaints about the quality of this match. It was quite fun and served its role as an opening match better than the first one did. Gisele put on an early display of lucha libre inspired agility and offense, popping the crowd as she went. Instantly she was, by virtue of her being Canadian and doing cool moves, placed hard in the role of the babyface. This played well into Diamond’s hands as the crowd really got behind booing her as she took control by fighting dirty.

Both performers looked good in the match, with Diamond receiving the lion’s share of my praise for her solid displays of power and striking. Her offense was technically sound and well executed, but lacked a little something to make it stand out from the crowd. Gisele Shaw, on the other hand, had the moves that made the audience pop more but, while she did display nice control in the sequence, her strike flurry felt weightless. It seemed as if she was more concerned about her form being on point than the blows looking like they could hurt someone. In the end Diamond picked up the win with a strange fisherman’s hold dropped into a package front-facelock neckbreaker (I honestly cannot describe it better than that, sorry folks!)

Grade: B
Match 3 – Samantha Heights (USA) vs. Jewells Malone (Canada)

Nothing but fun here. This match was a solid pace from the opening moments where Heights ambushed Malone all the way through to the end. The two had some good brawling on the outside of the ring, capped off by Malone turning momentum in her favor with a leaping chair attack off of the ring apron. Back in the ring, and in clearer view, both women put their offensive skills on display. Samantha Heights, much like the last time I saw her, kept up a barrage of banter mixed in to her rough heelish ring work. Distinct improvements to the quality of her ring work could be seen, to a degree that astonished me for the relatively short time period between September and December.

Malone, whom I was watching for the first time, delivered nice strikes and suplexes, but shone the most with her speed as she ran the ropes. The two had good chemistry with each other, both being the rough and tumble sort of charismatic brawler that wrestling so often revolves around. In the end, Jewells Malone would pick up the victory off of a TKO, but not without having to kick out of an impressive cross-up Shining Wizard from Heights. These two certainly have a future in the business.

Grade: B
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While not initially advertised as a Fight Network taping, partway through the show they realized how well it was going and seemingly changed their minds. Not everything will be broadcast, but these are three great matches to highlight.

Match 4 – Jordynne Grace (USA) vs. Alexia Nicole (Canada)

This match was built around the physical mismatch of the women’s bodies, with Jordynne Grace dwarfing the absolutely teeny Alexia Nicole, to great effect and fun. Jordynne’s power easily overwhelmed her opponent from the opening moments of the match, with Alexia being forced to rely on her speed and technique to mount any kind of offense. Alexia would mount her offense with a series of lucha-like twisty, fast manoeuvres and then get cut off by something simple, like a spinebuster, by Jordynne Grace that would pop the audience far harder and with far less effort. Indeed, the audience loved Grace throughout the match, giving her much love for her hard hitting, firm, big-move centric offense.

The intensity of the match built up nicely as it went on, with Grace easily taking control but unable to secure the pinfall victory over Alexia Nicole. Muscle Buster? Nope, that’s a kick-out. Electric Chair Apron Facebuster? Nope, that’s a kick out, too! In the end, frustrated by her inability to keep the much smaller woman down, Grace fell victim to an unfortunately unconvincing wheelbarrow facebuster from Alexia. This, unfortunately, but a bit of a damper on an otherwise great match, muddying the quality and believability of the finish. Nevertheless, the performances of the women in this match were rock solid.

The night had begun with the announcement that there would be a “Standout Performance” medal awarded to one wrestler at the end of the night, as voted on by “the people in the back” (read: other wrestlers, Smash Wrestling management and crew). After this match I knew Jordynne Grace would win that award. I wasn’t wrong. Jordynne Grace is the future.

Grade: B+
Match 5 – Cheerleader Melissa (USA) vs. Xandra Bale (Canada)

This match was, both in kayfabe and reality, very one sided. Cheerleader Melissa was both booked to look dominant and was the crisper, more refined performer in the outing. On the other hand, Xandra Bale is underwhelming. Every time I see her I want to like her, her entrances and look are on point, but she always winds up disappointing me. This match was, regrettably, no exception. Indeed, the best thing I can say about her in this outing was that Xandra Bale is 100% unafraid to take some wild spots and bumps. Melissa swung her through chairs hard, knocking over a whole swath of audience seating in the act.

Melissa dominated the match, with simple, effective, and brutally applied submissions and strikes. This built  up to a finishing sequence that saw Bale try to fight back, with slow strikes and a spinning fisherman buster, only for Melissa to come out with the win off of an Avalanche Air Raid Crash. Keeping in mind the limitations I feel Bale has as a performer, I still rated this match rather well for the fact that the match was booked and built in such a way as to limit how exposed these weaknesses were. Cheerleader Melissa carried the heaviest bulk of the offense in the match and Bale played the beleaguered underdog well.

Grade: B
Match 6 – Mercedes Martinez (USA) vs. Rosemary (Canada)

This match benefitted from the previous match’s one-sidedness, as the more even back-and-forth presentation made the participants both feel like a big deal. The opening saw the Smash-faithful firmly on the side of Rosemary, and Martinez throwing some of the loudest chops I have ever heard in person. The love that Toronto has for Rosemary cannot be understated here, as the audience popped pretty much any time she did anything. Martinez, as a deft performer, capitalized on this to elicit boos from the audience by faking dives and throwing Rosemary hard with a beautiful side suplex.

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Rosemary always makes a striking entrance. I didn’t take this picture and have lost my notes on where it came from. If this was yours, let me know how to credit you please!

In the end, after being beaten with chairs outside, eating a super ace crusher and a series of nice suplexes from Martinez, Rosemary would score the win with her Red Wedding. This match was, without a doubt, the best thus far of the night. Both women came out looking to make an impression and didn’t slack in any way. It was fun. Both of them are also incredibly versed in suplexes and it just felt like the best pairing possible.

Grade: B+
Match 7 – Allie (USA) vs. Gail Kim (Canada)

This match was touted as being Gail Kim’s last Canadian Pro-Wrestling match before her retirement. As some of you may be aware, I had been thankful to see her for the first time at the Bound For Glory event in Ottawa. This evening, however, offered me something that the other didn’t: An intimate venue and indie setting. At Impact Wrestling, the talent felt so far away, so inaccessible. Here I finally got to meet her an, very inelegantly, thank her for how much she gave me what I wanted out of women’s wrestling back in the glory days of TNA. She lead the charge, to me, in the North American women’s wrestling scene being taken seriously by a mainstream audience. Her efforts will, likely, never get the true respect they deserve but she stands atop a mountain in my mind. So, as a personal moment, I really want to thank both Gail Kim and Smash Wrestling for being so great on that night!

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Gail Kim was my gateway into loving women’s wrestling. She answered the question I was asking when she went to TNA and started her career there: Can women’s wrestling be more than what the WWE was giving me? The answer was an emphatic “Yes”. Thank You!

The match itself was solid, but at times felt a bit rushed. They opened with back-and-forth exchanges, showing each other to be evenly matched. Allie was the first to ratchet up the pace of the match, with an aggressive facebuster. Unfortunately, like too many Smash matches, the two brawled outside and disappeared from view for a while. With Allie as the aggressor, Gail Kim responds by avoiding an attempted corner drop kick and turns it into a corner Figure-4 leglock of her own, turning the tide against her fellow Impact Wrestling roster member. Gail then turns to her submission game heavily, working on Allie’s legs with submissions and strikes. This leads to Allie getting a submission of her own on Gail, a very well execute Cattle Mutilation.

In the end, Allie kicks out of Gail’s Eat Defeat finisher at a healthy two-count, and surprises the veteran Kim with a reversal into a pinning predicament to score the win. This victory was also the deciding blow in the even heat between Team USA and Team Canada. Even though led by a native Canadian, Team USA scores the win at CANUSA 2017 off of Allie’s quick wits and never say die attitude.

Grade: B+
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Team Canada and Team USA, post event, with their medals. Sadly Veda Scott isn’t in this as she had to catch a flight to the UK for a show.

Conclusion:

This was the first all-women wrestling show I had been to in many, many years (my last one being an nCw Femmes Fatales show years before I moved to Toronto from Montreal which, coincidentally, also featured Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez on the card.) This show was exciting and energetic, building towards a solid finish from an engaging start. I wish there was a stronger presence in Canada for all-women’s shows. The talent pool certainly exists to run them, and the local scene is certainly developing new depth all the time. Locally, it seems, a lot of the younger women are cutting their teeth in inter-gender matches as well. I look forward to CANUSA 2018 and seeing who they bring in for that spectacle. Also, writing this makes me realize how much I regret not seeing a Stardom or Ice Ribbon or Sendai Girls show while in Japan in January 2017. Next time I am in Tokyo, you can definitely expect me to attend a Joshi show or two.

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Montreal, many years and many bad hair decisions ago. Myself and Cheerleader Melissa. She told me I looked like a wrestler with my hair.

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#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s From The Ground Up

On September 17th 2017 Smash Wrestling travelled back to the Franklin Horner Community Centre in Etobicoke for a pair of exciting shows to celebrate their centennial day. From The Ground Up had the enviable premise of showcasing young, up and coming talent in the Ontario, and nearby, independent wrestling circuit. It was the opener to their 100th show, which was sold as a secret with no matches announced, and looked to draw in the dedicated Toronto indie wrestling fan base with the prospect of some never before seen match ups and fresh faces in a Smash ring.

Match 1 – Young Myles vs. Kevin Blanchard

This match worked well as an opening bout, with its downside being some awkwardness in execution and choreography that held it back from being a stronger outing. Blanchard started off like a gunshot, hard and fast, displaying good aggression and hitting hard with strikes and a springboard double stomp to Young Myles’ back. Young Myles, the moment he was given an opportunity, responded with a dive.

Both men had some ups and downs in the match. Young Myles’ strikes were garbage at times, but his suplex chains were cool and crisp. Blanchard aimed to toss Myles into the turnbuckle with a Razor’s Edge but miscalculated his spacing and it didn’t quite work. Both men telegraphed too much what they were doing, making it too obvious that it is a staged performance. Regardless, they had pretty decent chemistry working together. In the end, Young Myles would show off his cool move set, including a solid Michinoku Driver, and get the win off of a Meteora type move, Interestingly, Young Myles reminded me a bit of Trent Beretta with his high-flying and technical move set paired with his tall and somewhat gangly build.

