After a strong start to the tournament on Night 1, 16 Carat Night 2 was focussed more on three big title matches, with the headliner of wXw’s ‘biggest match ever’ between WALTER and Bad Bones John Klinger for the Unified World Title accompanied by Bobby Gunns defending the Shotgun title against Mike Bailey and Toni Storm defending the Women’s title against Melanie Gray. All these title matches felt significant in their own way and promised a big time feel to the Saturday night. But with an as-yet unannounced stipulation for the main event that WALTER had earned free choice over, what occurred during the main event however was wilder than anyone could have possibly imagined beforehand…

Westside Xtreme Wrestling
16 Carat Gold Night 2
March 10, 2018
Oberhausen, Germany

Watch: wXw Now

wXw Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership
RISE (Da Mack & Ivan Kiev) def. Monster Consulting, Jay-FK and Mark Haskins & Matt Sydal

Monster Consulting got a lot of love after the entrances were done, the chanting led by the usual suspects in the Irish Contingent. 5 seconds into the show and we already knew that Night 2 would be just as lively as Night 1. Nero and Avalanche took the early part of the match to the delight of the crowd – these guys don’t have a whole lot to do in the grand scheme of things right now but whenever wXw are ready to heat them up again they’re going to thrive.

The Haskins/Sydal makeshift team got in some nifty moves but the crowd still couldn’t warm up to Sydal at this point, though Haskins got a little more love than on Night 1. As the only non-regular team in this match they did feel pretty out of place and the crowd weren’t going to root for anyone but Monster Consulting. RISE eventually isolated Sydal and pinned him decisively, so wXw certainly got value from Sydal in putting others over even if he wasn’t the most exciting import ever. A short, fun multi-man to get us going. **½

 16 Carat Gold Quarter Finals
Keith Lee def. Chris Brookes

The major criticism of Keith Lee is that he does too much for his size, reducing the impact of his big power moves by going and doing crazy flips alongside them. Through all three nights of 16 Carat though, I thought he accentuated his power really well. He had a proper hoss struggle against Avalanche on Night 1 in one of the most compelling matches of the tournament and here he bossed Brookes around.

Brookes got to look good in flashes but this match ultimately presented Lee’s sheer size as the deciding factor in the match rather than any dives or ‘movez’. Brookes had to fight smart to get the upper hand on Lee, but engaged in too many chop battles instead and couldn’t wear Lee down for any bigger moves because of it. Instead, Lee got on a run, withheld Brookes’ attempts at roll-ups and submissions and just Spirit Bombed the crap out of him. Brookes’ sell of the move was pitch-perfect and really made the match better with such a definitive capper. ***½ 

Timothy Thatcher def. Lucky Kid

Lucky Kid became a Lucky Man when he defeated Matt Sydal on Night 1 in a sterling performance that won over the Oberhausen crowd. He’s probably the least well-known wrestler in the tournament, a member of RISE who could have easily been lost in the shuffle, but Kid got given the chance to shine and absolutely seized it. In this match he got to continue that roll against Tim Thatcher, who was also been a standout of recent months in wXw and won the AMBITION shoot style tournament earlier in the day.

Despite this being Ringkampf vs RISE, the crowd were split between Thatcher and Kid, a testament to Kid’s Night 1 performance. That RISE/Ringkampf dynamic did mean that this was super-heated right from the off and that there was great crowd investment in the matchup, something that a lot of tournament matches tonight and on Night 1 lacked. Thatcher was walloping Kid right from the off but Kid’s unique intensity meant he could keep pace with the bigger, more physical Thatcher. In that regard, Kid played foil to Thatcher pretty much perfectly, getting destroyed by his forearms, chops and even a shoulder block at one point, but always coming back for more. It’s these highly intense, stand-up, strike-heavy matches that wXw does best and that the crowd really respond to, which may be why Ringkampf Thatcher has been such a success compared to EVOLVE Thatcher.

