JULY 4, 2020


It doesn’t feel that long ago since I was proclaiming that RevPro were back.  Their High Stakes show was an enthralling new beginning, giving us three new champions and a renewed hope that  British wrestling wouldn’t be defined by a bunch of scabs in an Enfield warehouse.

Then the world shut down, and wrestling with it.

As independent wrestling slowly comes back to life, RevPro could have quite easily been in a difficult position.  This show could have been a misfired engine, but it wasn’t.  While the star ratings might not jump off the page, there was something intangible about this show.   It’s almost the apex of a crescendo that Andy Quildan has been building towards throughout the lockdown with the Epic Encounters series.  The roster was small, and the stories were simple, but RevPro started booking again.  Quildan took what little he had, and started to mold it.

RevPro’s return to their home base of The Cockpit is the perfect place to examine how that booking is developing.  There are several different plates spinning, with one or two smashed on the floor.  The successes, however, have the potential to be stellar. 

The Contenders’ Division

Doug Williams, Kenneth Halfpenny and Shaun Jackson def. Callum Newman, JJ Gale and Brendan White

The opening match was a whirlwind of stories all mixed together, united by the common goal of development. By examining each of the individual participants, it’s clear that RevPro is prioritizing the next crop of British wrestlers, and it’s as laudable as it is necessary.  Andy Quildan has spoken of the frustrations bred from developing talent only to have them whisked away to a WWE warehouse never to be seen by a star rating again.  With his relationship with New Japan intact but unable to function, RevPro used the pandemic to reexamine and rebuild.

It would be naive and counterproductive to pretend that the young talent in this match is ready for anything other than this kind of opening match, but there are plenty of positive signs that they are growing steadily with appropriate expertise and guidance.

The clear favorites are Callum Newman and JJ Gale and it’s easy to see why.  Newman is a protege of Will Ospreay, and the similarities are stark.  Newman is agile beyond belief, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t really able to demonstrate that in this match.  His bout with Will Ospreay from Epic Encounters 2 is a much better introduction to the phenomenal pace that he posseses.  He’s the epitome of that old cliche – great wrestlers move differently.  During the Ospreay match, he was able to offer incredible counters that suggested a rare, creative mind.  He isn’t content to wrestle like the people who came before him, or even his mentor (and clear idol).  There’s a bit of a charisma issue, but he has made vast improvements and was clearly motivated by wrestling in front of real humans.

JJ Gale was also impressive here, but again, a dive into the Epic Encounters series would serve as a better introduction.  Gale wrestled a series of singles matches against the best stars Quildan could get his hands on.  The booking in itself is a huge indication of Quildan’s faith in Gale, but the matches themselves were interesting too.  Gale never embarrassed himself, and often wrestled far beyond his experience.  The matches – especially against Robbie X and Will Ospreay – were clearly positioned as learning experiences.  Gale is incredibly athletic, and is a wonderful mix of both strength and speed.  Quildan seems to have recognized that it’s now only practice that will improve his technical ability, so he is teaching him how to work.  His loss to Robbie X came because he arrogantly tried to match his speed.  He lost to Will Ospreay because he hadn’t quite built the resilience he needed to compete at the top level.  He was able to tell these simple, effective stories and is building a fantastic foundation for the future.  He was clearly led by the more experienced wrestlers, but RevPro has been brilliant in how they are presenting Gale.  He’s a wild talent – his offense is clumsy and he’s prone to making mistakes – but he is brimming with natural ability.  Gale even managed to make Mark Haskins seem tough, even though his fake swagger is about as intimidating as my mum (who is dead).

