After a tremendous 2015, which saw the British independent scene catch fire in terms of attendance, quality, depth and attention paid towards it from both within the UK and further afield, Revolution Pro Wrestling looked to keep the momentum going into 2016 with “High Stakes”. Following the critical and commercial disaster that was the 5* Wrestling tour, which lead into this event, it was great to see RPW get the BritWres scene back on track with its first big show of the year. On top of what was already a tremendous card, featuring a myriad of fresh, exciting and intriguing matches, the show had the added intrigue of featuring AJ Styles in one of his last appearances before (almost certainly) heading to the WWE. A hot, four figure sell-out crowd in one of the most atmospheric wresting venues in the world awaits us, so I’ll delay no further – onto the review!

Revolution Pro Wrestling “High Stakes”
Saturday, January 16, 2016
York Hall
London, UK

After a brief and, unfortunately, semi-low rent looking video package showing clips of every participant on the card, we are taken straight to the first match of the evening.

British Cruiserweight Championship Match
Pete Dunne (c) vs. Flash Morgan Webster

This is a rematch of a recent tournament final which saw Pete Dunne win the vacant Cruiserweight title. I’m a big fan of Pete Dunne; he’s a power junior who moves fantastically well for a man with his level of muscle mass, while coupling that with a highly enjoyable predisposition to throw his opponents around in the ring. Webster is more of your typical high flying cruiserweight, and somebody who was featured heavily across the board on the UK scene last year without really impressing me too much. That being said, I may have seen a few glimmers of improvement towards the tail end of 2015.

This was the York Hall debut for both wrestlers, perhaps a contributing factor to them not being able to fully hold the crowd’s attention for the duration of the match. Indeed there were moments in the match where the usually stentorious crowd was almost unsettlingly quiet. That all said, I still found this an enjoyable enough match and a solid opener despite not being blown away at any point. It told a simple, yet effective, story of the no-nonsense, hard hitting Dunne bowling through Webster’s high flying offense and in general just being too relentless for this mere high flyer to be able to handle. I look forward to seeing Dunne continue in RPW as he offers something different to the rest of the juniors and is really good at what he does. Webster, however, continues to be unimpressive, with his most impactful trait being his facial expressions which annoy me more than any other man or woman in wrestling today. ***

Big Damo vs. Mike Bailey

It appears Mike Bailey is working on toning up his midriff and shedding some of the puppy fat he had previously been carrying. While I myself have always been a fan, him seemingly making the effort to improve his look, which previously was a clear weakness for him, can only be a positive.

After a somewhat stuttering opening, with Bailey taking the early offensive but his barrage of kicks not connecting as satisfyingly as fans of his have come to expect, this match developed into a really well put together and thoroughly entertaining affair.

Big Damo has received a lot of praise for his work in 2015, but a glaring flaw of his was the lack of dynamism to his control periods. Being a guy his size, it is almost prerequisite for his matches to contain an extended period of dominance, and these often ended up being, simply put, boring. This was not the case during this encounter as it seems that Damo has actively sought to add a level of flair and excitement to the periods where he is on top and it paid off here with a more consistently engaged crowd.

The match as a whole didn’t go out of its way to break the mold of the big man-little man archetype. In fact, for the most part, it stuck to the tried and tested formula of the larger combatant dominating for the bulk by exploiting his superior size, the plucky underdog showing resilience in refusing to stay down and taking advantage in the form of repeated brief yet exciting flurries whenever a slight opening allowed them to, and an edge of your seat back and forth finishing stretch. What this match lacked in originality however it made up for in execution as, after a shaky first minute or two, this was a tremendous example of the aforementioned match structure and a great performance by both men.

I really get the impression that Damo has a great mind for professional wrestling, and something that has really added to that perception is the way he’s taken a mistake in his match against Nakamura (where he appeared to trip and drop Nakamura on his head during what appeared to be an attempted inverted suplex) and made the most of it by working a similar move in a vicious reverse lifted DDT into his arsenal when in front of the RPW crowd. He used it against Tanahashi the night after the Nakamura match and again here as the finish with it feeling like a huge move in both occurrences.

