Months ago in one of those rare times where I stood in line for the Phoenix Landing, I was looking as only I could look donning hot pink zubaz, decked out in jewlery and wearing Dolph Ziggler's "Stealing The Show & Your Girlfriend" shirt and lo & behold the guy in front of me was a wrestling fan. We got to talking and it was the usual wrestling fan chit chat until we got into the club. Except one thing stuck with me, he said there was a thriving hotbed for indy wrestling down in Rhode Island. At the time, I was knee deep in 2000s puroresu, but I always kept that in the back of my head.
|SHOW YOUR TITS! SHOW YOUR TITS! SHOW YOUR TITS!|
Now in January of 2015, I was looking to see if the best damn wrestler in the world of 2014 was coming my way. Wouldn't you know AJ Styles was coming to Rhode Island in January for XWA. Wild horses, baby, were not keeping me from this and it would double as a perfect way to get me introduced to the Rhode Island indy wrestling scene. I saw some familiar names like Paul London and The Spirit Squad. The name, besides AJ's, I was most interested in was Biff Busick, who has been raved about along with Timothy Thatcher and Drew Gulak for rejuvenating the US Indy Scene. Shooting a quick message to then man who watches more wrestling than anybody I know, Dylan Hales of Wrestling Culture Podcast and Pro Wrestling Only, he offered me a couple free recommendations for Biff. I came away very impressed with his Beyond Wrestling match with Thatcher which was a strong, intense fundamentals-based match that focused on making your opponent earn every inch. Without a doubt, it was a refreshing bout by making what was once old, new again. Going into last Saturday Night's XWA Rumble '15, I was now excited not only for AJ Styles, but to see one of the hottest up and coming acts on the Indy scene.
Let me say straight up front, I was not to be disappointed. I got more than my $20 and 150 minute roundtrip drive worth from this really fun and great indy wrestling show. AJ Styles just weeks prior wrestled in front of 36,000 people in the Tokyo Dome and could have easily phoned it in. Watching from the third row in a house of reportedly 650 XWA fans, AJ put in a strong effort, where never once you thought he was going through the motions. Biff Busick kicked some major ass during his comeback, which was one of the most magnetic babyface rallies I have seen in some time. On top of that, Paul London with a huge ass brace, came out of nowhere and opened my eyes to the fact he could still go as a gritty underdog babyface. I left before the main event (their version of the Royal Rumble, but I saw Carlito's entrance) so that I could back in time to strut and stroll at the Phoenix Landing. Overall, it was definitely I would recommend XWA to a friend and I would do it again. I just wish they came closer to Boston!
The above paragraph was for those who are intimidated by my verbosity and I wanted to make sure that I put over my positive experience before I start getting into the nitty gritty. The event was held in the West Warwick Civic Center right by the West Warwick High School, which seemed like a nice neighborhood. I sat third row dead center looking towards the hard camera. I sat next to the typical indy wrestling fan class clown. It was hit and miss, but he never became annoying. The couple in front of me must have been in their earlier 50s and they were talking about how they had never missed a Beyond Wrestling show in Rhode Island, which is just the coolest thing ever. I can only hope to be that lucky. Lots of fathers with their kids, which was really awesome to see. Overall, it was a crowd that seems to really be invested in the product and was energetic, which only made the experience that much more fun.
I will never be overly harsh on an Indy promotion for their production values as long as I can see the ring and the wrestlers, I am cool. Yes, the sound was not all that great making it hard to hear anyone and the lighting of the arena made it hard to see their big screen TV until someone realized killing all the lights resolved that problem. Without any further adieu and as you can see I am prone to a whole lot of adieu, let's get on to the matches.