Grade: C+
Match 2 – The Kevin Bennett Experience (Big Tank and The Muscles) vs. #TheBest (Spunk and Logan Reid)

This match, regrettably, didn’t fare better than the opener. #TheBest are the more athletic, better dressed, and, I believe, more experienced of the teams. My criticism of the match doesn’t fall on booking decisions or psychology as much as it does on the weak execution. Big Tank has his strengths and weaknesses as a young performer put very clearly on display during the outing. He did not convincingly punch or body slam anyone, but his chops were good (and, therefore, should make up more of his offense). Mostly it seemed he got over with the audience based on his size, which is undeniable, and his connection with the Kevin Bennett Experience. I’ll give credit where it is due, he has addressed his lack of decent ring gear since this event.

The match itself was well structured babyface vs. heel tag team work, with the Kevin Bennett Experience focusing on isolating Logan Reid. #TheBest fight back and Spunk hits a nice high speed knee strike and a monkey flip but, in the end, Tank comes in illegally and takes out Logan to set up the Kevin Bennett Experience for their first win as a tag team.

Grade: C
Match 3 – Aiden Prince vs. Space Monkey
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Every one needs more Space Monkey in their life! Official Promotional Match Graphic from Smash Wrestling

Before we get serious, take a moment to imagine the spectacle of people showering space monkey with bananas upon his entrance. That was a good moment, wasn’t it? Now then: Good storytelling served to patch up some weaknesses in execution throughout this match. Early technical displays quickly faded out to some good switcharoo comedy spots involving the referee, which made me smile. Of course, Aiden Prince robbed the audience of their smiles when he intentionally brutalized the Space Monkey. Prince took particular pleasure in punishing the primate’s tail. Throughout the match the heel would return to torturing Space Monkey’s additional appendage, causing him great harm. The dedication to the gimmick both men worked with was tremendous.

As the match builds to a climax the mutant Monkey eats a banana to recharge after escaping from the peril of Aiden Prince and hulks up, even getting in a big boot. Aiden prince takes the comedy pratfall on the banana’s peel, popping the audience right proper. A bit of miscommunication, however, dulls the ending to a cool athletic sequence. Prince has some really cool moves in his repertoire but his execution leaves something to be desired. Prince tries to monkey flip the Space Monkey but gets monkey flipped himself and lands hard on the turnbuckles. This set’s up Space Monkey to whip Prince in the face with his tail and pick up the win.

Grade: B-
Match 4 -Matt Angel vs. Kobe Durst

This match featured a lot of really good action at an elevated pace, particularly compared to the previous match. Regrettably, it doesn’t make up for the fact that there were a good number of botches that approached being dangerous and detrimental to the performers health at times. A top-rope Spanish fly botch genuinely made me worry for the health of the men involved. It’s never good to be yanked out of the illusion in such a way.

With that in mind, Matt Angel and Kobe Durst both put forth a lot of effort and have their own innovations to add to the pro-wrestling world that makes me hope they continue to develop into more well-rounded, experienced performers. Angel countering an attempted back body drop by leaping into a double-foot stomp to the back of Durst’s head shows some nice new thinking, and spots like that were rather big highlights of the match. Kobe Durst picks up the win off of a nice piledriver that capped off a hard hitting back-and-forth sequence.

Grade: C+
Match 5 – Xandra Bale vs. Samantha Heights
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Really wishing I had taken my own pictures at this event! Official Promotional Match Graphic from Smash Wrestling

This match never really seemed to get its feet underneath it and the two combatants lacked chemistry with each other. Samantha Heights excels at the smack talk part of wrestling and was very entertaining, but regrettably this didn’t lead to an improvement in the quality of this match. While both competitors showcased some nice technique at times, Heights botched a cutter of some kind badly at one point, which wasn’t unforgivable. However, afterwards an awkward corner spot dragged on for far too long and something got botched badly in it. I couldn’t tell who was at fault but it looked a mess. In the end Xandra Bale picked up the submission victory with a spinning octopus hold like move.

Grade: C
Match 6 – Carter Mason vs. Kevin Blackwood
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Time for the main event! Official Promotional Match Graphic from Smash Wrestling

This was the kind of hard fought back-and-forth match that you’d expect from two warriors each trying to earn the respect of the other. The early part of the match saw the men trading advantage back and forth amid dropkicks galore and brawl to the floor. Both men’s strengths are highlighted and they are presented as evenly matched. A great early moment involved Mason maintaining control of Blackwood in a scissored sleeper hold and preventing his prey from escaping the hold, quickly adjusting and locking it in a second time.

The match isn’t without its faults, as demonstrated by this overlong corner sequence where Blackwood searches for a suplex out of the corner but Mason blocks his attempts. It dragged on for too long and, most regrettably, had no big move payoff. In the end, after knocking Blackwood away, Mason just hops out of the corner and goes back to working like he had never been on the top turnbuckle. Thankfully afterwards the two men do kick it into the next gear with a huge strike exchange that puts both men down and pops the crowd hard. Carter Mason hits Blackwood with some seriously good offense, big move after big move, but can’t put Blackwood down. In the end, Blackwood picks up the win with a pumphandle driver variation.

This match was presented in a very fun, competitive manner which bolstered my enjoyment significantly. The fact that Carter Mason isn’t more frequently seen in a Smash ring kind of baffles me, and I hope he makes further appearances with the brand. Blackwood is certainly no slouch either and, in the months since this event, has looked increasingly good in the ring.

Grade: B+
Conclusion:

For a show whose whole purpose was to highlight a new, upcoming crop of talent to new eyes, From The Ground Up was a smashing success. The matches herein may have been rated rather poorly, in some regards, but that is because I try to keep a relatively consistent scale to my grading and it is obvious that less experienced performers are going to make mistakes and be scored worse. The show at no point dipped below a quality threshold where I could not see the potential for these men and women to grow and become much better performers. In fact, I hope that I get to see these men and women more often. Furthermore, as a lead-in to the secret show, it served as a remarkable opening act that carried the promise of hopefully seeing some of these folks at a future anniversary celebration.

 

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#TorontoWrestling at Smash Wrestling’s Good Things Only End Badly

On November 26th 2017, Smash Wrestling presented the oddly titled Good Things Only End Badly. I say it was oddly titled because the event, most definitely, did not end on a sour note. I feel that I must preface this review with the fact that partway through the show I started feeling terribly ill and had trouble focusing, so my notes in places were slim to none. The Opera House was an interesting venue for a Pro-Wrestling show. The set up felt very intimate and close, because of the architecture. So, let’s get to the matches!

Match 1 – Vaughn Vertigo vs. Kaito Kiyomiya

This match was built around a core pattern that repeated and escalated into a nice finish. The match started with some nice back-and-forth technical grappling work, depicting both men as skilled athletes near on the same level. Then Kaito Kiyomiya would get the upper hand by using his size and strength to overpower Vertigo. This lead to some really aggressive suplex variations, slams, and an absolutely beautiful vertical leaping elbow drop. With the hurting being put on him, Vaughn Vertigo would then use his tremendous speed and evasiveness to counter attack.

The match would repeat that before moving into an ending stretch demarcated by, in my opinion, the moment that Kiyomiya dropkicked Vertigo out of the air. Kiyomiya would follow that with a beautiful missile dropkick and then try to set up his finisher. Vertigo escaped the complicated manoeuvre and went on a brief tear, and looked for a swanton off of the top rope, but met with knees instead. Kiyomiya would hit his finisher and win the match.

Kiyomiya and Vertigo have both impressed me with their development over the course of 2017, but I have to give the young NOAH excursionee the edge in terms of overall development. He’s really showing a lot more personality in how he moves in the ring, and in the variety of his offense. I started off 2017 in Tokyo and I first saw him on January 7th at Korakuen Hall. He looked good then. He looks great now. Between the two of them they put on a really fun opening match, putting the crowd in a good mood.

Grade: B-
Match 2 – Halal Beefcake (Idris Abraham and Joe Coleman) vs. Heavy Metal Chaos (James Stone and Alextreme)

This match was a lot of fun. From the very first minutes both teams worked the crowd hard, eliciting numerous chants and really engaging the audience. The match gets started by Stone ambushing Idris and repeatedly knocking down the Sultan of Shawarma. The crowd turns on Stone with a “Get a Tan” chant after Coleman calls out the heavy metal fanatic for his pale complexion. This chant fires Idris up and he comes back off of an amazing rope-running segment that saw him build up tremendous speed and score a remarkable pop from the crowd when he finally downed his opponent.

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Heavy Metal Chaos (James Stone, above, and Alextreme, below) make thier Toronto debut for Smash Wrestling! Bienvenue a Toronto! Courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Abraham scores the hot tag to Coleman, but their comeback is cut short as Heavy Metal Chaos quickly isolate and dominate him. Their control is effective because of how impactful they make everything they are doing to Coleman look. I’ve seen both of the members of Heavy Metal Chaos before, several times apiece, when I lived in Montreal. It has been a solid four years since I’ve seen either man wrestle and, without a doubt, they have both improved a good deal. In particular, James Stone, who failed to make much of an in-ring impression on me back then and whose recent work is solid.

A beautiful spear by Coleman breaks the sheer dominance of Heavy Metal Chaos and the match builds to its climax as Idris gets the hot tag. Idris displayed a great sense of misdirection and understanding of ring space to set up some cool work in a fun, innovative diagonal turnbuckle-to-turnbuckle running spot. At one point Heavy Metal Chaos look ready to hit their Alley Oop/Knee Strike combo but it gets broken up, which is a shame because it would have popped the Toronto crowd hard. Halal Beefcake win after Idris hits the diving elbow on a downed opponent who had been dropped with Coleman’s driver style finisher.

Grade: B
Match 3 – Petey Williams vs. Kevin Bennett

Like the previous matches, this was a good deal of fun. It was not, however, a match built around the same kind of competitive storytelling as the previous two. Bennett, as ever, was accompanied by his cronies, Big Tank and The Muscle, to the ring and as such, we can easily anticipate their involvement in the fight. In fact, this match served mostly to reinforce Bennett as the top heel in the company and position him for a move up from the mid-card to the main event (we hope.) Of particular note is the fact that Bennett is pushing a new catchphrase about how he did it on his own.

