Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) is kind of like that guy you’d see at parties in high school or college who’d snort hot sauce and talk too loud.
Yeah, he’s kind of obnoxious, and you imagine he’d be a bit much to deal with on a regular basis, but he sure does liven things up. Then one day, Crapper (I’ve named him Crapper, this sort of guy always has some dumb nickname like Crapper) drops something he heard in a documentary (just American Factory, but still), or an obscure literary reference on you, and you raise an eyebrow. He might mention in passing that he got into a better school than you. Maybe the singer of a band you like fistbumps him and calls him by his real name. (It’s Dan. Of course, Crapper’s name is Dan.) It seems there’s a little more to this dude than lighting farts and referencing Rick and Morty.
GCW made its second trip to Japan two weeks ago, and it’s remarkable what a flight halfway across the world does to the promotion.
— フリーバーズ 米インディー専門🇯🇵🇺🇸プロレス輸入販売ショップ〈ヤフーショッピング〉 (@FREEBIRDS_shop) February 20, 2020
At home, the company’s a prominent force in the American indie scene, but its methods aren’t for everyone. Critics point at them for the recent uptick in comedy/irony wrestling, and their loose presentation can be an acquired taste for purists. For three sold-out nights in Tokyo’s Shin-Kiba 1st Ring (2/3 – 2/5), GCW presented a slightly different face.
It makes me think of this story director Kevin Smith told on his blog in 2006. After a string of bouts with personal demons leading up to the filming of 1999’s Dogma, co-star and collaborator Jason Mewes shocked Smith by having memorized every line of dialogue in the entire script. The impetus?
“I don’t want to piss off that Rickman dude.”
He didn’t want to embarrass himself working with the bad guy from Die Hard, and who would? In this instance, Alan Rickman takes the form of names like Masashi Takeda, Isami Kodaka and Masato Tanaka. The GCW talent seems to hit another gear, representing themselves and their company in a very different country and having to keep up with slew of heavy hitters.
The first show (Live Fast, Die Young on 2/3) wasn’t without its hiccups. For one example, in the main event, Orin Veidt dropped Masashi Takeda on a board of kitchen knives. The impact essentially carved a set of gills into Takeda’s back. When he stood up it looked like his lower back was gasping for air. It really makes you wonder how the old knife board spot ever works in the first place, don’t it? The match is called off on the spot (Veidt was declared the winner; win’s a win Orin!), and the night ended on what were essentially dueling apology promos.
— サイトゥーさん(家系ラーメン愛好会) (@ganba_ruttan3) February 3, 2020
Shortly after, it was announced Takeda would miss the remaining GCW Japan shows and be on the shelf for the next month. (…win’s a win, Orin?) Matthew Justice would fare a little better. Earlier in the evening he tangled with SHLAK in a match that reached nearly every corner of the venue, with FREEDOMS founder (and performer on these shows) Takashi Sasaki frantically following and clearing out spectators. First though, they warmed up by trading unprotected chair shots to the head, a sequence that earned Justice the grotesquely swollen, purple eye he’d sport for the following two nights.
— 𝖒𝖆𝖙𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖜 𝖏𝖚𝖘𝖙𝖎𝖈𝖊 (@ThrashJustice) February 3, 2020
Justice is an interesting case. There’s something endearing about a guy who bailed on a WWE developmental contract and loves hanging out with these Garbage Pail Kids. (I don’t think I’m out of line here, SHLAK looks like a Garbage Pail Kid even without commentary referring to him as “Public Enema Number One”.) In a sea of jorts and t-shirts, Justice stands out simply for looking like a pro wrestler. In more recent exploits, he often forgoes any and all practical wrestling conventions in lieu of delivering an exercise in violence. Back in October, his GCW Championship match against Nick Gage played out like one long setup for him to fall off of a balcony. (In fairness, it was killer.) That’s part of why it was great to watch him display some more traditional chops on night two’s show, Ready to Die, against Masato Tanaka.
At forty-six years old, with the hell he’s so famously put his body through, it’s really incredible how Tanaka’s remained a must-see performer to this day. He’d come through big in his 2019 GCW appearances (against Tony Deppen on the last Japan tour, against LA Park at Janela’s Spring Break) and it’s no surprise that the bout with Justice veered on show-stealing. The match ends with the two wrapping chairs around one another’s head, but the majority is the sort of high-caliber wrestling match it’s nice to see Justice take part in from time to time. But just pinning Justice wasn’t enough, Tanaka then apparently made him eat sushi for the first time.
