Without getting too deep into it, my personal feelings in regards to running any events in the United States right now are complicated.
COVID-19 is still running rampant through most states, and despite many very real opportunities for us to stop it, gathering people (no matter how distanced) into smaller spaces seems troublesome. Like many, I have struggled daily with the conflict of overt safety and relative isolation vs. the desire to do the things I love with the people I love. Like most industries this year, the wrestling industry has taken a financial hit, unlike anything they have ever experienced. If we pair the last four months of the pandemic with the incredible revelations that came to light in the #SpeakingOut movement as well as those who have spoken out during the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we are on shifting ground. There is an incredible amount of social justice issues on the forefront of people’s minds right now, which is an ideal opportunity for both fans and promoters to right many injustices that have plagued wrestling for time immemorial. We have a chance to shake things up, to find new talent, to be creative in the booking process, to remove the cancerous parts of the locker room, but the lingering shadow of COVID still hangs there. Indie wrestling is coming back, indie wrestling will be back, it’s just not quite there yet.
All that said, we have recently seen a slate of fun shows from smaller indie promotions like H2O and Journey Pro, as well as our first forays into outdoor shows with fans from ICW: NY No Holds Barred and Game Changer Wrestling (GCW). This past weekend, there was a full slate of indie wrestling to choose from between Friday and Sunday: two GCW shows, Beyond Wrestling’s return and Paradigm Pro Wrestling’s most recent attempt at a hybrid “shoot style/hardcore” show. Some of the US indies’ biggest names were back in action for the first time in months, some lesser-known wrestlers showed their worth and some stars recently released from WWE had people talking.
Were the shows good? On the whole, yes.
Below, each show will be micro-reviewed, followed by an overall top-10 matches of the weekend, all subjective to the author and his personal taste.
Paradigm Pro Wrestling
“Heavy Hitters 2”
Friday, July 24, 2020
PPW started in late 2017 as another player in the crowded Midwest independent scene. Its crux was a larger focus on “hardcore” matches than some of their contemporaries, but still sharing much of the same talent as places like AIW, AAW, Black Label Pro, Glory Pro and more. They’ve had solid shows and consistent storytelling in their home of Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Focusing on individuals who can work both deathmatch and more technical (or hard-hitting) affairs, they’ve provided an opportunity for well-known indie names like AJ Gray, Matthew Justice and John Wayne Murdoch to mix it up with more obscure names like Freddie Hudson, Mo Atlas and Nolan Edwards. The most hype came about in November of 2019, when PPW ran their “Fighting Spirit Heavyweight Grand Prix” tournament in an effort to bring “UWFi rules” to the American indies. That tournament was a ton of fun despite not having a set of wrestlers that knew how to fully work the style.
They continued that idea with their second “Heavy Hitters” tournament, but they combined those UWFi rules with “street fight” rules, while also creating a new title that could only be contested under one of those two rule sets. On paper, it’s fantastic and a neat way to differentiate PPW from the majority of US independent companies. In reality, by being so staunch in recreating “UWFi rules” matches, PPW has pigeonholed themselves into a corner that is hard to recreate and truly emulate. There are perhaps no wrestling fans more difficult to please than “shoot style” fans, and authenticity is a key factor. The reason events like “Bloodsport” work is that they are taking influence from the past, but updating it into their own new hybrid of modern MMA and indie wrestling. Shoot style promotions like UWF, UWFi, PWFG, RINGS and more all worked for their short durations because they had dedicated leaders, dedicated schools to their unique style and a set roster of wrestlers that could work within the style. UWFi was the loosest, the most “pro wrestling,” but it is still an incredibly rigid style to emulate and invites hardasses like me to turn their nose up when it doesn’t adhere to the rules and logic. To PPW’s credit, they did mention they had updated the rules in their video package to make them more modern, but it still appeared many of the wrestlers involved in the show (and referees) weren’t entirely sure how things worked, leaving a slight lack of consistency throughout. Please wrestlers, for the love of everything, we don’t need a voluntary strike exchange in every match. Perhaps renaming the UWFi ruleset into a “Hybrid” ruleset or something similar would allow for more flexibility down the road.
Everything above is nitpicky though, as this was one of the coolest indie shows of the year.
