City of Thorns
November 24, 2018
The lights went out before the opening bell in Portland, OR. This was an apparent cue to the packed Hawthorne Theatre, a cue to chant “DE-FY! DE-FY!” until the show was officially underway.
The One Percent def. Carl Randers & Cody Chhun
Referee Aubrey Edwards, fresh off officiating WWE’s Mae Young Classic tapings this summer, stood still and stern inside the ring during both teams’ entrances. Her in-ring presence and stoicism have gotten her over with the Portland DEFY crowd over the past year, though the MYC has helped as well, I’m sure. She received some of the first character-centric chants of the night.
When one person in the ring pushes their seriousness and professionalism to the extent Edwards does, it mitigates any of the sillier antics of a match in a few ways, plus it frees wrestlers up to be more creative within a set “box” of limitations, forcing them to be mindful, in the moment, and alive.
You could see nearly half the crowd pounding through their drinks by the time this match kicked off. The beginning was hot, with One Percenters Jorel Nelson and Royce Isaacs jumping Randers and Chhun before the actual bell.
Once the heels got their licks in and the match began, the forgiving Cody Chhun offered to shake hands with the OP, then offered a hand to his partner, Randers. All refused. He then insisted on shaking hands with everyone almost everyone fan at ringside. The crowd loved this.
The One Percent are big, athletic fellows from Las Vegas, Nev. with intensity and a look made for North American television. Nelson did the first tope suicide of the night, which reignited the already boiling crowd.
While the One Percent were obviously less green than Chhun and Randers, Chhun was the overwhelming babyface as this match progressed. He used the Shelton Benjamin running, jumping belly-to-belly superplex from the top in the middle of this match, something the crowd didn’t see coming so early on in the show.
Carl Randers has been improving over the past year with specific regard to his character and presence. He hasn’t left much of any impression on me when I’ve seen him in the past, but it’s obvious he is “getting it” and getting it quickly. His in-ring confidence isn’t forced, his reactions to moves and audience members are more in touch than they’ve been in the pace, the differences primarily in his facial expressions and natural body movement.
Referee Aubrey Edwards received more pops from the crowd as the match went on, and it delighted fans when she’d enforce rules on heels, here. I heard scattered shouts of things like “Tell ‘em, Aubrey!” Towards the end of this one.
Chhun turned the crowd heat up with a loud superkick and a tope of his own to the outside. The rookie Chhun was wildly popular with this crowd, and after this sequence, some were even on their feet.
The crowd was split between the two teams by the end of the match, the crowd turned up by the One Percent’s talent inside the ring.
It’s worth noting that Royce Isaacs showed great in-ring fire during the final sequences of this match. He had a unique intensity that seamlessly translated with the crowd. Isaacs used a set of impressive deadlift suplexes on Chhun. The team used a modified version of the Midnight Hour for the win.
After the match, Randers turned on Chhun and attacked his partner; Tommy Dreamer came out with a kendo stick and made the save. Chhun and Dreamer formed a makeshift alliance for the night.
King Khash def. Matt Cross
Cross was well received upon entrance. Benjamin Roberts the referee, was booed heavily. I don’t think he is supposed to be a heel ref but the crowd treated him as such.
Cross used a tope and split-legged moonsault just after the bell. The two brawled outside the ring during the early moments. Cross did a planking elbow drop from the ring post to the floor and it looked wild. Very impressive.
Khash has improved since I last saw him in with DEFY in May. He worked the heel role well throughout. Appropriate is the word here.
He used a number of leg submissions on Cross. The story they told was that Khash was trying to stop Cross from flying so he’d take out the legs. This worked. Cross sold hard and his timing in taking some of Khash’s moves exemplifies Cross’ subtle mastery of the art.
Cross finally did hit the split-legged moonsault, then used his neck-bounce off the ropes into hit a cutter.
Khash ultimately won via leglock submission, as Cross was, in storyline, not able to overcome Khash’s initial cheap shots to the leg and the attacks throughout the match.
After the bell, Khash continued to attack Cross and really heeled it up. Cross got his comeuppance in the end of the segment and reversed Khash’s submission before the things wrapped before the next match.
DEFY World Heavyweight Championship
Shane Strickland (c) def. Randy Myers
Myers got an insane reaction as he struts his way to the ring. He saw a man in the crowd wearing a DEFY t-shirt and kissed him. The fan acted like he’d just caught a foul ball from Jason Giambi.
