Adventures in Oberhausen II: wXw World Tag Team League 2017

Adventures in Oberhausen II: wXw World Tag Team League 2017

Adventures in Oberhausen Part II: World Tag Team League 2017

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October 5 2017

 

My first time in Oberhausen, to watch Westside Xtreme Wrestling was in March 2017 for their annual 16 Carat Gold tournament. It was one of the best live wrestling experiences of my entire life. There’s very little that can prepare you for an epic tournament taking place in a wonderful venue. Adding in the festival of wrestling vibe that wXw has created and you’re on to a great weekend. This made a return to Oberhausen for wXw’s World Tag Team League a complete no-brainer. I signed up the night Carat finished. “Please have me back” I pleaded with the smiling representatives of wXw Germany. They had hooked me on their live product and I knew I’d be back for Tag League.

 

WHETTING THE GRAPITITE

 

Back in June the invite arrived to be a part of wXw’s Media Centre for a second time and I replied at 6.30 in the morning because I was so fired up at the prospect. Once I’ve been to a venue/place once and really enjoyed it, part of me is always itching to go back. I had a rough start to the week, what with work related issues, and by the time I was boarding my flight from Birmingham International Airport my energy levels were on the floor but they rapidly picked up. The first I flew into Dusseldorf I had the misfortune of arriving in rush hour and, yes, Germany is as much of a nightmare at rush hour as everywhere else in the world. The train to Essen was cramped as fuck. I could barely move. It was actually painful. This time around I landed mid-afternoon and slunk onto the train to Oberhausen with no issues at all. A sign of the experience from last time. I knew what to expect from ticket machines and the train rolled into the station as I was walking to the platform. Great start. Robin Reid, of Voices of Wrestling’s BritWres Roundtable podcast, wasn’t quite so fortunate. He mishead “Dusseldorf” as Dortmund and went to the wrong city, arriving in Oberhausen after Inner Circle had begun. I got off the train at Oberhausen and Oli Court, the other member of BWR, was standing in the station concourse. We headed off to the hotel and mentally prepared for a fine evening of professional wrestling.

 

At the train station, on the way to Essen for the Inner Circle show at wXw’s Academy, we bumped into Matthew Gregg of Botchamania fame. Matthew had a terrible trip in March, finally getting into Oberhausen as the night one main event finished. He’d been better prepared this time and his only shortcoming was failing to stamp his ticket. If you’re ever in Germany, when you buy a train ticket you need to stamp it at the little orange machines by the stairs under the platform (or near to the platform) or you get a twenty euro fine. Tickets stamped we headed off to Essen Zolverein station, the one nearest to wXw’s Academy. On the way we gain Allan Cheapshot (Blackpool’s curator of wrestling history and wXw fan). The four of us stroll over to the Academy, which is about five minutes away (follow the yellow birds) and are joined by a few familiar faces from both Germany wrestling and the BritWres scene. Joining us this time are the Marsden boys, regulars at Fight Club Pro shows.

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There is a hitch getting into the Academy as Patrick Strübbe, the head of the media centre, is stuck in traffic. We end up standing outside in the rain making jokes about the view from the media centre being heavily compromised on this show. Eventually we are let in as long as we write our names down to get checked off against a list. I resist the urge to look at STRIGGA’s name as he follows me in. Aside from the various chaps who opted to attend Lucha Forever, and Rob who’s still traversing the German landscape, everyone who intended to make Inner Circle is there. They’re treated to a solid warm up show with some nice variety and new names. The Academy is a very small venue that can only fit about 100 people in. It’s notoriously hard to get to, compared to the Turbinenhalle, but I enjoy the exclusivity of attending. We were originally promised a “double Ironman match” pitting David Starr against Dave Crist until the Crist’s were removed from the shows due to double booking. Instead we get a tidy little card, highlighted by an AMBITION rules match between Tim Thatcher and WALTER.

 

Also on the card were Alexander James vs. Academy champion Julian Pace, Kim Ray vs. Portuguese youngster Rafa (making his wXw debut), EYFBO vs. JayFK, Jurn Simmons vs. Jaxon Stone and David Starr vs. Homicide. Everything is decent and, like at Carat’s Inner Circle, the effort levels are suitably impressive. Homicide goes out of his way to make Starr look good in the main event and EYFBO make a very strong impressive in their first match in Europe. Going into the shows the crowd were not familiar with them and EYFBO went out of their way to impress to audience. The Academy is a good building for wrestling and it has some of the best acoustics in the business. A dozen people can cause a deafening chant in there, it’s wonderful. James Marsden, fellow FCP fan, compared it to the Fixxion (FCP’s old stomping ground) and he’s not wrong. It’s even smaller than the Fixxion though. A literal box.

 

The evening culminates in David Starr putting over Homicide and encouraging people to buy the Massive Product t-shirts that have been made especially for this weekend. Which leads to the crowd singing “buy my merch” to the “yeah, oh yeah” part of Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me”. I say crowd; it was more just Matthew and everyone joining in afterwards. That man has an ear for a chant. This is never more notable than during EYFBO where the letters are put into “D-I-S-C-O”.

