#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 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.