#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 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.

#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.

#DiscoveringWrestling #024 – Powerbomb.TV are breaking down barriers for Indie Wrestling

On June 11th 2017 the independent Pro-Wrestling world will once again be breaking the barrier between content and audience, as Powerbomb.TV will be hosting a veritable who’s-who of indie stars in Old Forge, Pennsylvania to promote their streaming service, and help spread awareness of the many brands and star talents available on it.

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Look at how crisp that design is!

In 1999 the founders of scoopswrestling.com arranged the original Break the Barrier, an indie wrestling super-card featuring the likes of Mike Quackenbush, Headbanger Mosh, and Stevie Richards. The card featured participants from thirteen indie promotions and had many different titles on the line. This event from a bygone era completely flew under my radar until Powerbomb.TV announced that they were holding their own event, referencing this past crowning achievement in cross-promotion indie super-card booking. In referencing this event they draw stark comparisons to their own, highlighting that they are bringing together a startling number of promotions under their banner, and also forcing people to become aware of this long dead event. This confrontation seems to be to highlight the fact that had an infrastructure, like their own, been in place back in 1999 to distribute this event it may be more talked about and remembered today.

The card for Break the Barrier is stacked. Seriously, click on that link. Maybe you’re familiar with these guys, maybe this is the first time you’ve ever seen these names. Nevertheless, trust me, this card is great. How great? Let me tell you just about few of the reasons I’m excited for this show:

1: The Olde Wrestling showcase match featuring Dasher Hatfield vs. Jeff King. This promotion puts on a time-travel period piece spin on Pro-Wrestling. They turn back the clock, wear simpler, period appropriate attire, pare down the move sets, pick-up the dialects of, and transports the audience to the roaring 20s. They lean heavily on novelty and comedy, with fanciful storytelling and endearing costuming and characterization. Dasher Hatfield is already an old-fashioned baseball playing hero, so he’ll fit right in, but more importantly he is a storied, exciting veteran over in Chikara Pro. This match promises to show you something you, most likely, have never seen before… and if you like what they’re doing, Powerbomb.TV has two whole events for you to dig your teeth into.

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Old-Timey wrestling for modern eyes!

2: Desean Pratt vs. Ophidian is going to be phenomenal. These two former tag-team partners have battled before, back in Chikara Pro, and each man has gotten more experienced, and better, over the last several years. They know each other intimately, and can tell a phenomenal story with each other in the ring. This will be a solid match, even if they each worked at 50% capability… but I have never seen them put on a match that wasn’t 100%. I’ve been a fan of these guys for near a decade, and distinctly one shirt size ago. If you’ve agreed with my opinions before, or like what I have professed to liking, give this show a chance for this match alone (and stick around for the other exciting matches as well!)

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The men who could travel through time…

3: C*4 bring to the event a match featuring Buxx Belmar, one of the weirdest, most exciting performers to come out of Montreal. Called Dirty and Filthy, Buxx Belmar moves around the ring in a way literally unique to him, that is discomforting and forces you to pay attention to him, and performs bizarre hardcore stunts and gross-out spectacles. That videos pretty gnarly, maybe you don’t wanna click on that link. Now, he’s not always that disgusting, and his weirdness is usually more entrancing. He is unlike anything you have seen before, and is constantly amazing me in how he puts new spins on Pro-Wrestling.

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The weird just oozes out of him!

That’s three great reasons to watch any show and I haven’t even mentioned the insane fact that a legend like Skayde is in a huge lucha libre match or that the main event is jam packed with talent. If you sign up for Powerbomb.TV’s free trial today you will get to see this indie super-card entirely for free, and once you’re pumped up by that free spectacular you’ll want to stick around and dig deep into what the service has to offer.

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Skayde was integral in training many of the men on this card via his association with Chikara pro.

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It’s almost a shame that this isn’t a full time promotion with a main event this exciting and international!

 Service Overview:

Their streaming service itself has a fair number of “pros” to list here. My favourite part of the service is that it has a striking number of companies signed up under its banner. At the time I was crunching my numbers it came to a total of thirty-three promotions with a combined total of One-Hundred-and-Seventy-Three shows spread across them. Each company’s landing page provides the subscriber with links to the various social media, video, and web platforms that company has. This provides people like me with a desire to discover wrestling (see what I did there?) something to really sink their teeth into. Powerbomb.TV, therefore, make themselves an indispensible asset to someone who is looking to scout new talent from around the world, or someone who simply wants to find something completely fresh to engage with. One moment I am watching Italian wrestling, the next hardcore Lucha Libre, the next a bizarre glimpse into history with the retro-chic Olde Wrestling. All for $10.00 a month. Your mileage may vary.

Sign-Up for the service is stupid easy, requiring only an e-mail address, and their billing options are diverse. Having PayPal as an option to counter-balance accruing needless credit card debt is absolutely phenomenal. It puts them on the level of big name players in the streaming service market. Once you have signed up and logged in the landing pages are well designed and easy to navigate, and video playback is generally a simple and clean experience.

Before I start listing the “Cons” of the service, I’ll admit that many of them seem nitpicky. I bring them up herein to point out things that, if improved, would likely guarantee people stay signed up to the service for longer periods of time.

While, strictly mathematically, the average number of shows per promotion is 5.25, it doesn’t really play out in such a balanced way. The vast bulk of these shows, 93 to be specific, can be attributed to just four of the promotions signed up to the service, while eleven of the promotions on the service have a paltry one show a piece. This uneven spread is problematic if what excites you on the service is on the scantier side of content volume, well, then you might not stick around for too long. Furthermore, only seven out of the thirty-three promotions available on the service have content from 2017 actively available. This means that a scant 21% of promotions have content that can be considered moderately current, and the numbers grow more stark when you look at how many videos out of the total are from this calendar year: 6.35%, or 11 videos out of 173. While this scarcity of up-to-date content has no impact on one’s ability to enjoy exploring new promotions and good wrestling, it does, however, mean that Powerbomb.TV is not going to be the place for those who have a need to keep absolutely up to date with the promotions they enjoy.

While I have praised above the ease of use of the service, and the quality of their landing pages, Powerbomb.TV does lack a feature that would greatly improve my enjoyment, and the general ease, of using the service: a search function. So, let’s say that you watched some videos and you really liked one specific guy, and let’s also say that it was one of the few promotions that has double digits worth of shows. In the current set up you have to go through every video the company has one-by-one to tray and find more content featuring that exciting individual. Certainly, some of the videos are one-off matches that list their participants in the titles, but others are full events and a basic set of built-in search functions would greatly improve the experience. A search feature would also allow you to find work that the performers have done in other brands that may be on the service as well. It seems almost too simple a concept to be lacking, and yet it does lack this feature.

Interview:

To get a better feeling for what Powerbomb.TV is, and aims to be, I reached out to Gerard Durling, co-founder of the service for a short interview.

NC: For those unaware, who are you and what is your background?

GD: My name is Gerard Durling and I’m the founder of Coal Creative internet marketing, co-founder of Powerbomb.tv independent wrestling video on demand service. I guess you can say that, in a previous life, I was an independent wrestler by the name of “Vin Gerard” and “Equinox” in CHIKARA.

NC: What made you transition from being an in-ring performer to a partner in a streaming service?

GD: Well, the in-ring performer stuff has been behind me now for about 5-years. Personally, I didn’t feel like I was advancing myself enough to continue performing the amount I was. In my last year of wrestling, I was also creating my first start-up business that was gaining some attention from investors. I ended up taking a deal and it required me to be available a lot on weekend evenings. That is of course, when most independent wrestling shows were. It felt like a natural progression and break to see what else I could do outside of it.

In the last year or two, my company Coal Creative, has really expanded ourselves into video marketing. That’s how this all started with Powerbomb.TV – I was approached by Adam Lash to see if I’d be interested in getting involved in the project with him.

NC: With all the recent waves being made in the streaming service market concerning Pro-Wrestling (WWE Network, NJPW World, Lucha Underground on Netflix, multitudinous indie promotions having their own dedicated streaming options etc.) what is your vision to make Powerbomb.tv stand out from the crowd?

