Best of the Rest: All the Top Non-WWE Action from WrestleMania Week 2017.
In terms of sheer volume, WrestleMania week 2017 was the biggest one to date. There was an innumerable amount of shows in and around Orlando for the pro-wres faithful who had made the pilgrimage to the Sunshine State and those of us who couldn’t make it we had the option of watching a dozen or-so live streams/VODs. From Thursday, March 30th to Tuesday April 4th, my tally came in at 108 matches over 12 shows, with a total approximate time of 49 hours spent watching professional wrestling. And I didn’t even watch everything that was available over the six-day weekend.
There is an over-saturation argument to be had, as some cards deserving of a lot more attention – CZW Best of the Best 16 for example – went head-to-head with more high profile shows and ended up doing small houses. The tradition of independent shows not starting on time was kept alive and well. It simply wouldn’t be WrestleMania week if all the live streams started on time and went off without a hitch; what would everybody complain about? WWN’s annual technical difficulties delayed the start of the PROGRESS show by 25 minutes, which ended up having a knock-on effect on the other shows later on the Friday. They eventually just had to start the show with a dead stream and once again many unhappy people were hitting Gabe Sapolsky up for refunds. Unsurprisingly the same thing happened on the Saturday for the SHIMMER show, with a delay of 25 minutes and more live stream issues causing WWN’s already toxic reputation even more damage. The Wrestling Observer this week noted that after an investigation it was revealed to be an anonymous “strategic and planned hack attack” – basically a DDoS attack that last about 70 minutes.
On a positive note, the FloSlam service was a massive upgrade from the shoelace and sticky tape operation run by WWN in recent years. The stream quality was pretty much flawless and even the fabled Cubed Circle tech issues of doom couldn’t derail the mighty FloSlam servers when the feed went down briefly during the WWN SuperShow on Saturday. Next year it would be better for all involved if FloSlam handled all the live streaming responsibility. Obviously there would be a lot of political issues to navigate with WWE sinking their claws into certain promotions, but for a group like PROGRESS, who couldn’t be on the FloSlam platform due to their relationship with WWE, it’s the inevitable cost of cosying up to a huge corporation that don’t have your best interests in mind.
Virtually all of the shows had something worthy of checking out. We’d be here until next year’s WrestleMania if we took a look at every single *** and above match, so the play-by-play match review style is out the window in favour of a more general discussion of the weekend’s highlights.
Keith Lee had a fantastic run of matches and became an early contender for MVP of the entire weekend. He stole the show with Ricochet on opening night at EVOLVE 80 in an excellent monster vs. flyer bout. Ricochet bumped all over the place for Lee, who not only did big the traditional “big man” spots but also proved he could keep up with one of the best flyers of this generation in the air. Think Samoa Joe in his prime working with AJ Styles. The following evening at EVOLVE 81, Lee had an even better match with fellow big lad Donovan Dijak. It was an absolute banger, with the super athletic huge men smashing each other, hitting big power moves and throwing their bodies around like wrestlers half their size. Lee also found the time to have another very good big man vs. little man outing against Lio Rush at Joey Janela’s Spring Break, which was sandwiched between the two EVOLVE shows. He wasn’t exactly used to his full potential on the WWN SuperShow on Saturday night, but looked dominant in the four-way opener then Lee stepped into the ring at around 12:30am for a hoss battle with Jeff Cobb at Beyond Wrestling’s Caffeine. It was the fifth match in 48 hours for both men and understandably they were both clearly fatigued, delivering a solid, but somewhat underwhelming performance. Big Keith had one last great match in him however, as on the Sunday he worked the FIP show before WrestleMania and was involved in the killer opening eight-man tag.
