Of all the myriad of wrestling shows, events, gatherings and economic boosts that were unfortunately cancelled this past Spring during WrestleMania weekend, perhaps the one that most bummed out myself and many of my peers was the dissolving of For The Culture, an AJ Gray-booked show in conjunction with Game Changer Wrestling and The Collective that focused on many of the best independent wrestlers and entertainers that identify as Black and/or as part of the Pan-African Diaspora. In a weekend of once-promising independent wrestling events that had recently devolved into mere spectacle and “hey, remember this guy?!” shows, AJ had promoted a card that was not only relevant in its message and intent, but also perhaps (and likely) the most exciting from a pure wrestling standpoint of any card that weekend. 

With everything cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the near deathbed that many industries–including wrestling–have faced since March, the idea of running a 12-show, weekend-long event in Indianapolis has been met with equal parts scrutiny and excitement. From wrestler screenings, travel, social distancing, limited tickets and limited venues, everything is still a little dicey. While I can guarantee that I would not be in attendance at this weekend if given the opportunity due to my own feelings of space and people, myself and some of my peers here at Voices of Wrestling nevertheless wanted to ensure that many of these wrestlers still struggling to survive were getting the shine they deserved. With The Collective back with a slate of shows this weekend, there was still none more exciting to many fans than the debut of For The Culture.

The show delivered in a big way.

Wrestling right now is still weird. With diminished crowds, limits on spots you should do in the crowd, many wrestlers being a bit rusty and more, the highs over the past few months rarely reach that level they would have during a packed event in Tampa Bay with fans from around the world. However, the wrestling during the first day of The Collective was solid and some was downright awesome.

For The Culture felt special. With everything going on in the world. Where hope is diminished daily. Where many days are a struggle to get from the beginning to the end. Where in cities around the world, people are showing up ANGRY and demanding justice, representation and rights for Black folx by saying “HEY THIS IS NOT FUCKING OK.” For a little bit on Friday night, we got to celebrate. For a little over two hours, AJ Gray and many of the best Black wrestlers in the world went out and provided a little “Black Joy” for a crowd of mostly white people and just so happened to put on one of the best independent wrestling shows of the year.

The show delivered.

OCTOBER 10, 2020

Watch: Fite.TV

Mike Outlaw def. AC Mack, “Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas, Timmy Lou Retton & Zay Washington

In perhaps the most appropriate way, following the loss of his SUP BONESTORM Title to close out an earlier show on The Collective, AC Mack started off For the Culture by interrupting the entrances and entering himself into a 4-way match (now 5-way) to kick off the show. The loudmouth clocked Timmy Lou Retton and we were off. The opening “scramble” match is a GCW trope, and oftentimes can be considered to be the best match on the show, an opportunity for lesser known, often exciting talents to “get their shit in” in front of unsuspecting crowds, and this was no different. It wasn’t a long match, but all 5 men got their shine. From the underground legend Retton to the up-and-comer Hoodfoot, this match kicked off the show the right way. Though Zay Washington was a name that was unfamiliar to me (and likely many in the crowd and at home), he perhaps impressed most of all, showcasing smooth flying skills, perfect for these types of matches. AC Mack worked as the opportunist and seemed to be the one most likely to win, but after a really unique, near Stormbreaker-like maneuver from Retton, Outlaw snuck in a NASTY Yakuza kick for the win. One of those matches where you won’t remember the specifics, won’t be necessarily telling your friends about it at the end of the night, but one where the names of each competitor will ring a bell for everyone who watches, and make you want to follow all of these wrestlers into the future. Awesome opener, that only took like 6-7 minutes.

JTG def. Trey Miguel

During the original For The Culture card in Tampa Bay, JTG was supposed to be tagging with his longtime Cryme Tyme teammate Shad Gaspard. Unfortunately, as we all know by now, Shad drowned on May 17th in Venice Beach after being pulled out into the ocean by an especially strong rip current with his son. It is a truly tragic story. JTG, in an effort to move forward, has been showing up in a handful of independent promotions recently, looking good, but not necessarily showing his wrestling skill. That changed here. In perhaps one of the most surprising matches of the weekend up to this point, JTG and Impact Wrestling’s Trey Miguel went out and killed it. Miguel has been someone I have been hard on in the past, but has really improved in the last year, especially with his work in Impact – often slowing down a bit, focusing on what works and really refining his high-flying moves. His work in this match was more of the same, but the star was JTG, who looked like a million dollars, moved incredibly well and dwarfed his smaller opponent. Honestly, it’s one of those things that happens often, where a wrestler you know primarily from WWE shows up in the independents and looks like a giant – and JTG not only looked like one here, but carried that size well, just brutalizing his opponent. Miguel held up his end of the bargain, hitting a flurry of offense throughout, including his usual, unique, striking game, but JTG was just too much, and finished with The Brooklyn’s Edge, a running Razor’s Edge into a neckbreaker which was INSANE. ***½

