My second day on the job at Goody’s Clothing Store, I became manager of the children’s and shoe departments. I was wholly unprepared for this role being a 16-year-old pimply-faced geek, but management found the previous department head locked away in our shoe storage closet sound asleep on the clock and warm bodies were needed to fill the role. Mistakes were made and quotas were not made initially but gradually it was a role that I can to accept and eventually flourish in as I moved into an assistant manager role and got called up to the big leagues.
Much discussion was made in 2019 about the state of the US Indies. The exodus of talent started occurring in 2015-2017 and that came to a head in 2019 when it was tough to find anyone who was a key player on indie shows just two or three years prior not being locked up to an exclusive contract. That resulted in numerous people being thrust into major roles and headlining shows when they were in underneath roles or not on the cards in recent vintage. This has resulted in many pro wrestling pundits to claim that the indie boom that originated with Low Ki and American Dragon bursting through at the 2001 Super 8 tournament was over. The counter-argument to that is that while the top transcendent stars like Dragon and Riddle may not currently be on the indie landscape, the cupboard was still full of hungry talent willing to prove themselves.
Trying to maintain a neutrality in all, I certainly see both points of this argument. Truth be told, my frustration with the indie scene the past couple of years has stigmatized from it feeling like most of the same groups have used the same general talent. Independentwrestling.tv can be a great conglomerate that utilizes available technology to both stream current indie shows and provide a platform for the past history of indies. However, it felt like most of the promotions featured on that platform (Action, Scenic City Productions, St. Louis Anarchy, Black Label Pro, S.U.P) all had a rotation mix of wrestlers that appeared on every show. I take responsibility for this as I haven’t been as diligent to keep up with the scene as a whole as in the past but as an example, I went into Cagematch and saw how many matches Gary Jay and AC Mack had been involved with each other in. I would have pondered to guess it would have been at least over five and was shocked to find out that it is a mere single encounter at the 2018 Scenic City Trios. The blame can’t be placed solely on myself as I do think I am a target audience for the independent wrestling viewer and if it is muddled in my mind, I can’t be solitary in that fact.
This brings us to the two main wrestlers that are discussed in the duo of matches I watched to check in on the independent scene in 2020: Curt Stallion and Daniel Makabe.
Stallion has always been a tough sell for me due to his overall look and credibility. That is an honest assessment even though typing it out makes me shallow about myself as a human being. I’m not exactly a physical specimen and even in terms of past wrestlers I have championed, 2002 Chris Hero isn’t 4% body fat Lex Luger either and I spent many a message board post defending his cause. Stallion does have the projection of someone that will put his name out there and seek out opportunities given to him which is admirable. A look at his Cagematch profile shows his lineage from ROH Dark matches to IWA-MS shows to getting one-shot opportunities at places like CZW and being in the clusterfuck at Janela Spring Break. Gradually, you start to see Stallion become more consistent to wherein the current day he seems to have three main stomping grounds. Gabe’s EVOLVE, AAW in Illinois and what I call the Hales promotions (basically promotions that Dylan Hales commentates for/helps books). Stallion’s frame is as slender as ever and he is sporting a much shorter hair cut these days so perhaps it is a sign of maturity for someone that is now thrust as one of the indie names that will have his picture on a promotions poster to sell the show.
Daniel Makabe encapsulates all the great tools of a wrestler. Striking is well done and weighted, matwork is chained together and tightly applied and his matches are dripped in psychology and callbacks to past encounters. Still, I have found myself being more cautious than ever to levy too much praise Dan’s way. I have in general tried to stay away from interaction with any wrestlers in order to try to be as objective as possible when evaluating their matches. This may come off as sounding holier than thou and make no mistake, it is not like John Cena is repeatedly denied entry from sliding into my DMs. This is simply a practice I have self-imposed on myself and therefore limited any interaction when the opportunity has presented itself. Of some of my closest friends in the wrestling bubble, Dan is one of their buddies in shoot life. I don’t think this clouds their judgment to view his matches objectively, but its just an extra degree of explanation that I try to avoid. Makabe has had his share of great matches in the past couple of years with the likes of Artemis Spencer and Timothy Thatcher, but there was that certain MOTYC quality to many of his matches that I was seeking to catapult him into strong WOTY consideration. With him branching out mores in 2020, more opportunities should be present for him to reach that ceiling.
Bobby Flaco vs Curt Stallion
January 11, 2020
ACTION Wrestling Streets of Rage
Flaco’s tights may have been gifted to him from Marty Jannetty. He is the type of guy that many of the indies I have really resonated with in the past (IWA-MS, CWF Mid-Atlantic) need. An underneath babyface that can have crowd investment and flesh out cards since given the budget, it is unlikely that many fly-ins are occurring. I am thinking of someone in the mold of Mark Wolf or Nick Richards. Flaco is much more of a showy wrestler than those two and that must be reined in by Stallion in this match for the match to be successful overall. This match really shows a transition for Stallion as he is clearly now the veteran and established star suddenly. He portrays this match as someone that doesn’t take Flaco seriously at first and bullies him around until Flaco shows enough resilience that Stallion is in deeper waters than he had ever imagined entering the match.
