Well, folks, this one was a humdinger! On January 21st 2018 Smash Wrestling held their first show of the new year, and it was filled with brilliant action and big moments. This time I found myself back at The Phoenix, and greeted by a sea of chairs unlike any setup I had seen Smash run thus far. This card was seemingly designed to set up the major storylines of 2018, and in their push to build narratives, I found some things to nitpick, but the good far outweighed the bad. So let’s get to it!
Match 1 – Scotty O’Shea vs. Joe Hendry
The legitimate best part of this match was Hendry’s brilliant mocking of Scotty during his comedy entrance package, taking the piss right out of the poor lad. Unfortunately, I found neither man really brought much of anything special to the bout. They’re both competent athletes who are solid hands in the ring, but there just wasn’t anything to really get excited about. The closest I got to excited was during the two times that Hendry navigated his way into the Ankle Lock from unusual starting positions. It was fluid, interesting, technical wrestling inserted almost without context into this otherwise standard and dry opening contest. In the end O’Shea picks up the win off of a low blow and corner cannonball spot.
Match 2 – The Super Smash Brothers (Evil Uno and Stu Grayson) vs. Halal Beefcake (Idris Abraham and Joe Coleman)
The match starts with a long stretch of solid but not particularly engaging action that has the SSB reveling in their new extra-heelish mannerisms. They isolate and work on Coleman for what felt like a very long time. After about a million years Coleman gets the tag to Idris Abraham after a double back suplex on both of the SSB. This pops the crowd and sets Idris up for positive treatment from the fans. Abraham doesn’t disappoint either. He runs the ropes like a flash of lighting as Halal Beefcake build up their offensive comeback. Unfortunately for the adorable goofs, the SSB aren’t put out of the fight as they set up their win off of a great leaping knee strike counter from Stu Grayson. With the speed game of Halal Beefcake shut down, Uno and Grayson lay hard into their opponents and let the Smasholes in attendance know that they are full villains by breaking their own pins to lay more punishment into the beleaguered faces, only to come out on top anyways! Dastardly doings right there.
In the end this match could have been more engaging for longer, but it finished very strong and carried on the villainous tone that the evening would run with through till the end.
Match 3 – Tarik vs. Sebastian Suave
Tarik made his way to the ring, in what looked to be some nice new gear, to a rowdy and appreciative audience reaction. He paused to revel in it near me, laying out some good meta pro-wrestling commentary and loving every minute of the wild affair. This reaction was irrefutable proof that Smash’s project to turn Tarik face had been working, and this match would go on to cement that turn.
The match exploded into an aggressive back-and-forth from the first ding of the bell. Tarik’s turns in control were frenetic and passionate flurries, while Suave’s were slowed down, methodical and impactful. The two worked well together and kept the pace at an engaging level throughout. Tarik came off as more charismatic than usual as he fought a fight that his opponent, and the loud-mouthed manager Kingdom James, had made personal.
As the match built to its climax the audience was treated to bigger and flashier moves as the men traded near falls off of some of their go-to fight ending manoeuvres. Notably Tarik kicks out of a top rope driver and Suave out of a diving knee and a benadriller. At this point Suave lays in to Tarik with murderous elbows and their fight spills outside the confines of the ring, and the match, as Suave, unable to put Tarik down, turns his boots to Tarik’s family in attendance and the two are pulled apart by security and we have a non-ending to what was a tremendous match.
Match 4 – Carter Mason vs. Lionel Knight vs. Kevin Blackwood vs. Allie vs. Jeff Cobb
This match had so much potential to be a show stealer. The men and women in the match can all go and their combined talent should have led to something along the lines of the last multi-man bout Cobb was in at Smash’s New Girl in Town. Unfortunately the central conceit of the match failed to provide the same kind of framework for success that the previous one did. I want to make it clear that none of the performers did a bad job performing the roles they were given, and the match as a whole wasn’t boring, or bad, but it was disappointing.
