Revolution Pro Wrestling
British J Cup 2018 – Night 2
September 9, 2018
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England, UK
Bowlers Exhibition Centre
Watch: RPW On Demand
The industrial estate in which the venue nestles is uncomfortable at the best of times. The landscape feels like it’s at conflict; TV studios and publicly funded theatres confront traditional, northern industry. Businesses come and go before residents even notice. Everyone’s attention is gripped by nearby boutique shopping centres with infinite free parking and stunning transport links. Centuries of manufacturing tradition are left to rot away in the background.
After an endless series of lefts and rights through grimy streets, avoiding potholes and rusted car parts, we find Bowler’s Exhibition Centre.
It is hardly an iconic venue. It’s planted firmly in the forgotten part of town. An ‘Awakening’ convention for conspiracy theorists had just cleared out, allowing Dave Meltzer, Colt Cabana and other high-profile members of the wrestling media to move in. This was the inaugural Wrestling Media Con. Pat Patterson was probably the closest thing to a household name there.
Andy Quildan called it ‘half finished’ and I’m inclined to agree. As I arrived at the venue for the second night of the J Cup, I expected to see lines similar to the Defiant show held there a few weeks earlier. What I saw was an empty car park and an awkward, silent queue of very dedicated wrestling fans. Would the queue have be so small if they’d obtained the obligatory Hall of Famer to mumble their way through some meet-n-greets? Would the numbers have been boosted by some industry tradespeople selling hard to find memorabilia and merchandise? Well, it would have been worth a try.
Nearly everyone in the queue went into the main hall to watch some wrestling instead of exploring the convention. In a bizarre twist, it seems that actual wrestling was the biggest draw of the weekend.
El Phantasmo def. Jushin Thunder Liger
The living cartoon and ageless wonder, Jushin Thunder Liger, benevolently lights up the convention hall. His signature synth pop tune enlivens the crowd as he points to the sky, helping us to forget the dismal weather outside.
I don’t know ELP personally on any level, but I know he loves wrestling. He moves like a man who studies narrative and ethos rather than social media and merchandise numbers. This enthusiasm diffuses to the crowd and a duelling chant quickly echoes through the arena.
A stupid handshake spot delays the competition slightly, but it’s not long before the two fighters start to search for weaknesses. The first weakness is shown by ELP when he attempts to help Liger up after knocking him down. I love character and storytelling in my wrestling, I will dig to find some if I need to, but I can’t think of a good reason to do this. Fortunately, Liger takes advantage and ties his opponent in a knot.
ELP knows the veteran can’t hope to match his speed, so he takes to the air with confidence. This confidence was misplaced, because Liger came ready to retain his crown. He leaps to the outside, drops huge backbreakers and slams ELP’s head off the mat with a horrendous brainbuster.
ELP never really got started and certainly didn’t show Liger his best. Maybe that’s why he was able to steal the victory from the masked master with a small package. Liger always gets five stars from my heart and another five from my soul. This match was a bit crap though. **
KUSHIDA def. David Starr
The Rev Pro Cruiserweight champion is a slighted man, and takes the microphone to tell the world why. He knows that Rev Pro have an agenda to take his coveted belt away from him. The insecure Starr can’t take solace in his own achievements, so he must belittle the achievements of others. KUSHIDA might impress everyone else in the wrestling world, but he’s nothing to Starr.
KUSHIDA is certainly one of the most decorated men in the tournament. He has a pedigree that puts him in the top one percent of active wrestlers. More importantly, he is still a competitor. He doesn’t need to grab a microphone and diminish the audience, he willingly whips them along with him in a vortex of positivity.
He means business too. He’s a wrestler who makes his living by travelling the world and obtaining glory. He seeks out vital and worthy competition. He starts by leaping around the ring with vigour and determination, but soon realises that insecure men are often the most dangerous. There aren’t many wrestlers more insecure than David Starr.
Starr lays in his offense with a brutality that shows just how crucial this match is. A loss to KUSHIDA would prove the doubtful crowd right. This isn’t a must-win match for him. It’s a can’t-lose.
Unfortunately, they can’t maintain the story that they laid the foundation for. Starr loses his desperation as the match enters its third act and the action starts to feel like it’s wading through mud. If I listed the moves, this would sound like a good match. On paper, behind the curtain, they laid an excellent blueprint. Unfortunately, the most important element of a pro wrestling match was missing. There was no heat. Starr wildly berating his opponent was lost on the crowd. A strike exchange didn’t have the power it should have.
The finish was one of the worst moments of the weekend. It was a nonsensical fumble that even the Road Dogg would scoff at on a Blue Brand show. Starr picks up his belt and prepares to strike KUSHIDA with it in full view of the referee.
That’s not a rhetorical question. I would love to hear a kayfabed explanation why David Starr would do this. There was no attempt at a ref distraction, so I can only assume he intended to be disqualified. If he gets disqualified, he’s out of the tournament and KUSHIDA can claim a title shot.
