wXw 16 Carat Gold Night 1
March 8, 2019
Oberhausen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland
Europe might be divided, but professional wrestling gives me hope. It felt like every corner of European wrestling descended on Germany in a bid for unity and love through the glorious medium of professional wrestling. The best crowd in the world are ready… can the talent deliver?
Axel Dieter Jr def. Marius Al-Ani
Returning home is a funny feeling. Familiar creaks provide the soundtrack to a peace that can never quite be replicated elsewhere. Returning to a childhood home is especially curious. These places are crime scenes; a haunting of emotions that, at the time, seemed to be the extremes of triumph or the depths of despair. Hindsight, adulthood and perspective might temper the feelings but the memory is always there and those feelings will be forever real, if only in a minuscule way.
I think about my childhood home a lot, and I wonder how often the wrestlers caught in WWE limbo think about their home promotion. How does Axel Dieter Jr feel about losing at the Bartow Armory in Bartow, FL only to travel to the Maxwell Snyder Armory to lose again? Does he think about the past triumphs of home, or is his mind on the potential, unlikely glory of the future?
I wouldn’t dare assume how another person feels about returning home, but Dieter Jr seemed to experience the gravity of the tournament more than most as he walked to the ring.
As for the work, it was solid. Dieter Jr’s charisma is defiantly tenable, even when facing someone like Al-Ani. I like Al-Ani, but the sloppy pin exchanges and his inability to convincingly sell a submission highlights his ceiling as a solid heel and not much more.
This was good, old fashioned work. Whether that’s a compliment or a criticism is for the individual to decide, but when it’s presented with a smoldering Oberhausen crowd, it works for me. It has a place on a show like this, even if it doesn’t have a place in a MOTY list. ***¼
Fenix def. Rey Horus
The wonderful thing about tournaments, and especially early matches, is that the contests have to have speed. A wrestling sprint is a special thing and it’s becoming rarer and rarer.
This match really was a sprint. Both of these luchadors were wound up and launched at each other in a wonderful mess of kinaesthetic energy. The crowd were desperate to elevate every wonderful nuance and movement and they did it brilliantly.
Like a runaway train, the two wrestlers tested the limits of the ring. They bounced and danced their way around the squared circle like two psychotic break dancers in a ridiculous dance off.
Despite all the flips, the strengths here were in the details. I love wrestlers who do the ordinary, the clotheslines and kicks, but with a little flair. A twist on a lariat or a flailing leg on a dropkick gave every move a slight spark.
The crowd reaches a boiling point with an indescribable blur of limbs into a tornado DTT before Fenix wins the match with a burst of violence. The tournament feels like it has started. ***¾
Shigehiro Irie def. Chris Brookes
Irie has been having a mini excursion around Europe, and has had aggressively solid matches everywhere he has been. I’ve seen very little from him that has made any kind of lasting impression.
I could almost copy that paragraph for Brookes, the railway station coffee of Britwres. I’m running out of ways to say that Chris Brookes is fine. He is a solid base for a more exciting tag team partner, but lacks any kind of flair beyond the overly generous cheering from his rabid fans. I feel desperate for Brookes to have a good 2019, and to show he can keep pace in singles competition.
Brookes’ early punches are clearly designed to miss and the bizarre heel routine of adjusting knee pads is as silly as it sounds. Luckily, Irie is born for the violent sprint that was booked here. For each Brookesism, such as attempting a pinfall after stomping on a knee, there’s an earth-shattering frog splash from Irie. He’s a dynamo that makes up for Brookes’ insistence on being half a step behind every time he has to take the lead.
A huge lariat knocks Brookes’ block off in an excellent showcase for Irie and this is well worth the five minutes it occupies. ***¾
Lucky Kid def. Tim Thatcher
What do American fans think of Tim Thatcher? Recency effect dictates a lingering boredom. Memories of endless grappling and stunted characterization. It wasn’t until his trip across the Atlantic that the beautiful monstrosity found his voice.
Thatcher has become a captivating individual. There’s an air of danger to everything he does. He rasps as he wrenches limbs in sickening directions, sending saliva flying through missing teeth. He walks with a hunch, reminiscent of the best literary monstrosities. The troubled beast, rejected by society and left to find his own path to tranquility and, ultimately, becoming lost.
The video package that preceded this match was wonderful. Thatcher opines his deepest feelings about the family he found in Ringkampf and the unreciprocated sacrifices that he has made. With his brothers moving out of home, it is now time for him to step up and be the man of the house.
This match was a lesson in storytelling. The subtleties that underpinned the brutality of the action was superb. Lucky Kid learned early that his silliness would not wash here. He grabbed Thatcher’s leg and was punished with a horrendous, cranium crushing punch that set the tone for the rest of this violent encounter.
Sneering after each strike, Thatcher continually beat Kid into the mat with utter disregard and contempt. This match was a statement; Thatcher had arrived at 16 Carat and he was going to win, finally proving that his place in his team was earned and not simply a result of fraternal loyalty.
Kid increases the violence with an excellent shotgun dropkick, but Thatcher is focused on that trophy and the validation it will bring. He batters Kid over and over, toying with him on his path to victory.
Then Kid wins.
