EPW Hell or Highwater 2019
August 31, 2019
Gate One Theatre
Perth, Western Australia
On the same night Melbourne City Wrestling was packing out the Thornbury Theatre; Perth’s Explosive Pro Wrestling was packing out the Gate One Theatre on the other side of the country.
In my opinion EPW have been presenting the most consistently strong cards in Australia this year. Whilst they are behind the likes of MCW or PWA in terms of production values or attendance; EPW have been putting on shows that often match or exceed them in terms of in-ring action. EPW’s major events this year have featured minimal filler (partly a consequence of them running less shows at this scale than other promotions), which is something I appreciate as a viewer.
Hell or Highwater 2019 challenges April’s Goldrush for best EPW show of the year. I think it will be in the conversation for the overall top Australian shows of 2019 as well.
On commentary is Dean Olsen and Eric Mack. Sound issues with commentary continue to be problematic for EPW, with the announcing not kicking in until halfway through the first match. There are other points where the commentary is difficult to make out in the sound-mix.
I attended this show live and have watched it back on tape, so this review is informed by both experiences.
EPW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
THE STREET GANG HOOLIGANS (LOGAN GREY/ALEX KINGSTON) (c) def. TYLER JACOBS/TAYLOR KING
EPW’s resident cult leader Tyler Jacobs won the number one contendership to the tag titles with his regular partner Chadwick Jackson. However at July’s Evolution, it was revealed that the troubled Child Star Taylor King had been sponsored by Jacobs throughout his stint in rehab. Taylor turned on the Street Gang Hooligans in a Six-Man Tag to set this title match up.
The lack of commentary for the first half of the match actually highlights how over The Street Gang Hooligans are at EPW. They come off as the hottest act in the company. Taylor King is working in white jeans and a plain-white tee to sell the idea that he has been purified by Jacobs’ cult. It is actually a good look for him as well.
The match starts off hot, with the Hooligans jumping their challengers during the ring-announcements. They clean house on their opponents, throwing both of them to the outside and onto the Children of Light outside the ring. Taylor King’s leg ends up hitting the guard-rail (which has been a running theme of his matches this year), but thankfully he seemed to come off okay from it.
The match eventually properly starts allowing Jacobs and King to take control. This is a fast-paced and well-worked tag match, with one of the strongest performances I’ve seen from Taylor King so far.
Jacobs and King go for their version of The Hooligans’ finish The Iron Lotus, but Alex Kingston reverses and that proves to be the challengers undoing. AK and Logan Grey are able to hit the real Iron Lotus for the win to cap off a hot opener to the card. This was a match that I thought higher of after rewatching it on tape.
Post-match, The Hooligans get jumped by new heel faction The Plague. This group consists of Dan Steel, Twitch, Aaron Hawk and Jonathan Windsor. It is a similar dynamic to Disruption in MCW, where they are a group of mid-carders who feel disrespected by management. After fighting them off, Alex Kingston tells the villains that all they had to do if they wanted a shot was ask for one. Then in a dumb babyface move straight out of the Sting playbook, he offers to let The Plague choose the stipulation.
I have mixed feelings on this match being booked for EPW Re-Awakening. The Street Gang Hooligans won the titles at last year’s event in a main event Ladder Match vs The Untouchables. Throughout 2019, Kingston and Grey have been EPW’s hottest act and I wish that they were being set up for a featured slot again for this year’s climatic show. It is true that they’ve essentially cleaned out the current tag division, but Re-Awakening felt like the perfect timing to put them against another of Australia’s top teams. I’d love to see a Street Gang Hooligans vs The Brat Pack rematch in Perth (they had a killer match for MCW in April). I don’t doubt that SGH vs The Plague will be a good match, but it feels premature for it to take place at the next big show. I would have rather seen the new faction be heated up first before challenging for the titles rather than coming in cold.
EPW INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL
JULIAN WARD def. CRAVEN
The EPW Invitational Tournament is the longest running tournament in Australian Wrestling. The winner adds their name to an illustrious list of victors as well as getting an EPW championship match at a time of their choosing.
This quarterfinal sets two of my favorites in the country against each other. Julian Ward turned heel earlier in the year and joined up with The Untouchables. Craven is now basing himself out of South Australia, so he is less of a regular presence on the West Australian scene. However, his returns to WA this year have seen him show continual improvement.
These two don’t get much time, but for the time they’re out there this is a well-worked and structured professional wrestling match. The execution of the match is crisp. I’m particularly a fan of Ward’s Lariat which he has recently added to his arsenal. Ward’s manager Amber tries to interfere but it is a fake-out spot that doesn’t result in any real shenanigans. The finish comes when Craven misses a Swanton allowing Ward to hit his version of Darkness Falls for the victory. This was an effective match, where both men looked good and Ward in particular came out looking like a more dangerous force in EPW.