I’d go as far to say that this was my favourite match that I’ve seen of Damo’s, and that’s saying something with him previously having encounters with Tomohiro Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura under the RevPro banner. ***3/4

Colt Cabana vs. Doug Williams

This could have gone one of two ways. Either the comedy route, and I’d be far too grumpy to enjoy it, or Colt could step up and show off his underutilised talent in the British technical style and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Fortunately, this ended up being the latter and I did find it largely enjoyable. They started off for roughly the first half of the match with an ode to the World of Sport style, and both guys here are just so smooth when doing so it was a wonderful sight to behold. There seems to somewhat of a split between fans of technical wrestling, with those who live and die by the realism of the simulated grappling catchpoint style finding the British technical style overly flashy for the sake of being so and lacking purpose. I find myself firmly in the other camp; I love to be able to marvel at the flair, grace and flow exhibited by the style’s best practitioners. I do feel it has a ceiling, no World of Sport style match is going to be showing up in my Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year ballot for example, but I personally will take it over the drier catchpoint style every day of the week.

Anyway, getting back on track after that brief tangent, at around the half way point they stepped things up a gear and the match morphed to the point where it was somewhere in between the technical performance it had been earlier and a more typical indie encounter. It stayed entertaining throughout, didn’t overstay its welcome one bit and on the whole over-delivered for me as going in it was my least anticipated match on the card. While I doubt that this will have been anybody’s favourite match of the night it offered something different to the rest of the card and so delivered. ***1/4

Post match, Colt took to the mic, in what rapidly became an almost comically smoky ring, and essentially threw his hat into the ring for the next British Heavyweight title shot. However, during this speech he was attacked from behind by Lord Gideon Grey wearing a Matt Classic mask to reignite their near two year at this point, and followed up with an impassioned and genuinely very good promo about the injustices that Cabana had put upon him.

British Heavyweight Championship #1 Contendership Match
Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll

From the live audience coming out of the show, this match was the focus of the hype machine.

So did it live up to those lofty expectations? First, let me say that this was a hell of a match, and I’m not surprised one iota about the buzz it got from those in attendance. However, there were a bunch of problems that prevent me from going totally all in and championing this match.

I’ll start with the negatives so we can get them out of the way. First off there was a lot of delayed selling in this match. Not what I’d call no selling, but there were several sequences where Scurll and Ospreay would trade moves and then go down at the end of the sequence and sell then. When used sparsely this can be very effective, but I feel they personally leant on it a little too hard during the course of this match and there were one or two instances where there was just too much delayed selling and the individual moves that they were hitting felt unimportant. Everybody has a different threshold for this sort of thing though, so your mileage may vary on this issue.

Secondly there were parts of the match where I felt they over-dramatised to the point where it felt goofy, with the prime example of this being a back and forth sequence that ended in a simultaneous and spontaneous pose-off. Finally, and this one is of no fault of the competitors, the commentary for the first half of this match actively took away from it. I’m not sure I should even blame the commentators here as I could imagine this direction coming from the owner, as the thing that really killed it for me was the incessant talk of the action figure that would be made for the winner, presenting that as a far more important prize than the shot at the British Heavyweight Championship. Thankfully after a while they moved on from this and the commentary in the second half of the match was much better.

Now the negativity is all out the way, time to talk about what this match did fantastically, because there was a fair bit. The biggest positive I think it has in its corner is that it told a relatively simple yet very interesting and extremely effective story. Ospreay here was overconfident; it was pretty much as simple as that. He would continually play up to the crowd and time and time again he would pay for it. Towards the end he would snap himself into full focus and got 100% serious about the match and make a late flurry but by then it was already too late and the match was beyond his grasp. On the other side Scurll simply had Ospreay scouted brilliantly, time and time again he would have answers for Ospreay’s offense; Scurll was a countering machine during this encounter and in the end it all paid off. Even though Scurll was the clear heel in the match he came away feeling like the worthy winner and a real threat to regain his title, while Ospreay also looked strong in defeat and they’ve set up a really nice redemption arc for him where he’ll need to refocus. This might not all seem so clear to somebody who doesn’t follow the RPW product and isn’t invested in these characters, but to my eyes this was just masterful stuff.