 

The appetite for the weekend having been suitably whet we all pile into STRIGGA’s car, the Eurograpsmobile, and get driven back to Oberhausen. Selecting a hotel next to the CentrO immediately feels like a good idea as the drop off is easy. When we climb out of the car Rob is standing across the road. “I went to Dortmund. My bad”.

 

October 6 2017

 

IT’S NOT PROGRESSIVE BEING AGGRESSIVE

 

The second time I was glad of selecting a hotel next to the CentrO was Friday morning when we were allowed a lie-in ahead of strolling over to the Louisiana Restaurant for the Press Lunch with Christian Jakobi. The wXw promoter is affable as ever, flitting between groups of reporters and offering candid opinions on the morning of the show. He’s keen to put everyone at ease and is happy to see so many friendly faces around the table. The lunch soon degenerates into a buzz of scoops, rumours and hot takes. The assorted BritWres press sharing stories from the year so far and who’s singing “Stand Back” at the karaoke during the after party. This never happened and I’m a shade disappointed. There are shots fired at various promoters for using dubious tactics and several stories I can’t actually share here. However there were some that I can. Rob indulges my love of backstage scuttlebutt when he tells the story told to him by Simon Grimm (nee Gotch). On his first match back on the Indies his opponent went off script and started shooting on him to the point where Simon had to literally choke him out to finish the match. When he confronted the man backstage about what happened his opponent seemed to think everything had been fine. When you have to shoot-choke someone out to finish a match something has definitely gone wrong, mate. Shots are fired at Mike Quackenbush and I hear an assortment of horror stories about working for Chikara, which genuinely upset me. If even half of what was said is true that company should be avoided at all costs. We talk about retirements in wrestling and how they never stick. Not even among the fans. Allan is judged for his smoking habits and we’re quizzed about our partners/wives and whether they’d ever go to shows. The killer for me is hearing that James Davis was overheard asking who Hangman Page was, after adopting a similar noose gimmick. You couldn’t make it up. Zack Sabre’s Brexit rage is discussed, along with his assault on El. We talk about “the midget version of Bruiser Brody”, Snitsky’s backne (and frontne) and suggest a concept for Five Star Wrestling to pursue: “The Funeral of Jimmy Snuka”. A touring event across the UK in 15k arenas.

 

Patrick thanks us for joining CMJ for lunch and we head over to the Tryp CentrO for a BritWres gathering and a few beers. There is lengthy discussion about a number of obscure topics including NXT Redemption and Disco Inferno (“If you close your eyes it’s like one of the Muppets talking”). Various attempts are made at ordering drinks in German. We’re successful with beer and coffee but fail to get James a cider. My “apfel mit alcohol” attempt falls on deaf ears. From there we get some accommodation stories and James and Dave are blessed with a JCB in their garden.

 

EVERYONE IS LIVING IN A GIANT WRESTLING BUBBLE

 

At 4pm we report to the media centre in the back of the Turbinenhalle. Thanks to a slight miscalculation in how long it takes to walk from CentrO we are all late, drawing a small scowl from Patrick. The set up is the same to Carat. There are chairs and tables lined up in front of a podium. We have goodie bags, including a poster and program. There is no water this time around, probably thanks to ACH saying it tasted bad. It did, to be fair. I can live without it. The first guests are Francis Kaspin and Jay Skillet. They’ve not been a team long and live far apart, thus negating the chance to train together often. Kaspin claims “we’re not finished yet”. As in, the team is not yet complete. Jay on the other hands thinks they were good enough to be in the WTTL. Skillet is quizzed about the 2 years he took off injured and says he deliberately took a lot of time to make sure he came back right. Skillet had been a promising talent in 2013 and spent some time in Big Japan, which he calls “a huge culture shock”. Kaspin is asked about wrestling Koji Kanemoto earlier in the year and calls it his “favourite match”. “I learned so many things”. Kanemoto even told him to use to the face wash, running corner boot scrapes. Kaspin has an interesting take on pro-wrestling, claiming it’s currently not cool and he wants to make it cool so non-fans get into wrestling because of him and his cool persona. “Everyone is living in a giant wrestling bubble” he says, showing wisdom beyond his years.

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Next up is Robert Dreissker, the Avalanche. He was on a panel in March and retains the same affable, subdued persona. Avalanche was easily the most open of all the wrestlers this weekend, sitting down with us at the after party to discuss anything we wanted. It takes some banter from Dirty Dragan, who has decided to join the Media Centre representing the Bushido Sound Podcast, to get Avalanche to show more personality though. “It’s not a big deal to beat Dirty Dragan” banters the large Austrian. Then when asked who he’d like to team with he said “It’s definitely not Dragan”. Which is funny because before the weekend was out they would indeed be teammates. Off the record Avalanche was telling stories about Ilja Dragunov and how intense he is before matches. Part of me was thinking Ilja has to be more of a work than people say he is but the more times I hear about Dragunov’s ‘preparation’ for matches the more I think it must be true.