The story here was of the hometown hero nature. Though neither Myers nor Strickland is from Oregon, they’re from Pacific-Northwest, and they’ve been the two primary faces of DEFY since its beginnings.
The choice to put this on third instead of last is an interesting one. Does programming like this devalue a company’s title? The knee-jerk reaction would be to say yes, it does, but it doesn’t, and it’s because these two wrestlers put on a match only they themselves could pull off.
Both postured at the crowd before the bell. They soaked in the heat, smartly, allowing the nuance of the booking to sink in. The crowd decided that, yes, the DEFY title did mean something. The fact that the crowd was so into the idea of the match and the performers themselves before the match solved the question I asked previously about title value and match placement: It doesn’t really matter where the hell you place your company’s primary title on the card as long as both wrestlers are over. DEFY producer Jim Perry explained to me that this out-of-the-box programming is what they are aiming for. “It’s like a flipping a record,” Perry said. Each side is different, but the sum of both add up to a killer collection of bangers.
Strickland and Myers were gracious with each other inside the ring before the bout and shook hands, though soon after the two set a serious stage, Myers went at Strickland with a number of kiss attacks.
“Swerve” bobbed and weaved his way out of numerous kiss attacks, plus avoided getting chapstick’d by Myers. The crowd ate the antics up and it is because of two things: a) athletically gifted both of them are, more particularly with regard to Shane Strickland, and b) they both showed a high emotional intelligence, or EQ, bouncing off the Portland crowd with ease, inciting them to shout and stand up, chant and cheer without thinking, and all within the first few minutes of the match.
On timing again: Strickland’s timing when giving and taking moves is off the charts. He slithers around the ring with like a snake on velvet, your mind not really ever believing what you’re seeing because his body type doesn’t necessarily imply in-ring smoothness. He’s built like a basketball player or swimmer, tall and lanky, but moves with the grace of Rey Mysterio, JR. and the explosiveness of Rob Van Dam.
Strickland used a huge springboard double-stomp. The match slowed down towards the middle of the match, the pace slowed but logical, the appropriate breathing room was given to the crowd.
Myers eventually countered Strickland’s excellent and modern subs with a spinning bodyslam. If you’re not familiar with Myers, I suppose he could be considered an aesthetic mix of Danshouku Dino and Headbanger Mosh. He’s the “Weirdo Hero” and vaguely tiptoes gender boundaries in a way that’s fun and, I hate this word but, lovable.
Can Myers’ persona work outside of the Pacific-Northwest? Yes, probably, depending on the booking. His character evolves with the times of the culture, which is always unique and exciting. I’m keeping an eye out on this fellow’s career.
Strickland used a crazy looking rolling springboard cutter later on, then a flashy pinning combination for a close two-count. Moments later, Myers kicked out of a diving stomp. The crowd absolutely lost their minds.
Myers hit a Canadian Destroyer and Strickland’s own diving double stomp for another close two. This received an even bigger reaction than the false-finish from before.
There were slow points in the match, but I say it with ambivalence. Sometimes that is just what a match seems to need.
In the final sequences, Strickland used a Death Valley Driver onto the apron, then a diving double stomp to the floor, and finally one more inside the ring: Swerve retains.
After the match, both men jaw-jacked in the ring until Myers kissed Strickland, who eventually reciprocated the smooch.
Myers got on the mic to thank the fans. He talked about how important the match was and that he and Swerve are the same and urged the crowd to unite, in a hazy but authentic sort of way. It got a great reaction and was a killer promo. People were on their feet chanting “We love you.”
The takeaway from this match is that the world should be watching both Strickland and Myers. 2019 will bear fruit for both of them, I’m sure of it.
Tommy Dreamer def. Drexl
After intermission, Drexl came out with Kliever and they licked people. Tommy Dreamer got a standing ovation when he came out. It was his first time in Portland, actually.
The match began with some chain wrestling. Tommy bit Drexl’s fingers and tossed a clump of his hair into the audience. Dreamer was doing the Dusty-is gimmick he’s been doing in IMPACT with the polka dot pants and even wore a shirt that read “Livin’ the Dream” for this match.
The two brawled outside the ring for a while. Dreamer smashed beer over Drexl to the crowd’s roaring delight.
Drexl is kind on the smaller for his wild streetlight brawler style but it worked here. He has a distinct look is a solid heel in the ring, always in the right places at the right time during his bouts.