KUSHIDA should have won cleanly and convincingly after taking David Starr’s best. That would have set up the title shot with an amazing story that Starr could have taken to the moon.
Utter nonsense. *1/2
Chris Ridgeway and CCK def. Dean Allmark, Ryusuke Taguchi and Tiger Mask
I would love to have a conversation with Dean Allmark. I would ask him about his favourite New Japan junior of all time and let him speak. He could speak for hours. What’s my evidence of this? The wonderful shot of him looking across the ring at his opponents with an official Tiger Mask and a significant NJPW junior as his wingmen. He looks emotional. Proud.
Gresham and Allmark glide and dance through some wonderful combat and, suddenly, there’s a buzz in the room. Gresham is superb and Allmark relishes the opportunity to exhibit what he can do.
Chris Brookes tags in and points at Tiger Mask. Suddenly, we are faced with a battle of the laziest men of the weekend. There’s definitely an improved attitude from both men, but Ridgeway and Taguchi replacing them has me breathing a sigh of relief.
The match meanders and wanders through the six-man-tag tropes. Occasionally, there are sparks of magic. An Allmark and Ridgeway exchange has enough passion to allow a big botch to be overlooked. Allmark and Ridgeway are given the time to shine and unleash a highlight reel of their greatest spots. Ridgeway chokes Allmark into submission.
Brookes, again, was lazy. I will forgive botches. I even understand someone going through the motions from time to time. Brookes gave the impression he just wanted to leave. Maybe there was an injury I don’t know about, but the evidence I have indicates he felt all this was beneath him. ***
Rich Swann def. YOH
Rich Swann entered the ring and brought his controversy with him. I don’t think there’s a hotpoint anyone can make about the situation that hasn’t been made a thousand times on social media, but it was undeniable that the atmosphere in the room changed. Loud, aggressive boos greeted the opening bars of his theme tune. A few large dudes cheered for Rich Swann and gave the impression that they ‘tell it like it is’ and don’t have much time for social justice.
Most people, including this critic, didn’t really know how to react.
YOH was certainly much more popular than he was a night earlier, but this match was punctuated by long silences even the Roppongi devotees in the audience couldn’t counter.
Incredibly, the commentary danced around the issue at one point. They talked about Rich Swann considering retirement but didn’t say it was because he lost his job for alleged domestic abuse. I don’t know how to present Rich Swann in 2018, but Rev Pro certainly did not get it right here.
The match itself was very good. Rich Swann goes through, so I’ll be talking about him again later. ***
Rocky Romero def. SHO
This battle of student against master is the wonderful benefit of NJPW having affiliate promotions around the world. They are so overloaded with talent and potential stories, they can spare great tales like this one and dot them all over the globe. This is a match for the fans, and the competitors allow the crowd a second to breath it all in.
They start to tell a wonderful story. Grins gradually widen across each man’s face after counters on top of counters hint at the familiarity between them.
This soon gets serious with harsh strikes but neither man seems interested in running with the story they set up earlier in the match. A review of the mid portion of this match would be a descent into a list of moves and sparse emotion.
Mirroring the previous night, Rocky finds another gear for the final stretch. There are strikes and a wonderful strength spot into a Shock Arrow attempt, but the veteran secures his place in the final with a sneaky roll up.
The story of this match was a gift, but neither man wanted to open it. **3/4
Aussie Open def. Flamita and Bandido
This isn’t the first match to start with the wrestlers begging for a reaction from the crowd, and they quickly realise they won’t get much by simply asking.
So, they reached down the metaphorical throats of the crowd and ripped out the reaction they craved.
The luchadores bring a kinetic energy that has been missing from the show. They hit Aussie Open with a volley of leaps and dives. It was one of the few times in the show where I didn’t feel like the competitors were laboriously plodding through a backstage blueprint or mentally rifling through a Nando’s menu in preparation of the evening’s relaxation.
Aussie Open wrestle like a pack of wolves. They draw your attention to a singular man like hypnotists, until the unseen tag partner bursts out of the fog with a devastating move. Speed, energy and power circulate in a wondrous trinity and I finally felt like I’d not wasted my Sunday.
Flamita dances out of Fletcher’s X Factor, proving that a sprinkle of innovation and some unexpected twists is all a match needs to energise a weary crowd. A Fidget Spinner finishes the travelling team, and I’m reminded why I love live wrestling.
The show wakes from its slumber as we enter the final two matches. ***3/4
Ring Kampf def. LAX
If a man craves perfection, the slightest weakness can be a flesh-eating disease. There’s something eating away at Ring Kampf. Where there was once a spark, there is now doubt. Walter has the look of a parent struggling to maintain a dignified face in front of their child, despite a torrent of negative emotion.
