DUSTY FINISH?S DOUBLE SHOT WEEKEND
We Brits have an entire TV channel that shows nothing but wrestling (called ?The Wrestling Channel?, funnily enough), and as the rest of the world probably knows to their disdain, we like to brag about it. TWC has defied the nay-sayers who predicted a speedy demise for the station, and to celebrate its first birthday, the channel staged a one-night spectacular a mere 25 miles from my house, at the Coventry Skydome on 3/19/05, featuring wrestlers from ROH, NWA:TNA, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and our very own FWA. To give one and all an extra pay-day, those involved were booked to appear for various regional promotions the night before. Regular readers of my columns will have noticed that I never miss a Future Championship Wrestling event, so it was double shot weekend time for yours truly, with my girlfriend in tow.
Please note that due to my useless short term memory, I won't be dishing out any star ratings for the weekend, as I likely won't be able to justify them. Hence, this will be more of a stream of conciousness. Please bear with me...
3/18/05- FCW at Walsall Town Hall
For those of you not in the know, FCW is a moderately sized (crowds in the region of 100 per show), West Midlands based promotion with a mainly young, upstart roster, occasionally complimented by drop in appearances from more prominent Brits such as Johnny Storm and Majik. We get our share of talent from across the Atlantic dropping in too, and the last 12 months has seen the likes of D-Lo Brown, Chris Hero, Colt Cabana and Super Dragon do their thing in an FCW. Tonight is pretty much the biggest show the group have staged in their two year history, running a sizeable (in comparison to normal) venue, and featuring the FCW debuts of Christopher Daniels and Chris Sabin, starring alongside frequent (as of late) drop-in Chad Collyer.
Proceedings kicked off with an extended wait outside the hall, as there were seemingly some problems in setting up the ring. I'm sure the promotion were hopeful of attracting a larger paying audience than the 150 or so punters in attendance, however later reports would indicate that this was one of the highest drawing of the UK's myriad of Friday night events featuring the TWC show fly-ins, so I suppose you take what you can get.
Danny Devine vs ?The Heavy Metal Maniac? Mark Hogan
Hogan, absent from FCW's previous two events, sported a freshly shaven cranium, and appeared to be noticably pumped up for proceedings during the opening exchanges, and he, as much as anyone on the night, stepped up his game to match the grandeur of the occasion. Devine is always watchable-at-worst, and these two served up a neat, if somewhat short, opener, the ending to which came somewhat out of nowhere. Devine scored a quick roll-up victory before falling prey to a post match beatdown at the hands of Hogan and manager ?Desirable? Danny D. British Connection member British Born Steel ran in to make the save, subsequently announcing that his regular partner GBH was not in attendance, and asking Devine to tag with him later on the show. Neither of the BritCon particularly does anything for me, so no complaints about this development.
Laken Xander & Spud vs Rob Hunter & Morales
Xander and Hunter, and Spud and Morales, have long-ish running issues, and here the promotion seemingly continued what has been a meticulous build towards a singles match between the latter pairing. Regular readers of my stuff will know that I tend to gripe about the little things, so here goes: Xander is the FCW Champion, and the Champ should always be a big deal ie. The focal point of any show he's on, ergo 1) There is no way that this match should have been this far down the card, and 2) The babyface team should have entered to Xander's theme, not Spuds.
That little diatribe ought to earn me a bit of abuse from the FCW faithful this Sunday !
Anyroadup, Hunter is easily FCW's best proponent of technical wrestling, Morales is the group's best all-rounder, in my opinion, Spud is a feisty, high flying underdog character (and was on the TWC card too) who has grown on me significantly in recent months, and Xander is a promising, if unpolished, performer in the agile big man mould. As you would expect then, these four constructed a worthwhile old school tag match (albeit one that didn't touch the excellent Spud/Morales tag team encounter last time FCW was in this neck of the woods- easily amongst the top five matches I've seen out of this group) ending with Spud falling on top of Morales for the pin, after his rival was hit with Xander superkick.
