I wasn’t planning on doing a PWG Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA) 2018 review. I figured there were enough of them out there already. However, even a week after I still have this tournament on my mind.
On paper, BOLA was one of the most unique and eclectic lineups in in company history. There was also a slight lack of star power, with the majority of PWG’s veteran talent having left the promotion over the past couple years. Going in I had no doubt that the new (to PWG) talent would step up and deliver in a big way and meet the lofty expectations set by the previous thirteen tournaments. Not only were those expectations met, but they were surpassed, as this year’s tournament was the best in company history.
I’m not going to break down every match, as there are just too many. Instead, I will break down the matches I find most noteworthy, and afterward, I’ll talk about the rest of the field and how I felt they performed.
BOLA 2018 – Night 1
Flamita vs Puma King
The first noteworthy match I wanted to highlight is Flamita vs Puma King. Flamita is not a guy I have been super high on and Puma King is a guy I knew very little about going into this tournament. It didn’t take long for Puma to win over the crowd with his unique offense, cat gimmick, and theme song (You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi). During the match, Puma hit Flamita with the most wicked superkick I’ve ever seen (and one of the loudest leg slaps I’ve ever heard). Flamita picked up the win as expected, but Puma King won the crowd over in a big way and was the star of Night 1. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him become a regular in PWG going forward as he is booked on PWG’s next show “Smokey and the Bandido”. As far as Flamita, this was his best weekend in PWG so far.
PCO vs Brody King
PCO is insane, which is a shock to no one. This match was sloppy as hell, but some of the most fun you will have all year watching wrestling. There was a spot where King was laying on the apron, and somehow PCO thought he would be able to hit a moonsault from the top rope… He didn’t. Instead, he landed stomach first on the top rope. It was terrifying, hilarious, amazing, and the most PCO thing you could imagine. This ruled, and PCO got over huge.
Ringkampf vs. Shingo/Dragunov
For the main event, we got Ringkampf vs Ilja Dragunov and Shingo Takagi. This was incredible.
I’ve never seen Ilja or Shingo wrestle in person, but they both have a superstar aura. Every match this weekend involving any of these four had a big match feel (with the exception of the Night 3 ten man that Thatcher was in). This reminded me of an old-school All Japan tag match, with how stiff all four guys worked. WALTER/Dragunov is one of the premier feuds in independent wrestling today, but this match felt like it was about WALTER and Shingo. Knowing how the rest of the tournament played out, you could see the seeds for a Shingo/WALTER match being planted. Every chance WALTER got he would swing at Shingo, and Shingo would never back down. Ultimately, Thatcher rolls up Ilja, which was a smart decision to build his credibility against WALTER the next night. After the match ends there is tension between both teams, as Ilja and Shingo exchanged words, and Thatcher and WALTER stare each other down, setting up Night 2.
BOLA 2018 – Night 2:
Trevor Lee vs Marko Stunt
This match was originally scheduled to be Matt Riddle vs Chris Brookes. Riddle was replaced by Trevor Lee, and Brookes was replaced by Marko Stunt (who happened to be at Bar Wrestling the night before). These guys have two of the more fun entrance songs in PWG, as Lee uses Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, and Stunt uses We Belong by Pat Benatar. Marko is the overnight sensation, and was instantly over, even getting the streamer treatment with fun size candy instead of streamers. Every time Lee wrestles, in PWG at least, he cuts a hilarious promo. In this match, he makes fun of Stunts size and tells him he looks like a child. Later in the tournament, he told Brody King his tattoos look like shit and doesn’t even believe in God, which had me dying.
This match is exactly what you would expect. Lee is a heel and dwarfs Stunt. He ragdolls him pretty much the entire match, Stunt getting the occasional hope spot. If you are debuting in PWG, Trevor is the perfect guy to be put against. Stunt looked great, and I’m sure he will be back.
Shingo Takagi vs Ilja Dragunov
After a loss to Ringkampf on Night 1, the tension is thick between Ilja and Shingo. This match feels like something you would see in an All Japan Champion Carnival. Both guys come off like megastars to the PWG audience. Lots of stiff strikes, lariats, chops, forearms. At one point Shingo headbutts Ilja so hard he is busted open, and we would later find out he also suffered a concussion. Dragunov has a very intense personality, and it’s hard to not get fired up when he screams after a no sell.
This match was physical, hard-hitting, and almost perfect, the crowd was white hot during the final couple minutes. Unfortunately, there was a botched German suplex towards the end of the match that killed the crowd for a bit. To their credit, they were able to get the crowd back to a fever pitch immediately after. Even with the botch, this is a possible match of the year contender, but if the botch hadn’t have happened this may have been a five-star match.
WALTER vs Timothy Thatcher
This is the final first-round match, and the second in a row set up by last night’s tag. Like the last match, this was brutal and hard-hitting, however the style and pacing of this match was way different. While Ilja/Shingo was fast paced with no selling and fighting spirit spots, this was slow and methodical. This felt like a struggle, the match was a lot of strikes and mat work. I’ve seen a lot of people in the high fours for this one, saying it was their match of the night. It just didn’t connect with me on that level. I liked it a lot, but I am the low man on this one.