|HE'S OUR SAVIOR!|
Paul London vs "The Savior of Pro Wrestling" JT Dunn
JT Dunn is over with the XWA crowd and I won't begrudge him that. People chanted "You're our Savior". I try really hard to keep an open mind, but claiming to be "The Savior of Pro Wrestling" sets yourself up for high expectations especially when you are on the same card as AJ Styles and Biff Busick. Unlike indy production values, I hold indy wrestlers to the same standard as WWE, New Japan, ROH, you name it, wrestlers. I understand pro wrestling is a game of hyperbole and understand saving pro wrestling has been en vogue for the last decade or so, but if you are the "Savior of Pro Wrestling", there needs to be a hook or something special. I don't even think that necessarily means being a great "technical" wrestler or a stiff wrestler or a wrestler with lots of MOVEZ~! The modern industry is not exactly setting the world on fire in the promo department so maybe that's where the Savior shines (he was on the stick before the event and once again was just decent). Personally, the Savior of Wrestling seems way better suited for a heel because it is awfully persumptous and arrogant so maybe you are a throwback chickenshit heel, which modern pro wrestling needs in a bad way. Again, maybe it is something I would understand seeing more performances, but based on one performance nothing really stood out to me. It is just like the story Steve Austin always relates in his podcast about how Dr. Tom asked Stunning Steve, "What makes Stunning Steve so Stunning?". JT Dunn needs to ask himself "What makes JT Dunn, the Savior of Pro Wrestling?"
Paul London had a really interesting way to get heel heat on himself before the match. He went throughout the entire arena, up to the bleachers & everything, to high five all the fans. He managed to miss my section, unfortunately. Then right before the match starts, he saunters out to take a picture with a family and the crowd began to grow restless. Dunn, finally gets sick of all this pussyfooting, leaping over the railing and tackling London. Somehow he managed not to wipe anyone out.
After this match was worked at a frenetic pace and felt a bit rushed. This is a perfect example of the difference between a match that feels urgent and rushed. Urgency is not the same as a fast pace. It is the sense of purpose that commands your attention because the wrestlers believe in the immediacy of their actions. There were some fun spots: I was impressed by London with a huge ass brace hitting a double stomp onto the floor and crashing and burning on a Shooting Star Press. They were laying in their chops and I definitely felt the grittiness of London's attack. Dunn did not really conjure any emotions. The finish was inventive enough with London and Dunn chopping each other while on their knees before London rolled through on a snapmare and both men's shoulders were pinned.
The stipulation of the match was the winner would face Tommaso Ciampa for the XWA Championship that night so it was pretty obvious we would get the double pin. Apparently, this was London/Dunn III and I believe the rubber match. Another fan said the other two matches were better. It was high energy opener and set up the triple threat match. Totally fine for what it was.
The Spirit Squad (Kenny & Mikey) vs Heartthrobs
This was a really fun comedy match. I think I was the only one in my section who enjoyed it, but I was more entertained by this than the previous match. Mikey is just so committed to his Three Stooges/Cheerleader hybrid character and he is so funny. The criss cross segment with the Heartthrobs ending up doing the stereotypical indy wrestling chain sequence (complete with dropkicking each other at the same time) only to realize on the standoff that they were facing each other was fucking hilarious. The heat segment would have been sucky had Mikey not been in Ultimate Warrior Apron Beast Mode (to steal a line from Matt D)! The hot tag was great, short and to the point. The finish was the always funny "one tag partner happens to fall headfirst into the other's balls" and Mikey hitting a rocket launcher to win. Fun comedy and perfect for what it was.
|BIFF! BIFF! BIFF!|
Biff Busick vs Treeeevvvvvvooorrrr Lee
Trevor Lee is a hot property from the Carolina indy scene that was making his XWA debut against one of the best indy wrestlers going today. I should have mentioned this earlier, but a big Katy Perry fan was manning the sound booth to start the night. I am enjoy some Katy Perry club bangers when I am out and about, but as pump up music for a wrestling crowd it does leave something to be desired. I do like that they played music that was actually relevant in 2015 so kudos for that. So Trevor Lee came out to Katy Perry's ET, which was an odd selection for long-haired, bearded Trevor Lee. He was a better manicured looking version of Daniel Bryan and a bit taller. He loved to shout his name as Treeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvooooooorrrr, which actually was his best heat seeking tactic as it always got the callback "Sucks" from me and other fans. He definitely was going for odd and off-kilter, but at the same time, I don't think I know who Trevor Lee is after that match.