The second pairing of Brendan White and Kenneth Halfpenny is also interesting, if not on the same level as Gale and Newman.  What started off as a basic singles match at Epic Encounters One soon developed into a best of 5 series, which allowed Halfpenny to develop a character that could match his unusual look.  Halfpenny gradually realized that he needed to cheat to win, which is a tale as old as time, but it was his excellent promos that really sold the story.  He threw a strop when he lost and was arrogant in victory.   His victories were cheap, yet bookended by his warped lessons in success like “it takes more than power to succeed in this business.”  He’s grown into the heel who is a bit rubbish but is convinced he’s brilliant, and it’s a character he plays fantastically.  

White is a brute.  He’s a big man who does a brilliant Boss Man Slam and isn’t afraid to throw other wrestlers around.  He’s working with Progress as well as RevPro, so it will be interesting to see which path he ultimately chooses.  He’s talented enough to have that choice, but I can’t help but think RevPro would be better for him.  Quildan is clearly enjoying having the pencil again, and has been revitalized by this crop of new talent.  White would be better served by that energy, rather than the soulless contractual obligations of a dead Progress.

While this match might not have been anybody’s best work, it was important as a statement and as a way to introduce the returning Doug Williams as the mentor for the Contenders division.  A suddenly unretired Williams isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but they set up a nice framework for future stories.  Williams respects White because he plays by the rules and is annoyed with Halfpenny because he cheats.  In the words of Gordon Ramsey: rustic, simple, effective.

We were treated to a teaser of the upcoming tag tournament, with Gale and Newman offering a great Gory Special with a double stomp.  Gale had annoyed his fellow contenders by wearing his own custom gear which, despite the gear itself being a default choice from a long-forgotten video game, was a nice antagonistic wrinkle and a clear indication of his new position.

I’m not recommending you watch this match and I’m not saying it was great.  I just think there’s a star in this bunch somewhere.

The Women’s Division

Chakara def. Chantal Jordan

RevPro Undisputed British Championship
Gisele Shaw def. Zoe Lucas

For all the success in building a captivating future for the men’s division, the same could not be said for the women.  It’s nobody’s fault, unless you want to scream at the imaginary dark shadow that is the WWE.  RevPro spent their Epic Encounters series building the women’s division with the same ethos as the men – logical booking and decent work – with wrestlers being paired together for a mix of tag and singles matches and ready-made feuds.  There was the exciting positivity of Gisele Shaw and Aleah James, the dangerous darkness of Bea Priestley and Jamie Hayter, and whatever Zoe Lucas and Bobbi Tyler were supposed to be.  Later, the inimitable Lord Gideon Grey brought in Sky Smitson to liven up the championship scene.

While it wasn’t perfect, the women’s division was solid and was developing a good foundation for the future.  Shaw and Hayter were the clear stars, with Aleah James being Quildan’s next step.  Bobbi Tyler was fine, but it was Priestley and Lucas that stopped the division being great.  Priestley was decent enough, but she had the aura of a wrestler who had been over-praised and started to believe it.  She was never as convincingly brutal as Hayter or Shaw, but never seemed to realize.  Lucas has go-away heat at this point, with her shrieking tantrums being a cliche too far.

While there were problems, the matches were good.  They were brutal, and the wrestlers committed to every move.  The needle settled on Hayter as champion, and she commenced a blood feud with Smitson which was supposed to culminate in a big title match at Cockpit 51… except the WWE signed Hayter, Priestley and Smitson.

RevPro wished them the best of luck, vacated Hayter’s title and rebooked this as Shaw vs Lucas for the title.  Just when the division had momentum, it was brought to a screeching halt.  Three pushed women have disappeared into a warehouse in Enfield for a measly contract and a false promise, and RevPro is back to square one.

We had two women’s matches here.  The first, as necessitated by the situation, was to build a new star.  Chakara defeated Chantal Jordan in a match that was absolutely fine.  Both women were violent, and Chakara has an incredible submission game.  However, neither are ready to take a convincing spot at the top of a division and the booking woes invaded any thoughts I might have had.  Chakara got the rub, but she struggled to walk the line between slow and methodical.  She wanted to give an air of relentless violence, but her movements were just too plodding.

