In the month that has passed since we last took a deep dive into the returning US indies, not a whole lot has changed here in the United States. COVID-19 cases, while lessening in some locations, remain stagnant or continue to increase in others. Millions of people remain out of work, though many have finally returned. People still fill the streets every night, especially in my hometown.
And the US Independent Wrestling scene is fighting to survive. We’ve seen shows get shutdown by police, get postponed due to weather, follow super questionable health protocols, move from outdoors to indoors and we saw one promotion run perhaps the MOST socially distanced wrestling show of all time (kudos, Warrior Wrestling). While it seems that many promotions remain hesitant to return (and probably with good reason!), the more “extreme” promotions, as expected, have been the first to return and operate as close to usual as possible. Slowly, the rest of the indies are coming back and this past weekend, on top of new shows from GCW and Beyond Wrestling we also saw the return of Crown Point, Indiana’s Black Label Pro.
Black Label Pro returned with a double-header on Saturday, August 22, with their first two shows since February. The big moment from that show saw indie darling Kylie Rae defeat AJ Gray for the BLP Midwest Title (formerly the Indiana State Championship). Kylie Rae is back main eventing the more typical return show here “We’re Back”, but what made the Saturday lineup even more interesting was the inclusion of the morning bonus show, titled Erick Stevens Presents: Professional Wrestling—a show where the “gimmick” was essentially that the typical “gimmicks” were out the window in lieu of some straight-up ‘rasslin.
Joe & Rich covered these shows on the most recent VOW Flagship and were excited for the Stevens’ show, as many fans were before the dude almost sabotaged it by himself on Twitter. We won’t go into details, but here’s the take: Never Tweet. They were less excited about the evening show, understandably, but while I don’t like a lot of current indie wrestling and the slight shift toward comedy and intergender, I do believe some of it actually works and is beneficial to these companies. Regardless, it was a fun weekend, let’s look at it below.
Black Label Pro
Erick Stevens Presents: Professional Wrestling
August 22, 2020
Crown Point, Indiana
Let’s just get this out of the way early: HEY YOU, wrestling fan, you should watch this show.
There have been a handful of really good Black Label Pro shows since its inception, but this is the best one. There have been a handful of EXCELLENT US independent wrestling shows in the past year or so and this is certainly near the very top.
This was excellent.
From top to bottom, nearly every match hit it out of the park on this show. While there was no surefire match of the year candidates here, nothing was outright “bad” and most everything was at least “Very good.” This was almost no-nonsense in the booking (two post-match run-ins notwithstanding), but more than that, this show featured a lot of wrestlers who seemed to come in with a chip on their shoulder and the desire to prove themselves. Credit to Erick for creative matchups and utilization of lesser-used talent, including Dasher Hatfield A Very Good Professional Wrestler and Arik Royal, but credit above all to the talent, who just BROUGHT IT from match to match, with each match giving the viewer something different. It’s amazing what happens when you let really good wrestlers actually do that thing they’re really good at, and this show is proof. Bravo to all involved for putting on one of my favorite shows of the year.
Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020
Black Label Pro “We’re Back! A Wrestler’s Story”
Crown Point, Indiana
The evening show, while far from a show of the year contender, still had a fair share of highlights. In maybe the surprise of the entire weekend, relative newcomers Levi Everett and Big Beef had a true hoss fight that popped me out of my seat with some of the strikes they threw at one another. Former WWE stars Chris Masters and Gangrel put in pretty solid performances against Jake Something and Effy in singles contents, and Blake Christian once again had a performance that surprised me, when he and Kylie Rae put on a near 20-minute main event that had a few problems but ended with one of the best climaxes I’ve seen in wrestling this year. The show also had a fair share of low-lights, as an interference angle in the opening contest came just a bit too early and ruined a truly hard-hitting affair between Gary Jay and Joshua Bishop. The four-way comedy match between Cabana Man Dan, Colin Delaney, Dan the Dad and Jake Manning devolved into bullshit from the outset, and while I didn’t outright HATE every moment of it, these are four wrestlers who I like to some degree and just wish it was different. Billie Starkz and Elayna Black was thankfully kept short, as it was rough going as well.
It wasn’t a bad show at all, but it certainly was more up and down than the morning set.
Overall, between 19 matches over two shows, about 13 of them were quite good, if not great.