The match saw Petey Williams in complete control from the very first moments of the match, showing off his athleticism and getting his beloved “Oh, Canada!” spot in early. He remains in control until Bennett’s cronies get involved and set him up for Bennett to make a comeback. The fun thing here is that when Bennett is on a roll, he’s a remarkable athlete and his moves I’ve not seen anyone else do, like his Tiger Feint Kick setup that leads to an in-ring body splash. It’s just nuts amounts of fun to watch him work. What’s more nuts is how much fun it is to boo him and chant “Fuck You, Bennett!” at him.

Bennett cheats to stay in control and hits Williams with big move after big move but can’t put him down. Petey Williams makes a strong comeback and hits Bennett with many great sequences, winding up in a sharpshooter that Bennett taps out to… behind the distracted referee’s back! Bennett winds up stealing the win with a roll-up in a lengthy, complex sequence that saw Williams let go of the hold and chase after the cronies.

Grade: B-
Match 4 – Scotty O’Shea vs. Kevin Blackwood

Like the last match, this one served the story more than the in-ring action. Smash have been doing a series of online vignettes that build to this match taking place, wherein the “Hacker” Scotty O’Shea tries to get Blackwood to become his disciple, based around him seemingly knowing something about the new and rising Smash Wrestling star. Backstage muggings from O’Shea have seemingly taken place at every taping the two men have both been present at, so emotions were high when the two men met in the ring.

Immediately the two men start brawling, throwing wild fists as they spill out of the ring and brawl throughout the audience. This lead to a tremendous moment where, on the way back to the ring, Blackwood leapt from nearby railing almost over my head and crashed into Scotty and a bunch of Smash staffers in spectacular fashion. I love it when people leap off of things and Blackwood seems extremely willing to take that risk.

Back in the ring the match built up in violence and intensity until Scotty grabbed Blackwood’s head, whispered something in his ear, and then screamed that the audience didn’t know what he knew. This prompted Blackwood to give up the fight and let O’Shea hit him with his finisher and pin him. Post match O’Shea baptized Blackwood with his own blood and a new alliance was formed. Good story building that regrettably cut short a match that was rather fun.

Grade: B-
Match 5 – Mark Andrews vs. Sebastian Suave vs. Tarik

Regrettably this is the match I have the least notes for. I started feeling remarkably ill at around this point and, on top of that, the action moved at a blistering pace. The purpose of this match, from Kingdom’s opening promo throughout, was to position Sebastian Suave as one of the Pillars of Smash Wrestling, and due his time in the limelight of the main event scene.

Suave jumped Andrews during Kingdom’s confrontation with Tarik to start us off fast and furious. This lead into an immediate fracas, with all three men moving in and out of the ring at high speeds and doing incredible things. Mark Andrews really impressed with how well he moves live and, frankly, I cannot understand why we haven’t seen more of him on major TV shows. I also find it immensely charming that at the same time as he is touring Canada to wrestle, his band is touring as well. It really fleshes out his character. While all three men looked good throughout the match, and were all given the opportunity to hit their signature spots, Suave was definitely given the lion’s share of the time in action.

In fact, the only time I can remember him not being involved actively in the fight was after Andrews wiped out both Tarik and Suave on the outside. Suave stayed down long enough for Tarik to hit Andrews with his finisher and then he pounced and stole the win.

Grade: B
Match 6 – Joe Hendry vs. FTM

This is one that was a bit of a miss for me. For all the logical reasons why I can say Joe Hendry is a talented, funny, athletic performer… he just hasn’t clicked with me yet. His entire entrance was a hilarious gag at mocking Frankie the Mobster, in song, and then coming to the ring with a mask that had croissants taped to it to mock The Beast King. It was genuinely funny stuff that you had to be there, and know who FTM is, to get. Hendry clearly cares a lot about this gimmick he has constructed for himself, and is remarkably good at it. Both outside and inside the ring.

Yet something bored me about the match itself. Outside of Hendry looking amazing when he hit a fancy escape into a DDT and a comedic gag spot where both men hit each other with the big boot and said “You stole my move!” simultaneously I have nothing great to say about it, or Hendry. In fact I noted down specifically “Frankie hits his finisher to put this boring match to rest” live at the event. Only miss of the night, for me.

Grade: C+
Match 7 – The Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) vs. Two Single Matts (Matt Sydal and Matt Cross)

This match started out with some tomfoolery between Sydal and Uno, but quickly picked up the pace into a flurry of action highlighted with some amazing spots. Early on Sydal gets in his signature spots and tags in Cross against Uno. Cross, as is to be expected, moves through the ring and his offense like the definition of fluidity. The Matts double-team Stu Grayson but Uno comes back in with some dirty moves to turn the tide and the SSB isolate Sydal, working him over hard as he fights back.

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“Two Single Matts” is a team loaded with so much athleticism that it almost sickens me. I genuinely hope I have the chance to see these two tag together more regularly. Courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Sydal won’t stay down and turns the tide for his team with an amazing leaping hurracanrana that tosses Grayson into Uno and allows for Sydal to tag in Cross. Not to be outdone, Uno and Grayson unleash some phenomenal double team offense that tosses the Matts into one another as well. Unfortunately for the Super Smash Brothers, Cross hits his unique springboard cutter on both of them at the same time, and he and Sydal seal the deal with a pair of stereo dives for the double pinfall. Great ending to a solid fun bout.

Grade: B
Match 8 – Brent Banks vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Wrestling Championship Match

This match was, without a doubt, the best match of the night and saw both men show me things I haven’t seen from them before. The fact that Brent Banks isn’t being booked everywhere right now baffles me. The match starts with a lock-up and some scrambling that depicts both men as entirely equal at the basics of wrestling mat work and power, which sets the audience up very well for the two men to show us what makes them excel as individuals. Furthermore, it allows for us to understand that, from the very beginning, the contest will be a hard-fought, narrow victory. It was a cleverly performed, almost insignificant portion of the match, but meant so much to me in that moment.

The match builds into a really exciting back-and-forth pacing that gives both men equal opportunities to look good… and boy do they not disappoint! Brent Banks is given ample opportunity to look good and shows off his speed and agility with aplomb. Regrettably, for him, Dux interrupts his control of the match with an apron suplex that echoed through the venue.

Nevertheless Banks keeps rolling on with killer offense as both men lay into each other to set up for a wicked superplex spot. Dux can’t capitalize on the big move and the match continues, and Banks continues to impress, looking the best I have ever seen him be. During a monkey flip into the corner spot Banks botches his landing but recovers and adjusts so quickly and fluidly that it doesn’t even break the breakneck pace of the match.

To be frank, I felt so wretched that at points during some of the matches I could hardly keep my eyes open. This match, however, yanked me viscerally back into focus with its mounting quality. The two men The men exchanged a barrage of strikes too numerous to count and Banks comes sickeningly close to beating Dux with two Death Valley Drivers, Dux’s signature move, one of which was into the turnbuckles. Sadly for Banks, Dux kicked out and managed to work his way back up to win with an incredibly inventive arm-trapped Boston Crab variant that forced Banks to verbally quit as he couldn’t even tap out!

Legitimately the best Smash Wrestling championship match I have ever seen, and the best performance I have seen from both of these men. I know I can’t expect every match to be this good, but I can certainly want them to be!

Grade: A+
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Post-Match a bloodied Tyson Dux is ambushed by the Super Smash Brothers to set up his next defense. Photo courtesy of @DanIsAYeti

Conclusion:

I’ve been to some Smash shows that have had an overall higher spread of A-rank matches, but this one was an amazing experience only truly marred by my illness. I’ve been critical of Dux on occasion for being somewhat formulaic and a bit dry in a lot of his defenses of the belt, ranking his matches lower on the show than others, but this performance is the kind of thing that makes me love wrestling and Smash keep giving me that. Bang for my buck, Smash Wrestling is consistently the best product I have been to in Toronto and many other cities.

 

0

#TorontoWrestling at #NXTToronto

On September 9th 2017 NXT made a house-show styled stop in Toronto, and tailored the event specifically towards the local market by having both Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode make their final NXT appearances at the show. A lot more seats went unsold than I had anticipated, potentially speaking to the dwindling flame of interest in NXT since TakeOver Toronto almost a year prior packed out a much larger venue. Nevertheless, my night was quite fun and I took notes and blurry photos furiously. Here is my review of the matches that occurred:

 

Match 1 – Tye Dillinger vs. Kona Reeves

The crowd was, as expected, hot for a home-town hero (at a Wrestling show, if you’re from anywhere in Canada, you’re in-front of a hometown audience.) Poor Kona Reeves came out and was met with nowhere near the enthusiasm of his opponent’s arrival. That mattered little as he put in a really strong performance, playing the heel nicely even from the very early moments of the match. Early-on in the match Kona acts the overconfident heel, celebrating tiny moments like he had won the match and escaping from harm by breaking the rules, but quickly Tye makes him look a joke with a series of deep armdrags.

Tye Dillinger’s easy to understand and chantable gimmick gave way to his opponent receiving “1” chants from the audience whenever he gained an advantage, berating the young man for attempting to stand up to the returning hero. Tye is granted a chorus of “10” chants all match long and the audience, in general, was very engaged with the match but I was bored. There was far too much pandering and waiting and by far not enough actual wrestling. This is, regrettably, the core problem with the E in general, and it is regrettable that NXT, which once showed signs of being better than that, seems to have been infected. The match ends with a flurry of action and Tye hits Kona with the Tyebreaker for an undisputable win in this solidly worked, kind of boring match.

Grade: B-

 

Match 2 – Aaliyah and Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose and Vanessa Borne

Mandy and Aaliyah start off for their respective teams and immediately they give Mandy a chance to impress, as she cartwheels out of a modified headscissors attempt. Prior to this the crowd had been sour on her, hyped for Aaliyah as the hometown hero herein. However, with this feat of fluid athleticism, suddenly the audience liked Mandy. It was a simple, effective moment.

The faces look impressive for a while, both putting on a good performance and looking strong until Vanessa Borne gets a handful of Aaliyah’s hair and turns the tide. The heels use standard babyface-frustrating quick tags to isolate the Canadian. In this flurry of action Mandy Rose came out with some nice throws and looked very dominant against Aaliyah, ostensibly the hometown hero. Mandy stays strong looking, getting a submission hold and nice impact off of a clothesline, before tagging in Vanessa. It is with Vanessa in the ring that the crowd begins to chant for Aaliyah to make a comeback. Even with the crowd chanting for Aaliyah, I swear the biggest sounds were still Mandy’s strikes.