The second women’s match, and the most prestigious, was between Zoe Lucas and Gisele Shaw for the vacated title.  The last major RevPro show, High Stakes 2020, featured this exact match.  Shaw stood in the ring at the end, alongside Ospreay and Oku, heralding a new start for the division.  There’s a deep sense of repetition, but there wasn’t much of an alternative.

The match itself started with a dominant and violent Gisele Shaw, clearly motivated by the confidence a victory would bring.  Unfortunately, Zoe Lucas is not a serious championship contender.  The gimmick of the “beauty wrestler” complete with shrieks when selling, is off putting at best.  What’s more egregious, however, is the soft way that she hits the ropes.  There’s no dedication to anything she does, and a wrestler like Gisele Shaw deserved better.

This was by no means a squash, but Gisele Shaw was certainly dominant.  A brutal, extended submission was a great close and gave her a violent start to her new reign.

Cruiserweight Division

Lee Hunter def. Big Guns Joe

Michael Oku and Connor Mills def. Lykos Gym

Big Guns Joe has become more prominent in recent months,  and is now dancing on a very thin line between comedy and serious wrestling.  In many ways, this defeats the whole point of Big Guns Joe.  The most successful Joe I’ve seen is in promotions like Hindley’s Grand Pro, which attracts families.  There, the delicious irony of a diminutive man convinced he’s a giant works brilliantly.  Here, it often seems silly.  In an environment like the Cockpit, the size-defying strength spots he does would be impressive, but soaking them in irony takes away rather than adds.

Hunter is being built as a challenger for Oku’s Cruiserweight title, and he’s a solid, dependable hand that will no doubt have a good match.  His reverse DTT was incredible, and he gave Joe a pep talk at the end about being taken more seriously.  A transition into a new character would be welcomed, as the cruiserweight division needs an injection of talent.

Oku is the current cruiserweight champion, and he has been distracted by tag team gold.  In a way, it’s understandable booking because he’s much better at the chase than he is the catch.  It’s not just his size but his aura that makes him the perpetual underdog, so shifting him into a tag team with his best friend, Connor Mills is a way to keep that energy going.  Unfortunately, they have been locked in a perpetual feud with the Lykos Gym, which, like most of the Schadenfreude adjacent acts, has a ceiling unless you’re directly invested in the wrestlers themselves.

This was the opening match in the Great British Tag League and it had a serious pace problem.  When it was good, it was good.  There were, however, too many stretches of plodding submissions that the Lykos team couldn’t quite manage.  I prefer the Lykos that actually wrestles compared to the Lykos that hides under the ring, but if I’m in control I’m keeping Joe Nelson well away from that mask.

This match was a constant stream of near misses.  Everyone wrestled beyond their ability and nothing had a satisfactory landing.  Everyone worked hard, but Mills can’t play the tough man and Lykos can’t play the pack of wolves they literally try to be.  The ending had some juice, but I’m hoping for better as the Tag League progresses.

The Lost Toys

Robbie X def. Chris Ridgeway (w/Gideon Grey)

The best metaphor I ever heard for ECW was from Joe Lanza; he said that ECW was the promotion of the lost toys.  It was a group of wrestlers who didn’t fit in any major company, but with some love and opportunity could do something special.

The three men involved here are the lost toys of British wrestling.  It feels like they’ve all been overlooked, which is a real shame.  What this does, however, is give RevPro some much-needed veteran experience amidst a very young scene.

I’m almost tired of praising Gideon Grey, but he is one of the best managers of all time.  It shouldn’t work – he’s a throwback to the era of larger-than-life characterization that often seems passe – but he fills the role so completely.  He’s almost comforting now, a constant that has been with us for years and will always be with us, yelling until his eyeballs bulge as he stands on the RevPro ring mat.  Whether it’s Rishi Ghosh, the Great-O-Kharn or Chris Ridgeway, he can pinpoint eyes wherever he wants them, and reminds us why the wrestling manager is such an important lost art.

