To say that 2018 has been a busy year in Australasian Wrestling would be an understatement.
2017 was the year that the world “noticed” us. 2018 was when Australian and New Zealand wrestling started to mature. The top promotions started to draw big crowds. The top talent is being scouted by the big players in the wrestling industry. New Japan has its third affiliated dojo based in Auckland and the specter of a potential NXT Oceania is looming over us.
This is your Voices of Wrestling 2018 Australia and New Zealand Awards. Let’s meet our judging panel:
- I’m Kevin Chiat. I review Underworld Wrestling for the site and I’m based in Western Australia.
- My name is Tim, I’m from Oakland, California, which is not in Australia or New Zealand. I watch a lot of Australasian wrestling, and I’m here to provide an outside perspective.
- And TheScorpioCorp didn’t write his own intro because he is a true man of mystery.
In Part 1, we’ll be covering Wrestler of the Year, Promotion of the Year, Most Underrated and our Top 10s for Australian/New Zealand Match of the Year.
Wrestler of the Year
1. Robbie Eagles
It had to be Robbie. What a phenomenal year that he has had and I think that he is a genuine top 10 wrestler in the world (in terms of in-ring work). Feels like the biggest star on the Aussie indies along with Jonah Rock and Adam Brooks. But what sets Robbie apart from his fellow contemporaries is his overseas reception. While Rock and Brooks have had divisive reactions (Rock getting boos in PWG and Brooks having an underwhelming run in the UK), Robbie has received mainly positive reviews from his work in PWG & NJPW. Not to mention his resume of great matches across multiple promotions and states in Australia. Nobody else has the resume that Robbie has. His most noteworthy match a classic rematch with Will Ospreay in PWA. Genuine 5-star match in my opinion.
The MVP of Melbourne City Wrestling. God bless him for coming back to the company in 2017. His MCW Intercommonwealth title run has been sensational. Fantastic matches with the likes of Eagles, Ospreay, Brooks and others. His trademark sunglasses and jacket have made him a bit of meme, but he has used it to gain a swagger and charisma which has made a very over cool heel. It really showed in his series with Adam Brooks, who is also a very over cool heel and they both received split reactions. His slick looks go with the fact that is a slick wrestler.
3. Caveman Ugg
Tough to pick number three. Wanted to pick either Ospreay or Brooks because they have had excellent matches in Australia. However, Ospreay obviously isn’t based in Australia and Brooks spent most of the year in the UK. So screw it, I’m picking the big, powerful and ridiculously agile CAVEMAN UGG! (yes, his gimmick is actually a caveman). Emerged as a top guy in the New South Wales scene and won the PWA championship. One of those big men who does things that a man of his size should not be able to do.
1. Robbie Eagles
Even if you are unfamiliar with Australian wrestling you probably know the name Robbie Eagles. In 2018 Robbie has been one of the breakout stars of not only Australian wrestling, but independent wrestling as a whole. Domestically Eagles has been the best in-ring workers in Australia this year, taking part in some of the country’s top matches. In his home promotion, Pro Wrestling Australia, in Sydney, he has had tremendous performances against Will Ospreay, Caveman Ugg, and Mick Moretti. He has been a big part of Melbourne City Wrestling as well this year, feuding with Slex over the Intercommonwealth Championship. In April Robbie made his PROGRESS debut as part of their Australian tour in a tremendous match against Travis Banks. His PROGRESS debut came days after making his PWG debut at All Star Weekend 14, in a triple threat match with Flash Morgan Webster and Sammy Guevara. Of the three wrestlers to make it to PWG, Robbie is the one who has really won the hearts of the PWG faithful with star-making performances against Bandido and Shingo at BOLA. In February Eagles took part in the New Japan tour of Australia, and impressed enough to be brought to Japan for their Super Junior Tag League, and was inducted into the Bullet Club. In December Eagles defeated Austin Aries to win the World Series Wrestling Heavyweight Championship and defended the title in his New Zealand debut later that month. To me, Robbie is the only choice for wrestler of the year, and I can’t see the argument for anybody else.
