EPW Re-Awakening XXI
December 17, 2022
Willetton Stadium
Perth, Western Australia

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

Image: Shotweiler Photography

It has been over a year and a half since I last wrote up a review of an Explosive Pro Wrestling show (Collision Course from April 2021). Now that 2022 is all wrapped up and the promotion’s final show of the year is available on VOD, I figured this was the right time to apply a critical lens back on EPW and take stock of their 2022.

I would characterize 2022 as a year of peaks and valleys for EPW. The in-ring product has generally been of good quality, highlighted by the elevation of Julian Ward into the main-event Ace of the company. The twin challenges of EPW’s former regular venue, the Gate One Theatre, suddenly closing and Western Australia’s first real COVID wave forced an unscheduled two-month shut-down early in the year. Venue-wise, the promotion has largely been able to bounce back, successfully running in one of the state’s premier live-music venues Freo.Social and drawing over 800 fans to this debut show in the Willetton Basketball Stadium.

The invasion angle that has been running since May’s SHWAxEPW event has garnered a lot of heat and passion from the fans at EPW shows. There has been some messier storytelling on the undercards, and the depth of shows has been hurt by losing talent to injuries/real-life commitments. The difficulty that EPW has had in terms of getting out tape in a timely and consistent manner throughout 2022 has furthered the isolation inherent in the geographical realities of a promotion that runs in literally the most isolated city in the world.

Re-Awakening XXI is the 21st-anniversary show for EPW, a rare achievement for any independent promotion worldwide. Drawing over 800 fans without the use of any advertised international or interstate fly-in talent is a major victory. In-ring, the show does not match up to the best in company history, but a historic tag match bookends it in the opener and an excellent main event.

On announcing duties for the night are the regular EPW announce team of Dean Olsen and Eric Mack, with SHWA announcer Alex Woden pinch-hitting for one match.

EPW Tag Team Championship
Davis Storm and Mikey Nicholls def. The Pulse (Jarrad Slate/Felix Young) (c)  

The big Southern Hemisphere Wrestling Alliance invasion angle was kickstarted by the battle between the spiritual leader of EPW Davis Storm and The Pulse. For further context; SHWA is a promotion that dates back to 2008, one of the handful of new promotions to arise in Western Australia after EPW brought professional wrestling back to the state after a 40-year hiatus. It developed into a family-friendly promotion that filled a niche in the Perth Wrestling scene and was an important place for Perth talent like Michael Morleone, Del Cano, Zenith and Julian Ward to get the sort of experience that prepared them for being featured players in EPW. In early 2020 (pre-pandemic), EPW management bought out SHWA and have continued running it as a separate entity. Whilst it is largely being used to blood newer talent, the intention is closer to running SHWA like Tony Khan is running Ring of Honor as a separate brand rather than something subservient to the main roster like NXT.

These management changes bled into some of the stories running in SHWA in 2021, in particular Davis Storm’s feud with Seth Kincaid and the bruised egos of Jarrad Slate and Felix Young. Slate is legitimately the first wrestler to be broken into the scene via SHWA and has been a featured player in the state for over a decade. Him and Young have developed into an excellent tag team, accomplished in both brawling and traditional tag psychology. Over the end of 2021 tensions developed between Storm as the representative of EPW and The Pulse, who saw Storm’s presence as a reminder of how the pro wrestling establishment has overlooked them.

The feud was unfortunately derailed by Storm being legitimately knocked out in his match against Slate at January’s SHWA show. Storm would return to Perth Wrestling at June’s Evolution event, now hunting down Slate and Young who had captured the EPW Tag Team Championship as part of a broader SHWA invasion angle. Storm eventually got his one-on-one match against Slate at EPW Vendetta in October. With Storm’s regular tag-partner Edith Night on hiatus, the major question going into this match at Re-Awakening became the identity of his mystery partner.