As the match builds to a conclusion we see Aaliyah make a hot tag to Ember Moon, who hits a bunch of nice looking spots, even taking out both opponents at once. During the fracas Vanessa Borne and Aaliyah get tagged in for their respective teams and Aaliyah scores a Northern Lights Suplex hold for the three count on Borne. I had known from the beginning of the match that Borne would eat the pinfall herein, and it was the outcome that made the most sense for the builds these women are all at in their careers. Genuinely surprising me, however, was how well Mandy Rose performed. I’d even say she was too good. She has a lot of potential to make a splash in the scene.

Grade: B

 

Match 3 – Johnny Gargano vs. Killian Dain

Gargano starts off the underdog, as is to be expected of most people who would book men of this size disparity against each other. Dain is, simply, too big for Johnny Wrestling’s usual tricks to down people. Eventually, as this match-up type usually goes, Gargano tries for a backpack sleeper, but it too is no good. They tease a comeback with Gargano getting in a flurry of action, but Dain squashes him back down and abuses him. The large man stands on and splashes Gargano’s back and dips deep into the well of big man vs. little guy spots.

Eventually, after enough time for my mind to wander onto other subjects, a telltale mark of boredom, Gargano mounts his comeback with strikes and spear and tope suicida. This comeback builds into a sequence where the two men go back and forth, punctuated by some nice big moments such as Gargano hitting Dain with an Avalanche Hurracanrana. The flow relies of Killian Dain looking unbeatably strong, so he powers out of submission attempts and, in the end, eats a superkick to be put down.

Grade: B

 

Match 4 – Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black

I won’t lie, this was the match I was most excited to see heading in to the event. It was unclear whether or not my long-time favourite NOAH star, KENTA, now known as Hideo Itami, would be making an appearance at this event but I had most-certainly bought my ticket in the hopes I’d finally get to see him wrestle in person. While it wasn’t all I had hoped it to be, it was meaningful nonetheless. It was also one of the better matches of the night.

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I’m a terrible shot, but this was a super cool moment for me!

Itami lays on his new heelish antics from the onset, frustrating Black by bailing on the ring. This nets him the upper hand to start, and he uncorks some strikes on Black. They have a good grappling exchange and Itami lays on the heel cockiness only to be faked out by Black who catches him in a hold. The clear, easily read though physical actions alone, characterization these men put forth goes to show that they know damn well how to work in the ring.

Itami takes control with lots of kicks and ground work, and adds insult to injury by mocking Black’s poses. Itami dominates the match for a very long time, using well executed kicks and submissions, At one point Aleister Black has a terrible landing on Itami’s head off of a springboard moonsault. Itami doesn’t lose pace though and busts out a flurry of action, capped off by a Fisherman’s Suplex, but he can’t secure the win. They tease a comeback by Black, which item suppresses until Black scores a huge running knee.

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This picture is much more in focus, but of course he’s facing away!

Frustrated, Itami shoves Black into the referee and sticks him with a solid DDT for another two count. Frustrated he heads outside and gets a kendo stick from under the ring and goes to wail on Black with it. Unfortunately for Itami the referee yanks the weapon away from him and, in his moment of distraction, Aleister Black hits him with the Black Mass and puts him down for the three count.

For some reason the crowd never bought into this match, even though it featured solid in-ring athletics and psychology. The end result was a bit predictable from early on, but it was expertly executed.

Grade: B+

 

Match 5 – The Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Roode

The Velveteen dream shouldn’t work so well, but for some reason I found it to be a very fun gimmick in a live environment. Patrick Clark, back on Tough Enough, certainly exhibited a passion for the history of wrestling and, more explicitly, the WWF. It seems terribly fitting that he wound up with such a gimmick driven, retro-inspired character. A character whose gimmick is reinforced by careful choices made about his in-ring performance. Also, because I can’t help but notice it, The Velveteen dream’s initials are VD. Childish humour. Hyuk-hyuk.

While Roode left NXT as a villain, here, in Canada and returning to the brand he debuted on, he has been emboldened and made a hero anew in his final appearance with NXT. Roode shows off his amateur wrestling skills and looks dominant to begin with, making Velveteen dream look like a joke. Somehow the Dream turns the situation around after some mess in the ropes and gets himself some big heel heat by teasing a top-rope dive to the outside, only to hop down and do a low double axehandle off of the apron instead.

When the two are back in the ring the Dream starts wrestling like someone out of the 80s or early 90s, doing a side Russian leg sweep, middle rope leg and elbow drops. He even puts Roode in a camel clutch, the ultimate old school heel submission hold. Once Roode starts going on the offensive again, with suplexes and throws all over the ring, the crowd gets more into it. The Velveteen dream does a good flipping Death Valley Driver, landing on his feet afterwards, but when he chooses next to fly at Roode he gets countered into a sharpshooter for the obligatory Canadian-wrestling-in-Canada-Bret-Hart-Tribute spot. Realistically he could have milked the Sharpshooter for far longer. As the match moves to its final moments the Velveteen dream is left looking really good as he escapes two attempts by Roode to hit the Glorious DDT and goes down to the third attempt for the three count.

After the match was over I was left with a very clear image of The Velveteen Dream. His aesthetic, both in attire and move selection, is decidedly and explicitly retro. His promo work before the show exuded a tinge of Golddust, with a hearty dose of the 80s. He excels at getting heel heat from the moment he walks through the curtains dressed like a cross between Prince and Hendrix all the way through the match as he talks smack and disappoints fan excitement. On top of all of that excellent potential, Bobby Roode made him look good.

Grade: B+

 

Match 6 – Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss vs. Sanity (Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe) (c) – NXT Tag team title Match

Before the match Tino and Riddick talk smack and, for their sin against Sanity, are dumped out of the ring. The disheveled rebels Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young take the self-aggrandizing jocks on a tour of the building, introducing them to all the sights and surfaces of the arena.

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Blurry again, but the E at least knows how to let you see during a brawl!

Once the match was actually contained in a ring it seemed the structure bolstered Tino and Riddick’s efforts, as they successfully isolate Alexander Wolfe, keeping the demented mastermind Eric Young out of things. This lasts a good long while, and when Young finally gets the tag he comes in and wrecks both of his opponents. This leads into a sweet sequence that ends with a diving elbow drop on Tino for a two count. There’s a little more back and forth action. Sabatelli and Moss are given a chance to hit a cool Gory Special/Facebuster combo move but can’t put Eric Young down before he tags in Wolfe. Together Young and Wolfe hit a tandem move for the win.

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Good old crazy EY! It’s been crazy watching his career!

Usually I find wild brawls outside of the ring to be boring because of the inability to see the action in a small venue through a sea of people. The E, however, in this larger venue with spotlights, made it work much better. Sabatelli and Moss didn’t make me want to watch more of them, but they didn’t bomb on their half of the match either. Quite fun.

Grade: B
Match 7 – Lacey Evans vs. Nikki Cross

This was a simple, quality outing. Lace put on a good show, holding her own for most of the match with strikes and submission work. She demonstrated particularly entertaining ring mobility as she manoeuvred around the posts and ropes with unique kicks and elbows. The crowd booed her solely because she repped the American flag. Cross made the comeback w/ lariats and a spinning fisherman buster for the win. Really, Lacey was doing just fine and the win was very fast and almost out of nowhere.

Grade: B-

 

Match 8 – Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Drew McIntyre (c) – NXT Championship Title match

This match started with Almas being a brilliant heel, attacking McIntyre while the Champ was down on one knee and still wearing his entrance coat. . Almas shows his brilliance early on in how he uses the ropes to evade his pursuer and, simultaneously, aide him in targeting the larger mans arm. Almas is a smooth worker, making it all look good, as he controls the situation.

McIntyre is no slouch though, as early on when Almas has him down, he bridges out of a pin in a way you would expect a man half his size more likely to do. They demonstrate this with the two men working a nice reversal sequence which McIntyre capped off with a brilliant display of muscle power as he hoisted Almas over with a beautiful vertical suplex. Sometimes it’s the simple things that you really pop for. Then again, sometimes it’s things like McIntyre catching Almas out of the air for an Air Raid Crash that you pop for. Take your pick. McIntyre’s got things in spades.

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McIntyre, the champion, is an imposing presence!

Almas does make an incremental comeback, building up towards nice, strong Tornado DDT. This leads into them really taking it to each other and Almas taking some mighty big hits from McIntyre. Almas works the arm again to weaken up the much bigger Scotsman. McIntyre powers out of a Fujiwara Armbar and plays up his sore  arm but nonetheless gets the kill with a Futureshock DDT and the Claymore kick in sequence.

It’s of particular importance to note that Almas kicked out of many big, hard hitting moves during this match and was made to look like a real contender. This being published after he faced  McIntyre again, this time on a TakeOver special, makes me excited to see the true spotlight, high-stakes version of this match. See, the one downside to this match that kept me from truly buying in was that, in it, the winner was too obvious.

Grade: A-
Conclusion:

While I may not be fond of the presentation  the E is known for. the NXT brand has a certain charm and edge to it. They present their product, and their stars, in a different light. It still has the high gloss and sheen in terms of set-up and production values but there is something inherently exciting about seeing how they are prepping talent for the big time and building new stars. The Velveteen Dream made one hell of an impression at this show and I have heard that, as of this writing, he has just impressed many more people. The future for these talents, and the WWE as a whole, is bright if they don’t get in their own way.

1

#TorontoWrestling at Impact Bound For Glory in… Ottawa?

Being a fan, and wanting the survival, of Impact wrestling over the last several years has been an interesting experience. It comes with a lot of recognizing flaws and trying to point out successes, often at the nasty end of belittling fans. The entire experience of Bound For Glory reflects that pattern, boiled down to a grimy, tangible, personal experience that was, in the end, more fun than foul… yet left something to be desired.

Arriving at the Aberdeen Pavilion the only indication that an event was occurring was the lights emanating from the large windows. There was no signage for where we should line up, no indication of how those who had purchased VIPs should separate themselves from the plebes like me in GA seats. Once inside the venue there were food stands set up and the facilities were porta-potties, all kept blocked from view by the black curtains that were set up for the live filming area. The setup inside of the filming area was very clean and crisp and I could tell immediately that it would look good on camera. Up until the moment I was in my seat there was a distinct air of disorganization and the sense that something second rate was right below the high-sheen finish.

