EPW Out Of The Ashes
December 5, 2020
Gate One Theatre
Perth, Western Australia

Watch: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/epwfromthevault/497476736

2020 was meant to be Australian Wrestling’s break-out year.

Instead, it was the year that broke Australian Wrestling.

After a strong start to the year with Melbourne City Wrestling’s stand-out show Vendetta and EPW’s Going For Broke, COVID came crashing down and everything stopped. Australia (particularly Western Australia where EPW is based) has contained COVID better than most of the rest of the English speaking world. However, this was accomplished via lockdowns and state border closures which has made the nation feel more divided and isolationist than I’ve ever experienced. In terms of pro wrestling, responsible promotions largely closed up throughout COVID and only started coming back with small shows that couldn’t feature any interstate performers.

Then June came around, and the revelations from Speaking Out is really what broke the idea of Australian Wrestling as any sort of unified entity. It wasn’t the neverending stream of filth we saw coming out of BritWres, but it just destroyed the concept that getting Australian Wrestling noticed was some sort of collective effort between wrestlers and fans throughout the country. Parasocial relationships that the scene had developed over the past four years were destroyed in days as ‘fake woke’ personas collapsed. The stream of revelations left me dispirited and honestly angry that people had used this hobby and community as a space to bully and harass people with less power and status. There are a couple Australian promotions that I have just decided to never watch or give money to again because I was so disgusted by what was in my opinion a piss-poor response to allegations against their senior leadership.

Being a fan of professional wrestling is a morally murky position to put yourself in, to begin with you’re watching people seriously damage their bodies for your own enjoyment. It’s not a competitive sport and in terms of Australian independent wrestling, it is essentially a hobby for (almost) everyone involved. And when the dirty laundry of what happens behind the curtain is exposed; it just further opens the question of whether there is any way to be an ethical fan. I came away from the middle of the year questioning whether I even still wanted to be a pro-wrestling fan, let alone write about it.

So where does that leave me now at the start of 2021? How do I reconcile being a pro-wrestling fan with this growing feeling of dread that I am supporting an irredeemably rotten industry? On an Australian level, the way I’ve been able to justify my continued investment is to focus primarily on my local scene in Western Australia. At the very least here, I am close enough to the ground that if there is something going wrong then I will have a better chance of knowing about it and being able to contribute to reconciling problems if needed. Being part of the local community, I also have a level of trust in EPW leadership, in particular, to act responsibly and make any needed reforms to keep talent, trainees and fans safe. There’s minimal coverage of Australian Wrestling and I’m conscious of the fact that in a very small way what I choose to write about for VOW has an impact on how the international wrestling community sees the country. In terms of writing, it is going to take time and evidence of accountability for me to feel comfortable writing about Eastern States promotions again. So for the foreseeable future, I am basically going to just focus on being Voices of Wrestling’s West Australian correspondent.

So uh, that was some pretty heavy (but necessary for my own sake) context to serve as a preamble to this review. EPW has been running smaller shows at their training school since July, but (the appropriately named) Out of The Ashes was their first show back at the Gate One Theatre. It is also the first of their shows since March to be released on VOD. On commentary are EPW’s regular announce team of Dean Olsen and Eric Mack.

EPW Tag Team Championship
The Taskforce (Taylor King/Jack Edwards) def. The Plague (Aaron Hawk/Twitch) (c) 

Since reuniting on the January 2020 show, The Taskforce have become one of the most popular acts in the promotion. With both teams missing members (Tipene for Taskforce and Dan Steel for Plague), these are not the regular tag-team combinations for each group.

Attending the show live, this match had excellent heat and a crowd who desperately wanted to see The Taskforce take home the titles. Unfortunately, that heat doesn’t fully translate on video (I’m not sure if the commentary seemingly being post-produced is the main reason why the crowd noise sounds a little subdued, but there’s something off with the sound which is the major weakness of the VOD presentation).

Jack Edwards is one of EPW’s most improved talents (and the long-term build-up to him finally pulling off a kip-up has been a cool running thread in his matches). He and Taylor King work well together as sympathetic babyface figures. The highlight of the match to me is a disgusting Vertebreaker that King eats from Hawk. Live I was genuinely concerned about King’s wellbeing. The Taskforce take the win with a Doomsday Leg-Lariat and are joined post-match by their third member Tipene. There is still a need for EPW to build up potential challengers but the tag belts are now on a team that are loved by the live audience.