2. Jonah Rock
In 2018 Jonah Rock has been a main eventer everywhere he’s wrestled. In April he became the first Australian to main event a PWG show when he took on Keith Lee and WALTER for the PWG World Championship at All-Star Weekend 14 Night 2. He also wrestled against Zack Sabre Jr in PROGRESS this year and was an entrant in wXw’s 16 Carat Gold tournament. Domestically Rock held heavyweight championships in PWA, IWA and Wrestle Rampage in 2018, feuding with the likes of Caveman Ugg, Chris Abbott, AJ Istria, and Rat Daddy.
While I have enjoyed Slex’s work this year slightly more than his TMDK stablemate, I have to give the edge to Rock over Slex, just because Rock worked a lot more places than Slex did. That being said, Slex is one of the highlights of MCW this year. Almost every match he had was good to amazing. His matches with Syd Parker, Pete Dunne, Will Ospreay, Adam Brooks, and Robbie Eagles are some of the country’s best this year. As great as he was in Melbourne, he didn’t wrestle internationally like Rock or Eagles did.
1. Robbie Eagles
There is no other choice for number 1; Robbie Eagles is Australia’s best wrestler. Robbie started 2018 as both MCW Intercommonwealth and PWA Champion. He starred in the match of the NJPW Australia tour with Will Ospreay and Cody in Perth. He had a succession of very good to excellent matches throughout the country before being invited to PWG (and then getting straight off the plane from LA to have a 4.5-star match with Travis Banks in Sydney). Robbie and Ospreay had the Australian MOTY at PWA Call to Arms, and he followed that up with being invited to team with Taiji Ishimori in the Super Junior Tag Tournament. Eagles has capped off his 2018 by unseating Austin Aries to become the first ever Australian WSW Champion. Robbie is far and away the best in the country at the moment and is turning himself into Australia’s biggest drawcard.
When it was announced that Slex would face Kazuchika Okada at MCW November Rain 2017; it came as a surprise. It had been almost a year since Slex was last seen in a MCW ring, and I think that he had slipped out of a lot of people’s minds. Then he killed it with Okada, earning praise worldwide. Slex followed up a match with the World’s Best by challenging Australia’s Best and went straight into a feud with Robbie Eagles over the Intercommonwealth title. Slex’s title reign featured very good to excellent matches with Davis Storm, Syd Parker and Will Ospreay. He eventually traded the belt back and forth with Adam Brooks in a pair of top-notch matches. Now Slex seems on the cusp of a big-time babyface run and is my tip to be the guy who finally takes the MCW Championship away from Gino Gambino.
3. Michael Morleone
‘The Don’ Michael Morleone was pretty much the consensus pick for Western Australia’s Wrestler of the Year. Holding both the EPW Championship and New Horizons Pro Wrestling Championship for most of the year, Don was the main event star of West Australian wrestling for 2018. Excellent at selling and drawing an audience into a match, Morleone isn’t the typical super indie style worker. His strength is in selling and psychology rather than flashy moves; but I think he is one of the best in Australia at getting a crowd to care about his match. Don’s year was highlighted by three matches; vs Jimmy Havoc at EPXxPROGRESS, vs Jeff Cobb at NHPW Global Conflict and vs Gavin McGavin in a steel cage at EPW Vendetta. He finished off the year challenging Craven for the SHWA Championship in a very good main event.
Kevin’s Honourable Mentions: Gino Gambino started his year in the Tokyo Dome and ended it as MCW Champion. He went from being Australia’s top comedy babyface to being Australia’s top heel. Underrated in the ring, Gambino has ascended to being a star main eventer.
Gavin McGavin has been a stand-out performer in EPW since turning heel in 2016. This year he was given the ball and finally became EPW Champion. Great at drawing heat and generally being detestable; it will be a big deal when he’s beaten for the championship. McGavin is also aiming to travel more widely throughout Australia this coming year and will hopefully get more of the national attention he deserves.