Staples appeared midway through the match but Dr. Kliever interfered for the DQ finish. Cody Chhun burst out from backstage and saved dreamer, a callback to their makeshift alliance from earlier in the night.
Dreamer spoke to the crowd on the mic about how he had just come from Indianapolis from Detroit. His wife, Beulah McGuilicutty, and daughter hit a deer while they were home. They were fine, and Beulah told Dreamer to make the trip and wrestle. According to Dreamer, she told him to go be with his wrestling family. This was a cool moment for fans. It set the tone for the match, with Dreamer now in ultra-babyface mode. He then screamed he was going to “exorcize the demons for god’ and go hardcore. The match turned into an impromptu Falls Count Anywhere/No DQ match.
(Note: Dreamer said “Falls Count Anywhere” over the mic, but really this was just a No Disqualification match.)
Tommy Dreamer & Cody Chhun def. Dr. Kliever and Drexl
Chhun did a dive and Dreamer teased one, too, but just slid outside of the ring and started brawling with the big brutish baddies.
Back in the ring, Dreamer and Chhun did the “old school FBI” spot that Dreamer called loudly. Cheers and woos abounded.
There were lots of cane shots. The heels got their heat eventually and they started using a lot of typical wrestling weapons (chairs, kendo stick, etc). Chhun used one of the craziest looking cutters of the night and planted Drexel face-first into the black tarped mat.
The finish was weird; a botched Death Valley Driver from Dreamer to Drexl for the win. Aside from the weird ending, this was all ECW-style nostalgia fun. It was an excellent choice in programming, a total cool-down from the hot title match just an hour or so before.
Since the fans understand that these young guns are the company’s heels, the fans understand seem to understand the cues more quickly compared to the first time DEFY came arrived in Portland this past May. It’s amazing to see how quickly the audience has familiarized themselves with DEFY’s in just a few months.
Schaff def. Willie Mack
Willie Mack is a star. What makes him stand out from every wrestler on the card is his size and stature contrasted against one of the quickest, crispest workers in the business at the moment.
It’s magic, really. Mack has the body of the Everyman and moves like silk, arguably as quick as peers like Dezmond Naiver or Will Ospreay. His offense is always executed with conviction, grace and style, and his sell job in this match and in others is excellent. Study this guy if you want to be a bulletproof high-flying babyface in the modern era.
Schaff was very over with the crowd, the PNW amateur hero. He has the look of a pro, a sportsman. His confidence is quiet but easy to read as an audience member.
The crowd was split between Mack and Schaff from the beginning. They grew antsy with the slow start but the pace was appropriate considering what was to come. The crowd wasn’t entirely wild yet, but it didn’t need to be. The methodical pace was a good decision on their part and really set up the breakneck pace of the latter half of this match.
They did a great rope running sequence, to ignite the match tempo early on, kind of as a bridge to the slow and fast parts of the match. It was really impressive to see in person, crisp and intense.
I have to mention that Schaff was noticeably slow despite Mack constantly pushing the pace during their bout. If Schaff’s footwork was bit smoother and his ability to keep the pace with today’s top guys, he’ll be a monster on the independent scene.
As mentioned, the tempo cranked slowly upwards as Mack used tope con giro into the crowd. This got a big pop.
Compared to the first match on this show, the punches between Mack and Schaff were solid and snug, and even if you’re in the ring with them you could still hear and feel the impact of each chop, each elbow smash.
There was a mirror sequence where, on the outside of the ring, Mack and Schaff did hard chops and titty-twisters. This received a chant.
Schaff later willed himself over the ropes with a tope con giro of his own. This garnered a loud reaction because I honestly don’t think the crowd expected him to pull it off, and so smoothly, too. This guy is borderline massive which makes it all the more spectacular.
I realized this was a part of a larger mirror sequence. Mack first did a tope, brawled with Schaff outside, teased a chop and did a titty-twister; Schaff did the exact same thing afterward.
Later, Mack did a few power moves that I’d consider equally as innovative as they were impressive particularly because of Schaff’s size.
Mack eventually won the crowd over on merit, something difficult to achieve organically these days, all because he was that damn good. Everything Mack does looks perfect in various ways, and not only his flying offense but with his creative power moves and capacity to throw bigger fellows around without looking like he’s exerting much energy.