Up next is Edith Night coming out to do an in-ring promo. Night was the stand-out rookie in West Australian Wrestling in 2020, and likely would have won awards recognizing that had the year not been cut back so much by COVID shutdowns. This interview is a follow up on her match with Casey Johns at March’s Going For Broke. She talks about the loss and indirectly refers to Johns by talking about how she will be ready if an opponent cheats again. Casey Johns’ music hits and she comes out to the ring to take the microphone. Rather than cutting a promo in response, she knocks down Night and a pull-apart brawl ensues.

This segment didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Edith Night has innate charisma and likeability but she came across as too passive a character in her promo. I would have preferred to see her directly call out Johns and challenge her to a rematch, instead in practice it comes across like Johns is reacting to a promo version of a subtweet. The pull-apart brawl is solid, but on an aesthetic level I would have liked to see more bodies thrown into the ring to keep the pair away from each other (though maybe COVID concerns lead to only using two referees to play that role).

Del Cano def. Jarrad Slate

This pits Western Australia’s most improved performer over the past couple of years in Del Cano against his original trainer Jarrad Slate. It is also Slate’s first match in EPW since 2018. I saw this pairing have an excellent match against each other in SHWA a few years ago and they have strong chemistry together as opponents.

The work in this match is really solid up until near the end when Del Cano crashes and burns on a Shooting Star Press in spectacular fashion.

Being there live, it felt like there was more time between Del Cano’s crash and the finish. I thought that for the most part, the sequence that follows the big botch mostly improvs to a believable finish to the match.

Post-match, a woozy Del Cano is accosted by Zenith who is playing the role of insincere babyface. I would have liked for Zenith to get a little bit more weaselly in his promo, taking veiled shots at Del Cano between the smiles. This seems to be setting up a future program between the pair though, and I think their styles will mesh well.

Joel Hagan def. El Toro Blanco

This is a rematch from an EPW School show late in 2020. Joel Hagan is getting the monster push in EPW. Over 2020, it has been clear that his physique and presence have improved considerably from his rookie year. Something I really appreciate is that EPW is actually letting him do squashes, he isn’t having to go 50-50 just for political purposes. It is the sort of booking that will make him a bigger star for the promotion in the long-run and he will be able to work more competitive matches as he rises through the card.

The mysterious El Toro Blanco is an old Perth Wrestling vet under the mask, and I appreciate how selfless he is in letting himself get squashed so thoroughly twice. I thought that their first match was a little bit more dynamic than this one. However, this match was effective in achieving its mission of making Hagan look like a monster.

Up next is a backstage segment with Aaron Hawk and Twitch basically saying that they aren’t going to be trying to win the tag belts back for The Plague. Hawk had a singles match against Taylor King in September that was well-received. I could see him getting the chance to have some higher profile singles matches throughout 2021.

The Children (Stella Nyx/Chadwick Jackson) def. Gorgeous Garry/Ryan Allen 

In a lot of ways, this match encapsulates a lot of what I dislike about Intergender wrestling. It is so hard for female villains to get heat on male babyfaces (especially when they are as petite as Stella Nyx). Without a crowd that has been completely trained to accept it, you get the type of situation you have here where rather than getting cathartic cheers out of the heel being punched in the face, you kind of get what sounds like cringes. For the most part the work in the match is solid, but the dynamics just feel off throughout the whole thing.

Post-match, however, Gorgeous Garry has a breakdown and shoves down interviewer Eric Mack. He gives an impassioned promo where he talks about how he is sick of playing fan-favorite and how easy it is to manipulate the crowd. He renames himself James Drakker and is now going to play the role of heel. I thought that the delivery of the promo itself was good, I wish that he hadn’t gone so far into Miz “this is all about entertainment and I’m a star” territory with his material. Whenever characters lean into “what happens in the ring doesn’t matter” it becomes something that I think damages the verisimilitude of the overall performance. I would have rather seen Drakker focus on how bitter he was that he was main eventing shows in 2019 and now the crowds and EPW had written him off as an opening-match guy again. However, Garry/Drakker is a strong talker and I think his journey as a villain will be interesting to see play out.