 

Up after Avalanche are Massive Product. They’re probably the most entertaining panel of the weekend. From Starr trying to sell merch to Jurn’s reaction to the abandoned concept of the double Ironman match at Inner Circle. “It’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard”. When Starr then brings up Meltzer, Jurn shoots him down again; “Meltzer’s an idiot”. It’s a tongue in cheek insult from the Dutchman but he wears his heart on his sleeve. We get into Jurn’s love of Conan the Barbarian and the current state of Dutch wrestling, which is to say virtually non-existent. All the Dutch wrestlers are in Germany now. “I see the Dutch guys more at the Academy than in the Netherlands”. Jurn goes on to criticise the state of Dutch wrestling and “all Dutch wrestlers have terrible names”. He includes himself in this but does namedrop Dr Butt, a chap named George, who is training in Germany right now. He also warns us to look out for Nate Devlin, another Dutch wrestler, even though his name is terrible too. “How do you stay so calm Jurn?” asks Matthew. “I don’t give a shit” replies the Massive man.

 

Our final panel of the day is with Tassilo Yung, wXw’s head referee and one of the creative minds behind wXw’s product. His takes on wXw’s interactions with other promotions are as candid as ever, including a look at how New Japan do business and how hard it is to keep track of what’s happening with TNA (Impact/GWF/whatever they’re called when this goes to print). The booking policy of wXw is unique as they deliberately target the hardcore fans, wrestling fans in general and families who go to one-off shows. They cater to everyone, depending on the show. When asked about the departing Axel Dieter Jr, Jurn Simmons pipes up from the back of the room where he’s taken a seat; “I took his place, like a true professional”. We hear about wXw’s social media and how four people run it. Dirty Dragan again asks a question; this time about how it feels to be the tallest referee in Europe, making all the boys look bad. Tas’s response is one of the most cutting promos of the weekend. He tells Dragan that most wrestlers “go to the gym” to build a physique so they can stand out, calls Jurn Simmons “Emil”, and blasting the cardio of the other referees. Who knew Tas was such a killer promo? We also hear about ‘Mania weekend and how wXw aren’t interested in running New Orleans because there’s already too many shows. Finally there’s an anecdote about Ilja Dragunov refusing to take a referee stoppage on a show with 100 fans when he’s bleeding profusely from an accidental cut. Dragunov it seems, is for real.

 

The interviews seem to be done for the day until Dirty Dragan hops onto the podium and demands questions. He launches into a bizarre series of answers putting over Dirty Dutch Mantell (“a spirit animal of dirtiness”), showers, Ringkampf (he’s an unofficial member), kicks to the balls, boars, selling rats as merch, Michael Dante, Queen, Waylon Jennings and Depeche Mode. He asks us to attend the Bushido Sound Podcast but says nothing can be recorded. “What happens in Oberhausen, stays in Oberhausen”. Instead of creating complex moral decisions regarding the content of this diary I instead opt to go back to the hotel and record stuff with Oli and Rob. By the time we’re done talking it’s already way late in the evening. The result is that almost everyone in the press team doesn’t go, leaving Matthew to the villainous hands of Dirty Dragan.

 

EAT YOUR FUCKING BALLS OFF

 

It already seems an eternity since the press lunch with so much graps chatter during the course of the afternoon but the World Tag Team League is finally upon us. Jaxon Stone warms the crowd up, or rather gets them accustomed to booing loudly, in a dark match against Jay Skillet. Jaxon is pure old school and his offence is routinely basic. Until his finisher, which is a Styles Clash variant where he sits down instead of kneeling, resulting in a powerbomb that your Styles Clash-loving brain struggles to comprehend. That’s not even the nastiest spot in the match with Skillet’s Michinoku Driver dropping poor Jaxon square on his dome.

 

The tournament itself gets underway with EYFBO, which thanks to extensive research we discovered means “Eat Your Fucking Balls Off” (eww), against the Rottweilers. As with Inner Circle it takes time for the crowd to get into EYFBO’s style but this is a big weekend for them. They’re routinely excellent, despite leaning heel in most of their matches. After that the show takes a notable dip with Spirit Squad vs. Young Lions. A certain section of the crowd, headed by a former wXw employee (and disgruntled Young Bucks fans), feels the need to heel on the Spirit Squad. This leaves the match heel vs. heel and it’s bad. Probably the worst match of the weekend but on paper it was the worst match of the tournament so it’s forgivable. The match that follows is no great shakes either; an awkward blow-off to recent Mack/Nero mini-feud. At the time it feels as if Mack losing must allow the feud to continue. But the wheels are turning in the background, leading to some of the best booking of the weekend.

 

wXw have a fine habit of mixing in announcements during their big weekends to keep the crowd hyped. Another one here broadcasts the return of Zack Sabre Jr to wXw. This is an interesting talking point on the gantry, where it gets no reaction. We’re so used to seeing Sabre wrestle in England that it’s easy to forget he’s not competed for wXw since October last year. The World Tag Team League, in fact. wXw used to one of Sabre’s most frequent haunts but his 2017 has been even busier than previous years. He’s not been in wXw at all.

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One of the best moments of night one was the reveal that A4 were going to be cosplaying as Batman (BatmAndy) and Robin (RobinAni), dressed all in white and goofing around. They first cut a promo on the big screen, causing everyone on the gantry to whip their phones out. I believe that’s the first major ‘photo op’ of the weekend. Then coming out in full costume for the match with Massive Product. The match is terrific too, with Andy vs. Jurn spamming shoulderblocks, A4 being generally superb throughout and the piledriver/tope finish establishing Massive Product’s finishing sequence throughout the tournament. It’s the first **** contest of the weekend and it is extremely well received. Two cracking tag teams. The show had floundered a little up to that point but now we’re back on course.