EPW INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL
KIEL STERIA def. ZENITH
Originally this was scheduled to be Kiel Steria against his former tag partner David Nero. Unfortunately Nero was ruled out of the match with an injury. In his place is Zenith, the former teammate of EPW Champion ‘The Don’ Michael Morleone. Since turning on Don, Zenith has adopted a dickhead New Ager character. He has also been the Australian representative on the new Indian TV show Dangal Ke Soorma, which is very cool and will hopefully create further connections between the Indian and Australian Wrestling scenes.
This match has more comedy than the rest of the card. Zenith wants to meditate before and during the match, but his cushion keeps getting screwed around with by Steria. The comedy bit got over with the crowd. The work itself in the match was strong, with both men being seasoned veterans in EPW. The highlight of the match came just before the finish, where Steria gives Zenith a Splash Mountain Bomb off the entrance stage, throwing him back into the ring.
Steria quickly follows up with his finish for the three-count and advances to the semifinals.
DAMIAN SLATER def. TJP
This is a match with a lot of history behind it. When Damian Slater was breaking into wrestling as a teenager, he flew himself to the United States to train with TJ Perkins who he already revered as a technician despite TJP’s young age. Slater and TJP’s careers kept intersecting up to the WWE Cruiserweight Classic in 2016. There Slater was the Australian representative and crashed out in the first round to Tajiri. TJ Perkins won the tournament and then had a difficult run in WWE afterwards, crashing out of the company at the start of this year.
This match is built as a shot at redemption for Damian Slater who enters to his old theme (a remix of New Order’s Blue Monday) and tells his Untouchable teammates to stay in the back. Slater is still notionally a heel in this match, but as the local gets a lot more support than normal against TJP.
At the show I was sitting next to a little kid who was going to an EPW show for the first time. Throughout the night he asked me about who was the good guy and the bad guy in each match. For this one, I explained that Slater is normally a bad guy, but he’s our bad guy and that’s why I was cheering for him.
This match was a glorious display of technical wrestling. Both wrestlers are top level technicians and the match was very much built around them working it as a physical chess match. The story develops around Slater picking up an arm injury in the match and then having to fight through it. The most heat TJP garnered came when he refuses a handshake to dab.
Eventually Slater is able to pick up the win with his Slatality finish and earning some element of redemptive justice for 2016.
When I asked the kid next to me what he thought of the match his one word answer was ‘intense’ and then he double-checked with me if this was ‘real wrestling’.
I think it’s the best match I’ve seen from TJP since he left WWE and one of the top Australian matches of the year so far. Definitely a match worth checking out, especially since EPW released it for free on YouTube.
EPW INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL
DAN MOORE def. MARCIUS PITT
Our third quarterfinal of the night puts EPW Coastal Champion Marcius Pitt against Dan Moore. Pitt is flanked by both Julian Ward and Amber and they play more of a role in this match than the other Untouchables matches on the card.
Dan Moore’s work in 2019 has been one of the pleasant surprises of EPW’s year. Since his return from injury he has been putting on good matches and he’s part of my favourite new character dynamic in the promotion as the mentor to ‘Learner Wrestler’ Jesse Lambert.
The story of this match is that Dan Moore is completely outmatched, but is somehow able to squeak out the win. Moore gets caught with the F5 almost immediately but rolls out of the ring to avoid the pinfall.
Marcius Pitt’s offence in this looks great, as does Dan Moore’s in a different way. Moore is only really able to get counter-punches in or little flurries working off a mistake from Pitt. I think this is actually a really uniquely structured match.
Eventually, Pitt goes for his Coastal Championship but he’s actually using this as a distraction to give Ward and Amber the opportunity to interfere. Ward tries to throw powder in Moore’s face, but Good Guy Dan ducks and instead Amber gets blinded. A blinded Amber then hits her Eat Defeat on Pitt which is followed up by Moore getting a roll-up for a close near-fall. Moore then reverses a F5 attempt into a small package for the unlikely victory.
This should likely lead to Moore challenging Pitt for the Coastal Championship, possibly on EPW’s School Showcase in October.
Next we have an Avengers: Endgame influenced vignette of The TK Taskforce (Jack Edwards and Tipane) gearing up to try and deprogram their former boss turned cult member Taylor King.
EPW INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL
GAVIN MCGAVIN def. GORGEOUS GARRY
The last quarterfinal is a rematch from Collision Course. It sees the 2018 Invitational Tournament winner Gorgeous Garry going up against former EPW Champion Gavin McGavin.