The subtle fast pace of the match was also a big factor in its great quality. It never felt like Thatcher and Kid were running through things too quickly, but the execution of small but important moments were so fast and so smooth, making for an immensely pleasing match to just watch from an aesthetic point of view. There were no boring moments or poor execution slowing the match down. It genuinely felt like everything they planned to do came off exactly as they intended it, which is very rare to see.

Kid’s cradle on Thatcher was a major nearfall moment since it was so well executed and was the move he defeated Sydal with. His follow-up slaps were just as crazy, seeing Kid square up to Thatcher in such a way was a great visual, but were followed up by an even better one as Thatcher bludgeoned Kid with slaps of his own. This led to the finishing stretch, with both men just unable to hit their finishers and battling desperately to get an opportunity to land the killer blow. Thatcher got there first, hitting a Butterfly Suplex to advance. This was the best match of the weekend up to this point, and Lucky Kid is a made man after this performance. If you’re only skimming through the tournament, make sure to take the time to watch this match. **** 

David Starr def. Travis Banks

Between that amazing match before it and the big title matches later on, Starr vs Banks got a bit lost in the shuffle on Night 2. The action was still strong and they didn’t outstay their welcome, but watching live I couldn’t really tell you anything about this match at all. On VOD, when I hadn’t already seen 3 and a half shows already that day, this match came off a lot better and I enjoyed it for the short sprint it was.

My only real complaint is how there was no ebb and flow between Banks or Starr struggling to survive the other’s finish, as Kid and Thatcher had done so well. Instead it felt more like finisher spam – still exciting but a lot less memorable in the bigger picture of the weekend. Starr did stay strong in victory but this was one of the more ‘PWG-style’ matches this weekend, so it depends how you feel about that style. **½

Post-match, Banks announced that PROGRESS would be running shows alongside wXw at the end of August/beginning of September. wXw are also heading over to London this weekend, so their relationship is blooming nicely.

Absolute Andy def. Matt Riddle

After his stolen victory over rival Marius Al-Ani on Night 1, Andy’s heat has gone into overdrive. He’s such an irredeemable bastard and he reminds everyone of someone they know, so his character has got the perfect mix of over-the-top wrestling antics and a grounding in real-life emotion. That’s one reason the act is working so well. Andy’s also delivering in the ring, maybe not to a ‘super-indie’ level but to an extent where he can let the character work build the intensity while the match churns along.

The beginning of this match was wonderful, referencing both men’s finishes from Night 1. Riddle took Andy’s sunglasses and kneed him in the head for a three-count, just as he had done to Da Mack the previous night. Andy though had his foot just barely under the rope and the referee restarted the match, in a horrible reversal of Al-Ani’s foot on the rope being hidden by Andy at the end of Night 1. This was a perfect use of two story-based match finishes to drive hatred of Andy through the roof. Well played wXw.

Andy and Riddle had really good chemistry for a first-time contest and both got across the slower pace of the match really well. Andy was clearly super-motivated this weekend and it shows when he busted out moves like a top rope hurricanrana, which Riddle popped up from and then hit a tombstone for a brilliant nearfall. Building a match slowly to a single moment like that is difficult but Riddle and Andy managed it.

Riddle nearly put Andy away after taking control, but Andy crotched him on the top rope and hit a super F5, sending Riddle flying across the ring and out of the tournament. A memorable beginning and end with a solid build in between made this match stand out in a packed weekend. ***½

Alexander James def. Jonah Rock

A little non-tournament match here. Rock hasn’t had the immediate impact in Europe that a Matt Riddle or Keith Lee had on their first trips over, but he has an obvious star aura and wrestles like the monster he’s billed as. James had his best showing of the three Carat shows here, playing the smarmy, technical prick well. He’s so much better in singles matches but seems to always get put in four ways on these big wXw weekenders. The power vs technique matchup was played around with well and both men achieved more than they needed to for a ‘filler match’. In an ongoing story of the weekend, Rock went for a moonsault, missed, and paid for it with a loss, here via a James cradle. ***