I know who Biff Busick is though BABY! Dude, looks about as much of a hard-nosed, blue collar Boston dude as you can look. I guess if he had some more hair that would be a bit more conventional, but the face was very Boston. It is funny because Cena is a such a Boston bro and I can see why that is so polarizing among the nation. It is two sides of the same coin and I see Busicks and Cenas all the time. He came out meaning business. It was a little too much over the top intensity and anger, but hey that is Boston for you (Where do you think Cena gets it?)! By the end of the match, he had us all eating out of the palm of his hand. I was skeptical about name like Biff Busick, but Biff is a great name to chant. As my friends would claim it is an onomatopeia and I really don't know if I can argue with them anymore.
Trreeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvoooorrrrr was drinking from the Paul London kool-aid and figured stalling was the best way to get heat on the indy scene. When they did lock up, Biff was very snug and everything looked great from the third row. Biff really wanted a handshake goddamnit and Trevvor spit at him. Now you done gone made him angry, Trevor! We end up with the crowd brawling and trash barrels go flying from the bleachers. I am not a big fan of crowd brawling, until one fan mentioned "They are making sure everyone gets a front tow seat" and that is a really cool idea. It is not great from a kayfabe perspective, but that is actually a pretty good business practice in my estimation.
Trevor smokes Biff with a boot to the head as he is trying to get back in the ring. They tease the countout and Biff milks it well. Trevor's heat segment is pretty boring, but holy fuck what a comeback by Busick. His European Uppercuts, his interaction with the crowd, his energy and presence all made for a really exciting finish stretch. It really reminded me of those Daniel Bryan hot tags that really got Bryan over with the WWE crowd. It was really good shit. They did a cool spot which I think is a Trevor Lee spot (saw it in his video package) where they collide for hard on a cross body they flip mid air with Trevor on top, which made for nasty nearfall. Busick showed his love for my main man, Kenta Kobashi, hitting a Half Nelson Suplex/Burning Lariat to win the match.
As a Biff Busick showcase, this was great. Offense matters more than ever in American wrestling, for better or for worse and Busick has that down in spades. This comeback here sold me on coming back to Providence to watch Busick & Gulak vs Hero & Dunn just to see Busick again live (though Gulak & Hero are enticing). The finih stretch pushes this to ***, Trevor Lee did not show much.
|BRING HIM BACK! BRING HIM BACK! BRING HIM BACK!|
XWA Champion Tommaso Ciampa vs Paul London vs "Savior of Pro Wrestling" JT Dunn
This is going to sound weird and I don't even know how to explain this. If you give Ciampa a normal haircut, he looks like a guy that should be on The Bachelor. I even showed my mom a picture of him and she was like "Has he been on the Bachelor before?". So Ciampa if you are looking for some free publicity, don't say I never doled out some good advice. ;)
It was a triple threat clusterfuck. It was fun, fine and flew by. I thought London was the best and this was really where he shined. He was worked great as a sympathetic babyface from underneath. First, they were kicking on his knee with big ass brace on it and he would throw wild chops to beat them back. It was just a gritty performance just throwing everything he had to be the XWA Champion. It is funny Ciampa and Dunn are full-timers I believe, but yet I believed London wanted to win this match more than either one of them. The best spots were also London spots like the dropsault which landed as a perfect moonsault on one of his opponents. Seeing his Shooting Star Press and just missing his head on the turnbuckle was crazy. As for the other wrestlers, Ciampa had good strikes and has a really good look. I am not going out of my way to see more Ciampa, but I welcome seeing him again. As for Dunn, the "Savior of Pro Wrestler" uses a Candian Destroyer, ugh. I am trying to keep an open mind. I am going to see him team with Hero against Busick & Gulak so we will see. Ciampa retained, which I think shocked some people who thought Dunn would win. London gave a nice promo about how great this promotion is and he will be coming back. I hope so! I really enjoyed watching him live. In fact, coming out of the night, the thing I wanted to see the most was Paul London vs AJ Styles.