40 Acres (PB Smooth & Tre Lamar) def. Culture SZN (Christian Casanova & Tasha Steelz) & Top Flight (Air Wolf & Angel Dorado)

What happens when you put some of the most promising young talent in the ring together with a legit giant? Fuckin’ entertainment, man. This match rocked, as I hoped it would. It wasn’t promoted as hard as many of the other matches on this show, and triple threat tag matches can often be a mess, but this was a tremendously enjoyable match that was worked very much like a scramble match, but with tag teams instead. Top Flight, the recently unmasked young brothers, continued to show that they are one of the most impressive young tag teams on the planet with some really inventive moves here, as well as insane Fosbury Flops and dives to the outside. Christian Casanova, a man who I’ve said should be considered a top 5 independent prospect, showed his maturity and really held the match together, pulling out his usual impressive offense, but really seeming to dictate the spots and the pace of the match. Tre Lamar was impressive as usual, PB Smooth was a bit clumsy in a way that works because he’s a fucking giant that is really fun to watch against smaller wrestlers, and Tasha didn’t get a ton of work, but was a part of a handful of really impressive spots.

The match wasn’t clean, it wasn’t smooth, but that’s why it works. I say this often in Lamar and Top Flight matches – these acts still have some rough edges to smooth out, but that’s what is really exciting about them, they are naturally really great, but we get to see them put it all together. Like much of the card up to this point, this didn’t overstay its welcome and was just go go go from the bell, and really worked for me. PB Smooth, being the overall dominator and monster of the match got the win for 40 Acres. Another one to go out of your way to see. ***½

Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora Wrestling Title: Trish Adora © def. Suge D

After three straight matches of super fast action and big spots, Trish Adora and Suge D/Pineapple Pete went out in front of the crowd for about 13 minutes and had a limb-based technical match, focusing on the story of Suge being this supreme shit-talker with an ego, and it ruled. I am personally more familiar with both of these wrestlers through social media more than through their work, but after this, I will be seeking more of their stuff out for the future. I expected some more comedy here, but we got perhaps the most serious match of the night, as these two worked hammerlocks and wristlocks early, before really beginning to grind it out on the mat in a catch style. This was traditional wrestling through and through, with Suge working out as more of a heel with some nasty strikes to Trish. Trish continued to fight through and power up. It’s a hard match to execute as late as they did at night, and something the crowd wasn’t terribly into as they were likely falling asleep (it was about 1:00 a.m. Indianapolis time), but a match that rewards upon multiple viewings and perfectly placed within this card. Big props to these two for showcasing this title and putting on a little mat-based matched here. Very good stuff. ***½

Calvin Tankman def. O’Shay Edwards

O’Shay was a late replacement for veteran Jon Davis, which was a bummer when announced, but proved himself for the second time in the night (having an awesome match on SUP earlier) by having a big ol’ hoss fight with Tankman here. Both of these big men are guys who can be hit or miss with me. Awesome looks, awesome moves, can work stiff as hell, are good at selling for their size and more – but are not always put in there in a way that helps them succeed, or often underdeliver considering my excitement for their bookings. Tankman has been rolling in the past few months and has gone from virtual unknown at the start of the year to one of the 10 biggest names on the indies quickly. If you like matches where two big men just punish each other, then this is the one for you. It’s super stiff, it’s super tough, the crowd gets really into it and it’s just a quick big-man sprint. Early on, O’Shay counters a running crossbody attempt with a gnarly spear. Later, Tankman counters a charge with a spinning heel kick and follows up with a big suicide dive to the outside. There are suplexes, punches, a spinning back elbow and a dual crossbody. The strength these men display down the stretch is equally impressive, and whip the crowd into a real frenzy. Tankman wins with a sequence of a spinebuster, followed by a Hidden Blade elbow, followed by a headbutt and finished with a Fire Thunder Driver. Awesome big man match! ***¾

Willow Nightingale def. Devon Monroe, Marti Belle & Faye Jackson

I didn’t go into this match expecting a whole lot, and it was the weakest match on the show, but still had entertaining moments. For what it’s worth, I really enjoy Faye Jackson. She’s obviously not a super worker, but she’s entertaining as hell on Twitter and can definitely carry herself in the ring. She’s unlikely to ever have the best match on any show, but I welcome her to most cards. I’ve never been into Marti Belle, who has slipped and messed up things too often for me to count while watching, despite having a tremendous look. She did well for herself here, not trying to go for too much. Willow Nightingale is one of the most underrated talents in the Northeast. Working undercards all over the area, she has really began to shine in her recent intergender matches and shown that she is quite a bit smoother in her transitions and believable in her holds than a lot of her contemporaries. She’s slowly become one of my favorite wrestlers to see on the undercards. Devon Monroe was someone I was not familiar with, though he more than proved himself here. Using an exotico gimmick not too dissimilar from Sonny Kiss, Monroe is a freak athlete, just pulling off really really neat high spots, but more so is one of the better strikers I’ve seen in some time. More Devon Monroe, please. Not a great match, but an easy palette cleanser.