The tension of the mystery partner ended up being played up to the max on the night of Re-Awakening. Storm enters first alone, followed by The Pulse making their entrance through the crowd draped in both the EPW and SHWA Tag belts. Then we get the reveal of Storm’s partner: ‘Mad’ Mikey Nicholls.

My suspicion going into the night was that the partner would be one of the local legends of EPW’s past. Mikey was a surprise for a few reasons: a) he was just coming off the New Japan Tag League and as the biggest name wrestler based in Perth, I had assumed that if his schedule allowed him to be booked, he would have been advertised. b) Mikey is just coming off an excellent bully heel champion run throughout 2021/22 in EPW, so he was notionally still a bad guy in the promotion. c) He went to the extra trouble of being sneaky and putting up a Japanese tour bus picture on Instagram that afternoon.

The match starts off with Storm and Mikey taking the initial flurry before turning into a more traditional tag, with Storm being worked over as babyface in peril. Once Mikey gets into the match, he gets to brawl with both Pulse members. The size of Nicholls is often undersold on TV, and he is a wrestler whose intensity comes off best live, particularly when you get to hear the disgusting sounds of his chops in person. Mikey and Slate brawling gave me happy memories of their match from last January in one of WA’s smaller promotions; where they overcame bad overbooking by just brawling around the arena and beating the crap out of each other.

At one point Storm goes for his little used super-variant of his finish ‘The Rolling Eye of the Storm’ (a Killshot variant where he flips off the top rope whilst having his opponents arms locked, somewhat surprised no-one on TV has stolen it) but Slate is able to break free. There are a few false-finishes with The Pulse that almost got me. The finishing sequence sees things looking bleak for the Storm/Mikey superteam before Storm is able to reverse into a flash-pin to steal the three-count.

Post-match, Storm and Nicholls hug in celebration whilst The Pulse show a modicum of respect in handing the EPW Tag belts over to the new champions. As someone who has followed EPW on and off since 2004; seeing these two originals of the Perth wrestling scene get to have this moment together got me emotional as well. This was a really-fun and hard-hitting match but that added emotional context means the match meant more to me than it would to someone coming into it cold. Going forward, I don’t really expect this to be a long-term title reign for the Storm/Mikey superteam but as we’ll see, a very exciting future match is set up for EPW in 2023.

Schoolyard Brawl
Mikey Broderick def. Mr. Thompson

‘The Universal Swoldier’ Mikey Broderick is a veteran of the Australian Wrestling Scene and a member of TMDK. He’s a tremendous athlete whose gimmick is that he’s superfit and wants everyone to know it. Broderick has been a regular in EPW since May and has spent the year feuding with douchey gym teacher Mr Thompson (a feud which has also helped elevate Lucas Fantasia who will be discussed later).

Back when I was still on the hellsite called Twitter, I caught flack from some of the more pathetic members of the Australian Wrestling Community for publicly not enjoying the Intercommonwealth Championship match that Broderick had with Caveman Ugg on the Melbourne City Wrestling return show in 2021 (neither of the two wrestlers in the match gave me grief, it was other doofuses who saw any sort of negative criticism as an opportunity to attack someone being vocal about cultural problems in the scene.) My issue with that particular match was that you had two very skilled in-ring performers in a title match that never moved past schticky comedy spots. In his time in EPW, however, the comedy spots have been better integrated with Broderick’s matches, and this match, in particular, is a good example of where that comedy works.

This was an inherently silly match (yet surprisingly brutal). The concept was that only weapons found at school were legal, which lead to a range of spots aimed at popping the nostalgia for an Australian crowd. Highlights included Broderick going up on the entrance ramp to do a Cricket bowler style run-up into the ring and pelting Thompson with volleyballs. Two standout spots saw Broderick swinging a full bag of soccer balls into Thompson and then breaking a giant whiteboard over the teacher’s back. Broderick strapped on a Bluey backpack and then hits a big top-rope elbow to win the brawl and the feud.