Many fans online have longed for more crossover between “shoot style” and “deathmatch” wrestling–uniting these two not-so-disparate niche fandoms–and we were provided that here. The talent involved was quite astounding as well; indie tough guys like Erick Stevens, Tom Lawlor, Chris Dickinson, Bobby Beverly and Dominic Garrini mixed it up with Devantes, Lee Moriarty, Justin Kyle and the next generation of talent. Seeing two behemoths with tremendous looks that I was previously unaware of in “The Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas and Devantes (who has one of the sickest looks I’ve seen in years) go out there and kill it for 90 seconds is a true breath of fresh air. Seeing the growth of someone like Brett Ison, who’s been good for a couple of years but is showing he can be a truly great killer, is a ton of fun. Oh, and there was a rematch between Matthew Justice and UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar, who put on one of the best matches on American soil in 2019. The show wound up running a little bit long, and not everything hit (I was quite disappointed by the Justice/Bonnar rematch), but the vision was there, two new champions were crowned and it is well worth the watch. All in all, it’s another reason to subscribe to IWTV. Bravo PPW.
Game Changer Wrestling
“Homecoming Weekend Pt. 1”
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Atlantic City, NJ
What is left to be said about GCW that hasn’t already been said a hundred times? They have done a brilliant job positioning themselves into the sure-fire #1 independent promotion in the USA (without a lot of close competition). With the help and wackiness of Joey Janela, they transitioned smoothly from a deathmatch promotion to one that could be a million different things, while always maintaining a feeling they are 100% GCW. Having already run a really fun show on June 20th, and a crazy backyard shitshow on July 4th, this “Homecoming” weekend on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the shadow of the Showboat casino can be considered the true announcement that GCW IS BACK.
Coming into this show, beyond the ongoing storyline between Ricky Shane Page and his 44Oh crew with Nick Gage, what had people talking was the re-emergence of ACH (here against young upstart Tre Lamar) and DDT Wrestling’s resident doll Yoshihiko coming stateside to “wrestle” Joey Janela. Both matches were important in their own way. ACH showcased a new, incredible “veteran” gimmick that instantly separates him from the pack, while the Janela/Yoshihiko match to crown the 1486th DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Champ (not the 1352nd, despite commentary) was really a setup for a shocking reveal at the conclusion of the match.
Two matches in the middle of the card completely stole the show, however, as Chris Dickinson and Mance Warner had one of the hardest hitting brawls of the year by just beating the shit out of each other, while AJ Gray partook in a rare death match with one of the best in the world in Alex Colon; Grey more than held his own and bled like a fuckin’ maniac. The show was solid on the whole, though uneven like many GCW shows which pride themselves on incredible live experiences. The boardwalk was an awesome venue, with the main event happening as the sun was setting and sailboats glided by in the background.
If you plan to watch this show, plan on watching Pt. 2 as well since they are strongly connected.
“Two Weeks Notice”
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Atlantic City, NJ
As a big-time Beyond Wrestling fan, I have to say that this show didn’t deliver. There were some things that seemed to be out of their control–technical malfunctions, heat, an injury to the single biggest star on the independents–but the matches themselves didn’t quite reach the level that others through the weekend did. Beyond occupies a unique space in indie wrestling. They are known well for their intergender matches, while also able to mix comedy, hardcore, and prolonged feuds into the mix. Here, though, everything just came off a bit rusty. For their part, Paul Crockett and Sidney Bakabella were great on commentary, the top of the weekend far and away, but even their performances couldn’t save everything.
It wasn’t a BAD show, and for the average Beyond fan or even a US indie fan starved for content, it’s worth checking out. (The whole show is under 2 hours, as well.) However, with a very unfortunate Nick Gage injury in what was on pace to be an excellent match, the show lacked anything that truly stood out. There were good matches like Lee Moriarty vs. Wheeler YUTA, which tried to provide the crowd with innovative chain wrestling and counters. Willow Nightingale and Pinkie Sanchez created a really fun dynamic with Willow being the hoss, throwing Pinkie all around the ring (and ringside area). The standout match featured two high-flyers in Christian Casanova (continuing his hot streak within the promotion) and Blake Christian (in his best of the weekend.) Casanova is a guy more people should be looking at; he doesn’t have the acrobatics of Blake Christian, Alex Zayne, Benjamin Carter or other similar young flyers, but he can structure a match excellently and should be considered in the next generation of indie stars.
A less-than-stellar show should not detract you from paying attention to Beyond on the whole, as through the years they have been one of the most consistent US independents out there.