 

Another interval followed with Rico Bushido and Dirty Dragan coming out to plug the Bushido Sound podcast, which was at midnight(!). Dragan was particularly animated here claiming he might “do drugs and suck a d…” before having his microphone taken away. This was an ample break to lead into Avalanche vs. Ivan Kiev. The gantry bemoaning Kiev’s general clumsiness. He plays the role quite well, and comes off as a total prick, but his in-ring leaves a lot to be desired. His offence is particularly bad. He is good at taking a beating though and Avalanche administers this throughout, including a sensational spot where Kiev tries to trip him from the floor and Avalanche simply drags him back in. Pete Bouncer causes the DQ here and RISE continue to dominate the belts in wXw.

 

Ringkampf clashed with the Briscoes in the final match of night one. WALTER makes a point of smashing up both Briscoe boys, in particular destroying Jay with kicks and lariats. The double Gojira Clutch gives Ringkampf a winning start. This was another four star contest, which sent the fans home dreaming of more excitement on nights two and three.

 

October 7 2017

 

SPOTS ARE DUMB

 

In being all sensible and ditching the Bushido Sound experience (called a “mess” by someone who attended) we were up bright and early to stroll over to the Hotel Haus Union, the same venue the podcast was at, to head into Essen for the Academy tour. I hitched a ride with Patrick, leaving all the other boys in the back of a mini-van being driven by WALTER. I chuckle at the sight of WALTER driving off with a van full of wrestling fans. “Journalists” corrects Patrick. It’s easy to forget during wXw weekends that we’re professionals too and should behave like it. The after party doesn’t count btw. On arriving in Essen we run into the German journalists, who’d taken a separate vehicle, and local boy Allan Cheapshot who’s walked to the Academy from his Air BnB.

 

WALTER welcomes us to the Academy, which is set up as it was at Inner Circle. On the far side, where merch and a bar appears for Inner Circle, are practice mats and a mini-gym with various weight machines. In the background is classical music, which is perfect for WALTER’s old school mentality. Beautiful music to accompany beautiful wrestling. There are offices upstairs and behind the Academy itself are rooms for long term trainees and trainers to stay. Currently the in-house trainers are Tim Thatcher and Alexander James. The latter takes a beginners class to demonstrate how training works from the ground up.

 

The trainees are Steve (Pena), who’s from New York and has been wrestling for five years, George (Jurn’s Dr Butt from earlier) from Holland, Warren from Australia, Pete from Poland who’s here for three months and Alexa who’s in the advanced class here. I mistake her for Killer Kelly but they’re two different people. Almost all of the trainees appear in the background over the weekend in Oberhausen. It feels like we’ve been introduced to the next wave of wXw stars. It intrigues me that it’s such a wide mixture, capturing talent from all over the globe.

 

The training is as follows; a little cardio (running, squats, jumping jacks etc) before a few basic bumps like forward rolls. Alexander puts everyone at ease by firing off quips at the trainees calling Pete, clearly the class joker, a “human Muppet”. There is a lot of repetition, although nowhere near as much as you’d get in an actual training class. James has a clear vision of how wrestling should be and teaches the right and wrong but also the multiple rights. The lock up can be this way, or that way, but it has to be good. When it comes to getting up off the mat it has to be done a certain way (and I’ve seen this before). He also rides Pete for selling the head on a back bump. You didn’t hit with your head so why sell it? Pete decides to test the waters by claiming the fans don’t know he didn’t hit his head. James wins that round and makes Pete do a couple more bumps for the challenge.

 

Alexander’s best work comes from telling us to watch out for the small things. Anyone can do spots he points out, it’s the bits in between that make a wrestler great. “Moves are stupid, stop cheering for them” He preaches safety above all else and we don’t see anything dangerous from the trainees, even on the trickier bumps like the infamous one-legged flip bump. Pete can’t land his straight. “I’ve seen people wrestle for five years who can’t land straight” says James. “I mean, they suck but…” James’ attention to detail makes me think throughout the weekend and has me scrutinising smaller aspects of wrestling. It’s important to get your mentality reset every once in a while.

 

Pete is a constant source of amusement. James constantly singling him out for one liners;

“Pete, what the fuck are you doing?”

“You’re constantly grunting like an animal”

“Pete, stop flirting with Tim”.

 

After the training session is complete, and the International has been run multiple times (the headlock, drop down, leapfrog, hip toss, armdrag, scoop slam sequence), we sit down with WALTER, James and Thatcher to talk training. The Academy has three classes; beginners (cardio/bumps), intermediate (moves) and advanced (match structure). They also have a kids class for 8-13 year olds, helping kids stay fit doing something they love. WALTER also preaches about nutrition and learning English. When you go to the Academy you get trained in all aspects of pro-wrestling.

 

The wXw Academy currently has 120 students enrolled, although a lot of them are infrequent attendees. The class is normally three hours; half of that is cardio, followed by bumps, sometimes thirty minutes on one thing (James loves to do extended sequences on the lock up) and drills like the International at the end. WALTER is keen to point out that wrestling is hard and it’s about subduing a lot of natural instincts, like falling on your back. “You need to train like an athlete” says James “because that’s what we are”. “It’s entertainment but it’s not a game”. James comes across as a wise trainer and WALTER points out he gets the most out of newcomers. WALTER teaches the advanced class because he has limited patience for people who keep screwing up.

