AUGUST 23, 2020


It has been my privilege to watch less wrestling for the last few months.  I don’t mean to be starry-eyed; I’m talking about the very real privilege I had to walk away whenever I felt overwhelmed by the monumental amount of stories of abuse in wrestling.  I am cognizant that while I may be able to escape wrestling by closing Twitter, going for a walk or playing the PlayStation, the people who shared their stories are haunted by what they experienced.  They don’t have the privilege to simply walk away.

Wrestling is a slippery medium in a range of ways.  It’s difficult to define, with an individual’s analysis settling somewhere along a spectrum that ranges from sport to theatre.  There are those who take a more athletic viewpoint, preferring catch-as-catch-can style holds and ground work.  There are others who prefer the glitter and camp of large scale theatre.  Of course most people tend to fluctuate in the same way you flip between genres of music.  

The one thing that had unified all of the different styles of wrestling was the insistence that the fans watching the business cannot see what is going on being a transparent curtain.  There was an amazing dichotomy in wrestling, where insider terms are so well known and used so frequently by all who watch it, that calling them insider terms is laughable.  In the same way that an amateur film critic can gain an understanding of different camera shots and narrative techniques, the wrestling critic is able to comment on move choice, promo cadence and closing stretches.

As time went on, the “don’t comment unless you’ve taken a bump” argument against wrestling criticism lost any air of credibility and was exclusively used by shit wrestlers.  Even I, someone who attends wrestling shows alone and leaves on the last bell, began to be taken in by the disintegration of barriers between performer and fan.  Even standing alone at the back of a hall,  I felt part of something.  Wrestlers stood and chatted at the merch table for longer and longer periods.  Wrestling promotions built an identity on community and togetherness.  We were a group – fans, performers, management – and we were the flag bearers of independent wrestling.  After-parties became prominent, and merch table japery was abound.  For a long time, it seemed great.  It felt like the power had shifted from people who insisted that we didn’t really understand wrestling, to a more cohesive and inclusive environment.

Of course, it’s never that simple.  Foucault wrote about the changing of state punishment from torture and execution to imprisonment.  He argued that it might seem more humane, but it actually served to protect the interests of the middle classes as they gained more and more power. Prisons weren’t any better than public executions, they just served the middle classes better.  Public executions weren’t worse than imprisonment, they just served royalty better.  Power dynamics don’t disappear or even dissipate.  They just shift.  When power shifts, it leaves opportunities for abuse.

The changing power in British independent wrestling appeared to usher in an era of fan-led inclusion, but it was manipulated and molested by the most disgusting people so they could prey on those they held power over.  The powerlessness of the vulnerable was exploited and their lives were ruined.

Although that transparent curtain I talked about earlier had seemingly been removed from independent level wrestling, the old attitudes of “us and them” remained for many workers.  The dehumanization of trainees and fans by the wrestlers accused in Speaking Out show they saw their victims as nothing more than “rats” and “marks.”  Unfortunately, it felt like wrestlers and fans were closer together and more connected than ever before.  This dehumanization was allowed to fester and grow.

The predatory sex offenders that were so rife in British wrestling were allowed to run rampant without governance, and they convinced us that were were all better off because of it.  They abused the power they had in being admired, in their ability to book people on shows and their ease in lying about their morality. They simultaneously obtained more power and abused the power they already had.  

Whether it’s gymnastics, go karting, karate or scouts, every other activity in this country that young people participate in has some kind of governance.  Every training school or club can receive an accreditation that signifies some sort of safeguarding procedure and an independent regulatory body.  British wrestling does not.  Paedophiles flocked to the church because it gave them cover, and it feels like wrestling did the same.

I know you clicked on this review to read star ratings from the latest Rev Pro show, but to neglect the context in which this show finds itself would be ignorant.  I believe that wrestling, like all other art forms, is open to criticism in the same way that any other text is.  We can use a critical lens – feminism, Marxism, post-colonialism, literary theory – to inform our thinking and develop our viewpoints.  To do that, we need to recognise that these art forms don’t exist in a vacuum.  In the same way that you can’t read Dickens without an awareness of the oppression of the working classes,  how can you view this show without recognising the fact it occurs in the middle of a massive sexual assault scandal and a global pandemic?