Had sushi for the first time while in Japan with Masato Tanaka! Thank you for your hospitality and a great night of stories and laughs. pic.twitter.com/t89wQNlIZj
— 𝖒𝖆𝖙𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖜 𝖏𝖚𝖘𝖙𝖎𝖈𝖊 (@ThrashJustice) February 12, 2020
Part of what made that match feel special was Kevin Gill’s call, believe it or not. He harped on Justice’s fandom for ECW, and the esteem Justice (and the promotion) holds a guy like Tanaka in. KG can be a talking point for GCW’s detractors. At home, Gill’s style takes some heat for a reliance on inside jokes, over-the-top vulgarity and a tendency to get distracted; a set of critiques that mirror those sometimes lobbied at the promotion as a whole. Under the Rickman-esque gaze of a foreign country’s deathmatch scene, without the trappings of Hot Tub Guy or White Claw, Gill is much better behaved and the matches benefit. He played perfectly into Kikutaru’s opening match comedy spots, gave Danny Havoc’s return from retirement the gravity it deserved and exuded a reverence and knowledge for deathmatch wrestling wouldn’t always know he possesses when he’s trading drug innuendos with Joey Janela.
Still, he didn’t exactly pitch a perfect game. I could have probably stood a few less coronavirus quips, and there were a couple unfortunate pronunciations that may have rubbed people the wrong way.
Watching the Chris Dickinson v Yuji Okabayashi match and this commentator calling OkAbayashi OkUbayashi is some amateur hour fucking comedy.
It's right there dude, it's an A. It's pronounced the same way as in America.
At least he got the right fucking Wikipedia page this time.
— WH PARK 🇰🇷 🇨🇦 🇯🇵 (@whpark9) February 11, 2020
The real doozy is what WH Park is referencing with that line about Wikipedia. On Night 3, The Art of War, Toru Sugiura took on KTB in a very entertaining match. Equally entertaining was Gill providing some background information on Sugiura for the American viewers. He reeled off facts and dates he seemingly looked up on Wikipedia; unfortunately, they were all from Takashi Sugiura of Pro Wrestling NOAH fame’s profile. The cherry on top is that Toru Sugiura is the current reigning champion of FREEDOMS, the promotion hosting GCW for these events. Still, if you look past that particular match (though you shouldn’t, it’s really good!) Gill’s work was a step up that might be a little more palatable to non-regular viewers.
It feels a little silly to harp on any negatives though, because these shows are so consistently fun. Each of the GCW mainstays get their shine. When “What A Waster” by the Libertines kicks in, it’s hard not to get hyped about the returning Danny Havoc, who turned in a set of fantastic performances. He and Alex Colon were big (and predictable) standouts from the American side, and their tag match on Ready To Die against Big Japan stars Isami Kodaka and Toshiyuki Sakuda is a must-watch. Jimmy Lloyd and Drew Parker are a blast sharing the ring all three nights. If you’re like me and haven’t seen much of Parker (who Gill affectionately calls “The Homie”) since he split for Japan in May of last year, I’m happy to report he’s a flippy king. He lights up each match he takes part in.
Then there’s Chris Dickinson. Where do I start? Dickinson’s year had already begun strong with a banger against David Starr at GCW’s Just Being Honest that might still be my favorite American match of 2020. He’s positioned to keep it up with meetings over Wrestlemania weekend against the likes of Takeda, Minoru Suzuki and Shingo Takagi.
On his first trip to Japan, he did not disappoint. He began with a dream match on night one against Yuki Okabayashi that was just as beefy and hard-hitting as you’d hope. The bout (my personal favorite from the entire run) was relentless in its pace for its fourteen-minute entirety. When the “Dirty Daddy” stood across from Okabayashi, just two mean-looking bald dudes in plain black trunks, it felt like the type of fight he’d been preparing his whole career for. That vibe carries through to night three when he goes one-on-one with Daisuke Sekimoto in a rematch of their classic from Beyond’s Americanrana last year.