 

“There is not one right way to wrestle. There are many right ways” says WALTER in one of the quotes of the weekend. WALTER, Thatcher and James live pro-wrestling. It’s a look at how wrestlers are built from the ground up and these boys are doing tremendous work. I have a feeling the wXw Academy will produce many great wrestlers over the years to come. Thatcher leaves me with another excellent quote; “if everything is spectacular then spectacular becomes the norm”. And where do you go from there? “Wrestling has to get back to telling a story”. The wXw Academy produces wrestlers. They are contractually bound to have their first match in wXw on the Academy shows and then they’re free to find work elsewhere. WALTER not only encourages this but helps the trainees to gain contacts in the business.

 

“At the best of times this will beat you up real bad” – Timothy Thatcher, of pro-wrestling

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Post tour we catch a lift with Sebastian (@CptMightyPants) aka Captain Mighty Pants and head over to the CentrO for lunch. This trip has been significantly better regards food. Last time we were in Oberhausen it was literally McDonalds or the kebab van outside the Turbinenhalle. This time we plan in the food breaks and get sit-down nosh. After getting lost in the car park, because the CentrO is really big, we head back to Oberhausen, listening to Sabatan; a Swedish historical rock band who are big in Germany.

 

ENTER THE CROATIAN PANTHER

 

Femmes Fatales was an interesting experiment last year but it wasn’t much of a show. The standard this year is far higher, although injuries have gutted the tournament. The latest withdrawal is Pauline, who got injured during the week. Her spot here goes to Killer Kelly, who was recently featured in an article in Der Bild. To put that into perspective; Der Bild is Germany’s most read newspaper and it has a higher circulation than The Sun. It’s the biggest newspaper in Europe. The Kelly article was a big deal for her. She’s immediately reaping the rewards.

 

Most of the weekend is spent up on the gantry so I’m determined to catch one show from the floor. This is it. Mainly because I’m convinced the action will be mainly in the ring so a heightened POV will be unnecessary. I am wrong. We take up position in what I refer to as “The Tommy Spot”, right behind where ring announcer Tommy Giessen usually stands. But this is a women’s show so we have a women’s announcer too; pre-show co-host Verena Fischer. Everyone seems to be in a good mood and I start to absorb little details about the venue. The choice of music is warming; “Africa” by Toto always puts me at ease. During a visit to the men’s room I glance at the graffiti on the walls. It’s all metal bands. Germany loves metal.

 

The tournament is almost all sprints. Toni Storm is immediately the star of the piece. Her opener sees Jinny come up short. Seeing as Jinny is probably going to be wXw’s first women’s champion (unless Melanie Gray recovers from injuries) it’s a bit of a shock to see her eliminated so quickly. Mel Gray goes the same way, courtesy of another Mae Young Classic competitor; Viper. Mel gets injured in the process, thus eliminating her from tonight’s show where she was due to wrestle Jinny. wXw have had no luck whatsoever with their women’s division and the injuries keep mounting up.

 

Killer Kelly is a late substitute and her first round match with Laura Di Matteo was an eye opener. Kelly has the kind of thought put into her ring entrance that would make NXT proud. She has an MMA badass look but jaunty music, so she does a little shuffle on the way to the ring to remind people she’s a bit fun as well as a badass. Laura, to her credit, comes in without any of her MMA look to allow Kelly to stand out. Laura has her hair loose and isn’t wearing kneepads. She’s improved greatly this year and has a decent showing here with an inexperienced opponent.

 

The true highlight of Femmes Fatales is the arrival of Wesna though. The “Croatian Panther” is into her thirties and has been wrestling since the late 90s but to many she will be a new name. I knew nothing about her going into Femmes Fatales and came out a big fan. She beat the crap out of Toni Storm and they did the walk and brawl all over the building, Wesna scaring the shit out of fans in the process. CMJ even singled Wesna out for praise during his “ten things about Tag League weekend” series of tweets. No other wrestler was singled out. That speaks volumes. She was that good. This was the stand-out match of the show, miles better than anything from last year.

 

A bonus match took place before the Viper vs. Toni Storm final; pitting Jaxon Stone vs. Dirty Dragan and by god, they played it like a fluff women’s match from WWE PPV’s past. At one point erupting into a catfight that knocked the referee over before eventually resorting to battering each other with pillows. Dragan survives a DDT by pulling a pillow in the way, in one of the spots of the weekend, and finishes with a DDT of his own. Dragan standing up for the rights of all women. “I love women, my mother is a woman”.

Toni Storm claimed victory in the main event with Strong Zero and that leads us right into the following press conference where a victorious Toni was brought out to face her adoring public. A4 were supposed to be on this panel but were taping interviews and were unavailable. At least that’s what we were told. I now sense shenanigans. Toni makes amends for their absence with her usual affable chatter. Often cracking up at inappropriate moments. The most obvious being “she snapped that little arm in half”, when talking about Mayu Iwatani’s compound arm fracture during their Stardom match. Giggling like a schoolgirl. She was a charming interview.

UNBIESGBAR?