Andy Quildan, the owner of Rev Pro, is a man I have a lot of respect for.  He has always seemed to eschew the faux-independent narrative of other promotions and focus on the bell-to-bell product.  I feel that he acted swiftly in removing accused sex offenders and that he, at least outwardly, gave the impression he was willing to enact real and substantial change.  He was unfairly accused of putting his response to Speaking Out behind a paywall, when even the most rudimentary research would have counteracted that.

The problem with this show, at least to the British fan who feels a kinship with the scene, is that this show comes before they feel the needed systemic change has happened.  So many promotions have treated this like a PR problem to be solved, not an awful awakening about the realities of sexual abuse.  The accused were quick to respond to accusations with words like “believe all victims except the person who accused me” and some promotions instantly hired PR representatives, issuing statements without substance with words that they thought people wanted to hear.  I could compile the emails I have received from wrestling promotions, wring them out and still have enough hyperreality left to make a Don DeLillo novel.  

Quildan, in his defense, opened himself up to a four hour interview but I left it with my head filled with simulacra like “sensitivity training.”  He repeated that he wanted to be part of the conversation, but neglected to contribute anything of value to that conversation.

I believe, however, that hope can be found in the bravery of people like Sierra Loxton.  While abusive wrestlers may have taken advantage of their power, it is through the work of people like Loxton that has heralded another shift of power.   A look around at the prominent names in British wrestling criticism shows that many are washing their hands of the scene completely.  No matter how vocally passionate people are about British wrestling, they are willing to walk away.  I used to be able to muster up anger about the NXT UK roster selling the scene to the highest bidder, or wrestling criticism being mired in Meltzer copy-and-paste news articles.  All I want now is for people in wrestling to be safe. If they aren’t, we’re not watching. 

I’m not sure Andy Quildan has understood that, and I listened to a four hour podcast.  I’m also not sure the Speaking Out stories have moved beyond the deceptively small Twitter bubbles.  We were promised systemic change, and many feel they got a show announcement instead.

Anyway, here’s the star ratings.

Robbie X def. Connor Mills

Connor Mills and Robbie X delivered promos with as much enthusiasm as BritWres Twitter had for this show.  The words were so generic they disappeared into nothing.  Luckily, the match itself was anything but flat.

Robbie X is a whirlwind, and he’s becoming increasingly valuable to RevPro.  They clearly want to push Mills, and Robbie fits the gatekeeper role perfectly.  His latest work with RKJ was great.  With the  younger man moving his way up the card, it’s time for Robbie to get the next guy over.  He might look like a plasterer, but there’s nothing ordinary about his work.

Mills wasn’t quite on Robbie’s level, but it didn’t matter.  Robbie X is so likeable, and his offence is so captivating that Mills’ control periods just left me yearning for the comeback..  Mills didn’t work to his size, using power moves that didn’t quite suspend disbelief, and he paid the price for it here. That would normally be a criticism, but Robbie X seized the opportunity in a way that kept the kayfabe mirage alive.

I liked the little wrinkles and they all added up to a great story, especially the less experienced Mills losing because he wanted to do his fancy moves. This was solid, interesting wrestling. ***½

Brendan Whitehead def. Kenneth Halfpenny

The best wrestling is simple, and the story here revolved around the honour of the Contenders division.  These wrestlers are still learning, and it’s great that the curriculum expands into telling stories.  Kenneth Halfpenny plays the bitter, jealous second rung star very well, and he infused every aspect of his work with that story.

Halfpenny used his brains to dominate the first half, but when they battered each other into exhaustion it was White who took control. He devastated Halfpenny with some amazing power moves between bouts of raspily begging for more air.

Halfpenny needed to play the smart game, but his arrogance took over.  He went for the silly power move far too often, and an ill-conceived Canadian Destroyer left the door open for White to win.

Two very different wrestlers, but two to watch.  ***½

Dan Maloney def. Callum Newman

In a scene bereft of stars, Dan Maloney could be about to take a big step up.  He has a great look, terrifying energy and has escaped the prison of NXT UK.

Callum Newman’s speed is off the scale.  He reminds me of a comedian that tells one liners – it doesn’t matter if he botches a move because a new one is just around the corner.  The camera can barely keep up with the flash of blue that whips across the screen.

Maloney was a thug, battering Newman all over the ring.  Newman played the sympathetic babyface well, however, and the hope spots were thrilling. This was an extended squash but was intelligently structured to give both men a moment to shine.