BOLA 2018 – Night 3:
Shingo vs Robbie Eagles
While waiting in line, I was telling everybody who would listen that if we get Eagles vs. Shingo I will be happy no matter how the rest of the show turns out. I knew if PWG would put these two together they could have a killer match, and they absolutely delivered. Shingo is great working on top, bullying his opponents, which is something he wasn’t able to do the previous two nights. Eagles was great working from underneath and can sell a beating incredibly well. Eventually, Shingo was able to make Eagles tap to an STF, but not before having to throw everything at Robbie. Eagles had been building momentum with impressive performances against Joey Janela and Bandido, but this felt like a star-making match for him.
Joey Janela vs Bandido
Up to this point in his PWG run, Bandido’s matches have been contests of athleticism and pure wrestling skill. Janela is a different kind of opponent for Bandido, and this is the first time we have seen him tested is a match that feels like a fight. In 2017, Joey wasn’t even originally scheduled to be in the tournament. This year, Janela finds himself in the semi-finals after wins over David Starr, and 2007 BOLA winner CIMA. All three semi-finals matches have a very different feel to them, and this one is a war, as chairs play a big part in this match. Even with the plunder, Janela can’t defeat Bandido. This was an incredible match and sends Bandido to the finals.
BOLA 2018 Final
Shingo Takagi vs Jeff Cobb vs Bandido
Before this match even starts, this tournament was the best BOLA ever. Three incredible nights of wrestling, and now we are at the conclusion.
Shingo and Cobb walk to the ring calm and collected, Takagi looking pristine with his robe and velvet singlet. Bandido comes to the ring to his new entrance song Roundtable Revival which he debuted two nights earlier. Unlike Shingo and Cobb, Bandido is not calm, even after the long weekend, and the war with Janela, he is fired up and ready to go. Bandido’s gear is not pristine like Shingo, his all-white tights are filthy and there is blood on his mask, which happened during his match earlier with Flamita.
Ironically, as great as Shingo has been this entire tournament, this match really picked up after he got eliminated. This match started a little clunky and had some troupes you typically see in three-way matches.
After Shingo is eliminated this match picks up, and I mean it really picks up. In fact, this is the best live match I have ever seen in my life.
I was in attendance eight years ago when Hero defeated Tozawa at BOLA 2010, it was the greatest match I had ever seen. All these years later I still remember exactly how I felt that night, it is a feeling I had always wished I could experience again. I had that feeling during the final ten minutes of Cobb/Bandido. This match was absolutely incredible, Cobb and Bandido slowed everything down and the crowd ate everything up. Every near fall felt like life and death. Normally PWG crowds are 50/50, but in this match almost everybody was rooting for Bandido, it was also the loudest crowd I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt.
It is really hard to know when to pull the trigger on somebody, and when to make the fans wait. Cobb winning has to be one of the bigger upsets in PWG history. It is a result almost nobody wanted or expected, but as it played out, it was the right decision. This match didn’t only make Bandido, but it took Cobb to the next level too. I get the sense that losing will get the PWG fans even more behind Bandido.
This was an absolutely perfect match to top off the best BOLA in PWG history. Perhaps this match won’t be quite as good on video, and some people I have talked too are taking points off this match because it started clunkily. If I gave this anything less than the full five I would be lying. This was the most incredible, dramatic, beautiful, exciting, and emotional match I have ever seen in my life. It is my match of the year without a doubt, and in my opinion, the only true five-star match in PWG history.
How can you not be romantic about wrestling?
Brooks had a decent weekend. Some people didn’t like his match with Horus, I thought it was good, but not great. It was also the longest match of the first round. He doesn’t need to be having 20+ minute matches every time.
The six-man tag on Night 2 was great, but his singles matches didn’t quite deliver. Hours has had much better performances in PWG.
Same story as Horus, CIMA looked great in the six-man, but neither of his singles matches delivered.
It was very cool to see Jody in a PWG ring. Unfortunately, he had possibly the weakest first round match.
T-Hawk and Bandido had a tremendous match on Night 1. The crowd was blown away by how hard he chops. He did almost literally nothing during the ten-man tag on Night 3, which I found hilarious, because really, who cares about the ten-man tag?
This was Starr’s best weekend in PWG by far. The final couple minutes of the match with Janela were tremendous.
Didn’t really talk about King when I reviewed the PCO match so I will here. He really took a step back this weekend, which was a smart booking decision. He had two really good matches. Strong weekend.
Jonah had a great weekend. He is finally getting over in PWG. His match with WALTER on night 3 was short, sweet, and wrapped up that story.
Not the best showing for Sammy, okay match with Rock. The crowd was way more responsive to him than they had been, some even cheering, which was surprising.
His match with Eagles on Night 2 was rough after a couple botches early on. Despite that, he got over nicely. His entrance is awesome in person.
Darby is an insane person. He took some crazy bumps, including a coffin drop on the apron, and an F5 from Cobb that spun him over 360°. Darby got himself over and is booked on the next show.
BOLA 2018 MVP
- 1) Shingo Takagi
- 2) Bandido
- 3) Ilja Dragunov
BOLA 2018 Top Five Matches:
- 1) Bandido vs Shingo vs Cobb: *****
- 2) Ilja Dragunov vs Shingo:****3/4
- 3) Ilja Dragunov and Shingo vs Ringkampf: ****1/2
- 4) Rascalz vs Lucha Bros: ****1/2
- 5) Shingo vs Robbie Eagles: ****1/4