Luckily, he has somewhere to exert his frustrations. He gesticulates at his uncouth opponents, horrified at the embarrassing way they present themselves. Santana and Ortiz have a very American swagger. They exude star power and confidence. They certainly don’t exude fear, so Thatcher and Walter set out to teach them who the most dominant team in Europe really are.
In a brilliant twist, Thatcher struggles to outwrestle Santana. He rolls around the mat, squeezing his hand and grip into ever gap he can find, but Santana always has an answer. He blocks everything. Thatcher begins to grimace like a man whose emotions are rattling around the inside of his head. Amazingly, at the end of the exchange, Santana casually walks to his corner and tags his partner. He’s thoroughly unflustered. Thatcher calmly smooths his hair as if desperate to find something he can control, no matter how small. He never takes his eyes off his opponent. If he can’t prove his superiority now, he will certainly do it later.
This match is perfect evidence that the best wrestling matches are simple. Find a juxtaposition and exploit the conflict it creates. LAX are jokers; they aren’t taking the booking seriously. Ortiz wiggles his hips and goes through a set of press ups. Walter, the wrestler’s wrestler, is horrified. To him, the mat is sacred. LAX aren’t just mocking him, they’re mocking his idealistic view of the sport he loves.
Walter’s horror and frustration are amplified by LAX’s skill. They dominate Thatcher, frustrating the emotionally unstable man with crisp double teams and even mat wrestling. Thatcher emotes anger like nobody else. Being beaten is one thing but being embarrassed is a step too far.
Walter, the powerhouse, now has something to prove. He’s energised by the disrespect he has been shown. The adrenaline-fuelled anger gives him almost superhuman strength. He catches an LAX cannonball and turns it into a horrendous powerbomb, exerting his dominance over his smaller opponents.
LAX soon regain control and Thatcher’s face tells a story of regret. He arrogantly assumed this match would be a quick route back into relevance after last night’s embarrassment. Little did he realise that LAX would be one step ahead at every junction.
The finish of this tale is, again, told through Thatcher. The burst of emotion that has been building all weekend finally comes, with a slam of the mat and scream after he scrapes a submission victory. His mentor, Walter, directs him straight to the dressing room without shaking their opponents’ hands. They were beneath them. Just. ****
El Phantasmo def. Rocky Romero, Kushida and Rich Swann
This was the last chance for a great match. Calling it a ‘Fatal Four Way’ does not give me much hope, but the overflow of talent here could not be dismissed.
Unfortunately, this show is very tired. There have been some good matches, but the lack of one or two great matches combined with long stretches of flat nonsense eviscerated any ‘big match feel’ this might have had.
Rich Swann limped to the ring like a man desperate to tell a story he thought of five minutes ago. He also forgot to tell it from one moment to the next. He struggled to lift his leg into the ring, but then immediately danced up the ropes.
There was yet another handshake spot followed by the obligatory begging for chants. This happened so many times this weekend it must have been a company mandate. This show needs impressive action, not Rich Swann yanking his hand away from KUSHIDA the moment before a handshake.
There were some great moments here. ELP and KUSHIDA have wonderful rapport that left me desperate for a singles match.
Unfortunately, the stench of sloppy, lazy storytelling dominated this match. A shrill yell of “why are you breaking up the pin?” that echoed around the arena summed up how little care had been taken to tell a cohesive and logical story. There were impressive spots, a hurricanrana into an armbar stood out, but tournament finals must be more than a few cool moves.
Every interesting spot felt like it was begrudgingly given to the audience; they tried to tick boxes rather than tell a transcendent story of a rising star. Every time an interesting moment made me sit up, a cliché has been slumping back into my morose, catatonic state.
The most egregious moment of this match was the David Starr run in. I understand the overall story they are telling with Starr and I love it. But if the awful, unsubtle narration continues, the nugget of gold they have will float down the river. Here, Starr hits KUSHIDA with his belt, leading to KUSHIDA’s elimination and all but guaranteeing a title shot against a man his character would clearly want to avoid.
Romero is eliminated shortly after.
Yet again the awful, jarring conflict of Swann wrestling like a babyface but getting booed heavily keeps this match unemotional and dull. ELP and Swann do some moves followed by some kickouts and then ELP wins.
I said earlier that I dig for stories in wrestling matches. I love subtle narratives loaded with small cues that hint at real emotion and turmoil, both external and internal. This match was devoid of even the smallest thread for me to tug at. I have almost nothing to say about it, other than ELP deserved more. **1/2
This shamble of a show defied any possible reason to have this tournament. This should have been an excellent transition into the third act of the ELP/Starr rivalry, ending with a big challenge for another shot at the title. Instead it was a chore. A tournament with this much talent should end with that wonderful, happy adrenaline that great wrestling brings. Instead, I stood up, put my coat on and left. I have barely thought about it since, and once I press send on this review, I’ll never think about it again.