Everyone in Portland, from the weather forecasters to the people on the sidewalk, everyone had something to say about the “Snowpocalypse” heading towards the oversized town that weekend. 2”, maybe 10”, who knew, really? Grocery stores had been ransacked of everything but key-lime flavored items; this was mass hysteria. And while it deterred a handful of out-of-towners from coming out to DEFY’s Slamtown, the Hawthorne Theatre in Southeast Portland, OR was mostly jam-packed, regardless of whether snow was coming or not that night.
(Postscript: It didn’t snow all that much in Portland on that night.)
The lights went out and a chorus of “DE-FY!” chants began, on cue, seemingly as per usual at DEFY’s (and possibly other indie promotion’s) shows. Production blasted a newish theme song, something that sounded capital E Epic, slick and professional, especially in conjunction with the wild lighting, closer in style to a pop or rock concert than a wrestling card.
DEFY ring announcer Steve Miggs walked out in business-casual attire to a chorus of his now, now to the tune of his surname. Once on the mic, Miggs got the crowd to chant “FUCK SNOW!”, then ran down the line-up for tonight’s event. Notable notes: Darby Allin received a chant from the crowd and hadn’t even appeared yet; MJF, on his name alone, had the crowd hissing and cursing, he too nowhere to be seen yet.
English-speaking crowds of the Western world and the cued chants, for better, worse and most likely for the foreseeable future. It speaks not only to the general “psychology” or immediate desires of the crowds themselves but, and more interestingly, to how over both Allin and MJF were with this crowd before they’d even shown their faces that night, a testament to their obvious dedication to craft and clever approaches to a perpetually evolving pro wrestler marketing grind.
The name value and what these characters bring to the show before even wrestling, they are draws, albeit smaller ones in the grand scheme, but draws nonetheless, which is both difficult to do but now easier than ever because of social media, so you are now more than ever drawing on your talent, or at least your perceived talent, what the crowd perceives you to be before they buy the ticket. If they get what they expected, they’re happy; if they get even more than that, they love you forever.
Schaff vs. Alexander Hammerstone went to a no contest.
I could hear the Schaff chants from deep inside my eardrum as a walked out to the ring. The chants for him here were passionate and in ways felt different from the last DEFY show I saw him at in November, only a few months ago.
Hammerstone was booed. Anyone that the crowd wasn’t pre-in love facing Schaff would have received similar reactions, but Hammerstone took what he was given, absorbed it, and used it as fuel during this match.
The was relentless with chanting before the two even touched. It was hard to tell whether this was a raucous, drunk crowd ready for a hoss fight or if they just really liked chanting things together at the same time. Hammerstone eventually yelled at everyone and insisted that he was the baddest MF’er in there, not Schaff.
A Greco-Roman knuckle lock in the middle of the ring kicked the wrestling part of this match off. For some reason the lights out a few minutes into the match though it didn’t impinge on anything happening inside the ring. Hammerstone generally lead. He used a good looking missile dropkick, an always-impressive feat for someone who resembles a real-life Thor. Schaff returned the offense with Endless Schaff Stomps in the corner and topped the sequence off with a cannonball to a prone Hammerstone. The crowd loved this.
After what had to be under ten minutes, the match came to a sudden end. From where I sat, Schaff stutter-stepped during a rope-running spot and Hammerstone shot him a “What-are-you-doing-hurry-up-and-tackle-me” look as Schaff stood still against the ropes. From here, Hammerstone left the ring and gave the ol’ Stone Cold double-middle fingers to the crowd and walked to the back. Referee Aubrey Edwards told Steve Miggs that the match was over and to announce it as a no-contest. The reaction was lukewarm and mostly confused, but the payoff was coming later.
Big Jack def. Leon Negro
So Leon Negro came out and danced his derrière off to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” It’s one of those moments where the song is so ridiculous and so brutally catchy, like in a severe way, that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. The Buddy Wayne-trained Big Jack was out next and brought with him a smattering of audible crowd to the ring.