?High Impact? Sam Green vs A. Star Athlete
A Star is a decent comedy heel, whereas Green is making his FCW return after a one year hiatus, meaning this is my first proper look at him, save for a couple of recent brawl-based angles. I wasn't especially impressed with his showing here. Some credit must go to both for attempting to construct a story to this one: Green starting things off by taking it to A Star- the man responsible for his absence, or so the tale goes- with a flurry of assorted brawling based tactics, with A Star slowing him down by simply being an underhanded heel. However, the middle portion of the match was disjointed and uncomfortable, and the pace somewhat plodding. The focus was unquestionably there, as the final third centred around who was going to fall victim to the steel turnbuckle, exposed earlier in the match by A Star. But, if you're going to build your match around one spot... (all together now)..... DON'T BLOW THE SPOT. A Star sandbags a slingshot into the buckle, and the resultant bump looks contrived as hell. Shame.
?Golden Boy? Cameron Knite vs Chris Sabin
Knite has been on quite the winning streak going into this, undoubtedly his toughest test to date. A smooth exchange of hold & counter hold evolved into a nicely constructed babyface contest. The debuting Sabin was clearly holding a bit back before the big show the following evening, but still provided the gathered throng with one of the highlights of the evening- a graceful tope onto Knite and into the guardrail. A pinning-combo reversal sequence climaxed with Cameron scoring the pin to keep his momentum going. A handshake capped off a well received match, prior to the interval.
Chris Daniels emerged at the merchandise table during the break, signing merchandise and posing for photographs: as a result, my red and white, hot and spicy t-shirt now bears the marker-penned John Hancock- ?C-Ya... Curry Man?. This was to prove useful, as the crowded and frantic atmosphere at the following days FanSlam event would mean I'd have to be picky with which queues I waited in at the meet and greet.
Chad Collyer vs ?Tomcat? Kevin O'Neil
Since his FCW debut back in November, Chad has had his problems with (FCW supremo) O'Neil's 4Play faction. I have to say that the result of this match was somewhat surprising- O'Neil scored the victory with assistance from stablemate Rob Hunter. This was your standard post interval fare: not at all bad, but nothing special.
Danny Devine & British Born Steel vs Swift Justice vs Devils Advocate
This is a forerunner to the semi finals of the ongoing tag team title tournament, as the latter two teams, as well as Steel and the aforementioned GBH, are still involved in the chase for the straps. DA are my personal favorite FCW tandem- the physically imposing Saul Adams, in particular, could be a prominent player in the UK scene given a little more experience. Swift Justice comprises Falcon and The Judge- the former is a passable wrestler, who would greatly benefit from phasing down the comedy aspect of his character (particularly by wrestling more and talking less); the latter is a generic big man who I have a bit of a soft spot for, much to the bemusement of my girlfriend- what can I say, I'm a goof (hey, he's a big bearded dude with a gown and a gavel, what's not to like?)!
As a rule, I tend to find 3-way matches rather passe and formulamatic, so with the minutes running out before chucking out time, these guys didn't have much of a chance in all fairness. Devils Advocate win; I forget how.
?Fallen Angel? Christopher Daniels vs ?Sadistic? Jack Storm
This is our main event, and Storm's punishment for his post match assault on former partner Dragon Pheonix following their top notch no-DQ grudge match in February. If Storm loses, he has to wrestle in a dress for the next 90 days, meaning Daniels has an excuse to take the mic pre-match and establish himself as the face, as if it were in any doubt. Fittingly, the two saw fit to produce the match of the night, somewhat reminiscent of Daniels match with Jody Fleisch at Frontiers Of Honour (only with the roles reversed, obviously. Around 15 minutes of brawling and flying, interspersed with some tidy mat wrestling, ended with Daniels heading back to his heel roots, mimicking a feet-on-the-ropes pin attempt from Storm a minute or so earlier. Unlike our Jack, the Fallen Angel 's underhanded tactics went unpunished: he scored the pin, and Jack was consigned to sporting the frock.
To briefly summarise: this was an above average show from the FCW crew, but in all honesty it was far from their best. Everything significant that goes down in FCW seems to happen at their end-of-month Baggeridge Social Club events and, main event aside, nothing that happened on tonight's card is likely to have any lasting impact or ramifications. But at the very least, I got to meet and talk with Chris Daniels, and that can't be bad.