Zenith def. Del Cano via DQ 

This ended up being an angle rather than a match. The former tag partners worked together throughout 2021 and 2022, until Del Cano was surprisingly the one to turn on Zenith in September. This was built as a grudge match, but given the priorities of the rest of the night I think doing this as a bait and switch angle was a benefit to their program rather than a detriment.

Zenith entered with new music and entrance gear. Del Cano however, pulled a Los Ignorables move entering in a full suit and mask. Immediately, Del Cano bails from the ring and Zenith is blindsided by Giant Dad/Mercenary Blake Walker for the DQ.

The post-match promo on the VOD release by Del Cano is a good addition to the overall angle, giving him a credible justification for taking a DQ loss to Zenith on this show and establishing Walker as Del Cano’s new bodyguard.

EPW Coastal Championship
Bruno Nitro (c) def. Lucas Fantasia, James Hartness and Joel Hagan 

To me, most of the poor storytelling in the later half of EPW’s year was confined to the Coastal Championship scene. Taylor King won the belt in a great street fight at Evolution to end Aaron Hawk’s long reign as champion. King then lost the title straight away in a Six-Man match to current champion Bruno Nitro.

Bruno is a talented Brazilian wrestler (see the aforementioned Collision Course 2021 for his very good match against Damian Slater), but he has not really been given much of a chance to succeed so far as Coastal Champion. His first defence was against James Hartness, a mouthy British brawler who is a heel with a loyal (and loud) fan following. That ended in a no-contest when Joel Hagan interfered, not really helping either wrestler in the match get over. This match for Re-Awakening was originally announced as Nitro defending against Lucas Fantasia, one of the EPW’s break-out stars of 2022. Both Hartness and Hagan then bullied their way into the match by beating up rookies and announcers to force EPW management to add them to the show. To me, the angle portrayed the two babyfaces as weak, and if a four-way was always the direction I would have preferred to see Nitro and Fantasia get fired up and welcome the challenge from the two bully heels, rather than it being portrayed as the promotion kowtowing to a couple of shitheads. Furthermore, running multi-man matches for two of the singles championship defences on the card felt somewhat redundant.

But enough about my qualms about the build; how was the match itself? I came away thinking that it was solid, if overly reliant on the sort of big move/pin gets broken up tropes that you expect out of a multi-man match. There were a few botchy moments and I think Nitro got hurt on a big chokeslam near the end. Fantasia looked the most impressive in the match, and I particularly enjoy how he’s turned the Women’s Special Slap from the old Smackdown games into one of his signature moves. The finish comes with Nitro hitting his Double Stomp off the top to break up a pinfall and then taking the winning fall on Hagan.

I was glad to see Nitro get the win, as I’ve thought that he hasn’t really been given much of a chance to shine so far as champion. I would like to see him work a title program with a veteran heel like Jarrad Slate or The Don to really establish Bruno as a babyface champ. Throughout the second half of 2022, Hagan and Hartness have been butting heads and I am hoping in 2023 they get into a proper program together which could take advantage of Hartness’ cult following to fully turn him babyface.

EPW Tag Team Championship 1 Contenders Match
The Untouchables (Damian Slate/Marcius Pitt) w/Amber def. Two and a Half Wrestlers (Dan Moore/Bobby Marshall) w/Jesse Lambert

Jesse Lambert is one of the most over performers in EPW, and the dream sequence above is a good example of why that is the case. Both in terms of vignettes and his in-ring performances, Jesse is an inventive and charismatic performer who has gradually developed his gimmick of endearingly dumb learner wrestler over the past few years. In particular I appreciate the throwback at the end of this vignette to Marcius Pitt’s run in the 2016 TMDK MCW invasion storyline, where he would constantly threaten to piss on their tag belts.

This match is the culmination of a year-long storyline of Jesse Lambert’s crush on The Untouchables’ manager Amber. In May, Lambert had an entertaining match against Slater, where his personal style of weaponised incompetence collided with Slater’s smooth technical prowess.