Game Changer Wrestling
“Homecoming Weekend Pt. 2”
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Atlantic City, NJ
GCW came back Sunday night with a top-to-bottom good card and was able to deliver. Following the events of the previous night, two matches were added before the show: A “Last Match” that featured a returning (and retiring?) Lio Rush facing off with his old rival Joey Janela, and Nick Gage’s GCW career being on the line against Ricky Shane Page and his crew. Due to Gage’s unfortunate injury during the Beyond show earlier in the day, he was left unable to walk, but the main event still delivered from a spectacle standpoint and really made the most of a truly unfortunate situation. The Janela match with Rush, however, tried a bit too much for my tastes. While there was certainly praise online as the match was happening live, the 30-minute runtime and pace made it my least liked match on the show. All that being said, the promos by Janela and Rush at the conclusion of the match were heartfelt, sincere and powerful and are must-watch for any US wrestling fan. The rest of the card was solid to fuckin’ great throughout. Lee Moriarty continued his upward trajectory as one of the most exciting guys on the indies with a surprise victory over Tony Deppen, ACH furthered his “vet” gimmick against KTB in a legit 4-star match, Chris Dickinson and Calvin Tankman beat the shit out of each other, and Zachary Wentz participated in his first (and only) deathmatch with Alex Colon and absolutely killed it. A tremendous show, through and through.
Overall, this was a very fun weekend of indie wrestling shows. You can pick and choose from the list below, but you’d be best served to support indie wrestling. Buy the shows on FITE and subscribe to IWTV.
Top 10 Matches Of the Weekend:
- Chris Dickinson vs. Mance Warner (GCW Homecoming Pt. 1) – Two of the most charismatic guys in US wrestling went out onto the boardwalk and just fought. Mance is often more style than substance and he’s amazing in that sense, but he more than held his own here, giving Dickinson just as much as he gave. At just over 12 minutes, they didn’t try to get epic, but this was still a perfect blend of hard-hitting shit that is often lacking in this scene. Truly awesome match.
- ACH vs. KTB (GCW Homecoming Pt. 2) – Though Dickinson was the MVP of the weekend from an in-ring standpoint, nothing has me more hyped than this current version of ACH, who is playing an asshole just marvelously. KTB was able to shove the cockiness aside and beat the shit out of ACH here, but ACH as the veteran still came out on top without looking weak. If he can keep this up, and I believe he will, ACH will be putting on the best work in the world soon.
- Chris Dickinson vs. Calvin Tankman (GCW Homecoming Pt. 2) – In 11 minutes, Calvin Tankman became a made man (something many of us already knew). With Dickinson’s approval, expect HUGE things from this giant. An incredibly TOUGH match.
- Chris Dickinson vs. Lee Moriarty (PPW Heavy Hitters 2) – Unlike some of the other matches on the show, these two GOT how to work the UWFi style and used the point system to their advantage. Lee is one of the more creative grapplers in the US right now and can take a suplex better than just about anyone, while Dickinson is one of the best power wrestlers, so it was a match of “craftiness” vs. “power” like all the best UWFi matches in history were.
- Kevin Ku vs. Nolan Edwards (PPW Heavy Hitters 2) – In a street fight, Kevin Ku–one of the best strikers around–took it to the young Edwards, really pounding him with chops (one to the face even!) and kicks. Edwards kept on fighting and showed his toughness to a whole slew of people who hadn’t seen him before. The best “street fight” on the show.
- Zachary Wentz vs. Alex Colon (GCW Homecoming Pt. 2) – Zachary Wentz has experience in MMA, experience in standard matches, and while he associates with a lot of people who work death matches, hadn’t done them himself… until now. He killed it. He pushed Colon to his limit and took insane bumps from insane distances. He’s said this was a “one and done” for him, but he’s a natural.
- ACH vs. Tre Lamar (GCW Homecoming Pt. 1) – The “debut” of this new ACH is just so, so sweet. For 21 minutes, ACH played with Lamar, letting him get some shine (and looking great doing so), but overall just toying with him. Not a great match from a BIG SPOT type of performance like we expect in GCW, but a true masterclass in character work and executed to near perfection.
- Christian Casanova vs. Blake Christian (Beyond Two Weeks Notice) – Blake reeled it in a bit more to my taste, Casanova showed that he is a future star, and two high-flyers executed a perfectly solid, exciting match that built really well over its short run time.
- AJ Gray vs. Alex Colon (GCW Homecoming Pt. 1) – Much like Zachary Wentz, AJ Gray proved this weekend that he is a man that is excellent at working just about every style in wrestling. While this match didn’t hit the highs of the Wentz match and had a few pacing issues, it was nevertheless an excellent deathmatch.
- Brett Ison vs. Bradley Prescott IV (PPW Heavy Hitters 2) – In a gimmicky street fight, big boy Ison beat the piss out of Prescott and hit him with the suplex of the year. A match where both guys put their bodies on the line and showed out for the fans in attendance. The surprise great match of the weekend.