Chinese Pro Wrestling News Updates: MKW in Nepal, OWE Injury Reports and More!

Middle Kingdom Wrestling

– MKW’s Belt and Road show set for May 11th in Nepal got even more international with the addition of Korean wrestler Shiho. Furthermore, as reported here, MKW are intending for this to be a growing partnership between the brands, as MKW talent have been sent to NRWA before this encounter to perform and help in training. Of particular noteworthiness is the fact that the venue attendance for the NRWA (Nepal Ring Wrestling Association) event shown is larger than I had anticipated, which speaks towards the art’s viability in the region.

 

Oriental Wrestling Entertainment

– #STRONGHEARTS member Takehiro Yamamura has, unfortunately, suffered another injury to his neck while working a Wrestle-1 show. He seems to not be in danger, but is unlikely to ever wrestle again after re-injuring his already damaged neck.

– #STRONGHEARTS member, and OWE head trainer, CIMA also injured himself working in Taiwan at the OWE vs. NTW show. Thankfully his injury was just a dislocated shoulder, and he seems to already be on his way back to 100%.

– While CIMA may have been slightly injured at the OWE vs. NTW show, the more exciting news to come out of the event is that CIMA, along with OWE original Fan Hewei, have captured NTW’s Tag team titles from A-YONG-GO and The Joker, making Fan Hewei the second member of OWE’s crop of young Chinese talent to hold gold in another territory. Also at the event there was a match between Hengha (Wulijimuren and Xiong Zhiyu) from OWE and the Taiwanese team of SKY and PORCO which featured strong comedy elements which translated clearly over video and required no verbal components to understand. The already strong presence of good comedy in Chinese wrestling is something that excites me.

– OWE ran one of their Shanghai Great World shows with some of their roster donning costumes, such as Ultraman and a Gorilla, to try and entice attendees of the venue to engage with the show. Matches were interspersed with other kinds of performances, such as acrobatics. A week later they held another show at Great World, and while both of these Great World shows in recent weeks look to have some excellent matches on their cards, including title matches, neither event has featured any of the Round Robin matches for the opportunity to be CIMA’s partners at AEW’s Double or Nothing. Six weeks remain, and only one of the twenty-three league matches in this tournament has taken place, ending in a draw.

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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.

 

#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.

 

#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.