Within this wonderful overarching story you had a plethora of breath-taking sequences too. One striking sequence which ended in a brutal looking knee to the head from Scurll to Ospreay in particular was a highlight for me.

Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives. They told a really clean overarching story and kept me engaged throughout and while I wasn’t a fan of parts of the minutia I gained enough enjoyment from the match as a whole to just about call it great, but I’ll be the first to admit it’d a long way from perfect. ****

ROH World Heavyweight Championship Match
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Mark Haskins

This match had quite the task before it to try to follow that Ospreay-Scurll match, and while I think mechanically they did a good job the crowd just wasn’t super into it. They weren’t dead but they weren’t even close to their peak volumes. Perhaps a contributing factor to this was that the match was announced as being for the ROH World Title and because of this the outcome felt like an inevitability. This in turn stopped the crowd biting on any of Haskins’ near falls which was a real shame.

However, with that all said, it was a well worked compact match that highlighted both guys’ strengths well and the crowd wasn’t bad per se just below their usual levels. The finish was very flat though, which was the only clear negative I can actually think of for the actual performers. ***1/2

No Disqualification Match
Lost Souls (Havoc, T-Bone & ???) vs. The Revolutionists (Castle, Samuels & Bodom)

Flattest. Surprise. Ever.

BRAM?!?!

There was a pop when the music hit because Bram has some pretty good music and people didn’t associate it with him, and then silence when people realised who it actually was. There were honestly like three people in the crowd who cared. Oh and while I’m at the bashing of the guys in this match James Castle dyeing his hair yellow-lime is the worst.

You know what though? Bram wasn’t actually bad here, I have to be fair. He didn’t blow me away or anything, but this was just a car-crash brawl and he is solid at them. That’s pretty much this entire match in a nutshell: a solid enough brawl. Nothing overly crazy but there’s stuff to enjoy about it. They get the crowd brawling out of the way early and they generally keep at least two guys in the ring to actually do stuff while everybody else is strolling around the arena trading punches. It served its purpose of breaking up the card and having a reset before the main event t and didn’t’ overstay its welcome either, so I can’t really criticise this match too much even though I kind of wanted to. Using Bram as your big surprise is a bad move though. ***1/4

Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Zack Sabre, Jr.

Well this was very disappointing. Maybe it was in part because it was billed as a dream match and that set too high a bar but this one really underwhelmed me. It wasn’t that their styles didn’t mesh which going in was one of my worries. No, in fact I was pleasantly surprised at how well Styles did working in Zack’s wheelhouse, especially in the early goings he more than held his own.

Instead the problem with this match is it felt like the first three quarters of a really good match, but lacked the escalation that felt like was coming and would have put it over the top. Instead this is a bunch of very good set-up without ever truly hitting top gear, which for me occurs unfortunately semi-regularly in ZSJ’s matches. I know this probably isn’t a popular opinion, but I don’t personally think Zack’s style translates that well to big main event spots and is far better suited in an upper midcard spot.

In many ways this felt somewhat like a lite-version of the recent AJ Styles-Shinsuke Nakamura match, from the two participants working towards the Armbar and the Calf Killer right down to the kickout from the one armed Styles Clash as a counter to a submission. Unfortunately it lacked the same epic finishing stretch, although the finish itself with Zack pulling out a new submission to surprise and eventually beat AJ was very good if a bit abrupt.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was still a very good match in a vacuum, it was just an underwhelming main event and disappointing compared to, admittedly high, expectations. ***1/2

Final Thoughts

This show was well on track for some western show of the year level hype until the main event somewhat under-delivered, but even with that fault this is still a great show well worth checking out; there really is something for everybody on this show and not a single match I didn’t enjoy to some level. Aside from half a match spent plugging action figures, I thought the commentary was really good, which was a pleasant surprise as I often find Andy Boy Simmonz’ heel commentary grating. As for the crowd, I’d say it was generally good but a shade below the usual level of a York Hall show, with a clear drop occurring after intermission.

The quick VOD turnaround does show slightly in one or two places. For example, Mike Bailey’s digital entrance plate is broken but there’s nothing more major than that. You can buy the show for streaming and download for $12.99; I would highly recommend it.