The crowd chanted “Sexy Lucha” and were loud about it and if I were a gambler I’d go *ahem* all in on that those chants were for the masked Ginuwine proponent.
This was a Big vs. Small story, an almost bulletproof narrative in wrestling. It always works because any person can relate to it; we’ve all been the big one or a small one at some point in our lives. It just works and for the most part it worked here. Sort of.
Things heated up when Negro when for a tope but Big Jack caught him and slammed him on the sound booth. Back in the ring, the crowd felt like being mean to Jack so they started chanting “shitty haircut” at him. To somehow interpret this, and not to get all Fandango about it, but it wasn’t as much shitty as it was a small man’s haircut on a big boy’s body, which I guess was interpreted by the fans as shitty. Trying to be fair.
A lot of the crowd down in front were cursing up a storm by this match. The drinks were flowing and the snow wasn’t, nor was the pace of this match, so the crowd decided that it was time to try and get themselves over (re “shitty haircut chant”).
This was a five-minute match that went over 10 and felt like 20. Big Jack dominated much of it. He hit a delayed powerbomb that interested in the crowd momentarily, but they’d often go back to chanting or being quiet. The quiet moments in such a small venue tend to make you cringe because that’s when fans can really see how the hot dogs are made. There’s nothing worse than a ref flailing his arms mouthing directions, not actually speaking them, all like a mime, all in silence.
Leon Negro hit a missile dropkick on the comeback. The lights went out again during a botched Codebreaker spot between the two. Negro used a Steamboat-esque crossbody attack for two, regardless of lighting, but Big J topped the match off with a hybrid Bossman Slam thing, something I could see Baron Corbin using. This was all fine and at times fun but too long.
The Amerikan Gunz (Ethan HD & Mike Santiago) def. The Cook Brothers
The Gunz are in synch, frankly; it’s what you notice about them when they walk to the ring, the sum of all tag team parts. Together their confidence is visible, their aims and and intents in and outside the ring obvious to anyone watching. Though they play the heels almost always at these shows, their talent has elevated them to where no matter what they seem to have the love and respect of the DEFY crowd.
The Cook Brothers, Brian and Kevin, are very tall and relatively young. Kevin Cook has his name written along the side of his ribcage in Japanese katakana for some reason. I imagine it’s so that if he’s ever in Japan and gets lost or is in trouble he can whip his shirt off and point at his torso. For any other reason, I just don’t get it.
There was good chain action at the beginning of this match, AG often lead. Mike Santiago is terrific with these kind of mechanics and chain sequences, and he’s smooth in a way that allows for everyone to look like they know what they’re doing in the ring. It’s not just that he’s doing his job well, but he does it all with this gritty grace akin to something you’d see in Mid-Atlantic or the St. Louis territories in the late ’70s–early ‘80s.
Santiago stole one of the Cook Bros. shirts and wore it. They cut the ring in half, as you do, and periodically worked over both Cooks in their respective corner. Really nice tag timing and combinations from AG throughout. They used an awesome German suplex w/ a jackknife pin combo at one point.
There was a bit of back and forth towards the middle of the match, mild bedlam.The Gunz continued to lead, it was their flow, both in and out of the ring. The Cooks used some acrobatic high flying but it sometimes felt out of place—unless it looked pretty.
Ethan HD rallied back with a diving DDT off the stage, and then a draping Death Valley Driver onto Kevin Cook towards the end of this. There were lots of false finishes towards the end of this one, and, really, they could have ended the match at any of these times. I should note that a few fans near the ring were complaining about who was or wasn’t legal in the match. When the action is cranked up towards the end of a tag match, bodies flying in and out of the ring, I imagine it’s easy for refs to lose track of who or what is “legal,” and this is only a problem if you’re looking for clean wrestling action. Does it matter who is legal or not if the crowd is out of their seats for the match? Does sticking to The Rules enhance or hamper the action? Wrestling pundits will have plenty to say, I’m sure, but the truth is that it’s up to the company’s intent, what they want to do, and how consistent they’d like their product to be perceived by their fans. Ultimately it’s superficial and only important if the company deems it important.