Schaff used a long-delayed suplex on Mack and it was impressive. He’s a solid young power wrestler, like if Jeff Cobb wrestled like Kensuke Sasaki. He has a great presence but is missing that special sensing that frankly comes with experience. His ability to showcase his raw strength in the ring specifically will be what makes him money in the future.
There were some botched spots towards the end of the match, miscommunications that crinkled the vibe of the match. DEFY crowds tend to know what’s up and acted accordingly here, not getting too down on the wrestlers and still hanging in there with them.
The finish was a torture rack slam on Mack for the pin. I’m not sure what happened between the ref and both wrestlers. It seemed like the ref and the wrestlers were out of sync which spot the finish was going to be.
There was an awkward silence, the crowd was confused, but yeah, Schaff won. Mack sold for a long while but got up and soaked in the “please come back” chants, which he neither acknowledged nor ignored.
2/3rds of this match was almost on the level of something you’d see in PWG, with a crisp pace and clear in-ring storytelling. The match fell apart in the last five minutes or so, not offensively so but enough to alter your overall feeling about the match.
DEFY Tag Titles
American Guns (c) def. LAX
LAX received a cool response at first, positive, but more curious than anything. Both Santana and Ortiz have great chemistry and individual charisma, Santana with his intensity and Ortiz with unforced improvised humor, often on the edgier side as not to diminish the gangster gimmick they have going on. They carry themselves in a unique way, in a way that for some reason forces you to remember.
The Guns seemed to have a slight home field advantage at this show with a few pockets of cliques in the audience shouting for them. Santana threw bullets at the tag champs in the ring before the bell. Sanatana and Santiago got into it, jaw-jacking. Santana is very authentic in his promo ability. Ortiz was surprisingly funny on the apron.
There was a nice rope-running sequence at the beginning of this match as well with Santana and Santiago. Santana did an amazing Fenix-esque rope-bouncing arm drag move. This guys is underrated, or at least under-discussed.
At one point, Ortiz screamed that Ethan HD had shifty eyes and that he didn’t like or trust him but Mike Santiago was ok. The crowd started chanting “shifty eyes” after this.
Ethan HD used a great frankensteiner on entering the ring. The Guns don’t have the look or body type that most wrestlers have or strive towards today, it means nothing here because these guys can go. Every match I’ve seen with either of them involved is always solid. The term “mechanic” isn’t thrown around much in this era since the landscape has shifted so drastically, but I think the word fits these two. I feel it’s a positive because they can get over when they need to as they’re growing on the local crowds, but their style is crisp and streamlined (a bit of every style), and this makes them prime time guys for DEFY because, in theory, depending on their skill level, they could have a great match with any team and the company never really loses face.
Santana’s chops were very hard. The team has a great set of tag moves they execute with ease and confidence, obvious to the crowd that they now do these moves without thinking about them much. They also bounced off the crowd in an organic way, a fun way that doesn’t discredit them as goofs. They can get authentic pops and laughs by being mindful of the air, the room, the vibes, man. They’re good at this wrestling thing.
There was a surplus of innovative offense from LAX in this match. It’d take too long to figure out what to call the moves, and then name all these moves. I’d need a recording and need to pause and think and write about it. That should give you an idea of how impressive it is to see them live for the first time; their flow is relentless and overwhelming, that new action-movie in-ring pace that pro wrestling prescriptivists loathe but everyone else seems to understand and realize how out of this world it truly is.
The Guns retained by escaping one LAX’s finisher and reversing it into a cradle variation. After a few minutes, LAX later went into the crowd after AG left the area and celebrated like the won. The crowd loved this. The booking is clean and everyone wins because they weren’t too bummed out because they’re favorite team lost, but because both teams earned the crowd’s respect, they at least got to get that intimate “in concert” feeling that feeds the audience, that is the new form of building a company’s audience, the special moments, the things that only the individuals in the building can share with the world. People want moments now because the general concept of time-capture and sharing the content is as mundane an activity as walking the dog, an appropriate metaphor in that both are dependent upon the context of the situation, not the act itself.
A tremendous show from top to bottom. DEFY is great for hardcore fans or lapsed fans who are fed up with the aesthetic soullessness that is, as some still call it, “The Whiff.”
DEFY’s 2nd-anniversary show, DEFY Never Dies, will be held Jan. 19 in Seattle, WA. Guests include SoCal Uncensored, Shane Strickland and more. For ticket information, visit DEFYwrestling.com.