The pain etched on Thatcher’s face is as wonderful and palpable as it is relatable. He looks a fool. He made a declaration and was proven wrong. He tried to prove himself and lost. This match told a captivating story and I loved it. ****½
Avalanche def Jurn Simmons
wXw have always prioritized sprinkling their own stories amongst the import-driven major shows and frankly, it’s something that other companies should replicate. Avalanche is going alone here, his partners in Monster Consulting either resigning or being beaten out of contention.
Jurn Simmons is an interesting character, but his in-ring ability is best suited to the walk-n-brawl that a falls count anywhere match brings. He’s functional, but will always benefit from the extra juice a gimmick like this brings.
wXw’s strength is their wonderful crowd. Leaving them behind and staging a version of the Boiler Room Brawl was probably a bad idea.
Not for me. **
Pentagon Jr def. Mark Davis
Pentagon Jr is a captivating individual. The praying mantis of wrestling has an aura that has transcended in-ring ability and makes every move captivating. Unfortunately, for me at least, this is starting to wear a bit thin.
There’s lots of posing and the removal of a glove, and it doesn’t translate well to the VOD. Pentagon hushed the crowd to deliver chops that weren’t particularly impressive or loud. The pairing didn’t seem to have much chemistry, which is a real shame.
Tanahashi may prefer Kyle Fletcher, but he’s wrong. Dunkzilla is the true star of Aussie Open and he deserved better. **½
Ilja Dragunov def. Daisuke Sekimoto
Much like Pentagon, Dragunov’s persona captivates. His psychotic energy burns in his rabid eyes, and it’s impossible not to be dragged along in his vortex. Unfortunately, like Pentagon, his in-ring work doesn’t match. I don’t think he’s bad by any stretch, but he can never maintain the energy from his entrance.
This starts off slowly, exchanging headlocks and rest holds until the crowd’s energy gradually dissipates. There are a few people resting their arms on the side of the ring and they desperately need something to bring them to life. Surely the big lad can do that?
The life does come, but it takes a while. A long strike exchange feels awkward and a Sekimoto controlled sequence lacks any kind of urgency.
However, this match is an example of just how far outstanding charisma can take you in professional wrestling. A description of the moves here would be a disservice – it’s clotheslines and german suplexes – but Ilja’s dancing around the ring is perfect. He undulates and sways, giving the impression he is on autopilot. His default setting is to keep going, keep fighting and keep crawling. A desperate death valley driver signifies the beginning of the end for Sekimoto and I feel these two need one more match now the cobwebs have been shaken off. ***½
WALTER def David Starr
I find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be best at something. I’m at an age where I know, with almost certainty, that everything I’ve tried will be considered a losing effort on the grandest scales. It’s nothing to be depressed about; the very nature of success is inherently linked to the idea of the select few. Only a few can reach the top, which is what makes it special. I have to content myself with the small victories. The little things that, while unimportant to the majority of people, matter to me. It makes the grind easier. It gives a focus.
David Starr can’t beat Walter. He remembers all of the pins on the map. It doesn’t matter that he has achieved such wonderful things all around the world. It’s the thing that’s important to him. Much like the rest of us simple souls, others missing the importance only amplifies that desire. It becomes bigger and bigger until it is an obsession. Obsessions leads to demons and swirls of doubt and insecurity.
Starr says he’s going to beat WALTER this time and I don’t believe him. I wonder if he believes it himself.
Any doubt is answered in the opening of the match. A whirlwind of convicted fists fly into the mountainous WALTER as Starr tries to get one step ahead. This is brought to a drastic end with a missed suicide dive into the chairs, sending a horrendous crunch across the warehouse. This obsession will be the death of Starr. He’s going to kill himself. I saw the personal obsession that drives many of us to do silly things in his promo and now I’m seeing the impact of it.
A look of fear is smeared across Starr’s face between every move, as WALTER’s dominance rumbles on. He’s not afraid of the chops or even the apron powerbombs. He’s felt those before. It’s what is beyond the failure that he fears. Failure alone is fine, but it’s the realization that success was never possible that hurts the most. Everybody knew this would happen. It was only Starr that didn’t.
This humiliation drives Starr to push on and on, fighting through impossible odds. Counter after counter is denied by the monstrous Austrian but somehow he finds something to keep him moving. WALTER grabs Starr’s hand and beats him into the mat but Starr keeps going, screaming indecipherable, guttural nonsense through his bloody teeth.
Then, Starr outsmarts the behemoth. He was going to succeed for those of us who don’t. He was going to achieve that impossible dream. Walter’s hand slaps the mat as the smaller man wrenches his arms into the submission. WALTER quit! It’s over!
Except it’s not. WALTER’s foot is under the ropes. It’s back to the realization that success was never possible. It’s too much for Starr. He can’t carry on. WALTER grabs Starr’s arm as he inflicts indescribable pain on his inferior opponent. Starr screams. He should have known better. He knows he should quit, but he knows he never will. ****1/4
The pacing of the show means that things never last long enough to be brilliant or particularly miserable. The lows, specifically the boiler room brawl, are easily forgiven. The two must-see matches are Starr/WALTER and Thatcher/Kid. These are the kind of stories that befit a modern, progressive company. They hold a mirror up to the viewer and force them to feel.
I love the themes of foolishness, passion and drive. These are the sorts of ideas that make any story – whether it’s cinema, literature or professional wrestling – real.
On to night two! Tagging in Liam Byrne!