That said, the Cook Bros. returned with a number of dives, and Kevin Cook landed a picture-perfect Orihara moonsault which reignited the crowd leading up to the final moments of the match. Again, with most crowds, they seem to forgive haphazard dives as long as they’re beautiful, and regardless of who jumps, all a testament to what modern crowds deem “good” or at least “acceptable.”
Back in the ring, AG scored the pin and win using a diving double stomp + inverted DDT combo. I and much of the DEFY crowd would love to see them on a bigger stage as they’ve come into their own as a tag team and rather quickly to boot. They don’t have the typical modern indie look (fresh-faced and jacked, more like a male stripper than a pro wrestler [that is not meta commentary on male strippers and they bring joy to many]) but can hang with seemingly anyone, from the new LAX to the Lucha Bros to the One Percent. They’re fine-tuned mechanics with organic charisma and a tag style that blends the modern and the old school in a natural, enjoyable way.
NO DQ Consent-Filled Menage-a-Troís: Randy Meyers def. Dr. Kliever and Drexl
One of the greatest things about wrestle-writing is that you get to type amazing sentences like that. I have to thank Randy Meyers for that one.
Though I have to back up before I begin. Meyers came out to Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” and showered the audience in Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. For those who aren’t familiar with Meyers, he’s an anomaly and an absolute superstar ready-made for the modern market. His charisma is through the roof, absolutely through the fucking roof, something you really need to see in person to appreciate. It’s visceral, it’s from a place of authentic and overflowing love. When you hear veterans (over)use the phrase “Ya can’t teach talent!” or some spit out some other variation of that, they need to show Randy Meyers as an example.
I say this not to figuratively blow the guy but because I saw and have seen it for myself, multiple times, how infectious his personality is. It’s outrageous and eccentric but it’s more real than anything you’d ever see on WWE programming. Fans cosplay as Randy. Straight, adult men desperately want to steal a Meyers kiss and it’s totally fine because their wives are sitting next to them and are often in full support.
This actually happened on the show. As Meyers passed out roses and chocolates, an excited first-row fan got a smooch, a big, long one, and the only one close to as happy as this fan was his wife in the chair next to him. Sadly, she did not receive a kiss. I think she got a teddy bear, though.
Meyers wrapped his entrance, grabbed the mic and got into the ring. He gave a short spiel that was interrupted by PNW heel mainstays Dr. Kliever and Drexl. The bad guys beat on Meyers but Meyers hit a pescado to the floor, then challenged both of them to a No Disqualification match, or as he put it, a “consent-filled menage-a-troís.”
This was all fun fan service done right. At one point early on, though, some fans chanted “You can’t wrestle” at one of the heels, I can’t recall which one, but I thought was both stupid and unfair. This was meant to be a sloppy, wild brawl, not a Budokan main event in the mid-‘90s. Of course, it could have been tighter or crisper, but that would have altered the aesthetic completely; what everyone did in this match worked, whether it looked pretty or not, because the rest of the crowd was already behind Meyers. They wanted to see bad guy characters get comeuppance from the good guy, purely and simply, and that’s what they gave. Fans sometimes have unrealistic and illogical standards on what makes a match valuable, which is unfortunate, but that’s the market right now.
I mentioned Budokan sort of randomly above, but I think it was my brain subconsciously reminding me to write that Dr. Kliever and Drexl need to get booked in Japan for a company like FREEDOMS, Basara, Zero-1, or any of the rough-around-the-edges indies that suit what both of these guys are doing. They have a look and feel of a team you’d see in FMW or W*ING in the early ‘90s, and from what I’ve seen of them over the past year or so, they’ve proven that they can work almost any style of match with ease (hardcore, comedy, straight tag or singles).
After intermission, Schaff came out to the ring in sweats and a pair of Crocs. He grabbed the mic and called out Alex Hammerstone on their kerfuffle earlier on in the night, which led to Hammerstone himself coming out. They had an intense pull-apart and Schaff got some hardway nose blood from it. I haven’t heard any booking details but it feels like if these two wanted to build a program around the incident from tonight it’d be a nice build to a blow-off match sometime down the road.