Once in my seat I let that go and got excited to finally see the brand after oh-so-many years, regrettably that feeling would, at times, crawl back up to the surface during the event.

Match 1 – Trevor Lee (c) vs. Dezmond Xavier vs. Petey Williams vs. Sonjay Dutt vs. Matt Sydal vs. Garza Jr. – X Division Championship Match

This match suffered from being put on first. While, in theory, an exciting match like a 6-way X Division match could get a crowd pumped up, this one’s biggest flaw was that it was over too quick for me to really get invested in the ending. Both the X Division as a whole, and that Championship, deserve better than that feeling.

Dutt and Sydal opened us up with stereo moves and a near miss on Sydal’s standing moonsault. They set up some early match gag moments that see Trevor Lee on the receiving end of both a quartet of superkicks and of dropkicks. It was a moment of satisfaction that the division needed with the very peculiar booking the championship has received in recent months. Each man was given his chance to look good in the match, for what little time it had. Dezmond Xavier’s brilliant flippy stuff and Garza Jr’s headbutt stand out as particular moments of worth. Much of the match was built around Petey Williams looking for the Canadian Destroyer. He had received a remarkable pop upon his arrival and the crowd was hot for him to win. Sydal missed his Shooting Star Press to kick of the final sequence of action that culminated in Petey Williams hitting the Destroyer but having his win stolen by Trevor Lee, who shoves him out of the ring and takes the win, retaining his belt.

Grade: B

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Match 2 – Tyson Dux vs. Taiji Ishimori

The shame of this match is that it was designed, from the beginning, to be the backdrop for Laurel Van Ness to meander through the crowd as her “Hot Mess” gimmick. For those in attendance live it was a right distraction from two great performers having an earnest attempt at a short, quality match. To those at home, it was impossible to look away from Laurel as the cameras mobbed her as she went around. She plays her role very well, and the booking is certainly not within her direct control. She was doing the job they asked of her. It is simply unfortunate that they had to do this during the very limited screen time they had given over to showcasing both a local workhorse talent in Dux and their Japanese partner promotion’s often-champion in Ishimori, who was escorted to the ring by an official of the NOAH offices.

The match itself was pretty fun, even though I was not able to focus 100% on it. It started off immediately with both men putting their all into it, clearly aware of the truncated time and, I hope, advised in advance of the audience shenanigans they had to compete with. Ishimori put his speed and agility on display, executing feints and murderous foot stomps. Dux , as the bigger man, used size to his advantage and threw or grappled with Ishimori as the flow of the match dictated. Ishimori picked up the win with a lovely 450 Splash. Solid fun, but definitely too short for a meeting between men this good.

Grade: B-

After this match Alberto El Patron showed up and cut a “Go Home” heat generating promo about how Impact had abandoned him when he was under investigation for domestic abuse, and then he invoked his children. It was cringey and the audience wasn’t booing him because he was turning heel.

Match 3: Grado vs. Abyss – Grado Loses he Leaves the Country Monster’s Ball Match

This was an overbooked mess. A Monster’s Ball match, in and of itself, is already guaranteed to be spot heavy. This match doubled-down hard on it, having Laurel Van Ness do a run in to hit Grado with the Unprettier. This only prompted more run ins as Rosemary came down, misted LVN in the face, and then ate a chokeslam from Abyss. It felt remarkably forced and unfortunate. Match ended with Abyss hitting a particularly hard-working Grado with a Black Hole Slam on some barbed wire. Match was further marred by a premature bell being rang just before the ending, deflating any momentum that match had even further. I kind of want to see this match again, only without all the mess.

Grade: C+
Match 4 – Team AAA (El Hijo del Fantasma/Pagano/Texano Jr.) vs. Team Impact (EC3/Eddie Edwards/James Storm)

This was my personal favourite match of the night. It got a bunch of things right. It had a big event feeling from the very beginning. Team AAA felt like a big deal from the moment they made their entrance, were the first wrestlers on the card to really make an effort to work the crowd, and as the match built they were given a lot of opportunities to look good in the ring. The match, furthermore, had bits worked into it expressly designed to set up continuing story content as well. This is the kind of feud I would genuinely hope to see more of, in the future, with maybe an Impact vs. NOAH bout to come. I’ll admit to being biased towards anything that gets more international talent in front of my eyes, so this match and Impact’s present multi-promotion alliance are completely in my wheelhouse.

The story of the match is built, primarily, around two elements. The first is that Team AAA will cheat to gain the advantage when necessary, even though they are positioned very early on as incredibly capable combatants. the second is that EC3 refuses to tag in for his team, leaving Impact disadvantaged even further. Eddie Edwards took a good deal of the beatings in this match, even taking El Hijo del Fantasma’s finisher on the apron. James Storm gets the win with the Last Call on Pagano after EC3 finally tags in and gets a double low blow followed by the One-Percenter to set his partner up. There was a bit too much going on to properly pay attention to it all from a stationary live seat, and that’s really my only complaint. It was a fun match that let me see three Mexican stars, two storied Impact talent, and one Global Honoured Crown champion at the same time! Wow!

Grade: B+
Match 5: LAX (Santana and Ortiz) vs. OVE (Jake and Dave Crist) (c) – Impact Tag Team Championship 5150 Street Fight Match

The biggest problem I had with this match was that I was in attendance instead of watching it at home. From the sounds of it, a lot was going on. Regrettably it was almost all out of my view. The thrilling dive from the scaffolding was but a brief flicker of a man visible near the bleachers as he leapt, only to disappear behind the bleachers and leave me with only a tease of violence. Most of the ringside brawling, likewise, was on the opposite side of the ring and difficult to track and make sense of. I’ve been told it was a banging match by those who watched the stream. It’s a shame I can only say I saw about a quarter of the match clearly.

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What I was able to see was some pretty thrilling violence. Chairs collided with flesh in brilliant spectacle. Sami Callihan made his debut and the ensuing carnage was one of the most effective double turns of recent memory. OVE with the win after Callihan put Ortiz through a table with a piledriver off of the apron.

Grade: B-
Match 6 – Gail Kim vs. Allie vs. Sienna (c) – Impact Women’s Championship Match

A lot of people made a big deal about the fact that Gail Kim won this match. While I would have certainly made the opposite decision regarding the outcome of this match, I nevertheless was very happy to see Gail win. I loved Gail Kim’s push in her early time with TNA that proved to me something I had been wanting proved to me for a while, and that the big Connecticut company wasn’t giving me any of:  that women’s wrestling was just as good as men’s. I can’t help but think, in hindsight, that I’d have rated this match higher if Gail had gone out in a way that set up a new generation better, but I won’t begrudge her her moment. She’s given me too much.

The match started with Gail and Allie working together to beat down Sienna and, when Sienna would retreat from the ring, they would grapple with each other. They would, of course, resume their alliance when Sienna would return to the ring. This seemed to be working until Sienna cuts Allie off, catching her unawares. Sienna begins a comeback which sees her toss Allie with an Avalanche Fallaway Slam and nearly secure the pinfall on several occasions as she used her two opponents against each other. The ending came when Sienna was interrupted by Allie in her attempts to defeat Gail Kim. Sienna dumped Allie out of the ring with her AK-47 finisher but gets caught with an Eat Defeat off the top rope and Gail Kim caps off her career with a nice bookended championship victory.

Grade: B
Match 7 – Stephan Bonnar and Moose vs. Bobby Lashley and King Mo – Six Sides of Steel Cage Match

Many of my complaints about this show stem from heavy overbooking, turning personal vendettas and new rivalries alike into messes of tangled humanity. Herein, however, the story that built to this match warranted the interference that was to come. The MMA folks involved in the match, from Bonnar and Mo through every single member of American top Team that would interject themselves into the match all were willing to take bumps and put on a pro-wrestling spectacle.

The match kicked off as a fairly even exchange between the two teams that saw King Mo repeatedly thrown into the cage walls face first, to my personal delight. The match featured a lot of great feats of Pro-Wrestling extravaganza, such as Lashley catching Moose into a powerbomb, or Moose’s eventual leap off of the cage. It also featured a nice MMA inspired grappling sequence between Bonnar and King Mo. Eventually American Top Team invaded the cage and locked Moose out to beat on Bonnar, eliciting Moose to scale the cage and leap in. Regrettably, even after the biggest babyface heat getter of the match, American Top Team beat the team of Bonnar and Moose by sheer numbers alone. Thus prolonging a feud that should have blown off in this match between Pro-Wrestling and MMA. I hear they’re playing it out more over the tapings, and I don’t think it’ll bring much return on investment.

Grade: B
Match 8 – Johnny Impact vs. Eli Drake (c) – Impact Global Championship Match

The best thing I can say about this match is that it happened and Johnny Impact is cool. While Johnny Insertnamehere was a pleasure to watch, as he moves unlike any other performer in the business, the match was marred by three distinct factors: 1)Eli Drake, who is just about as interesting to me as a piece of cold, unbuttered, stale toast. I’ll give him credit for his remarkable athletic ability with his leaping superplex. Maybe he’ll grow on me. 2) “Vanilla Muscles” Chris Adonis, a man who can only trade on his looks. I want to like the man, but he’s just so “there.” He kept interjecting his bland self in the match, riddling it with heel lackey interference. 3) Alberto El Patron’s absurd, confusingly executed run-in. People nearby me were openly saying that it made no sense. I agree. El Patron, a man thoroughly booed and unwanted by the audience, ruins the ending of the main event of the biggest show of Impact’s yearly schedule and I’m supposed to be excited to see more? The match, up until El Patron got involved, would come in on its own at a B/B-… but that shitshow booking knocked it down to the lowest grade of the show. Nobody even got over out of that ending!

Grade: C
Conclusion:

Much like the history of Impact as a brand and Laurel Van Ness, Bound For Glory 2017 was a bit of a hot mess. The show genuinely had some fun matches, but something just felt off throughout the show. The fun repeatedly punctured by these unsettling moments where I question what in the sweet hell the company is doing. Ending the show in such an unsatisfactory manner, in a match already riddled with interference, just derailed the entire experience. It’s a bit stupefying how a company with access to the vast wealth of talent Impact has access to continually hangs its hat on tired ideas the company has burned through before and performers whom the audience is, rightfully so, sick of seeing and hearing from. Even when they do something new and fun, like the LVN gimmick, they do it in such a way that it distracts and detracts value from other performers. They have a really long way to go before they genuinely pack houses, instead of giving away seats, for their TV tapings.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #034 – #TorontoWrestling at Lucha in the 6 Battle Rock!