The absolute violence of Maloney was overwhelming and a staredown with Ospreay tells me things are heading in the right direction.   ***1/4

Aleah James def. Bobbi Tyler

This match was a foundation.  The work was solid, if not completely remarkable, but it built two new characters that the RevPro women’s division desperately needed.  The journey was logical yet simple.  Align Tyler with an established heel in Zoe Lucas and align James with an established babyface in Gisele Shaw.

I was so invested in the story being told, it was almost a shame that they overreached from time to time.  A few technical mat rolls slipped for a split second and it ruined the immersion slightly.  One kick from Tyler was so gentle it was laughable.

James’ selling is stellar, however, and by tightening up a few technicalities she is going to be an exciting prospect to follow. ***

Kyle Fletcher and Ricky Knight Jr def. Michael Oku and Will Ospreay

Ricky Knight Jr is a teenager and he’s already one of the best wrestlers in the country.  His series of matches against Robbie X from earlier in the year are true hidden gems that demonstrated a deeper understanding of wrestling storytelling than his young age would suggest.

Fletcher has been great for years, and it’s a relief to see that he’s finally put on the weight that he so desperately needed.  He’s bigger than Ospreay at this point and with Mark Davis injured, he’s primed to be a singles star.  He moves with a renewed confidence, clearly slowing himself down to allow his opponent time to breath in his intimidating atmosphere.  At one point, he battered Oku in the corner and walked right up to Ospreay to declare his superiority.  He’s reached that wonderful moment in a wrestler’s career where they are in the prime of their health, ability and intelligence.

This match was captivating.  Fletcher and RKJ were the hungry challengers, desperate to prove their worth in the face of the arrogant champions.  Ospreay sold the shock at their ruthlessness brilliantly, desperately reaching for the hot tag.  When he did tag in, it was the beautiful, controlled chaos you would expect.

All four men played their roles excellently throughout, showing high level work whilst remaining distinct and interesting in their own right.  

The closing stretch of the match was superb.  RKJ dropped bomb after bomb on Ospreay, but the inevitable comeback never came.  RKJ smashed the champion on his head and took the victory.  This was a true elevation, and the kind of confident rocket push needed to make a true star.  I was never disconnected from the story they were telling and I was able to forget the silly cogs that usually whir around my brain.  I never thought “push” or “elevation” until after the match.  RKJ earned his spot.

The promo after the match built on the stellar ring action.  Fletcher was visibly annoyed that he didn’t get the fall and RKJ was an amazing arrogant ball of smarm.  Great match.  ****¼

Rev Pro Women’s Championship: Gisele Shaw © def Jamie Hayter

After a lacklustre Zoe Lucas championship run, the women’s division desperately needed an injection of energy.  They certainly put those pieces in place here, with a big fight atmosphere established early.  They pushed, shoved and wrenched in a way that felt legitimate and a direct antithesis to the campy Zoe Lucas run. 

An early exchange was followed by a glorious smile from both competitors.  It was that brilliant look of people desperately trying to remain arrogant in the face of an overwhelming obstacle.

Shaw has a ceiling and when the match starts to settle, we see the limits of her ability when she tries to leap up the ropes.  However, her character work is her real strength and she’s able to spice her strikes with a great viciousness that adds to her credibility.  They grounded this match brilliantly, and it was an excellent way to work without fans.  The work was snug and mean, and the camera got as close as it could.  It felt like it belonged in the dark, smoky room it was in.

The work was incredibly intelligent, as both women amplified the violence to higher and higher levels.  The ground and pound forearms were visceral, and the armbar that finished the match turned Hayter’s arm into jelly, brandishing an image in my mind that will take a while to forget.

Shaw was a good challenger and she was intriguing when chasing Lucas.  She needed a legitimising title defence, and Hayter certainly gave it to her.  ****

Closing Thoughts

Looking at the card as nothing but a wrestling show, it was great.  There were no bad matches, and the highs were very high.  It was intelligently booked, with clear branching pathways for new stars.

As I said earlier, however, it is impossible to ignore the context of the show.  Twitter was silent whilst it was live suggesting nobody was watching it, but that could be another nod to the simulacra that surrounds the fallout that clouds BritWres.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how good the shows are.  For many, that cloud won’t disappear until there has been real, demonstrable change.

Rev Pro returns in three weeks for another PPV.