I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of live professional wrestling, and one of my favourite things is seeing wrestling in new and interesting environments. A lot of the time, that just means a cool-looking space.
I’ve seen wrestling in some pretty boring big, empty community hall rooms. I’ve seen it in a Legion Hall with cool chandeliers. I’ve seen dudes wallop each other in a dark, neon-soaked casino showroom that made it seem like rich people were making androids fight in a basement in a cancelled Blade Runner sequel. I’ve seen it in major sports arenas.
And now I’ve seen professional wrestling at a comic book convention.
The London Comic Con took place from October 13 to October 15, 2017, and featured among its programming and events were four Smash Wrestling shows. Smash is, arguably, Canada’s most high profile indie. They’ve featured such names as the Young Bucks, Michael Elgin, Zack Sabre Jr, and Mike Bailey, and are the Canadian indie most likely to get coverage on any given wrassle-site.
Smash’s line-up was not quite so star-studded at the London Comic Con, as they unsurprisingly leaned on their Ontario-based talent for these cards. The cool thing about these cards, to me, wasn’t who was on them, it was who was watching them. These were free shows taking place during a comic convention. In the midst of these shows, people could be overpaying for William Shatner’s autograph, or shopping for Funko Pops, or buying art like people with good taste. Some of the people attending these shows were very clearly Smash regulars, and a larger portion of them were evidently wrestling fans (the Bullet Club and WWE shirts and chants gave them away). The majority of the audiences, though, were just people who wanted a break from walking around the convention floor. I knew Smash had presented matches at the con in previous years, so I was interested to see how they adapted their show for the unique audience.
I’ve heard people say that the best live wrestling fans are old people and children. That will be a running theme in this article, at least in regard to the latter.
Special thanks to James from Smash, who kindly helped make sure I got everyone’s names right, and for providing the cards to the shows. Each show was roughly an hour long.
Show 1 – Friday, 7 PM.
The first show took place at 7 PM Friday, and had the longest card on paper. I only saw the last two matches, but they provided a good set-up for my expectations. Each card was only an hour long, give or take 15 minutes, so most of the matches topped out at about 10 minutes. I showed up during the heat segment of Daniel Garcia vs. Tarik. I wish I had seen the whole thing, as it might have been one of the hotter matches of the weekend from a work perspective. Garcia and Tarik really battered each other in the closing stretch, which is always a lot of fun to see live.
I really noticed the crowd during that match, mostly because it was pretty sparse. About half of the floor seats (there were about 40 seats on the floor and 90 in the bleachers) were filled, and there were maybe 20 people in the bleachers. The rest of the crowd (40 or 50 people, including me) were standing around on the floor behind the seats. This was what made me start thinking about this piece in the first place – the bulk of the crowd wasn’t committed to watching the show. They were hanging out, and their attention was certainly caught by the shirtless men hitting each other, but they had no intention of watching the entire thing; they were waiting for it to lose their attention, then they would move on to another of the convention’s attractions. That created an interesting dynamic – the wrestlers didn’t need to put on a great show, they needed to keep the crowd’s attention.
Cue Dillon Andrews, challenger for the Smash Wrestling title in the main event. I have no idea what his normal character is, but for the duration of the weekend he was the “Supreme Victor,” a goofy superhero parody. He cut a short promo in which he referred to everyone as “citizen” and established himself as a villain. This was probably the best promo of the weekend, and Andrews’ silly character proved to be the hook which kept the audience intrigued by a bout which Tyson Dux mostly sleep-walked through. The only spot I remember was based on Dillon Andrews’ Superman-esque spit curl – Dux twisted it, and Andrews reacted like he was being tortured in the Figure Four.
I don’t think Dux even took a bump in his title defence, but the audience didn’t seem to care much. The wrestling in these bouts was very much secondary to entertainment value. The spit curl spot got a better reaction than any of the actual moves in the Andrews/Dux match, for example.
There was an afternoon show on Saturday, but I didn’t see that one. The convention had really died down by the time 7 PM rolled around, though, so I checked out the evening show.
Show 3 – Saturday, 7 PM
This was my first full card of the weekend. It’s the kind of show that was a ton of fun live, but I’d love to see one of the “all workrate, no shenanigans” types review on video, because their heads would explode.
PUF Daddy vs. Rip Impact opened this show. The ring announcer noted that it was PUF Daddy’s birthday, so he was naturally defeated via chicanery. The crowd was more robust for this show, likely due to there not being much else to do at the time – most people would have seen the vendor hall and artist alley already, and there wasn’t any other programming happening. That definitely helped attendance. The work in the opener was basic, and focused on playing up the babyface and heel dynamics to maximize the crowd’s interest. Rip Impact, who desperately needs a less shindie name, picked out some kids in the front row and got them riled up early. Whenever he was on offence and wasn’t getting much from the crowd, he would taunt those kids to get people yelling again. PUF Daddy is, more or less, a really white version of P.N. News. He has a ton of charisma, and a lot of really fun mannerisms. He did a good job of telling the crowd what he wanted them to do as he delivered his offence, which is a basic thing that a lot of indie guys don’t do particularly well.