Let me cap Friday night off by saying that trying to get out of Walsall by car is the wacky races, to say the least. Not to fear, though- the next days travel would be much more pleasurable.........
I hate public transportation. HATE as in ?I HATE Wolverhampton Wanderers?. Add to this the fact that British Rail, and especially Central Trains- who have a monopoly on most of the train routes within the Midlands- are notoriously useless, I'm sure you will understand that I was not in the most optimistic of moods upon setting out on Saturday morning. At around 11:30 AM, I was ecstatic. I was beaming with a big, cheesy, shit eating grin. We had reached Coventry in just over an hour, without a single glitch or setback along the way. Whats more, having never been to the city before (and true to form, having not bothered to obtain directions to either our hotel or the Skydome), we found that everywhere we needed to go to was in very close proximity and easy to locate. After the horror shows that were getting Frontiers Of Honour and last year's Raw taping in Manchester, a bit of luck when travelling for wrestling has been long overdue.
The receptionist at our hotel, where checking-in was due to begin from 2pm onwards, happily let us check-in a couple of hours earlier after I explained that we had to be somewhere (the pre-show FanSlam) at 2, thus rendering the ten minutes prior I had spent perfecting the ?We've paid ?70.00 for one night, it's not a lot to ask; get the manager? arguement wasted. I swear I am not this lucky. Then, during our brief walk into the city to locate the Skydome, we happened upon an open and empty, all you can eat for ?5.00, Chinese buffet. It was safe to say at this point that, going on past out-of-my-comfort-zone-sojourn experiences, this day had already easily surpassed my expectations.
I had actually made some degree of prior preperation, and established that Jumpin' Jaks Nightclub- the site of FanSlam- was in close proximity to the Skydome itself. So, when we stumbled up to the venue at about 1pm to check out the surrounding areas, we were quite surprised to see a healthy gathering of black T-Shirt and rucksack clad wrestling fans had already began to form a queue (we Brits are nowt if not eager), from which various peeps were breaking off to strike up conversations and get photos with someone who would prove over the course of the afternoon to be a real man of the people: Bill Apter. From here, it was into the queue for FanSlam....
The TWC FanSlam Event
Either the event organisers had drastically underestimated the amount of interest that the pre-game show would generate, or someone behind Jumpin Jaks has incriminating pictures of TWC supremo Sean Herbert: Talk about a sweatbox. They couldn't have shoehorned one more person into the place by about 2:15, and I was instantly regretting my dawn decision to wear a hoody, as the heat was unbearable. One thing that didn't help this situation was the complete and utter uselessness of the venue's bar staff- I must digress at this point, as I'm still wound up about it.
Anyhow, I started off having a peruse of the merchandise stands, which included an interesting (?this one??, ?no?, ?this one??, ?no?) discussion with Cary Silkin about exactly how many T-Shirts ROH had brought over in size XL. I can only deduce that they thought all Brits were midgets- either that, or only 12 year olds are interested in Generation Next. I got there eventually: a Rottweilers tee in XL! Huzzah!
As I scanned over a bunch of PWG DVDs, I decided to give in and pay attention to my girlfriend, who had been vainfully trying to get my attention for about a minute. Good job I did: she pointed out a table in the corner of the room wher Raven was posing for pics and signing promos. The queue at this time was significantly shorter than it would become, so I would only have to wait a minute or so for Raven to clock the UFC 49 tee I was wearing and proclaim ?That's cool, I like that?.
The bulk of the FanSlam comprised of numerous Bill Apter hosted Q+A sessions, the highlights being a CM Punk anecdote about WWE's original booking plans for Heidenreich, and the expression on Chris Daniels' face when some guy shouted ?Do you ever do your wife wearing the Curry Man mask??!!! If I ever decide to get my scanner out of the attic, there is a photo that I need the world to see, as I joined an exclusive club of Brits (third in line behind Doug Williams & Nigel McGuinness): my girlfriend foolishly predicted that I wouldn't have the balls to ask Samoa Joe to put me in the choke. I did, and he did! I NEVER TAPPED, JOE! YOU NEVER BEAT ME! (Okay, I did tap just for effect- luckily for me Joe elected not to crank it in).