The match started out seemingly on even footing between all the competitors, but after a double knee combo from Carter Mason and Kevin Blackwood sent Cobb out to the floor, the power dynamics began to be creep their way in. The heels, Blackwood and Mason, developed most of their heat from the fact that they would hit Allie, their opponent in this competition. The male faces, on the other hand, would have moments where they team up with and seemingly protect Allie, forgoing actively attacking their opponent in a competition. Really, the guys getting the boos in the match were the only ones who treated Allie the same way they would treat anyone else who stood across the ring for them, and this made the whole match feel disingenuous. In fact, it diverted energy away from the pace and offense output of the performance. In the end Cobb picked up the win when he took Blackwood on a Tour of the Islands.
Match 5 – Kevin Bennett vs. Mark Haskins
Mark Haskins is a tiny, intense, living murder bullet. I had two words jotted down in my notes about the opening moments of this match, “fast” and “aggresive,” before Haskins came flying in my direction. A suicide dive aimed at Bennett’s cronies Muscles and Big Tank, wiped them out and caught me in the crossfire. My beer fell victim to the assault, spilling its frothy blood across my collected possesions and leaving a slippery film across the floor to remind performers of its once crisp, refreshing taste. I hope it looked great on camera. For full disclosure, Smash crew had a new fresh beer in my hands quick-fast.
Stunned I watched as Haskins and Bennett released their limiters and went crazy with each other. I fell behind by a lot in my note taking and my back and neck were stiff from absorbing the impact. Their match was like a whirlwind. It was super fast and hard hitting. Most importantly, I think it was the best match I’ve ever seen Bennett in. The match builds in violence, and Haskins lays his kicks in like he is trying to commit literal murder, but Bennett is up for it and they dial up each other’s offense as the match builds.
Bennett’s cronies interfere one too many times and the referee ejects them, leaving Bennett alone for the first time in as much of Smash as I can remember. Unfortunately they come back after the match has gotten really good and wind up getting Haskins the win by DQ. As part of a longer storey that has been brewing for months, this non-finish is almost excusable, but the problem comes with the fact that it was the second such ending of the night, and the fourth match to end with heelish shenanigans. I think this may be a slight flaw to the way the shows are planned for television tapings, but it just started to feel really “same-y” as the show went on.
Match 6 – Brent Banks vs. Matt Riddle
This match was super fun and competitive. Banks and Riddle work smoothly with each other from the opening bell. Early on we see Riddle using his MMA-based grappling to confound and fluster Brent Banks to such a degree that he teases stomping on Riddle’s bare feet. Riddle tries to capitalize on Banks hesitancy to pick a direction to approach the fight from and the audience is treated to some very gymnastics heavy reversal sequences as the two men figure each other out. As the match develops, Riddle dials the aggression up to eleven and gets in some nasty shots with his “Bro 2 Sleep” and a deadlift German suplex for a near fall, followed shortly by a pair of gutwrench suplexes that had the crowd chanting “Broplex City.”
Banks, finally fed up with the dominance of his opponent, takes the next opportunity to stomp on Riddle’s unprotected feet and gets a German suplex of his own. At this point the dynamic of the match changes for the better. Riddle aggressively pushes ever onward towards winning, but is met now by a Brent Banks who is frustrated by being outclassed and wants to prove his worth. Banks strives on in the face of the oncoming assault and takes desperate measures, like catching Riddle’s kick and biting his foot, which he follows with a sensational running boot in the corner. The action comes on hard and varied in style and Riddle looks to come out on top when he hits his tombstone piledriver to end a huge back-and-forth sequence. Unfortunately for the Bro, Banks kicks out at two and makes a brief comeback before reversing Riddle offense into a pinning predicament and scoring the surprise victory.
Match 7 – Tyson Dux (c) vs. Frankie The Mobster – Smash Championship Match
Built off of the idea that Frankie and Dux go way back as friends, this match opens with tempers flaring as Dux jumps his once-friend and lays into him with ferocity. It’s a nice change from the average Dux title defense which had little emotional stakes to offer the audience, and with Dux style led to many of them feeling too similar to the last outing.