I like to call this one the “I got a seat!” edition, as every other time I have been to Lee’s Palace I was forced to stand for the duration of the show. It greatly improved my enjoyment of the show, and made it significantly easier to take notes. I can’t imagine going back to another show at this venue and having to stand the whole time. If you are going to a Lucha TO show, head there earlier than you think you should and line up, the view and excitement from the front row is well worth it!

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Wouldn’t be Lucha Libre if it weren’t colourful!

And now, the show:

Match 0: Shaunymo vs. Warhed – Barbed-Wire Net Match

Each man comes to the ring with a weapon, Shaunymo with a stick wrapped in barbed wire, and Warhed with a plastic bat covered in wooden skewers (or really beige nails). Warhed also tosses a pair of chairs into the ring. Barbed-wire criss-crossed over fragile wooden frames rests nicely on the stage. The stage is, literally, set for violence.

The match starts with the two men setting up a pair of chairs in the middle of the ring and plonking their asses down to punch each other in the face in turns. While this spot would feel really satisfying deep in the weeds of the match, I cannot fathom why they would start a match with such an inactive, lethargic moment. Had these two men already been bloodied and beaten, throwing thudding and bloody seated punches as they work themselves back up to their feet, it would have been killer… but here, there was no momentum built and no stakes at play. But hey, psychology be damned.

Immediately after their seated spot, the two men brawl into the crowd with Shaunymo in control, and they spend some good time working their way back to the ring where Warhed is in control.  Shaunymo gets a surprisingly huge boot on Warhed and they brawl some more and then the “nail bat” comes into play and they both wind up with oodles of stuff stuck in them, with Warhed taking a particularly nasty set to the forearms that bled heavily.

At this point they introduce the barbed wire net into one corner and they do the classic tease of each guy stopping in front of it with Irish whips et al., very basic hardcore spot I have seen in every single Deathproof feature match at LIT6 shows. Eventually Warhed suplexes Shaunymo into it. Warhed goes to get the other board and then Shaunymo comes back and they work a variety of spots with the nets and the chairs, eventually leading to Shaunymo getting a neckbreaker on Warhed through a barbed wire contraption, then sandwiching Warhed between the two barbed wire nets and hitting a Frog Splash to win.

This match really felt amateurish. Both men telegraphed things too obviously and for a death match you could see too clearly how they were trying to protect each other from these implements. Both men do, however, have a lot of balls and charisma. I am again left with the question of whether or not either of these men could wrestle a properly structured, non-hardcore match.

Grade: C+
Match 1: Lionel Knight vs. Smiley vs. Kobe Durst vs. Mike Garca vs. Buck Gunderson (c) – Hogtown Openweight Championship Match

Even though Gunderson is the champion and, in a scramble match of this nature, one would assume the title changes hands whether or not he is involved, he starts the match on the apron and lets Smiley and Mike get us going. The two men do some good technical work together, but quickly things go to show that Mike is a heel, when he unmasks Smiley… only to reveal that Smiley has a second mask underneath! Smiley then puts in some good work with a Lucha Libre inspired sequence leading to an innovative low springboard stunner out of the corner.

Smiley tosses Mike out of the ring as part of the ring and goes to dive on him but is cut off by Lionel Knight. At this point the men in the ring start setting up or a huge spot, working it cleverly in to other bits of action. Lionel and Kobe Durst face each other and they go fast and hard with Lionel sending Kobe outside, where he takes a nasty bump in the crowded space between the bar seating and the ring. Buck catches Knight with the Crossface Chicken Wing but he gets dumped out of the ring too. After a moment I noted down as a “crazy situation” Lionel Knight soars between the ropes and spears Mike, who was standing on the bar, right into the crowd (and the mob of wrestlers thrown out of the ring before.) For those unaware, the bar is literally a step away from the ring apron at this venue with such limited space. People sit right at the bar. People got wiped out by this spear, and after the match they had to announce to the audience that the front row, which I sat in, is the “Plancha Zone”… a.k.a. be mindful of your surrounding and keep an eye out for flying wrestlers coming your way. Good times.

As everyone slowly recovers from the gnarly wipe-out, Smiley’s valet climbs the bar and leaps onto them all too (I saw her later walking off a ganked ankle, seems she took a bad landing here.) This is followed by Smiley taking a leap off of the top turnbuckle himself. Slowly they make their way back to the ring, where they do the obligatory Tower of Doom spot, and Buck breaks up a near-fall to keep his title in play. Smiley and Mike team up to beat on Buck, but this sets Kobe up to hit a cool double codebreaker.

The match picks up pace even more, becoming super energetic, chaotic, and fun. They do the obligatory indie sequence where everyone gets their stuff in, working at an incredible pace. Mike tries to cover Smiley but Buck is there just in time to stop it. This is a running theme in the match, as after Kobe gets a sick piledriver on Mike, Buck is there to punch him out of the pinning predicament and steal the win, securing his title reign for yet another event.

While there were a lot of unpolished moments in this match, they never dragged the pace down and didn’t stand out. As such the grade is scaled up a bit for how ballsy the work was, and for the loads of potential I see in these young guys futures.

Grade: B+
Match 2: Super Smash Bros (Evil Uno + Stu Grayson) vs. The Fraternity (Channing Decker + Trent Gibson) (c) – Careers vs. Lucha in the 6 Royal Canadian Tag Team Titles Match

Uno and Channing start off with some technical work that makes Channing look smooth. Channing Decker mouths off a bunch, and eats a big slam and an inverted atomic drop. While the Super Smash bros certainly aren’t known for their good behaviour, they are easily made the faces by their interactions with the overly cocky Fraternity. Grayson and Gibson put their speed on display with a great segment where they run the ropes. The SSB stay on top of the Fraternity and capitalize on their early-match advantage with a nice brainbuster/head kick combo reminiscent of Chasing the Dragon. Uno and Grayson isolate Channing Decker and work him over hard with kicks, slams, and eye pokes. Faces in the match, heels in behaviour!

Decker tags Gibson after serious abuse and they immediately get a great combo cutter and start working together to take down and isolate Grayson. Turnabout is fair play. Grayson plays up the moment by refusing to go down at first and gets beaten even worse for his courage. This isolation is brief as Grayson gets a double DDT and tags in Uno who throws The Fraternity all over the place, devastating them with his size advantage. But that’s not what really shines about this match. The in-ring action is crisp and shows that the SSB are at the best they’ve possibly ever been and the Fraternity are really coming into their own, for certain. However, the in-ring banter between the four men involved in this match is stellar. The chemistry they have and the way they play off of one another verbally as well as physically really elevated my enjoyment of the match.

Grayson hits a crisp 450 Splash on Trent Gibson for a close count, 2.9, and he climbs the turnbuckle again to finish off the foe. Channing Decker makes the save for his team and pushes Grayson off, sending him sailing over my head so close his foot nearly touched me, and he lands hard on a fan who was standing. Both were down for a while. Uno avoids taking the pinfall while his partner is down outside the ring by getting to the ropes and when Grayson is back Uno scores a distracted roll up to get the three count and become the new champions.

This victory was pretty easy to see coming, as it wouldn’t make sense for LIT6 to have the SSB move on when their tag division is, frankly, quite limited at the moment. So limited it almost might be easier to not have a championship for it a la Smash Wrestling. Nevertheless, this match was pretty exciting. Part of it may be my live attendance bias kicking in. Both teams are really on fire right now, particularly the SSB who are having a serious career renaissance in match quality in 2017, having some of the best tag matches I have seen in a good while. The Fraternity have an uncanny ability to be either heels or faces, easily sliding from one role to the other by tweaking small elements of their gimmick, and have been getting much better in the ring over just the small amount of time I have been paying attention to them.

Grade: B+
Match 3: Freddie Mercurio vs. Grado

Grado had me laughing even before he set foot in the ring. His awkward body comedy and bizarre, out-of-place mannerisms really sell the mood. Mercurio’s gimmick itself is prone to moments of comedy itself, and paired with Grado he cranked that shit up to 11. They goof around to make the audience laugh before they go into some sloppy amateur wrestling, of course done intentionally, which elicits more laughter. Then they thumb wrestle. More laughter. They chest bump and pelvic thrust into each other and then make a gag out of criss-cross running the ropes. After a bunch more hilarity ensues, the match gets lost a moment as somehow Grado’s fanny pack was taken away from the ring and it was what he needed, loaded with his gimmick crackers, for the final moments of the match, where they treat it like thumbtacks and both men bump on them, with Freddie missing a moonsault and landing on them and then literally getting a mouthful of them and a swift kick to the cheek to finish him off.

There were some really obvious botches that slowed the pace down a lot, particularly the missing fanny pack, but overall it was saved by the comedy from having a lower grade.

Grade: B
Match 4: Hermit Crab vs. Argus

Two Wrestle Factory graduates live! Argus, now billed as the “Lounge Lizard,” dances his way to the ring wearing a neon-green disco dancing suit over his ring gear. The crowd genuinely got behind him during his entrance, but that enthusiasm tapered off heavily after the bell rang.

After some quick in ring action the two spill out and brawl through the crowd, as is want to happen at Lee’s Palace, and they work all the way back to the stage. And eventually back in to the ring. For some reason the crowd had cooled off a lot and a whole bunch of great technical wrestling, comedy, and brawling goes unappreciated by the restless audience. Inconveniently for the workers in the ring, things are made worse by the technical problems that knocked out a good amount of the lighting in the venue for a while. I’d wager, as well, that the audience was mostly burnt out on comedy after the last match.

Argus recovers the attention of the audience when he locks Hermit Crab in a Cattle Mutilation. Potentially pre-planned or making it up on the fly, at this point the match gets heavier hitting and focuses more on throws and submissions. Nevertheless the crowd stays relatively quiet even though the action is quite good. Argus wound up getting the win, but regrettably my notes aren’t clear on how exactly he did it. Towards the end he did hit a nice bridging capture suplex and I think that may have been it.

Outside of a few botches, the match was technically good. Regrettably the crowd just couldn’t care about it.