wXw Shotgun Championship
Bobby Gunns (c) def. Mike Bailey

Saturday 10th March was the day Bobby Gunns became a star. The chants of “GUNNS, BOBBY GUNNS” emanated from the Irish Contingent throughout this match after originating at AMBITION earlier in the day, where I and the rest of Twitter lined the entrance way to hail our new favourite wrestler as he passed through to the ring. Gunns has improved leaps and bounds as a character in the last year, coming into his own as the only character on Shotgun who uses explicit language as part of his excellent ‘Smoking Break’ series of promos. That improvement in character has translated to his in-ring work, where he’s excelled as a smarmy prick who’s actually quite endearing, slowly winning hostile crowds over. This Shotgun title defence was made to feel really important in its own right on this ‘Championship Saturday’, with an excellent challenger in Bailey and a super-confident champion who has never been better.

It’s the little improvements in how Gunns moves around the ring and carries himself between moves that show how much more confident in his act he’s become since this time last year. He’s more decisive in setting up moves and lets his holds breathe, seen here when he let everyone see his cocky face while he had Bailey pretzeled up early on. Bailey got the upper hand for a little while, until Gunns literally bent his finger all the way back in a sickening visual – you’ve seen Marty Scrull do his finger click a million times but this looked like pure torture. Bailey clearly had his double-jointedness hidden away, this is the first time I’ve seen him do this and it meant the visual was so much better (worse?) than Scurll’s once-per-match finger snap. My one criticism of this spot is that it only showed up on VOD – watching live I had no idea it had even happened. Bailey did sell it like death though and Gunns added to the misery by taping it into place with his wrist tape.

Bailey battled through the torture to hit an awesome Ultima Weapon with Gunns in a tree of woe position, only then did he finally get the chance to undo the tape and break his finger back into place. Bailey’s had some amazing matches this year but he took the ‘more talent in my little finger’ saying rather literally in this match. Gunns then managed to hook in his double armbar submission move, lose control, but slide back into it after Bailey hit his new finisher. The second armbar was enough to make Bailey tap out to end a dramatic and gruesome match. This was Bobby Gunns’ best match ever and had a little bit of everything to showcase why he is wXw’s newest star. ****

wXw Women’s Championship
Toni Storm (c) def. Melanie Gray

Part 2 of Championship Saturday began with special entrances for both Gray and Storm, including the Turbinenhalle getting colder when Gray entered it – she is the ‘ice queen’ after all. 4D Wrestling! Just as the Shotgun Championship match felt elevated and important, so did this title match – probably the most significant women’s match in wXw history. It’s still a very limited women’s division but wXw have done a good job of making every women’s match on a major show feel important. Gray was Storm’s first opponent in wXw and they have both grown a lot as performers since that meeting in 2015, so when wXw bill this as their most significant women’s match ever, the history backs up that claim.

This match was wrestled at a sprint pace, which I feel played to both women’s strengths. Gray may not be the most technically proficient wrestler but every one of her moves feels tied to her character, forming a unique power moveset that you don’t see from other female wrestlers in Europe, who can often blur together. Gray played to her strengths here, cutting off quick runs of Storm offence with a spear or a body press. Storm even hit the Strong Zero, but Melanie kicked out and survived further punishment by just launching Storm through the ropes to the outside with a spear.

There were maybe one too many Strong Zero attempts late on in the match and I feel Storm uses the move as a crutch in closing stretches, but that’s only a nitpick. Both women built the match to a level of drama that befitted the occasion wXw had placed them into, and Storm’s final Strong Zero to put away Melanie was a great capper to a very fun match. wXw still have a long way to go with their women’s division, but Gray and Storm have played their parts really well so far and this semi-main event match was a great reward for their work. ***

wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship
Ilja Dragunov def. Bad Bones (c) and WALTER

