Revolution Pro Wrestling
High Stakes 2019
February 15, 2019
York Hall

Watch: RPW On Demand

The wrestling landscape is an undulating, changing monster at the minute. It feels like we are in a new galaxy, with shifts and movements that a millennial fan could only imagine even ten years ago. Ultimately, the winner is the fan who gets to see dream matches like Ospreay vs Pac. Did it deliver?

Josh Bodom def. Angelico

Angelico has always been aggressively average. He dances to the ring like the man in the university bar who is just that year or two too old. That being said, he is capable of some interesting flipz, and that goes a long way when opening a show.

Bodom’s character is excellent; he oozes ‘school bully’ fake machismo, I’m convinced he would beat you up if you stood on his trainers. He fills the air with hostility. He is intensely unlikeable, and the pairing with Sha Samuels is perfect.

The structure of the match is fairly standard. Bodom brings the power and Angelico hints at bursts of speed but is thwarted every time. It’s an obvious things to do but it does the job, without ever feeling particularly exciting. Angelico always feels a step behind. A knee to the face to counter a dive from the ropes was so obvious I felt like I was reading a script.

Angelico launches into a 450, misses and rolls through like a sprite in a platformer before being caught in a Bodom Breaker. The match starts to get some life, but is then euthanized by Rev Pro’s current obsession – “telling stories.” Sha Samuels runs to the ring and obviously the magnetism of having another wrestler at ringside is just too much for our babyface hero. He is so confounded, so immensely discombobulated, so overly burden with pride and willingness to fight heelish behaviour in all its forms he must go and challenge the invading forces. The distraction leads to a Bliss Buster and the win for Bodom.

The run in was incredibly quick, but it’s these kind of “stories” that Bodom doesn’t need. He’s already hateable, with his “my dad is richer than yours” haircut. All shenanigans do is leave this critic feeling unsatisfied. **¾

Team White Wolf def Besties in the World

Team White Wolf seem poised to take over the world in 2019. The team that perform for free in Spain, being rewarded by their love of professional wrestling, bring such a wonderful story with them it’s easy to forget the fact they are phenomenal wrestlers. A-Kid even has a hallowed Meltzer five star match under his belt.

A Kid is a sublime wrestler. The grappling with Fitchet that opens the match has him squirming around like slime, punctuating the submission attempts with realistic strikes that give a sense of struggle that’s often missing from these opening exchanges. A Kid wrestles with guile and intelligence which gives him an exciting unpredictability. He wrestles to his size and makes even simple dropkicks look brutal.

As the match progresses, and Team White Wolf dominate, there’s a subtle shift towards arrogance from the Spanish team. It’s excellent storytelling; it gives a lovely wrinkle to the work without screaming in your face and affecting the integrity of either team. It also builds to a superb hot tag from Fitchet which seems him fly from corner to corner and literally flipping his way along the apron.

The closing stretch, with a double submission struggle being overpowered by the larger team, was stunning. The match was an excellent exhibition between two dynamic teams. ****

Rev Pro Women’s Championship
Zoe Lucas (c) def Bea Priestley

Bea Priestley has always given me an odd insomnia. I’ve seen her perform live and on tape multiple times, but I never seem to be able to say much about her. There’s something about her that’s intensely forgettable.

Zoe Lucas, on the other hand, has improved immeasurably since getting the belt. She’s always had a spoilt arrogance, but since gaining the validation of a title, she has ramped her entitlement up to eleven. She has the sneer of a girl who wants everything, not because she needs it but because she knows other people do.

This match starts with a stunning ferocity. Priestley bursts out of the corner with a huge backdrop and this descends into the kind of brutal, borderline shoot strike fest that I love. It’s a cacophony of wince inducing boots to the head and big knee strikes.

Unfortunately, it moves like a car coasting in neutral. It gradually slows down until the finish, which was an odd submission reversal into a fluke pin. The gentleness of the ending juxtaposed the brutality of the match. Perhaps it was the bored look on Priestley’s face as she locked in the submissions, completely undermining the idea that she was supposed to be hurting her opponent, or perhaps it was the clumsy way Lucas struggled to put her feet on the ropes to get the unnecessary unfair victory. A great match marred by an unusual ending. ***½

CCK def Aussie Open

When I was at university, I would often be dragged to local comedy clubs. The kind of clubs where the card would be packed with comedians on their way up or about to hit rock bottom. The club itself would be a cavalcade of sticky carpets and bar staff selling fluorescent shots in plastic test tubes because, I assume, they’re wacky.