GD: Adam and I both share a passion for wanting to help independent wrestling be more successful and to help however we can. We’re not millionaires, that’s for sure. We can’t compete with some of these services in dollars. We thought that by creating this service, we could reinvest into the companies that work with us. We’re not in this to make money from the subscription service. We want to help make a difference on the independent level and to expose fans to new talent and promotions.

NC: What do you offer to Promoters and Fans that sets you apart as a business partner and as a service to invest in?

GD: I think we offer promoters a lot of opportunity. If someone asks us for help with anything, we’re always open to trying to figure out a way to make it work. As for fans, we have a very diverse catalog of content already, over 30 promotions, and a lot are from partners in Mexico. We want to try to involve the promotions we work with as much as we can in creating out of the box ideas that will garner more attention for everyone.

NC: Who on Powerbomb.tv are you most excited to watch? Who should people be keeping their eyes on?

GD: A lot of the independent lucha libre has me excited. We have some opportunities there to create some interesting content that could help educate American wrestling fans to some of the new faces of Lucha Libre. We’re looking into providing alternate commentary for some of those promotions. C*4 in Ottawa Canada deserves a lot more attention for some of the shows they’ve put together over the last few years.

In Conclusion:

Powerbomb.TV is positioning itself in the independent pro-wrestling scene as an exciting alternative to the standard distribution models of DVD and VOD sales, whose scope offers people like me, and hopefully people like you, something fresh and exciting. While there are some concerns I have raised about the content and the platform’s functionality, this is a living service that is routinely being updated. Since I crunched my numbers at least six new videos across a minimum of three different promotions have been added. I think that they have all the potential in the world to become an exciting, vibrant hub for fans of independent and international pro-wrestling to find what they are craving. I look forward to seeing their offerings expand, and to seeing them take more interesting marketing initiatives like Break the Barrier 2017. Don’t forget to sign up for your free trial today and watch Break the Barrier on June 11th, then dig into the offerings the participating promotions have on the service!

Do you have any feedback or questions? Please leave a comment here.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #020 – #TorontoWrestling reviews Smash Wrestling’s Have Ring Will Wrestle

I arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre a touch too early, and woefully underfed. With back-to-back shows to attend, I had an 8 hour shift of writing notes, talking to fans nearby me, and no food in my belly to look forward to. Thankfully the Phoenix has a Burrito Guy (okay, he also makes Tacos and Quesadillas) and while moderately overpriced (it is venue food, after all) the damn burritos this man cooks up were big and delicious. Burrito Guy saved my day. I had lunch and dinner from him, and would not have been able to focus on the proceedings had he not been there. If you have been to the Phoenix, you’ve seen him slinging his food, next time try it.

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Basically the best event logo they’ve had. The event T-Shirts are boss and I love mine. Buy one yourself!

Match 1: Brent Banks vs. Kevin Blackwood vs. Buxx Belmar vs. Scotty O’Shea vs. Sebastian Suave vs. Vaughn Vertigo

This match was a 6-Man Timed Entry Elimination Match. They didn’t explain the rules to the audience beforehand but it became readily apparent as they started with just Brent Banks and Scotty O’Shea in the ring, but Kingdom James, the manager of Sebastian Suave, came out and cut a promo and waited around at ringside for his man to come in. The big countdown clock also helped, once the next fellow was ten seconds away. I hate O’Shea’s ring gear more and more with every time I see him. Kingdom called it a wet suit. It does kinda look that way.

The match kicks off and Brent Banks makes a point of showing off how agile he is. He gets a gorgeous dropkick into the mix to take control of the flow of the match. The countdown pops up, sooner I think than anyone anticipated, and Vertigo hits the ring, taking quick control of the situation with his aerial stylings. The countdown pops up again and Buxx Belmar heads to the ring, somehow acting even weirder than before his injury put him out for years. Belmar takes down everyone, dropping them in a big dog pile in the middle of the ring, and does a splash on the pile. He then hits O’Shea and Vertigo with his very loudly proclaimed “Penis Attack!”, best described as a Shining Wizard face hump.Banks avoids being the victim of Belmar’s balls, and gains the advantage. The countdown timer pops up again and we are treated to the entrance of Sebastian Suave. Suave takes control of the ring and drops everyone. Suave ties O’Shea up but before he can eliminate the wet-suit wearing Hacker he eats a superkick from Brent Banks. That countdown timer comes up again and Kevin Blackwood storms down to the ring. He tries to clear out the competition, gets through most folk, bot O’Shea takes him down.

The match moves on and they go for the obligatory multi-man Tower of Doom spot out of the corner. I’m growing tired of this spot, it’s not fun anymore. Suave takes control of the fracas but eats a huge powerbomb from Banks. Everyone switches up, in and out of the ring, and in the chaos Buxx Belmar scores the first elimination on Vertigo, but can’t rejoice in his vioctory as Sebastian Suave wrecks him for the 3 as well. Four men left. Kingdom James announces a commercial break and some endorsement message plays on the “tron”, Suave stares at it and admires himself on the big screen. Usually these commercial break spots are a moment of rest for those in the ring, but Blackwood says “Fuck It!” and grabs Suave in a surprise pinning predicament to eliminate The Endorsement. Huge Pop from the crowd. Blackwood goes  on a tear, hits O’Shea with a Yoshitonic for one, but he keeps going. Blacwood sneaks a roll up on Banks during the fracas for 3 count and gets a nice clean hit on on O’Shea for 2.5. O’Shea almost puts Blackwood away with a corner cannonball. Scotty O’Shea avoids multiple pinfall attempts and ends up getting the final three count out of a nice Gory Special into a slam.

Good opening match with lots of energy brought out of the crowd, good way to psyche us up for the two back to back shows. Post match Tarik beats down Blackwood for just being the new kid on the block. It feels like Tarik is in the Gatekeeper role in Smash, running new blood through the meat grinder to establish them and see if they stick. Should be a good feud between them.

Grade: B-
Match 2: Well-Oiled Machines (Psycho Mike + Braxton Sutter) vs. Tabarnak De Team (Thomas Dubois + Mathieu St-Jacques)

The whole match starts with the Well-Oiled Machines oiling themselves up, followed by the crowd chanting for TDT to likewise oil up, so they take their flannel off and get their burly Quebecois selves nice and greasy. Of course, Psycho Mike and Braxton Sutter take this as an opportunity to jump them and beat down on them before the bell. but they make the terrible choice of gloating over their pre-match assault and wind up falling victim to an act of revenge. TDT stack Mike and Braxton on top of each other in the corner and brutalize them. TDT take control, tagging in and out, as they work over Psycho Mike. They just wreck him for a while.

The Well-Oiled Machines take control via shenanigans and Sutter lays into St-Jacques, beating him down but not securing the pinfall. Frequent tags keep the Machines in control until St-Jacques clears the opposition and gets the hot tag. Dubois is inand tosses Psycho Mike around, hitting huge moves. The Well-Oiled Machines spill out to the floor and Tabarnak De Team follow suit with stereo Tope Suicidas. The two teams brawl into the audience in what is easily becoming a trope at Smash shows. They work their way back, collectively, into the ring and when the opportunity presents itself St-Jacques hits a glorious Moonsault on Psycho Mike, but Sutter breaks up the pin. The Well-Oiled Machines next get Thomas Dubois into a pin, and he kicks out with both of them on top of him. St-Jacques comes in and DDTs both opponents. They go into a sequence where both teams tease their finishes but can’t follow through, TDT get the upper hand and slam Mike and Sutter into each other, then hit a Diving European Uppercut-Powerbomb combo for the win.

Grade: B-

Amusingly, between matches they have to get some crew in to  wipe down the ropes, as they were covered in oil from the previous four burly men.

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Having never seen either before, this image made me anticipate a much more even match.  That was a height joke.