Grade: B
Match 5: Carter Mason, Danny Orlando, and Juan Francisco de Coronado vs. Sonny Kiss, Desean Pratt, and Super Crazy

The match opens with Super Crazy facing off against Danny Orlando. Orlando uses his imposing size to his advantage, shrugging off Super Crazy’s offense and catching him out of mid-air, slamming him down. Super Crazy makes the tag to Sonny Kiss, and for the opposing team Carter mason comes in. Sonny hits some big moves and then he twerks, which gets a very good reaction from the audience. Desean Pratt is tagged in and clears Juan Francisco de Coronado out of the ring with great agility and avoids Carter Mason’s attempts to assail him for a long time, the two moving from one spot to the next at a blistering pace.

Unfortunately for Desean Pratt, he eventually is caught by the heels and they isolate him, working him over in nasty fashion. They slow the pace of the match down, reigning in the crowd’s energy and building anticipation for the comeback. When Pratt makes his escape he tags in Sonny, who takes the match to Mason with high speed dodges, running strikes and a series of smacks to Mason’s head with his well defined rump. The King of the North responds by slapping Kiss in the face, and the crowd turns heavily against the hometown heel.

This leads to the heel team taking full control of the match as they double team and triple team and get their big man in without a tag, all while putting Sonny Kiss in peril. Kiss plays the wounded babyface perfectly here, generating a lot of sympathy and the crowd lets loose a furious series of boos at the scoundrels in the ring. Orlando, the biggest man in the match, tosses Sonny high into the air for a back body drop but Sonny lands in the splits, a fall of seemingly eight or nine feet right into it. The crowd is astonished, and Orlando responds simply by kicking Sonny in the head, immediately taking all that good heat and shifting it into boos against him. Carton Mason tries to submit Sonny and the boos rain down on him.

Sonny makes his escape and tags in Super Crazy and the crowd pops with vim and vigour. He tosses Orlando from the ring and locks Juan in the tarantula, but Orlando kicks him in the head to break the hold. Mason tries to submit the Extreme Luchador and the match into the indie staple amazing chain of everyone hitting big moves and kicking out, The match cycles back to Super Crazy and Orlando in the ring, Super Crazy counters the larger man and gets one of two moonsault attempts to hit and then gets a really well executed and satisfying surprise roll up that caps off the narrative well, punctuating the build up of the faces coming through against overwhelming, cheating odds. A great feel good win.

Sonny Kiss and Super Crazy elicited some of the biggest pops I have heard in Toronto, and certainly the loudest I have heard on the Toronto indie scene (and that’s including the riotous standing ovation for Rosemary at Smash Wrestling’s New Girl In Town.) There’s the possibility that the volume was amplified by the cramped venue, but it’s hard to say for certain. Likewise, the boos for the heel team in this match were tremendous, the loudest not involving Kevin Bennett I have heard in Toronto. Juan Francisco de Coronado didn’t do anything particularly flashy to stand out in this match, but his psychology as a heel really did wonders for building the heat of the heel team and his brutish treatment of Sonny Kiss really helped to sell this.

Grade: A
Conclusion:

All-in-all LIT6 has been really getting better, show to show, since I started attending their events irregularly. I know I’ve missed many (those Saturday shows don’t always get along with my schedule) but they are definitely striving to be something special and putting in the work to get interesting and fun talent to put on entertaining matches that really get the crowd invested in the illusion.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #033 – #TorontoWrestling at Smash Super Showdown V!

I won’t beat around the bush and I’ll outright say it: Smash Wrestling routinely put on high-quality, entertaining shows and, thus far, have made the biggest impact on my wrestling fandom out of all the Toronto-based wrestling promotions I have seen advertisements for and attended shows run by. The impartial journalist in me wants to prioritize diversity and exploring new talent and promotions in this blog series, but the frugal and budgetary minded side of me says “Stick with Smash, it’s the best bang:buck ratio in the city!” With some of the life changes I see on my horizon, as I try and chase dreams and a fulfilling career, that budgetary concern becomes an increasingly powerful force. Smash would lose out were I solely looking at the pure dollar value, as other shows do run cheaper in the city. Where Smash really win out is that their quality is only getting better and they are earning their higher ticket prices. This show, touted as the biggest show of 2017 for the brand, was certainly not a disappointment and took me on a tremendous rollercoaster of fun.

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It’s in my blood, for certain!

Match 1: Brent Banks vs. Louis Lyndon vs. Kevin Bennett vs. Scotty O’Shea

This match was originally announced as simply Banks vs. Lyndon, but a series of events lead to it suddenly becoming a four-way match. Banks interrupted Bennett’s pre-show concert and, in a very problematic and passé promo for a company that has featured men fighting women as a viable contest, challenged Bennett’s masculinity and invited him to join the match. Then, during Lyndon’s entrance, O’Shea hacked the show and entered himself into the match.

The match itself starts with a bunch of brawling and dives from different participants. This leads into a wonderful spot where Bennett fakes a dive to the outside but stops short, is handed a microphone, and starts up his rap concert again. He goes on for a few bars as his henchman tosses those who try to attack him back out of the ring. Thankfully Brent Banks interrupts the performance with a superkick and the match continues. Lyndon gets in on the action and gets in a nice double avalanche hurracanrana which leads into a sequence that highlights his athleticism with O’Shea and caps it off with a roll-through German Suplex on Banks.

Bennett takes control for a while when his crony interferes, but after some good spots with O’Shea it is Banks turn to take dominant control with some hard hits and slams on Lyndon and Bennett. Remarkably, defying my usual opinion of him, O’Shea comes back and kicked it into high gear with a good flurry, delivering crisp action in the ring against his opponents. Banks attempts to make a comeback but Lyndon catches him, reversing Banks into a flying Dragon Sleeper. With Banks locked in the hold and Lyndon looking like he’s about to win, Bennett flies off the top and crashes on top of both of them. The action goes high speed, into turbo speed, as everyone gets their good stuff in. Eventually Banks manages to avoid his opponents, after hitting Lyndon two times with his finisher, and secures the pinfall against his originally announced opponent.

Watching this match was like playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo with a turbofire controller switched on. It was hectic and exciting, but lost a bit of substance and soul for it. It was fun, a bit silly, and definitely ridiculous. Nevertheless, part of me really wishes I had gotten the one-on-one Banks vs. Lyndon match that had been originally announced.

Grade: B
Match 2: Sebastian Suave vs. Greed

Greed makes his presence felt with force at the beginning of the match as he ambushes Suave in the middle of a Kingdom James promo. He goes full aggro on Suave, with speed and ferocity, and ties him up with a submission in the ropes. Suave quickly takes back control by using the turnbuckle as a weapon and relying on Kingdom James for the assist. Suave violently beats on Greed, but Greed keeps fighting back, just to get laid low again.

Greed’s sheer size allows him to make a comeback and he dumps Suave with a German Suplex but is incapable of pinning him. Suave escapes a Package Piledriver attempt and takes back control with a series of reversals and using his speed to his advantage. He keeps Greed down a while with a submission out of a reversal, spinning around Greed and locking it on tight. They go back and forth like this a bit, with Greed using his size to overpower Suave, but unable to put him down for the count, and Suave escaping with agility. Greed tries to hit the Package Piledriver again and Kingdom James, as a manager should, distracts Greed. Suave rolls outside to recover and Greed chases Kingdom around the ring and winds up laying the loudmouth manager out with a TKO, but not before accidentally clotheslining the referee. Suave comes in for a surprise pair of sliding elbows, one to the back of Greed’s head, and puts the bigger man down for the three count.

It was a fun match with some exciting moments but overall it felt a little lacklustre. Mostly I think it was how overbooked it felt with the ref bump and how long the Kingdom James in-ring segment lasted.

Grade: B
Match 3: Tarik vs. Kevin Blackwood – Chairs Match

The two men start brawling immediately, throwing big hands and really looking like they hate each other. As has been common for their interactions in this feud, they spill outside quickly and frequently throughout the match. The violence gets turned up with chairs first by Tarik who catches Blackwood in the face with a thrown chair mid-leap. Tarik plays his ultra-aggressive heelish persona up, talking smack as he beats down on Blackwood and stuffs his comeback attempts. He tosses Blackwood out of the ring and brawls with him up to the stage. Tarik takes a bit too long to get his giant pile of chairs constructed on the stage and Blackwood reverses him, dumping Tarik onto his own violent implementation.

Back in the ring Blackwood kicks Tarik until he falls out and goes to pursue him with a dive, but Tarik intercepts him. Tarik sets up a wildly nasty chair spot in the ropes and seemingly obliterates Blackwood. Blackwood, however, makes a comeback with machinegun kicks. Both men, thus far, look equally good and are playing their roles in the match very well. Tarik looks dominant and violent, and Blackwood looks alternatively courageous and desperate in his war to overcome his opponent.

The two men go back-and-forth like this a bit and then, just as I noticed and wrote down that it had been a good while without any chairs being used, Blackwood ups the ante with a chair-assisted lungblower. He only gets a two count off of it so he goes up top and dives with a chair held under him. Tarik dodges and Blackwood hurts only himself. The final sequences of the match kicks the violence up another notch, as Tarik goes out of the ring and brings back a special, white chair and proceeds to wreck both Blackwood and the chair with thunderous shots. After brutalizing Blackwood with some nice chair offense, including a thankfully protected headshot, Tarik finishes off his prey with a top rope stomp to Blackwood’s head on a chair, which Blackwood prepared to take a little too obviously. Tarik wins and post-match gives Blackwood the respect the Smash newcomer had wanted from the beginning.

This match was fun, but I wish the pacing had been a bit better and that more chairs had been used in fresh ways. I really didn’t like that I was wondering when they would next use a chair for as long as I had been when I took note of it. Maybe reducing some of the brawling time and stacking the chair spots more back-to-back could have helped.

Grade: B+
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Look at those beautiful, bearded bastards!

Match 4: Tabarnak de Team (Thomas Dubois and Mathieu St-Jacques) vs. Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) – Tag Team Elimination Table Match

These two teams were at each other’s throats from the moment the match began. The SSB saw an early advantage but TdT turned it around, chopping them down with some robust lariats. The action spills outside the ring and they brawl in pairs all around, eventually meeting up on the far side of the ring from me. SSB take thorough control at this point and drop St-Jacques hard on the apron and set up a table next to the apron. Uno scraps with St-Jacques on the apron and catches him in the SSB’s finishing piledriver/penalty kick combo and drop him through the table for a very early elimination.