During these trips, I would enjoy the schadenfreude of comedy gone wrong. I would take some sick pleasure from watching a comedian tell a joke that they’d clearly nurtured and infused with belief and passion, only for it to be born into an awkward, cringe inducing atmosphere.

Young men, however, grow and change. Like puzzles, we gain pieces and lose them. I no longer enjoy watching bad comedy and I find it hard to revel in watching somebody’s creative ideas die a death.

The first half of this match was one of the most ill-judged, boring comedy routines I have even seen. I have no idea how long the ‘who’s going to tag in’ routine that CCK inflicted upon me was, but it made me feel like I was being waterboarded with reruns of 1980s Coronation Street being played in the background. I just wanted it to end. The low rate street mime of conversation between CCK as they deliberated who would face Davis reeked of first year drama student.

I understood the story being told as the match progressed – let’s get rid of Dunkzilla and focus on the smaller man – but the bad will from earlier in the match was too high a mountain to climb. Dunkzilla was the stand out in the closing stretch, and the last fifteen minutes was a showcase of what the three stars in the match are capable of. It made me wonder why, if nobody wanted to bump for half an hour, why not have a fifteen minute match? I assume it was so Andy could scream about his new mistress – time limits. ***

El Phantasmo def MJF

The production of this entire show has been dogged with atrocious sound. The commentary is punctuated with awful mic pops and is often barely audible. The sound problems are prominent here where both men deliver promos that, while I’m sure were thrilling, were aural quick sand.

If there’s one spot that I would banish from wrestling if I could, it’s the heel going for a handshake. ELP manages to breath life into it, however, and all it took was a liberal rubbing of the testicles into a middle finger. Sometimes, it’s the simple moments that ignite a match.
MJF is certainly a better character than he is a wrestler, but I enjoy the way his eyes burst out of his head with each chop. He emotes superbly, and every moment of offense from ELP sends the crowd bouncing. MJF takes us through the heel play book page by page, but he does it so well I don’t mind.

We also get ELP’s greatest flips and dives with some extra seasoning. A top rope moonsault into the crowd was such a dangerously unnecessary move, it took this match to another level.

The most interesting element of this match wasn’t necessarily the work. The ring announcer started to tell us how long has passed in the match to an audible booing from certain sections of the audience. Rev Pro have built their brand on attracting the fan who values the art of professional wrestling, and they seem to have forgotten that this crowd know foreshadowing when they see it. We’re getting a time limit draw at some point tonight. I wonder which of the two remaining matches it will be?

Sound issues aside, the camera work here is stunning. ELP leapt through the screen as he launched himself most of the way across the ring to get the win. ***½

MK McKinnon def Kip Sabian

MK McKinnon is my favourite type of wrestler. He would be overlooked by many, certainly by those who value the testosterone ridden stench of fake tan. But for me, he’s real. He’s gradually working his way up the Rev Pro ranks through old fashioned graft. He’s not afraid to put his body on the line, or the bodies of his opponents.

This should have been the Great-O-Kharn, but Kip Sabian is a definite upgrade. I’ve enjoyed the odd O-Kharn match, but the majority are paint by numbers repetition.

The arrogance of Kip Sabian is captivating. A leap out of a grapple into a pose reminiscent of a wrestling Jesus on pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethanal Green was fantastic. The wonderful thing about his character, though, is that he delivers. His Northern Lights suplex is picture perfect and McKinnon’s grit is the perfect antithesis of his dripping egotism.

Sometimes, however, matches just fall a bit flat. There was nothing wrong with the work, and both men worked hard. The crowd seemed tired, only really coming alive to boo the announcements of how much time has elapsed. Maybe they’re all really big Great-O-Kharn fans. MK gets the submission and it’s time for a dream match. ***

Will Ospreay vs PAC – Draw

PAC is a wrestler I have an immense amount of respect for. Not necessarily for his wrestling skill, although he has that in abundance, but for his integrity. He walked away from a comfortable, regular gig with the biggest wrestling company in the world because he knew he was above the pittance they gave him. I believed that the craft of professional wrestling was important to him, and feuding with Enzo Amore and wrestling in front of disinterested crowds on a show that his bosses barely gave any credence to, left him with a craving for a more suitable platform. It may be childish, but I love the romanticism of a worldwide travelling artist abandoning the corporate bastardisation of his medium to practice it independently, on his own terms.