Matt Riddle gave Keith Lee a run for his money as the weekend’s MVP. The King of Bros took an amazing beating from Drew Galloway in the first match on opening night at EVOLVE 80 and even had no problem taking a Piledriver off the apron through a table. Later the same night, he main evented Joey Janela’s Spring Break in a dream match against Dan Severn. For a guy just two years into his career, against the 58 year-old Severn (who had barely aged at all to be fair), Riddle controlled the flow of the match like a veteran. They had an insanely fun 2017 version of a shoot style match, with some great grappling, tons of big strikes and of course a bunch of Suplexes. It was exactly what the match should have been and it clearly meant a lot to Riddle to be in there with Severn. EVOLVE 81 on Friday saw Riddle have a fabulous outing with fellow Catch Point Bro, Fred Yehi. Packed with excellent grappling exchanges and engrossing sequences, it would have easily been the best match on the card if not for the Lee/Dijak banger. Riddle also had a reportedly good match with Trent Seven earlier the same day on the PROGESS show, however due to the issues already mentioned I have yet to see it. Riddle rightfully became the inaugural WWN Champion on Saturday at the WWN SuperShow when he beat Fred Yehi, Parrow, Timothy Thatcher & Tracy Williams in the elimination main event. Match was a bit of a cluster early, however when it came down to the three members of Catch Point – Riddle, Yehi & Williams – it turned into a really fun affair. There’s probably nobody better suited to be the face of the WWN brand right now than Riddle expect maybe Keith Lee and I’m sure Gabe will continue to keep Lee strong until his time comes. That is, of course, if Uncle Paul doesn’t come calling first. Riddle ended his weekend by main eventing against Donovan Dijak for Beyond in a match that was better than it had any right to be at 3am.
One of the positives about the sheer abundance of shows was the amount of different styles and presentations of pro-wrestling. While I’m a fan of the EVOLVE product, three straight nights of the same philosophy and aesthetics can – and in recent years did – become a little tedious. With more shows than ever this year, there were matches every day to satisfy all types of tastes and with live streaming/VODs being so accessible, everyone could get their fill of whatever pro-wres style they wanted.
As noted there were really great big man vs. little man matches, with Keith Lee having stand-out performances against Ricochet & Lio Rush at EVOLVE 80 and Joey Janela’s Spring Break.
Matt Riddle vs. Dan Severn at Joey Janela’ Spring Break was probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to the old UWF shoot-style and Riddle vs. Yehi from EVOLVE 81 was packed with so much great technical mat-work it should have pleased even the most ardent of grapple elitists.
If you’re big into tag teams then no match of the entire weekend could touch the South Pacific Power Trip vs. Catch Point burner from the WWN SuperShow on Saturday. Travis Banks & TK Cooper had a truly break-out performance, in a match that fused the old-school Southern tag formula with breathtaking sequences and insane near-falls. Jaka & Chris Dickinson were both great in the match too, although everybody should sit up and take notice of the SPPT after this.
For fans of car-crash stunt-shows, Ethan Page & Darby Allin seemingly blew off their year long feud (although they fought again the next night for some reason) in an enjoyable Anything Goes match at EVOLVE 81 in which Darby finally got his revenge on Page. The biggest and most insane stunt-filled spotathon was undoubtedly the Young Bucks vs. Broken Hardys Ladder match from ROH Supercard of Honor XI on Saturday. The Hardys & Bucks managed to condense everything they had planned for their long running feud into one single match and had a killer blow-off before heading to WWE the next night.
Should ultra-violent bloodbaths be up your street, Matt Tremont vs. Penta El Cero Miedo at CZW Best of the Best on Saturday was a hell of a spectacle. The lads butchered each other with light tubes and various other weapons; Kevin Sullivan was the guest referee, but was so immobile he couldn’t get down to make the pinfalls. He ended up chasing Tremont’s disciple, Stockade, to the back after stabbing him with the dreaded Golden Spike and was never seen again. I’ve seen quite a lot of Tremont’s work and he had another entertaining blood-filled brawl with Eddie Kingston at Joey Janela’s Spring Break on the Thursday, however the war with Pentagon had to be one of the best matches of his career. Tremont has been doing a quasi-religious heel gimmick as the “Father” for the last six months or-so and the mere fact that he comes out to Type O Negative’s, “Christian Woman” has made it one of my favourite current acts in the business. Oh yeah, there was also the small matter of CZW announcing Tremont vs. ATSUSHI ONITA for their show on August 5th!
Ricochet & Marty Scurll went out at the Rev Pro show on Friday and delivered a “traditional” big independent style match for the contemporary audience. We got some indie sleaze comedy, effortlessly smooth sequences and heated near-falls, all expertly structured and executed by two world-class performers who were clearly having the time of their lives while presenting their art.