Michael Morleone def. Marcius Pitt

I really enjoyed this. This match has two pros going at it who know exactly what they are doing and how to get a reaction from the crowd even if they are holding back on flashy offense. Before the match starts, Morleone brings out Kiel Steria to be his second to neutralize Damian Slater’s presence in Pitt’s corner. Morleone and Steria have teamed together a lot in other West Australian promotions and they can be a strong addition to the EPW Tag division if needed.

There’s a great sequence where both men are chopping the shit out of each other on the outside and then Pitt breaks up the fun with a cheap eye-poke. This was where I felt they really got the crowd. Pitt’s heel work continues to impress the hell out of me, especially his instincts on when to get heat vs when to bring out his more high-spot orientated offense. A lot of people either make the mistake of going, “I need to be boring to be a bad guy” or “I need to impress people on Twitter with GIFs even though I’m meant to be hated” but Pitt is actually able to bridge those two impulses in a way that I think really works for modern wrestling.

Morleone is a great babyface, and just scrapes through the win with a quick roll-up. He is next set to rematch Mikey Nicholls for the EPW Championship on January 24th. Their first match at Re-Awakening 2019 was in my opinion Nicholls’ strongest match since leaving WWE.

Chadwick Jackson def. Dan Moore

This match was originally announced as Tyler Jacobs against Dan Moore, but instead, Chadwick Jackson works double-duty. The match is preceded with a promo where Stella Nyx offers Moore’s remedial student Jesse Lambert a spot in Jacobs’ cult with her and Jackson.

This match is quick and mostly about setting up the new storyline. Lambert as a naive student wrestler is one of the most entertaining characters in EPW, and it feels like a natural story to have The Children try to recruit him. Stella does really strong work playing heel manager on the outside (and it helps that there isn’t a big size difference between her and Jesse so her bullying is more believable). Shenanigans involving the two seconds on the outside allows Jackson to low blow Moore and hit the Muscle Buster for the win.

EPW Coastal Championship
Gavin McGavin def. Davis Storm (c) via DQ 

This was an excellent main event, a very-late contender for MOTY and it will be making my Top 10 for 2020. You have two experienced and technically skilled wrestlers going at it in a big match situation. Both men are able to convey how important the match and championship are to them.

We start off with chain wrestling, with Storm matching ‘The Real Wrestler’ McGavin hold for hold. It becomes more of a fight as things continue, with the highlight moment being Storm crashing and burning on a dive to the outside, tearing up his own face in the process (because it really wouldn’t be a Davis Storm main event if he didn’t get busted open hardway).

McGavin seemingly has the match won after hitting an elbow from the outside, which transitions straight into a crossface. However, out comes Marcius Pitt to break up the fun and cause a DQ finish. Watching the match live, I thought this was a disappointing finish to an otherwise excellent match – where continuing the nascent Pitt-McGavin feud was used to avoid doing a proper finish.

Instead, McGavin cuts an impassioned promo about not wanting to accept a cheap DQ win and that he wants the re-match right now. After some minor hesitation, Storm comes back to the ring and agrees to fight.

EPW Coastal Championship
Davis Storm (c) def. Gavin McGavin 

This rematch is a sprint. It made me think of playing a match on Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain where each wrestler’s diagram is set to bright red on every body-part. Storm is able to take the win with a brutal knee and retain.

The booking served the purpose of fully establishing McGavin as a babyface after four years as one of EPW’s top heels. I think you can argue that was already accomplished by his run-in during the Going For Broke main-event but the story worked for me as a long-time follower of the promotion. An unfortunate miss in the presentation of the match however is that the commentary doesn’t really explain the story of why Pitt ran out to ruin the match. It doesn’t really give viewers who don’t know (or remember) the context from March’s show needed for the moment to fully land. Otherwise, this was a really excellent match, ****½ to use star ratings as a shorthand.

Final Thoughts

After a tumultuous year, Out Of The Ashes is a strong ending to 2020 for EPW. The highlight being the late MOTY contender between Davis Storm and Gavin McGavin. EPW returns on January 23 and 24 to kick-off their 2021 season. As long as the COVID situation in Western Australia stays stable, it looks like the promotion is on the verge of a breakout year.