AJ Gray def. Dezmond Xavier

In the first of a triple-main event (not advertised as such), booker man AJ Gray took on Dezmond Xavier in a match that was structured as a power vs. speed match. AJ has really become THE standout guy in the indies in the past year – even securing the spot as the highest rated independent wrestler in the PWI 500, but mostly because he has shown that he can work just about every style of wrestling possible. From his newly found love of death matches to his usual brawls, he can work as the big man against a smaller opponent (as is the case here) or go back to his previous incarnation as more of a high-flyer. Beyond being a tremendous Twitter presence, AJ is one of the most consistent workers in all of wrestling. This match didn’t blow my mind, and seemed to have a few miscues early, but the two really picked it up as it continued, and put on a pretty fun showcase. Dez was a little more subdued than the PWG/CZW Dez of old, but he worked well as the underdog here, continually trying to get inside and strike AJ or sneak in a unique attack; AJ kept coming back though by swatting him down. They didn’t try to go epic, which was welcome, but it never quite got to that really excellent level that both of them are capable of, either. Regardless, another welcome match on a really good show.

Lee Moriarty def. ACH

Lee Moriarty is here, man. We’ve been saying it here on Voices of Wrestling. You’ve seen it on Twitter. And through 3 performances (his other two being against Daniel Makabe in SUP and against Alex Shelley/Tre Lamar in AIW) on Friday, the man has proven those who believe he might just be one of the best in the world. Moriarty won’t admit it himself, though others want to call him the best, and even I have usually scoffed at any claim at such, but after time and time again having the best match on each show he’s on, it’s time to start really paying attention and thinking of him as an all-world talent. It stinks that he’s come into his own during a time where travel has to be minimized, because during any other time in the last few years, Moriarty would be in Europe, would be in Japan, would be in Mexico and people beyond those who watch him frequently on IWTV would know – this motherfucker is the truth.

And then there is ACH. It’s also time to consider that ACH might be legitimately the most skilled worker on the planet. Listen, I’m not going to go into the specifics here. The technical aspects early worked. ACH, the veteran, trying to figure out Moriarty was awesome. Lee, with the spotlight on him and working against one of his idols, proved himself and from an out-of-character thing, if he didn’t deliver, it could’ve been a real blow to his upward trajectory. It all worked, and both men put ANOTHER notch on their resumes of being two of the very best doing it. This is a must watch. ****1/4

AR Fox def. 2 Cold Scorpio

Is this the most obvious and awesome booked match of the weekend? Of course. These two insanely, innovative high-flying legends HAD to main event this show. For most people that worked this match, these are legends to be looked up to, Independent Gods that are often overlooked. And despite their best, most athletic years being behind them, the two went out and put on a super fun showcase for the fans to close out the night. It wouldn’t be an AR Fox match without AR Fox taking a ridiculous bump and almost dying. It wouldn’t be a 2 Cold Scorpio match without Scorpio trying a move he MIGHT not be able to pull off and almost killing someone, and both of those things happened here… multiple times. 

And it rocked. This wasn’t the best worked match on the show, but it was everything you wanted it to be and a perfect pairing for the crowd present. Almost all the big spots were there, and though the pacing was a bit rough in places, the overall atmosphere FELT big and delivered multiple feel good moments. I loved it, you should love it too.

Final Thoughts

Overall, For The Culture was a tremendous show, with one true U.S. Indie MOTY candidate, and nothing that was outwardly bad. Though the original Tampa show would have likely had a better atmosphere and maybe even delivered bigger in the match department, I am proud that AJ and GCW were able to pull this off at this moment in time. Independent promoters: book the wrestlers here. And book the dozens and dozens and hundreds of other performers of color around the U.S. and around the world. We can talk about the U.S. Indies being dire right now, and maybe they don’t have the same workrate hit ratio they did in 2015, but shows like For The Culture show that maybe WE have to readjust just where the fuck we are looking – because the talent is there and shows like THIS will only bring in MORE talent in the future. Bravo to For The Culture, thanks for the late night treat.