This is a good match from two experienced and skilled teams, though I preferred the match-up they had at June’s Evolution show. Highlights include Bobby Marshall hitting his Scissor Kick (which is pretty much the best in pro-wrestling history) and a spot where Marshall powerbombs Pitt into Slater.

The finish comes when Amber gets involved, leading to Bobby Marshall catching her in a Fireman’s Carry. The besotted Jesse gets involved to save Amber, leading to a kerfuffle that gives The Untouchables the advantage. They get the win over Dan Moore with stablemates Nicholls and Haste’s tag-team finish.

Post-match in-ring there’s some tension as both Moore and Marshall are fed up with Jesse’s antics. There’s the tease of some kind of turn from Bobby Marshall, which made me nervous as he has a long history of being one of the most violent and psychotic wrestlers in EPW’s 21 year history. It would depress me to see him eventually snap on his surrogate son Jesse, but it is a possibility that is always in the back of my mind.

The set up going into 2023 now has Pitt and Slater as the number one contenders to the EPW Tag Titles, with their stablemate Mikey Nicholls as one half of the champions. Given TMDK’s newfound prominence in New Japan, that adds an extra dimension to this upcoming match as well.

Meanwhile, we cut to a backstage interview of Dan Moore and Bobby Marshall being ‘not mad, but disappointed’ in Jesse. Amber intercedes in the interview to thank Jesse for his help and hands him a TMDK shirt. To an extent, I was ready for the ‘Jesse hearts Amber’ storyline to be finished and for both characters to move onto new things in 2023. However this segment at least suggested an interesting new direction for the story. It is a long shot to imagine, but it would please me greatly if this somehow ends with doofus Jesse Lambert becoming one of new TMDK leader Zack Sabre Jr’s young boys.

SHWA Championship – Tables Match
Chris Target def. Tyler Jacobs (c)

The first Re-Awakening show I went to in 2004 featured a four-way Tables match for the tag titles. That show also featured Tyler Jacobs in the main event, losing the EPW Championship to Mikey Nicholls. He is back in a featured spot 18 years later, this time defending the SHWA Championship against Chris Target.

One of the other major aspects of the SHWA Invasion angle has been Jacobs turning babyface again, going from being the creepy church leader Father Jacobs to a hard-hitting veteran. Chris Target is a mainstay of the Perth wrestling scene who started working in EPW/SHWA in 2020. The storyline is that Target was the chosen champion of new SHWA General Manager Chris J Lazareth. Jacobs won the title off Target in a brawl at SHWA’s September event and this is the rematch.

‘King of the Carnies’ Chris Target gets the most elaborate entrance of the show, being carried to the ring on a throne by a sea of trainees. He is accompanied by his whole cadre of cronies, whereas Jacobs goes to ring by himself. Target entered this match in the best shape I have ever seen him in and was (as always) an effective unlikeable heel.

On the night, this suffered a little by being the first match back from intermission. It does come off as a little plodding and doing a one-on-one Tables match can be somewhat challenging when there isn’t a huge amount of bodies to throw around for high spots. CJL’s personal assistant Miss Devine gets involved at one-point and ends up taking her first table-bump as punishment. Much of the story of the match ends up being based around interference from Target’s goons.

The finish comes off a bit awkwardly, as the referee was out of the ring throwing one of Team Target to the back when Jacobs actually goes through the table. By normal wrestling logic, the match shouldn’t have ended there as the referee didn’t see the table break but it was clearly miscommunication rather than some sort of angle. On the VOD, Dean Olsen is off commentary for this match, meaning that much of the soundtrack becomes the EPW commentator Eric Mack and SHWA commentator Alex Woden sniping at each other. My hope is that in 2023, the story shifts to being more focused on CJL and his cronies as the heels rather than trying to push a brand vs brand story. Mostly because all of the SHWA heels on EPW shows are also villains on SHWA shows and the more kid-heavy crowd at SHWA shows are not as invested in the EPW vs SHWA story as the EPW crowd is.