Unfortunately this emotional component to the match doesn’t stop FTM from slowing… the… pace… to… a… crawl. He talks a lot and looms menacingly over Dux, moving weirdly and laying in some attacks as the match builds. It’s well executed but boring, that is until Dux gets fired up and just hits oh so many suplexes and goes for the pin. Unfortunately, at this precise moment, the SSB try to make their way down to the ring from the stage and the referee gets distracted. This distraction allows Vanessa Kraven to come in and obliterate Dux with a chokebomb. Frankie then hits his finisher and gets the pinfall, dethroning the longest-reigning Smash champion to date and forming a new villainous stable in the process. I’m curious to see how this plays out for two particular reasons: 1) All of these allied villains are from Quebec, which means there is a cultural rivalry with Ontarians they can easily capitalize on and 2) Frankie, while a long-time player in the Ontario and Quebec independent wrestling scene, is not what one would consider a modern indie worker in style, and has had a propensity for injuries over the years.
Match 8 – The Well -Oiled Machine (Braxton Sutter and Psycho Mike) vs. Tabarnak de Team (Mathieu St-Jacques and Thomas Dubois)
This was a fucking fun, hectic, tremendous match. The opening action was solid, with the teams trading dominant position in the ring. The violence was quickly dialed up to new heights for both of these teams. They introduced and murdered ladders early on, each man making certain to slam his opponent on a ladder, or throw one at him, or strike him with one at every given opportunity. While both teams were equally violent, willing to brutalize their opposition for the prize on the line, Tabarnak de Team took the early advantage by managing to set up strong double team moves that took both of the Well-Oiled Machines down at the same time.
Monsieurs St-Jacques and Dubois, in a momentary lull in their torrent of team offense, take the time to keep myself and those around me out of our seats to set up the first of two tables they would use. It was a surreal moment as these sweaty, burly Quebecois woodsmen commanded us to move. It was like I had become the camera of a well produced show and they perfectly filled the frame, bursting with intensity and charismatic aggression. New ladders and chairs are introduced to the match and Braxton Sutter gets put through the table they forced me to move for, which prompts Psycho Mike to return and start wailing on his opponents, yelling like a maniac. Around this time the crowd also pops huge for Psycho Mike fixing the support arms on a ladder previously set up by TdT, because it was upside down and wouldn’t lock into place due to that. A portion of the crowd had been trying to communicate to TdT but it just didn’t get fixed till Mike got his hands on it. Good job Mike!
Heading into the final stretch of the match Sutter brings out the second table and sets it up, again clearing fans away in the jam-packed Phoenix. This show I do believe was genuinely the biggest audience I have seen at a Smash show, with far more chairs set up than ever before, and the main eventers were there to work. There were constantly men and weapons in motion, Dubois weaponized his top-rope Moonsault to the outside with a smaller ladder clutched in his arms as he flipped onto everyone below. It was just this wonderful mess of insane stunts and courageous, violent performers. A terrifying ladder spot sees the Well-Oiled Machines send one member of TdT off the top of a ladder to crash into the other standing on the apron, only to have both of them then crash through the table Sutter had set up on the outside. With this, the Well-Oiled Machines were free to climb the ladders and grab the belts hanging in the air to become the first ever Smash Wrestling Tag Team champions. While some moments were a bit derivative, the participants performance was top notch and the match turned out to be remarkably engaging.
While there are certainly elements of the show that I have been critical of thus far, this show was dialed up to eleven to kick off Smash’s 2018. The sheer number of screwjob/non-endings won’t feel anywhere near as troublesome when the show is broken down into two weeks or more worth of television, and I do not begrudge this brand their efforts to make their television product compelling and engaging. To compensate for this fact I can certainly see that all the talent put their best foot forwards in terms of how they presented the action that lead to these endings and it certainly kept me entertained and wanting to see more. If they can keep this energy up in throughout the year, and provide the fans with big payoffs to the stories they are building, then Smash are set to burn down the expectations of the Ontario indie scene and erect new standards in their place.