That was to prove the end of my snapshotting exploits- the lack of organisation inside the venue coupled with the irritating heat and the inexplicable queues to get to AJ Styles and CM Punk saw to that. At around 4pm, the far corner of the room burst into a frenzy, followed by a chorus of ?Foley, Foley, Foley?, so there are no prizes for guessing the final subject of a Q&A session. The post-session scramble to meet the Micker was indescribable- luckily for us, we were at the end of the room where, at that very moment, a bemused-by-the-influx-of-enthusiastic-Brits Mitsuharu Misawa and his chums from NOAH had sent up a signing table. That was all I needed to take off like a rat up a drainpipe, and upon returning from the briefest of meetings with the Oriental contingent, I discovered that my girlfriend had struck up a conversation with a seemingly random American lady, who we soon discovered to be Mrs Bill Apter.
That was enough for us, we had to eat.
TWC INTERNATIONAL SHOWDOWN
Getting into the Skydome was an unmitigated nightmare. Lets be nice about the venue security, and simply describe them as hopeless. Moving swiftly on from that shambolic affair- our fifth row tickets were to instantly prove a wise purchase, as we caught the tail end of the dark match (strictly for Gold, Silver & Bronze ringside ticket holders only!) featuring all FWA guys; I'm sure I saw Jack Xavier, Stevie Knight, Aviv Mayaan & Ross Jordan amongst the melee. One overpriced but perfectly edible cheeseburger later, we loitered around the arena floor ?star?spotting (by that, I mean that Power Slam editor Fin Martin and FCW's Saul Adams & Morales wandered into view while we were checking the place out). Proceedings began promptly (unusual for UK events) and we were off and running with our MC John Atkins, resplendent with a lisp, and the dodgiest, and probably quietest PA system known to man!
Petey Williams vs Chris Sabin vs Johnny Storm vs Spud
Given the nature of the audience, this was a fine choice of opener: a crisp, 15 minute spotfest, with the right man (Spud) on the receiving end of the mid-match extended beating (he's the smallest of the lot, and he's the local boy). We got the customary-for-matches-of-this-nature everyone-does-a-dive-to-the-outside sequence, and the typical breaking up a shitload of pinfall attempts bit, leading up to the finish. Williams, who I was addmittedly watching properly for the first time, pinned Sabin with his patented Canadian Destroyer which, while spectacular, is a bit daft.
Steve Gray vs Mal Sanders
?Who?? I hear the vast majority of you cry. Unfortunately, approximately 60% of the crowd on hand reacted exactly the same way, and a mass converging on the merchandise stands and amenities paralleled the opening exchanges, meaning I was one of only a handful of people who actually gave this match between these two ageing proponents of old school British wrestling (one of the highest rated shows on TWC, hence its inclusion on the card) the time of day. This one was contested using the traditional British 4 minute round system, and over the best of 3 falls. At least the latter was announced- when Gray scored the first pinfall on Sanders, they decided to cut their losses and finish the match there. Not many were complaining, and by this point, neither was I- the opening couple of rounds were crammed with some enjoyable mat exchanges, but the match soon lost its way once the wrestlers realised that the crowd wasn't interested.
Bill Apter then hit the ring, bogus award in tow, to introduce us to a ?legend?. This prompted FWA heel manager Greg Lambert to come out and introduce FWA Champion Alex Shane, presumably to claim the award for himself. You can guess where this was going......
Lets just say that, about five minutes later, following a whole a bunch of ?cheap pops?, Shane & Lambert came back through the crowd to beat Apter down as Mick Foley was returning to the dressing room. Foley subsequent returned to run them off, and warned Shane that he hadn't ?seen the last of Mick Foley?. Did you work out what happened in between?
Jesting aside, predicatble or not, it was still a joy to witness Mick in his comedic element in person, so I'm not shitting on this segment by any means.