Match 3: KC Spinelli vs. Vanessa Kraven

Vanessa Kraven is huge compared to KC Spinelli, and they play off of it, both for comedy and intensity. They start with comedy as KC tries to deal w/ the sheer size of Kraven, whom they introduced as “The Mountain“. It’s almost as if KC is stunned by the fact that a woman that large exists, standing across from her. Spinelli finds an oily patch of ropes, vocally drawing attention to it, and when the chance arrives she grinds Kraven’s face into the oily patch. Nevertheless, Kraven keeps derailing Spinelli with, needing just one hit to undue any amount of work Spinelli can do. Inevitably Kraven easily takes control with a series of damn thunderous chops. She gets to stomping on Spinelli, but they just look too fake and take me right out of the story they’ve been telling. Kraven makes up for her stomps with a pair of nice overhead belly-to-belly suplexes. The second one looks like it was a bad head dump. Brutal! She gets that corner cannonball everybody and their uncle is doing now and only keeps KC down for two. Both previous matches, and many more on this night, featured that exact same move. This one seemed kinda boring after the previous two, this one just didn’t  stand out. Kraven wins with a Chokebomb.

Overall, this match wasn’t bad, but it did nothing to really excite me and felt poorly placed on the card.

Grade: C
Match 4: Kevin Bennett and Franky TM vs. the Super Smash Bros (Stu Grayson + Evil Uno)

Before the bell a brawl breaks out and all four men spill outside the ring, and then Bennet’s cronies get involved. The Super Smash Brothers are overwhelmed and Bennett’s cronies hold them in place as Franky goes for a big ol’ Tope Suicida, but Uno and Stu escape just in time for Franky to wreck Bennett’s thugs. Then they just brawl all over the venue. They head back up the ramp and it’s impossible for me to see exactly what is going on. Then all of a sudden people are flying down the ramp section and there’s just chaos.

The SSB get back in the ring, dragging a limp Bennett and Franky with them and finally the bell rings, the match can now start. They go for a pin, and almost get a win right out of the gate, but Bennett’s cronies break it up. The biggest guy out there, Bennett’s personal security, eats an absolutely brutal slam onto the apron from Stu Grayson. He’s just so heavy looking, the force that must have had… I certainly wouldn’t have gotten up after that.

Once the fracas ends it’s Franky and Uno in the ring, very evenly matched. Uno tags in Stu who flies through the air, right into the loving embrace of Franky TM, who drops him hard in a great slam. Bennett gets in with Stu, but can’t secure the three count when he has Grayson down. There’s miscommunication and Bennett winds up ganking Franky, but the SSB can’t get the 3 either.

Franky cleans house, but he goes after Bennett, looking to take out many months of frustration and being Bennett’s bitch. Bennett’s cronies yank him out of harm’s way and then Franky gets abused by the SSB. He eats a series of knees and super kicks while tied in the ropes and takes a running knee-piledriver combo for the SSB to win.

Grade: C+
Match 5: Greed vs. Tyson Dux (c) – Smash Championship Title Match

Greed starts throwing down big hits right away, but Dux comes back and hits a huge corner Death Valley Driver. He only keeps greed down for two. The story of the match is technique versus brute force. There’s some even back and forth, each man laying furiously into the other. Grred keeps up well with the former Cruiserweight Classic competitor in Tyson Dux. They spill outside onto the floor. Greed gets the advantage, using his size and weight.

The crowd is oddly silent but they pep up when Dux gets to work suplex-ing and cutter-ing Greed. In the ensuing action there is one point where Dux’s pained expression is just priceless. I hope they got an angle on the camera that captures it for their streaming service. You gotta see it. Dux hits a big superplex on Greed, and transitions, turning the big man over into a Boston Crab right in the middle of the ring. Greed escapes and Dux tries to thwart him by going up top but the big man catches him and rams him to the turnbuckle. Again, it’s oddly quiet. Greed takes control and finally his his shirtless Bullfrog Splash (I coined that myself, at the show, get it? Because Greed is huge) but only gets two on Dux. The champ gets a huge brainbuster on Greed, only keeps him down for two. Dux picks him back up and gets another brainbuster for the final three count.

It was a good match but never really lit the crowd on fire. I’m surprised that ROH haven’t come knocking for Dux, considering the style he’s working these days and their dearth of talent.

Grade: B-
Match 6: Tarik vs. Kyle O’Reilly

The crowd is on fire when O’Reilly makes his entrance. There’s some nice chain wrestling to start. They go back and forth with technical style and O’Reilly does his sunset flip-arm bar spot. O’Reilly is in control and he does the weirdest twisting takedown. O’Reilly grinds on Tarik, controlling the flow of the fight, but it gets messy on the apron and Tarik winds up in control. Tarik gets a nice Vertical Suplex in, but only gets a two count out of it. His frustration grows and Tarik’s well established wild side comes out, he chokes O’Reilly multiple times with the ring ropes. It spills outside for a moment, but it quickly gets back inside and Kyle gets to kicking Tarik, but Tarik reverses with a Disaster Kick and gets 2 on O’Reilly. Tarik goes for a mount on O’Reilly but gets a leg bar for his troubles. They do a strong style strike exchange, and it looks like Kyle’s in control but Tarik counters with a huge drop kick.

Tarik looks to be in control and goes for his Backpack Stunner but gets choked. They brawl and O’Reilly gets in his signature combo before going into a huge sequence that nets him multiple submissions on Tarik, but Tarik gets to the ropes. He keeps up beating on Tarik but winds up eating a comeback Backpack Stunner, getting a two count on the former Ring of Honor World Champion. They exchange a series of huge big boots, do a forearm back and forth spot, and then Kyle gets the upper hand and unloads with dozen knees on Tarik. A final flurry of moves sees O’Reilly choking, kicking, and brainbuster-ing Tarik, who kicks out at two. O’Reilly catches him mid kick out and locks on an armbar for the tap out.

Grade: B
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They need to get more designs done like this for future shows.

Match 7: Michael Elgin vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

The crowd was hyped. They mix it up and play power versus technique to good results. They do a classic Greco-Roman knuckle lock test of strength spot, I haven’t seen one of those in a while. Made me smile. It was like comfort food for my wrestling soul. ZSJ goes to work on Elgin’s arm, binding him for days. I love the little touches Sabre does, grinding away at spots on Elgin’s arm with his elbow, bending his fingers back. For all the babyface treatment he gets, ZSJ is vicious and ruthless in the squared circle.

Elgin stops Sabre with a cutter, and uses his strength to put ZSJ down. They do the stalling suplex spot, full thirty seconds, each one punctuated by a chant. It gets elgin a two count. They go back and forth, do some strong man spots, and then ZSJ gets a great sweep and running PK for the two count. Elgin gets three German Suplexes on the Brit, but ZSJ dodges a lariat and ties Big Mike up. Elgin escapes and hits an Enzuigiri to try and take control but Sabre combos into a two count. Then they exchange strikes. Sabre kicks the crap outta Big Mike but eats a Falcon Arrow for his troubles. Sabre winds up getting a Jim Briggs Special on the top rope, but gets sunset bombed, hard. Somehow Sabre kicks out. Big Mike sells all the work ZSJ has done to his arm really well, and it was a bit of shame that he didn’t carried it over into the WCPW show, but the two don’t share continuity so there’d be no meaning behind it outside of for the audience members who attended both events back to back.

Big Mike gets out of submissions using power and the two brawl to the apron where Elgin hits a DVD. He then hits Sabre with an outside-to-inside Avalanche Falcon Arrow, gets two. Buckle Bomb and then Power Bomb and Sabre counters into a prawn hold. It’s followed by a lightning fast exchange between the two. it ends with Elgin hitting a Sit-Out Cricifix Powerbomb. He getsa two count and the crowd goes wild. Elgin goes for the Burning Hammer but Sabre flips out of it and gets a strong kick on Elgin. This leads into a flurry of action and Elgin gets the win with a sitout powerbomb.