There was even a full on lucha spot-fest with Jay White & Dragon Lee vs. Will Ospreay & Volador Jr. on the ROH Supercard of Honor iPPV. Lee & Volador wowed the crowd with some conventional strings of lucha libre and Ospreay was his usual physics-defying self. White also did a fine job of keeping up with all the madness and provided a solid base for Ospreay & Volador to work off. It was such a lucha-rific affair that Dragon Lee appeared to think he was back in Arena Mexico and forgot he actually had to make tags to his partner. It led to a funny scenario with White and the referee trying to explain to Lee that he had to get out of the ring as he was not the legal man, however White tagged him in seconds later anyway.
If WrestleMania week is all about celebrating the wondrous world of professional wresting, no match over the six-day marathon captured the festive mood better than the Team Ricochet vs. Team Ospreay 10-man tag from the WrestleCon SuperShow on the Friday. Team Ricochet was comprised of AR Fox, Dezmond Xavier, Jason Cade, Sami Callihan & Ricochet, while Team Ospreay featured Marty Scurll, Lio Rush, Ryan Smile, Drew Galloway & Will Ospreay. It was 22 minutes of complete madness; how on earth everyone remembered and were in position for all their spots is beyond me. Although, AR Fox’s life nearly came to an end after an inverted Asai Moonsault went terrifyingly awry. There was even a 5 minute dance-off segment, which built to Galloway reluctantly bustin’ some moves but he quickly threw a headbutt to restart the lunacy of the match. This was as far from a “mat classic” as possible and those who are not fans of the video game/PWG style of matches will probably find something to complain about. I love a good psychologically sound match as much as anyone, but if you were not awed by what these ten men did here then I’m afraid we cannot be friends.
Here are my Top 10 non-WWE matches that are worth checking out from the weekend. Don’t bother @’ing me if you disagree; it’s only my opinion and I don’t have time for that.
(1) The South Pacific Power Tip (Travis Banks & TK Cooper) vs. Catch Point (Chris Dickenson & Jaka) – WWN SuperShow, 1/4/17. (****½)
(2) Team Ricochet vs. Team Ospreay – WrestleCon SuperShow, 31/3/17. (****½)
(3) Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak – EVOLVE 81, 31/3/17. (****¼)
(4) Keith Lee vs. Ricochet – EVOLVE 80, 30/3/17. (****)
(5) Matt Riddle vs. Dan Severn – GCW Presents Joey Janela’s Spring Break, 30/3/17. (****)
(6) Matt Riddle vs. Fred Yehi – EVOLVE 81, 31/3/17. (****)
(7) Ladder Match: TheYoung Bucks vs. The Hardys – ROH Supercard of Honor XI, 1/4/17. (****)
(8) Marty Scurll vs. Ricochet – Rev Pro in Orlando, 31/3/17. (****)
(9) Ultra-Violent Rules: Matt Tremont vs. Penta El Cero Meido – CZW Best of the Best 16, 1/4/17. (****)
(10) Anything Goes: Ethan Page vs. Darby Allin – EVOLVE 81, 31/3/17. (****)
Before we wrap this thing up, I’d like to say that the most fun I had all weekend was while watching the sleaze-packed, semi-ironic brilliance of Joey Janela’s Spring Break. The show started at 5:15am UK time and ended around 8am, so while the rest of my neighbors were just waking up to begin their workday I was still sat in front of my TV after pulling an all-nighter, hyped beyond belief for the madness of Janela vs. Jannetty and Riddle vs. Severn. The incumbent 2017 Wrestling Observer Awards winner for Best Booker, Janela, announced that there will be another Spring Break spectacular next year, so everybody heading to New Orleans better remember to pack their sunblock, bathing suits and any other gimmicks that may be required for another sleazy midnight wrestling party. IT’S SPRING BREAK: NOLA STYLE, BABY!
Ben’s Top Three Non-WWE shows of the weekend:
(1) GCW Presents: Joey Janela’s Spring Break – 30/3/17.
(2) WrestleCon SuperShow – 31/3/17.
(3) WWN SuperShow – 1/4/17.
To be honest I enjoyed all of the above shows much more than TakeOver & WrestleMania, so even if we included the WWE shows my top three would not look any different. The same pretty much goes for the match list, although the Goldberg/Lesnar battle would probably have made it at number 10 if it were eligible.
Thanks for reading, everyone. We should be back to normal next week with the Pro-Wres Digest bringing you all the news from around the world.