Wrestling is a fundamentally strange activity to enjoy. Part of the reason why is because we as fans tend to dislike being given what we want to see straight away. We want to wait and wait and wait to finally see the wrestler we like the most accomplish their goal. We want to go on the journey with them and have the end to that journey feel like the most monumental of occasions. When the resolution to the drama is handed to us on a silver platter, or doesn’t live up to our expectations even after a long build, it can be very disappointing. Buying into the stories of wrestling is a hurdle most people can never jump, but truly caring enough to see the stories through to a fulfilling conclusion is perhaps an even bigger obstacle. People grow out of wrestling or keep it at arms’ length, checking in occasionally. When all those people with better things to do have left, it’s just us left, in our weird little wrestling bubble, ready to invest our spare time into experiencing all the delights of this hobby, while also fully aware that it could let us down at any moment. This match was one of those moments where all of that clicked. Every bit of investment people have placed into the main event story of wXw was rewarded in this wonderful end to a year-long journey.

Of course, the match was originally billed as Bad Bones vs WALTER, RISE vs Ringkampf, the two biggest powers in wXw colliding on the biggest stage. The two men’s promos pre-match, straight to camera, summed up each man’s philosophy on wrestling. The fact that these wrestlers even have a fully-fledged ‘philosophy’ sums up how well thought out the big picture of wXw is, making it a world that is so easy to invest in. WALTER and Klinger’s entrances felt WrestleMania-worthy. This was lined up to be a huge match. But WALTER had to announce his previously-earned stipulation for a match. This was now going to be a 3 Way Dance…

The eruption for Ilja Dragunov’s entrance music and the man himself flying out onto the entrance ramp, an explosion of charisma and presence, was one of the loudest reactions I’ve ever heard from a wrestling crowd. But a wrestling crowd can get loud any time, this was a step above any ‘nice pop’ and reached the level of a sincere, emotional reaction. Dragunov’s character has always been shrouded in a bit of secrecy. He feels like one of the very few wrestlers in the world still obscured by kayfabe, creating a star aura that is unique to him. As such, after his leave of absence after losing to Bad Bones in December, no-one really knew when or if he would return. wXw have done such a good job of protecting that aura around Dragunov that this return was entirely un-telegraphed and therefore reached a depth of meaning and emotion untouched by any other ‘big return’ I can think of. This was an incredible event to witness. Within the Irish Contingent, I took part in a group hug that must have included over a dozen people. More than one person near me was crying.

And then that raw energy from the crowd and the three wrestlers in the ring was sustained throughout the entire match. Many other times a ‘big return’ has occurred and the crowd have simmered down five minutes later. This entire match felt like a special occasion and the wrestlers met it with three outstanding individual performances. Obviously the headline-grabbing moments came between WALTER and Dragunov, re-enacting their 5-Star 16 Carat 2017 final with a thunderous chop battle, which burst Dragunov’s chest open as it had last year. But it was the underlying threat of Klinger, ruining the heroes’ battle, which kept the crowd electric. Klinger might have had his single best performance of his career in this match, playing the scoundrel desperate to hang onto his title at all costs. This wasn’t a re-run of the Carat final and it wasn’t a clunky three way, but the perfect mesh of three long running feuds, the Rome that all roads in wXw have been leading to.

If you’ve spent even a modicum of time watching wXw in the last 12 months, even if it was just Carat and World Tag Team League, this match will reward that time spent. After all Dragunov has been through at the hands of Bones and WALTER, he finally claimed his place at the head of the table in wXw by hitting both men with a Torpedo Moskau each to win the Unified Title that he had missed out on so many times in 2017. This match was the most brilliant half hour heart attack I’ve ever had. It’s not a perfect match, but it is a perfect conclusion to an incredibly well-told, year-long story, that could have found it’s ending months ago, but wXw kept us on the ride for a little longer and ensured that nobody will ever forget 16 Carat Night 2 2018. ****½ 

Final Thoughts

This was a genuine show of the year contender from wXw, with a main event that concluded one of the best long-term stories in European wrestling ever, plus two absolute bangers elsewhere in the show. Aside from that, I thought every match on this show was above average at worst – this was consistent quality throughout with the highs peaking very high indeed. Ilja Dragunov’s year has been incredible, and it’s a pleasure to welcome him back to the fold after nearly three months on the sidelines. I think the wait was worth it.