Dubois then plays the outnumbered but scrappy hero for the audience. Dubois scraps hard with Stu, who had introduced a second table to the ring corner before Dubois had recovered. They do some sick reversal spots and Dubois comes out on top. Uno rushes back in just in the nick of time to prevent Dubois from eliminating Stu. Dubois scrambles as he fights both Super Smash Brothers but they’re too much and he winds up getting stomped to oblivion.

With the SSB on the verge of victory, St-Jacques comes galumphing back down to the ring, with a horde of men in crew shirts trying to hold him back. Amusingly, and tellingly, they’re all wearing red shirts. This distracts the SSB who lose focus of Dubois. Stu takes a running leap and flies over the ring post and wrecks St-Jacques on the floor, along with those crew members around him. Dubois recovers just in time to take a moonsault off the post outside count, taking everyone down again. The crowd popping hard at each big moment. At this point another table has been set up outside, and I honestly cannot remember when it got there, and St-Jacques tries to get in to the ring but a red shirt is holding him back when Uno gets back into the fray. He charges at St-Jacques to hit him with a big boot, but the Frenchman dodges and instead Uno sends the poor crew member crashing through the table in his stead.

The wreckage of tables lay all around the ring and TdT get in the ring together, looking to double team Evil Uno. More red shirts get involved and TdT send them packing. Both teams go back and forth in an amazing reversal filled sequence that sees Uno laid up against the table in the corner and, inevitably, Stu tossed hard into him sending both members of the SSB through the table together and giving TdT the definitive win.

Tabarnak de Team = Carnage and Ref/Crew Bumps. While I’ll admittedly bemoan most matches with this level of non-Wrestler involvement, there’s something about the wild drunken lumberjack gimmick of Monsieurs St-Jacques et Dubois that works with this kind of carnage. It’s a spectacle. After this match the crowd started a Tag Team Titles chant, which I would love to see happen.

Grade: A-
Match 5: Psycho Mike vs. Braxton Sutter – “What’s in the Box?” Match

Writing a summary and commentary on this match is in no way going to be able to express the true joy that it brought me. At many moments I was doubling over with laughter. Yet, on the other hand, the action was treated remarkably seriously. I’m going to try and do it justice.

It is important to note that this match is the culmination of a months long developing feud between the two men, tag team partners and oily good brothers. They both come to the ring with the same music, with their tag team name emblazoned on the screen. They started fighting with each other after a string of losses. During their feud a mystery box, brightly wrapped in paper, had been introduced in vignettes and matches, by the absurd and lovable buffoon Psycho Mike. As the two men faced off in the ring for their grudge match, Mike cuts a promo and challenges Sutter to a “What’s in the Box?” match. This elicits a series of laughter and chants from the crowd. The match kicks off and no one, not even the referee, knows the rules (and trust me, I asked him!)

They go back-and-forth with huge wallops on each other, throwing haymakers. Sutter scrambles to cut Mike off when he heads for the Box, afraid of what might be inside it. At some point someone had managed to place a giant box wrapped in bright red paper on the stage. They spill out of the ring and they brawl up to and around the box on the stage, but neither man touches the mysterious package. They head back towards the ring and brawl some more. Sutter is tossed from the ring and Mike goes to take a dive out onto his estranged tag team partner. Unluckily for him, Sutter retrieves a weapon and wallops him in the head with it. It takes a moment for me to catch on, as they are on the opposite side of the ring from me, but the weapon is a roll of wrapping paper. Mike sells it like a kendo stick.

This match quickly shows its secret, true colours: It is athletic and both men are treating it as deadly serious, with weapons that are completely silly being treated by those in the match like diabolical implements of devastation. They slam each other on stacks of wrapping paper as it unravels from the rolls they are swinging at each other like swords. Mike takes control with a big boot and dumps out a bag of Christmas ribbons from a sack, mimicking the way people spill thumbtacks, and they work a series of reversals and avoidance around them like they pose a real threat. Eventually Sutter hits a nice neckbreaker on Mike, dropping him hard on the ribbons. By this time I am dying laughing in the audience.

They brawl back up the entrance way to the stage and Sutter knocks Mike back through the curtains and takes the box back to the far side of the ring. Upon realizing that his foe is nowhere to be seen, Sutter goes back to the stage to get him back, and suddenly Mike emerges with an even bigger box and beats on Sutter all the way back to the ring with it. They build to a closing superplex spot where Mike hurls Sutter through the two stacked boxes and they explode into a shower of balloons. Mike pins Sutter amidst the balloon filled ring and I am sufficiently charmed. Post match they ham it up and have a reunion, putting their differences aside and embracing in an oily hug as the Well-Oiled Machines once again.

I loved how dead serious the wrestling was amidst the sheer nonsense of the match’s premise and implementation. The juxtaposition of harmlessness and intense aggression was superb. I laughed so much and at no point did the performers break character. Badass silliness is a word I’d use to describe this. That post match loving reunion literally had me hunched over in my seat, doubled up with laughter.

Grade: A+
Smash-Wrestling-Super-Showdown-V-Speedball-Mike-Bailey-vs-Bobby-Lashley

“Speedball” Mike Bailey is having one hell of a year with all the great matches he’s had in the Canadian independent scene and in DDT.

Match 6: Mike Bailey vs. Bobby Lashley

I feel blessed to have been able to see Mike Bailey two times in August thus far! He may just be the best babyface underdog in the world right now. This match would build its entire narrative around that fact. Lashley cut an immediate promo on Bailey before the match began, mocking him for his stature and telling him to just lay down and make it easy for himself. Bailey obliged in so much as he lay down for Lashley, but we all knew this Speedball wasn’t going to take the easy road out. Bailey scored the first hit, springing to his feet and kicking the overly cocky Lashley, who was selling prints of him with Donald Trump at his merch table, right in the head.

Bailey starts off by fighting very defensively against the much larger man. He does this by using long range kicks to keep Lashley at a distance and scrambling to avoid grapples when Lashley powers through for a takedown. Suddenly Bailey switches into offense with a flurry of kicks and the match explodes into a segment where they run the ropes. Lashley comes out on top using his mass. Lashley looks super impressive with his vertical suplex. A huge tower of muscle where a man once was. It’s crazy.

While Bailey is able to get in some good offense, the story here quickly switches to one where Lashley is the supreme force, the bigger mass of humanity. Lashley picks bailey up and slams him into the buckles hard. He locks in a submission and grinds down on Bailey for a long time, his cruelty building Bailey’s underdog heat up hard. To cap it off he tosses the bedraggled Bailey out of the ring and slams him into the one barricade in the venue. He takes his time to beat on Bailey, rolling back into the ring just long enough to break the count and continue his assault.

With Lashley looking thoroughly dominant the underdog heat for Bailey reaches a boiling point and he makes an explosive comeback to sate the crowd’s desires. He unleashes a flurry of kicks and beautiful high flying, flippy offense. They go back and forth, escalating the moves into bigger and bigger slams and strikes, until out of seemingly nowhere Lashley catches Bailey with a spear out of mid springboard and gets the three count win, deflating all the heat. Post match he puts bailey over big time and tells him that he should be on TV somewhere by now… did he not know this was being filmed for TV?

This was a very fun match that told a different kind of story, built around the distinctly different physical builds and the unique match up it would present. On a card this stacked it managed to stand out because it presented something unique, without ever deviating from being a standard one-fall match.

Grade: A-
Smash-Wrestling-Super-Showdown-V-Championship-Match-Mark-Haskins-vs-Tyson-Dux.jpg

Both of these men have a valid claim to being Champion of the Smash Wrestling audiences’ hearts!

Match 7: Mark Haskins vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Wrestling Championship Match

They open the match with a scramble and flurry of technical prowess which quickly turns into strikes and slams. Haskins is the first to take the fight outside the bounds of the ring, diving on Dux and then chopping the shit out of him and booting him in the head. Dux lays his punishment in with heavy blows and Haskins sells it well, doing a good job looking beaten and weary from the assault. Dux keeps Haskins on the defenses, fighting off his opponent’s flurries of action and sneaking in good moves of his own. Haskins catches Dux with a spin into a cross arm breaker and then rolls through that into another submission when Dux tries to escape, but Dux pushes through and still looks strong when he gets to the rope and breaks the hold.

At this point they transition into an amazing sequence filled with reversals from both men and capped off with a huge stomp-like dropkick by Haskins to a seated Dux. Dux, however, won’t stay down and counters Haskin’s continued onslaught into a Death Valley Driver, which itself is followed by a highly athletic sequence where both men search for the win over their opponent. Herein Haskins looks great with his submissions and his control over ring positioning. Eventually Dux reverses Haskins into a crossface, but the Brit escapes and puts Dux in a Sharpshooter, which Dux escapes. This exchange puts both men in a position of equal heat, equal advantage against the other.

Haskins keeps the pressure on Dux with a pair of Death Valley Drivers as the crowd fluctuates their support between them both. Unable to put Dux, the Wrestling Machine, away with that he starts superkicking Dux in the head repeatedly, going for a pin attempt each time, but the champion is resilient and kicks out each time. Dux powers through the hard-hitting offense of his opponent and scores a stalling avalanche brainbuster followed shortly by a big kick and a saido suplex. Somehow Haskins survives the flurry and they mix it up again, and hit each other with mirrored head kicks. They recover and go right back at each other, exchanging strikes before Haskins catches hold of Dux for a big spinning DDT and superkick combo. Dux isn’t fazed by this flurry and so Haskins tries to go for another DDT, but Dux reverses it into a brainbuster, then picks Haskins up immediately for a second brainbuster to put all doubt about his title reign to rest.

This was genuinely the best title defense I have seen Dux wrestle. He and Haskins worked very well together, and were able to maintain a high pace without damaging the dramatic moments that make a championship match matter. Haskins said he’ll be back, and I genuinely wouldn’t mind if next time he is he takes the belt off of Dux. He’s proven to me that he isn’t in Smash just to get paid, he is here to put on one hell of a show.

Grade: A
Conclusion:

Go see a Smash show if you’re in Toronto or they come to your neighbourhood. You never really know what you’re going to see, but a good time is guaranteed. This show surprised me in many ways and I am so happy to have been there in person.

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