Danica de la Rouge & Cody Chhun def. The Pride (Carl Randers & Guillermo Rosas)
This match had a fresh vibe to it, something quite different from the rest of the show. One of DEFY’s strong-suits is their smorgasbord-style booking; if you break the card down match-by-match, you recognize that each bout has an almost entirely different flavor, making it nearly impossible not to like at least one or two match regardless of what your taste may be.
This was my first chance to see Danica de la Rouge in action, though she was said to have had a knockdown banger with Priscella Kelly at the same venue last summer. She was in first for her team and was a natural at getting organic sympathy from the crowd, and no, not only because she’s a female wrestler wrestling dudes, but because her selling was good and her presence was undeniable. The way she sold, particularly regarding her exaggerated breathing and sighs after getting kicked and chopped, that helped fill the silence when the crowd was watching closely in relative silence.
So you might have seen Randers & Rosas a.k.a. The Pride on a recent episode of Being the Elite: They were the fellows the Young Bucks superkicked when they did that surprise run-in up in Seattle a short while back, and they’re the staple young gun heel faction for DEFY right now. Guillermo Rosas, a young wrestler with large hair, gear like late ‘90s Silver King and arguably the best working punches on the whole show, used a Spanish Fly early on in the match.
Rosas and Carl Randers—a man with even larger hair—dominated most of this. De la Rouge was eventually able to tag in Cody Chhun, one of the DEFY fan favorites. As usual, people were nutty for him, especially when he landed what I guess would be called a springboard cutter; for context, Chhun loves to jump to the tope turnbuckle hands-free a la Shelton Benjamin, and that’s what he did here.
Once de la Rouge was back in, she used a killer slingshot Canadian Destroyer tope, and Cody hit another innovative cutter variation. After this, de la Rouge used a pretty second-rope moonsault for the victory. It’s not only the fresh faces in this match that made it great, but the storytelling mixed in with the innovative babyface moveset made for a solid match. Check back in three to five years on all of these wrestlers, as I have a feeling they’ll be doing great things.
Johnny Defyance def. Darby Allin
Allin received a standing ovation as he walked to the ring. If you haven’t already, I urge anyone reading this to familiarize yourself with him before he blows up. He seems to never get rattled by crowds, to never lose focus on what he’s about to do. It’s impossible not to notice, his conviction and aura, and it’ll most likely lead him to wherever he wants to go in the future.
I thought there’d be more Slamtown-centric themes throughout the card but apparently, it was just a marketing thing since he was the most popular (or most recognizable) national star on the show. I mentioned aura just now, and Johnny—who I’m just going to refer to here as “Johnny” for the sake of clarity—has it. Though it’s entirely different from Allin’s in that it’s flash, finesse, and more flash; Johnny’s entrance attire alone impressive to see in person.
During the entrance, Allin sat in the corner, stone-faced, Raven-esque. Once Johnny settled in, he too sat in a corner opposite Allin. Two guys sitting in ring corners staring at each other having a Raven-off and somehow getting heat, proving in real time that pro wrestling is a powerful form of thought technology.
Johnny offered his hand to Allin before the bell and said “It’s a pleasure to be in the ring with you, bro.” From here, they were off. And it was the first time of the night where I literally couldn’t keep up on my notes as both wrestlers were moving at highway speed. I scribbled a note that just says “Fast-paced/wow/very fast.” I imagine it’d tear the roof off at PWG. The two had what I could only call a beautiful chemistry, a prime-time example of the modern North American lucha hybrid with tons of innovative work, the, *ahem,* elite of the Indies. The new status quo.
The way Allin sells is fantastic in that it’s never whiny; he sells in a realistic way apropos of the character. He’s stunned, his body feels something, but his cold persona dictates his actions. Antihero characters, pay attention.