Grade: A-

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#DiscoveringWrestling #011 – Bulletproof Mascaras: the Great Fight North! #TorontoWrestling Coverage

On Sunday March 5th I hauled my already tired ass over to Lee’s Palace to behold the joint spectacle being put on by local promotion Lucha TO (a.k.a. Lucha in the 6 or LIT6) and the visiting Kaiju Big Battel. Now, before I get any further into this review, I need to specify that this show was unlike anything I had ever seen before and rating the matches proved just how subjective wrestling can be, as it was clearly not designed to be what other Pro-Wrestling tries to be. This was a spectacle which had more in common with your average tokusatsu film than with most other wrestling promotions. The show proved at times to be overwhelming and difficult to keep track of, and ,while I expected some of what I saw, at times I felt lost amidst the absurdity of it all.

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Promotional materiel for the event grabbed from Lucha TO’s website.

Lee’s Palace has a unique atmosphere, and I can easily understand why it has become the home of Lucha TO, much in the way Les Foufounes Electriques has become the home of BATTLEWAR in Montreal. It is a hard rock/punk edged concert venue with little seating and very dim lighting, the perfect hole in the wall for mayhem to occur. It is grunge and punk and obnoxiously loud, indoors and out if you count aesthetics, and makes for a strikingly different wrestling show experience. The performers often entering the ring via routes through the audience. I can imagine this making for amazing moments later in the promotions lifetime, when it has had more opportunities to craft an identity, diehard fans, and homegrown stars… but if you want to enjoy your wrestling from a seated position it is best to get there remarkably early.

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Look at that nasty board!

Match 1: Barbed-Wire Mouse Trap Death Match – “White Trash” Matt Cash vs. Warhead

In a bid to hype up LIT6’s hardcore sister promotion Deathproof Fight Club, the first match on this absolutely bonkers card was an insane conceptual hardcore match, seeing a barbed-wire board with mousetraps glued to it spelling out “LUCHA” in all caps being balanced precariously upon two chairs in the centre of the ring, a joint effort by both men. They circled it, as if trying to determine how to begin this psychotic daredevil sideshow experiment. Hands were forced down into the mousetraps before any wrestling had even been done, and quickly the match evolved into slams and a mini baseball bat that appeared to be covered in tacks. “White Trash” botched a corner cannonball in the most bizarre and dangerous looking way, somehow bouncing between the ropes and his opponent and winding up with a terrible landing in a tight space. The match ends with Warhead picking up the win with a death Valley Driver onto the board.

My biggest take away from this match is that Warhead has a lot of charisma, and I wonder if he can work non-death match bouts or if he’s one of those performers who works well in their niche but doesn’t have the fundamentals down to work without all the extra accoutrements of hyper violence.

Grade: C
Musical Interlude 1: Black Cat Attack

This band put on a pretty good performance. The aggressive female-fronted metal really fit the vibe of the venue and show in general, up to this point. During their set a bunch of cool cardboard buildings were set up in the ring, only to be taken down again before their set ended. Just a weird little moment there. Only negative thing i could really find about their performance was that the male guitarist sounded kind of bad when he tried to provide clean vocals.

Match 2: Carter Mason vs. Super Bigote

Carter Mason has a great set of entrance attire and his persona is full of swagger, making the referee take his entrance coat off of him just because he can. Following that entrance should have been hard, but Super Bigote enters to the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right to Party and the crowd is immediately hyped and on his side. The match would have been, overall, unremarkable had it not been for one hell of a high spot that saw Super Bigote launch himself, in one motion,  out of the ring, up a staircase, and between bar counters right into the crowd to land on Carter Mason. It was such a tight space to land in that i could hardly believe it was being done. Nevertheless, Mason comes out on top after a sequence with a DVD.

Grade: C

After the match, Dr. Cube and his minions emerge to storm the ring and try to take over Toronto!The diabolical Doctor cuts a hilarious and brilliant promo mocking Canadian culture and butchers the national anthem before a hero arrives…

Match 3: Unicorn Party vs Mongor

So, I’ll be frank and admit that my presuppositions on how to grade and evaluate matches all went out the window at this point and I had to pick up the pieces again. It took a moment for me to readjust and understand exactly what Kaiju Big Battel was all about and how to modify my understanding of Pro-Wrestling to properly adapt it to this new milieu. Thankfully I am already a huge Tokusatsu nerd, and am familiar with the fact that men in awkward to move in monster costumes have based their lumbering mannerisms on the top wrestling stars of a given decade. My grades for matches in which performers wore outfits that clearly restricted their visibility and movement are more lenient than they otherwise would have been, and as the bulk of the show was based on comedy performances you may not have the same ratings for matches as I gave them if you don’t get, or don’t like, what Lucha TO and Kaiju Big Battel are doing here.

Mongor’s costume left him the least agile of the two, and Unicorn party’s costume left him the most bizarrely sexual completely clothed individual I have ever seen. The match was populated mostly by haymakers, clotheslines and axe handles, but also involved cardboard buildings as weapons and Unicorn party getting turned on by being spanked by Mongor’s one giant hand. In the end Unicorn Party picked up the victory in a ridiculous bout.

Interesting to note about Kaiju Big Battel is that their matches are accompanied by live commentary and a soundtrack broadcast through the venue’s PA system, so you don’t have to wait to watch the show again for your play-by-play and colour.

Grade: B-

Between matches Dr. Cube came out and a deal was struck that, moving forward, it would be a Best of Five series for control over Toronto, and dr. Cube was aiming for this territory to become his dominion.

Match 4: Merle Skeeter vs Burger Bear

By this point, while I still wasn’t rating matches as easily on the fly as i would have been if they were anything other than Kaiju Big Battel, I had learned what it was that I would need to understand to provide fair criticism and commentary on the matches. This match featured a great Raven-esque drop toe hold with buildings instead of chairs to impact the target and a bunch of totally cartoony wild swings like stereotypical Tokusatsu monsters. Merle Skeeter picked up the win by injecting Burger Bear with the Zika virus and pinning him. Dr. Cube’s forces are up 1-0.

Grade: C+
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These promotional images are really great. Lucha TO have their A game on.

Match 5: Genetically Modified Jellyfish Stinging Bananas Death Match – Hell Monkey vs Space Monkey

The two competitors started the match with a shoving contest to determine who was the dominant Alpha Male in this mutant monkey mayhem. Then they dueled each other using their tails as swords. Through the match both of these great apes tried to Monkey flip each other with no success, and they both tried to throw each other into the pile of deadly bananas in the corner, mirroring spots between them often. Space Monkey nailed a beautiful Michinoku Driver on Hell Monkey and went on to win the match when he came out the victor of the Monkey flip duel, landing Hell Monkey on the stinging bananas placed delicately in the middle of the ring and following that up with a solid clothesline. Very entertaining and unique match. The score is tied at 1-1 for control over Toronto.

Grade: B+
Musical interlude 2: So Sick Social Club

This was an unfortunate set, in my opinion. I’ve seen So Sick Social Club before, opening for the Insane Clown Posse, and they were really great at that show, I have watched all their music videos, and seeing them again was a big selling point for me to go to this show. But this set, something was off. The vocals sounded bad, the guitar player seemed to be having difficulties getting his instrument to work right throughout the set, and the topless girl seemed out of place and unwelcome at the show. I have heard many complaints about this set, from friends and acquaintances in attendance, who all label the band terrible.

Match 6: Superwrong vs. Evil Uno

Evil Uno, a wrestler I’ve seen perform countless times, really camped it up with a cartoonishly heel performance at this show, where he took on infinite underdog Superwrong. Superwrong seemed to be looking to ditch his losing ways by dancing-and-dodging the majority of Uno’s attacks, until Uno applied a testicular claw and brought the might monster low. Superwrong worked hard to come back from having his dong manhandled, hitting the evil one with a nice snap suplex onto some buildings and doing some good dance fighting where he peppered Uno with bionic elbows. However, it was all for naught as Superwrong made a classic mistake and knocked himself out by trying to land a splash from hilariously far away, leading to Evil Uno getting the pinfall, a huge bag of cartoon money, and Dr. Cube a 2-1 lead! Oh No!

