I have a confession to make. Over the last couple of years I have become a CZW fan. Don’t get me wrong. I have long passed the point where death match wrestling is something I want to see, DJ Hyde is a grating presence, and the booking of many a CZW show will drive you mad. But I’ve become a fan of the Dojo Wars concept. Some of my favorite matches of the last two years have been CZW matches. This year they even have the most authentic and interesting character in wrestling in the form of the ex-con icon Nick Gage.
A big part of my growing interest in CZW is the fact that for the last couple of years the promotion has consistently put on true variety shows in the best sense of the term. With a roster that is an admittedly bizarre grouping of grapplers, spotty high flyers, comedic acts, and bloody brawlers, even middling CZW events are often relatively easy to watch because they have real diversity. On top of that CZW has done a good job bringing in independent talent that has been undiscovered or underexposed by other “major” indie promotions with guys like Andrew Everett, Jonathan Gresham, Biff Busick, Drew Gulak, and Mike Bailey (among others) getting opportunities to shine in big matches. Amazingly this has put the often maligned CZW on the cutting edge of independent wrestling. Perhaps the best example of the formula that has slowly made me a CZW fan was this years “Best of The Best” where NXT refugee CJP (formerly CJ Parker) put on a great performance, Nick Gage made his big return, virtual rookie Conor Claxton looked excellent in a deathmatch setting, and the aforementioned Mike Bailey won the one night tournament the show is named after, emerging as a bona fide “indie star” in the process.
With all of the above said I was really looking forward to Combat Zone’s New Heights 2015 event. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t expecting problems. After all, DJ Hyde booked shows are often littered with inexcusable nonsense. That said I had confidence that the show had enough good performers and enough variety to deliver an entertaining wrestling show with at a few very strong matches. At bare minimum I assumed the positives would outweigh the negatives, and the show would be a decent way to kill a few hours on a hot summer night.
I was wrong.
Combat Zone Wrestling
New Heights 2015
July 11, 2015
2300 Arena – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What will follow will not be a traditional review. By this I mean that I will not be doing play-by-play, I won’t be talking at length about the best and worst moments of many of these matches, I won’t even attempt to be objective. This show killed my ability to be objective. So instead of a review where someone tries to strike a balance and justify the existence of a show they spent three and a half hours watching, I will do the only logical thing someone could do after watching this show – bury it. In fact don’t even look at this as a review. Look at this as a funeral for my short lived stint as a fan of Combat Zone Wrestling, because after tonight I can’t do it anymore. To quote my favorite band Lucero, “It’s a losing game, I’ve had enough.”
Shane Strickland vs. David Starr
This sucked. I imagine there are people who would like this, but I have no clue why. Starr is a complete mystery to me, a guy people seemed to like (at least as a tag worker) but insofar as I can tell he isn’t actually good at anything. In this match he worked like someone who had mapped out every last motion he was going to make beforehand, and yet he still had the smoothness of a ribbed condom tightly gripping a genital wart infested phallus. Everything the guy does looks fake and phony, especially his selling which I think is supposed to be a spin on the “I’m concussed and woozy” standard of the times, but comes across more like Wayne Brady in a bad Whose Line Is It Anyway bit trying to role play a drunk resisting detox treatment. Strickland is someone who I generally have no use for, the worst sort of try hard, who works fast, gets his shit in, but generally fails to work smart. This match really was no exception, though I felt sorry for him having to work with someone as bad as Starr. Stylistically this is not my sort of match and I admit it, but I will grant matches like this have their place, and that place is often as an opener. That said, matches like this live and die on their execution and timing, and this was not well executed and a bunch of stuff was poorly timed, including a reverse rana spot that made Paige and Naomi’s look like Kanemoto spiking El Samurai. This shit show also suffered from it’s awful conclusion which saw JT Dunn come out and distract Starr by saying “Juice” over and over into the mic leading to the finish. I will admit that I first thought Starr and Dunn were saying “Jew” and I got excited about CZW upping the tasteless ante and running a feud built around competing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (a YouTube search indicates that Dunn recently worked Dave Cole in Beyond, though it doesn’t appear to be the same Cole who spent years in hiding and remains an unrepentant holocaust “revisionist” – still seems like that could have been the first match to set up such a feud but I digress…) but alas it was not to be. *