 

Night two of the World Tag Team League was a solid show. The Briscoes defeated EYFBO with the latter bringing some fun double teams and being competitive. Following that was another Shotgun title defence from Ivan Kiev. This time against multiple opponents. Avalanche, Alexander James and Bobby Gunns all coming up short. There was no interference from RISE here and Kiev winning clean felt almost odd. The best spot of this match was Avalanche calling back to the previous night where Kiev tried to trip him and got dragged in. They repeat this but Alexander James helps and Avalanche is tripped up. I love it when spots play off previous spots. Even the most simplistic ones.

 

Jinny’s scheduled match with Melanie Gray goes by the wayside. Mella hurt herself taking Viper’s Cannonball (she wasn’t set for the move). Jinny gets a surprisingly good reaction for her slagging off of Mella. “She would never of beat me because she’s just shit”. Killer Kelly steps into the breach for her second replacement match of the weekend. Her inexperience shining through in this contest with an assortment of weird pauses and repeated spots. She is very green but her personality came across enough to forgive that. Jinny finishes her off with Jimmy Havoc’s Acid Rainmaker. “Not today bitch!”

 

Back to the tournament and A4 score a vital win over the Young Lions but in doing so have a match where they lose track of who is legal and upset Rob. Things pick up with Ringkampf versus the Rottweilers; an epic arena wide brawl with crazy spots, wacky dives and lots of WALTER. Low-Ki turns back the clock with a wonderful series of moves, culminating in a double stomp onto the ramp, which unfortunately buggers his knee up and ends the Rottweilers participation. Finally Massive Product polish off the Spirit Squad in the SS’s best showing during the tournament. In particular Mikey challenging Jurn Simmons to a mid-match arm wrestling bout. Jurn was actually gotten to by Mikey’s antics and starting yelling “who are you bitch?” The normal calm veneer removed for once.

The second night was main evented by Bad Bones vs. Ilya Dragunov. The challengers Invincible persona coming across beautifully in the face of adversity. In particular against the mass of RISE. RISE have to interfere to prevent Ilya from winning so Tas announces that RISE are banned from ringside and if they interfere there will be a DQ and Bones will lose the title. The booking of this match took six hours to put together and aside from a few small issues regarding the DQ stipulation it’s well handled and complex without being overdone. It’s a heavily booked contest, not an overbooked one. It’s a shame that a great match like Dragunov vs. Klinger comes down to storyline but storyline is how things are remembered clearly. Da Mack turns heel by helping Bones to win on DQ and promptly joins RISE, thus playing off his undercard storyline from night one.

 

The aftermath is where things got really interesting with Cerberus reuniting to send RISE packing. In particular Avalanche finally shaking hands with Dragunov to bring an end to their 2017 feud, which has been rumbling on since Cerberus broke up. It’s pretty much the only thing that stopped Dragunov from taking the belt, from a storyline perspective. Now there’s a new storyline with Dragunov questioning his abilities after the match, wondering if he really is invincible if he can’t win the title. The crowd loudly chant their support. This won’t be Dragunov’s last title opportunity.

CERBERUS FORSYTH

 

The Saturday night after party is the stuff of legend. We delayed our entrance this year because Alan 4L realised we’d not been taken to Three Sixty, one of the bars that does food in CentrO. We head over there for a bucket of Veltins pilsner and exchange stories over pizza. Matthew Gregg once again steals the spotlight on the storytelling front by telling us about a time he encouraged Jimmy Havoc to become his step-dad. The normal fantasy booking goes outside the box as we discuss Vader’s capacity for running businesses. “It’s time, it’s time, it’s sales time at Vader’s discount megamart”. Come on down and grab a bargain! “Every time I tweet a picture of my cock you get 10% off!”

 

The subject of drugs in wrestling comes up and allows Alan 4L to deliver this stunning line; “I’m not a drug taker, I’m a nap taker”. My notes from this point get increasingly indecipherable due to after party but there’s a lot of stuff about Marty Scurll that I cannot put into print here. Suffice to say the “armbars and chickenwings” chant has been changed and we may get banned from York Hall. Elsewhere on the pad is Alan 4L’s drawing of a cat, Rob Reid’s four-day storyline to get a “brrapp” off Homicide, something Martin Bentley said that I’m not allowed to print, and debate over the identity of Rovert.

 

Finally, with the after party wrapping up, a very drunk and hugely entertaining Mike Kilby realises that Sir Bruce sounds like Cerberus and runs up to Avalanche yelling “Cerberus Forsyth”. Of course he doesn’t get it because Brucey, while a British TV institution, is not well known overseas. Mike continues to double down by continuing to yell it before giving up and hugging Kenny from the Spirit Squad. “Do you know Bruce Forsyth?” Mate, he doesn’t even know who Avalanche is, you’re shit out of luck.

MY MAIN GOAL IS TO GET AS FUCKED UP AS POSSIBLE

 

October 8 2017

 

We arrive, bleary eyed, at the Media Centre for our final interview panels of the weekend. I have imbibed one too many Veltins and feel ill. The microphone sounds boom around in my head and I nearly vomit on the table. That would not have been creating a particularly good impression. Luckily I tough it out like a pro and we get, by popular demand, Ilya Dragunov for an interview. He is an intense guy. We’re never quite sure where the gimmick ends and the man begins. That’s what makes Ilya stand out in wXw. Everyone else is clearly playing a character. Ilya ain’t fucking playing.