A few nights later he would make his Korakuen Hall debut for FREEDOMS, as part of a two-night mini-tour tagging up with Matthew Justice. The two made for a particularly fun pairing; snarling, barking and leaning heavily into an affinity for Death Valley Drivers. They’d come up short against Mammoth Sasaki and Violento Jack for the FREEDOMS tag titles in a compact and action-heavy brawl. My favorite moment in Justice and Dickinson’s short run as puro’s premiere tag team came during their 2/9 ZERO1 appearance. Brought in by Tanaka as injury replacements, they scored a victory in front of a Shin-Kiba crowd just over half the size of the sold-out GCW houses earlier in the week. The two exemplified a fighting spirit matched only by a stubborn table that took three impacts for opponent Yoshikazu Yokoyama to crash through it. After, they’d give a post-match that, for a moment, was as heartwarming as a profanity-laden pro wrestling promo can be. “I loved it,” Dickinson says. “I’ve wanted to wrestle in ZERO1 since I was fourteen years old.”
— プロレスリングZERO1 (@ZERO1_Wrestling) February 9, 2020
Sharing a locker room tonight with Ikoto Hidaka, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Shinjiro Ohtani, and Masato Tanaka. Some legitimate legends up in here right now.
— Chris Dickinson (@DirtyDickinson) February 9, 2020
The GCW deathmatch sweathogs got some run in Korakuen as well. Both the 2/10 FREEDOMS and 2/11 Big Japan shows featured some combination of Game Changer talent in fairly grisly multiman tags. Matt Tremont takes center stage in both, all but using his body as a pincushion, eagerly dangling forks from that strange, fleshy bubble on his head. At the conclusion of their Big Japan six-man tag, the referee appeared visibly distressed at the geyser spouting from Tremont’s left arm while he trotted over to score the pinfall on Sakuda. It was difficult to hold back a smile when the Korakuen crowd broke out in a “GCW!” chant after the bell, even if crewmembers were simultaneously duct-taping Tremont’s arm back together.
Fuck what anybody say Matt Tremont is the answer to all your questions. He puts his body, his school, and the people that he loves… on the line and in his heart.
He’s the true super man!#muchRespectma pic.twitter.com/HiN7cHHBib
— Frankie Pickard (@FrankiePickard) February 12, 2020
Audiences were equally welcoming to each of the other GCW guest spots. It’s that spirit that helps make the entirety of the GCW Japan run a very easy recommendation. A warm sense of respect between the locals (both talent and audience) and the gaijin felt evident. In Shin-Kiba the crowd regularly broke out in English chants. (Lots of “holy shit”.) Danny Havoc and Isami Kodaka called out, “G-Raver!” at one another mid-match in tribute to their injured pal; Veidt performed a Reverse U-Crash as a nod/apology to Takeda one night after fileting his back; and then, of course, there’s the SHLAK and Abdullah Kobayashi match.
— サグろう (@tugmuwake) February 3, 2020
On GCW’s last night in Shin-Kiba, the reigning Big Japan Deathmatch champion Abdullah Kobayashi finally made an appearance. Regardless of how you feel about SHLAK’s past, or his work (hey, I get it), I can’t think of another match that embodied the joy of the three nights like this one. The volume of the crowd and commentary raised with each ascent the 350+ lb. Kobayashi would make to the top turnbuckle, with each swing of entire armfuls of light tubes. It wasn’t the best match you’ll see, and certainly not the prettiest, but it played like a sweet love letter to deathmatch, and maybe even to one another. After winning the match, covered in blood and debris, Abdullah requested a microphone.
“I love deathmatch,” he said. “SHLAK! I love you.”
Aw, these guys are adorable.
— V. StiviYano Toru (@PrivateRadio87) February 22, 2020
Later in the month, I watched GCW’s return to the states, Run Rickey Run in Atlantic City, NJ. It was a very memorable show, and if you’re reading this I can’t imagine you haven’t heard at least something about it. In the semi-main event, I remember watching Mance Warner attack Allie Kat’s crotch with a handful of skewers, and just like that, old Crapper was back. I’d seen what a difference Japan had made, and here he was eating weird shit for five bucks again. But I saw what I saw, and hey, Crapper? You’re pretty alright.
GCW’s Live Fast, Die Young; Ready To Die; and The Art of War can be seen on FITE.tv. Matches featuring GCW talent were featured on ZERO1’s Skill Up to the Future on 2/9, FREEDOMS’ Go Beyond The Limit on 2/10 and BJW’s 2/11 Korakuen show.