Promotion of the Year
Still the standard bearer for promotions in Australia. They continue to go from strength to strength. The Melbourne scene has really become a hotbed for wrestling. MCW 100 and MCW New Horizons felt like monumental shows for the Australian scene. Doing more Thornbury Theatre shows and getting bigger crowds is a sign of their growth. Their other projects such as WrestleRock and the all-female GLOW shows seem to be succeeding. They do have some undercard issues, but that is like any promotion in the Oceania region. Partnered with PROGRESS for their Australia show in Melbourne (as did PWA in Sydney and EPW in Perth).
PWA has taken a huge leap forward this year. Their overall production has lifted & looks fabulous. They have gotten serious about their VOD service. The shift towards 18+ shows (while still maintaining their CHIKARA elements) and having Max Watt’s as their main venue has helped to cultivate a fun passionate atmosphere. Seems to have a strong crop of young upcoming talent like The Velocities, Unsocial Jordan, Matty Wahlberg, Ricky South, Kai Drake etc.
Mixed feelings about EPW thanks to its booking and other areas. They have struggled with their depth at times. I’ve been underwhelmed by some of the top wrestlers and storylines. However, it still feels like that they are the number three promotion in Australia. 2018 has still probably been one of their best years. I respect that they are pushing fresh blood into the main event scene like Gavin McGavin and Julian Ward. They have two of the best tag teams in the country (The Untouchables and Street Gang Hooligans).
For the promotion of the year, we go to the biggest and most famous promotion, Melbourne City Wrestling. MCW made the biggest impact of any Australasian company in 2018. They consistently had the best shows, a lot of the best matches, had great attendance, and noticeably hotter crowds than they had in 2017. In April, MCW was part of the PROGRESS Australian tour and then put on their own show, Ballroom Brawl the next night. With the quality of those two shows, MCW proved they could put on double shot weekends and be successful, as those were two of the best Australian shows of the year. At their 100th show, MCW hit a huge milestone, drawing quadruple digits, as 1,200 fans showed up to watch Naito vs Rock. It’s impossible to talk about MCW without mentioning the key players. Slex was the MVP of MCW in 2018, with Will Ospreay right behind him. MCW is home to some of the major names in Australian wrestling, including Gino Gambino, Adam Brooks, Dowie James, and the secondary home for Jonah Rock, and two of the breakout stars of 2018, Tome and Stevie Filip. Not everything was a hit this year, while the top of their cards are stacked, their undercard is somewhat lacking. MCW also tends to be too “sports entertainment” for my liking at times, with overbooking often getting in the way of matches. MCW is the obvious choice for the promotion of the year, but it’s the right one. Even with a few misses, they have been the standard bearer for Australasian wrestling in 2018.
While MCW had the best year, I firmly believe PWA is the best promotion in Australia. PWA has the deepest roster in my opinion, with Robbie Eagles, Madison Eagles, Caveman Ugg, Mick Moretti, and Shazza McKenzie as their top stars. They have the best women’s division with Madison, Shazza, Jessica Troy, and Facebrooke. They have the best crop of young talent on the continent between Paris De Silva, Tyler Payne, “Tuff Stuff” Ricky South, Kai Drake, Jude “The Dude” London, and more. A lot of people compare PWA to Chikara, with gimmicks like Juan Direction and Big Fudge on the undercard, even bringing in Mike Quackenbush as a guest trainer in 2017. Style wise I see PWA as more of an Australian version of Chicago’s AAW. PWA is the closest thing to a good US or UK promotion work rate wise. While MCW was the promotion of the year in 2018, I believe PWA has set themselves up to blow past them in 2019. PWA has really come on strong in the second half of the year, with great top to bottom shows, some of the best Australian matches of the year, good angles that gives purpose to every wrestler on the roster, great video packages, even moving their shows to concert venue Max Watt’s, which looks a lot nicer on camera than their old home. Going into 2019, Damian Slater and newest TMDK member Mikey Broderick have announced TMDK will invade PWA; adding Slex, Pitt, and hopefully, Mikey Nicholls to that already loaded roster can only be a good thing. PWA will also have a presence at WrestleMania weekend, as they have a match scheduled on the Powerbomb show.