He talks about getting ready for matches. “I smash my head against walls. Sometimes it hurts”. In between looking completely psychotic, even in his casual attire of a sweats and a beanie, he shows the man behind the beast. His family comes first, always, so he’s had to reduce his dates this year due to his son being born earlier in the year. The timing isn’t right for him to expand his dates and work in other promotions and countries right now. “I didn’t make plans to be a successful wrestler” he says. He’s happy doing what he’s doing. But he’s quick to point out “I give everything in the ring” and refuses to tone down his style, even after injuries to the likes of Shibata.

 

“I can’t wrestle another way” he says. For him it’s all about the rage. “I need a special feeling when I wrestle”. “My main goal is to get as fucked up as possible. I need this. It’s my drug”. He’s very humble, claiming he’s not special. “I just work and work and work and work”. He tells us a few interesting things about himself and his style. In that he draws inspiration from outside of wrestling. He doesn’t want to copy anything directly but just add elements. Like Joker from Batman, the TV show Taboo has influenced him. And he’s also a big fan of the Backstreet Boys. Wrestling, lads, there’s nothing like it. Ilya is one of a kind in a world that breeds strange folks.

 

YOU CAN’T EAT RICE PUDDING THREE DAYS IN A ROW

Christian Jakobi joins us to wrap up the weekend. As per usual he’s eager to thank us for his time but he himself is pushed for time today because of Low-Ki’s injury. They’ve had to re-write elements of tonight’s show. CMJ still has time to field questions about the shows. He’s pleased #wXwWTTL was trending #6 in Germany over the weekend. It’s clear they’ve got increased buzz in Europe thanks to inviting press and increasing their own efforts to publicise their big weekends. He calls the results “a communal effort”. He’s particularly proud that as a company they’ve made difficult decisions over the weekend, instead of going for the easy wins and babyface pops. “It can’t be Christmas every day” he says. You need your heroes to suffer so their triumph means more. It’s a philosophy that has created better moments for wXw this year.

 

As for the mixed styles of the teams involved CMJ has another metaphor; “You can’t eat rice pudding three days in a row”. Sure, I love rice pudding, but if you eat it all the time it’s no longer special. I suddenly want other promotions to take onboard this philosophy instead of being dictated to by fans. Even myself. I have been preaching for years that every show should be good but should they? Or should they be ‘good enough’ building to a big pay off that really means something? This is the wXw way. They’re not the promotion we want. They are the promotion we need.

 

CMJ goes on to talk about #WrestlingDeutschland, which is his idea. Other promotions will be joining wXw over Carat weekend and running the smaller Kult Tempel venue down the road. This means that over Carat weekend next year Oberhausen/Essen will be featuring seven shows over four days. Plus the press centre and the fan expo and the after party. You couldn’t ask for more. It’s a festival of wrestling.

 

CMJ’s vision for pro wrestling is the right one. “If you have a creative vision you need to do everything in your power to make it happen”. “There has to be meaning”. “There has to be character”. He puts over some of the companies lesser lights stating “Dirty Dragan wouldn’t make it into BOLA but I’m glad he’s in wXw”. He addresses the departure of Axel Dieter Jr and points out without Axel’s departure there would be no RISE. It forced them to change and freshen up their main events. “We have never had a big heel stable. It’s all new for us”. “It’s been a huge success”.

 

CMJ is then asked about a wide variety of topics. From Otto Wanz (“he showed it was possible to make money with wrestling in Germany”) to AMBITION (“It has a legitimacy. It shouldn’t be a distraction”), British teams (the UK scene is too busy for them to appear), Jon Gresham sending students over and excursions (“we are very German, very organised”). One of the most intriguing responses is regarding the size of the wXw ring. There is a law in Germany that trucks are not allowed on the roads on a Sunday. The bigger ring doesn’t fit in the smaller white vans they use to move around on weekends so they simply can’t use it.

 

Following this barrage of excellent takes on pro-wrestling from CMJ it’s back to CentrO for lunch with the BWR boys and Mike Kilby, who’s still recovering from the after party. It’s another jovial lunch, this time with Kilby and Oli planning out Formula 1 podcasts. I don’t even watch F1 and I’d listen to it. They were throwing out some fascinating stuff. In doing so we missed the fan expo and a few matches that took place. One in particular caught my eye; Alexander James vs. Steve Pena. The same Steve who we’d seen in training the day before. Well on his way to wrestling stardom.

 

THE BETRAYAL

 

5pm and the final night of Tag League kicked off with Low-Ki announcing he was too injured to compete tonight. Homicide found his way into a match with Bobby Gunns and during his promo fired off a “brrapp”, something Rob had been waiting all weekend for. He celebrated it like he’d scored a goal. Pure joy on the gantry! But that was soon gone. The opening match Spirit Squad vs. A4 abruptly ended when Absolute Andy turned on Marius Al-Ani. Before the show I’d been debating with Ian Hamilton as to whether Al-Ani would turn tonight but the Andy turn caught everyone cold. The second he did it everyone just stopped and stared and Andy stopped and glowered at his fallen partner. It was absolutely shocking. The timing of it was stunning. While I had a great weekend watching the wrestling, this will stick in my mind for a long, long time. It was perfectly done.