Grade: B-
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Some crazy red-eye! I bet it’s because he’s mind-controlled!

Match 7: Freddie Mercurio vs. Kikutaro

Freddie is introduced as the brainwashed slave of Dr. Cube, a hero forced to do his evil bidding via the nefarious square one’s control over time. As Dr. Cube explains that he will not let Freddie go spurts of Bohemian Rhapsody play and Freddie starts reacting, trying to break free from the Dr’s control via the power of Queen. If you haven’t guessed by now, yes, Freddie Mercurio is a lucha libre version of Freddy Mercury. His opponent is first introduced as French Toast, a man wearing a giant waffle mascot outfit, but quickly French Toast is replaced by legendary Japanese comedy wrestler Kikutaro.

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From Kikutaro’s twitter, @kikutarosan

The match started with Kikuatro getting some good arm drags in on the fabulous Freddie Mercurio, but quickly the tide turned with Freddie stomping-and-chopping to the rhythm of “We will Rock You”. Stomp-Stomp-Chop, Stomp-Stomp-Chop! Eventually Kikutaro accidentally throws the referee into Mercurio during a series of blocked charges into the corner and somehow both men simultaneously chokeslam each other, providing one of the best comedy wrestling moments i’ve ever seen live. Kikutaro wins the match after hitting a rad Shining Wizard on Mercurio after the mustacioed one missed a moonsault. The score is tied at 2-2.

Post match Kikutaro breaks Dr. Cube’s clock and Freddie Mercurio is a tecnico once more.

Grade: B+
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Look at that crazyness in ring!

Match 8: DeSean Pratt + American Beetle vs. Erebus, the Evil Sea Turtle + John Greed

The match starts with some good, athletic indie style brawling between Pratt and Greed. Then erebus and American Beetle tagged in and Erebus had the upper hand, mauling Beetle pretty hard before the he made a very American comeback with a big boot and leg drop combo all wrestling fans should find familiar. Next Pratt and Greed were back in with a high pace sequence into a huge lariat and pinfall attempt where John Greed looked remarkably dominant. Erebus rolled over and splashed people repeatedly with his spikes, and then did that spot where you put a garbage can on someone’s head and then hit it, only using cardboard buildings. It was sold wonderfully. A ref bump leads to a 3 on 2 handicap against the heroes until Unicorn Party arrives to become the new guest referee. The face team makes a comeback and DeSean Pratt hits a great spinning DDT and 450 Splash for the win. The score is now 3 to 2 in favor of the forces of good. Dr. Cube has been defeated, and we can all rest easy with the benefits of our universal health care.

Grade: B-

All-in-all, a fascinating show that defied all of my expectations, even going in knowing that this would be hokey and filled with awkward to move in monster costumes. The lack of seating at the venue was disappointing, and the lighting really could have been better for my ability to take photos. Otherwise the vibe in the venue was spot on for this kind of promotion. Vampiro was slated to make an appearance with a special announcement but, unfortunately, had a last minute flight cancellation and couldn’t make it. I hope I get to meet him eventually.

Kikutaro, sadly, seemed to me to be largely ignored and under-recognized by the fans around me. Which is a shame because he was in arguably the best straight wrestling match of the night, and was one of the major reasons I attended the event.

Have you been to a Lucha TO or Kaiju Big Battel show? Do you have any advice or questions? Please leave a comment here.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #010 – F8ful Eight #TorontoWrestling Coverage

On March 4th I attended my first Smash Wrestling show, their annual F8ful Eight tag team tournament.  The show was held at the Franklin Horner Community Center in Etobicoke, officially outside of what most people consider to be Toronto proper. I’d been to this remote, cramped, hot venue once before for a Chikara show. This show was to be a farewell, of sorts, between the promotion and venue it had made its home base. I for one will not mourn this remote, hot, and cramped venue. Smash have made the wise decision to move into a more central location, which should encourage more fans to attend regularly. The Community Center isn’t the worst venue I’ve ever attended a show in, but its remoteness (over 1.25 hours on public transit from my door to theirs) made me simply not want to go. To those relying on public transit, Etobicoke is NOT Toronto, and Smash want to promote themselves as Toronto’s premier Pro-Wrestling company. I look forward to seeing the promotion grow into its new home.

Sadly I sat behind that one fan who would yell out random, inane commentary at everything, including video packages that had no hopes of responding to his desperate pleas for attention. It was distracting but I decided not to let it bother me and sat back in my seat, with food, beer, good company, and my notebook to enjoy the festivities. Before the show even began the audience proved itself to be aggressively loyal, knowing all the appropriate promotion-specific chants, and also all the chants that have wormed themselves into all strata of Pro-Wrestling fandom in North America. There is a striking difference, that I miss, to sitting in a Japanese audience and appreciating the show in another way.

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After all these years the Super Smash Bros continue to reinvent themselves and be amazing.

Match 1: #TheBest vs. Super Smash Brothers

This match started off with some simple, solid brawling with #TheBest getting some good moves in, particularly notable was a nice Exploder Suplex, but the Super Smash Bros remained in control for most of the bout. As typical with indie style booking, everyone got to get their thing in the match, making both teams look good. Each side had some impressive tag team tandem offense. #TheBest had a nice top-rope splash onto one of the Smash Bros who was held on his opponents knees after a double-knee gutbuster, while the Super Smash Bros claimed victory with a brutal looking running knee strike by Stu Grayson onto his opponents face while Evil Uno held him in a belly-to-back piledriver, before of course dropping the piledriver.

Grade: B-
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Psycho Mike likes Banana flavoured protein powder.

Match 2: “Oily Beefcake” vs. The Boys of Jollyville

After a video package explained that the impromptu team of “Oily Beefcake” was formed from the combined remnants of Halal Beefcake and The Well-Oiled Machines,  due to each man’s respective partner being down in Orlando for Impact Wrestling tapings, we got off to a good start on this match. The teams had some good back and forth action, with solid mixture of indie style brawling and grappling mixed with comedy spots. The Boys from Jollyville employed some good heelish tactics and came out of the match with the win after Psycho Mike, of the Well-Oiled Machines, threw protein powder in everyone else’s face and decided to get himself too. This resulted in what I believe was a blind fight between the Oily Beefcake partners who thought they were fighting their opponents and led to a Jollyville victory.

I was honestly surprised I didn’t hear any “Fuck TNA” chants like I expected after the general impression a lot of the fans chanting around me gave me. If it were an ROH show i am certain i would have heard that unnecessary chant.

Grade: C+
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I first saw Franky the Mobster something like 10 years ago, and he hardly seems to have aged since then.

Match 3: The Fraternity vs. Kevin Bennett + Franky TM

The first thing I had to note was how odd it seemed that a team based on juvenile beer chugging and Frat-boy jock antics was cheered so heavily. They were the obvious faces heading into the match and were definitely crowd favourites. Meanwhile, Kevin Bennett elicited chants of “Fuck You Bennett!” from much of the audience, even those sitting directly next to small children.

The match itself introduced the audience to the fact that Franky TM was unwillingly forced to be Bennet’s “bitch“, and that Bennett was a dickish heel when he threw beer in the Fraternity’s face pre-match. The match itself was unremarkable outside of a few spots. Particularly exciting moments include an Avalance TKO by one of The Fraternity and Franky TM’s finishing move wherein he dropped his opponent from a Military Press into a Fallaway Slam into a TKO. The match was heavily influenced by the presence of Bennett’s cronies, and while Franky nailed the finishing move, Bennett got the tag and pinfall victory.

Grade: C+
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TDT not being signed yet by ROH baffles me. These guys are great and need more eyes on them.