Devon Moore/Lucky 13 vs. Jon Gresham/Buxx Belmar
This was depressing, mainly because it was a huge waste of Gresham. I enjoy Belmar as your Chris Colt meets Rob Black produced pornographic film star, but he’s not very good. Gresham made it to the finals of Best of the Best and always works hard so I want to see him get more chances, not work a throwaway under card tag, built around thinly veiled facial cumshot jokes. What was weird about this is that they put the focus on Gresham at times, set things up where you thought he was going to win the match for his team, and then he drops the fall. I have no clue what possible reason there would be to job Gresham here, but then there really wasn’t a good reason for this match to exist in the first place. *1/2
Rich Swann vs. Joey Janela vs. Pepper Parks
The big takeaway from this, besides the fact that Rich Swann looked as homeless as I looked up until about a week ago, was the fact that this was a real waste of Rich Swann. I will say that the Cherry Bomb promo and insertion of Parks into the match didn’t really bother me much, because even though I hate triple threats, this match probably needed a solid heel. As someone with a trans family member, who has been an advocate of trans rights for years, I’m not sure how I feel about a Buck Angel clone being that heel (especially in front of this audience), but you can’t have it all. As a match this basically Swann doing slick looking spots and taking crazy bumps and the other two guys existing. Janela is fine and hit a decent enough dive I guess, and Parks was serviceable as your roided meanie, but Swann taking full rotation bumps off back body drops, and hip tosses on the floor, are the only things that really stood out. Well that and the shitty Cherry Bomb superkick that led to the finish. **
Greg Excellent/Neiko Sozio/Chrissy Rivera vs. The Front
This might be the worst match I’ve seen all year. It was so bad that I am actually at a loss as to how to even address it. I guess the best way I can get across how bad this is would be to point out that the crowd was chanting for the match to end before the bell even rang. You might say “well that’s not fair, you can’t judge a match based on that,” and I’d probably say you were right, except for the fact that the only memorable thing about this match was Greg Excellent — who was cosplaying as Bane of Batman fame but looked like Golga-era John Tenta — hitting a shitty looking dive. Actually that’s not true. There was also a lengthy portion of the match dedicated to the drama of Greg Excellent being upset about the premature removal of his mask by someone in The Front. If that sounds exciting to you, you have shitty tastes and should stop reading this review. The team of Harley Quinn, The Joker and Bane (literally who they were dressed up as) won I think, though why anyone would care I don’t know. DUD
Mike Bailey vs. AR Fox
Half way through the show and we finally got something good. This match was a real revelation for me, not so much because it was really good, but because I finally realized that Bailey reminds me of his generation’s Jack Evans. He’s a guy with a completely unique style and gimmick, who is very dynamic, and extremely fresh, but also flawed in ways that are really obvious at times. That said, I really like both guys, and Bailey is my pick for the best workrate indie guy of 2015. This was a great example of that as Fox attacked him with a big top rope dropkick at the bell and they were off to the races from that point. Lots of big spots in this, including the moonsault double knees from Bailey, a good looking reverse rana, et. At one point Fox went for his trifecta of dives and overshot flying into the first row – two times in a row. Not as bad as the time he did the same thing vs. Sami Callihan, but pretty close. Bailey followed this up with a trifecta of moonsaults, the last of which saw his knees clunk into Fox’s head in the nastiest way possible. Of course it was this show, so they nearly ruined the match with Fox’s wife getting involved and hitting a Canadian Destroyer on Bailey, but thankfully it didn’t tie into the finish which saw Bailey win with the backflip slam on a crossbody attempt. I’m not saying I’d vote for him, but after this show I do feel like Bailey is a fringe candidate for the Wrestling Observer’s Most Outstanding Award. As an aside, I’d also like to point out that Bailey has the hair of a guy in a late 90’s Pert Plus commercial and that should count for something. ***3/4
Tim Donst vs. Joe Gacy
Boy, this was dumb. Gacy is a guy I like, who I think has improved a ton over the last year or so, but I don’t think he’s an elite level worker. Donst I have no use for, but it’s impossible to cheer against a guy making a comeback from cancer. Well that is unless you book a match where cancer is effectively the heel manager running interference for the nefarious trickster bad guy who is going to double cross his new found friend. Which is of course exactly what happened here. But of course it only happened after a really bad match, where each guy was wrestling at his own pace and seemed totally confused about what the other guy was doing. I almost want to chalk this up to the odd psychology of the match where Gacy didn’t want to hurt his formerly cancerous pal, but I really think that is just looking for an excuse for bad wrestling. Donst doing multiple dives in this really exposed the “everyone does dives” trope too, as coming off of the Bailey vs. Fox barrage of insanity, an out of shape guy in a singlet doing really low impact dives with absolutely no grace or form came across as incredibly bush league. Donst won with the aid of his manager cancer after luring Gacy in and cheapshotting him with the Wired Title. Garbage. *