 

The crowd was in shock when the next match kicked off and Massive Product were too. They did no posing and barely reacted during their trademark entrance. As the match progressed it became clear that the team were unsure of each other. After all they were wrestling against the Young Lions. Had RISE gotten to Jurn? Had they gotten to Starr? The match was also heavily booked with interference and Massive Product overcoming the weight of numbers. It took almost the entire match for the crowd to regain their composure from that heel turn, which speaks volumes about how great it was. Also kudos to these four lads for turning it around and having a good match. The booking was perfect here and the Young Lions losing meant that RISE had suffered their first major loss; dropping the tag belts.

 

Ringkampf also progressed to the final by way of defeating EYFBO. The visiting LAX boys received a lengthy ovation for their part in this and it was much deserved. They were one of the best acts of the weekend and will surely get future bookings with wXw and in Europe after their performances. There’s nothing more satisfying for a visiting team to get the “please come back” chant. You could tell it meant a lot to them. This was swiftly followed by RISE’s arrival and claims they would dominate wXw. They were met by a reunited Cerberus complete with Adam Pollak and Dirty Dragan. This was one of the most joyous moments of the entire weekend. For that to come the same night as Andy’s turn shows what great storytelling wXw have been doing to get hit in the opposite feels (shocked bad, shocked good) in the same night. Beautiful stuff.

The resultant contest saw Cerberus, as a unit, overcome four wrestlers from RISE in a cracking match. Da Mack made his RISE debut in a losing effort but the symbolism throughout was so well done. Mack coming out right behind Bones, as if to say Bones was the Man in RISE but Mack was more important than the rest of the group. Plus Mack was Klinger’s protégé and he’s now his right hand too. Bad Bones took the fall here, being pinned by Ilya Dragunov. Perhaps to make him feel unbiesgbar once more.

 

The Briscoes appeared at this point, aware they were out of the tournament but wanting a match regardless. They got it from JayFK. Kaspin has been unfortunate here, that JayFK weren’t further along so they weren’t used in the tag league itself. Skillet has had a lot of time off so he’s happier, no doubt, but Kaspin is one of wXw’s hopes for the future. He looked great here, taking an assortment of sickening bumps from Dem Boyz. Including a safe Jay Driller followed immediately by a horrific looking Cutthroat Driver. Mark Briscoe was in a mood! After that was a space filling win for Bobby Gunns over Homicide. Just a time filler before the main event but we did witness a table spot and a Cop Killer.

 

DIE MATTE IST HEILIG

 

To complete the weekend was the World Tag Team League final; Massive Product vs. Ringkampf. I’m really pleased that wXw opted to put two domestic (Starr and Thatcher spend a lot of time in Europe) teams in the final. It made the most sense and created a dynamic where two beloved teams faced off. It ended up being, suitably, the best match of the weekend. Tim Thatcher looked like a fucking star throughout and the Starr-WALTER feud was sneakily re-introduced with us all questioning whether now would be the time that Starr finally got his win over WALTER. It wasn’t to be and Ringkampf came away as the new tag champs with Thatcher submitting Starr. It’s Thatcher’s first title in wXw and his post match promo, in German, where he claimed Germany was his new home was almost as emotional as the blinder that Ilya Dragunov cut after winning 16 Carat.

After the show I didn’t feel the same malaise as I did after Carat. That show left me in a state that I can’t truly explain. I wanted to be at the Turbinenhalle every night for the rest of my life after that show and I was distraught that it was over. I was broken up about it that I couldn’t do the weekend recap that I was going to do. Instead going back and revisiting the shows for the standard review. Tag League didn’t have that same effect. This time it was like meeting an old friend and instead of getting a polite handshake getting a big old hug. The whole weekend made me so very happy. Afterwards I wasn’t staring out across the Turbinenhalle wondering what I was doing with my life, I felt more complete.

 

When the crowd started to file out, I wasn’t on the brink of tears, as I was at Carat, but rather elated. We headed over to Alex in the CentrO for food and last gasp banter. By the time we were done there the show had been finished for about three hours. It was back to the hotel and a final podcast, which ended up running an hour with each other espousing the joy of wXw as a promotion from booking to production to professionalism and everything in between.

 

This wasn’t the best live wrestling experience of my life, that was 16 Carat, but it was confirmation that everything I loved about wXw is here to stay. It’s the promotion that knows when to go into top gear. It’s the promotion that knows how to make a weekend special. It’s the promotion that deserves to be watched, whether it’s on wxwnow.de or through the other VOD services that carry their product but especially live. There really is no building like the Turbinenhalle. You like to sit? You can do that. You like to stand? You can do that. You like to lean on the bar at the back of the building? You can’t do that. You like the balcony? You can do that (and if you do pay extra the bar is free upstairs). And wherever you are in the building it feels great. I can’t recommend wXw as a live experience enough. They’re in London in a few weeks. If you’re not already in attendance buy a ticket, for fuck’s sake. Come and see what the fuss is about. I’ll be back in Germany for 16 Carat 2018 (if work let me) and every Carat after that until I can’t do it anymore due to bad knees or bad health or bad finances.

 

DANKE WXW, LIEBE DICH

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