Match 4: Tabarnak de Team (TDT) vs. The London Riots

Without a doubt, this was the best match of the night and came right before intermission. Before the match even started the two teams were at each other’s throats, with TDT nailing stereo German Suplexes to kick things off. The ring couldn’t contain this fight as it quickly spilled to the outside with some great action. One sequence in particular saw one of the London Riots with a Tope Suicida, followed by a TDT Top-Rope Moonsault to the outside, followed by a Riots Tope con Hilo. These guys may not be the tallest guys on Earth, but this was the Hoss Fight of the card, both teams boasting burliness in spades. The match was big move after big move, and while at times it did appear that TDT were having trouble with the weight of their opponents, it didn’t slow the match or detract from it too much. The London Riots pick up the win with a brutal tandem slingshot into a spear tag team finisher.

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Young Bucks offense done Vader-style.

If i were to give this match any real constructive criticism it would be that they could have, both sides, sold more and slowed the pace down just a bit. It was big moves back and forth throughout the match and it left little room to truly appreciate how violently these men were treating each other.

Grade: B+
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This is just such a great moment, there need be no other shots caught of this match.

Match 5: Sebastian Suave vs. Brent Banks

Suave’s manager cuts a great heel promo before the match to really get the crowd to want “The Sponsored Athlete” to lose. In fact, Suave’s manager was probably the most entertaining thing in the match, as he caused interference in audible, microphoned ways and somehow there was even a mid-match commercial break. Both performers in the ring were obviously very athletic, but the match did nothing for me. Suave wins with a sliding elbow or clothesline, was hard to tell exactly what from my angle.

Grade: C+
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Violence at its most disruptive!

Match 6: Tarik vs. Jimmy Havok

This one got going right out of the gates, with Tarik rushing at Havok and the action quickly spilling outside. From my angle there appeared to be some botchiness with the ropes when they were trying to move the action out of the ring, but it was easily forgotten due to the level of violence and how hyped the crowd was for the match. Before the audience had time to breath Tarik cleared a swathe of fans from their seats and sent Jimmy Havok careening into the plastic chairs like a bowling ball. Once we returned to in ring action, and our seats, there were a couple more noteworthy moments… for good or ill. Tarik absolutely kills it with a backpack stunner against Havok. Havok, however, turns it around promptly and nails a Burning Hammer (or some variation thereof, it wasn’t as snug as Kobashi’s) which Tarik then promptly no sells sending me into a fit at my seat. Whilst furiously ranting about how you cannot no sell a Burning Hammer, Havok picked up the win with what looked like the Rainmaker.

Grade: B
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Greed is one bad hombre!

Match 7: Smash Championship Match – Tyson Dux (c) vs. Greed vs. Scotty O’Shea

This match was all kinds of not-right. At the second entrance theme there were obvious technical issues, the match was announced as a Triple Threat and yet two men were being introduced in a pre-match ceremony when the originally scheduled third man suddenly runs in with a chair in hand, leaving the crowd wildly confused as to the booking. At one point Dux hits a nice outside DDT on Greed, and while a few other big moves standout, such as a great Cannonball into the corner by Greed or O’Shea doing a corner Death Valley Driver to Dux where he slams him into Greed, the match fizzled with the ending. Dux has O’Shea in a Boston Crab and Greed slides in to, from what it looked like, stop O’Shea from tapping to keep the match alive, and then all of a sudden the ref is calling for the bell and telling the audience that O’Shea tapped out… to which the audience promptly responds with a rousing chant of “Bullshit! Bullshit!

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Well, I guess Dux will retain until at least April 9th then, eh?

Post match Jimmy Havok comes out and challenges Dux for the Smash Championship at the next show, and hopefully that match will have a defined ending that is clearly recognizable to the entire audience.

Grade: C
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Fly Stu, Fly!

Match 8: F8Ful Eight Tournament Finals Elimination Match – Kevin Bennett + Franky TM vs. The London Riots vs. The Super Smash Brothers vs. The Boys from Jollyville

Before the match is even underway – and i’m beginning to see a trend towards pre-match action at Smash Wrestling – Stu Grayson of the Super Smash Brothers does an excellent Tope con Hilo to clear out Bennett’s extra goons at ringside. The match, being four corner tag team elimination, is hectic and busy right from the get go. The Boys from Jollville, bearer of the worst tag team name in history, have some pretty good spots here and some great early match chemistry with The London Riots. Of particular note is a great spot where the larger member of the Jollyville team has their opponent in an Airplane Spin and the smaller member is decking him in the face with right hands on each rotation. Certainly spoke to them having character as a unit. Before any one team has had a chance to be eliminated they go out of their way to do a car crash level Tower of Doom spot that elicits a huge pop from the crowd for Franky TM, the man left standing. Franky then nails his Fallaway Slam tossed into a TKO and drapes Bennet over one of the Jollyville fellas for the 3 count and The Boys from Jollyville are eliminated.

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Stu Grayson exists in a perpetual state of “being airborne”.

The first elimination is followed by an awesome sequence between the Super Smash Bros and the London Riots that culminates in the Riots going for their tandem slingshot-into-spear finisher on Stu Grayson who flies out of the slighshot with a knee lift to the guy coming in with the spear. This turns the tables and the Super Smash Brothers eliminate the London Riots with their knee strike/piledriver combination. This match continues to show us how damn good Stu Grayson has become. The Super Smash Brothers have been around for a long time and this latest reinvention has seen them at possibly their best ever as heels, both in psychology and physicality. Franky TM uses Bennett as a weapon against the SSB and things look to be at a stalemate when, out of the blue, Bennett’s cronies show back up and kidnap Evil Uno, taking him behind the curtains and leaving Grayson alone with both Franky TM and Bennett. Franky nails what looks like a Rydeen Bomb (or a Chokebomb) on Grayson and goes to tag in Bennett so he can get the pinfall. Bennett heels it up and commands Franky to do the move two more times before he will allow his bitch to tag out. Bennett gets the pin.

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Rydeen Bomb! 1 of 3.

After the match Bennett grounded Franky TM,  after he attacked Bennet’s cronies,for the next several events, and set up another leg of their slow-burn feud.

Grade: B
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Franky looks like he wants to eat Bennet. Yummy trophy and all.

All in all I left the show satisfied, despite the best match coming at the midway point and the shenanigans that spoiled the title match for much of the crowd. I bought tickets, 2nd row VIP, for their next two events, intent on continuing to delve into the company and excited for the change in venue to a more Torontonian milieu. Smash Wrestling show great promise, and with their established working relationship with Progress Wrestling and their newly formed partnership with WCPW, look to be going places in the landscape of Canadian independent wrestling.

Have you been to a Smash Wrestling show? Do you have any comments or questions? Please leave your feedback here.

Special thanks to Chris Murphy who took wonderful photos and let me share them with you in my blog. You can find his website here, his Instagram here, his Twitter here, and his FaceBook here.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #004 – International Expeditions (Review of MKW Thailand Edition Episode 1)

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Cool Poster, Guys!

Just before the end of 2016 Middle Kingdom Wrestling participated in their biggest venture to date, a co-promoted tour  in Thailand with Kingdom Wrestling Federation, a local Thai group, and Association Bitteroise de Catch, out of France, dubbed WrestleStar III. These shows, for my interest in shining a light on underrepresented places in international Pro-Wrestling, seemed like the perfect, exciting opportunity to see what these countries, and companies, have to offer.

From the very start of this episode there are some problems that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with the in-ring performances. The two most glaring of these problems are the inconsistent video quality and the commentary. The video quality differs heavily between the handheld cameras filming at ringside, which look clean and sharp, and the arena’s (I’m assuming it’s the arena’s) fixed position camera. It’s literally the difference between HD and my old rabbit-ears antenna TV from childhood. The cuts between these cameras are jarring and distract from the flow of the action, making me think that my computer was buffering something bad until I recognized the pattern. Genuinely, if I had had the reigns in editing and had seen the quality difference, I’d have left all of the hard cam footage on the floor. It sullies the product.