|BEST IN THE WORLD! BEST IN THE WORLD! BEST IN THE WORLD!|
AJ Styles vs Jason Blade
It is performerance like these that proves why AJ Styles is the best in the world. It is NOT the match of the year candidate that will get a lot of eyeballs on him, but it was an effort that shows no matter the situation that AJ Styles is so locked in at this point and that he cannot be denied. The opening matwork, which was really strong, looked like a real struggle because of how hard AJ was trying to gain any every advantage over his adversary. Jason Blade is a long time Indy Wrestler that stated before the match this was seven years in the making. You could feel how badly Blade wanted to win this match. The crowd responded in turn. Gone were all the jokes. You had fans cheering for the hometown boy. Then you had fans like me and other cheering for best damn wrestler in the world right now. The cheering was about exhorting the wrestlers on to victory. The match had a big match atmosphere and I did not even know who Blade was, but I was absorbed by the story because they told a story that anyone could pick up on even if they did not know Blade was.
I was enjoying the mat wrestling, but then I saw the sequence that every AJ fan knows by heart. Leapfrog, dropdown, BAM DROPKICK! I see the leapfrog and audibly exclaim "HERE WE GO!", but Blade counters it! Why? Because this is seven years in making and Jason Blade has AJ Styles scouted! That was the story of the match. Just when you thought Styles had the match in hand and would go for one of his signature moves, Jason Blade had that counter. It really made for a compelling match for an AJ fan because we are so used to those moves landing. Could this guy pull it off? Slowly, I started to believe for Blade and I became worried. I cared about the outcome because I invested in the characters and their motivations and the moves had consequences. Blade was mounting his comeback, but then his knee got wrenched. Right now, I wished I took better notes (I took them quickly on my phone, I am not a total loser), but I was into that could not be bothered. I just remember that I totally had forgotten AJ had the Calf-Slicer in his arsenal and when I saw him hook the leg and roll through, I leapt up and cheered. I will admit that eventually Blade did drop the leg selling, but he started pulling off some nearfalls, but you knew it was just a matter of time. We started getting those Styles Clash teases, but surely Blade had this scouted and he did. It does not matter how much scouting you do when you are knocked out and the out of nowhere Pele kick sealed his fate like so many before him. Styles Clash and the best wrestler in the world had his hand raised in victory. Styles much like London said he would be back OH HELL YES! And congratulated Blade on a hardfought effort.
My knee jerk reaction was to tweet it was the best non-ROH AJ indy match, which it may be, but I really have not seen enough to prove that. I still have a Matt Hardy and Cedric Alexander match to watch plus there is a Drew Gulak CZW match that may kill them all. Still on this night, I was impressed on how AJ and guy I had never even heard of worked a dramatic match with a big fight feel. AJ Styles worked all his stuff in a logical and progressive fashion. Everything made sense as they took you on a roller coaster. Blade played his role of hometown hero that is the same age as AJ, but his career took a vastly different direction well. It felt like a good NWA Title Defense and in a lot of ways that's the gimmick AJ is working. In fact, I loved to see AJ with the NWA World Title now defending it in New Japan and on the US Indy scene. ***1/2
Having seen exactly what I came to see, I was ready to head out and make my way back to Boston to hit up the club. The Rumble did not really interest me (Carlito is cool, I guess) and it worked out perfectly that they gave AJ an early night. I stopped by the merch tables. I saw that Kevin Sullivan was still wrestling and marked out. Then I noticed it was called Original Sin Promotions. I flippantly said well that is not very kid-friendly. The woman behind the table said "Is wrestling very kid-friendly?" I did not know how to respond. "Do you not see all the kids here? It is literally superheros and supervillians come to life? It is probably the most kid-oriented form of entertainment that exists!" The fact that woman is behind the desk is plain scary.
All in all, it was a great show and I had a blast! My only inhibition to going again would be the drive, but if you made the card enticing enough (*hint* putting Busick, Gulak, Hero on the card *hint*) then I can definitely be stirred to make the trek down to Rhode Island for a fun night of wrestling action.
Next road trip to Philadelphia for the ROYAL RUMBLE BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!