Samoa Joe vs CM Punk
Neither man received quite the reception you would expect- this can be attributed to the previous match killing the crowd dead. The penny dropped here that no-one on the card was using their ?proper? theme music. Meh, whatever. I'm still working my way through 2004 ROH, so it was somewhat peculiar to witness Punk wrestling in trunks. Obviously, these guys weren't going to be given the time-allocation to construct a replica of their 60 minute classics, but did as good a job as you can realistically expect of condensing the best parts of said matches into a 20 minute version of one (a la Jim Cornette on Funk-Brisco: ?Take the four minute headlock, but hold it 30 seconds). Being the mark that I am, it goes without saying that I chanted ?ole,ole,ole? at the top of my voice, and popped like crazy when Joe blocked the Pepsi Plunge with a flurry of headbutts before hitting the muscle-buster to gain victory. An excellent match, as you would expect; probably hurt by the subdued audience, but I didn't care about that, so thumbs up.
Mitsuharu Misawa, Yoshinari Ogawa & Tiger Emperor vs Too Cold Scorpio, Doug Williams & James Tighe
We're back from the interval, there are some sporadic bursts of green streamers hitting the ring, and this was to be as close to a religious experience as I have had in my life thus far. My girlfriend stubbornly refuses to watch Puro, yet by the end of this match she had become Tiger Emperor's newest fan (needless to say, TE was to be the workhorse of the NOAH team tonight). Scorpio coldly looking straight into the eyes of Misawa while continuing to dance and take off his ring jacket was spine-tingling. What can I say, I'm a mark for the little things. Tighe was the odd man out in this match (a Brit who, to my knowledge, has never wrestled outside Europe), and although noticably (and understandably) nervous throughout, he was able to hang with the other five competitors, and certainly did nothing to disgrace himself.
The match followed the usual NOAH 6-man blueprint, and while Misawa and Ogawa weren't exactly going all guns blazing, I'll take Misawa at 70% over most other wrestlers at 100% anyway. Move of the night came in this match, with Doug Williams catching Emperor in mid-handspring elbow and drilling him with a violent release-German Suplex. The same two men would be involved in the finish: as the other four wrestlers brawled around ringside (with noticeable intensity in the case of Scorpio- I wholeheartedly approve), Doug hit the Chaos Theory on Emperor to win the match for the ?home? team.
All of the above elements mixed together served up, quite simply, the finest match I have ever seen in person, and one which (if I was dishing out stars) I would give **** without even thinking about it. The impact of this one would probably be significantly less to someone who hadn't been present watching it on tape or DVD, but hell, if you can't get carried away when Mitsuharu F***ing Misawa is wrestling less than 20 feet away from you, the what exactly is the meaning of life????
Raven vs Alex Shane
It's Raven's Rules for this one, so you know how it went.....
A crowd pleaser for sure, with the event's booker Shane having previously established himself as the show's uber-heel, this encapsulated a brawl through the crowd and up into the stalls, where Shane took a huge, Vic Grimes-esque, bump fromthe balcony to the arena floor, before the two headed back to the ring for some chair based shenanigans. A ref bump later, and Alex Shane's hefty entourage descended on the ring to beat Raven down, drawing Mick Foley out once again to run them off, leaving Shane prone to a Socko-assisted mandible claw, the Raven Effect DDT, and a three count administered by the Hardcore Legend. Fun fare, topped off with a cool verbal exchange between the babyfaces.
TNA X-Division Title- Christopher Daniels vs AJ Styles
A lot of the smarkier fans in attendance seemingly disagreed with this match being the main event, but, wheras I personally would have put the NOAH 6 man on last, the logic behind the promoter's decision should be pretty apparent to all and sundry.
This was Daniels-Styles, so you know what you're getting, and for my money this was as good as any previous match between these two. I just knew prior to the show, however, that a bunch of US Indie fan imitators were going to chant ?Match Of The Year? at something, at so it came to pass here. This was all good stuff, but no need to go that far guys. Due to my notorious indecisiveness, I'll put the main event at joint second with Joe-Punk in the Match Of The Night pecking order: Daniels kicked out of the Styles Clash to a massive pop from the rejuvinated-since-the-interval audience, before, about a minute later, landing the Last Rites to retain the X-Division strap. Both men stood mid-ring and reluctantly shook hands as the curtain went down on International Showdown.
To wrap up the weekend, a brisk walk back to our hotel followed, and Sunday morning entailed a hellacious journey home, with Central Trains making up for Saturday's uncharacteristic efficiency in their determination to spoil our weekend. But that's another story for another time.
Can anyone think of a better way to spend 48 hours? I love wrestling.