CZW World Heavyweight Championship – Blk Jeez (c) vs. Matt Tremont
That’s right, the World Title match was third from the top, which I object to on principle, but I really, really hate because there was an obvious way to book this show. Gage should beat Gulak clean second from the top, then Tremont should beat Jeez clean in the main event, then you do the Nick Gage vs. Matt Tremont match everyone wants to see on the next big show. Instead CZW booked the champ to lose by DQ after interference from Pepper Parks and Cherry Bomb (who appear to have “Die In a Fire” heat). It almost doesn’t even matter how good or bad the match was, because the finish here was just awful. Random guy showing up and doing a table spot doesn’t even garner a DQ in the WWE half the time. This is CZW, a promotion whose last big event was a death match tournament with guys rolling in barbed wire and doing leaping piledrivers off two story scaffolds. Not doing the right and obvious thing so you can run this DQ finish is something that goes far beyond booking. I actually felt bad for Tremont as he was really over in the building, sold the early legwork better than vaunted limb selling god KUSHIDA, and seemed poised to get over huge with a win. Instead he came across looking like a fool just by virtue of being involved in the match. The work here really wasn’t bad, but this finish is how you kill your business. **
Drew Gulak vs. Nick Gage
This was the draw of the show to me, but it ended up being a disappointing match partially because of bad camera work/angles and partially because it felt rushed. I love Gage as a personality, and enjoy him as a worker, but he is limited and certainly isn’t going to work to Gulak’s strengths. We missed much of the crowd brawling in this because the camera couldn’t follow the guys for some reason which is too bad, because it seemed spirited. I did like Gage’s big flip dive, and this was a rare match where an egregious no sell spot actually made sense and added to it. That said I wasn’t enamored with the old “sit in chairs and punch each other” routine being resurrected, and this was over before it could get really good. On the other hand I did really like the definitive nature of the finish. I was all set to come away from this with mostly positive things to say when they cut a post-match angle that saw Drew Gulak and Rory Mondo douse Gage in gasoline and tease torching him before people ran out to break things up. If that sounds idiotic it’s because it was. I hope Gage had the good sense to extort DJ Hyde after that segment. **3/4
OI4K vs. The Young Bucks vs. The Beaver Boys vs. Team Tremendous
I know they were the biggest stars on the show, but I was annoyed by The Young Bucks going on last for two reasons. First the logical way to book the show was the way I outlined in my comments on Jeez vs. Tremont. Second the conspiracy nut in me (not the kind Dunn and Starr were appealing to) was irked by the possibility of the show being a deliberate tank job so Matt and Nick could run in and “save” it with their greatest hits act. Well we got the Bucks greatest hits act I suppose, but there was no saving this show. This match was perfectly fine as a crazy spotfest. Lots of superkicks, The Bucks doing the same thing they do in every match, Team Tremendous getting some great reactions for their offense, and a finish that ended the show on a feel good note (Tremendous won the tag belts if you care). But this was show was way too far gone by that point. When this was over I was thinking “this would have been a pretty good opener to the show they should have booked.” And it would have been. ***
Final Thoughts: This show was horrendous. The highlights were a Fox vs. Bailey match that probably isn’t a top five Bailey match of the year, Bailey’s hair, Nick Gage being Nick Gage, and the work and attire of ring announcer Emil Jay. The only other notable thing about this show that I didn’t cover above was that it had more spots involving spitting than any other show in wrestling history. No I didn’t fact check it, but I’m not sure there are ten people on Earth who watch more wrestling than me, and I’ve never seen a show with more deliberate saliva exchanges.
As I write this it’s almost five A.M. My brother called hours ago to tell me about the great Empire Wrestling Entertainment Crazy From The Heat show he attended that had five matches at three stars or better, several great angles, and a hot crowd. I watched the first two matches from this morning’s New Japan show and they were better than anything on New Heights 2015 excepting maybe Bailey vs. Fox. People are raving about last nights Evolve show which I skipped to watch Combat Zone. I’m not editing this shit. Take it as it is, a burial, with a fitting eulogy — fuck this promotion.