Captain’s Fall Tag Team Match
Team Hawk (Aaron Hawk, Cannon Connors, Stella Nyx and The Great George) def. Team Twitch (Twitch, King Shahil, Rogan Karguis and Chadwick Jackson)

This was a comedy multi-man match to serve as a buffer for the main event. Curiously the announcers weren’t clued up to the rules of the match (team members could be eliminated, but the match would end immediately if one of the captains takes a fall), which makes it feel a little bit more shambolic on tape than it came off in the building.

Cannon Connors, Rogan Karguis and King Shahil are three newer members of the EPW roster, having jumped from a smaller WA promotion that puts onerous restrictions on what its homegrown talent can do outside its horizons. All three show potential, particularly Shahil who has innate charisma.

The match itself was fine, with a lot of silly comedy spots where the heels end up hurting each other via miscommunication. The edit unfortunately missed the moment on the floor where Shahil carried both Stella Nyx and her tag partner Lizzie Maximus on each shoulder, shouting “I’m hardcore, I’ll take them both”, which popped me live. The match ends with Aaron Hawk hitting his finish on Twitch to take it home.

EPW Championship
Julian Ward (c) def. Michael Morleone and Taylor King

Julian Ward won the EPW Championship off Mikey Nicholls at last year’s Re-Awakening in a brutal street fight. Since then, he has consistently delivered as EPW’s new top star, more often than not featuring in the match of the night. Michael Morleone was essentially EPW’s top babyface from 2017 to 2020 but turned on the company to join with the SHWA invaders in the middle of the year. Taylor King is Ward’s best friend and tag partner but won a Rumble to earn his way into this title match.

I thought that this was far-and-away the match of the night, and one of the three best EPW matches of 2022. I was somewhat iffy on the idea of running a three-way rather than a one-on-one main event but the match itself delivered. All three men get big entrances. Taylor King enters with new Dua Lipa inspired gear. Morleone enters to a new heel theme which has been smartly modified to discourage the “Don” chant he used to get accompanied by. Ward gets pyro and a special entrance theme for the big event.

In a lot of ways, this follows a familiar one-man out, two men in three-way dance formula. However, they milk the formula for maximum drama and it never really feels like it is being used to hide one of the competitors away. King is in phenomenal shape and has one of the best performances of his career. A moment in particular that stood out was his Tope Con Hilo where he gets the most air I have ever seen him get on the move.

In a moment of high drama, Chris J Lazareth handcuffs Ward to the top rope, seemingly locking him out of the match. Morleone’s taunting of Ward as he picks apart King in this sequence is excellent heel work. It was a big moment live when Ward tore the handcuffs apart to fight his way back into the match.

The finish is Omega-Ibushiesque, with Taylor King having the choice to try and finish off Ward, but instead, he goes to top to hit a 450 Splash on Morleone. The moment worked better live than on tape, as the edit doesn’t clearly show Morleone rolling out of the way so it comes off that King overshot the move rather than Morleone escaping. It is a shame as the way the footage has been cut lessens the impact of what was a moment of high-drama live. With King crashing and burning, Ward takes control of the situation and hits his Lariat on Morleone for the win.

Post-match, Ward celebrates and King hugs him, dissipating the tension that had been built between them during the match’s build. The finish definitely left me with the impression that we might see King vs. Ward as the main event of Re-Awakening XXII. With this win, Ward is at seven successful title defenses of the EPW Championship. One more defense will make it eight, tying the current record for most defenses in a reign. I certainly hope that over the next few shows, this title defense record is played up as being significant, as I think it is one of the cooler Japanese storytelling elements that can be brought over to a promotion like EPW.

Final Thoughts

Re-Awakening XXI will go down as a historic show for EPW, even if it doesn’t quite match up to the best shows they have put on from an in-ring perspective. I would recommend that anyone interested in following EPW check it out, but if you are strapped for time then you should prioritise the opener and main-event. With this show being released on VOD a couple weeks after it was taped, we are hopefully seeing EPW getting back to a more reliable schedule in terms of delivering their show footage to a wider audience.