Sadly, that’s not where MKW finish undercutting their own product .Their commentary is atrocious. The unnamed commentator sounds bored and without any genuine interest in the product, and whether or not he actually cares is irrelevant when he’s putting me to sleep.  The only time he sounds somewhat alive is when he’s plugging MKW’s YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter pages. Which in the 20 minutes or so of actual show he does far too often. When I’m genuinely wishing I was listening to Michael Cole on commentary instead of you, well, you’re doing something very wrong.

That being said, if you can get past the video and commentary problems, you do have some wrestling here to watch. So let’s talk about the matches.

Match 1: MKW Championship #1 Contender’s  Triple Threat Match: Candy Brother vs. Mikey Rawaz vs. “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

So, let’s address one non-wrestling issue with this match before we get into the meat of the review, they spell “Triple” incorrectly. It’s such a basic, simple, avoidable error that really makes the product feel less important, less professional, than I know the people behind it want it to be seen as. There’s a lot of quality issues that a truly young promotion like MKW can be forgiven for, and they’re likely going to catch a lot more flak from reviewers and commentators as they grow because they have chosen to film and put everything they do on YouTube, but spelling errors take literally any basic spell check function to avoid.

Sadly the first thing you’ll notice as the competitors take to the ring is that the venue they’re in is empty. Not literally empty, but the audience is so small that I worry about the costs of them putting on this show and I’m not even financially involved.  The venue itself looks so much better than the usual gyms and bars that MKW has filmed its fights in, and if it were even one quarter full it would have looked super impressive.

The match itself starts with some awkward clothesline and dropkick exchanges where each participant gets their shot in on someone else. I say “awkward” not because it doesn’t make sense from a psychology perspective, but because there is a lot of uncertainty in the ring. They go for some exchanges and there are some awkward spills to the apron before they get to their first big spot, a tower of doom-esque  Vertical Suplex/Side Russian Leg Sweep combination. In theory it’s a cool idea, and one I personally haven’t seen before, but the synchronization and force just wasn’t there and leaves the moment lacking in intensity. I can’t tell who was responsible for this, but it does fall on the Candy Brother/Mikey Rawaz side of the equation.

The match plays out with only a few special moments thereafter. After being Irish whipped into the corner, Candy Brother takes one of the worst looking corner bumps I have ever seen. I couldn’t tell if he was trying what he was doing for the first time or the construction of the Muay Thai ring was working against the performers, but either way it looked really off. Candy Brother actually has a few shining moments in the match amidst all the uncertainty of motion. He makes me laugh out loud while selling a hit where he rolls on the ground and says “My face, it hurts SO bad!”, even just typing it makes me chuckle, and he gets both of his opponents into an interesting submission hold I can only describe as a Double PALO Special. Warsman would be proud.

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If you don’t love Kinnikuman, you’re a bad person!

Mikey Rawaz spends almost the entirety of the match making me groan, he is simply the least skilled man in the match, and if he isn’t then he’s not trying hard to impress the audience.  His timing and movements lack any crispness or fluidity. He had one good spot when the three men were setting up for the classic Superplex/Powerbomb Tower of Doom where he had Hong Wan and Candy Brother stacked up in such a way that when he punched Wan he would knock his head into Candy Brother’s junk, hurting both men at once. It was a clever spot.

“The Selfie King” Hong Wan shines as the star in this match, and is certainly booked to look that way as well. In both the Tower of Doom styled moments he was the one who delivered the crucial attack that damaged both of his opponents. Throughout the match he does his best to get the minimal crowd in attendance to clap and get hyped for the action in the match, but it almost feels like Thailand doesn’t get Pro-Wrestling yet, as the crowd really fails to respond in a meaningful way. It also pretty much fails to be a crowd. Nevertheless, Hong Wan works his “Selfie King” gimmick like a champ, pausing after the momentous Tower of Doom spot to take selfies with the carnage in the background behind him. I wish the MKW twitter account would post these pictures. It’d certainly give them more content to upload, and likely help in boosting visibility of the product on social media.

Hong Wan is also, as you might have guessed, the inevitable winner of the match, nailing a rather nice Frog Splash on Candy Brother to earn himself the #1 Contender spot for the MKW Championship.  I’m certain he’ll have the match of his young career against the far more veteran Dalton Bragg.

Winner: “The Selfie King” Hong Wan

Match Rating:  C-

 

Match 2: ABC Tag-Team Championship Match: Ash Silva and Jason Wang (challengers) vs. Tony Trivaldo and Claude Roca (champions)

As the two teams enter the first thing I was struck with was that it looked like the audience got smaller, which certainly is a shame because this match features a truly interesting mix of talent. Claude Roca, a veritable grandfather, is the most skilled man on this show. The announcer says he has 50 years of wrestling experience and is in his 70s, and he moves better than some people I’ve seen in the peak of their physical prowess under 30. My usual go-to for researching grapplers, Cagematch, only tracks him back to 2006 but I refuse to believe that a man this old started that recently and hasn’t gotten cripplingly hurt. He moves about like an old school European grappler and his offense genuinely has an old timey feel, in a good way. He’s mystifyingly good and to quote the comment on his Cagematch page, ““being old and still in top condition” is a gimmick of its own.

Claude Roca and Ash Silva start off the bout against each other and the elder grappler looks great as he ties up his young opponent and flips him about. Likely working to let the older man look good and keep him from taking too many bumps, Roca stays in control and dominant for his team. Once the big man, Tony Trivaldo, is tagged in for his team the inexperience of the MKW performers becomes a bit more evident as Silva slips awkwardly out of a body slam and hits a zig zag on the big man. This, from the movements made by the performers, was obviously supposed to be a fluid sequence but seems stuttered by the lack of polish in the transition. Both MKW’s and KWF’s talent on this episode in general need to work on smooth out their movements and looking more sure of themselves. Or, to put it more succinctly, they need to work on Body Agency and Shared Weight.

Jason Wang is tagged in after a failed pin attempt and shows a nice series of tight forearm shots on Trivaldo and even hoists the big man up for a really crisp looking Fisherman’s Suplex and a genuinely stiff looking running knee. Annoyingly we see a gaff here, where the running knee places Trivaldo on his back and far away from Ash Silva, who calls out to Wang for the tag and climbs the turnbuckle to jump into a splash on the big man. Trivaldo compensates for the distance by rolling oddly towards his opponents and sitting halfway up. The sequence does a lot of harm to the good will established thus far by the performers by breaking that suspension of disbelief that is crucial to the Art of Wrestling.

Trivaldo plays the big man role adequately in this match, taking down both of his opponents after some miscommunication between the partners. The impact of the moment is dulled by a ref who obviously is not aware that he is obstructing the flow of the match by standing directly between Trivaldo and the challengers.

Roca gets tagged in again and shows off that he can still take some awkward looking bumps during an exchange with Jason Wang, and then Ash Silva gets tagged back in and works up some good heel heat by laying into the old man with some mean looking kicks and headbutts. Roca generates instant “old man in peril” sympathy babyface heat during this segment which culminates in a fancy looking two-man monkey flip against both opponents freeing him up for the tag.

Trivaldo again plays a good big man off of a hot tag that leads to the conclusion of the match where he awkwardly picks up his geriatric companion and hurls him at Jason Wang for the pinning combination to retain their championship. The segment is punctuated by the most awkward echoing bang sound. Like they jacked up the volume on the impact in the audio file for the match to try and make it seem super intense on the final big moves.

Winners: Claude Roca and Tony Trivaldo

Match Rating: C

 

Conclusion

Overall a sufficiently entertaining show for MKW. If I weren’t already a wrestling fan, I don’t think this product would win me over to being one, but as a fan it is exciting to see the growth of the company and talent. Yet again Hong Wan has managed to improve his looks between seasons, getting new tights and looking leaner and more fit and hasn’t lost a step when it comes to milking his gimmick for all its worth. Jason Wang looks smoother than before and Ash Silva has had tremendous improvement since I watched him in the debut season. I don’t anticipate that in less than a year of me watching the product I will see the true evolution and definition of a uniquely  Chinese expression of Pro-Wrestling, but I can say that MKW is doing its damndest to lay the groundwork needed to build that upon and if these young men continue to improve at the pace they have already set then they may one day be spoken of in the way that people talk about El Santo and Antonio Inoki, as the men who came to be definitions of what it means to wrestle in their countries.