Coming in third for the promotion of the year is New Zealand’s Southern Pro Wrestling. While Australian promotions have a tough time due to geographic limitations, it is even tougher in New Zealand. To make things even more challenging, the two major Kiwi cities(Auckland and Wellington) are on the north island. SPW is based in Invercargill, which is in the southernmost part of the southern island, making SPW one of the most isolated promotions in the world. Even with geography as a factor, SPW has drawn shockingly well, as 1,200 fans showed up for their Southern Rumble show. The thing I admire about SPW is even though they draw a lot of families, and not your typical smarky indie fans, they are striving to put on shows for Indy fans. SPW could probably get away with putting on “sports entertainment” type shows, but instead have linked up with MCW and PROGRESS, and brought in guys like Travis Banks, Will Ospreay, and Toa Henare. SPW is being propped up by co-owners T-Rex and English wrestler, “Hooligan” Marcus Kool, and three students from their first class; JK Moody, Kane Khan, and Will Power, all of whom have a lot of potential and tremendous improvement in 2018. The thing that can’t be overlooked about SPW is their roster is tiny, and the match quality is pretty far behind your typical Indy promotion, but given their limitations, that’s totally understandable. There is a lot to love about SPW, their production is top notch, their commentator David Dunn is fantastic, and even things like having a beautiful title and a nice looking ring gives SPW that professional look. There is also a great documentary on YouTube that I highly recommend checking out.
Melbourne City Wrestling are the standard bearers of Australian pro-wrestling. They consistently draw the biggest crowds, have the best production values and the best wrestlers in the country working for them. 2018 saw MCW run their biggest ever show at MCW 100 and their best show with New Horizons. They took some big risks that paid off, like turning the beloved Mr. Juicy into Gino Gambino who quickly established himself as the top heel in the country. 2018 has also seen MCW successfully reboot their WrestleRock sub-brand and run all-female shows at a local hipster bar. It hasn’t been a perfect year for MCW and there have been low moments such as a dull Vance Adams/Mike Burr feud, Syd Parker disappearing half-way through the year and everything involving Alan Payne. However, I think that on the whole MCW put on the best product in the country and should be the number one promotion anyone from overseas is watching if they want to get into Australian Wrestling.
I haven’t watched as much PWA as I would have liked to this year, but they have clearly been on an upswing in 2018 and have become a much hotter promotion since switching to being an 18+ product. PWA is helped by having Australia’s best male talent (Robbie Eagles) and female talent (Madison Eagles) as the cornerstones of the group and head trainers of their school. Since moving to a new venue, it really feels like PWA have picked up a devoted fanbase in Sydney and are seen as cool in their local market. Apart from Eagles, some of Australia’s top talent is based at PWA such as Mick Morretti, Shazza McKenzie and Caveman Ugg. They also have some of Australia’s top up and comers like Ricky South and Matty Wahlberg. I’ll admit that their factions confuse me (I still don’t really understand what The Four Nations are) and I’m cold on some of their more Chikaraesque elements. However, PWA looks poised to have an even bigger 2019.
It was really World Series Wrestling’s last tour that elevated them in my opinion (that they finally ran Perth probably played a role in it). WSW is a touring promotion that runs quarterly shows across Australia, mixing up Australian talent with international super indie talent. WSW has been excellent at picking some of hottest international stars to bring to Australia; such as The Young Bucks, Bandido and Walter (their only real bizarre booking choice were The Headbangers in 2017). I’d like to see them book less international vs international matches and more parity in results between international and local talent; but those are minor quibbles. Leaning into Austin Aries’ natural dickishness and turning him heel lead to one of the best-built matches in Australia this year with him and Robbie Eagles capping off WSW’s latest tour. WSW’s footage is available on Impact’s Global Wrestling Network; which honestly doesn’t seem to have really helped them grow. Unless they’re getting a nice chunk of money from Anthem then I honestly think the promotion would benefit more from running their own Pivotshare.
Kevin’s Honourable Mentions: Melbourne’s Underworld Wrestling has made the biggest splash internationally of any Australian group with their Amazon Prime distribution deal. I’ve been reviewing the shows regularly for Voices of Wrestling, and my main takeaway has been that show is more good different than bad different in its approach. I’m still waiting for them to have a blow away match; but from live reports, it sounds like their latest tapings might have fixed that complaint.