If you have a few hours to kill, you could definitely spend some time watching both shows. If you want to pick and choose, here is what I consider the seven best of the day:
Seven Best Matches of the Weekend
- WARHORSE Vs. A Very Good Professional Wrestler (“Professional Wrestling”): If you were paying attention to Twitter as this match was happening, you knew something special was happening, but I can echo what I’ve seen in a handful of other places – this is the best WARHORSE match not against Gary Jay. This was awesome, with TAFKA Dasher really showing that he belongs on a bigger stage and should have been out of CHIKARA long before it’s implosion. Honestly, his performance is my single favorite performance of the weekend, looking like an absolute murderer here, tossing WARHORSE all over the ring. WARHORSE upped his game as well, getting out of some of the schtick that can plague his matches and working as he did a few years ago, reckless and hard-hitting. This really rocked. ****
- Lee Moriarty Vs. Josh Alexander (Professional Wrestling): Moriarty is perhaps the most hyped wrestler on the independents right now, and it is with good reason. While he’s still not a sure-fire hit every time he is in the ring, he truly shines when he is playing the smaller wrestler against a big powerful guy like his matches against people like Calvin Tankman, Chris Dickinson and here against Josh Alexander. Alexander, for his part, showed why many consider him to be one of the best wrestlers in North America, as he does every basic thing right but has the strength and charisma to pull off some unique, modern moves. This was a match of heavy strikes and great psychology with each wrestler trying to outsmart the other. While it is not my single favorite Moriarty match I’ve seen, it is perhaps the most complete match of his I’ve seen and gives me hope of his future. Oh, and Josh Alexander should be Impact champion. ****
- Anthony Henry Vs. Benjamin Carter (Professional Wrestling): I have seen slight MOTY talk about this match, and I can see it, though I wouldn’t go that high. What we have here is two of the best athletes in all of wrestling just showing off. It is SO GOOD to see Anthony Henry wrestle, because he’s truly one of the very best at it, and Benjamin Carter is head and shoulders above most other young flyers going in the US scene right now. In this match, Henry works like an asshole, which he’s excellent at, just lighting Carter up with kicks and chops, but Carter puts on a masterclass of babyface, underdog selling as well. Carter only gets a bit of offense in during the entirety of the 11-minute match, but he makes every bit totally count, showing off for the crowd or by outsmarting Henry. This was a match where Henry came off as a dominant veteran, but Carter showed that through willpower and speed, he could hang. Tremendous contest. ***¾
- Levi Everett Vs. “Big Beef” Gnarls Garvin (We’re Back): As stated above, this was two young guys just beating the shit out of one another. My buddy and fellow VOW contributor Jon said in a Slack conversation the other day, “Honestly, you could just play me random clips of big dudes suplexing each other on their heads and I’d say ‘that was great, 4 stars’” and I couldn’t agree more, and that’s what we got here. The story behind the match was that Big Beef (looking fucking AWESOME with his highlighted mullet and pink boots) did not have any time for Levi’s Amish goodwill and was looking to destroy him. He did so, but Levi finally had enough and really laid it into Big Beef as well. This was just a ton of fun and one of the hardest hitting matches of the weekend. ***¾
- Kylie Rae Vs. Blake Christian (We’re Back): I was really not expecting to like this match, as I’m generally a bit lower on both of these wrestlers than some of my peers, but this really surprised the hell out of me. While I still don’t really like Blake Christian’s most common style of match, here he was a bit more subdued, working a more traditional match with Kylie, rather than one insane spot after the other. There were still insane spots, including a rope walking backdrop, but this was worked like a good main event should be worked. It was back and forth throughout, with Blake incredulous that he couldn’t put Kylie away, and Kylie continually fighting from underneath and really laying in some nasty strikes and submissions. Kylie, for her part, looked about as tough and fierce as I’ve ever seen her, with the finishing stretch, in particular, being quite riveting. The promo at the end of the match, especially in light of the previous day’s Twitter explosion was really touching, as well.
- AJ Gray Vs. Arik Royal (Professional Wrestling): Man, it was great to see Arik Royal in a wrestling ring once again. I love that big man anytime he is on my screen, and he has long been someone that myself and many others feel isn’t booked enough places. He’s a big man who actually works like one and looks cool as hell doing it. AJ Gray, as most know, is one of the best and most hard-working wrestlers on the indie scene and has been really expanding his game to try every different style of modern wrestling on. He’s adapted recently to doing less and less high-flying, focusing more on the brawling and even some deathmatches here, but this was just a classic, Southern wrestling match, with two big guys hitting powerful, though simpler moves and selling exhaustion really well. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely delivered. ***½
- Trey Miguel Vs. Tre Lamar (We’re Back): I’ve been a Trey Miguel hater for years. This is perhaps biased, based on some early Twitter behavior, but mainly because he just didn’t do much for me. Recently, on Impact and now here, I’ve grown to appreciate him more and more. Tre Lamar is to me, one of the hottest up and coming wrestlers in the US. He isn’t quite as flashy as a Blake Christian, Ben Carter or Alex Zayne, not quite as charismatic as a Christian Casanova, Myron Reed or Ace Austin, but he’s got the fundamentals down as well as maybe any of them and performances like he had against ACH last month or this one will do wonders for his growth. This was an attempt at a spotfest match, and some of the spots missed the mark for both wrestlers, but it was still a perfectly serviceable, oftentimes great undercard contest that showcased what both men could do. Both men could stand to work as many different style matches as possible, as their athleticism is their main gift now, but here we saw some flashes at future greatness. ***½
Just missed the cut: Gary Jay Vs. Joshua Bishop, Erick Stevens Vs. Calvin Tankman, Jake Something Vs. Chris Masters, Effy Vs. Gangrel
Long story, short: Go out of your way to watch Erick Stevens Presents: Professional Wrestling and if your curiosity is piqued, definitely check out We’re Back! if you have the time.