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#DiscoveringWrestling #003 – Kung Fu Hustle & Muscle (Review of the MKW Season 2 Finale)

MKW

Middle Kingdom Wrestling recently hit a new landmark in their self-proclaimed journey to become the dominant Pro-Wrestling company in China. They posted their Season 2 finale to YouTube on September 18, 2016. You can watch it right here and then follow me on to the review!

This episode only has two matches, and each offers a bit to talk about. The “Kung Fu Showcase Match”pitted M.A. against King of Man and the season concludd on the “No Rules Match” for the MKW championship, where reigning champion Dalton Bragg faced off against the imposing challenger King Michael.

So, match by match, here are my thoughts:

M.A. vs King of Man

Both M.A. and King of Man are making their MKW debuts in this match and it has both guys come out of the match looking pretty good, considering that they are definitely on the greener side of the roster. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some issues which detracted from what could have otherwise been a much better outing.

The match was, overall, very back-and-forth. Both performers were given opportunities to look dominant, and in the end King of Man really shone the most in this performance. The match started off a bit shakey. Amidst some rather solid striking and grappling, at several points, the timing was awkward. Two particular moments really stand out as offenders. First there was the moment when M.A. goes for a splash on King of Man well after his opponent had started to get up. It broke suspension of disbelief because hard, with my thoughts focusing on “why would he jump, he could see the dude already got out of the way?“rather than on what happened in the subsequent moments. I’m being a bit harsh, because I understand that these guys aren’t ring veterans, but any time the viewer is taken out of a match like that it can ruin what was an otherwise rather good match. Furthermore, this is exacerbated by the English-language announcer hyping the match up as a special “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling Showcase“, which creates an elevated expectation of precision timing, choreography, and skill being on display. The other moment that really stood out wasn’t the fault of the wrestlers, but of the referee. He got in the way, taking far too long to fix a turnbuckle pad that had come loose, and this disruption to the flow of the match really deflated what should have been an exciting, quick-paced sequence. Herein, all credit goes to King of Man for still delivering a really cool looking moment after having been forced to wait for so long to do it.

From the moment the commentary starts up during the match’s intro we can tell that these guys are the “Kung Fu Pro Wrestlers” that Adrian said would be coming back in our interview with him. I can see what they are trying to do here, with the quick strikes and the multiple spinning back kicks that King of Man throws out. However, it fails to feel truly like Kung-Fu to a western viewer, particularly one such as myself who is already a tremendous fan of both Martial Arts-Inspired Pro-Wrestling and both Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Kung-Fu Cinema. To really play up the Kung Fu and have it feel like a distinct style, unlike an already established striking heavy style (such as what KENTA popularized), I’d like to see them do things that are more unique to Kung Fu and it’s variety of styles. Such as the unique stepping patterns and sticky hands and maybe play to some of the established movements from Kung Fu cinema classics. The announcer does a good job to make it sound like “Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling” is a burgeoning and wholly unique to MKW style, but overall it felt like it could be at home on the US indie circuit. It wasn’t by any means bad, and I see a lot of potential for development here with these athletes. If they can really find some way to innovate and more thoroughly blend Kung-Fu into Pro-Wrestling, this could be the birth  of a wholly unique style. As it stands, however, the announcer really talks up the Kung-Fu element here more than the athletes display it, and I feel that to come off as genuine the inverse needs to be true. If Middle Kingdom Wrestling wants me to believe in Kung-Fu Pro-Wrestling as a style which I can find nowhere else, they need to show it to me instead of telling it to me. It must be evident even if I don’t understand the language of the announcing.

That being said, King of Man plays to the Wire Fu aesthetics one would expect from the merger of these two styles more so than M.A. does. as the larger of the competitors certainly goes for a more hard-hitting, brawling style. They play well off of each other but the announcer doesn’t really click with the action. It always feels like the commentary is contrived. Part of this, certainly, has to do with the quality of the recording, it has this hollow quality to it, which creates the effect that the announcer himself is disinterested. This can be worsened on the occasions wherein the announcing also sounds amateur or hackneyed. Surprise often seems forced, and nothing sounds terribly original to the commentator, and it gives me the sense that they are just reading off of a script that has been written after watching the matches several times but has never been edited. In the end, it should be the in-ring action that matters most, but the English-language commentary for MKW is essential to them growing a brand. The commentator is responsible for bridging the gap with an audience who have, most likely, never heard of anyone in the ring before and creating a sense of narrative and purpose to these viewers to have them wanting to come back for more. My hope is that they can get some new equipment and double down on their efforts for Season 3.

In the end, King of Man took the win. This was most certainly the right decision from where I’m sitting. The smaller, quicker and more nimble of the athletes who more exemplified (to the best of his ability) what the announcer was hyping up as the birth of a new division, came through as the victor. If M.A. had won it might have felt like a bigger let down than intended, because of the Kung-Fu elements being far less on display by him.

King Michael vs Dalton Bragg

I’m going to come out and say, right off the bat, that I hate the piles of random crap in place of tables. They look both dangerous and bad. I get that they wanted to do a Hardcore match and maybe they couldn’t get a real table, but this is just not good as a replacement. The board never broke because it was always just knocked off of the chairs and stools it got stacked on. It was anti-climactic and looked unsafe to bump on. There was no return on the risk to reward investment. Furthermore, the referee again had to get involved in a way that broke character, helping to set up the contraption. I would hope that they literally never do this again.

The match itself did its best to tell a traditional David versus Goliath match, trying to make the MKW Champion, Dalton Bragg, look like the underdog. This point was never really hit though. The match never hit the height of drama needed for me to ever feel like the belt was in jeopardy of changing hands. This is, pretty much, a cardinal sin when it comes to the format of MKW’s shows. The seasons are terribly brief and if they’re going to build the value of their title, every single title match needs to feel big. Maybe this is a criticism that the native Chinese audience won’t have, I’m not familiar enough with their average level of familiarity with Pro-Wrestling tropes, but if MKW wants to attract more attention from an English audience (who will most likely be die-hard wrestling fans, because I can’t imagine a casual wrestling fan doing the work to find and watch Chinese Pro-Wrestling at this time) and grow the prestige of their brand and belt, then it will be important.

In the end, Dalton Bragg came out, entirely unsurprisingly, still the champion. The in-ring action was unfortunately unmemorable when compared to the disastrous attempts at using faux-tables, and King Michael didn’t really work well with what Bragg had to offer. It’s interesting to note that I actually rather enjoyed King Michael’s season one match against The Slam. He seems to be a limited worker who can put on really entertaining matches with the right opponents. I didn’t feel that he and Bragg had the kind of chemistry and physicality needed for that to happen.

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the M.A. versus King of Man match that opened the episode far more than this match. That’s a problem. I really shouldn’t be enjoying the opening match more than the main event, particularly when the main event is the once-per-season title match. It’s a bit of a dour note to leave the season on, as far as matches are concerned, but wisely the story continued briefly post-match, as The Slam, a champion in his own promotion, challenged Dalton Bragg for the MKW title. With both men being more experienced than the majority of the rest of the MKW roster, we can expect that their match will certainly do better for the belt than this one.

 Conclusion

All in all, this episode was a less impressive season finale than the season one finale. It successfully introduced two new names to MKW viewers in the opening match and the, unfortunately, sub-par title match was salvaged somewhat by the promise of a match between The Slam and Dalton Bragg in the near future. If this were the only episode of MKW I had ever seen my viewership might be in jeopardy but as it is, that last cliffhanger moment will have me coming back for more. I think MKW need to up the ante moving forward. They still do some of their fun slow-mo replays mid match, they still feel like a fun and growing company, but I really want to see more out of them . Really, I want the best for MKW. They have a lot of interesting shows on the horizon, which I’ll be looking to review as well, and hopefully they can put on increasingly high quality, all around, shows.