It’s this attitude that gives us matches like this. As soon as PAC showed the V sign to the WWE, his name was intangibly linked to Ospreay. This is what many wrestling fans hoped 2019 would be – a meeting of worlds in matches that we never thought we would see. The crowd here certainly agreed, waking up from their lull to fill York Hall with excitement as the announcer heralded the main event.

The match starts with a silent intensity from both men as they flip and reverse their way through chains, struggling to find an opening. These men are evenly matched and are at the top of their game. The match builds slowly and methodically, but always maintains the promise of snapping into the pinnacle of professional wrestling innovation that these combatants are capable of.

A brutal drop kick to PAC’s face as he tries to blindside Ospreay has me standing up and I am suddenly very alive and very current. This is wrestling in 2019 and I’ve never been more excited.

The match has blood, huge moonsaults to the outside, lovely shots of brutal chop exchanges with Ospreay’s wonderful glassy-eyed selling. These two men, innovators and savants both, are going to take us on a journey through modern pro wrestling and put on a lesson in how to tell a story between the ropes.

Except they don’t. Something grinds in this match. It’s almost intangible, but it’s written on PAC’s face. Yes, he perfectly executes middle rope flips and his powerbomb is agile and brutal in equal measures. But there’s something sluggish about him. He’s the consummate actor when he’s speaking, but as soon as it’s someone else’s turn to speak he drops his character like he would rather be at home.

Ospreay never relents, leaping over the barricade to ignite the crowd in a way that only Ospreay can but unfortunately, Quildan has something up his sleeve to make a critic like me think very hard about what this company is doing.

There a million different stories that can be told in a wrestling ring. It can be serious, comedic, farcical and tragic. It’s a medium of narratives before anything else and there’s no style of story that’s inherently greater than any other. However, context matters. Rev Pro set up a dream match between two masters of the craft. Ospreay, a New Japan contracted talent where stories are told through intricate and consider work between the bells. PAC, a man characterised as dissatisfied with nonsense, childish booking seeking validation in the changing professional wrestling landscape.

This does not sit comfortably with the sort of hokey, contrived storytelling that marred this match. First, we get the holidaying CCK doing a run in so we could engineer a ridiculous spot to emphasise how similar PAC and Ospreay are. Again, context matters. The audience know how similar they are. These wrestlers were telling stories like Werner Herzog but took a break to add a Michael Bay scene.

The ending of this match was such a bad idea that I hope both PAC and Ospreay fought against it. It reeked of political booking, where neither men was permitted to lose. There was nothing necessarily wrong with a time limit draw (even if it was flag posted throughout the entire show) but the manner which it was executed was some of the sloppiest story telling I have seen in a long time.

The perfect story was in the palm of their hands. Ospreay went through the greatest hits of all his rivals in a desperation tactic used to masterful effect by Kenny Omega. He used Scurll’s finger breaker, Ricochet’s Benadryller and AJ’s Styles Clash but not a single move was successful. It was a wonderful crescendo that rewarded the dedicated wrestling fan and spoke directly to those who follow Ospreay’s career.

Then PAC hits a low blow and tells the referee to disqualify him. What possible justification is there for that? What would motivate PAC to go through a hard hitting, frantic match only to purposefully try and lose after the announcer has told us there was only a minute to go. To compound matters, after the referee refuses to disqualify him, PAC climbs to the top rope and allows the time to elapse. It reeks of “telling stories” so a booker can get a rubber match. It reeks of a booker thinking he has an escape from the impossible political situation he has booked himself into. What is absent, is the smell of a good story.

There would have been nothing wrong with the time limit elapsing and the draw being declared. Unfortunately, Rev Pro decided to add such an awful sprinkling of ‘character’ and an artificial heat, it left an incredibly unsatisfying taste in my mouth. I joined in the chant for five more minutes and was certain I would get it. I didn’t.

Wrestling companies build a reputation based on a shared ethos and a trust between themselves and the fans. Rev Pro are reneging on this trust with bizarre booking decisions out of the 1990s McMahon playbook. It started in the Cockpit against ZSJ and it’s continuing at York Hall.

The next time Rev Pro announce a dream match, I won’t expect very much. ***3/4, I guess.

Final Thoughts

At the moment, Rev Pro is plagued with unimaginative, stale booking. It has been dominated by political decisions having storyline implications and it’s overshadowing the fact that the wrestling is largely pretty good. Andy Quildan needs a cup of tea, to cancel his Network subscription and think about what made him fall in love with wrestling in the first place. I’m sure it wasn’t this bait and switch nonsense.