I don’t know why Ridgeway and Robbie X have been left behind.  Maybe it’s the look – Ridgeway is very small and Robbie X looks like a builder who has borrowed a smaller man’s gear – but they have both built up a body of work that should cement them in the RevPro lineup for a while.  Robbie X, while subdued slightly here, is dangerously quick.  I’ve often wondered if he is actually dangerous, because his dropkicks rarely seem pulled.  Ridgeway is a violent striker who isn’t afraid to grapple and his menacing aura soon mitigates any size issues.

Unfortunately, this was neither man’s best outing.  Ridgeway wrestled smart, slowing the faster man down and intelligently piling counters upon counters, but there was a touch of overselling at times.  A third-act forearm exchange felt slightly unearned.  However, with Quildan’s renewed desire to book, he’s got two very interesting wrestlers to work with.

A Main Event Evolved

Iron Fist Match for Southside Heavyweight Championship
Ricky Knight Jr. def. Dan Moloney

I could talk about the recent careers of both of these men, but it would be unfair.  Both Moloney and Ricky Knight Jr are on the cusp of some fantastic work.  They’ve both been promising greatness for a while, but as the rough edges are sanded away that final potential is starting to become clearer.

Moloney has been a very violent individual in all of his work in RevPro.  The problem, as with many wrestling tough guys, is that it was very easy for him to slip into cliche.  He would scream and gurn his way through matches like a glitching Zangief, each muscle spasm stealing a little credibility.  Over the Epic Encounters series, he slowly lost that and developed into a genuinely intimidating man.  He exudes controlled violence, and wrestles a grounded terrifying style.

As good as Moloney was here, it really feels like RKJ’s time.  He spent the Epic Encounters series working with the likes of Ospreay (even pinning him in a tag match) and Kyle Fletcher.  He slowly developed a character steeped in criminality.  Note I didn’t say heel.  It’s cheating, in a way so obvious and ancient that it feels fresh.  He positions his body to hide eye gouges and clandestine punches, and he bends fingers to begging cries from Moloney.  It’s oxymoronically subtle yet obvious at the same time, and for the first time we have a match that tonally fits the depressing Cockpit.

There were huge strikes from both men, perhaps fed by stipulation.  An Iron Fist match is essentially an Iron Man match but a knockout makes the scores irrelevant.  That knockout was always a goal for both men, with solid punches bookended with MMA-style ground control.

The opening of the match, with its sincere violence was good, but when Maloney got the pin and went two ahead (he started at 1-0 because of a win in the tournament proper), the change in RKJ was hypnotizing.

Realizing that three pinfalls was unlikely, he went after the knockout like a man possessed.  There were horrendous dropkicks and a targeted series of moves on Moloney’s leg that spoke directly and deeply to the criminality that the announcers tried so desperately to get over.  This was one of the rare moments in wrestling when all the performers – the referee and announcers alike – work in tandem to create something special.  As RKJ danced around the referee to hurt Moloney even more than he already had, I really believed that he would kill to win the match.

He won with an Oscutter into the Hidden Blade, which was a wonderful insult to the man he called an absent champion in his post-match promo.

In fact, the promo was almost as good as the match itself.  He congratulated Dan Moloney in such a nonchalant way that it stood out as a horrendous line next to the beating he just gave him.  It was truly psychotic behavior – nearly murder someone and the delivers a babyface promo.  This feels like a contemporary wrestling character and it was brilliant.

Shota Umino came out to challenge, and you can read my extensive thoughts on Shota here.

Final Thoughts

Outside of the main event, this is not a show I would recommend based on star ratings.  In fact, a lot of it was fairly average and uneventful.  However, this feels like a fresh start for RevPro.  There are many moving pieces, and not all of them have fallen into place yet.  But, with Quildan revitalized in his booking, there is no reason to doubt the future for RevPro is bright with such great young wrestlers at his disposal.