Matches like this must follow a pretty strict formula in order to be successful and this match had all of the beats. The control segment by Stallion was well done and mixed with decent to good looking strikes and trash talk showing his dominance. The hope spots that Flaco flourished in toed the line between being executed well and straight out disaster. Flaco isn’t going to the rope jump arm drags as gracefully as someone like Fenix or execute dives with the heights of Shun Skywalker but for this crowd in Tyrone, Georiga, he was effective in building up sympathy. The key transition spot also involved a Vertebreaker type move that I still for the life of me don’t understand or can’t comprehend. I don’t know if it looked great of awful, but it was certainly memorable.
The finish is where the match was most successful. As with this strict formula-style, if the babyface is going to wind up unsuccessful, the match needs to end at precisely the right time. That happened here. Stallion uncorked a great sequence of moves that culminated with a big splash for a two count. That started to get the crowd buzzing that an upset might be brewing and helped build Flaco in looking stronger not only at the conclusion of this match but in subsequent matches. Stallion doubles down on this by hitting his running cannonball headbutt and that against scores a strong two count. Stallion is shocked in the corner and shows good emotion at conveying that he is going to have to go into an extra gear to put Flaco away. He does just that with a capture tombstone onto his knee. With more investment in the promotion and the competitors, I can see how this match would be viewed as a triumphant and a stepping stone for both in their respective careers. I will say it was probably the best Stallion performance I have seen and showed that he could have a good match with most other wrestlers in any promotion if given the right story arcs. ***1/4
Kevin Ku vs Daniel Makabe
January 5, 2020
S.U.P Stay Cold
The previous match hit me in the way most indie matches in 2019 did and were a big benefactor in me starting this series. Certainly good, but not transcendent and left me wondering if I have missed something given the level of praise in other corners of the discourse. This match, however, was fucking great. Makabe is returning to the south for the first time since his coronation at the 2019 SCI and he is facing one of the breakout stars of this scene in the past year or two in Kevin Ku. Ku has come a long way from when I was paying closer attention to this scene overall with the early Sadkampf days. Maybe it was working in a successful tag team with Dominic Garrini or just generally overall experience, but his pacing and strikes were on point here and he more than hung with Makabe as a peer making this match far from a carry job.
The match starts with some nicely contested mat work to set the stage. These opening minutes were critical to build up Ku as a singles wrestler that could hang on the mat with Dan and culminates with Ku hitting a nasty curb stomp to display his advantage on the heavy strikes in the match. Makabe doesn’t accept being inferior as he tries to display his strike viciousness which transitions logically into the focal point of the entire match. The transition comes as Ku kicks Makabe off of the ropes in the corner and his back clips the apron as he goes crashing to the cold Basement East concrete floor. The camera angle was perfect for this bump as it had me gasping and really created a level of believability that Makabe was injured. Ku didn’t shy away from working on Daniel’s back and he unleashed an impressive variety of offense that was centered around doing damage to this area of weakness.
Like a wounded dog, Makabe knew he was in trouble so he utilizes his size advantage and starts a full-court press into trying to trap Ku and win with a flurry of submissions and strikes. In great continuity, all of the submissions that Makabe goes for including the Octopus and STF aren’t as effective or can’t be applied at full optimal pressure due to the injured back. Just those sequence of moves really showed the progression in lineage from the finest independent grapplers on the scene as transitioning from the Danielson and Hero’s of ole to the Makabe’s of today. Both wrestlers also utilized a great knockout spot that was timed perfectly and didn’t look contrived and really helped reset the match.
Much like the Stallion vs Flaco match, the finish was splendid and happened at the exact right moment. Makabe can’t bridge on the German on a nearfall and transitions into a Cattle Mutilation were again the bridge can not be sustained and as Dylan Hales calls out on commentary, the angle isn’t effective. Another brutal strike exchange allows Ku to hit a gutwrench powerbomb on the knees that garner a close two count. This could have very well have been the finish, but I appreciated the match added another layer of storytelling with Makabe coming out of that nearfall as having weathered the storm and gaining momentum. He goes for a Fujiwara armbar and a leg lock and Ku is luckily close to the ropes. Makabe torques at the foot and stomps on Ku some more and in a feat of resourcefulness and continuity, Ku kicks Makabe into the corner hurt back first and rolls him up to pick up the successful victory.
I want to commend the commentary for this match as Hales was able to convey the storyline throughout and really portray the level of detail that was dripping from a match like this. At fifteen minutes, the match didn’t overstay it’s welcome and certainly opened the door for subsequent matchups between these two in the flukey way it can be argued Ku was the victor.
This wasn’t the MOTYC I know Makabe is capable of, but if he is able to build up a resume of matches around the loop like this one, his WOTY case will be undeniable. Makabe should be booked on most signature indie shows worldwide and can be a pillar for this new influx of talent to build upon. ****