Perth’s Explosive Pro Wrestling had an up and down year; with some of their pushed talent underperforming and storylines that dragged. However, it is by far the top promotion in Western Australia and is home to some of the country’s absolute best talent. It was rare for a show not to feature at least one very good match.
Most Underrated Wrestler
1. Syd Parker
I have said it before, but Syd Parker is the Darby Allin of the Australian scene. In the sense that he has an unpredictability and chaotic energy that I think no one else has here. The man throws his body around in a reckless and nasty manner. He has a unique gimmick and look with his mystical punk attire. Also, he’s got a Voodoo Witch as his manager. Most importantly, I actually think he is one of the best wrestlers in Australia but is undervalued at times by promotions and fans.
2. Tommy Knight
When people talk about the best young prospects in Australasia, people might sleep on Tommy Knight. The guy is already one of the best in the SA scene (behind Jonah Rock and AJ Istria). Came back from the NJPW LA Dojo and he looks like a star. He has improved a lot since returning. Big strong lad who can throw people around. Started as a Kevin Owens tribute act (well, appearance wise) and evolved into a more Tomohiro Ishiiesque look which works much better. With Jonah expected to be leaving for the WWE in January, his pupil will become more prominent in the SA scene and perhaps beyond.
3. Ritchie Taylor
This man seemed to be more involved in the lower level Melbourne indies. Had been an underutilized wrestler in the Melbourne scene. His match against Robbie Eagles in Adrenaline Pro this year had helped to get more eyes on him and appears to have helped him in getting more bookings in promotions like MCW and Underworld. Looks rough and hits hard. Has some of the best-looking strikes in the country. I get a barroom brawler vibe from him and I love that.
1. Kai Drake
To me, Kai Drake is the most underrated wrestler in Australasia. Drake is a student of Lance Storm and has trained at the Wrestle-1 dojo, which shows in his style. He has a good look, great facial expressions, and has some wicked strikes. Drake is part of a very deep group of young wrestlers coming out of the Sydney area, and that may be why he gets lost in the shuffle. In late 2017, Kai proved he could hang with the best Australia has to offer, when he took Robbie Eagles to the limit in a great match at Wrestling GO’s Luchamania show.
In 2018 Kai’s highest-profile matches were mainly battle royals and as the straight man in a comedy team with Tree Hugger Luchi, doing the environmentalist gimmick. At only 22 years old I see a ton of potential in Kai Drake, and I’m expecting him to climb the PWA ladder in 2019.
2. Syd Parker
When I first saw Syd Parker I thought he was a future superstar. Syd has all the potential in the world, he’s athletic, charismatic, and has some of the most unique offense of anyone in Australasia. However, it’s impossible to call his year anything other than a disappointment. To me, Syd’s biggest problem is the way he presents himself. Syd is a heavily gimmicked wrestler, wearing green face paint, sporting a giant mohawk, and calling himself “The Jurassic Punk”. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it is not a major league look, and for someone with as much potential as Parker, I find it frustrating that he is so gimmick focused when he should be having killer matches. Syd did have a tag title run this year in MCW with Caveman Ugg, but his shining moment this year came at the main event of MCW Ascension when he took on Slex for the Intercommonwealth Championship in one of the best matches of the year. There were no gimmicks, just an awesome match that showcased what Syd is really capable of.
3. Ritchie Taylor
When Ritchie Taylor made his MCW debut in 2017 along with his brother Zane as the Fighting Taylor Brothers I was not exactly impressed. In the ring, he looked like a decent wrestler, but character wise his personality clashed with his on ring style. The brothers came to the ring dancing and smiling, with Teenage Dirtbag as their entrance. After only two matches they were gone from MCW. In 2018 Ritchie dropped the Wheatus song, got rid of the dancing, and stopped playing to the crowd so much, and as a result became a much better worker, with a much more intense, hard-hitting style. Ritchie made his return at MCW Fight To Survive in September, taking on JK Moody in a great contest. In that match Ritchie showed an intensity he hadn’t shown in his previous MCW outings, leveling Moody with several stiff elbow strikes. Since then, Taylor has yet to return, which is a shame. In a “sports entertainment” heavy style promotion like MCW, having a non-gimmicked wrestler like Ritchie Taylor on the undercard would add a lot to their shows.