Brett Michael David, in his only appearance of the weekend, fought local boy Chris Mitchells in a match that made me think about how important talking to the crowd is in a small venue environment. Mitchells was clearly going for an intense, cool guy persona, but walking out and posing doesn’t really work when most of the crowd doesn’t know who you are. BMD, on the other hand, talked trash to the crowd constantly, and had some fun banter with the front row children from the previous match. As I mentioned with the PUF Daddy match, it’s surprising how little indie wrestlers utilize the fact that the audience is in a small space to their advantage. WWE wrestlers can get away with posing silently because everyone knows who they are. If you’re an indie wrestler, the audience doesn’t know who you are, but they can hear you. So trash talk some fans, throw out some “come on, (city).” Get people interested! This match was more exciting, athletically, than the opener, but if it wasn’t for BMD being entertaining verbally, I don’t think this would have held people’s attention all that well.
On a completely different note from using character work to keep fans engaged, we got a tag team street fight. Kevin Bennett and Big Tank faced Scotty O’Shea and Kobe Durst. They hit each other with junk and made a lot of noise, and you know what? People who aren’t necessarily wrestling fans LOVE watching dudes hit each other with noisy garbage. Plunder brawls ARE a lot more fun live, when you can hear all of the impacts and be right next to the action. This one utilized the weird comic-con environment – there was a LARP (live action role play) fighting area next to the Smash section, and the brawl made it’s way over there. Plunder brawls need more LARP weapons stolen from a dude who was way buffer than any of the wrestlers. This match also featured Kobe Durst chopping Kevin Bennett in the bleachers, which I only note because they were next to me when that spot happened.
The show ended with the PUF Daddy Birthday Battle Royale, which gave him a chance to redeem himself and give Rip Impact his comeuppance for his earlier cheating.
I can’t remember which match it happened in, but the discussion of the girls sitting behind me reminded me of stated direction of NOAH The Reborn’s matches – to focus on things that any audience member can see as painful. The girls were laughing at some early chops, wondering why they were slapping each other. Then someone landed a real stinger, and they gasped. Somebody threw a stiff forearm, and they audibly cringed. After that, they really got into strike exchanges. It was a fun arc to witness.
Show 4 – Sunday, 2 PM
The final show of the weekend was longer, but I don’t want to remake a lot of the same points, because by now we’ve seen a lot of the tricks the performers have been using to keep the non-fans around, so a few matches are going to be skipped over.
This show had far and away the largest crowd of the ones I attended, with about 200 people in attendance. It was probably closer to 250 individuals, as people cycled in and out of the standing room section. The seated sections remained full for the entire show.
Although workrate was, as I’ve said several times, secondary in a lot of ways on these shows, I want to shout out a match between Daniel Garcia and Kevin Blackwood. It reminded me of what a G1 match would probably be if it was only given seven or so minutes. I think Garcia’s got something, and I could see him becoming a bigger deal on the indies, or at least in Smash. He was in my two favourite matches of the weekend, and was excellent in both of them.
Dillon Andrews returned in his “Supreme Victor” gimmick, and serves to book-end this piece with his absurdity. His opponent this time was Mike Rollins, who… I’m not even sure how to describe him. He’s a huge, cut, good-looking dude who oozes charisma and danced like a spaz during his entrance. The crowd chanted “oil up,” and he picked a woman out of the crowd to oil him up. She was super awkward about it, then VERY into it, and the whole thing was incredibly funny. Andrews insisted that HE be the one who she oiled up, to which Rollins responded “I’ll allow it,” then went and sat down next to the girl’s boyfriend. Before the girl began rubbing the oil in on Andrews, Rollins snuck up and slapped Andrews’ oiled back. Later, Rollins stole Andrews’ cape and used it to “fly,” delivering a clumsy axe-handle off the top rope. After being defeated, Rollins consoled himself by getting the girl from the beginning of the match to finally oil him up.Matche
s prior to this one had featured comedy as their audience hook, but this was the best example of a comedy match, as it combined the silliness with an actual wrestling narrative. Many critics complain about comedy matches, but in a live environment, particularly one without elite workers on the card, they routinely get reactions that are among the best of the night.
The show finished with a good tag team match featuring Big Tank and the Muscle against Brent Banks and Tarik. I think it was hurt by following the comedy match, which the audience was far more invested in. This probably would have done better as the semi-main event.
Smash Wrestling was a ton of fun all weekend long, and while I don’t have any insight as to whether they converted any new fans, they certainly did an excellent job building shows that had a good chance to do that. It was fascinating, as a wrestling dork, to watch the wrestlers dig into their bags of tricks to find ways to connect with an odd audience.