The match slowed after the scalding hot start with bit of groundwork before the swell of coming action. Allin bounced himself in and out of the ring, feigning topes, hitting topes like a art punk kamikaze. Johnny used to a second-rope Spanish Fly later on. More back and forth came here, with even more innovative ring work. Allin went for his signature Coffin Drop, that reckless-looking trustful from the top, but met Johnny’s knees on the way down. Johnny Defyance used Moonlight Drive, and to finish used a Razor’s Edge into a urange for the win. We’re at a point where all the crazy shit we did with our action figures as kids, wrestlers are now somehow able to pull it all off.
This was high-level action. I’d like to have seen more, but the DEFY Heavyweight title was on the line next, so I get it, it was a good booking choice. The crowd were back on their feet again, enthusiastic and thankful for the match. Again, very good stuff here.
— Justin M. Knipper (@justinmknipper) February 11, 2019
DEFY Heavyweight title Match
Artemis Spencer (c) def. MJF
Having one belt defended on tonight’s show immediately made it feel special, and especially after that barnburner between Allin and Johnny. MJF did his heel schtick, Portland Edition. He is right there with Tomasso Ciampa and Rush as one of the best heels in the world right now and tonight was proof, absolute proof, of this. He had the crowd in a such a frenzy that it brought on an amazing visual, a dimly lit crowd flailing, cursing, standing up and down, an almost scary energy I’ve only scene at ECW shows in the late ‘90s.
The crowd settled and the bell rang. The two started slow with a Greco-Roman knuckle lock to a sequence of pins and reversals. When Spencer picked up an offensive steam, MJF would use referee Aubrey Edwards as a human shield. He did this a few times and it always worked, the crowd would eat it up every time. It was just constant heat on him throughout this match.
MJF’s in-ring timing, both with regard to move execution and physical storytelling, is more like something you’d see from a wrestler with at least 10+ years of experience. The way his voice projects into the crowd and the placement of it in the context of match is only comparable to a tight improv theatre performance. There are nuances and intricacies we don’t see, cerebral ones that elevate him to a different level. His moves is simple, classic but not outdated. The spots feel carefully chosen and always work in tandem with his persona.
After referring to Edwards as “sweetheart” a number of times throughout the match, once MJF screamed “LISTEN, BITCH” with such force that it burst the crowd into an almost hard-edged panic, giving them almost no time to analyze and only respond emotionally. It was a small explosion and amazing to see.
Artemis Spencer plays underdog champion well. He sold his arm through much of this match and MJF worked it over with armbar variations. He eventually countered with a tope followed by a tope con giro to the outside. This was the in-match comeuppance that “allows” for these highspots to happen, giving them reason and real function, as they obviously enhanced the match considering how nutty the crowd went. What that means is that if MJF hadn’t stirred the crowd into the frenzy it morphed into halfway through the match, the dives would have meant much, much less.
Later in the match Spencer “tweaked” knee after missing Phoenix Splash. Producer Matt Farmer came out to check whether or not he could continue the match. A fighting champ fights, so Spencer continued on with the match. They did a Frye/Takayama punch-punch-punch-potato spot moments later there is inherent heat in that. Two guys in a hockey fight. Spencer got the better of the fisticuffs and went to the top for something but again, MJF did the human shield spot again with Edwards.
This is where things got a bit hairy. Spencer went for something wild: He sprang of the the stage to the top rope (nice) and then went for a Canadian Destroyer into the ring but really botched it (yikes). The crowd didn’t know how to react but was polite, but it was ugly. Spencer then hit a nice corkscrew senton for anticlimactic win.
After the match, MJF put Spencer over on the mic and crowd bought it. The shook hands, but as soon as Spencer turned his back MJF went for the sneak attack. Spencer saw the swerve coming and kicked him in the balls instead. And everyone goes home happy.
Another tight DEFY show in Portland, with the main highlight being the variety and consistency of these cards. Regardless of your taste, DEFY goes out of their way to offer something distinct so that anyone has the capacity to enjoy at least one match, though the most open-minded fans are the ones who are highly rewarded.