Gorgeous Garry challenged Michael Morleone in a losing effort for the EPW Championship at Evolution in July. Gavin McGavin started the year off hot as EPW Champion but has had to deal with recurring injury issues since losing the belt.
McGavin starts the match off with a heightened intensity, including a rare tope from him to the outside. The story going into the match is that at the last show, McGavin promised that he would win the Invitational Tournament at Re-Awakening then challenge the EPW Champion on the same night.
Garry is eventually able to take control with a Figure Four Leglock. He has a flurry of offence where he ends up going for his finish but can’t hit it. The finish of the match comes with Gavin faking a leg injury, then using that to catch Garry in a Chokehold that he transitions into the Crossface for a tap-out victory.
After the match, Tyler Jacobs and the Children come out to chastise Taylor King for his failure to win the Tag Titles earlier in the night. Jacobs order Taylor to kiss his boot, which Taylor resists at first before agreeing to do so. While this is happening the crowd is chanting “We Want Taskforce”. Jack Edwards and Tipane come out to make the save to a big pop, they clear the ring and try to get Taylor King to come back to his old Child Star ways. At first I thought that King was going to rejoin his former teammates, which would have been early to blow off the angle. Instead Taylor leaves the ring in shame, going back to Tyler Jacobs. I thought that this was an effective segment, where all involved played their roles well. It was particularly cool to hear how over Edwards and Tipane have managed to become. The angle implies that we’ll get a Taskforce vs Tyler Jacobs match with Taylor King’s soul at stake.
‘THE DON’ MICHAEL MORLEONE (c) def. DAVIS STORM
Before the match we get a video package set to a cover of Cats in the Cradle because Davis Storm wants to make me cry with Sad Dad feels.
These two main evented Re-Awakening in 2017 where Morleone finally unseated Storm to ascend to the top of EPW. After the match he celebrated in-ring with his son. Since that match, Davis Storm transitioned from being the top heel in EPW to being the local legend babyface. He has pulled back on the amount of matches he’s worked lately and has teased retirement on multiple occasions.
At the end of Evolution, Storm asked for this match because he wants to be a hero to his kids again. Don gave into the emotional blackmail and the match was set for Hell or Highwater. The day before this match, it was announced that the winner would be challenged by Mikey Nicholls at Re-Awakening in November.
At this point in time, this is my Australian Match of the Year for 2019. It isn’t the sort of technical masterpiece of Slater vs TJP from earlier in the night or a spotfest like other standout Australian matches have been; but this wins the honour based off emotional intensity.
Don and Storm are both experienced veterans who are excellent at reading a crowd and getting them invested in the story of a match. The match starts off with a lot of intense staring and one-upmanship. There’s an inadvertent head clash early in the match that leads to a lucky hardway from Davis Storm. It’s such a perfect visual that live I was sure that it must have been a bladejob.
Don takes the advantage after a dive over the guardrail, taking Storm down in the drinking section outside. Eventually Storm is able to target a shoulder injury on Don, that he keeps working on for the whole match.
This is worked as a babyface vs babyface match, I wouldn’t say that Don even really plays subtle heel. It’s two Dads beating the crap out of each other to try and make their kids proud and there’s something primal, beautiful and maybe a little ugly about that.
There ends up being a long sequence where the referee is knocked out and Don and Storm just keep beating the crap out of each other. This is to set up a Last Temptation of Davis Storm moment, where he grabs the title belt and agonizes over whether to use it or not. His decision not to leads to him getting caught with a Chokeslam for the big near-fall of the match.
They then just start ramming into each-other with clotheslines and this is great pro-wrestling. Finally, Don is able to escape an Eye of the Storm (Killswitch) and hit his Chokebomb for the victory.
This is my Australian Match of the Year so far and I’d be surprised if it gets topped by anything else. I have a heightened level of emotional investment in these two performers compared to someone watching this match cold; but still I think both men knocked it out of the park. If you have any interest in Australian Wrestling, then this should be a match you go out of your way to see.
Post-match, Don and Storm fist-bump each other as a form of respect. Storm is then left in the ring by himself where he’s embraced by his son Sebastian and Dave is going out of his way to get us all to cry.
The touching moment is cut-off by The Untouchables music as Pitt and Slater break up the Sad Dad party. Slater goes on to cut a condescending promo labeling Storm a nostalgia act. He’s cut off by a returning Richter, one of EPW’s past stars who was Storm’s enforcer in their stable The Solution. The match-up is set for Re-Awakening on November 9th, The Untouchables vs The Solution.
With two of the best matches in the country all year, this has to be a contender for Australian Show of the Year. Bravo to EPW in putting together a hell of a card and continuing their hot streak of delivering on big shows in 2019.