1. Julian Ward
Julian Ward is one of the top young talents in the country. He is an excellent worker and a natural babyface (though he’s also gaining experience as a heel in NHPW and SHWA). I wouldn’t describe Ward as underrated in his own home state, but he’s definitely underrated throughout the country. Ward is a talent that every promotion in the country should be looking at bringing in.
2. Erika Reid
Erika Reid has a superstar look and presence. She is a good worker and willing to take risks. She is also the highest profile Aboriginal wrestler in the country, which gives her a level of mainstream media appeal that no one else has (there was a photo essay about her published in The Guardian). However, in the bigger groups, it seems like she can never get a sustained push. I’d like to see that change.
3. Del Cano
Recently returned from a European sojourn, Del Cano is one of the better Lucha style performers in Australia. He’s best known for being part of a comedy tag-team in EPW, but his work in SHWA as a main event babyface and NHPW as a dastardly rudo demonstrates his versatility. His SHWA title match at the start of the year with Jarrad Slate was the MOTY for the promotion.
Match of the Year
- Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles – PWA Call to Arms *****
- Logan Grey & Alex Kingston vs Damian Slater & Marcius Pitt – EPW Hot Summer’s Night ****1/2
- Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles vs Caveman Ugg vs Mick Moretti – PWA Return of the Ospreay ****1/2
- Robbie Eagles vs Gino Gambino – MCW New Horizons ****1/4
- Pete Dunne vs Slex – MCW Ballroom Brawl ****1/4
- Dowie James vs Lochy Hendricks – MCW End Game ****1/4
- Will Ospreay vs Slex – MCW 100 ****1/4
- Will Ospreay vs Gino Gambino – MCW Clash of Titans ****1/4
- Slex vs Adam Brooks – MCW New Horizons ****1/4
- Adam Brooks vs Slex – MCW End Game ****¼
- Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles – PWA Call to Arms 2018 ****3/4
- Will Ospreay vs Gino Gambino – MCW Clash of the Titans 2018 ****1/2
- Travis Banks vs Robbie Eagles – PWAxPROGRESS ****1/2
- Robbie Eagles vs Gino Gambino – MCW New Horizons 2018 ****1/2
- Pete Dunne vs Slex – MCW Ballroom Brawl 2018 ****1/4
- Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles vs Caveman Ugg vs Mick Moretti – PWA Return of the Ospreay ****1/4
- Pete Dunne vs Davis Storm – EPWxPROGRESS ****1/4
- Syd Parker vs Slex – MCW Ascension 2018 ****
- Will Ospreay vs Marcus Kool – SPW Southern Rumble 2018 ****
- Travis Banks vs JXT vs Elliot Sexton – MCWxPROGRESS ****
- Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles – PWA Call to Arms 2018 *****
- Travis Banks vs Elliot Sexton vs JXT – MCWxPROGRESS ****3/4
- Logan Grey/Alex Kingston vs Marcius Pitt/Damian Slater – EPW Re-Awakening 17 ****3/4
- Davis Storm vs Pete Dunne – EPWxPROGRESS ****1/2
- Logan Grey/Alex Kingston vs Marcius Pitt/Damian Slater – EPW Hot Summers Night 2018 ****1/2
- Gavin McGavin vs Julian Ward – EPW Evolution 2018 ****1/2
- Will Ospreay vs Slex – MCW 100 ****1/2
- Gino Gambino vs Robbie Eagles – MCW New Horizons ****1/2
- Will Ospreay vs Caveman Ugg vs Robbie Eagles vs Mick Morretti – PWA Return of the Ospreay ****1/2
- Travis Banks vs Robbie Eagles – PWAxPROGRESS ****1/2
Join us next time for Part 2, in which we’ll hand out awards for Tag Team of the Year, Breakout Wrestler of the Year, International Export of the Year and Show of the Year.